The Battle of Somme

The Battle of Somme
?Kitcheners army? was the idea of lord Kitchener, he of the poster ?Your country needs you.? It had been recruited throughout 1915 when it began to dawn on the government that this was going to be a long war. The best and brightest young men of England and Ireland had rushed to the colours; they had been trained and sent to France. Now on the 1st of July 1916 this new army was going to have its first real test. General Haigs plan was simple ? based on his ideas that previous break through plans had failed due to the lack of preparation, numbers or determination. The plan was attack, attack, attack and more attack. The big guns softened up the German lines throughout the previous hours. At 7.30 am. On the fateful day eleven British divisions advanced simultaneously against the German positions on the north bank of the river Somme. Weight in numbers was going to tell, these divisions were going to make the big break though. They were going to smash the German trench line, get through to the open country behind the lines and this was going to cause the entire German line to be rolled back. The war would be over and these young men would win it. One day was enough. By nightfall the greatest disaster day for the Butish army had occurred. 20,000 were dead, 60,000 wounded; the German lines were fixed in the same place Eyewitnesses tell the story ?the lines started in excellent order but just melted away.? ?Men fell in ranks mostly before the first hundred yards of no mans land had been crossed.? ?Whole sections seemed to fall. The advance rapidly crumbled under a hail of shells and bullets? ?Men could be seen throwing up their arms and collapsing, never to move again.? ?Badly wounded rolled around in their agony.? There are hundreds of such eyewitness accounts to this slaughter. The cause is straightforward. The German machine gunners had sheltered in their dugouts while the artillery bombarded them. Then when the bombardment had ceased they had clambered up to their trenches, set up their machine guns and waited. As the lines of Englishmen advanced - stretching endlessly from left to right the Germans had mowed them down. A second line advanced ? to be mowed down again and so on until 20,000 lay dead in one day. The eyewitnesses noted the bravery of the men, the bravery of ?Those who die as cattle.? Wilfred Owen. The Lancashire fuoiliers lost 180 men, the Middlesex division 200; most other regiments from the shires of England lost much the same numbers. If the soldiers thought that this one awful disaster could only lead to better they were very wrong because July 1st was only the beginning. Haig?s idea was to press on with the attack and the Battle of the Somme raged on for four and a half months. A French contingent under general Fock joined on the right of the Butish in spite of the demands of the Battle of Verdun where the France was fighting for her life. The British and the French continued to attack. The rawness and youth of the British troops was clear, they were willing to attack, willing to attack and die. However their commanders had few other ideas other than attack and so the slaughter continued. The Germans had a set principle ? not to yield ground. Any minor British and French gain was immediately counter attacked. Every yard was fought over from one end of the line to the other. Petit Wood, High Wood, Thiepeal are all place names where thousands lay dead - victims of the machine gun. The answer to the machine gun was also unveiled to the world here - the tank. The tank, on the drawing board since 1915, was a link between two ideas, heavy armour plating for protection and caterpillar traction to surmount obstacles. 49 of these tanks first saw action in the Somme on September 15th. They were seven feet high, thirty-two feet long and could travel of speeds of up to three miles per hour. 17 broke down before they could go into action, most of the other stalled. However 13 did advance in formation to punch a hole in the German lines at Flers but this was patched up and held by the Germans. Although the troops cheered, the tanks had no real effect on the battle. The tank was to make its mark in future wars but not here. Here the soldiers must fight on and fight they did right up to November when winter weather made the battlefield into a mud bath. By now it was not possible to advance because of mud, snow, rain and water as much as the resistance of the Germans. When the Battle of the Somme finally petered out the allies had advanced a few hundred yards in some places, or none at all in most places. Losses on both sides, killed or wounded were appalling. The Germans lost 650,000 men, the Butish 418,000 and the French 200,000. It brought home the reality of modern war to Britain, the reality of suicidal frontal attack; it brought home the idea that no cause was worth this slaughter. Truly it was the graveyard of Kitchener?s army, maybe not graveyard in the sense that the enemy was wiped out and destroyed but graveyard of the spirit. No longer was war so glorious, so wonderful instead the slaughter of the trenches became a reality. Rupert Brooke and his ?If I should die? poetry faded into Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. Book sources 1. ?Europe since Napoleon? David Thompson Penguin 1990 London. 2. ?Gathering pace continental Europe 1870-1945? Maurice Larkin Macmillan 1975 3.?The Great War? J.Brooman Longman twentieth century history series 1985 4.?The First Great World War? AJ P Taylor Hormondsworth 1966 Other sources A magazine article from History today ß Article ? brief, clear, gave the main points clearly. Encyclopedia Britannica article or articles à at home on a CD-rom. The Internet A film or documentary Answers to questions on sources will depend on the marks given e.g. 10 marks à write one clear paragraph. 2 marks per sentence.

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