Friday, July 01, 2016

Today -100: July 1, 1916: A day of downs and ups

The Battle of the Somme begins. This is the big one, the offensive that will end the war, according to the British generals. They are so convinced that a one-week bombardment (1.6 million shells!) would cut the German barbed wire, destroy their positions, and demoralize the German soldiers who survived into instant surrender, that the British soldiers were ordered to advance at a walking pace towards the German trenches and they were weighed down with 60 or 70 pounds of equipment, including shovels so they could rebuild the trenches they’d be capturing and bury all the dead Germans. And after that, on to Berlin. The French generals were more sceptical about the plan.

In fact, the Somme offensive was so ambitious, conducted along an 18-mile front, that British artillery was too spread out to do that sort of damage (also a lot of the shells, mostly imported from the US, failed to go off). Also, the German trenches, some of the oldest of the war, were very well constructed – German trenches were always the best, French the worst. So the wire wasn’t cut, the positions weren’t destroyed, and the German soldiers sat out the bombardment relatively safe deep underground and are therefore well-positioned to use machine guns to take out wave after wave of soldiers, who did not stroll all the way across No Man’s Land or in many cases make it past their own trenches. For the British Army, July 1, 1916 was the bloodiest day of this or any other war, with almost 20,000 killed out of 120,000 casualties, 3% of the casualties suffered by the British for the whole war on just this day. Compare that to the 21,000 killed in the whole of the Boer War. German casualties were less than a tenth of that.

Gen. Douglas Haig, whose baby this was, wrote in his diary on July 2 (to be fair, the early reports he was receiving were innaccurate): “A day of downs and ups. I visit two casualty-clearing stations. They were very pleased at my visit, the wounded were in wonderful spirits. Reported today that total casualties are estimated at over 40,000. This cannot be considered severe in view of numbers engaged and the length of front of attack.”

The Battle of the Somme lasted nearly 5 months. British positions advanced, at most, 8 miles.

Carranza comments that Americans, including those in the Punitive Expedition, have killed 48 Mexicans despite the supposed lack of a state of war between the two countries.

Mexico denies a report in an Italian newspaper that Mexico and Germany signed an alliance.

Four more of the Columbus raiders are executed in New Mexico.

British sources (so take it for what it’s worth) say there are riots all over Germany in response to the imprisonment of Karl Liebknecht.

Sir Roger Casement appeals his conviction. King George revokes his knighthood.

This is an official film, The Battle of the Somme, released in Britain in August. Most of it’s real, although the brief scene of the soldiers going over the top is probably a re-enactment.

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