One hundred years ago today the British and French armies launched an offensive to push the German front line back from the hitherto little known River Somme.

The British Army preceded its push with an artillery bombardment intended to cut the German barbed wire and wipe out the front line troops, the belief being that their forces could then stroll across No Man’s Land at their leisure and easily mop any remaining resistance. Sadly matters didn’t go to plan. The Germans had been expecting them and had dug deep enough to escape most of the incoming shells.

As soon as the bombardment stopped the German forces returned to the surface and prepared to repel the invaders with machine gun fire which they did to such effect that by the end of the day the British Army had lost 19,240 dead. The first day of the Battle of the Somme remains the worst single day in the history of the British Army. The battle continued until November by which time about six miles of progress had been made at a cost of more than 300,000 lives between both sides.

Conversely the French Army achieved its objectives and for both French and German historians the battle is little more than a footnote in the context of the horrors of Verdun.