The Somme valley, perhaps one of the most beautiful regions of France, was the scene of some of the most horrifying fighting of WWI. To relieve pressure on the French at Verdun, General Sir Douglas Haig insisted on a massive attack at the Somme, timed to start on 1 July 1916. Haig was so confident of success that he had mounted troops ready to ride through the Germans to attack at the moment that they scattered and ran. However, Haig had tragically underestimated the spirit of the enemy and their capacity to endure the most appalling and enduring artillery barrage.
The statistics are frightful. When British troops hurled themselves against the German line on the first day of the battle it has been estimated that they walked into a wall of lead of 6,000 bullets per minute. The British 4th Army suffered nearly 60,000 casualties on the first day alone, of whom 19,000 were killed. The cost of the battle is best shown by the experience of the Newfoundland Regiment. The regiment from the North American British colony, which was not yet a part of Canada, paraded for the last time the night before the battle. The regiment comprised 25 officers and 776 other ranks. The Newfoundlanders went into action at 9.15am on the first day. Within 30 minutes the regiment was no more: 710 men had been killed, wounded or were missing.
The battle of the Somme continued until winter came to the region in November and it was not possible to keep the fight going. Casualties amounted to a staggering 1 million men.
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