The Somme Offensive Failure - analysis of the sources.

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Assessment Task One – Source Analysis Essay

Zahra Chamberlain

The battle of the Somme began in July 1916 during World War I as an attempt to break the stalemate and mitigate some of the pressure on the French at Verdun. The British attack was aimed to sidetrack German attention from Verdun in defence of the Somme. General Douglas Haig planned to heavily bombard the German frontline and create holes in the barbed wire. The Infantry would then advance to take hold of the German positions and a charge of Cavalry would sweep through the villages, splitting the enemy line in two. Unfortunately, this approach did not go quite as planned. The German trenches were well constructed and heavily fortified. The Germans were able to shelter in their underground bunkers in reasonable safety until the Infantry attack started. The bombardment had churned up the ground badly, spitting out barbed wire and tangling it up further. This made the advance difficult for the Allies and many of their shells failed to even explode, leaving the German defences virtually untouched in parts. The battle came with a deathly cost, seeing the British lose around 420,000 casualties, the French 200,000, and the German approximately 465,000. It is arguably one of the bloodshed-riddled and horrific battles of all time.

One of the leading factors contributing to the failure of the Somme Offensive was the relentlessly poor weather and resulting muddy quagmires of shrapnel and deceased soldiers. In some places, German and British troops walked about their parapets in sight of one another. Ironically, both sides were more interested in draining their trenches than in shooting each other. The battlefield above was so soft that high-explosive shells speared deep into the bog before exploding. Sleds were used to bring in supplies and take out the wounded or ill, but it was not uncommon for the wounded to lay out in the weather for up to half a day. Sometimes three horses were needed to drag one man out. An authentic instance was written by British Soldier Mark Plowman, who described the trenches of the Somme in November.

“The mud makes it all but impassable, and now sunk in it up to the knees, I have the momentary terror of never being able to pull myself out.” Source 1.1 (WillMott 2003, p. 166). This source clearly outlines the terrible conditions the soldiers had to perform in. With difficulty moving and avoiding gunfire or shells, a historian using this source can identify that mud and the huge quagmires would have played a great part in the failure of the Somme Offensive. It remains a reliable source and was written during the war by a British soldier. It is not bias, as the mud was also had a devastating effect on the German soldier’s plight too. The barrage of explosions allowed the quagmires of decay to remain constantly agitated and dangerous, sometimes swallowing any horses or men that made the perilous journey into them. Had the battle of the Somme provided stable ground without torrential rain and seas of mud, it is feasible to conclude that many men may have kept their lives safe from disease, submergence, and lead-footed movement.

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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 ...

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