The Battle of the Somme lasted from 1 July 1916 to 18 November the same year. Following 18 months of trench deadlock in World War I, the battle was a joint operation between British and French forces hoping to achieve a final victory over the Germans on the Western Front.
A bombardment of over 1.5 million shells was fired at German lines in the seven days preceding the battle, with the aim of destroying enemy trench defences.
However, the Germans suffered less damage than expected from this tactic. This allowed German machine-gunners to confront the advancing British line, resulting in the deaths of 19,240 British soldiers on the first day. In the weeks that followed, there were over a million casualties from both sides. Here are some of the pictures from the conflict, followed by some of the most arresting images from World War I.
The wounded are dressed in a trench during the Courcelette operation of the Battle of the Somme, France, on 15 September 1916.
Canadian stretcher bearers carry the dead from a battlefield during the Battle of the Somme.
Canadians return victorious carrying war trophies from Courcelette during the Battle of the Somme, France.
Shrapnel bursts over a reserve trench in Canadian lines during the Battle of the Somme.
A gunnery officer writes a Christmas message on a Canadian heavy howitzer during the Battle of the Somme.
Gas-masked men of the British Machine Gun Corps with a Vickers machine gun during the first Battle of the Somme.
2. A British soldier pays his respects at the grave of a colleague near Cape Helles, where the Gallipoli landings took place in 1915.
Left: British soldiers enjoy possession of a newly captured German trench, pointing to a sign that says “Old Hun Line”. Right: Two soldiers standing in the middle of a ruined village. They are surrounded by bricks and debris. One of them holds an umbrella he has found. Behind them is a brick wall, all that remains of the building that once stood there.
Left: A controlled explosion taking place on the Somme, set up by the Royal Engineers to clear the way for an advance. Right: A sergeant, wrapped in his greatcoat against the cold, reading a notice nailed to a tree. It reads: “Kindness to animals. 500 horses lamed weekly by nails dropped on roads and horse lines by cookers carrying firewood with nails left in. Please remove nails.”
8. Christmas Day calm.
Left: British soldiers in a trench in France make merry with paper hats from Christmas crackers while a sentry uses a mirror to keep watch on no man’s land, 1916. A year earlier, tensions thawed when both sides came together for a rare temporary truce and enjoyed a football kick-around.
9. German troops playing football behind the lines, 1915.
15. French troops throw rocks at advancing German troops from their hillside trench in the Vosges, 1916.
23. British soldiers negotiate a shell-cratered winter landscape along the Somme in late 1916 after the close of the Allied offensive.
24. Civilians and soldiers of the Royal Army Medical Corps distribute refreshments to British wounded in France, 1916.
Left: Brigadier-General J.V. Campbell (on bridge) congratulates soldiers of the 46th (North Midland) Division at Riqueval after their successful crossing of the St Quentin Canal. Right: Massed German prisoners of war at a clearing station after the successful Allied offensive near Amiens in Northern France, which began on 8 August 1918. General Ludendorff called it “The Black Day of the German Army”.
27. The 1st battalion of the 4th Ghurkha Rifles line up for kit inspection.
In front of each soldier is a pile of kit that includes a water bottle, bedding roll, and mess tin.
28. Over the top.
“We can see a small group of soldiers coming out of a trench, over the protective sandbag wall. They have their bayonets fixed, ready for an attack. It is not clear whether this is a staged photo or not. The works of official photographer Charles Hilton DeWitt form an important record, [but] their documentary value must be assessed with caution. Girdwood’s was an explicitly propagandist role on behalf of the war effort in general and the India Office in particular.” – The British Library
The 9th British Lancers charging German artillery in France, 1916.
37. World War I was the first war in which manufactured poison gas was used as a weapon on a large scale.
A group of armed Indian soldiers in a trench, wearing gas masks.