A hundred years ago, British units (alongside a smaller French force) attacked the Germans on an eleven-mile wide front in Picardy, straddling the Somme River. The attack was the attempt to break through on the Western Front, and in accordance with emerging artillery doctrine and practice, the German lines were saturated with shells for a week in advance. But when the artillery stopped to allow the British to attack, the Germans raced out of their deep dugouts, manned their machine guns, and mowed down the British attackers. Nearly 20,000 British soldiers died on this day, July 1, a hundred years ago.
Many historians of World War I today argue that this battle was a kind of victory, since it kept the Germans from breaking through at other places. Or that it showed that the Allies could mount a huge assault. Or that it was part of "learning curve" in the process that finally won the war for the Allies.