Somme, Battles of the

Somme, Battles of the,

two engagements fought during World War IWorld War I,
1914–18, also known as the Great War, conflict, chiefly in Europe, among most of the great Western powers. It was the largest war the world had yet seen.
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 near the SommeSomme,
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.
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 River, N France. The first battle (July–Nov., 1916) was an Allied offensive. The British, commanded by Field Marshal Sir Douglas HaigHaig, Douglas Haig, 1st Earl,
1861–1928, British field marshal. He saw active service in Sudan (1898) and in the South African War (1899–1902) and upon the outbreak of World War I (1914) was given command of
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, had the largest Allied role; a smaller French contingent also fought. On the first day of the attack against the heavily fortified 21-mi (34-km) German line, the British suffered the largest one-day loss in their history—some 19,000 dead and 40,000 injured. British tanks joined the fray in September, but after nearly five months the Allies had gained little territory despite terrible slaughter. Some 131,000 Britons died and more than 288,000 were wounded. The French suffered more than 204,000 casualties; the Germans between 450,000 and 600,000. The battle, which did serve to ease German pressure on Verdun (see Verdun, battle ofVerdun, battle of,
the longest and one of the bloodiest engagements of World War I. Two million men were engaged. It began on Feb. 21, 1916, when the Germans, commanded by Crown Prince Frederick William, launched a massive offensive against Verdun, an awkward salient in the
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), nonetheless became a lasting symbol of war's fruitless carnage.

The second battle (Mar.–Apr., 1918), or the Somme Offensive, was a German attack led by Gen. Erich LudendorffLudendorff, Erich
, 1865–1937, German general. A disciple of Schlieffen, he served in World War I as chief of staff to Field Marshal Hindenburg and was largely responsible for German military decisions.
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 against the weakened 60-mi (92-km) British line N of the Somme, which the Germans hoped to breach before American reinforcements arrived. The British lines were soon overrun, and the British forced back some 40 mi (64 km). The French, under Gen. Ferdinand FochFoch, Ferdinand
, 1851–1929, marshal of France. A professor at the École de Guerre, he later served (1908–11) as director of that institute. In World War I, he was responsible, with General Joffre and General Gallieni, for halting the German advance at the
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, reinforced the British, and the German advance was halted. The German victory had little effect on the larger war, however, as it further depleted Germany's forces. The British suffered some 163,000 casualties, and the French 77,000; the Germans nearly as many.


See study by M. Middlebrook (2007) on both battles. The first battle is the subject of studies by J. Buchan (1917), A. R. Dugmore (1918), B. Gardner (1961), A. Farrar-Hockley (1964), J. Harris (1966), M. Middlebrook (1971, repr. 2007), C. Martin (1973), L. Macdonald (1983), T. Norman (1984, repr. 2003), P. Liddle (1992), C. McCarthy (1993), M. Chappell (1995), G. Sheffield (2003), P. Hart (2005, repr. 2009), R. Prior and T. Wilson (2005), C. Duffy (2006), D. Youel (2006), M. Gilbert (2006), G. Gliddon (1989 and 2006), and A. Robertshaw (2006). Studies devoted to the second battle include those by R. Cowley (1964), J. Giles (1977), M. Marix Evans (1996), M. Stedman (2001), and S. Ross (2004).

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