Remember the 90th Anniversary of the Somme




 
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June 30th, 2006  
perseus
 
 

Topic: Remember the 90th Anniversary of the Somme


Today, July 1st 2006 is the 90th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, the worst day in British Military History. Out of the 120 000 men who attacked on that day half of them became casualties, and 20 000 were killed, the heaviest loss in a single day of any army in that war. British casualties that day alone exceeded that of the Crimea, Boer and Korean war combined, yet Haig said that he did not consider the casualties high considering the numbers employed. Here are a few questions which come to mind:
  • Was the Somme an inevitable consequence of the pressure to do something in an era when military technology was stronger in defence than attack, and the offence lacked the mobility to exploit the few gains achieved.
  • Should they have waited to exploit new technology such as the tank in a massed shock attack on suitable ground?
  • Was the Somme really a military success for the Western Allies since the Germans couldn’t suffer the same level of attrition?
  • Was it pointless anyway since the Defence could always bring up troops faster by rail?
  • Did the Somme suffer from the lack of a firm plan with Haig and Rawlinson commander of the British 4th army having different objectives?
  • Was Rawlinson to blame more than Haig for lacking the courage to his superior that the barrage had failed?
  • Was the location of the offensive inappropriate, the ground providing the Germans with deep dugouts largely impervious to shellfire?
  • Were the military tactics of the British at fault, using inexperienced troops in a walking assault? The French in contrast ran over open areas using troops behind to give covering fire obtaining greater success.
  • Was the early cessation of the barrage to blame?
  • Were the newspapers at fault giving hints in advance that a large offence was on the way, or was the barrage itself (much of it being shrapnel or failing to explode) worse than none at all for the same reason?
Whatever your thoughts, remember the casualties on all sides.
July 1st, 2006  
KC72
 
 
I went to the somme region a couple of years ago and it's very sad seeing so many graves at Tyne Cot, but it was the names on the menin gate and at thiepval, 50,000 at each of them, that were missing that struck home the carnage.
July 1st, 2006  
tomtom22
 
 
May they all rest in peace.
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July 2nd, 2006  
LeEnfield
 
 
The Somme was supposed to be a joint enterprise along with the French, in the finish we had to do it on our own because the French had there own Somme taking place just a few miles away at Verdun. The attacks were kept going far longer than you would expect to relieve the pressure at Verdun. It was the German tactic to grind the French down by attacking in the Verdun sector making the French feed endless troops into the Battle to try and take back this bit ground. Now when you think that the French lost nearly a million men at Verdun and the whole French Army came close to mutiny you can see why Britain had to make this sacrifice.
July 2nd, 2006  
perseus
 
 
There is a drama-documentary on BBC1 at 8pm which may address some of these issues.

Yes, this was simply the first day of a larger battle which lasted until November of that year. Indeed also don't forget the sacrifices of the commonwealth and French forces which took part either directly or by supporting the battle in other ways.
July 9th, 2006  
Ollie Garchy
 
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by LeEnfield
The Somme was supposed to be a joint enterprise along with the French, in the finish we had to do it on our own because the French had there own Somme taking place just a few miles away at Verdun. The attacks were kept going far longer than you would expect to relieve the pressure at Verdun. It was the German tactic to grind the French down by attacking in the Verdun sector making the French feed endless troops into the Battle to try and take back this bit ground. Now when you think that the French lost nearly a million men at Verdun and the whole French Army came close to mutiny you can see why Britain had to make this sacrifice.
I think that this perspective has quite a bit of merit.

I just have a hard time taking any view that gives Falkenhayn's strategy even the smallest credit. Permit me, please, to hypothesize:

Falkenhayn adopted attrition because (a) the elitist German officer corps was not adverse to sacrificing the lives of workers and (b) it seemed at least a logical way to surmount the tactical problems on the western front.

Haig probably adopted attrition for the exact same reasons.

Therefore, class consciousness lay partly behind the strategy of attrition.

[According to Wikipedia, by the way, Churchill held Falkenhayn to have been the "ablest" German general of the war.]
July 14th, 2006  
perseus
 
 
The documentary suggested that the Somme was actually a veiled victory for the British after all. This was partly due to the effect of taking the strain off the French at Verdun as you both rightly mention, but also as a means of learning new tactics such as the moving artillery barrage and moving commanders nearer the front which had some measure of success towards the end.

This raises the question why did Passchendale prove such a disaster a year later? Interestingly the French alliance may have been partly responsible for this as well since the British were concerned about France agreeing terms with Germany. True the ground conditions were worse due to the mud, but the Germans also learned used new tactics such as retiring beyond the barrage, then firing on the infantry whilst trying to advance across the mud. Thy also learned how to interrupt infantry attacks by artillery and gas more effectively.
July 14th, 2006  
Ollie Garchy
 
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by perseus
The documentary suggested that the Somme was actually a veiled victory for the British after all. This was partly due to the effect of taking the strain off the French at Verdun as you both rightly mention, but also as a means of learning new tactics such as the moving artillery barrage and moving commanders nearer the front which had some measure of success towards the end.

This raises the question why did Passchendale prove such a disaster a year later? Interestingly the French alliance may have been partly responsible for this as well since the British were concerned about France agreeing terms with Germany. True the ground conditions were worse due to the mud, but the Germans also learned used new tactics such as retiring beyond the barrage, then firing on the infantry whilst trying to advance across the mud. Thy also learned how to interrupt infantry attacks by artillery and gas more effectively.
Learning by doing. [Sort of hard method if you think in human terms]
 


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