November 18th 1916: The End of the Somme Offensive

If you think a lot has happened between this summer and now, it is perhaps worth reflecting on the fact that the Battle of the Somme, which started on July 1st 1916, only came to an end on November 18th 1916, i.e. one hundred years ago today. The last phase of the Somme Offensive was the Battle of the Ancre which lasted from November 13th until November 18th. Though the key objective (of eliminating a German salient) was not met, and casualties were heavy, this battle is considered a qualified success for the British Army, who secured the key position of Beaumont Hamel, though the village itself was almost completely destroyed during the fighting:



The battlefield at Beaumont-Hamel, taken in November 1916

Incidentally, Beaumont-Hamel had seen fighting since the very first day of the Battle of the Somme. On July 1st 1916, 700 men of the Newfoundland Regiment gave their lives there as they went “over the top” and were promptly mown down by machine guns. There is an important memorial to their sacrifice there.

The statistics of the Somme Offensive are truly horrific. In total well over a million men were killed or seriously wounded during the 141 day campaign. By the time it finished the British, French and Commonwealth armies had advanced a maximum of about 6 miles. Most historians describe the outcome as “inconclusive”, largely on the grounds equal numbers of soldiers were slaughtered on each side.  It was a stalemate, but the price paid in blood was appalling.

The carnage didn’t end with the Somme. As the “Great War” stumbled on, battle after battle degenerated into bloody fiasco. Just a year later the Third Battle of Ypres saw another 310,000 dead on the British side as another major assault on the German defences faltered in the mud of Passchendaele. By the end of the War on 11th November 1918, losses on both sides were counted in millions.




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