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Lest we forget- The Battle of the Somme
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Author:Robert Frazer
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Date: 11/17/01 10:11
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Lest we forget...


With Remembrance Sunday taking place recently (truth be told I intended to post this report on the day but was unable to complete it in time), I felt that it was appropriate that as the world turns to reflect on the bloodbaths of decades previously, that we should consider one of the most marked events in these struggles, and a spectre that still haunts the world today. Whether you wish to interpret the Somme as a glorious victory or a sordid embarrassment is your wish, but I hope that this account of the battle will perhaps give you a balanced and informative view of a defining point in World War I, a war which altered the future of the world for ever.

The Alttext for each picture provides a comment on its origination

The Battle of the Somme- Why did it take place?


During 1916 the constipated deadlock of the Western Front further perpetrated in its bitter and seemingly inexhaustible cycle, with two of the factions of the Triple Entente, Britain and France, railing themselves against the infuriatingly staunch barricade stretching across France and Belgium, its trenches manned by German troops, the backbone of the Central Powers. The generals and strategians that wrested at the helms of the... of each alliance contemplated the stubborn stalemate with the germinations of deep concern stirring in the soils of their thoughts.
British and French casualties were horrendous, with the Germans ruthlessly gripping the proud formations and grimly determined forays to smash asunder the gates that barred their passage to Berlin, gouging and rending them to a tattered, pitiful ruin, casting them unceremoniously backwards, tarnished with the stains of blood and mud of the trenches.A pair of cartoons by Bruce Bairnsfather commenting sarcastically on the apparently futile British attacksThe Germans themselves struggled to maintain their grip on the Western Front with the small, but persistent, note of desperation in their actions ascending towards its forte- its precious army, drawn against the superior numbers of soldiers that Britain and France wielded on the Western Front, was gradually being eroded to a pale ghost of its initial pride-bedecked self. Whilst its fists and knees were skinned and bloodied, the constricting noose of the Royal Navy's blockade of the Central Powers was beginning to bite into the flesh of Germany's war economy, with its factories and workshops coughing their first alarmed stutters as the well of raw materials and fuel was furiously drained. Whilst their eyes were thrown across no-man's-land, tensely poised to receive the next bombardment dealt by the tireless Allied artillery, their minds regarded the East with escalating apprehension, willing the Russians to have the grace to suffer their final defeat and concede the war to them, and so permit the transfer of hundreds of thousands of troops to France which could hopefully imbalance the scales of power on the Western Front in their favour.
Obviously, the Allies could not allow such an event to happen, and it became ever more imperative to unblock the stalemate on the Western Front for it was clear that Russia was flagging- her army was undisciplined, poorly equipped (at one time three Russian soldiers would had only one rifle between them, and no guarantee that there would be sufficient ammunition for it), underfed and with incompetent leadership, and there were little resources to equip it with (As the Germans had steadily bulldozed the Russians deeper into their homeland during 1915, they had seized a third of Russia's industrial land and badly damaged her war economy). A storm of civil unrest was brewing against the Tsar Nicholas II for his impotence in being unable to reverse the tired dirge of defeat his country was suffering into more palatable fortunes. The other members of the Triple Entente found it impossible to supply the Russians effectively- the German Navy had control of the Baltic Sea routes, the Turks were blockading the Black Sea and the Artic routes passing over Norway were frozen for half of the year, limiting their use. The only open supply route was for the British to march supplies from India through Afganistan, but it would take so long and be so arduous that by the time they would arrive in Russia theirA cigarette advertisement in 1915. In order to preserve morale the British public was shielded from the realities of trench warfare which, suffice to say, were much more bleaker than the advert suggests. Letters from the Front were censored, and the 'Official Standard History' (a periodical that recorded the war 'as it happened') was even forbidden from showing dead bodies in its illustrations. contribution would arrive too late to be beneficial.

So the Allied commanders wrestled with the grail of breaking open the seal to Germany of the Western Front with speed. An attempt to circumnavigate the Western Front had been engaged through 1915- this was the infamous Dardanelles-Gallipoli campaign. It was a largely British enterprise, backed by Winston Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty, commander of the Royal Navy. The campaign was based on the axiom coined by Lloyd George, a Liberal MP who was to later become Prime Minister, as "knocking out the props from under Germany", by exploiting what was deemed to be the weakest member of the Central Powers, Turkey. It would achieve a constellation of benefits- as well as knocking out Turkey it would open up a supply route to Russia across the Black Sea, and provide a staging post for soldiers to advance through the "soft underbelly of Germany", Austria-Hungary, to open up a new front. It could also convince Bulgaria, which was planning to join the Central Powers, to refrain from throwing its lot in with a doomed alliance, and encourage the neutral Greece and Rumania to join the Entente. The plan was popular in 1915 because it was a naval assault up the Dardanelles Strait across the Sea of Marmara to bombard Constantinople (modern day Istanbul), and so would avoid the stagnation of trench warfare. The operation was, however, a disaster- the Dardanelles campaign was an unmitigated failure, with the Royal Navy losing three battlecruisers when running into a minefield, sparking off a frantic retreat to prevent any further damage being inflicted (yet if the Navy had persevered for a short while longer they could have succeeded, for the Turkish forts that were bombarding the battlesquadron from the coasts were running out of ammunition!). Striving still to take Constantinople, a subsequent land invasion was launched to open up a bridgehead on the neighbouring Gallipoli peninsula, but the six week lull whilst troops were organised and sailed over to Turkey had handed the Turks time to fortify their defences on Gallipoli, and the invasion immediately degenerated into trench warfare once more. With almost no gain to be shown after months of fighting, the campaign was deemed a failure and a full withdrawal was made from Gallipoli in December 1915.

This was the reality of trench warfare- a trench a Guedecourt in December 1915 This confirmed the Western Front as being the stage of which any future attempt to take Germany would take place, for the humiliating shambles that was the Dardanelles-Gallipoli campaign had thrown the whole idea of an "alternate strategy" to avoid the Western Front into disrepute. This was the first factor that would lead towards the conception of the Battle of the Somme.
The ever-pressing urgency to end the stagnation of the Western Front also decreed that the Somme was to involve more men and resources than any trench battle to date- if taps with a club could not crack the wall of the German's front line, perhaps a hurtling sledgehammer blow would be more successful. The Allies also planned to supplement this by making the Somme part of a cohesive assault on the Central Powers on three fronts- the Somme in the West, the Brusilov Offensive in the East and a push against Austria-Hungary by the Italians. A concerted attack would hopefully split the Central Power's resources and attention, and make them less capable of defending their land competently.
The reason why the Somme was chosen as the particular battlefield on which the Western element was to drive through was because the area ran along the boundry of the Allied trenches that were manned by the British to the north and the French to the south- a combined assault by both nations would, they reasoned, instil a sense of comradeship between the soldiers and make them fight more effectively. The planned participation of the French in the drive, however, was humbugged by the violent German assault of the French fortress town of Verdun. The Germans had always known that a 'Somme', in one form or another, would rear itself up above the British trenches and thus sought to pre-empt it by removing the French out of the equation in assaulting Verdun. Verdun was a town that had great psychological significance for the French- it has been likened to their equivalent of the Tower of London- and the Germans were soundly confident that the French would drown all that they could spare and all that they could not in defending it. An illustration of an artillery fusillade from the Official Standard History If the Germans could maintain a punishing level of attrition, they hoped that it would "bleed the French dry" and render their army a shrunken, shattered husk. If the town was taken as well it would be a crippling blow to the French morale. In the months preceding the Battle of the Somme this was precisely what was happening- by July 1916 over 700,000 men had been killed on at Verdun, and the French army was crumbling away at an alarming rate. Therefore the Battle of the Somme bore the mantle of a new objective- the large offensive would draw Germany's attention and manpower away from Verdun and relieve the town before the blinkered perceptions of the French caused them to destroy themselves.
The reason why the Germans would be able to "bleed" the French, instead of having the situation reversed upon themselves, was because of the quality of their troops. The Germans had a highly trained, excellently equipped and well disciplined professional army, whereas the British and French fought for the most part (at the beginning of the war the professional British Expeditionary Force numbered 30,000 men- the Germans had had a strong army that numbered over 2,000,000) with conscripted soldiers which although having the advantage of expendability, were trained hurriedly, and armed with factory-line equipment that was not as effective as the German weapons (especially when during 1916 the British were in the midst of an ammunition crisis which left them with severe supply problems and flawed armaments as a result). If enough damage could be inflicted upon the Germans in breaking through on the Somme their precious professional army would be devastated and rendered ineffective. This would even the imbalance between each faction as the Germans would have no recourse but to fall upon conscripts of a similar calibre to the Allies, and would also damage morale in Germany as civilians who had thought themselves safe from war found conscription notices slipping through their letterboxes. If the Allies would be able to break the Western Front as well, the Germans would find it difficult to raise a new army in time to meet the march on Berlin!

The Somme was certainly ambitious- but could its aims be realised?

What was the Battle of the Somme like?



An artillery shell tearing through the German trench lines at the Somme


It is quite simple to view the Battle of the Somme as an expensive and bumbling failure that achieved little, but I would not agree with this statement. The Somme still managed to accomplish most of its secondary objectives, and for that it can be redeemed, yet it is wholly possible that the Somme could have been a total victory, and bought at less of a price than was paid in those five months of fighting, had the tactical decisions been more sound during it.

The parabasis of the Battle of the Somme was that it would crush the foe with its sheer weight and size- with the heaviest artillery bombardments, the largest infantry formations, and the most dedicated troops, crashing and dashing themselves against the rocks of Germany with such force and vigour and dogged persistence that they would surely crack, collapse and be swamped in the tide of the onrushing Allies. No battle of a comparable size to it had ever been planned before- and such a gigalithic engagement was brought to the fore with a suitably epic opening.
A cartoon by Bruce Bairnsfather championing the sheer weight of artillery barrages.Imagine for a moment the apocalyptic damage that an incessant week long artillery barrage would cause- you can easily conjure evocative images of enormous rents being torn through the landscape, seething fires consuming all before it in violent fires that scorch all to bedrock. Hapless soldiers thrown into the sky, only to be cast back downwards like broken dolls with the sickening cracks of shattering bone accompanied with wetly bursting sinew, overshadowed by the titanic, roaring, definitive collapse of once-impenetrable bastions split asunder by the shrieking blades of a vengeful intensity.
Yet those images, however, are some distance from the true effects of the preliminary bombardment. It would have been as much of an Armageddon that was retold in the preceding paragraph, but was seriously undermined before the first shell had even been loaded. The commander of the British forces at the Battle of the Somme was a Field-Marshal Haig, and during its planning he had had a heated argument with another British commander, named Rawlinson, over what strategy A picture of Field-Marshal Sir Douglas Haigwould be implemented for the bombardment. Haig wished for a short bombardment on a wide sector of the German front line, and deep into their reserve trenches- this would disrupt German communications and leave them little time to react before the infantry stormed over the trenches, and would also mean that they could not defend as effectively, as their forces would be stretched out thinly across a wide front. Rawlinson however preferred a long-lasting bombardment on small, select sections of the Germans' front line, because it would be then easier to break open a breach if the attack was concentrated. The two could not argue their superiority over the other, and eventually both conceded to the worst tactical lack of foresight that strategians can- a compromise. Thus it was settled for a long bombardment on a wide section of the German line. This was flawed in that the strength of the bombardment would be 'diluted' across a wide front and rendered less effective, and this was coupled with various other faults- Haig ordered the bombardment of civillian towns in no-man's land which served no purpose other than to create difficult terrain that would be easier for the Germans to defend, and he forbade firing on sections of the German line that were within 300 metres of the British trenches, for he feared that inaccurate shells would kill his own men. A sensible fear- but one whose precautions were completely defeated when he still ordered infantry attacks on these unharmed stretches of line! The length of the bombardment also handed Germany's reserve soldiers lurking behind the trench lines a week's opportunity to prepare to receive the infantry assault- even if a trench was to be taken on the opening days of the Somme it would be unlikely that it could be held for long.
The preliminary bombardment was also incapacitated by the poor quality of the British gunnery. As stated earlier, Britain was suffering an ammunition crisis during the Somme, and due to lack of supplies many of its artillery shells were poorly made. The British artillery launched over 1.7 million shells at the Germans during the preliminary bombardment, but of those one third were duds, and useless.
A British trench during the Battle of the Somme
The final nail in the bombardment's coffin was soundly hammered by an unforgivable flaw in Haig's general strategy for the battle- he assumed that the Germans would adopt the same attitude towards warfare as he did. View the image of a British trench to the right- it's a very crude construction. The Allies were complacent that they would soon succeed in repulsing the Germans, and so saw little need in fortifying their trenches as what use would they be if you were going to march onwards and abandon them in a few weeks time? The critical fallacy in this was that the assumption that the same mindset was possessed the Germans- who actually followed a completely different policy. They knew all too well that the Allies outnumbered them heavily on the Western Front- by as much as a 2:1 ratio- and until Russia had been defeated in the East there was no prospect of receiving reinforcements- the Germans, if they were to preserve their army, simply could not afford to attack (From 1915 onwards they made only two major offensives- Verdun in 1916, and the Ludendorf offensive in 1918), and so heavily fortified their trenches for a defensive role.
This factor upsets the British tactical thinking so- even after a year and a half of trench fighting through 1915 and 1916, Haig had failed to recognise his opponent's differing attitude, and with this blinkered reasoning he had ordered that out of those 1.7 million shells, over 1 million were to be shrapnel shells. Now shrapnel shells are excellent at shredding infantry, but almost useless at destroying obstacles. It is doubtless that if the Germans had been billeted in trenches of Allied designthe effects of the bombardment- a road to Guillemont. The effect on the Germans themselves though was much less pronounced (where shelters were only composed of crude dugouts hacked out of the trench wall), the bombardment would have transmogrified their line into a scene more reminiscent of a charnel house. The Germans, however, were safely ensconced in concrete-lined bunkers buried thirty feet underground, and the fields of razorwire they had lain to protect their front line escaped almost unscathed. This error was to have dire consequences for the subsequent Allied attacks.
The failure of the bombardment also indirectly exposes another flaw in the Somme's organisation, for Haig quite reliably assured his fellow commanders with espousing that the bombardment was "a complete success"- despite its crippling inadequacies, the bombardment was still heavy enough to cause considerable damage- but only in small sections of the German trenches. This illustrates poor communications between the Front and Haig's headquarters, which means that he would be less capable of reacting competently to the wax and wane of Fortune's favour on the battlefield, which could place whole assaults in jeopardy.

Once the week of effectively fruitless shelling was drawing to its conclusion, the ominous portends to the atrocious slaughter that would be persecuted during the course of the day were sounding their resonant, culminating rumbles to fracture the weak, brittle light sprinkling the dawn of June the 1st, 1914. As was typical in most trench battles, the immediately preceding blows to be struck before the infantry assault was the detonation of mines underneath the German lines, laid by British miners who had burrowed under no-man's land (Germans also implemented this tactic to chip away at their enemy and reduce their morale, although they were rarely utilising it in conjunction with an infantry attack due to their defensive stance. On several occasions the opposing miners would tunnel burrow into each other's path!). Mines were designed to be a quick, disarming blow to any Germans, despite being shellshocked or incapacitated, with sufficient good fortune to survive the crushing preliminary bombardment, tearing horrific rents through their trenchesThe detonation of the 'Hawthorn' mine underneath the German lines, ten minutes preceding the infantry attack that would tear the earth asunder and render their defences inoperable, as well as burying or blasting apart any surviving foes (or so the theorey dictated). The image to the right is an example of one of these mine detonations- the 'Hawthorn' mine which was set off ten minutes preceding the order to advance upon the Germans. Akin to the whole philosophy of the Somme, the mines were enormous to cause maximum damage- the 'Hawthorn' mine tossed debris 200-300 feet skywards, and another mine scattered wreckage over a mile-wide radius! These mines caused considerable damage, but as the Hawthorn mine aptly illustrates, some mines tended to expend their energy vertically rather than laterally over the German trenches, and these mines' benefit had been struck far too late- the accumulating factors of the German's strong defensive system simply outweighed the mines' contribution to the attack.

Then the cries and yells of the order to advance were bellowed down the lengths of the British lines to baptise the cool, wicked steel of their bayonets in the ichor of the barbaric German menace.
The success of the first day in the infantry assault is, for the most part, fluently encapsulated by the ordeal of the 103rd Tyneside Irish. Confident that the incessant shelling had mulched their opponents, they advanced from their reserve trenches, expecting little resistance.

The Tyneside Irish making their fatal charge on the first day of infantry attacks at the Somme, June 1st 1916


The whole detachment was mown down before they reached their own front line.

Although very few of the charges, mercifully, suffered as abysmal a fate as that of the Tyneside Irish, the supposed lightning breakthrough instantly degenerated into a sordid massacre all across the length of the front line. How could the hurtling might of the righteous sledgehammer be shattered so?
Much of the attack's failure stems from the ineffectiveness of the preliminary bombardment. The race for each faction to reach the trenches first was a woeful handicap for the British soldiers, who had to march across 900 yards (at the most) A picture from the 1916 film, 'The Battle of the Somme'. Although purposed to be a factual representation of life on the Western Front, the film was in fact an instrument of Government propaganda, and was filmed in training camps behind the lines of the real battlefield. Obviously the contemporary public was not aware of this, and the film was a stunning victory for the Government, doing a great deal to placate civilians who now felt much more aware to the sufferings of war which they were protected from of no-man's-land, the Germans only had to climb the 20-30 feet from their bunkers to man their machine-gun posts, so the attacking infantry, marching across a plain pulped and churned by tireless gun batteries and completely berefet of cover, would be exposed to the withering machine gun fire from their enemy (who had only been slightly bruised from the supposedly immolating fury of the preliminary barrages) for a dauntingly lengthy time period. Machine guns were brutally effective weapons- capable of firing eight bullets a second, a mere handful of soldiers equipped with these fearsome firearms could reduce entire companies of men to bloody, tattered shreds in seconds. As one German soldier stated during the attack- "you didn't need to aim", hinting at the sheer size of the assault, and that which makes its ignoble conclusion all the more humbling.
The attacking formations, eroded to a mere phantom of their former selves, would then be further delayed by the fields of razorwire lain in front of the German trenches, which the faithful assurances of the artillery had failed to dislodge. Picking over these would expose the attackers to German machine guns for even longer, and it would be doubtful that any of the soldiers would ever fire upon their gleefully vindictive enemy.
Two illustrations of cavalry charges from the Official Standard History. Such images were commonplace during 1914, but once the stalemate was established the cavalry were obsoleted as a weapon of modern warfare- the pockmarked earth of no-man's-land was treacherous terrain for horses- cavalry relies on speed and surprise, yet they now they could not move quickly and were very vulnerable- out of one charge duing the war, two out of around 400 horses were the only beasts to survive. However, some faults were again of our own devising. In order to prevent the attacking troops from becoming consumed in the heat of the assault and becoming uncontrollable, British soliders were froced to march in regular formations in no-man's-land, and were not even permitted to run across it. Soldiers also were ordered to advance with full kit and equipment, and these heavy packs were a great encumberment. The supposed tumultuous charge therefore was degraded into a crawl, and left exposed to German fire for longer. The British had also lain razorwire to protect their own trench lines, and the attacking troops had to funnel through narrow gaps cut in between the razorwire lines to cross into no-man's-land. Every good Starcraft player should realise the dangers of throwing large numbers of men into a choke point- it reduces the storm of men into a relative trickle, and the Germans found the task of wiping out the attackers simple when they were bunching and queing to advance. Thousands of soldiers futilely flung themselves on the German defences, feverently praying that their death would in some way contribute to the survival of their comrades, but the first day of the Somme was naught but a bloody meatgrinder.

This also airs the grievances of those who would wish to condemn Haig as an incompetent- as the crude British trenches supports, Haig was complacent about his strategy's effectiveness, and thus would have no contingencies planned to be assumed in place of the failed trench warfare, so damning even more soldiers over the following months.
However, you must take this into consideration- how else would Haig break through the German defences? Planes were crude, simple constructions during WWI and the merest suggestion that they be used to drop soldiers behind enemy lines was laughable, and the farcial attempts of the Gallipoli campaign in 1915 to bypass the Western Front had thrown a similar operation into disrepute. Haig had no choice but to press on with trench warfare, and he did his best to improve the infantry's chances by developing new tactics to support it- such as an 'artillery feint', where an artillery bombardment would fall on one area to divert the attention of the German soldiers, whilst the infantry swept forward to capture a less observed section of the defences, the 'creeping barrage', where the infantry would be shielded by a wall of explosions from the artillery that was rolling its shells forward with the infantry's movement across no-man's-land, and the 'artillery ambush', utilised in the situation where a broken British attack force was retreating back to friendly lines, pursued by Germans intoxicated with the vapours of victory. Yet as they were clipping the heels of the British soldiers, the Germans would charge straight onto the receiving end of an artillery counter-attack, causing immense damage amongst their number.

The Somme also witnessed the birth of the tank(A name that was adopted as the British had named them 'water tanks' in shipment reports whilst ferrying them to France in order to mislead German spies), a British invention. Tanks were recognised as bewildering, unrecognisable, fantastic monstrosities, rather than the common vehicle we acknowledge them as today, during World War I, and their effect was profound (there are accounts of whole sectors being arrested, slack-jawed and stunned, by the sight of these tanks lumbering across the battlefield). The tank was morally uplifting for the beleaguered British soldiers on the Somme, who distilled a quantitous measure of confidence in being within the guarding shadows of hulking, armour-plated behemoths rumbling across the battlefield, shrugging off the desperate pattering of German bullets like summer rain off its steel hide whilst in response scything through their lines with the rending blades of machine guns, dragging and mangling the hated obstacles like razorwire under their tracks to spit them out as an unrecognisable ruin, crushing what innumerable men had impaled themselves upon to no avail. Yet, as with the failed preliminary bombardment, the tank's true substance was diminutive behind its stong-willed facade. Remember that contemporary tanks were still new, prototype vehicles- the first tanks were crude, which could travel no faster than walking pace (slower than the marching infantry, which means the benefit of their resilience would soon wear off), and their size and crawling progress made them difficult to manoeuvre, so they could not react to changing battlefield conditions with sufficient speed. Their engines were also complicated and unreliable, prone to failing in the midst of a battle and marooning their crew in the midst of no-man's-land, a helpless target. Even when tanks had developed from these first tentative examples of armoured warfare, they were implemented ineffectively. Tanks were regarded as mechanised infantry, yet the tanks were commanded so that they were incompatible with footsoldiers' tactics (for example, racing ahead of their infantry support so that they were left isolated before enemy guns, or being assigned to hold taken territory- tanks are inviting targets when stationary, as they cannot react quickly.).
A harrowing picture of the casualties inflicted- these soldiers are the sole remnants of a whole regiment (The 1st Lancashire Fusiliers) at their registration on June 2ud, 1916 These inherent failures despoiled the strategy of the Somme like a cancer working its nefarious influence on the body. Although the sheer ponderous weight of the attack meant that on the 1st June one and a half kilometres of German territory was captured, this was done at the cost of 57,470 British casualties, 19,240 of those being fatal, on the first day alone.

This mournful diatribe struggled onwards for four more months at a truly horrific rate of attrition, differing little from the catastrophic events dealt to the British on the 1st June 1916. Once the heavy Autumn rains descended in November, as if the earth was washing away the gore-tarnished earth in shame of its presence, the British were three miles short of the towns of Baupame and Serre, the towns that were planned to be taken on the first day of the offensive, and which four months of fighting had failed to capture.

With seemingly naught but misery and failure on all fronts, it would be understandable to regard the Battle of the Somme as a stain on the honour and record of excellence of the British Army that would remain embarrassingly conspicuous for decades to come. Yet was the Somme truly an unmitigated failure?

Was anything gained from the Battle of the Somme?



When the guns finally fell silent, the true slaughter over the Battle of the Somme became all too apparent. Over a million soldiers had been killed trying to secure or prevent a breach being opened in the German defences- 419,654 Britons and around 200,000 Frenchmen were killed, with estimates of the German dead ranging between 450,000 to 680,000. And for what? The Allies had only managed to liberate a trifling 125 square miles of territory for their dead, and a breakthrough had failed to be achieved, with the Germans withdrawing to their strong Hindenburg Line east of the Somme. A humbled Haig desperately attempted to squirm out of the sights of the recipient of the battle's responsibility, altering the objectives of the Somme from "breaking the German lines" to "holding the German lines", but as we know the Germans were not on the offensive, and had no intentions of doing so!
A selection of British recruitment posters during WW1. A is from 1914, and B and C are from 1915 (Scarborough is a British coastal town that was shelled by the German Navy in December 1914, killing 119). The opening of the War was eagerly accepted by the British public, with the few pacifistic dissedents being howled down by men who wished to reinforce Britain's domination of the world. In a single month of August 1914 (when Britain declared war on Germany) half a million men enlisted. This enthusiasm declined as the stalemate dragged on, and was replaced not by a wish to end the war but a grim determination to 'get the job done' The Somme also stirred the British public to an incensed fury at their military leadership. The argument went that if a similar ratio of ground taken to casualties suffered as became apparent on the Somme remained constant on the road to Berlin, there would soon be no men left in Britain! For the first time since the outbreak of the War in 1914, where there had been mass enthusiasm for displaying our superiority over the German warlords, the British civilians refused to be spoon-fed the evocative and spirited accounts of glorious victories and honour-bound combatants smashing the Germans with the mailed fist of the might of the Empire.The new Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, at the Paris Peace Conference after the war The Government for its apparently bumbling ineptness of the management of the Somme was mercilessly attacked, and the vehement and outraged public's mounting criticism ousted the Liberal Prime Minister, Asquith, from his position, and installed the MP Lloyd George in the vacuum left from Asquith's departure.

Yet, as has been already iterated, I believe that the Somme was far from being a failure. Although a negligible gain, 125 square miles of land is still preferable to acquiring none. The Somme also enabled the British to test and develop new technologies and tactics, such as the artillery strategies mentioned earlier, and the more accurate field guns that would be required to make them effective, which would greatly aid the British in future trench battles. The flaws and strengths of tanks were also able to be viewed. At the Somme the more important attribute of tank warfare was not their contribution on the battlefield, but rather the conclusions of their potential that each side drew from their performance. The Germans interpreted the tank's shoddy ability as proof of the tanks being clunky, ineffective weapons that were no more than idle curios or toys. As a result they drastically cut funding of their own tank-building project (germinated from the capture of broken down tanks abandoned on the battlefield), allowing a small, insufficient budget for it for the sake of the army being seen as a modern force, but never truly believing that they would have been of any use. The British managed to penetrate the clouds of tanks being yet another project to fall victim to the aura of failure and incompetence that Winston Churchill (the chief backer of tank warfare development) appeared to exude, however, recognising that tanks needed further development and new tactics designed for their sole use in order to realise their full ability, and tanks were continuing to be built in British factories unabated. As a century of warfare has proven, the British were correct, and this gave them a large advantage over vulnerable German infantry, defined in the British victory in the very first tank battle during 1917, and the multiple riddling of the German's Hindenburg Line during the Battle of Cambrai later that year. The action at the Somme had also drawn German troops from Verdun and released the French from a stranglehold that they could not break from on the sake of principle.

However, by far the most prominent of the objectives achieved from the Somme was the destruction of Germany's professional army. Between the casualties they had suffered at Verdun and the Somme, the army had been shattered. Thus the German's advantage of superior training and equipment to the Allies was lost, and they had naught to fare on but conscripts of a similar calibre to the majority of the Allied soldiers, which made the balance between each force much more even, and the Allies were no longer fighting an uphill struggle against the Germans. This would have the repercussion of enabling the Germans to acquire reinforcements more quickly than previously, but the desired effect of damaging morale in Germany as complacent civilians were suddenly dragged to the front line was also achieved.

To conclude, the Somme was not a failure, but a costly minor victory that could have been pushed into a total victory with a vastly smaller butcher's bill had the strategy of the battle been more carefully planned. It was not a battle which won the war, but one which aided nudging the Central Powers onto the slow, but sure gradient slipping down into the pits of defeat.

If I should die, think only this of me
    That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England. There shall be
    In that rich earth, a richer dust concealed;
A dust that England shaped, bore, made aware,
    Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam
A body of England's breathing English air,
    Washed by the rivers, blest by the suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
    A pulse in the eternal mind no less,
       Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day,
    And laughter, learnt of friends, and gentleness,
       In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

Rupert Brooke,
The Soldier, 1914


British soldiers progressing to the front. On average across the whole war, one in seven would never return.

-Robert Frazer-






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