November 18 This Day During World War l

November 18, 1916 – The Battle of the Somme was a battle of the First World War fought by the armies of the British and French empires against the German Empire. It took place between 1 July and 18 November 1916 on either side of the River Somme in France. The battle was one of the largest of World War I, in which more than 1,000,000 men were wounded or killed, making it one of humanity’s bloodiest battles. A Franco-British commitment to an offensive on the Somme had been made during Allied discussions at Chantilly, Oise in December 1915. The Allies agreed upon a strategy of combined offensives against the Central Powers in 1916, by the French, Russian, British and Italian armies, with the Somme offensive as the Franco-British contribution. The main part of the offensive was to be made by the French Army, supported on the northern flank by the Fourth Army of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). When the German Army began the Battle of Verdun on the Meuse in February 1916, many French divisions intended for the Somme were diverted and the supporting attack by the British became the principal effort. The First day on the Somme was a serious defeat for the German Second Army, which was forced out of its first line of defence by the French Sixth Army, from Foucaucourt-en-Santerre south of the Somme to Maricourt on the north bank and by the British Fourth Army from Maricourt to the vicinity of the Albert–Bapaume road. 1 July 1916 was also the worst day in the history of British Army, which had c. 60,000 casualties, mainly on the front between the Albert–Bapaume road and Gommecourt, where the attack failed disastrously, few British troops reaching the German front line. The British Army on the Somme was a mixture of the remains of the pre-war regular army, Territorial Force and the Kitchener Army which was composed of Pals battalions, recruited from the same places and occupations, whose losses had a profound social impact in Britain. The battle is notable for the importance of air power and the first use of the tank. At the end of the battle, British and French forces had penetrated 6 miles (9.7 km) into German-occupied territory, taking more ground than any offensive since the Battle of the Marne in 1914. The Anglo-French armies had failed to capture Péronne and were still 3 miles (4.8 km) from Bapaume, where the German armies maintained their positions over the winter. British attacks in the Ancre valley resumed in January 1917 and forced the Germans into local withdrawals to reserve lines in February before the scheduled retirement to the Siegfriedstellung (Hindenburg Line) began in March. General Sir Douglas Haig, the commander of the BEF and General Henry Rawlinson commander of the Fourth Army, have been criticised ever since, for the human cost of the battle and for failing to achieve their territorial objectives. On 1 August 1916 Winston Churchill criticised the British Army’s conduct of the offensive to the British Cabinet, claiming that though the battle had forced the Germans to end their offensive at Verdun, attrition was damaging the British armies more than the German. Though Churchill was unable to suggest an alternative, a critical view of the British on the Somme has been influential in English-language writing ever since. A rival conclusion by Terraine, Sheffield, Duffy, Chickering, Herwig and Philpott among others, is that there was no strategic alternative for the British in 1916 and that an understandable horror at British losses is insular, given the millions of casualties borne by the French and Russian armies since 1914. This school of thought sets the battle in a context of a general Allied offensive in 1916 and notes that German and French writing on the battle puts it in a continental perspective, which is inaccessible to anglophone monoglots because much of the writing has yet to be translated. The Battle of the Somme has been called the beginning of modern all-arms warfare, during which Kitchener’s Army learned to fight the mass-industrial war, which the continental armies had been engaged in for two years. This view sees the British contribution to the battle as part of a coalition war and part of a process, which took the strategic initiative from the German Army and caused it irreparable damage, leading to its collapse in late 1918. The first day on the Somme was the first of 141 days of the Battle of the Somme and the opening day of the Battle of Albert. The attack was made by five divisions of the French Sixth Army either side of the Somme, eleven British divisions of the Fourth Army north of the Somme to Serre and two divisions of the Third Army opposite Gommecourt, against the German Second Army of General Fritz von Below. The German defence south of the Albert–Bapaume road mostly collapsed and the French had “complete success” on both banks of the Somme, as did the British from the army boundary at Maricourt to the Albert–Bapaume road. On the south bank the German defence was made incapable of resisting another attack and a substantial retreat began; on the north bank the abandonment of Fricourt was ordered. The defenders on the commanding ground north of the road inflicted a huge defeat on the British infantry, who had an unprecedented number of casualties. Several truces were negotiated, to recover wounded from no man’s land north of the road. The Fourth Army lost 57,470 casualties, of which 19,240 men were killed, the French Sixth Army had 1,590 casualties and the German 2nd Army had 10,000–12,000 losses. The Battle of Albert comprised the first two weeks of Anglo-French offensive operations in the Battle of the Somme. The Allied preparatory artillery bombardment commenced on 24 June and the Anglo-French infantry attacked on 1 July, on the south bank from Foucaucourt to the Somme and from the Somme north to Gommecourt 2 miles (3.2 km) beyond Serre. The French Sixth Army and the right wing of the British Fourth Army inflicted a considerable defeat on the German Second Army but from the Albert–Bapaume road to Gommecourt, the British attack was a disaster where most of the c. 60,000 British casualties were incurred. Against Joffre’s wishes Haig abandoned the offensive north of the road, to reinforce the success in the south, where the Anglo-French forces pressed forward towards the German second line, preparatory to a general attack on 14 July. The Fourth Army attacked the German second defensive position from the Somme past Guillemont and Ginchy, north-west along the crest of the ridge to Pozières on the Albert–Bapaume road. The objectives of the attack were the villages of Bazentin le Petit, Bazentin le Grand and Longueval which was adjacent to Delville Wood, with High Wood on the ridge beyond. The attack was made by four divisions on a front of 6,000 yards (5.5 km) at 3:25 a.m. after a five-minute hurricane artillery bombardment. Field artillery fired a creeping barrage and the attacking waves pushed up close behind it in no man’s land, leaving them only a short distance to cross when the barrage lifted from the German front trench. Most of the objective was captured and the German defence south of the Albert–Bapaume road put under great strain but the attack was not followed up due to British communication failures, casualties and disorganisation. The Battle of Fromelles was a subsidiary attack to support the Fourth Army on the Somme 80 kilometres (50 mi) to the south, to exploit any weakening of the German defences opposite. Preparations for the attack were rushed, the troops involved lacked experience in trench warfare and the power of the German defence was “gravely” underestimated, the attackers being outnumbered 2:1. On 19 July, von Falkenhayn had judged the British attack to be the anticipated offensive against the 6th Army. Next day Falkenhayn ordered the Guard Reserve Corps to be withdrawn to reinforce the Somme front. The Battle of Fromelles had inflicted some losses on the German defenders but gained no ground and deflected few German troops bound for the Somme. The attack was the début of the Australian Imperial Force on the Western Front and “the worst 24 hours in Australia’s entire history”. Of 7,080 BEF casualties, 5,533 losses were incurred by the 5th Australian Division; German losses were 1,600–2,000, with 150 taken prisoner. The Battle of Delville Wood was an operation to secure the British right flank, while the centre advanced to capture the higher lying areas of High Wood and Pozières. After the Battle of Albert the offensive had evolved to the capture of fortified villages, woods and other terrain which offered observation for artillery fire, jumping-off points for more attacks and other tactical advantages. The mutually costly fighting at Delville Wood eventually secured the British right flank and marked the Western Front début of the South African 1st Infantry Brigade (incorporating a Southern Rhodesian contingent), which held the wood from 15–20 July. When relieved the brigade had lost 2,536 men, similar to the casualties of many brigades on 1 July. The Battle of Pozières began with the capture of the village by the 1st Australian Division (Australian Imperial Force) of the Reserve Army, the only British success in the Allied fiasco of 22/23 July, when a general attack combined with the French further south, degenerated into a series of separate attacks due to communication failures, supply failures and poor weather. German bombardments and counter-attacks began on 23 July and continued until 7 August. The fighting ended with the Reserve Army taking the plateau north and east of the village, overlooking the fortified village of Thiepval from the rear. The Battle of Guillemont was an attack on the village which was captured by the Fourth Army on the first day. Guillemont was on the right flank of the British sector, near the boundary with the French Sixth Army. German defences ringed the British salient at Delville Wood to the north and had observation over the French Sixth Army area to the south towards the Somme river. The German defence in the area was based on the second line and numerous fortified villages and farms north from Maurepas at Combles, Guillemont, Falfemont Farm, Delville Wood and High Wood, which were mutually supporting. The battle for Guillemont was considered by some observers to be the supreme effort of the German army during the battle. Numerous meetings were held by Joffre, Haig, Foch, Rawlinson and Fayolle to co-ordinate joint attacks by the four armies, all of which broke down. A pause in Anglo-French attacks at the end of August, coincided with the largest counter-attack by the German army in the Battle of the Somme. In the Battle of Ginchy the 16th Division captured the German-held village. Ginchy was 1.5 kilometres (0.93 mi) north-east of Guillemont, at the junction of six roads on a rise overlooking Combles, 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) to the south-east. After the end of the Battle of Guillemont, British troops were required to advance to positions which would give observation over the German third position, ready for a general attack in mid-September. British attacks from Leuze Wood north to Ginchy had begun on 3 September, when the 7th Division captured the village and was then forced out by a German counter-attack. The capture Ginchy and the success of the French Sixth Army on 12 September, in its biggest attack of the battle of the Somme, enabled both armies to make much bigger attacks, sequenced with the Tenth and Reserve armies, which captured much more ground and inflicted c. 130,000 casualties on the German defenders during the month. The Battle of Flers–Courcelette was the third and final general offensive mounted by the British Army, which attacked an intermediate line and the German third line to take Morval, Lesboeufs and Gueudecourt, which was combined with a French attack on Frégicourt and Rancourt to encircle Combles and a supporting attack on the south bank of the Somme. The strategic objective of a breakthrough was not achieved but the tactical gains were considerable, the front line being advanced by over 2,500–3,500 yards (2,300–3,200 m) and many German casualties being inflicted. The battle was the début of the Canadian Corps, New Zealand Division and tanks of the Heavy Branch of the Machine Gun Corpson the Somme.  The Battle of Morval was an attack by the Fourth Army on Morval, Gueudecourt and Lesboeufs held by the German 1st Army, which had been the final objectives of the Battle of Flers-Courcelette (15–22 September). The attack was postponed to combine with attacks by the French Sixth Army on Combles, south of Morval and because of rain. The combined attack was also intended to deprive the German defenders further west, near Thiepval of reinforcements, before an attack by the Reserve Army, due on 26 September. Combles, Morval, Lesboeufs and Gueudecourt were captured and a small number of tanks joined in the battle later in the afternoon. Many casualties inflicted on the Germans but the French made slower progress. The Fourth Army advance on 25 September was its deepest since 14 July and left the Germans in severe difficulties, particularly in a salient near Combles. The Reserve Army attack began on 26 September in the Battle of Thiepval Ridge.  The Battle of Le Transloy began in good weather and Le Sars was captured on 7 October. Pauses were made from 8–11 October due to rain and 13–18 October to allow time for a methodical bombardment, when it became clear that the German defence had recovered from earlier defeats. Haig consulted with the army commanders and on 17 October reduced the scope of operations by cancelling the Third Army plans and reducing the Reserve Army and Fourth Army attacks to limited operations in co-operation with the French Sixth Army.[31] Another pause followed before operations resumed on 23 October on the northern flank of the Fourth Army, with a delay during more bad weather on the right flank of the Fourth Army and on the French Sixth Army front, until 5 November. Next day the Fourth Army ceased offensive operations except for small attacks intended to improve positions and divert German attention from attacks being made by the Reserve/Fifth Army. Large operations resumed in January 1917. The Battle of Thiepval Ridge was the first large offensive mounted by the Reserve Army of Lieutenant General Hubert Gough and was intended to benefit from the Fourth Army attack at Morval by starting 24 hours afterwards. Thiepval Ridge was well fortified and the German defenders fought with great determination, while the British coordination of infantry and artillery declined after the first day, due to confused fighting in the maze of trenches, dug-outs and shell-craters. The final British objectives were not reached until the Battle of the Ancre Heights (1 October – 11 November). Organisational difficulties and deteriorating weather frustrated Joffre’s intention to proceed by vigorous co-ordinated attacks by the Anglo-French armies, which became disjointed and declined in effectiveness during late September, at the same time as a revival occurred in the German defence. The British experimented with new techniques in gas warfare, machine-gun bombardment and tank–infantry co-operation, as the Germans struggled to withstand the preponderance of men and material fielded by the Anglo-French, despite reorganisation and substantial reinforcements of troops, artillery and aircraft from Verdun. September became the worst month for casualties for the Germans. The Battle of the Ancre Heights was fought after Haig made plans for the Third Army to take the area east of Gommecourt, the Reserve Army to attack north from Thiepval Ridge and east from Beaumont Hamel–Hébuterne and for the Fourth Army to reach the Péronne–Bapaume road around Le Transloy and Beaulencourt–Thilloy–Loupart Wood, north of the Albert–Bapaume road. The Reserve Army attacked to complete the capture of Regina Trench/Stuff Trench, north of Courcelette to the west end of Bazentin Ridge around Schwaben and Stuff Redoubts, during which bad weather caused great hardship and delay. The Marine Brigade from Flanders and fresh German divisions brought from quiet fronts counter-attacked frequently and the British objectives were not secured until 11 November. The Battle of the Ancre was the last big British operation of the year. The Fifth (formerly Reserve) Army attacked into the Ancre valley to exploit German exhaustion after the Battle of the Ancre Heights and gain ground ready for a resumption of the offensive in 1917. Political calculation, concern for Allied morale and Joffre’s pressure for a continuation of attacks in France, to prevent German troop transfers to Russia and Italy also influenced Haig. The battle began with another mine being detonated beneath Hawthorn Ridge Redoubt. The attack on Serre failed, although a brigade of the 31st Division, which had attacked in the disaster of 1 July, took its objectives before being withdrawn later. South of Serre, Beaumont Hamel and Beaucourt-sur-l’Ancre were captured. South of the Ancre, St Pierre Division was captured, the outskirts of Grandcourt reached and the Canadian 4th Division captured Regina Trench north of Courcelette, then took Desire Support Trench on 18 November; large operations ended until January 1917. an inexperienced and patchily trained mass of volunteers. The Somme was the debut of the Kitchener Army created by Lord Kitchener’s call for recruits at the start of the war. The British volunteers were often the fittest, most enthusiastic and best educated citizens but British casualties were also inexperienced soldiers and it has been claimed that their loss was of lesser military significance than the losses of the remaining peace-trained officers and men of the German army. British casualties on the first day were the worst in the history of the British army, with 57,470 British casualties, 19,240 of whom were killed. British survivors of the battle gained experience and the BEF learned how to conduct the mass warfare that the continental armies had been fighting since 1914. Germany and the other European powers began the war with a trained force of regulars and reservists, each casualty sapped the experience and effectiveness of the German army. Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria wrote, “What remained of the old first-class peace-trained German infantry had been expended on the battlefield”. A war of attrition was a logical strategy for Britain against Germany, which was also at war with France and Russia. A school of thought holds that the Battle of the Somme placed unprecedented strain on the German Army and that after the battle it was unable to replace casualties like-for-like, which reduced the German army to a “militia”. The destruction of German units in battle was made worse by lack of rest. British aircraft and long-range guns reached well behind the front-line, where trench-digging and other work meant that troops returned to the line exhausted. Despite the strategic predicament of the German Army it survived the battle, withstood the pressure of the Brusilov Offensive and conducted an invasion of Romania. In 1917 the German army in the west, survived large British and French offensives at Arras, the Nivelle Offensive and the Third Battle of Ypres, though at great cost. Falkenhayn was sacked and replaced by Hindenburg and Ludendorff at the end of August 1916. At a conference at Cambrai on 5 September, a decision was taken to build a new defensive line well behind the Somme front. The Siegfriedstellung was to be built between Arras–St. Quentin–La Fere–Condé, with another new line between Verdun and Pont-à-Mousson. These lines were intended to limit any Allied breakthrough and to allow the German army to withdraw if attacked. Work began on the Siegfriedstellung (Hindenburg Line) at the end of September. Withdrawing to the new line was not an easy decision and the German high command prevaricated over it during the winter of 1916–1917. Some members wanted to take a shorter step back to a line between Arras and Sailly, while the First and Second army commanders wanted to stay on the Somme. Generalleutnant von Fuchs on 20 January 1917 said that, Enemy superiority is so great that we are not in a position either to fix their forces in position or to prevent them from launching an offensive elsewhere. We just do not have the troops…. We cannot prevail in a second battle of the Somme with our men; they cannot achieve that any more (Von Kuhl, Diary 20 January 1917) and that half measures were futile, a retreat to the Siegfriedstellung was unavoidable. After the loss of a considerable amount of ground around the Ancre valley, to the British Fifth Army in February 1917, the German armies on the Somme were ordered on 14 February to withdraw to reserve lines closer to Bapaume. A further retirement to the Hindenburg Line (Siegfriedstellung) in Operation Alberich began on 16 March 1917, despite the new line being unfinished and poorly sited in some places. The British and French advanced about 6 miles (9.7 km) on the Somme, on a front of 16 miles (26 km) at a cost of 419,654 British and 202,567 French casualties, against 465,181 German casualties. Until the 1930s the dominant view of the battle in English-language writing, was that the battle was a hard-fought victory against a brave, experienced and well-led opponent. Winston Churchill had objected to the way the battle was being fought in August 1916, Lloyd George when Prime Minister criticised attrition warfare frequently and condemned the battle in his post-war memoirs. In the 1930s a new orthodoxy of “mud, blood and futility” emerged and gained more emphasis in the 1960s when the 50th anniversaries of the Great War battles were commemorated. Since the 1960s the “futility” view that the battle was an Anglo-French disaster, has been criticised as a myth. In recent years a nuanced version of the original orthodoxy has arisen, which does not seek to minimize the human cost of the battle but sets it in the context of industrial warfare, compares it to the wars in the United States between 1861–1865 and Europe between 1939–1945 and describes the development of the armies of 1914 into modern all-arms organisations, using the scientific application of fire-power on land and in the air, to defeat comparable opponents in a war of exhaustion. Little German and French writing has been translated, leaving much of the continental perspective and detail of German and French military operations inaccessible to the English-speaking world.

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