Primary Documents - Crown Prince Rupprecht on the Battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916
1st July 1916 saw the onset of the predominantly British-led Somme Offensive. Planned as a means of relieving German pressure upon the French at Verdun, and viewed by British Commander-in-Chief Sir Douglas Haig as a means of achieving a breakthrough on the Western Front, the offensive opened with significant British casualties, some 60,000 on the first day alone. The British had mistakenly expected German resistance to be crushed following a week-long preliminary bombardment of the German lines but instead found machine-gunners awaiting their infantry advance.
The Somme Offensive did not provide the much sought after breakthrough but largely resulted in continued trench stalemate, although some territorial gain was achieved by Allied forces. Casualty estimates vary widely: the Allied losses (chiefly British and French) have been put at 600,000 with German casualties estimated to be 500,000.
Reproduced below is the summary written by German commander Crown Prince Rupprecht.
Click here to read Sir Douglas Haig's Somme despatch. Click here to read a summary of the opening of the offensive by one of Britain's official war reporters, Philip Gibbs. Click here to read the official Germany account of the offensive written by General von Steinacker.
The Battle of the Somme by Crown Prince Rupprecht
Since the beginning of the Anglo-French offensive on the Somme sector - called in England "The Great Sweep" - a month has now elapsed, during which, according to earlier announcements by our enemies, an encircling movement was to be completed at all costs.
It will now be useful to examine briefly what has been achieved.
Though on a front of about 28 kilometres they have driven a wedge of about four kilometres depth, they themselves will not assert, after their experiences of July 10th, 22nd, 24th, and 30th that the German line has been shaken at any point.
This success cost the English, according to careful estimates, a loss of at least 230,000 men.
For an estimate of the French losses in this fighting no definite basis is at our disposal, but, as they had to bear the brunt of the battle, their losses must also be heavy, in spite of their greater military skill.
The total losses of our enemies must, therefore, amount to about 350,000, while ours, though regrettable, cannot be compared with theirs so far as numbers are concerned.
A Later Statement, September 15th
Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, September 9th, 10th, and 11th marked the culmination thus far of the first desperate effort of the Entente to force our positions. My officers will tell you the result as we on this side see it. Our losses in territory may be seen on the map with a microscope. Their losses in that far more precious thing - human life - are simply prodigious.
Amply and in full coin have they paid for every foot of ground we sold them. They can have all they want at the same price. We have a reserve, constituted of trained officers and trained men, which has not yet been drawn upon. We are not, like the Entente Generals, forced to throw raw, untrained recruits into the very front of the fighting.
Whether this will be the last effort we cannot know. We have taken measure of their strength at its maximum tide and are prepared for anything they can deliver. For the sake of the thousands whom new attacks will slay in vain we hope they have learned a lesson. So far as the interests of the Fatherland are concerned, we are indifferent; indeed, inclined to welcome any further folly they may indulge in.
It saddens us to exact the dreadful toll of suffering and death that is being marked up on the ledger of history, but if the enemy is still minded to possess a few more hectares of blood-sodden soil, I fear they must pay a bitter price.
Additional Statement of September 28th
This Somme offensive brings an attack of unusual violence every six days on the average. I know this country well from the fighting of 1914. At that time we had moving warfare, while we are now in a position of siege.
In his attacks, beginning in July, the enemy has gained some ground, but a decision of the situation is not to be thought of. One cannot prophesy how things will go here, but one thing is certain: Everything has now been so well provided for by us that one can quietly await coming events, be they what they may.
The offensive will certainly not be at an end very soon. One may well look forward to an offensive of great endurance, with very violent attacks, prepared for by a colossal expenditure of ammunition. We have, however, taken all necessary measures.
Our artillery has been strengthened and our flyers also.
In the last few days our flyers have again had some good successes after their hard fight against the enemy flyers. The fact that our flyers are getting the upper hand is of prime advantage to our artillery.
Our troops have given their all and the nut was too hard for the enemy to crack. I am of the opinion that the enemy is seeking a decision here and this year, and in this he has failed.
Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. IV, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923
Prevalent dysentery among Allied soldiers in Gallipoli came to be referred to as "the Gallipoli gallop".
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