Summing Up The Somme

Lions led by donkeys? Britain's most traumatic land offensive of the First World War drew to its conclusion in November 1916. Trevor Wilson and Robin Prior reassess the campaign, the wisdom of its strategy and tactics, and the reputation of its C-in-C, Douglas Haig.

The French village of Pozières taken 28 August 1916 during the Battle of the SommeJuly 1991 marks a noteworthy anniversary in British military history. Seventy-five years ago, the campaign on the Somme dragged to its close. The battle, extending from July 1st to November 19th 1916, constituted the first major operation launched by the British Army on the Western Front. Ever since, argument has raged over its significance. Was the Somme campaign a catastrophe for the British Army? Or, on the contrary, did it help to speed Germany to defeat? It suggests the complexity of the struggle that these matters remain undecided.

The campaign on the Somme, extending from July 1st to November 19th 1916, constituted the first major operation launched by the British Army on the Western Front. Ever since, argument has raged over its significance. Was the Somme campaign a catastrophe for the British Army? Or, on the contrary, did it help to speed Germany to defeat? It suggests the complexity of the struggle that these matters remain undecided.

The Somme battle lasted for 141 days which can be marshalled into six fairly distinct episodes. There were three periods of intense fighting on a broad front – on July 1st, on July 14th and from September 15th to the 25th. Separating these were two periods of continuous but less extensive fighting – July 2nd-13th and July 15th to September 14th. Finally, there was the period in the mud from later September to the end of the battle.

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