For a number of months the French had been taking severe losses at Verdun to the East of Paris. The Allied High Command decided to attack the Germans to the North of Verdun, forcing the Germans to move some of their men away from the Verdun battlefield thus relieving the French.
Haig battered the enemy lines with a five-day-long artillery barrage intended to destroy the German barbed wire, wreck their trenches and kill the defenders. In reality, when the artillery barrage stopped, German machine gunners were out of their shelters and ready to fire within two minutes.
The Battle started on 1 July 1916 and on that day the British army suffered its largest number of casualties ever – 19,200 dead and around 60,000 wounded or missing. Most of the casualties fell in the first hundred metres of no-man’s land.
The Battle of the Somme has been described as the graveyard of the various local battalions raised across Scotland in the late summer of 1914. On the Somme, the 16th Battalion, Highland Light Infantry (the Boys’ Brigade Battalion) suffered more than 500 casualties and McCrae’s (Hearts) Battalion of the Royal Scots suffered 75 per cent casualties.
Overall 400,000 British soldiers lost their lives on the Somme but it cost the Germans almost as many. Only later did it become clear that the Battle of the Somme had broken the back of the German army on the Western Front.