A year of inconclusive action

Tanks and troops at the front after the Battle of the Somme.
Tanks and troops at the front after the Battle of the Somme.
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On November 18, 1916, the Battle of the Somme, or more properly the widespread campaign along 16 miles of the rolling Picardy countryside that had raged for 141 days, was closed down by General Sir Douglas Haig, the British commander-in-chief.

After the disastrous beginning on July 1, which cost 19,240 British lives, the campaign was a steep learning curve, which continued for five months until fighting was frustrated by the weather.

At the close, the campaign on the British sector had cost 400,000 killed, wounded and men taken prisoner.

The French, fighting on the right of the British, had fewer casualties. The German casualties are the subject of much speculation, with Allied exaggeration at the time probably intended to justify the ‘butcher’s bill’ they had suffered.

The total deaths on all sides are estimated at more than a million, or as someone has suggested, one death or injury for each inch of the British advance at its maximum extent.

Over the winter the Somme was quiet with a few minor actions, until a British officer on patrol across no man’s land found an empty German trench. It was the first intimation that the Germans had pulled back in an organised retreat to a new defensive line, which would be named the Hindenburg Line after the newly appointed German Commander Paul von Hindenburg. Three defensive lines up to five miles in depth had been constructed, behind which the Germans would hold their position until October 1918.

Modern analysis holds that the Germans had suffered such losses that they knew they could not withstand a further summer of the fighting they had endured on the Somme. So perhaps the battle was not the great disaster it has been cast in popular myth.

At sea, the Battle of Jutland in May 1916 had cost Britain a far higher number of losses in ships and men, but it maintained a superiority that was never challenged again by the German High Seas Fleet.

The battle was closely linked to the River Tyne in terms of ships built, local men who served and the repair of the fleet. Details are in the book published by the project. Tyneside and the Battle of Jutland, by Peter Coppack, can be bought via our website and from outlets including the Keel Row bookshop, North Tyneside Libraries and the project’s shop and workroom.

Full details of more than 1,800 Great War casualties from Tynemouth are available at www.northumbriaworldwarone.co.uk

Details of men from Wallsend, Whitley Bay, Shiremoor, Backworth, Earsdon and the mining communities up to Seaton Burn are being added to the database as research is completed for the additional 1,400 casualties we have identified, with more to be found as we review the records.

New volunteers are welcome to join the project. To find out more contact tommy@northumbriaworldwarone.co.uk or call into the workroom at Linskill Community Centre, North Shields. It is open from 10am to 4pm each weekday. The Memorial Garden is open from 8am to 5pm daily.