The Battle of the Somme in 1916 has been the subject of much controversy. In part, this stems from the way in which it has been viewed. This book is well researched and views the battle through the prism of the first day. The author argues the case on this basis and the reader can see exactly how the review has been framed.Commended.
NAME: Somme 1916, Success and Failure on the First Day of the Battle of the Somme
AUTHOR: Paul Kendall
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword
BINDING: hard back
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: World War One, First World War, WWI, The Great War, 1916, 1914-1918, land forces, trenches, war at sea, 2nd Battle of the Somme, First Day
DESCRIPTION: The Battle of the Somme in 1916 has been the subject of much controversy. In part, this stems from the way in which it has been viewed. This book is well researched and views the battle through the prism of the first day. The author argues the case on this basis and the reader can see exactly how the review has been framed. Commended.
There are maps in the body of the book and images in a photoplate section, but this is primarily a monograph that provides considerable detail about the first day of the battle.
The 2nd Somme shares, with most of the actions on the Western Front, a highly critical coverage of the conduct of war in the trenches. Most battles stretched on for days or months and the casualty rates were appalling. At the time, the commanders were desperately seeking a way of breaking the static warfare that was so costly. They were also learning because no army had ever fought this kind of intensive warfare where the machine gun and barbed wire dominated frontal assaults. After the end of WWI it became fashionable to treat the generals with contempt and argue that all war was futile. The result of that is that many histories of the war and its battles are seriously biased and ignore many of the important aspects of the fight.
The Germans started with the belief that they were the Master Race and the only people who could rule a united Europe. From that point they believed that they could fight a lightning war of rapid movement, by ignoring Belgian neutrality to launch their attack. The ferocious fighting withdrawal of the tiny BEF came as a nasty surprise to yet another despot with ambitions beyond his ability. This rearguard action not only slowed down the German advance, but it led to a vulnerability opening in the German armies. A brilliant Anglo-French counter attack further blunted the German advance and then threw the Germans back towards their border. The BEF was just too tired and short of resources to complete the ejection of the Germans, who then dug in and created the environment that was to lead to the Western Front becoming a static trench-based war.
Generals had not before experienced the use of barbed wire and machine guns to protect a trench that could only be assaulted frontally. However, the Allies had no option but to attempt to break the German lines and maintain their own trench lines. Eventually, mining and tanks proved to be an answer, but that was only after a series of major battles where infantry tried to storm the opposing trench lines, suffering terrible casualties for little or no gain. Had there been an alternative, generals would not have persisted with frontal assaults.
Many historians have taken the full length of the battle from the first attacks. A few have taken a longer period and the 2nd Battle of the Somme rolled out over the best part of a year. This book argues that the first day decided the outcome. Many will agree with that premise, but it can also be argued that the battle was decided long before the troops went over the tops of their trenches. The reader must decide, but the author has argued his position logically and provided considerable detail in support.