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What were the successes and failures of the Allied Offensive on the Somme in 1916?

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Introduction

What were the successes and failures of the Allied Offensive on the Somme in 1916? The setting for the battle, the land north and south of the small sleepy river known as the Somme, was in 1914 and still is today a mostly agricultural area. The river banks are home to crops grown on low chalk ridges. However during the Battle of the Somme, these same chalk ridges were occupied by an elaborate maze of German defences. The German army had spent 18 months taking advantage of the dry chalk soil, constructing deep defensive tunnels and dug outs which amounted to approximately 3 to 4 systems of defences. This through down the gauntlet for Kitchener's newly trained army of volunteers. The aims for the battle of the Somme and thus the aims for the BEF were to relieve the pressure on the French at Verdun, force a breakthrough in the German line and end the stalemate on the Western Front. The initial plan for the battle began with a week long artillery bombardment; this was to eliminate the defenders and to break down the barbed wire. ...read more.

Middle

The shell fire was far too sparse along the German front line; the concentration was only 30 tons per square mile. This meant that the shells had not managed to penetrate the deep bunkers, where the German machine gunners had been sheltering. Secondly Rawlinson didn't have enough faith in the ability of his troops, therefore he instructed them to walk across no-mans land at a steady pace. However the German machine gunners had survived, this meant that the victor in this battle would be the first to reach the German parapet. As the British were instructed to walk across no-mans land they lost the race to the parapet and were subsequently easy targets for the German machine gunners. Thirdly the mines that blew ten minutes before the attack began alerted the Germans to the fact an attack was about to take place, this gave them more time in which to reach the parapet. Finally poor communications on the Somme resulted in plans being delivered after events had occurred which made them useless. ...read more.

Conclusion

The battle of the Somme is sometimes viewed as an attritional success. This involved the gradual wearing down of the German army. The fact that the Allies had a larger supply of troops, supplies and armaments at their disposal than the central powers meant that if the attritional stalemate on the Western Front were to continue then the Allies would eventually come out victorious. In conclusion I believe that the battle of the Somme was more of a success than a failure as it taught the BEF how to fight and at the same time degraded the German army. At the end of 1916 the two armies were much more evenly matched than they had been 6 months earlier. Also while British morale remained high, German morale suffered. Captain Von Hentig famously described the Somme as "the muddy grave of the German army." Although generals have justifiably faced criticism for their failure to learn lessons faster and apply the lessons learnt more consistently, I believe that the victory of 1918 was only possible because of the attritional battles of 1915-1917. ...read more.

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