The Battle of the Somme

The first ever use of tanks took place during the Battle of the Somme in World War One. The British army launched a huge offensive against the German which included the use of tanks for the first time in human history. The location was Flers Courcelette in France, where just over 40 of these early tanks managed to advance more than a mile into enemy lines. Sadly, they were too cumbersome to hold their positions against the German counterattack and many succumbed to mechanical breakdown. The tanks showed promise though and the commander of the Allied forces, General Douglas Haig asked the war department to manufacture hundreds more.

The 1st July 1916 saw the British attack the German forces in the area of the Somme River. Previously, hundreds of thousands of shells had pounded the opposing positions and 100,000 soldiers had entered the no-man’s-land from their trenches hoping to find the area cleared. However, far too many German machine guns had remained functional after the shelling onslaught and a massacre ensued. Tragically, by dusk, around 20,000 British soldiers lay dead with double that number badly wounded. It was to be the single worst day of war casualties ever recorded in British military history.

Confidence was badly knocked, so after the tragedy, Haig kept to smaller but almost useless advances. To move forward just 100 yards was costing the lives of 1,000 Allied soldiers. The introduction of tanks did little to break the deadlock during the Battle of Somme and the heavy rains that arrived in October of that year just turned the region into a quagmire. On 18th November, General Haig ended the offensive. After four months of slaughter, this battle was a disaster.

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Tanks have come a long way since those bloody days of the First World War, to become a forceful, menacing, much-feared armoured vehicle. Even though they weren’t hugely effective during their debut in 1916, the unexpected sight of such beasts did strike fear and awe into the hearts of the German troops. If you’ve ever wanted to experience the thrill of driving one of these incredible machines, try a Tank Driving day with

The only positive from the Somme was that it had diverted German troops away from the Battle of Verdun. The Somme saw the Allied advance only 5 miles and over 600,000 French and British men dead, wounded or missing in action. The Germans also paid heavily with more than 650,000 casualties. Haig faced much criticism for his dogged determination to keep pouring men and resources into the deadlocked western front. However, the western front did eventually crumble due to an exhausted Germany, so perhaps the tactic had some merit after all and those lives were not in vain.


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