The British Innovations and German Resistance on the Somme Front

  • The British conducted experiments with new techniques in gas warfare, machine-gun bombardment, and tank-infantry cooperation on the Somme front.
  • The German defenders struggled to withstand the overwhelming force of the Anglo-French despite reorganization and reinforcement.
  • September was the deadliest month for the German armies on the Somme.
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The British experimented with new techniques in gas warfare, machine-gun bombardment and tank–infantry co-operation, as the German defenders on the Somme front struggled to withstand the preponderance of men and material fielded by the Anglo–French, despite reorganisation and substantial reinforcement of troops, artillery and aircraft from Verdun. September became the month most costly in casualties for the German armies on the Somme.

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>The British experimented with new techniques in gas warfare, machine-gun bombardment and tank–infantry co-operation, as the German defenders on the Somme front struggled to withstand the preponderance of men and material fielded by the Anglo–French, despite reorganisation and substantial reinforcement of troops, artillery and aircraft from Verdun. September became the month most costly in casualties for the German armies on the Somme. ⇒ソンム前線上のドイツ軍守備隊の、軍隊、大砲、およびヴェルダンからの航空機の再編成と実質的強化にもかかわらず、英仏軍の受け返す兵も戦闘用素材も(それより)優勢だった。ドイツ軍がそれに抵抗すべく奮闘努力するので、英国軍は、毒ガス戦、機関銃爆撃、戦車–歩兵連隊の協力という、さらに新しい技術を実験した。9月は、ソンムのドイツ方面軍にとって犠牲者が最も高くつく月になった。





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    In June 1916, the amount of French artillery at Verdun had been increased to 2,708 guns, including 1,138 × 75 mm field guns; the French and German armies fired c. 10,000,000 shells, with a weight of 1,350,000 long tons (1,370,000 t) from February–December. The German offensive had been contained by French reinforcements, difficulties of terrain and the weather by May, with the 5th Army infantry stuck in tactically dangerous positions, overlooked by the French on the east bank and the west bank, instead of secure on the Meuse Heights. Attrition of the French forces was inflicted by constant infantry attacks, which were vastly more costly than waiting for French counter-attacks and defeating them with artillery. The stalemate was broken by the Brusilov Offensive and the Anglo-French relief offensive on the Somme, which had been expected to lead to the collapse of the Anglo-French armies.

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    The Hindenburg Line (Siegfriedstellung or Siegfried Position) was a German defensive position of World War I, built during the winter of 1916–1917 on the Western Front, from Arras to Laffaux, near Soissons on the Aisne. In 1916, the German offensive at the Battle of Verdun had been a costly failure. The Anglo-French offensive at the Battle of the Somme had forced a defensive battle on the Germans, leaving the western armies (Westheer) exhausted. On the Eastern Front, the Brusilov Offensive had inflicted huge losses on the Austro-Hungarian armies in Russia and forced the Germans to take over more of the front. The declaration of war by Romania had placed additional strain on the German army and war economy. Construction of the Hindenburg Line in France was begun by the Germans in September 1916, to make a retirement from the Somme front possible, to counter an anticipated increase in the power of Anglo-French attacks in 1917.

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    The unanticipated duration of the offensive made Verdun a matter of German prestige as much as it was for the French and Falkenhayn became dependent on a British relief offensive and a German counter-offensive to end the stalemate. When it came, the collapse of the southern front in Russia and the power of the Anglo-French attack on the Somme reduced the German armies to holding their positions as best they could. On 29 August, Falkenhayn was sacked and replaced by Hindenburg and Ludendorff, who ended the German offensive at Verdun on 2 September. In 1980, Terraine gave c. 750,000 Franco-German casualties in 299 days of battle; Dupuy and Dupuy gave 542,000 French casualties in 1993. Heer and Naumann calculated 377,231 French and 337,000 German casualties, a monthly average of 70,000 casualties in 2000.

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    At Verdun in December 1916, Arras in April 1917 and at Messines in June, where the new German defensive principles of depth, camouflage and reverse-slope defences, dispersed methods of fortification and prompt reinforcement by Eingreif divisions, were not possible or had not been adopted in time, the British and French armies inflicted costly defeats on the Germans. The German defensive strategy on the Western Front in 1917, succeeded in resisting the increase in the offensive power of the Entente, without the loss of vital territory but the attrition of German manpower was slowed rather than reversed. Unrestricted submarine warfare caused the United States to declare war on 6 April and failed to isolate Britain from its overseas sources of supply. The bombing offensive against Britain, acted to divert Anglo-French air defence resources, which slowed the rate at which the German air service was outnumbered in France.

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    The German flyers further reduced the ability of the Anglo-French airmen to support the armies with artillery-observation and contact patrols, in the rare periods of clear weather. The German armies lost much less ground and had fewer casualties in October than in September (the costliest month of the battle) but the proportion of casualties increased from 78.9–82.3 percent of the Anglo-French total. The reinforcement of the Somme front, with troops and equipment from Verdun also contributed to the German defeat in the First Offensive Battle of Verdun (1ère Bataille Offensive de Verdun 20 October – 2 November) and the loss of forts Douaumont and Vaux.

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    During the Battle of the Somme German forces suffered 537,919 casualties, of which 338,011 losses were inflicted by the French and 199,908 losses by the British. In turn German forces inflicted 794,238 casualties on the Entente. Doughty wrote that French losses on the Somme were "surprisingly high" at 202,567 men, 54% of the 377,231 casualties at Verdun. Prior and Wilson used Churchill's research and wrote that the British lost 432,000 soldiers from 1 July – mid-November (c. 3,600 per day) in inflicting c. 230,000 German casualties and offer no figures for French casualties or the losses they inflicted on the Germans. Sheldon wrote that the British lost "over 400,000" casualties. Harris wrote that total British losses were c. 420,000, French casualties were over 200,000 men and German losses were c. 500,000, according to the "best" German sources.

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    General Max von Gallwitz the 2nd Army commander, noted in early October that so many of his units had been moved to the 1st Army north of the Somme, that he had only one fresh regiment in reserve. The German counter-attacks were costly failures and by 21 October, the British had managed to advance 500 yards (460 m) and take all but the last German foothold in the eastern part of Staufen Riegel (Regina Trench). A French offensive during the Battle of Verdun on 24 October, forced the Germans to suspend the movement of troops to the Somme front. From 29 October – 9 November, British attacks were postponed due to more poor weather, before the capture of 1,000 yards (910 m) of the eastern end of Regina Trench by the 4th Canadian Division on 11 November. Fifth Army operations resumed in the Battle of the Ancre (13–18 November).

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    The German 2nd and 1st armies on the Somme managed a recovery after the string of defeats in September, with fresh divisions to replace exhausted troops and more aircraft, artillery and ammunition diverted from the battle at Verdun and stripped from other parts of the Western Front. Command of the German Air Service (Die Fliegertruppen) was centralised and the new Luftstreitkräfte (German Air Force) was able to challenge Anglo-French air superiority with the reinforcements and new, superior fighter aircraft.

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    The original Allied estimate of casualties on the Somme, made at the Chantilly Conference on 15 November 1916, was 485,000 British and French casualties and 630,000 German. A German officer wrote, Somme. The whole history of the world cannot contain a more ghastly word. — Friedrich Steinbrecher In 1931, Wendt published a comparison of German and British-French casualties which showed an average of 30 percent more Allied casualties to German losses on the Somme. In the first 1916 volume of the British Official History (1932), J. E. Edmonds wrote that comparisons of casualties were inexact, because of different methods of calculation by the belligerents but that British casualties were 419,654, from total British casualties in France in the period of 498,054, French Somme casualties were 194,451 and German casualties were c. 445,322, to which should be added 27 percent for woundings, which would have been counted as casualties using British criteria; Anglo-French casualties on the Somme were over 600,000 and German casualties were under 600,000.

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    The strength of the Anglo-French offensive surprised Falkenhayn and the staff officers of OHL despite the losses inflicted on the British; the loss of artillery to "overwhelming" counter-battery fire and the policy of instant counter-attack against any Anglo-French advance, led to far more German infantry casualties than at the height of the fighting at Verdun, where 25,989 casualties had been suffered in the first ten days, against 40,187 losses on the Somme. The Brusilov Offensive had recommenced as soon as Russian supplies had been replenished, which inflicted more losses on Austro-Hungarian and German troops during June and July, when the offensive was extended to the north.