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The Battle of the Somme

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Describe the conditions that British soldiers experienced on the Western Front 1915-1917. In terms of both warfare and technology, WWI was a unique war. It was far longer than any war that had preceded it, and advances in technology introduced several new weapons to the arsenals of both the Allies and the Germans. Trenches dominated the war from 1915 to 1917, which turned it into a war of attrition - a stalemate. The trenches developed into a complex network, allowing information and supplies to be delivered from reserve and support trenches to the front line, via a series of communication trenches. Owing to the fact that trenches were very hard to attack and easier to defend (due to defences such as barbed wire), battalions could spend weeks, perhaps months, without advancing. Wooden 'duckboards' were used in an effort to keep soldiers' feet from coming into excessive contact with wet mud, though this did not stop many soldiers from developing an ailment known as 'trench foot', caused by prolonged exposure to moisture. Soldiers' feet became sore, blistered, and in some cases began to rot. The machine gun played an integral part in WWI. The Lewis gun in particular was used extensively by British soldiers, as it was lighter, and therefore more portable than its predecessors. It also comprised fewer parts than any previous machine gun, allowing easy repair and assembly. ...read more.


There was also a lot of pressure from the public, Parliament, and the Royal Court on the British army to obtain a victory, after their disastrous failure at Gallipoli (Haig, after all, had been appointed because he believed he would be a more appropriate leader of the BEF than John French - he once referred to French as "a source of great weakness to the army"). Haig's connections with both Parliament and royalty - he was known to be in contact with both George V and the Prime Minister - further encouraged him to begin progression. Haig was obliged to provide a victory for Britain. Haig, and his subordinate Henry Rawlinson, had a strong conviction that an artillery barrage followed by advancing troops was one of the most effective ways of attacking the enemy. They believed that a strong barrage would knock out front line posts, enabling troops to advance relatively unharmed. The British army in the spring of 1916 was armed with an adequate number of munitions to fight a large battle, and, with the aid of Lord Kitchener's volunteer army, was also large enough to fight. This, coupled with the absolute confidence in the supremacy of the artillery barrage of both Haig and Rawlinson, enabled Haig to plan a battle that, in theory, would grant the English the victory they wanted and would also confirm Haig as a superior military leader to his predecessor, French. ...read more.


Haig, along with his subordinate Henry Rawlinson, have also fallen under criticism for giving the order for troops to advance slowly across No Man's Land, rather than 'rushing', that is to say, having small parties of troops dash out, using shell holes as protection. Haig and Rawlinson were of the opinion that because many of their troops were volunteers, they would not be experienced enough in 'rushing' for it to be beneficial to the attack. However, Haig had intended his artillery barrage to have knocked out much of the German forces, and walking across No Man's Land would therefore not have been nearly as deadly as it proved to be - so it may not be correct to blame Haig entirely for this mistake. However, his tactics were largely inflexible, and this inflexibility forced Haig to continue with the attack although he knew it had failed. Many historians argue, however, that Haig ignored many viable, more adaptable alternatives to his plan of attack. I do believe it is fair to say that the Battle of the Somme was largely a failure, although it was certainly not a complete one - although the British failed to take significant ground from the Germans, Haig succeeded in removing German forces from Verdun, and led to a large reduction in the number of German troops. Whether achieving these objectives was worth the massive loss of life, however, remains a controversial issue. ?? ?? ?? ?? George Adje 11Latymer The Battle of the Somme 31/10/06 ...read more.

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