When President Hollande athas a tendency the centenary on Friday, he will certainly be the initially French head of state at a Somme commemoration in even more than 80 years.

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President De Gaulle did not attfinish the 50th anniversary in 1966. Nor have his followers gone to any type of succeeding event.


In fact the last time a French head of state checked out a Somme commemoration remained in 1932 once the long-forgotten Albert Lebrun helped inauguprice the Thiepval memorial alongside the future King Edward VIII.


In a way this is extremely odd, because the 1916 Battle of the Somme was not just a British fight - it was a French battle too.


The broad outlines of the Somme offensive had actually been drawn up by the Allies the previous winter - and initially the plan was for a joint attack on the German front through the British and French contributing roughly equally.


But then came the Germale assault on Verdun in February, which forced the French to draw away resources to the eastern. In the finish their share in the Somme was around one-third, to the British two-thirds.


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In mid-1916, the British and French lines on the Western Front met just above the River Somme near the village of Maricourt.


The British line headed west in the direction of Albert, then turned north alongside the little river dubbed the Ancre. The French line went south throughout the River Somme.


At dawn on 1 July both militaries got in action. The disaster that bedropped the British, Irish and also Commonwealth troops is famed.


Less celebrated are the successes of the French. In the first 10 days they achieved a lot of of their objectives, progressing a number of miles at some points and also taking 12,000 German prisoners.


"The French were more realistic in their ambitions, and also they were additionally even more knowledgeable," says chronicler Marjolaine Boutet.


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"Many of the British troops were Kitchener volunteers, for whom the Somme was the first suffer of fighting. The French had actually the battles of 1914 and also '15 behind them."


British devices, much less skilled, relocated forward at a set rhythm - theoretically timed to enhance the slow-moving breakthrough of the rolling barrage. Hence the well known descriptions of Tommies walking right into machine-guns.


The French expected much less of their artillery, and their troops were motivated to use terrain and "duck and also run".


"The Germans were not expecting a French strike. They were far more worried around the British, so they had concentrated their reinforcements on the northern component of the sector. That expected that the French had an much easier time of it," says chronicler Stephane Audoin-Rouzeau.


In the end the Somme settled right into a tragic four-month fight of attrition, in which the French experienced, just as the British and also the Germans did.


Most estimates put the number of French casualties at around 200,000 (killed, absent or wounded). The British and Germans had more than 400,000 casualties each.


As Audoin-Rouzeau points out, this renders the Somme a more costly fight than the simultaneous fight of Verdun - in which about 300,000 guys passed away.


In the end, Verdun had actually practically no impact on the course of the battle. But historians currently think that the Somme convinced German generals of thriving Allied strength, and hence tipped them into the submarine war on shipping - which in turn lugged in the Americans.

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So exactly how come the French care so little bit around a fight of such prestige, in which so many kind of of their own troops were killed?


"Sometimes I take groups of French world roughly the battlefields, and they are dumbstarted. They are discovering it for the initially time."


The main reason is that the Somme was entirely overshadowed in the nation's narrative by Verdun.