The battle of the Somme was planned originally to be a joint operation by the British and French troops. The French were at the time engaged in a battle with the Germans at Verdun. The Somme battle was created to distract the German army from Verdun and to destroy manpower in the Somme. The Somme was one of Germany’s strongest defence lines; the German trenches were also located on the higher ground. This evidence alone some would say the attack was doomed before it began.
The Somme bore enormous amounts of casualties from both Allied and German troops. The first day alone saw Britain face the largest number of casualties ever seen in combat.
A total of six to seven miles were gained by the allied troops during the long and treacherous battle, which was only called of due to bad weather.
The endless hours of planning came to no avail when the decided tactics failed to make any severe or hard-hitting impacts on the enemy. A large majority of the soldiers located at the Somme were young boys some who had conscripted illegally, these boys were known collectively as ‘Kitcheners army’ for the simple reason that Kitchener headed a recruitment propaganda campaign back in England. Also at the Somme were many so called ‘pals battalions’ these were groups of friends or even sometimes colleagues who had conscripted together and were sent out to battle together. These groups were almost totally wiped out thanks to the Somme offensive; the impact of this was on a very large scale, as it did not just effect one family, sometimes it reached into double figures. People did not just grieve for their lost loved one but for their friends also.
The Somme area was littered with German troops and the German army also boasted strong fortifications. As this was one of France’s largest heavily German occupied areas. The Germans also had the high ground in this area, which made the battle even more difficult from the British perspective.
The preliminary bombardment of the German defences had failed. The shelling was miscalculated and lacked the power needed to crack the sturdy German defences. The British gunners were inexperienced and therefore wholly inaccurate. Another fatal flaw in Haig’s plan was that he had expected the barbed wire on the German defences to be largely cut. This failed to happen and as a result the few soldiers who made it across no man’s land were unable to make it to the trench, as there were only small tears in the barbed wire. The German soldiers were able to shoot the soldiers trying to climb through the cracks in the barbed wire. Another flaw in the artillery campaign was that the machine gun posts which mounted the trench defence had not been destroyed and the German shooters were able to mow down the advancing British forces in their thousands which was helped by the linear formation.
On the morning of the 1st of July, field Marshall Haig send his troops a ‘good luck’ message. The German intelligence officers interrupted this message and were then able to identify that the attack was about to take place. As we have learnt already that the German trenches were being shelled constantly and the Germans knew that an attack would soon follow when the barrage halted. Haig had made no contingency plan so as the soldiers witnessed the tactics failing to dent the German defences they were forced to continue with the battle.
The officers in change of the battle appeared to be inflexible. A source from ‘Great Battle of World War 1’ by Anthony Livesey says,
“It was probably this inability to recognise defeat that led to his continuing attacks on the Somme”. Haig and the other generals refused to believe that the bombardment had no effect. Subordinates to Haig, informed him the preparation for the battle had been successful. This played a large part in the tragedy of the battle of the Somme.
Haig instructed his men to carry trench repair kits for when they successfully reached and captured the enemy trench. As this plan unfolded in an unimaginable way the soldiers were unable to escape the enemy fire as the heavy rucksacks they were forced to carry weighed them down and disadvantaged their mobility. The soldiers were also forced to watch their fellow soldiers fall next to them as they were instructed to keep their line of fire and walk; they were also instructed not to outflank in any circumstances. A linear as apposed to a pronged advance was the only option given by Haig the German gunners were able to mow down the British soldiers in there thousands.
The sheer amount of lives lost on that single battlefield is a tragedy in its own right. There were 600,000 casualties and 20,000 lives were lost. Pals britallions were decimated and these were the worst casualties Britain had ever seen in one day. A whole regiment from Canada ceased to exist in a famous battle in Beaumont Hamel. After the war had ended numerous tragic tales from the battle of the Somme came to light. The amount of suffering that these tales threw into peoples lives was enormous, the horrendous pain these brave soldiers endured was finally recognised on the home front and by some of the people who mattered, For every life that was taken away there were people at home effected by it, not just their familiar but friends and work colleagues also. Craig Mir described the battle as ‘the worst slaughter ever seen by a British army.’
Another tragedy posed by the Somme Battle was the changing attitudes towards the battles effects. Historians are now able to see the bias that surrounded Haig. Generally historians now see him as a ‘butcher’.
Germans were disabled throughout 1917 and did not launch an offensive. Today society is more civilised and war is gradually becoming more of a last resort. A factor in this would be that society has become less patriotic and more family orientated. People are less willing to pack up and leave their lives behind.
Victory shielded the amount of casualties at the time the war ended. People forgot about the lives lost and concentrated on the patriotic celebrations continuing.
From the latest technology we can now see many of the deaths caused by inaccurate artillery were easily avoidable. In some cases the shelling was only a few meters out when the British were trying to destroy enemy trenches. Today we are now less prepared to accept casualties at the time of the Great War it was seen as inevitable that troops would die. Haig’s attitude that “the nation must be prepared to see heavy casualty lists” was acceptable back then, today this attitude could be the ending of an officer’s career.
After the battle Haig was seen as a hero, now he has been dead for a long time some would argue that historians now are more willing to expose his ‘true’ vision and tactics.
Also in the time of the war people were less inclined to argue with authority for example if people then did not agree with Haig’s tactics they would not speak out against him whereas now there would be widespread media coverage of the fact.
In conclusion I believe the Somme is regarded as such a military tragedy as thousands of lives were needlessly lost. The tactics used also make it a tragedy as inaccuracies could have been easily avoided with more in depth planning. Even though the battle was recorded as a victory morally it was one of the worst battles the British army had ever seen.