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Discuss The Extent To Which The Somme Offensive Was A Failure.

1583 words - 6 pages

To most, the Somme Offensive was one of the biggest failures of World War I. By discussing the purposes, leadership, conditions, morale and events of the Somme Offensive we can determine to what degree it was a failure. Each of these individual factors is essential in deciding to what extent it was a failure. The purposes for beginning the Somme Offensive and the ineffective leadership that made the decisions are both critical factors effecting the extent to which it was a failure. The appalling conditions and low morale had a significant impact on the Allied chances of success and major events, such as individual battles, were also important factors that affected the Allied chances of winning the Somme Offensive. In the ensuing discussion, it will be obvious to what extent the Somme Offensive was a failure.The purposes for beginning the Somme Offensive are vital in determining to what extent it was a failure. Haig and Joffre's original intention at the Somme was to relieve the pressure on Verdun and to break through the German lines to decisively change the war from stalemate to movement. Within the first few weeks they realise that this is not possible and turn to a war of attrition. Laffin, a well-respected World War I historian, states that Haig could not call off the offensive because it "would be an open admission of failure." This is truthful in that it would be a personal failure, but it would also be a national failure and a strategic blow that would lower morale and the Allies chances of winning the war. Because of the nature of attrition warfare, the Germans soon learnt to minimise their casualties, as General Sixt von Armin explained after the war. "One of the most important lessons drawn from the Battle of the Somme is that, under heavy, methodical artillery fire, the front line should be only thinly held, but by reliable men and a few machine guns ... When this was not done, the casualties were so great before the enemy's attack was launched that the possibility of the front line repulsing the attack by its own unaided efforts was very doubtful." So the Somme Offensive changed to a war of attrition on both sides. Therefore, it can be determined that the Somme Offensive was a failure according to the original plans for the battle.The ineffectual leadership during the Somme Offensive greatly hampered its chances of success. Many of the leaders were in command because of their social status, not because of their abilities as military commanders. Laffin states that Rawlinson, with support from his superiors, gave orders "that advancing troops were not to charge, merely to walk." Laffin believes that this was because the British "staff had convinced themselves that the troops would become confused if other tactics were employed ... This belief resulted from the idea ... that the volunteers of Kitchener's Army were very dull men. This was not so; many intelligent men had responded to the call for the New Army." What Rawlinson was actually...

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