Learning Curve, The Great War
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Useful notes: Source3
Official reports of the experiences of British Army units, 1 July 1916
(Catalogue ref: a. WO 95/2366, b & c. WO 95/1653)
  • This is a small glimpse of what happened to different units on the first day of the Somme.
  • The first day of the battle was 1 July 1916, although German defences had been bombarded for a week before then by a huge artillery barrage.
  • As these sources show, things did not go according to plan. Partly this was because the British didn't stick to Sir Henry Rawlinson's original plan.
  • There were other problems as well. Too many of the British shells failed to go off – possibly as many as 30%. The bombardment failed to cut the German wire in many areas. This meant soldiers were bunched around the gaps where the wire had been cut. This made them easy targets for machine gun fire.
  • The British suffered around 60,000 casualties on the first day, about 20,000 of whom were killed.
  • What made this seem even worse was the way the soldiers had been recruited. For example, source 3a describes what happened to the Accrington Pals. These soldiers had all been recruited from one small area of Lancashire and encouraged to sign up with their 'Pals'. When this unit suffered heavy losses, it meant that entire streets lost their young men. After the Somme, the British Army stopped recruiting this way.
  • Other units at the Somme found that the German defences had been destroyed and they took relatively light casualties.
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