Royal British Legion

Great Yarmouth

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Great Yarmouth War Years

Great Yarmouth was a "Front Line" town during both the First and Second World Wars. Read about incidents that occurred during these times.

Battle of the Somme July 1st - Nov 18th 1916

The Battle of the Somme, fought in northern France, was one of the bloodiest of World War One. The aims of the battle were to relieve the French Army fighting at Verdun and to weaken the German Army.

For 141 days the British and French armies engaged the Germans in a brutal battle of attrition on a 25-mile front which resulted in over one million men killed or wounded on all sides and no real gains for either side.

For seven days before the attack planned for July 1st 1916 at 7:30am the British used their 18-pounder Field Guns to bombard the German trenches. The Germans who were in deep bunkers were able withstand the bombardment and crucially, the barbed wire in front of their emplacements was still intact. When the first in a series of 17 mines was exploded ten minutes early at 7:20am the Germans knew the attack was only minutes away and they came out fighting.

As the British soldiers advanced, they were mown down by machine gun and rifle fire. In total, 19,240 British soldiers lost their lives with a total of 57,470 casualties on the first day of the battle. To put this in context it is greater than the combined British losses in the Crimean, Boer, and Korean Wars. It was the bloodiest day in the history of the British Army and in spite of the heavy British losses, Douglas Haig, the British commander agreed to continue the attack.

Conversely, on the first day, the German Army only suffered around 6,000 casualties - mostly at the hands of the French on the southern part of the Somme. The French, for their part, managed to take all their objectives and suffered very few casualties. Ironically, the head of the French Army, General Foch, believed that the attack in the Somme would achieve little and unbelievably this view was shared by some leading British commanders such as General Henry Rawlinson.

However, orders from the army's political masters in London and Paris ensured that the battle would take place.

Just how backward military thinking was then is shown by the fact that Haig put a regiment of cavalry on standby when the attack started to exploit the hole that would be created by the 'devastating' infantry attack. British military faith was still being placed on cavalry attacks in 1916 when the nature of war in the previous two years would have clearly indicated that cavalry was no longer viable. This shows how conservative military thinking was during the war.

The bravery of the British soldier was never in doubt. In the carnage 51 Victoria Crosses were awarded. NCO's received 31 and Officers 20. There were 17 VC's awarded posthumously.

Monday's Poppy
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