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WWI-08-A (Somme)
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  • 1. Case Study #1: General Haig & the Battle of the Somme
  • 2. Somme: A Most Significant Event
    • Read, don’t write
    • Cost was staggering
      • Many ‘pals’ battalions wiped out
      • Whole towns & villages lost a generation
      • 11 th Cambridgeshires lost 691 of 750 men
    • Somme became debate about leadership
      • Common biased view: Brave, volunteer Tommies, let down by poor commanders
      • We must be objective, look at the evidence
    • What went wrong?
      • Was Field Marshall Haig really incompetent?
      • Why do some historians say the Somme was not a disaster?
  • 3. The Plan
    • Plan: save French, kill Germans
      • (F) defenders @Verdun being crushed; (GB) attack might stop (G) attack @ Verdun
      • Inflict maximum casualties on (G) troops
    Discussion: Is it morally acceptable to make the killing of enemy soldiers an objective for a military operation?
  • 4. The Tactics
    • FM Haig & General Rawlinson’s tactics
      • Huge artillery barrage
      • Mines tunneled beneath (G) trenches
    • Expected result?
      • (G) Barbed wire (b-w) & dug outs should be smashed to pieces
      • Tommies could walk across ‘no man’s land’
      • Tommies would carry heavy packs & trench repair equipment to repair (G) trenches
      • Cavalry ready to exploit breakthrough
  • 5. Were These the Right Tactics?
    • Haig overestimated effect of artillery
      • (G) on high ground, w/ clear fields of fire
      • (G) Trenches improved for two years; dugouts 50’ below ground w/ reinforced concrete
      • (G) b-w 100’thick
      • (GB) shells of poor quality; many duds
  • 6. Battle: 1 July 1916 …
    • 7:30am: Attack begins
      • Not at dawn due to confidence in barrage
      • Two huge mines blew up 10,000 (G)
      • Blast heard in London
      • 27 divisions (750,000 troops) ‘over the top’
      • Opposed by 16 (G) divisions
    • Tommies advance slowly
      • BEF weighed down by gear brought along to repair captured (G) trenches
      • (G) had time to set up machine guns
      • B-w largely intact; impassable
      • 57,000 (GB) casualties on first day
      • Mass confusion among leaderless Tommies (junior officers mostly killed or wounded)
    7:20am: Hawthorne Ridge mine erupts 7:30am: ‘over the top’ ‘ The key error was overconfidence in the artillery.’ Do you agree with this statement? Why or why not?
  • 7. … and thereafter
    • Rawlinson devastated, Haig determined
      • Haig ordered attacks continued
      • Had to relieve pressure on (F) @ Verdun
      • Haig varied tactics (tanks, surprise attacks)
      • Territory gained slowly, at great cost
    • 18 November: Haig stopped attacks
      • Drove (G) back 3.5 miles along 15 mile front
    • Cost (killed or wounded):
      • (GB) 420,000
      • (F) 200,000
      • (G) 500,000
    • With hindsight, historians know of many planning errors made by Haig before the attack on the Somme.
    • Make a list of the planning errors you think he made in your notes.
    • Decide how many of these errors can only be seen with the benefit of hindsight.
  • 8. The Aftermath
    • Everyone hated Haig
      • Soldiers, politicians & newspapers called him ‘The Butcher of the Somme’
    • Haig’s rebuttal
      • Had warned of many casualties
      • (F) @ Verdun, main objective, saved
      • Many of (G)’s best troops killed
    • (GB) public’s verdict
      • Expected breakthrough didn’t materialize
      • Civilians woke up to fact of long, costly war
    • Confidence in Leaders shaken
      • Early, optimistic, reports seen as deceptive
      • People questioned reliability of leaders
      • Relations between Haig and now Prime Minister David Lloyd George particularly poor
  • 9. Focus Task: How should we remember the Battle of the Somme?
    • The Somme is remembered differently by many people. Historians disagree about whether it was a victory or a disaster. Ordinary people are unsure whether their grandfathers and great grandfathers died for a purpose.
    • Read through your notes and do some research on at least one of the websites below. Decide how you think people in Britain should remember the Battle of the Somme and prepare to present your findings on the topic in the form of a 1-minute speech.
    • http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/FWWsomme.htm
    • http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/trail/wars_conflict/soldiers/act_somme_entry.shtml
    • http://www.lordoftherings.4mg.com/battlesomme.htm
  • 10. Fin
  • 11. PSDs on Battle of the Somme
    • Remembering the disaffections displayed by ministers at the end of 1915 because the operations had not come up to their expectations, the General Staff took the precaution to make quiet clear beforehand the nature of the success which the Somme campaign might yield. The necessity of relieving pressure on the French Army at Verdun remains, and is more urgent than ever. This is, therefore, the first objective to be obtained by the combined British and French offensive. The second objective is to inflict as heavy losses as possible upon the German armies.
      • Sir William Robertson, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, commenting on British plans at the Somme after the end of the war.
    • There was no lingering about when zero hour came. Our platoon leader blew his whistle and he was the first up the scaling ladder, with his revolver in one hand and cigarette in the other. ‘Come on, boys,’ he said, and up he went. We went up after him one at a time. I never saw the officer again. His name is on the memorial to the missing which they built after the war at Thiepval. He was only young but he was a very brave man.
      • The memories of Private George Morgan who took part in the attack 1 July 1916 at the Battle of the Somme.
  • 12. PSDs on Battle of the Somme
    • [A] Hundreds of dead were strung out like wreckage washed up to a high-water mark. Quiet as many died on the enemy wire as on the ground, like fish caught in the net. They hung there is grotesque postures. Some looked as though they were praying; they had died on their knees and the wire had prevented their fall. From the way the dead were equally spread out, whether on the wire or lying in front of it, it was clear that there were no gaps in the wire at the time of the attack. Concentrated machine gun fire from sufficient guns to command every inch of the wire had done its terrible work. The Germans must have been reinforcing the wire for months. It was so dense that daylight could barely be seen through it. Through the glasses it looked a black mass. The German faith in massed wire had paid off. How did our planners imagine that Tommies, having survived all other hazards – and there were plenty in crossing No Man’s Land – would get through the German wire? Had they studied the black density of it through their powerful binoculars? Who told them that artillery fire would pound such wire to pieces, making it possible to get through? Any Tommy could have told them that shell fire lifts wire up and drops it down, often in worse tangle than before.
      • An extract from a book written by George Coppard after the war. Coppard was a machine-gunner in the British army and was at the Somme.
      • Why would a British civilian have found this account shocking if it had been published in 1916?
  • 13. PSDs on Battle of the Somme
    • [B] Should I have resigned rather than agree to this slaughter of brave men [at the Somme]? I have always felt there are solid grounds for criticism of me in that respect. My sole justification is that Haig promised not to press the attack if it became clear that he could not attain his objectives by continuing the offensive.
      • An extract from the war memoirs of David Lloyd George, British PM in 1916
    • [C] I … joined this battalion on 13 June 1916. Previous to this attack [1 July] I had only been in the trenches for two days – I am 18 years of age.
      • Extract of 2 nd Lt. GH Ball’s testimony at inquiry into the Somme battle.
    • [D] The smoke had at that time [approximately 8:10am] practically disappeared and the enemy’s trenches were plainly visible – my men were shot down as soon as they showed themselves and I was unable to get forward beyond 70 or 80 yards.
      • Extract of Cpt. John Kerr’s testimony at inquiry into the Somme battle. His men were in the fourth wave, one that was supposed to carry supplies up to the first three waves. The first three waves clearly never made it to the German lines.
    • [E] By 1918 the best of the old German army lay dead on the battlefields of Verdun and the Somme … As time passed, the picture gradually changed for the worse … as the number of old peacetime [1914] officers in a unit grew smaller and were replaced by young fellows of the very best will, but without sufficient knowledge.
      • A German opinion on the German army of 1918.
    • Read source [B]. Is Lloyd George blaming himself or Haig for events at the Somme?
    • Do you regard sources [C] and [D] as more or less shocking than source [A]? Explain.
    • Source [E] seems to suggest that the tactics of attrition eventually worked. Does that mean it was morally justifiable? Give reasons.
    • How far does your work on this case study support or challenge your answer to the Focus Task entitled ‘How was the stalemate broken?’?