June 30, 1916 - Battle of the Somme Postponed til July 1
Pictured - A British heavy howitzer is manhandled into position on the Somme.
General Douglas Haig, the commander of the BEF, had promised French
that the Allied forces would step off their summer offensive on the
Somme on June 29. D-Day was postponed, however, until July 1, to allow
one more day for the preparatory bombardment, which had battered German
positions along a 20-mile front for five days already.
British guns, from light field pieces to monumental siege howitzers, had
fired over 1 million shells at the Germans in the preparation for the
Battle of the Somme, beginning on June 24. Obviously, the element of
surprise was long gone. But British General Headquarters did not really
believe that surprise was needed. The lessons learned in the costly
1915 offensives had taught the Allies one key point: artillery was the
war-winner on the Western Front. For an attack to succeed, the guns had
to pummel the enemy into submission before the infantry went over the
The First World War was a war of attrition. Despite the
occasional plan for a master blow here or there, most generals
understood that whichever side could throw more material and men at the
enemy, and withstand the other side longer, would emerge the victor.
The plan for the Battle of the Somme makes perfect sense in that
context, although since the First World War the idea of attrition
warfare has become anathema. British planners underestimated the
strength of German forces on the Somme, and the numbers they had in
reserve. But even if a breakthrough did not come, as Haig hoped, the
battle would divert German reinforcements from Verdun and eat into
The plan was to kill Germans, and so the extra day of bombardment increased confidence in the
plan. On the southern end of the battlefield, where a smaller French
army was to go into action alongside the British, poilus were
able to climb out of their trenches into No-Man’s Land and sit watching
the barrage on the other side, cheering every large explosion. French
gunners had learned the hard way how to fight an artillery battle at
Verdun, and the artillery on the French sector of the Somme succeeded in
its objectives, cutting wire and smashing in German machine-gun nests.
On July 1 it would support its infantry well, making D-Day an easy one
for the French infantry.
Not so on the British side of the
battlefield. Although the British Fourth Army fielded more guns, a
distressing number of its shots proved to be dud shells, failing to go
off. Even those that did hit were mostly shrapnel, which was good for
killing soldiers in the open, but did nothing to barbed wire or concrete
dug-outs. Staff officers refused to believe reports from raiders that
the German trenches looked unaffected. In the crowded trenches, filling
up with assault troops for the next day.
British soldiers tried to catch some sleep or grab a last bite of
rations. Most were young volunteers, full of life and confident of
victory, poised for success on July 1, the first day of the Battle of