If the mud was not appalling enough, the bombardment of the German frontline trenches proved to be one of the first major flaws to the plans Haig created. During the artillery barrage, the Germans dug deep underground where they were adequately protected against the British shrapnel shells. The problem with this lies within the fact that shrapnel shells were used for the destruction of Infantry, and remained far less effective on the trenches and barbed or razor wire. The third reason for the failure of the barrage was that the British guns were placed too far behind the front lines, and were therefore very inaccurate. In some places, the German lines were virtually untouched.
Source 1.2 (Adrian 1986, p. 111). As depicted by this primary source, the unscathed bundles of wire remained ominous reminders to the British of the failure to destroy and move beyond them. Presented as a photograph in a published and reputable book of World War I imagery, this source proves to be reliable. Black and white photographs were all that existed at the time of this war, furthering the authenticity of this source. With the factual and documented research behind the reasons for this untouched wire, a historian using this source can fully grasp the situation of inadequate planning and bombardment, which led to the failure of the Somme Offensive.
Difficulty being on the offensive (British) as opposed to the defensive (German) side was not taken into account during the initial stages of this battle. General Haig’s tactics remain controversial as some claim them futile and indiscriminate slaughter. Ensured rapid advance and a week of 1.6 million shells fired gave confidence to British commanders, so they ordered their troops to walk slowly towards the German lines. Once they had been seized, cavalry units would pour through to pursue the fleeing Germans. However, about a third of these were ‘duds’, and there were too few large calibres to be effective.
“It might be said that the Allies chose to separate fire and movement, using infantry to exploit the effects of artillery rather than the German style of combining fire and movement simultaneously; thus failures to exploit breakthroughs were partly caused by limitations on movement caused by the effects of protracted artillery fire upon wet terrain, turning many battlefields into literal seas of mud.”
Source 1.3 (Haythornthwaite 1992, p. 79). The Germans were undeniably prepared, using an impregnable and sophisticated wall of wire, deep dugouts, and machine-gun posts on favourable locations. Source 1.3 admits to the British who underestimated the circumstances and lacked in preparedness. This extract is reliable with much evidence to support the points included. It was published in Europe and written by a European author who has written other successful historical books in the past. As an un-bias opinion with facts embedded within, it proves to be useful for a historian researching the issues surrounding the failure of the Somme Offensive and the strategies that rendered it hopeless.
An issue central to the main contributing failures of the Somme Offensive lies within the actual shells used by the British Army. During the Shell Crisis of 1915, the government had been under enormous political pressure to increase the number of shells being produced. Their desperate attempt to meet the numbers needed resulted in cheap shells containing shrapnel. Many of the skilled workers from Britain’s munitions industry either enlisted or were drafted into the armed forces, being replaced by unskilled workers or women unused to that line of work. They manufactured exceedingly poor shells, leaving around one third of the 1,732,873 used in the eight-day bombardment failing to explode.
Source 1.4 (Adrian 1986, p. 78). Literal mountains of empty shells piled up as the British strived to improve their regime. Throughout the entire course of the Battle of the Somme, the British artillery fired over 27,000,000 rounds. Source 1.4 proves useful by giving an accurate depiction of the sheer amounts of artillery used. It also aids the facts that unfortunate political circumstances led to the eventual failure to deliver functional ammunition. This is a reliable source, being photographed in original black and white film and published in a credentialed source book. Significant percentages of these shells never exploded resulting in the ‘slaughter’ of many overly confident British commanders and soldiers under General Haig’s lead. The massive bloodbath, which ensued their flawed plan of dividing the German front, caused them to crumble. This series of unfortunate events could easily be blamed as the leading reason for the failure of the Somme Offensive.
Taking a closer look into the trenches inhabited by the conflicted soldiers, it is evident that aside from the logistical and weaponry side of war, failure came from within the very place they resided in. Physical conditions were ailing, no thanks to the weather, mud, disease, or war-sustained injuries.
“ Disease broke out. Some men suffered shivering fits. Others collapsed from exhaustion. Trench foot became endemic. The 4th Army staff issued a memorandum saying the disease was ‘merely a matter of discipline’ and listing ways of preventing it. Another staff officer’s delusion: there was no way feet could be kept dry.”
Source 1.5 (Carlyon 2006, p. 278). The trenches were constantly submerged in a slurry of death and mud, almost a miniature quagmire of their own. Dugouts protected the men from shellfire and some weather, but heavy rain could destroy them over night. Rats were an ever-present unwelcome fiend, growing increasingly large over the mass amounts of dead bodies and decaying human flesh. They helped spread disease and sickness among the tight trenches, causing many additional soldiers to die, and making it a very undesirable place to ever set foot in. Source 1.5 gives a substantial recount to some of the instances that surrounded the physical conditions of soldiers. It is useful for a historian to further hear how tragic their circumstances were in their plight of inevitable failure. From a heavily researched book on history, this source proves to be reliable and based on factual events. The close proximity of all these health-degrading factors greatly aided the failure of the Somme Offensive.
Were the British Generals “Lions or Donkeys”? Asks Nigel Jones, author of 1914: Britain in War and Peace. Will we ever see war banished from this horrendous carnage? The British Telegraph reporter and author of The War Walk: A Journey Along the Western Front remarks: “None of this has had the slightest effect on the popular conception of the Somme, which will always remain a vision of skylarks singing across summer skies, while on the torn earth beneath, the flower of the nation’s youth fell.” (Nigel Jones N The Telegraph 2013).
What was supposed to break the stalemate the French were experiencing, the Battle of the Somme turned into a five month long stalemate itself. Finally ending in November 1919, Allied forces could claim only to have taken ten kilometres of ground from the German defenders. Overall casualty figures were shockingly high ranging around the 1.2 million mark. The Somme Offensive was a tragic failure, caused by a number of key issues, which originated even before the battle had begun. To this day, General Haig remains criticised for the sheer amount of bloodshed, whilst the German army never recovered from its loss of experienced junior and non-commissioned officers. The Somme became a place “synonymous with slaughter” for all sides. (Charles F, 1923).
Adrian, G 1986, World War I In Photographs, Orbis Book Publishing Corporation, Great Britain
Buchan, J 1917, The Battle of the Somme, New York
Battle of the Somme: a lesson in how to win wars or pointless slaughter, Nigel Jones, The Telegraph 4 October 2013
Carlyon, L 2006, The Great War, Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Ltd, 1 Market Street, Sydney
Charles, H 1923, Source Records of the Great War, Vol. IV, ed. National Alumni
Harris, J 2008, Douglas Haig and the First World War, 2009, ed. Cambridge
Haythornthwaite, PJ 1992, The World War One Source Book, Arms and Armour Press, London.
WillMott, H 2003, First World War, DK, 80 Strand, London