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The summer of 2016 marks the Centenary of one of the bloodiest battles in the history of warfare; the Battle of the Somme. Also known as the Somme Offensive it started on July 1st 1916 and ran until November 18th and was intended to achieve a decisive breakthrough for Allied Forces against the German frontline on the Western Front in France. Fought on both sides of the River Somme across an 18 mile stretch of frontline trenches, the battle saw the introduction of the first tanks to the Western Front and also the first concerted struggle for supremacy in the air above the battle field.
Whilst men in the trenches were fighting and dying in their thousands, an equally frenetic battle was being contested in the skies above them by a relatively small number of opposing aviators. Aerial reconnaissance played an enormously important part in the battle with aircraft such as the BE2c photographing the German trenches but it was a hazardous undertaking with new German ‘scouts’ like the Fokker Eindecker constantly trying to shoot them down. Later in the battle the British used their new ‘tanks’ for the first time to try to break the deadlock. Initially, success was limited due to unreliability and the crew’s inexperience but later they made a useful contribution to the Allies modest advance.
By the end of the Somme Offensive over a million men from both sides had been killed or wounded but the French and British forces had penetrated just 6 miles into German held territory.