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Battle of the Somme

British troops in a sunken road between La Boisselle and Contalmaison, during the Battle of the Somme. France, July 1916.

British troops in a sunken road between La Boisselle and Contalmaison, during the Battle of the Somme. France, July 1916. —© IWM (Q 813) http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205072254 (external link)

July 1, 1916

The Battle of the Somme begins.

World War I represented one of the most destructive wars in modern history. Nearly ten million soldiers died as a result of hostilities, a figure which far exceeded the military deaths in all the wars of the previous one hundred years combined. Although accurate casualty statistics are difficult to ascertain, an estimated 21 million men were wounded in combat.

The enormous losses on all sides of the conflict resulted in part from the introduction of new weapons, like the machine gun and gas warfare, as well as the failure of military leaders to adjust their tactics to the increasingly mechanized nature of warfare. A policy of attrition, particularly on the Western Front, cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of soldiers. On July 1, 1916, the date which saw the heaviest loss of life in a single day, the British Army on the Somme River, in France, alone suffered over 57,000 casualties.