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The Battle of the Somme


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A PowerPoint to accompany the worksheet and interactive games at

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The Battle of the Somme

  1. 1. The Battle of the Somme Worksheet to accompany this presentation can be found at
  2. 2. Background <ul><li>The German Schlieffen Plan , which opened the First World War, failed in its daring attempt to defeat France in a matter of weeks in 1914. </li></ul><ul><li>This had led to the establishment of an enormous system of trenches stretching from the Swiss border to the North Sea . </li></ul><ul><li>The early war of rapid movement had become bogged down in a war of attrition (wearing down), in which the side with the most men and ammunition would eventually win. </li></ul><ul><li>Germany recognised that the longer this went on, the worse her situation would be, and continued to press hard on the Western Front. </li></ul><ul><li>In February 1916 the Germans launched a massive attack on the French lines at Verdun and, in order to relieve the pressure on the French, a British attack was planned on the Somme . </li></ul><ul><li>It was hoped that this attack would break through the German lines and enable the Allies to carry the war into Germany. </li></ul>
  3. 3. The Plan <ul><li>The Battle of the Somme was intended to be a joint Anglo-French attack on 1st August 1916. However, heavy French losses at Verdun brought the date of the Somme offensive forward by a month, to 1st July, on the insistence of General Joffre . </li></ul><ul><li>The aim was to divert German attention from Verdun in defence of the Somme. </li></ul><ul><li>General Sir Douglas Haig and General Sir Henry Rawlinson would have preferred to attack later on, on the open plains of Flanders where there was more to be gained strategically, and when the volunteer army raised by Kitchener had been trained more fully. </li></ul>
  4. 4. The Plan <ul><li>The plan was simple. After an initial weeklong bombardment of the German front line their defences would be destroyed: Haig confidently believed that there would not be ‘even a rat’ alive in the German trenches and ordered the British soldiers to advance in waves, at walking pace to keep formation. </li></ul><ul><li>The Infantry (foot soldiers) would then advance to take hold of the German positions and a charge of Cavalry (horsemen) would sweep through towards Germany. </li></ul>
  5. 5. Discussion Points: <ul><li>Was the plan for the Somme offensive a bad one? </li></ul><ul><li>What improvements could you suggest? </li></ul><ul><li>What problems can you see in your suggestions? </li></ul>
  6. 6. The Reality <ul><li>Unfortunately, this approach did not go according to plan: </li></ul><ul><li>The preliminary artillery bombardment – which lasted seven days - had the unfortunate affect of warning the enemy that an attack was imminent giving them plenty of time to prepare for it. </li></ul><ul><li>Although the German trenches were damaged, the soldiers survived in deep dug-outs and manned their positions as soon as the bombardment ceased. </li></ul><ul><li>The bombardment had churned up the ground badly making the advance more difficult. </li></ul><ul><li>Many British shells failed to explode leaving the German defences virtually untouched in parts. </li></ul><ul><li>The barbed wire was not cut and poor weather prevented accurate fire against the German artillery. </li></ul>
  7. 7. The Reality <ul><li>Therefore, when the men went over-the-top at 7:30 am on 1st July, wave after wave were simply mown down by enemy machine gun and artillery fire. Approximately 60,000 men were killed or wounded by the end of the first day. The French, attacking where the defences were weaker, had been more successful yet without back up from the British they were unable to hold on to their advance. </li></ul>
  8. 8. The Reality <ul><li>Convinced of eventual success Haig allowed the bloodshed to continue despite the growing losses. </li></ul><ul><li>By the time he called off his ' Great Push ' on 28th November 1916 more than 450,000 British, 200,000 French and 650,000 German soldiers had been slaughtered. </li></ul><ul><li>After four months of fighting the Allies had advanced a distance of no more than five miles . </li></ul>
  9. 9. The Results <ul><li>Haig, the Allied commander, was severely criticised for persisting with suicidal frontal attacks in the face of appalling losses, and there was a definite change in attitude towards the war. </li></ul><ul><li>For many it was no longer the glorious patriotic adventure of 1914, but simply the grim slaughter of the flower of England’s youth. The war poets such as Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon document this feeling in a very moving way. </li></ul><ul><li>The Somme also contributed to the fall of the British Prime Minister, Asquith , who resigned in December 1916 after mounting criticism. </li></ul><ul><li>He was replaced by Lloyd George . He and Haig hated each other’s guts and frequently clashed later on about how the war should be conducted. Lloyd George wrote of the Somme: “The losses sustained were not only heavy but irreplaceable.” </li></ul>
  10. 10. The Results <ul><li>Nevertheless, some historians have argued that Haig was quite correct in his tactics: </li></ul><ul><li>The Somme dealt a blow to German morale; they realised the costs of trench warfare, and the German commander Hindenburg admitted that he could not survive many more battles like the Somme. </li></ul><ul><li>He realised that the only advantage the Allies possessed was a greater supply of men, and that the only way was to wear down the German forces in a series of bloody battles – in other words, a war of attrition . </li></ul>
  11. 11. Discussion Points <ul><li>The British forces suffered 60,000 casualties (20,000 dead) on the first day of the attack. The eventual total was over one million. Why did the generals not change their tactics? </li></ul><ul><li>Why do you think there was a change of attitude to war after the Somme? </li></ul>
  12. 12. Why not play the “Life in the Trenches” Decision making simulation from ActiveHistory?