The Battle of the Somme, also known as the Somme Offensive, was a battle of the First World War fought by the armies of the British and French empires against the German Empire. It took place between 1 July and 18 November 1916 on both sides of the reaches of the River Somme in France. The battle was intended to hasten a victory for the Allies and was the largest battle of the First World War on the Western Front, more than one million men were wounded or killed, making it one of the bloodiest battles in human history. The French and British had committed themselves to an offensive on the Somme during Allied discussions at Chantilly, Oise, in December 1915. Initial plans called for the French army to undertake the main part of the Somme offensive, the first day on the Somme was, in terms of casualties, also the worst day in the history of the British army, which suffered 57,470 casualties. These occurred mainly on the front between the Albert–Bapaume road and Gommecourt, where the attack was defeated and few British troops reached the German front line, the battle is notable for the importance of air power and the first use of the tank. At the end of the battle, British and French forces had penetrated 10 km into German-occupied territory, the Anglo-French armies failed to capture Péronne and halted 5 km from Bapaume, where the German armies maintained their positions over the winter. Debate continues over the necessity, significance and effect of the battle, David Frum opined that a century later, the Somme remains the most harrowing place-name in the history of the British Empire. Allied war strategy for 1916 was decided at the Chantilly Conference from 6–8 December 1915, in December 1915, General Sir Douglas Haig replaced Field Marshal Sir John French as Commander-in-Chief of the BEF. Haig favoured a British offensive in Flanders close to BEF supply routes, to drive the Germans from the Belgian coast, Haig was not formally subordinate to Marshal Joseph Joffre but the British played a lesser role on the Western Front and complied with French strategy. A week later the Germans began an offensive against the French at Verdun, by 31 May, the ambitious Franco-British plan for a decisive victory, had been reduced to a limited offensive to relieve pressure on the French at Verdun with a battle of attrition on the Somme. The Chief of the German General Staff, Erich von Falkenhayn, intended to end the war by splitting the Anglo-French Entente in 1916, Falkenhayn chose to attack towards Verdun to take the Meuse heights and make Verdun untenable. The British would then have to begin a hasty relief offensive, Falkenhayn expected the relief offensive to fall south of Arras against the Sixth Army and be destroyed. If such Franco-British defeats were not enough, Germany would attack the remnants of armies and end the western alliance for good. Eloi, south of Ypres and reduced the German counter-offensive strategy north of the Somme, to one of passive, the Battle of Verdun began a week after Joffre and Haig agreed to mount an offensive on the Somme. The battle changed the nature of the offensive on the Somme, as French divisions were diverted to Verdun, German overestimation of the cost of Verdun to the French contributed to the concentration of German infantry and guns on the north bank of the Somme. The German offensive at Verdun was suspended in July, and troops, guns, the Brusilov Offensive, absorbed the extra forces that had been requested on 2 June by Fritz von Below, commanding the German Second Army, for a spoiling attack on the Somme. During the offensive the Russians inflicted c. 1,500,000 losses including c. 407,000 prisoners, three divisions were ordered from France to the Eastern Front on 9 June and the spoiling attack on the Somme was abandoned
British aerial photograph of German trenches north of Thiepval, 10 May 1916, with the German forward lines to the lower left. The crenellated appearance of the trenches is due to the presence of traverses.
A young German Sommekämpfer in 1916
British troops moving up to the attack during the Battle of Morval, 25 September 1916.
British Mark I male tank near Thiepval, 25 September 1916.