The Somme (Review)

The Somme (Review)

ent Military History this week, all the way back to World War One and the deadlocking, dead-making trench warfare that took place. Now, the Somme took place in summer of 1916, up northern-France-ish. It was a joint attempt by the British and French forces in the Somme valley to break through the three lines of heavy German defenses, to distract them from their own efforts currently underway in Verdun.

Now, I held the opinion (before reading this) that an offensive as conducted by generals was largely them pointing at a map and saying “take this spot”, and the PBI (poor bloody infantry) going over the top to do so (entire regiments would perish under machinegun fire in fifty yards). But one thing this book gave me was an appreciation for the amount of planning this all took. How many shells (and guns) would be required. How many men (per yard of trench line) would suffice. How far ahead should your rolling barrage roll. Night attacks? Use of tanks? Use of cavalry to affect a breakout? All these things were carefully planned to the utmost degree, with the French and English actually working in joint concert (with some necessary horse-trading regarding how much line the French should hold in the aftermath). All of this came down to the operation that followed.

Which was largely a cock-up. Divisions still died under a hail of machine gun bullets. Artillery didn’t cut the wire. Positions were taken yet lost in counterattacks. The tanks broke down (or worse – got lost and attacked their own men). And when the breakout did occur, either there were not follow-up divisions close enough to punch through or the English didn’t even realize that there was nothing before them but open ground.

So there you have it – the fog of war meets war is hell. Good book, which covered the strategic operations and the nightmare actions on the ground. You might have troubles finding it – got it from a used bookstore and it came out in the early 80s. But for you military hounds out there, worth a read.