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War Diaries

The Battles of the Somme

September 15-November 18, 1916

The Canadians on the Somme

"We have been racehorses at the wire and on the 15th of September the barrier was raised."

War Diary of the 5th Field Ambulance, September 15, 1916. RG 9, series III-D-3, vol. 528.

Canadian troops fought on the Somme in a series of battles that stretched from the last days of summer until winter's first wet snows. The broad objective of this campaign was to pierce the heavy defences that the Germans had been constructing in this area since the start of 1916. Cavalry would then be poured through the breaches to advance deep into German-held territory. Canadian infantry and artillery played major roles in these bloody, but inconclusive battles.

The Somme campaign of autumn 1916 marked a significant evolution in Allied commanders' understanding of trench warfare. Plans called for troops to capture and consolidate a series of objectives, rather than attempting to achieve everything in one concerted assault. Part of these new tactics included the introduction of two inventions that were designed to overcome the machine gun's dominance. Creeping barrages shielded the infantry as it advanced across open ground, and prevented the enemy machine gunners from defending their trenches. Similarly, commanders hoped that heavily armoured tanks would cross "No Man's Land" with ease and wreak havoc in the enemy's trenches and rear areas. Neither creeping barrages nor tanks were immediately as dominant as their creators had hoped, but their appearance on the battlefield marked a significant development in trench warfare tactics that would pay off in the future.