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The Battle of the Somme

The Somme FrontThe Battle of the Somme, which began in July 1916, is remembered as an extremely costly failure. The Imperial War Museum records that British and Commonwealth forces were calculated to have lost 419,654 (dead, wounded and missing); French losses amounted to 204,253. German casualties were estimated to have between 437,000 to 680,000. Almost 20 000 Allies died on the 1st day of whom 993 were officers. The College lost 23 men in the first month of fighting.

The Battle of the Somme continued all through the summer of 1916 and the death toll continued to rise. Some of the most serious fighting took place in the vicinity of the Bazentin Ridge, at Guillemont Village, at Mametz Wood, and at Longueval. Caius lost four men in this area during August 1916 and two others near Thiepval and Ypres.

The Battle of the Somme continued to rage through the summer of 1916, and was not over until the 18th November. The death toll of Caians in the offensive rose to 40 during September, when another 11 were lost. Among them was the engineer, R B Williams, who won the Military Cross serving with 176 Tunnelling Company.

These were not the only casualties as three more Caians died during September, including one of the youngest (19 yrs) and one of the oldest (52 yrs) of the whole war. These three were all doctors, two of whom were stationed in England and one in India. Their individual biographies are recorded in the College archives.

Le Transloy

By October 1916, the Battle of the Somme was well-advanced and the casualty rate began to drop. Even so, Caius lost four men in the first week of October. The Battle of the Somme can be divided into several engagements that took place over four months. The two main engagements of October were the Battle of Le Transloy from the 1st to the 18th and the Battle of the Ancre Heights from the 1st October until the 11th November.

Le Transloy took place in terrible weather and the cold and mud were as formidable as the German opposition. The aim was to gain higher ground in order to launch a new offensive from a better position during 1917.

The Germans had lost their dominance of the high ground around the Ancre with the fall of Thiepval encouraging the British to renew an attack in this area that had been in abeyance for some time.

The Somme offensive was conceived originally as a huge attack by the Allies on the Eastern and Western fronts that would be war-winning. However, the French input had had to be reduced due to their involvement at Verdun and the battle descended into a war of attrition. The first day was a debacle but the British army, the citizens’ army of 1914, was learning its trade in consequence and was now much better equipped for the fighting to come. Equipment, munitions, tactics, command and control had all developed as a result of the appalling 1st of July.