The battle of the Somme began in July 1916 during World War I as an attempt to break the stalemate and mitigate some of the pressure on the French at Verdun. The British attack was aimed to sidetrack German attention from Verdun in defence of the Somme. General Douglas Haig planned to heavily bombard the German frontline and create holes in the barbed wire. The Infantry would then advance to take hold of the German positions and a charge of Cavalry would sweep through the villages, splitting the enemy line in two. Unfortunately, this approach did not go quite as planned.
The German trenches were well constructed and heavily fortified. The Germans were able to shelter in their underground bunkers in reasonable safety until the Infantry attack started. The bombardment had churned up the ground badly, spitting out barbed wire and tangling it up further. This made the advance difficult for the Allies and many of their shells failed to even explode, leaving the German defences virtually untouched in parts. The battle came with a deathly cost, seeing the British lose around 420,000 casualties, the French 200,000, and the German approximately 465,000.
It is arguably one of the bloodshed-riddled and horrific battles of all time. One of the leading factors contributing to the failure of the Somme Offensive was the relentlessly poor weather and resulting muddy quagmires of shrapnel and deceased soldiers. In some places, German and British troops walked about their parapets in sight of one another. Ironically, both sides were more interested in draining their trenches than in shooting each other. The battlefield above was so soft that high-explosive shells speared deep into the bog before exploding.
Sleds were used to bring in supplies and take out the wounded or ill, but it was not uncommon for the wounded to lay out in the weather for up to half a day. Sometimes three horses were needed to drag one man out. An authentic instance was written by British Soldier Mark Plowman, who described the trenches of the Somme in November. “The mud makes it all but impassable, and now sunk in it up to the knees, I have the momentary terror of never being able to pull myself out. ” Source 1. 1 (WillMott 2003, p. 166). This source clearly outlines the terrible conditions the soldiers had to perform in.
With difficulty moving and avoiding gunfire or shells, a historian using this source can identify that mud and the huge quagmires would have played a great part in the failure of the Somme Offensive. It remains a reliable source and was written during the war by a British soldier. It is not bias, as the mud was also had a devastating effect on the German soldier’s plight too. The barrage of explosions allowed the quagmires of decay to remain constantly agitated and dangerous, sometimes swallowing any horses or men that made the perilous journey into them.
Had the battle of the Somme provided stable ground without torrential rain and seas of mud, it is feasible to conclude that many men may have kept their lives safe from disease, submergence, and lead-footed movement. If the mud was not appalling enough, the bombardment of the German frontline trenches proved to be one of the first major flaws to the plans Haig created. During the artillery barrage, the Germans dug deep underground where they were adequately protected against the British shrapnel shells.
The problem with this lies within the fact that shrapnel shells were used for the destruction of Infantry, and remained far less effective on the trenches and barbed or razor wire. The third reason for the failure of the barrage was that the British guns were placed too far behind the front lines, and were therefore very inaccurate. In some places, the German lines were virtually untouched. Source 1. 2 (Adrian 1986, p. 111). As depicted by this primary source, the unscathed bundles of wire remained ominous reminders to the British of the failure to destroy and move beyond them.
Presented as a photograph in a published and reputable book of World War I imagery, this source proves to be reliable. Black and white photographs were all that existed at the time of this war, furthering the authenticity of this source. With the factual and documented research behind the reasons for this untouched wire, a historian using this source can fully grasp the situation of inadequate planning and bombardment, which led to the failure of the Somme Offensive.
Difficulty being on the offensive (British) as opposed to the defensive (German) side was not taken into account during the initial stages of this battle. General Haig’s tactics remain controversial as some claim them futile and indiscriminate slaughter. Ensured rapid advance and a week of 1. 6 million shells fired gave confidence to British commanders, so they ordered their troops to walk slowly towards the German lines. Once they had been seized, cavalry units would pour through to pursue the fleeing Germans. However, about a third of these were ‘duds’, and there were too few large calibres to be effective.
It might be said that the Allies chose to separate fire and movement, using infantry to exploit the effects of artillery rather than the German style of combining fire and movement simultaneously; thus failures to exploit breakthroughs were partly caused by limitations on movement caused by the effects of protracted artillery fire upon wet terrain, turning many battlefields into literal seas of mud. ” Source 1. 3 (Haythornthwaite 1992, p. 79). The Germans were undeniably prepared, using an impregnable and sophisticated wall of wire, deep dugouts, and machine-gun posts on favourable locations.
Source 1. 3 admits to the British who underestimated the circumstances and lacked in preparedness. This extract is reliable with much evidence to support the points included. It was published in Europe and written by a European author who has written other successful historical books in the past. As an un-bias opinion with facts embedded within, it proves to be useful for a historian researching the issues surrounding the failure of the Somme Offensive and the strategies that rendered it hopeless.
An issue central to the main contributing failures of the Somme Offensive lies within the actual shells used by the British Army. During the Shell Crisis of 1915, the government had been under enormous political pressure to increase the number of shells being produced. Their desperate attempt to meet the numbers needed resulted in cheap shells containing shrapnel. Many of the skilled workers from Britain’s munitions industry either enlisted or were drafted into the armed forces, being replaced by unskilled workers or women unused to that line of work.
They manufactured exceedingly poor shells, leaving around one third of the 1,732,873 used in the eight-day bombardment failing to explode. Source 1. 4 (Adrian 1986, p. 78). Literal mountains of empty shells piled up as the British strived to improve their regime. Throughout the entire course of the Battle of the Somme, the British artillery fired over 27,000,000 rounds. Source 1. 4 proves useful by giving an accurate depiction of the sheer amounts of artillery used. It also aids the facts that unfortunate political circumstances led to the eventual failure to deliver functional ammunition.
This is a reliable source, being photographed in original black and white film and published in a credentialed source book. Significant percentages of these shells never exploded resulting in the ‘slaughter’ of many overly confident British commanders and soldiers under General Haig’s lead. The massive bloodbath, which ensued their flawed plan of dividing the German front, caused them to crumble. This series of unfortunate events could easily be blamed as the leading reason for the failure of the Somme Offensive.
Taking a closer look into the trenches inhabited by the conflicted soldiers, it is evident that aside from the logistical and weaponry side of war, failure came from within the very place they resided in. Physical conditions were ailing, no thanks to the weather, mud, disease, or war-sustained injuries. “ Disease broke out. Some men suffered shivering fits. Others collapsed from exhaustion. Trench foot became endemic.
The 4th Army staff issued a memorandum saying the disease was ‘merely a matter of discipline’ and listing ways of preventing it. Another staff officer’s delusion: there was no way feet could be kept dry. Source 1. 5 (Carlyon 2006, p. 278). The trenches were constantly submerged in a slurry of death and mud, almost a miniature quagmire of their own. Dugouts protected the men from shellfire and some weather, but heavy rain could destroy them over night. Rats were an ever-present unwelcome fiend, growing increasingly large over the mass amounts of dead bodies and decaying human flesh. They helped spread disease and sickness among the tight trenches, causing many additional soldiers to die, and making it a very undesirable place to ever set foot in.
Source 1. 5 gives a substantial recount to some of the instances that surrounded the physical conditions of soldiers. It is useful for a historian to further hear how tragic their circumstances were in their plight of inevitable failure. From a heavily researched book on history, this source proves to be reliable and based on factual events. The close proximity of all these health-degrading factors greatly aided the failure of the Somme Offensive. Were the British Generals “Lions or Donkeys”? Asks Nigel Jones, author of 1914: Britain in War and Peace.
Will we ever see war banished from this horrendous carnage? The British Telegraph reporter and author of The War Walk: A Journey Along the Western Front remarks: “None of this has had the slightest effect on the popular conception of the Somme, which will always remain a vision of skylarks singing across summer skies, while on the torn earth beneath, the flower of the nation’s youth fell. ” (Nigel Jones N The Telegraph 2013). What was supposed to break the stalemate the French were experiencing, the Battle of the Somme turned into a five month long stalemate itself.
Finally ending in November 1919, Allied forces could claim only to have taken ten kilometres of ground from the German defenders. Overall casualty figures were shockingly high ranging around the 1. 2 million mark. The Somme Offensive was a tragic failure, caused by a number of key issues, which originated even before the battle had begun. To this day, General Haig remains criticised for the sheer amount of bloodshed, whilst the German army never recovered from its loss of experienced junior and non-commissioned officers. The Somme became a place “synonymous with slaughter” for all sides. (Charles F, 1923).