Battle of Somme Sixty Thousand British Casualties Day One



“A ration party of the Royal Irish Rifles in a communication trench during the Battle of the Somme. The date is believed to be 1 July 1916, the first day on the Somme, and the unit is possibly the 1st Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles (25th Brigade, 8th Division).” photo and caption courtesy of the Imperial War Museum

The Royal Irish Rifles was a regular British Army regiment recruited primarily in the northern Irish counties and one of the eight regular British regiments raised and stationed in Ireland before the partition of the country. The regiment was stationed in Belfast.

These men have obviously finished taking rations to the front line trenches since few are carrying anything and they would not be so relaxed if they were close to the front line. Usually the ration parties went up at night. A communication’s trench would be exactly that: a trench running perpendicular to the main trench. No trenches were dug in a straight line. They were all dug in a zig-zag pattern so that if the Germans overran a trench, they couldn’t shoot every soldier in the trench.

First day of the Battle of the Somme British troops go over the top. Many were hit as they climbed out of their trenches.

The first day of the Somme has become a symbol of military incompetence. Both British and French artillery had pounded the German trenches for days but this only gave the Germans notice that an attack was being prepared. German engineers had created very deep and fortified dugouts for their infantry which Allied artillery shells did not penetrate.

British troops leaping a trench on first day of the Battle of the Somme. If the first wave captured a trench the second wave then took their turn. They leapt over the captured trench and endeavored to capture the next one.

When young British subalterns stood up and blew their whistles to signal their men to go over the top, many never made it very far from the trenches since they were shot down by German machine gun fire as soon as they exposed themselves.  Numbers of men were killed as they were climbing up out of their trenches and fell back in, on top of the other men waiting to climb the ladder.

20,000 British soldiers were outright killed on that first day. 40,000 were wounded.

Incredibly, sixty percent of all officers in the attacking formations were killed.

Most of these were young men, 19, 20,21, who went first as officers are supposed to do. Thus exposed, the young officers were mowed down.

(Source: BBC)

The First World War never should have happened and need never happened. But events got out of control, politicians maneuvered for their own personal advantage, various states made impossible demands on each other. As in World War Two, it was the Germans who fanned the flames and launched the Great War for which they paid dearly. But so did everyone else.

The Battle of the Somme lasted from 1 July 1916 until sputtering to and end in November of 1916. Many of the men who went over the top were young conscripts. By the end of the battle, the British Army had suffered 420,000 casualties including nearly 60,000 on the first day alone. The French lost 200,000 men and the Germans nearly 500,000.

War is often incredibly foolish and causes more problems than it solves. World War One was the most tragic event of the 20th Century since it set in motion forces which turned the century into the bloodiest in history.



Crowding Disaster Kills Thousands of French at Agincourt

Above is YouTube vid of Kenneth Branagh’s magnificent, spine-tingling giving the famous “we few, we happy few, we band of brothers….” speech to his men just before the battle.  Branagh, a brilliant actor played Henry V (King Harry to his men) and directed the film as well.
Henry-V-Branagh (1)
Kenneth Branagh as Henry V learns the French have withdrawn from the battlefield leaving him the victor. The King led his army in person.
Long before the countries of Europe existed more or less as we know them, huge parts of Europe and places around the world belong to various ruling dynasties. Through inheritance. marriage and clever dynastic moves, the Kings of England had come to rule a good portion of what today is modern France including the area of Normandy. In fact, Henry V controlled so much of France after the Battle of Agincourt that he became Regent of that country.
To maintain their rule the parts of France which belonged to the Royal House of the Plantagenets, the English had to keep fighting in France to maintain their rule.  The English victory over the French at the Battle of Agincourt on 25 October 1415 — Saint Crispin’s day is one of the great battles of history.

English long bowman at the ready

Personally led by King Henry V himself, the English beat the hell out of the French, largely due to the bravery of the English long bowmen and the incredible force of their arrows which could actually penetrate the armored suits of the French knights. At least that is the theory. No one is certain. Henry V, known as King Harry, led his noble men at arms in their suits of armor and formed them in a line four deep.
Kenneth Branagh as Henry V on the White Cliffs of Dover
The English archers were positioned on the flanks. King Henry’s deployment forced the French, who outnumbered the English by more than 5 to 1, to attack on a very narrow front of 750 yards. This had the effect of packing them together very tightly so they could hardly move and thus the French became jammed together.
English long bowman

The English long bowmen fired barrage after barrage of arrows high into the air over the mass of Frenchmen. Arrows fired high came down with tremendous force, each arrow having a sharpened iron arrowhead known as a bodkin point.


Bodkin1A bodkin point arrowhead. The iron part is about 4 ½ inches long.


Naturally, there is great historical debate over what happened at Agincourt. Experiments have been conducted which prove, or disprove, that the English arrows could penetrate French armor although the ones I have seen on YouTube and elsewhere don’t seem to account for the parabolic effect of the flight of the arrow and the additional force that would give the arrow as it fell.

While the arrows may, or may not have, been able to penetrate the steel armor of the richest nobles, they could penetrate chain mail. (Foot soldiers and lower ranking nobles on foot rarely wore more body protection than chain mail). Further, and more disruptive, the lack of protection horses had from the rain of English arrows was a “game changer.”

An armored knight on a steed was a powerful “weapons system” but unhorsed, he couldn’t move very quickly. In fact, without help, he couldn’t get back on his feet. Killing or disabling a mounted knight’s horse with a flight of arrows would hardly have been difficult.

Without his horse, a medieval knight wearing the battle armor of a mounted man, and not the lighter armor of a man expecting to fight on foot, would have been easy to neutralize since once unhorsed, his mobility was almost zero. Given the visor which covered his eyes except for a tiny slight, he would have difficulty seeing anything not directly in front of him.

An interesting theory claims that numbers of French men-at-arms who were attacking on foot were apparently killed in a classic crowd disaster. There were rank after rank of these men. When crowds press forward into a small space, the force generated begins to create a huge jam of people with more and more force being exerted by people in the back continuing to push forward. This asphyxiates those jammed into the small space who get pushed together so tightly they cannot move — or breathe. The force is also enough to break bones.

If this indeed happened to the thousands of Frenchmen on foot then while they were being jammed together so tightly they could not breath, and their armor plate was no doubt breaking the bones and spines of the men in front of them, it might explain why literally thousands and thousands of Frenchmen died.


Arrows fired by English longbow men could easily penetrate chain mail

According to a research paper by John J. Fruin, Ph.D., P.E.  The Causes and Prevention of Crowd Disasters:      

Crowd forces can reach levels that are almost impossible to resist or control. Virtually all crowd deaths are due to compressive asphyxia and not the “trampling” reported by the news media. Evidence of bent steel railings after several fatal crowd incidents show that forces of more than 4500 N (1,000 lbs.) occurred. Forces are due to pushing and the domino effect of people leaning against each other.

When the Frenchmen began to endure this horror, panic would have set in, which would only have increased the intense force pushing the men together as some tried to go forward and others backward. Into the midst of this panicked crowd, the English bowmen were shooting upwards of 50,000 arrows a minute. They didn’t aim at individuals. They just fired masses of arrows into the air so they would come down in an arc onto a crowd.

figure above is from Medieval Character Models. (Arrows would have gone through the chain-mail)

There were 5,000 plus English archers and they could fire about ten arrows a minute. They were well trained although physical exhaustion would have led to a slackening of fire after a time. If you have ever fired a bow and arrow for just a few times you become aware of the muscle power required.

Still, whatever the pack of French knights and men at arms were trying to do, they were doing it under a hail of deadly arrows. And only the wealthiest men could afford the best steel armor which could not be penetrated by English arrows. Only a handful would have been wearing armor like that. Most would have had inferior armor and chain mail which the English arrows could and did penetrate.

French casualties were said to be in the thousands against a handful of English dead and the French who survived their calamitous defeat left the battlefield in shock defeated in mind and spirit.

From Henry V. After the slaughter of the French knights and gentlemen on foot, the French herald comes and informs Henry that he has won a great victory.


I tell thee truly, herald,
I know not if the day be ours or no;
For yet a many of your horsemen peer
And gallop o’er the field.


The day is yours.


Praised be God, and not our strength, for it!
What is this castle call’d that stands hard by?


They call it Agincourt.


Then call we this the field of Agincourt,
Fought on the day of Crispin Crispianus.



Free French Destroyer Triomphant

A massive wave washes over the deck of the Free French Force destroyer, Le Triomphant, during a cyclone. She was on convoy duty with the American oil tanker Cedar Mills and the Dutch cargo ship Java when the cyclone hit and received considerable damage. Without fuel, water and provisions and listing 45 degrees, she was towed by the Cedar Mills to Diego Suarez, Madagascar, for repairs.

Le Triomphant, one of six Le Fantasque class destroyers built by At. & Ch de France of Dunkirk, France, was launched on 16 April 1934 and commissioned into the French Navy on 25 May 1936. She had a complement of 220 officers and men and was reputed to reach speeds of well over 40 knots.

On 3 July 1940 she arrived at the British port of Plymouth, escaping the Vichy French government and was transferred to the French Free force under the command of Commandant Pierre Gilly. She served in the Pacific after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, undertaking numerous escort and convoy assignments. (photo courtesy of Australian War Memorial)


The crew of the Free French Force destroyer, Le Triomphant, race to apply a collision mat to the damaged ship’s hull during a cyclone on 2 December 1943. The collision mat, a large piece of canvas, is passed under the ship and is held in place by the pressure of the water trying to enter the breach. (photo courtesy of Australian War Memorial)


The crew of the Free French Force ship Le Triomphant, a large destroyer of Le Fantasque class, are presented to the leader of the Free French Force, General Charles Andre Joseph Marie de Gaulle (saluting on right) while in port at Algiers. Saluting General de Gaulle is Lieutenant de Vaisseau Leon Mequin (later Commanding Officer of the Free French Force corvette Lobelia). General de Gaulle is attended by the Minister for the Navy, Louis Jacquinot and Commandant Pierre Gilly.  (photo courtesy of Australian War Memorial)



Starboard broadside view of the French Free Force ship the large destroyer Le Triomphant. One of six Le Fantasque class destroyers built by AT & CH de France of Dunkirk, France, she was launched on 16 April 1934 and commissioned into the French Navy on 25 May 1936.


Members of the ship’s crew of FFS LE TRIOMPHANT in working rig, seated on gantries hanging over the ship’s side, painting the ship’s bow. FFS LE TRIOMPHANT was one of the French naval ships which came to British ports after the capitulation of the French Government and was manned by Free French sailors, forming part of the Free French Navy.


*Feature photograph: Starboard broadside view of the French Free Force ship the large destroyer Le Triomphant. One of six Le Fantasque class destroyers built by AT & CH de France of Dunkirk, France, she was launched on 16 April 1934 and commissioned into the French Navy on 25 May 1936

Eisenhower Explains Operation Torch

American troops on board a landing craft heading for the beaches at Oran in Algeria during Operation 'Torch', November 1942. A 12661 Part of ADMIRALTY OFFICIAL COLLECTION Hudson, F A (Lt) Royal Navy official photographer

American troops on board a landing craft heading for the beaches at Oran in Algeria during Operation ‘Torch’, November 1942. 

(photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum, Admiralty Official Collection. Photograph by Lt. F.A. Hudson, Royal Navy official photographer)

Wrote General Eisenhower after the war:

“The situation was vague, the amount of resources unknown, the final objective indeterminate and the only firm factor in the whole business [were] our instructions to attack.”


Everything about Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of French North Africa, was a muddle. The Americans and the British had only a vague idea of what they were doing. Training and rehearsal had been minimal across the board. The Allies had very little experience in amphibious landings and those they had attempted heretofore had not worked.
With only scant training, young sailors found themselves dumped aboard warships for the first time in their lives. Army soldiers had never trained for this type of assault and many had not yet received even the rudiments of combat training. The only trained amphibious force in the US military were the US Marines but they were consumed by the war in the Pacific.

Inter-allied communications were inadequate. Merchant ships carrying important cargo or troops were not adequately protected from air attack which everyone seems to have forgotten about. Few of the merchant ships were combat loaded. Planning was hurried, inadequate and in the classic military phrase, the Allied invasion known as Torch can be characterized as “order, counter-order, disorder.”

The Anglo-American forces prevailed largely because of the actions of the British Royal Navy and US Navy warships. Both navies performed at a high standard given how haphazard the entire affair was. Captains took initiative and closed the beaches to fire at French shore batteries and/or machine guns firing on Allied troops. Heavy ships moved in to provide cover for destroyers being targeted by coastal batteries and undertook the barrages themselves.

(This type of gunfire support from Allied naval ships was also critical during the Normandy landings. On occasion, Allied destroyers were so close they were dueling with German artillery batteries).


General Eisenhower’s postwar summation of Torch is apt: “The situation was vague, the amount of resources unknown, the final objective indeterminate and the only firm factor in the whole business [were] our instructions to attack.”



Cool Vid USAF Mid-Air Refueling French Mirage Fighters Over Iraq



US Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker of 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron fuels French Mirage fighters over Iraq in June of 2015. Official US Air Force video.

To Hell With Everything! Join the French Foreign Legion. 

“Whatever your origins, nationality or religion might be, whatever qualifications you may or may not have, whatever your social or professional status might be, whether you are married or single, the French Foreign Legion offers you a chance to start a new life…”


From the website of the Foreign Legion


Foreign Legion troops in combat in Afghanistan.

French Foreign Legionnaires advancing against the enemy in Afghanistan.

If you join the Legion, make it through the arduous initial training, and earn the right to wear the white kepi or the kepi blanc,  you are forbidden from wearing civilian clothes off base until you have served for five years.  Also important to know: you will be easily recognized in public as a Legionnaire. Why? Because Foreign Legionnaires are the only men in the French army allowed to wear the white kepi.



Foreign Legionnaire under fire in Afghanistan

As of January 2014, the Foreign Legion had a total strength of 7,699 men. Of this total, 413 are officers and 1,741 are NCOs. The remainder, 5545 are legionnaires divided into 11 regiments. While the Legion itself is an elite unit, the paratroopers in the Legion are the elite of the elite.

90% of the officers are from the regular French Army but 10% rose from the ranks. I think this is relatively new since I recall that some years ago I read about the Legion and at that time all the officers were seconded from the French Army and the highest rank a legionnaire could aspire to was sergeant-major.


Legionnaire in Mali where the the Legion decimated Islamic extremists who had seized part of the country.

(photo courtesy of

As you might imagine, there are men from as many as 136 to 140 countries serving in the French Foreign Legion including American citizens. French citizens can serve in the Legion but I have the impression they need a really good reason since there are many elite units in the French Army they are eligible to join.

You can join the Legion under a “declared name” or your legal name. After three years of satisfactory service, you can apply for French citizenship although this is not guaranteed for those serving under a nom de guerre. Theoretically this is to prevent those who are in trouble with the authorities in their country from becoming French but I suspect that if they are a few men short they look the other way. Their website says that you cannot join if you are wanted by Interpol.



Legionnaires wearing their traditional white kepi

photo courtesy of Wikimedia commons

La Légion étrangère marches at 88 steps a minute in formal parade. The standard for French soldiers is 132 steps a minute. Hence, the Legion always beings up the end of any French military parade in which they participate.

If you are an American and serve in the army of a foreign power or swear an oath of allegiance to a foreign power your US citizenship can be forfeit under various circumstances according to the information in the US passport. (Your passport actually belongs to the US Government–something I just read when I checked the previous sentence). A paragraph in the front of your passport is English and French because for centuries French was the language of diplomacy.

Since it is the Foreign Legion and most of the men are not French, Legionnaires take an oath to the Foreign Legion itself and not to France according to: Mercenaries: A Guide to Private Armies and Private Military Companies by Alan Axelrod.





Légionnaires in modern dress uniform. Note the green and red epaulettes, the distinctive white kepi and the blue sash. They carry France’s standard assault rifle, the FAMAS. The Legionnaires are returning from a Bastille day military parade in 2005.

Photo by David Monniaux courtesy of Wikipedia


Monument to the Legionnaires in Aubagne. It originally stood at the Legion’s headquarters in Siddi Bel Abbes and was moved when Algeria gained independence. Countries where the Legion has served are marked in gold. The monument is flanked by four legionnaires and the centre is guarded by two lion heads. It is inscribed La Legion A Ses Morts –The Legion to its dead.
(caption and photo by davric – collection personnelle courtesy of Wikipedia)