By June 1916, nothing had really changed in the trench warfare of the Western Front and men from both sides were still living in trenches in very bad conditions.
To try and break this stalemate, the Allies decided to launch a massive attack (normally called an ‘offensive’) against the German positions at a a place called ‘The Somme’, which is an area around 15 miles long where the Somme river runs through Northern France.
In preparation for this offensive, the allies pounded the German trenches for a week, shooting over 1.6 million shells at them, which they thought would completely destroy their defences. However they didn’t know that the Germans had spent a lot of time building concrete bunkers below the ground where their soldiers could hide in relative safety.
On the morning of the 1st July 1916, whistles were blown all across the Somme and British and Allied soldiers stepped out of their trenches and started to walk towards the German positions, expecting no resistance at all but they were in for a terrible surprise. Instead, many of the German soldiers simply walked out of their strong bunkers and started to gun them down using machine guns, which caused a devastating loss of life.
By the end of the day, 40,000 British soldiers had been injured and 20,000 had been killed, which was the greatest single day loss of life in the history of the British Army. To make it even worse, sixty per cent of all the commanding officers involved were killed, meaning a lot of the soldiers who survived had no leaders left.
After this first day, the battle raged for many weeks and even included the first use of British tanks, but still hardly any ground was gained and as a result the Battle of the Somme is still regarded by many as one of the most tragic battles in British history.