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Why The Battle Of The Somme Is Regarded As A Great Military Tragedy

1170 words - 5 pages

Why the Battle of the Somme is Regarded as a Great Military Tragedy

On 1st July 1916, General Haig prepared the battle plan for an
offensive on German lines, designed to relieve the strain on French
forces at Verdun and break through a strong line of German defences.
While Haig would have preferred an attack further north, he was
hopeful that the operation should be successful in drawing forces away
from Verdun and killing as many German troops as possible as part of
the “war of attrition”. The location was the Somme River.

The details were worked out by General Haig and his deputy, General
Rawlinson. The focus of the battle plan was a huge artillery
bombardment, backed up by mines, collapsed beneath enemy territory
with the aim of devastating German positions. The bombardment would
effectively cut through the enemy’s barbed wire, while smashing
fortified positions and dug-outs. Haig placed so much faith in the
power of British guns, that he expected men to be capable of walking
across no-man’s land, carrying heavy packs with provisions and trench
repair equipment to rebuild the captured territory upon arrival. The
final piece of the plan saw cavalry forces, kept in readiness, to
charge through gaps in the German front line and cause a mass-retreat
of enemy forces.

In hindsight, we can see that the offensive very much failed to live
up to expectations. Such terrible failure is possibly attributable to
poor tactics and leadership on the part of Douglas Haig and his
advisors. Haig certainly knew of the masses of barbed wire separating
the German forces from his men; however the General grossly
overestimated the ability of his artillery to destroy German defences,
eventually spelling doom for the attacking infantry. Numerous factors
would also appear to have been overlooked by Haig, such as the
position of the defenders on high ground, with a good view of any
attacking forces. The strength of German defences was also
underestimated, seeing as the Germans had been in place since 1914 and
had set about placing their dug-outs deep underground and fortifying
them with concrete. The barbed wire had been stretched out more than
thirty metres wide, making it almost impossible to penetrate,
regardless of artillery. It was not only poor forward-planning that
resulted in such terrible losses however. For example, the shells
supplied to British forces were not as Haig had envisaged, many of
which were of low quality, or failed to go off at all.

Over confidence resulted in the offensive’s first major flaw; it’s
timing. The infantry attack began at 7.30 am on 1st July, rather than
at dawn when no-man’s land would be covered in a thick mist which
would naturally make the task of the German gunner much more
difficult. Such a time was chosen by Commanders who were confident
that there...

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