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Somme,river, c.150 mi (240 km) long, rising near Saint-Quentin, N France, and flowing generally NW past Amiens into the English Channel; connected by canal with the Scheldt and Oise rivers. Once an obstacle to east-west movement, the now reclaimed marshlands in the valley are noted for truck farming. During World War I heavy fighting took place near the river (see Somme, Battles of theSomme, Battles of the,
two engagements fought during World War I near the Somme River, N France. The first battle (July–Nov., 1916) was an Allied offensive. The British, commanded by Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, had the largest Allied role; a smaller French contingent
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Somme(sôm), department (1990 pop. 548,300), N France, in Picardy, on the English Channel. AmiensAmiens
, city (1991 pop. 136,234), capital of Somme dept., N France, in Picardy, on the Somme River. It is a rail hub and a large market for the truck farming carried on in the surrounding Somme marshlands. Also an important textile center (since the 16th cent.
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a department in northern France, on the English Channel, in the Somme River Basin. Area, 6,200 sq km. Population, 538,000 (1975). The capital is Amiens. Industry employs 32 percent of the work force, and agriculture employs 19 percent (1968). Industries include machine building and chemical, rubber, and food industries, particularly sugar processing. There are glassworks located on the Bresle River. Grain, including wheat and barlev, sugar beets, flax, and vegetables are grown.
a river in northern France. The Somme is 245 km long and drains an area of 5,500 sq km. It empties into the English Channel, forming a small estuary. It is fed primarily by rain and has a mean flow rate near the mouth of approximately 45 m3/sec. The flow varies little throughout the year. The Somme is navigable over almost its entire length. The upper and middle courses are canalized and have locks. The river is connected by canals with the Oise River—a right tributary of the Seine River—and the Escaut (Scheldt) River. The cities of Amiens and Abbeville are situated on the Somme.
During World War I, from July 1 to Nov. 18,1916, a major offensive operation was carried out by British and French forces at the Somme east of Amiens. The goal of the operation was to break through the German defensive front and reach the rear of the German group of armies in the Noyon salient. Taking part in the operation were the British Fourth Army of General Henry S. Rawlinson and the French Sixth Army of General E. Fayolle, totaling 32 infantry and six cavalry divisions, 2,189 guns, 1,160 mortars, and 350 tanks under the overall command of General F. Foch. The 40–km breakthrough sector was defended by eight divisions of the German Second Army, comprising 672 guns, 300 mortars, and 114 aircraft and occupying well-equipped positions echeloned to a depth of 7–8 km.
On June 24, a preparatory bombardment was begun, which lasted seven days. During this time, the German command brought up its reserves and strengthened the defense. On July 1, Allied infantry, supported by a barrage and aircraft, launched an attack and seized the first position of the German defense. The lack of surprise, poorly organized coordination, a patterned, predictable offensive, and the stubborn German resistance resulted in a slowdown of further progress by the Allies, who were forced to make frequent stops to commit new forces. Only toward mid-July were the Allies successful in taking the enemy’s second position, but by that time the German troops had equipped new defensive lines in the interior and the battle had become one of attrition.
In early September the offensive was joined by the French Tenth Army of General J. A. Micheler, deployed to the left of the breakthrough area, but even this did not bring success. Tanks were used for the first time on September 15 in the village of Flers, when the British deployed 18 of their 49 machines. Supported by tanks, the infantry advanced 2 km, but the offensive then came to a halt. In autumn, when the rains began, low-lying terrain in the Somme region became almost impassable. Unable to achieve its goals, the Allied command ended its offensive.
In the course of more than 4½ months, the Allies brought into the battle more than 50 divisions and drove a wedge into the enemy’s position to a depth of 5 to 12 km, losing 792,000 men in the process. The Germans brought in more than 40 divisions and lost 538,000 men. The enormous losses undermined the morale of the troops on both sides.
The battle of the Somme was an example of futile loss of troops. Nevertheless, as a result of this battle and the offensive by Russian troops on the Southwestern Front, the Entente seized the strategic initiative, and the German command was forced to assume the strategic defensive.
REFERENCESFarror-Huckley, A. The Somme. London, 1966.
Girard, G. La Bataille de la Somme en 1916. Paris, 1937.
Stosch, A. von. Somme-Nord, parts 1–2. (Die Schlachten des Weltkrieges, vols. 20–21.) Oldenburg-Berlin, 1927–28.