Against these defenses, the British and French high command fired million shells over the seven days leading to July 1. The bombardment “was in magnitude and terribleness beyond the previous experience of mankind,” wrote the official historian of the 18th Division, Capt. Nichols.
It is impossible to know how many people will die while they wait at gridlocked clearing stations – to say nothing of those who are still out in No Man’s Land two days later.
The 1916 Somme offensive was one of the greatest battles of World War One (1914-18). The opening day of the attack, 1 July 1916, saw the British Army sustain 57,000 casualties, the bloodiest day in its history. The campaign finally ended in mid-November after an agonising five-month struggle that failed to secure a breakthrough.
Remembering the dissatisfaction displayed by ministers at the end of 1915 because the operations had not come up to their expectations, the General Staff took the precaution to make quite clear beforehand the nature of the success which the Somme campaign might yield. The necessity of relieving pressure on the French Army at Verdun remains, and is more urgent than ever. This is, therefore, the first objective to be obtained by the combined British and French offensive. The second objective is to inflict as heavy losses as possible upon the German armies.
This policy worked but it took some very determined work at the St. Quentin Canal, among the prepared defences, to achieve success.