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L'offensiva della Somme

La battaglia della Somme (in francese Bataille de la Somme, in inglese Battle of the Somme, in tedesco Schlacht an der Somme) fu un'imponente serie di offensive lanciate dagli anglo-francesi sul fronte occidentale della prima guerra mondiale a partire dal 1º luglio 1916, nel tentativo di sfondare le linee tedesche nel settore lungo circa sessanta chilometri tra Lassigny a sud ed Hébuterne a nord, settore tagliato in due dal fiume Somme, nella Francia settentrionale.
L'offensiva si svolse con un massiccio attacco di fanteria che, secondo i piani degli alleati, avrebbe dovuto creare le condizioni favorevoli per una rapida avanzata della cavalleria e, forse, per la vittoria definitiva. La battaglia, voluta fortemente dalla Francia per alleggerire l'enorme e insostenibile pressione tedesca a Verdun, dimostrò allo stesso tempo la caparbietà e l'impreparazione tattica e strategica con cui lo Stato Maggiore britannico affrontò la prima grande offensiva delle forze alleate.
Solo nel primo giorno di avanzata, la British Expeditionary Force (BEF) subì oltre cinquantanovemila perdite e ventimila caduti: nonostante una settimana di bombardamento di preparazione e lo scoppio di dieci enormi mine poco prima dell'inizio dell'avanzata anglo-francese, i tedeschi ressero molto bene l'attacco protetti nei loro rifugi sotterranei ("stollen"), e quando ne uscirono si trovarono davanti un'enorme massa di uomini che avanzavano lentamente nella terra di nessuno a passo di marcia, prestandosi quindi ad essere un facile bersaglio.
Con l'autunno la pioggia trasformò il campo di battaglia e le trincee in un immenso pantano che rese impossibile ogni ulteriore velleità bellica; il 19 novembre si spense l'ultima fase della battaglia, e nemmeno l'apparizione sul campo di battaglia dei primi esemplari di carro armato, nel settembre 1916, provocò una svolta a favore degli anglo-francesi.
Da un punto strettamente tattico si poté parlare di limitato successo alleato - l'esercito del Kaiser Guglielmo dovette arretrare di alcuni chilometri - ma il guadagno territoriale irrilevante e l'elevatissimo numero di perdite decretarono il fallimento strategico complessivo dell'operazione: con 620 000 perdite tra gli Alleati e circa 450 000 tra le file tedesche, la Somme si dimostrò una delle più grandi e sanguinose battaglie della prima guerra mondiale.

The Battle of the Somme (French: Bataille de la Somme, German: Schlacht an der Somme), also known as the Somme Offensive, was a battle of the First World War fought by the armies of the British and French empires against the German Empire. It took place between 1 July and 18 November 1916 on both sides of the upper reaches of the River Somme in France. The battle was intended to hasten a victory for the Allies and was the largest battle of the First World War on the Western Front. More than one million men were wounded or killed, making it one of the bloodiest battles in human history.
The French and British had committed themselves to an offensive on the Somme during Allied discussions at Chantilly, Oise, in December 1915. The Allies agreed upon a strategy of combined offensives against the Central Powers in 1916, by the French, Russian, British and Italian armies, with the Somme offensive as the Franco-British contribution. Initial plans called for the French army to undertake the main part of the Somme offensive, supported on the northern flank by the Fourth Army of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). When the Imperial German Army began the Battle of Verdun on the Meuse on 21 February 1916, French commanders diverted many of the divisions intended for the Somme and the "supporting" attack by the British became the principal effort.
The first day on the Somme (1 July) saw a serious defeat for the German Second Army, which was forced out of its first position by the French Sixth Army, from Foucaucourt-en-Santerre south of the Somme to Maricourt on the north bank and by the Fourth Army from Maricourt to the vicinity of the Albert–Bapaume road. The first day on the Somme was, in terms of casualties, also the worst day in the history of the British army, which suffered 57,470 casualties. These occurred mainly on the front between the Albert–Bapaume road and Gommecourt, where the attack was defeated and few British troops reached the German front line. The British troops on the Somme comprised a mixture of the remains of the pre-war regular army; the Territorial Force; and Kitchener's Army, a force of volunteer recruits including many Pals' Battalions, recruited from the same places and occupations.
The battle is notable for the importance of air power and the first use of the tank. At the end of the battle, British and French forces had penetrated 10 km (6 mi) into German-occupied territory, taking more ground than in any of their offensives since the Battle of the Marne in 1914. The Anglo-French armies failed to capture Péronne and halted 5 km (3 mi) from Bapaume, where the German armies maintained their positions over the winter. British attacks in the Ancre valley resumed in January 1917 and forced the Germans into local withdrawals to reserve lines in February, before the scheduled retirement to the Siegfriedstellung (Hindenburg Line) began in March. Debate continues over the necessity, significance and effect of the battle. David Frum opined that a century later, "'the Somme' remains the most harrowing place-name" in the history of the British Commonwealth.

Wikipedia

 

The wounded are dressed in a trench during the Courcelette operation of the Battle of the Somme, France, on 15 September 1916. Handout / Reuters

Canadian stretcher bearers carry the dead from a battlefield during the Battle of the Somme. Handout . / Reuters

Canadians return victorious carrying war trophies from Courcelette during the Battle of the Somme, France. Handout . / Reuters

Shrapnel bursts over a reserve trench in Canadian lines during the Battle of the Somme. Handout . / Reuters

A gunnery officer writes a Christmas message on a Canadian heavy howitzer during the Battle of the Somme. Handout . / Reuters

Gas-masked men of the British Machine Gun Corps with a Vickers machine gun during the first Battle of the Somme. General Photographic Agency / Getty Images

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