The Battle of Somme

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The battle of the Somme began in the summer of 1916. The British saw their opportunity to look good and be the saviour of the moment. However, this did not occur. A four hundred and fifty mile trench network, stretching from the Swiss border up and into Belgium, was opened up and the battle had truly started. The battle soon deteriorated into trench warfare causing no progress to either side. The Generals decided to forge an all-out offensive on the weaker points of the German lines and started a forty-eight hour bombardment on these points. However, due to poor weather, the forty-eight hour period was stretched to seven days of heavy shelling. The idea was to wipe out the German barbed wire and the majority of men. The Germans overheard a radio conversation and discovered the British plan. They dug deep trenches and practiced on setting up their machine guns quickly. They were ready for anything the British and French could throw at them. In truth, a third of the shells failed to explode and the few that did, hit ‘no man's land' or the unused trenches. After seven days of complete bombardment, the majority of the six foot high barbed wire was still standing and in good condition. The British generals, who believed that blood was the price of victory, were preparing for the final assault, the ‘big push'. At 7:22 am, the biggest man-made explosion was set off underneath the Germans. This went wrong with nearly half of the mine not exploding or exploding in the face of the minelayers. However, six minutes later, the mind numbing bombardment stopped and, for the first time in just over a week, the bird song could be heard. Only a mere two minutes after that, the ‘big push' commenced as thousands of men walked over the top. The generals had told them that no Germans had survived and they should walk proudly across the open ‘no man's land'. The confidence was so high that some men kicked footballs across the wide-open space. This, however, was all in vain as the well-protected Germans in their deep bunkers had emerged and were ready to shoot. They mowed the British forces down like target practice which no allies standing any chance. This resulted in a huge loss of life. Source A- From Douglas Haig's Despatch, 23 December 1916

This source shows us the three main objectives of the Somme that the British actually fulfilled. The date tells us that it was written after the battle and is a sort of justification for what happened. This despatch would have presumably been published so any citizen could pick up a copy that tells us that he was telling the public about the successes in the battle. However, there is no mention of the failed objectives such as the ‘big push' into or the breaking through the German lines. This source can be cross-referenced with ‘source I' which is a map showing the ground gained and the casualties.

Source B- Haig communicating to Lloyd-George during the Somme

This source has no date but we are told that it is during the Somme. This note is clearly a note of desperation as the fact that the note is to the minister of munitions, Lloyd-George, shows. It therefore indicates that things are not going well in the battle. The note shows very little imagination as it talks about the same old things, tactics and ‘one last push'. It also tells us that he has no apparent backup plan so a loss would be a disaster.

Source C- Extract of a report sent in December 1916 by Haig to the British Cabinet about the affects of the battle of the Somme

This source again shows Haig trying to justify his actions but this time he doesn't just say about the successful things he admits to being wrong about the ground capture. The nature of the source is a private letter to the Cabinet and not for publication, thus Haig has to admit to what is already obvious about the lack of ground gained. This source also is a good example of ‘typical Haig' in which he sees it as a success as the enemy's casualties were greater...
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