World War I

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Why was the Battle of the Somme important in WWI?

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I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air--
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.  --Alan Seeger

Lost in the brutality and slaughter of the Battle of Somme is the death of the first American in the conflict.  By the end of the World War I, over 53,000 soldiers were killed in combat.  The first of these casualties was an American writer by the name of Alan Seeger.

After graduating from Harvard University in 1910, Seeger moved to Paris.  He quickly fell in love with the culture and atmosphere of France.  When France declared war on Germany, Seeger believed it was his responsibility to defend the country that he grew to love.  He volunteered for the French Foreign Legion.  While in the Legion, he did not abandon his passion for writing.  He wrote poetry and kept a detailed journal of his experiences.  In this way, he was able to provide a firsthand account of one of the bloodiest battles in world history.  Seeger was killed in action on July 4, 1916.  

While Seeger was only one of over a million casualties at the Battle of Somme, his poem Rendezvous With Death is one of the most poignant literary works from the battlefield and has come to define the Great War.  For this reason, Seeger's contribution is an unsung footnote of the Battle of Somme.

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The Battle of the Somme took place between July 1 and November 1 in 1916.  It was one of the largest battles of WWI, and one of the bloodiest battles in history.

Some statistics:

  • On the first day, British casualties number approximately 57,000 men.
  • By the end of the battle, the British lost 420,000 men, the French lost around 200,000 men, and the Germans lost around 460,000 men (this number is contested).
  • Upwards of 1.2 million allied and central soldiers died at Somme.

The Battle of the Somme is important for many reasons.  First, it was Britain's first major offensive.  During this battle, the British starting improving offensive strategies that would later help the British fight back Germany and Austria-Hungary.  It was also important to France because the French were able to regain a decent amount of land from the Germans. 

Second, it is important because of the sheet amound of losses (hey, not all importances need to be good news!  The losses are what make the Somme so memorable).  More than 1.2 million men died during this battle alone. (For reference, around 600,000 men died in the American Civil War, 1861-1865)

Third, the Battle of the Somme was important because it weakened the German army, forced their retreat and encouraged an allied offensive.  It allowed the allies to take land back from the Germans, push their lines further into Europe, and recalibrate military strategies.

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The Battle of the Somme was mainly important for the fact that it led to the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of people over the course of a few months.  The battle caused the deaths of an estimated 300,000 soldiers on both sides.  Outside of this, it had little clear impact on the way the war was fought or its outcome.

The Battle of the Somme was a horrible miscalculation.  The British command felt that a huge artillery barrage would render the Germans unable to defend themselves.  They were wrong, and the Germans were able to kill huge numbers of British.

There are historians who say that the battle had important results.  Some say it reduced the German army so much that it was badly weakened.  Others say it helped the British army learn important lessons about how to fight to avoid such horrific casualties in the future.

These effects are a matter of speculation.  What is clear is that this was a horrible battle that helped cement the reputation of WWI as a war of terrible slaughter due to poor decisions on the part of high commanders.

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