The Somme offensive, or "The Big Push" as it was called, was meant
to be a much-needed decisive victory for the Allies. By the second year of the
war there had been precious few victories and the grinding, stalled conflict
was straining the economies, patience and nerve of Britain, its dominions and
France. The entrenched sides had hammered at each other from increasingly well-defended
and reinforced trenches. Skirmishes and incursions into occupied territory had
offered only short-term and quickly erased gains at an enormous cost of life
Worse still, the British High Command was at a loss to determine why its tactics
and strategies were failing: was it a lack of shells, a flaw in the troop attacks,
weak communications, a diffusion of resources, a failure of tactical imagination
or all the above? In December, 1915, the Allies met in Chantilly, France, and
agreed that the nations would work together on concentrated attacks.
French commander, General Joseph Joffre, suggested an assault on the Somme in
the northern plains of France.
Early in February, 1916, General Douglas Haig, who led the British forces, wanted
to mount a massive attack, using 25 British divisions, in the late summer of
1916. But, at the end of February the German army attacked at Verdun, a battle
that would last nine months and sap the resources of both French and German troops.
As a result of the Verdun offensive, Joffre urged Haig to speed up plans for
the Somme offensive. Haig agreed and moved up to the end of June what was becoming
an increasingly British, not coalition, attack. The French were being drained
at Verdun and the situation was desperate. Unfortunately, the Somme would make
things more desperate still.