The battle included the first use of tanks in warfare.
British Mark I tank at the Battle of the Somme. (Credit: Imperial War Museum)
On September 15, the British deployed 32 Mark I tanks in an attack at Flers-Courcelette. Armed with either 6-pounder cannons or machine guns, the primitive tanks failed to break the military deadlock. Many of the armored vehicles, manned by eight-man crews, were grounded by mechanical breakdowns or ditched after failing to navigate the broken ground. The new instrument of war, which moved at 3 miles per hour, proved too slow to hold positions during counterattacks and was also susceptible to enemy grenades and armor-piercing rifles. As designs improved, the tank had a greater impact later in World War I.
The Battle of the Somme marked the end of Britain’s “Pals Battalions.”
A unit of the Royal Irish Rifles at the Battle of the Somme. (Credit: Imperial War Museum)
In the belief that Britons would be more likely to volunteer to serve in World War I if they could serve alongside their friends, co-workers and neighbors, the British Army encouraged the formation of so-called “pals battalions,” which included groups ranging from London stock brokers to professional soccer players. The terrible losses sustained by these close-knit battalions at the Battle of the Somme, however, devastated the populations of entire communities. In the space of 30 minutes on the battle’s first day, 584 of the 720 members of the Accrington Pals were killed or wounded. The 600-man Grimsby Chums sustained more than 500 casualties on the battle’s opening day. As a result of the horrendous losses, the British Army gradually folded the “pals battalions” into other units.