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The Battle of Somme

May 31, 2002 1671 Words
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 than ours and it shows his carelessness for human life. This source contains a phrase about forcing the Germans out of defensive positions, this seems to be untrue as they didn't break through the lines and the barbed wire with the machine guns were still intact. ‘Source E' seems to agree to this statement.

Source D- Extract from a letter written by Lloyd-George to Haig on 21st September 1916 after his visit to the Somme

This source is slightly more complicated than the rest. Lloyd-George appears to praise Haig despite their rivalry but at the time, Lloyd-George was ambitious to become Prime Minister in the place of Asquith. However, if Lloyd-George was to run for Prime minister, he would need somebody influential to aid his bid; somebody like Haig. When judging this source, we have to keep in mind Lloyd-George's political ambitions. On his visit to the Somme, he would have only been shown the better parts so his sight of the battle would cloud his judgement.

Source E- Extract from ‘My War Memoirs' by the German General Ludendorff, published in 1919

This piece is evidence from after the event, secondary evidence. Therefore it doesn't carry so much judgement with it but Ludendorff was a key member of the German team. He obviously seems to support ‘objective c' in ‘Source A'. This piece is a justification of his part in the German war effort and tries to justify his part in the defeat. The piece is also written in the recent light of the Treaty of Versailles and he is trying to show how unfair it was on the Germans.

Source F- From AJP Taylor's "The First World War" published in 1963

AJP Taylor is seen as one of the most illustrious historians of the twentieth century. His theories about the battle, ‘Lions led by Donkeys', are famous. This piece is written with hindsight and a different perspective. He is well known for being anti world war one generals and this is shown in this piece. However, due to the fact that it is written nearly fifty years later and that it contradicts ‘Source E', I find this piece as little use as it is just what he has been told and was not around in those time to learn firsthand.

Source G-Extract from Marc Ferro's "The Great War 1914-1918" Published in 1969

Marc Ferro was a French Marxist historian who was strongly anti-British. He only focuses on the bad points of the British effort and none of the good points such as Verdun. Factual evidence shows that the British effort in the Somme was vital to the war as it saved the French from being breached. It almost certainly saved Paris from falling. He is very biased and unfair on the British as he could have been under German rule should the British not opened up the offensive along the Somme.

Source H- Photograph of a still taken from the film "The Battle of the Somme" which was shown to British cinema audiences in the late summer and autumn of 1916, while the battle was still going on

This source is a still from a staged trench behind British lines. It was meant to inspire the cinema audiences and boost morale. The very fact that the government was making this film suggests that things are going badly. By the autumn of 1916, the press had started printing a list of the deaths and the citizens were beginning to ask questions. This source obviously supports the statement but the photo in itself doesn't tell us much as it is a fake.

Source I- Map showing the battle lines of the Somme

This map tells us that very little ground was gained during the battle. The authenticity is unsure but from my own knowledge I can verify it as very accurate to what really happened. It clearly indicates that the Somme was a disaster compared with the ground gained and the lives lost. This source can be cross-referenced with ‘Source A' that says nothing about the ground to be gained; it is backed up by the map's evidence.

Source J- A British soldiers opinion of the instructions to cross ‘no man's land' at slow walking pace

This source is just one soldiers view and is easy to dismiss as a ‘stock evaluation'. My own knowledge tells me that most of the front line soldiers would have had this opinion. On this evidence, it tells us that an ordinary front line soldier would see things as a futile loss of life, survival and bad mistakes by the generals. Presumably, they would not see it as objectively as the generals. ‘Source A's points about pressure relief at Verdun would not matter to the average soldiers. Therefore, he was only looking out for himself in this article and not for the war effort. Also, this source clearly supports the statement.

In conclusion, from this range of sources, I have discovered that many of they sources that at first sight looked as against this statement, are actually for the statement once they have been studied in detail. How ever I find these sources to generally support the statement but there is no clear answer. For example, ‘Source A' has three points of which some were fulfilled and others that were not; is this classed as a ‘for' or ‘against' the statement? I chose to classify it as a ‘for' due to the fact that Haig missed out some key war points which were not fulfilled. However, I find these sources satisfactory in supporting the statement.

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