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Saturday, July 01, 2006

Rethinking the Somme

The name Somme, as a result of 142 days of unrelenting combat, has a special place in British social and military history, as a common experience, shared by millions of Tommies, as well as soldiers from the Empire. It was as significant as Dunkirk or D-Day, and was felt to be so at the time.

The big attack was sold to the soldiers about to undertake it as the last "big push" that would finish the war. Many veterans remembered that they were actually looking forward to it.

Rethinking the Somme
Peter Caddick-Adams, BBC, June 30, 2006

From Wikipedia:

The 1916 Battle of the Somme was one of the largest battles of the First World War, with more than one million casualties. The Allied forces attempted to break through the German lines along a 25-mile (40 km) front north and south of the River Somme in northern France. One purpose of the battle was to draw German forces away from the battle of Verdun; however, by its end the losses on the Somme had exceeded those at Verdun.

While Verdun would bite deep in the national consciousness of France for generations, the Somme would have the same effect on generations of Britons. The battle is best remembered there for its first day, 1 July 1916, on which the British suffered 57,470 casualties, including 19,240 dead — the bloodiest day in the history of the British Army. As terrible as the battle was for the British Empire troops who suffered there, it naturally impacted the other nationalities as well. One German officer famously described it as "the muddy grave of the German field army". By the end of the battle, the British had learnt many lessons in modern warfare while the Germans had suffered irreplaceable losses. British official historian Sir James Edmonds stated, "It is not too much to claim that the foundations of the final victory on the Western Front were laid by the Somme offensive of 1916."

I think this battle is one of the prime examples of how wasteful the war sometimes is. There were no major brakthroughs by either side; and while it may be true that the German Army may have been critically weakened by this battle the question still remains, was the victory worth it - even for the victors.

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