Friday 18 November 2016 marks the 100th anniversary of the end of the Somme Offensive – one of the bloodiest battles in history. The First World War battle, pitting British and French forces against German troops, ended inconclusively after four-and-a-half months of bloodshed.
The Battle of the Somme began on 1 July 1916. The Allies had prepared for the battle by bombarding the enemy for a week. However, the bulk of the German forces hunkered down in deep trenches and lay in wait. The first day of July was a disaster for the British Army. Thousands upon thousands of men were sent over the top, charging into no-man's landed armed with bayoneted rifles, but they were mowed down by German machine guns. Around 60,000 British soldiers were killed on the first day alone. The French, whose attack was less expected, gained more ground.
On 14 July, the British managed to overrun the Germans' second defence system, but failed to exploit their advantage. Their advance was slow, and they paid the price of heavy losses for the little ground gained. For nearly five months the fighting raged on in a battle of attrition along a 15-mile front.By the time the battle ended in mid-November 1916, British, French and German casualties totalled more than 1,250,000 men.
The First World War, also known as the Great War, began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918. It originated in Europe but became a global military conflict that killed more than 16 million people and changed the nature of warfare. On land, sea and in the air, 1914-18 was a war of new and experimental technology - technology that would increase casualty figures beyond the worst nightmares of previous conflicts. Between 1914 and 1918, 400-million artillery rounds were fired in the narrow battlefield straddling France and Belgium.
World War One saw the introduction of many firsts in technological, scientific and societal innovations. Tanks were invented as a means of breaking the trench warfare stalemate. Chemical weapons in the form of deadly poison gases were used for the first time, leading quickly to the development of the first gas masks.
After initial success, the German army faced exactly the same problems as the Allies had earlier in the war and overstepped their abilities. The central powers quickly collapsed – the Ottoman Empire crumbled in the Middle East, and the Austro-Hungarian empire disintegrated into separate states after Italian victories in 1918. On the Western Front, an allied counter-attack, including the Americans, prompted the Germans to ask American President Wilson for an armistice. The German government itself disintegrated and an armistice was signed.
As wild celebrations broke out in London and Paris on 11 November 1918, Germany stood defeated, even though its forces still occupied much of Europe. After the treaty of Versailles, Germany remained a sovereign nation, but with her navy impounded, much of her weaponry handed over, the Rhineland seized, and facing an enormous reparations bill. The seeds of the Second World War had partly been sown.