The Battle of the Somme took place during 1916 to take pressure off the French at Verdun and the Russians on the Eastern Front. The French were under heavy fire at Verdun and had been since February, and the army itself was close to cracking. The Russians had fought gallantly on the Eastern Front to try and avert the German Forces away from the Western Front. After launching many small offensives the Russians had gained very little ground for the amount of lives lost. This essay is going to explore; 1st Day of the Battle of the Somme, the Pals Battalions used during the Battle and the tactics developed after the Battle of the Somme was over. Each of these key areas contribute because the first day of the Battle of the Somme had the highest casualty rate the British Army had ever suffered, Pals Battalions were inexperienced in the art of battle, and the tactic used before the battle were inconclusive in helping with the battle overall.
One of the main tactics used on the Somme before the initial battle was the Preliminary Bombardment. The Bombardment consisted of a heavy rain of artillery shells over the German trenches, for seven days and nights before the battle began. However there was a problem with this plan, many of the shells did not detonate and two thirds of over 1.7 million shells were shrapnel shells. Another tactic used was the digging and detonation of mines. 8 ‘mega mines’ had been set along an 18 mile front along with 11 other mines that would hopefully blow the german trenches apart minutes before the battle began. The Somme mines were the largest mines ever detonated yet in the war. John Simkin wrote in the Spartacus First World War Encyclopedia, that although the preliminary bombardment had the means to be successful, it was unable to break through the sophisticated German trenches. He also said that the Preliminary bombardment had the disadvantage of informing the enemy that an attack was coming. Therefore, to sum up the tactics used before the battle contributed to the failure on the Somme as the enemy knew an attack was coming and could then prepare for the offensive to come their way. The Preliminary Bombardment also failed as many of the shells didn’t detonate and many that did were shrapnel shells, something that did not cause much harm to the extremely fortified German Trenches.
1st Day of The Somme
At 7:20am on the 1st of July the Hawthorn Ridge mine was detonated beneath the redoubt. The original plan was to detonate this mine and another (Y-Sap Mine) two minutes before zero hour (7:30), but then that was changed to ten minutes. This gave the German Army the confirmation they needed that a battle was happening. A vital mistake. At the request of the French the British Army headed over the top of their trenches at 7:30 after the mist had cleared. What had been anticipated was very wrong. The german trenches were mainly still intact and during the war the germans had practiced manning there machine guns in less than 3 minutes. The battle became a bloodbath, no mans land was laden with bloody men, screaming for stretcher bearers. General Hague continued on with the battle even though there was little chance of movement. He continued to put thousands of lives at risk, hoping there would be a breakthrough. Many did not sympathise with the way Hague and the other Generals and the decisions that were made that day. Anthony Livesey wrote in ‘Great Battles of World War I “Silent, humourless and reserved, Haig was also shrewd and ambitious and had great self-confidence. He was often too optimistic and seemed to believe that he had been chosen by God to serve his country. It was probably this inability to admit defeat that led to his continuing attacks on the Somme.” To sum up the 1st day of the Somme contributed to the failure on the Somme as the mines had gone off too early, making the Germans ready for the offensive. Also the Generals decisions to continue on in the battle also contributed to the many unnecessary lives that were lost that day.
Kitcheners Armies were first used during the Somme. Nicknamed ‘Pals Battalions, they were made up of fathers, sons, cousins, uncles and friends all from the same town or village. The Accrington Pals in one of the most famous Pals Battalions. The lack of expierence showed within the idea of a Kitcheners Army. During the battle the Accrington Pals suffered huge losses and almost their entire divisions was wiped out. Out of the Accrington pals that fought on the Somme 584 of the 720 men were killed or missing. Back home, the media information wasn’t accurate during the battle leaving everyone clinging to false hope. All across Britain streets upon streets had houses with curtains shut, something that was done during mourning. In some families virtually all men were wiped out. Newspapers had pages upon pages full of names of killed, missing or injured soldiers. Micheal Steadman wrote in the ‘Somme 1916’ that the mass slaughter of the pals battalions caused devastation throughout the towns and cities that were effected, and that war was now seen as a duty and not an honour. Pals Battalions contributed to the Failure on the Somme as their lack of experience showed on the battlefield. Many of them had never set fought on the battlefield before the offensive leaving them no idea how harrowing war could be.
In conclusion, all of the key factors contributed to the failure on the Somme. The Tactics before the battle as they gave the Germans knowledge of the battle and in turn gave them time to prepare. Also many of the shells fired during the bombardment didn’t detonate causing no harm to the German trenches. The 1st day because the soldiers had no cover as the mist had cleared when they went over the top giving the Germans a clear line of fire. The push on further even though there was little chance of breakthrough, contributed to the massacre of British troops. Pals Battalions contributed to it also as their lack of experience didn’t give them knowledge or a slight chance of crossing no mans land. However the factor that really stands out is the tactics used before the battle had begun because if the Preliminary bombardment had been successful and destroyed machine gun posts, the Germans would not have been able to start defending their trenches as quickly and maybe the soldiers could have made it across no man’s land first. Also, the use of mines could have been more successful if they had been detonated 2 minutes before the battle instead of 10. This would have had a bigger element of surprise and given the Germans little time to recover before the attack started.