ROAD TO WAR -
|The “Big Push” is…On!
|Throughout Europe, the killing grounds of France,
Belgium, Italy, Russia, Austria, Italy and their allies ran like
rivers of blood, as ferocious land battles involving tens of thousands
of artillery guns pummeled thousands of infantry soldiers into the
earth. Many hundreds of thousands of men stepped into no-man’s
land advancing into a hurricane of deadly machine - gun fire that
cut them down, like a scythe cuts corn.
Soldiers waiting for the news when the “Big Push”
It finally became a complete stalemate,
so the troops dug in, hacking into the rich earth that would soon
be their resting place. They dug a vast trench system running
from the coast of Belgium right down through France to the Swiss
border which zig zagged for 450 miles across the land, deep enough
to hopefully protect them from the
|enemy artillery bombardment’s that
was soon to come. Unknowingly for the new recruits on the front
line when these ferocious artillery battles started, was to prove
their testing ground in a manner that would either provide each
one of them with an ultimatum…whether they would live or to
|The French found themselves with the vast German Army occupying
their land, which they found intolerable, humiliating, and offensive.
The bloodthirsty battles in which the French had already fought
had torn their army to shreds, by the end of 1915 alone the French
casualties had already amounted to 1,900,000, of which one third
had been killed.
In the month of December 1915, British General Sir Douglas Haig
and Lieutenant General Sir Henry Rawlinson, with the full cooperation
of General Joffre and his French Generals, discussed and planned
a huge offensive, the biggest one so far during this World War,
in fact it was to be a straight forward test of strength
Part of the trench system over 450 miles long!
|against the Germans, a massive united effort by the
two Allied armies in an endeavor to break the state of attrition
and stalemate between the opposing forces.
The strategy was to attack and keep on attacking until the Germans
had been ousted from France and Belgium, their plans in practice
sounded viable, but soon their planning would clearly and unmistakably
show it would be impossible to accomplish.
The designated place chosen for this ultimate display of force would
be the “Somme”.
This ”Big Push” as it was called, was where the French
and British forces joined together and stood side by side, either
side of the River Somme. This would be their battleground in victory,
or in death.
The British would begin their attack with fourteen divisions of
infantry along an 18 mile front, and three infantry divisions would
be held in reserve, and use the five cavalry divisions if a breakthrough
came, while the French would begin their attack with eight divisions
of infantry along an 8 mile front, accompanied by an artillery barrage.
The French Generals had great confidence in the superior power of
the British artillery, which they believed would ensure a victory
against the Germans, by gaining ground and by killing many of the
enemy, thus preserving their own troops from the carnage of sending
infantry across to fight, and face the onslaught of the menacing
German machine gunners. That’s what they thought!
For it was hoped for by both British and French High Commands that
with this massive display of force it would overcome the enemy by
sheer strength of numbers, not only with artillery fire but of men,
and give them a quick victory, thus the war would come to a swift
and decisive end!
Fortunately for the Germans the trench system had been cleverly
designed, the tunnels, dugouts and underground bunkers holding the
troops were sunk to depths of more than 80feet/ 25mts and much deeper,
and shored up with thick timber, there underground bunkers were
uniquely fortified and a luxury compared to the British basic underground
living conditions. This depth would without doubt give good protection
to the soldiers below from the onslaught of British heavy artillery
It became a priority to keep the High Command informed of the situation
at the front, so all front line trench systems were equipped with
communication systems such as telephone lines, these were installed
by all the armies fighting at the front.
The wires and telephone cables necessary to operate this communication
system ran the full length of the front line trench system, then
mile after mile behind it to the support trenches, and back further
still to the Command, and High Command posts situated many miles
back from the front lines.
Hundreds of miles of cables were used to keep all the posts informed
of the conditions prevailing at the front. If this failed or was
decimated or cut by shellfire, then “runners” would
be ordered to speed through the battle lines on foot and deliver
these top priority messages.
(Top) British Soldiers taking a rest before the battle in dugouts.
(Right) British troops waiting for the signal to
|The soldiers at the Somme were preparing for the biggest
battle in history, huge artillery guns were dragged and towed by
horses and trucks and placed into position, huge square slabs of
wood were roped around the big wheels to stop them sinking in the
mud and massive thick wooden wedges were jammed in the mud behind
the wheels to give the massive gun a slower recoil as the shells
hurtled out the barrels.
It was to be a frightening spectacle to witness, more so to the
Germans it was hoped, when these massive bombardments finally got
Many were light guns 75mm and 18 pounders, but one huge heavy gun
was placed, every 60 yards in the British sector, and one heavy
gun to every 20 yards in the French sector.
The total amount of ordinance provided to arm these big guns was
a massive, 1, 500, 000 shells, all fired within 7 days, this enormous
amount of artillery and ammunition now present on the Western Front
for this offensive alone, was more than had ever been seen before.
The date was set for the following year…the “Big Push”
would start on 1st July 1916.