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The Somme Centenary.


Todd A. Raffensperger

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Todd A. Raffensperger

In less than two weeks, there will be another military anniversary, one that many would was one of the most controversial events of the Great War.  

I for one had grown up believing what my late father believed along with millions of other people; that the soldiers lost during WWI, especially in battles like the Somme, were used as little more than cannon fodder by incompetent, out-of-touch generals with their swagger sticks up their butts.  

However, it can be said that in the past ten years, there has been a sort of pushback to this impression, that generals like Haig, Rawlinson, and others were not the morons popularly depicted to be, but were men who were doing their best to solve the almost insurmountable problems of trench warfare, and eventually would do so.  The Battle of the Somme, which started on July 1st, 1916, was part of this learning process.

I would like to know what others in this group think about this.

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HetzersGonnaHetz

I do not think Haig was a butcher. He was the head of everything and 'got' a lot of my GGF and GGGF regiments men killed in places such as Hohenzollern Redoubt and Ypres, but ther was never a war like it before in history, on such an unprecedented scale.

Im lucky enough to o be going to the Somme in a week and will be attending Thiepval on the 100th, it'll be very touching and tears will be shed

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Some revisionist historians try to state the battle was a partial success, but ultimately the battle was a failure and it failed because the British commanders "Haig and Rawlinson" were at loggerheads over tactics and both commanders had differing opinions on how the battle plan should be carried out and consequently the artillery units did not have enough shells left to dislodge the Germans beyond the first trench line. The British high command also failed to follow up on intelligence gathered from surrendering demoralized German soldiers in the south, who stated that their defenses had been totally destroyed by the artillery bombardment. 

 

Edited by DAK D
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Davejb

Theres some factors that need to be corrected, Not only was it poor planning but pressure from the French to relieve the siege at Verdun, where they had suffered huge losses of men, it was this pressure that led to poor planning as we were not fully ready to fight in trench warfare, it was a relatively new concept. The British Generals became complacent and failed to see that the excessive bombardment that was delivered on the German trenches had failed to take proper effect, this combined with the fact that each man was required to carry over 80 pounds of equipment over rough ground, with little or no cover and they were ordered to walk into no mans land, made them easy targets for machine guns positioned in such a way that a full field of fire could be attained, also each officer was to lead the advance with only a pistol and a whistle  that made them vulnerable and were generally the first to die, leaving the troops with no command structure. The Generals did,nt learn from this disaster and continued to fight a war of attrition rather than one of gaining ground, which in the following weeks, only amounted to 6 miles at the loss of over 400,000 British troops and 195,000 French troops, German losses amounted to over 600,000. Political pressure was another factor to which Generals of British and French armies were literally forced to push forward each time resulting in other losses and subsequently a vote of no confidence in their leaders by all troops concerned. Public moral in Britain suffered greatly and more so when a film designed to raise moral failed terribly as it showed troops being killed and wounded men by the thousands, this led to a vote of no confidence in the government by the British public. At the front , the weather was another factor that had not been fully considered, heavy rains, freezing weather,all this combined to push the troops moral further back, we were not issued with proper clothing, trench foot became a medical nightmare, Hypothermia was common, food became rotten, lice was normal,rats in the trenches were a big problem due to the rotting corpses still out in no mans land. To be totally honest I think it was a bloody miracle that the allies defeated the Germans at that time, but I also think that the High command should have been brought up on charges to answer to such bad leadership and the unbelievable high loss of life just to prove that an objective could be reached if enough men were sacrificed.This was supposed to be the war that ends all wars, but we still have,nt learned anything. Like a lot of us I,ve been to the Somme, Verdun, Ypres,etc and a lot of the WW2 battlefields but the WW1 areas are somehow more poignant, more thought provoking , especially when you consider that entire village communities all over the British Ilses  lost nearly all their men folk, including youngsters and in some only the women were left to mourn.

Edited by Davejb
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Hi @Davejb,

I think we are on the same page here, but I do not believe any of the reasons that I stated in my previous post on the failure of the battle of the Somme needed any correction, all you have done with your post is expand on the factors that I have already stated.

I believe most of the blame does fall upon Haig and Rawlinson, as both commanders were in conflict with each other over the main battle plan, as Haig wanted to destroy the first and second line trenches at the same time and Rawlinson argued that it would be better to take out the frontline trenches first and then advance to the rear German positions, under the cover of another artillery barrage, unfortunately most of the heavy shells were already depleted after the first bombardment of the German lines and the first barrage had only seriously damaged the German trenches in the south. If the British high command had listened to the intelligence reports at the time, then they could have ordered an attack in the south before the Germans had any chance to recover.

Many valuable lessons were learned after the battle of the Somme and advances in technology helped us win the first world war, but the Victorian mindset on battle tactics were still in use in the Western desert in 1941 and 1942,

D

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Davejb

I did,nt intend to correct you D , I was quoting from eye witness accounts and not directed at your post, also the facts you presented were of course correct, mine were directed towards the feelings of the troops and the British public as both had serious doubts as to the planning and execution of the battle plans, also the mindset of the so called people in charge, the ridiculous situation of sending men laden down with equipment , over the top and expecting them to WALK across 3-400 yrds over rough ground without decent cover was criminal in my eyes and akin to mass murder

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Davejb

Sorry about that BiL, When I speak like that I always mean the whole of the British Ilses which I ,ve always included as the entire army of everyone and nationality , I also realise this included the other nations that fought as allies, Indian armies, some colonial nations as well, I mean it was a World war against a common foe, and everyone fought as one nation. Scottish  , Irish and Welsh and British troops were the whole of the British Army as they are now. If I mentioned everyone it would increase the post by another  page;), but I see your point and have amended my post to include the whole British Isles

Edited by Davejb
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HetzersGonnaHetz

Well from the bombardment of replies I guess I need to give my 0.2, 

Well lets start with the planning, this was being thought up during the offensives of 1915, well before Verdun, and the French were offering 40 Divisions to the offensive, who would push through a tiny gap of 8 miles to the south of the British line. This was one of the best planned offensives so far in the war, previous offensives were killing grounds before battle, the whole shebang on the Somme was planned incredibly well, stockpiling shells to amass 1.7 million before the bombardment, unlike places such as Neuve Chappelle in 1915 where British guns were limited to 6 shells a day. However the problem with the shells on the Somme, were that the majority were shrapnel shells, perfect for smashing anything human in a trench but the main objectives for the artillery were cut the barbed wire and destroy the trenches, which HE was needed, which we had very little of, and the Germans had been there since September 1914, unlike us in July 1915, so they were in the high ground, with a knowledge of the lay of the land and placed there barbed wire in key areas not able to be seen by British troops in the trenches, and beneath the Somme there is thick chalk, perfect for 40ft down dug outs, the Germans had a perfect position, to which they could defend on a 1 to 4 ratio. And the reason for the success in the south is because the French artillery overlapped onto British areas, their 75s were much better than our 18pdrs, at this stage the French placed 900 guns over 8 miles,smashing the Germans which meant that the 5 divisions that were spared from Verdun for the offensive basically walked through the Germans. And people blame the generals time and time again, Rawlinson was the perfect man for the job, unlike our other generals who were all cavalrymen, he was an infantryman, so he know the capabilities, but Haig clashed with him causing a more than apparent Foch up. Haig wanted the cavalry to be able to attck and changed things. Time and time again in history it's the politicians pressuring the generals, you only have to look at Churhcill dismissing Auchinleck.

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  • 2 weeks later...

If you want your eyes opened about why the battle really failed, then try and watch the three part series on BBC2, it's called "The Somme 1916 From Both Sides Of the Wire".

The first part was on tonight at 9PM and hopefully it will be available on the BBC iplayer.

D

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