GUILLEMONT: Somme (Battleground Europe)

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And this style of combat was not confined to the fighting fronts: submarine warfare and blockade were both designed to slowly but relentlessly starve the enemy population. In fact, it was all too typical of the high-intensity military operations that dominated the first half of the 20th century — and that includes the Second World War. Despite its reputation as a predominantly swift-moving and decisive encounter, the —45 conflict often descended into deadlock too. Yes, the German army overran its enemies at lightning speed in the early years. But from late — with the Allies on the ropes but crucially not knocked out — Somme-style slogging matches returned to the battlefield.

The sheer size of the USSR, allied to the iron laws of logistics, meant that the Germans were unable to capitalise on their initial successes in Operation Barbarossa. Soviet commanders learned from their earlier defeats, and the Red Army eventually proved to be a formidable and skilful enemy. British empire forces, although not as numerous, likewise learned lessons and became much more capable on the battlefield. The entry of the USA into the war in December brought a large, fresh and technologically advanced army into the anti-German coalition.

The shifting balance of resources was also reflected in the skies, where Allied aircraft — once terrorised by the Luftwaffe — soon reigned supreme. So, by the middle of the war, the German advantages that had served them well in earlier years had largely been eliminated.


Now, the armies were much more evenly matched. Stalemate ensued. This deadlock tended to be shorter in duration than in the First World War. Tanks, motorised transport and aircraft helped make fronts more mobile and restored the possibility of decisive manoeuvre such as battles of encirclement, largely absent from the western front from — Nevertheless, campaigns such as the second battle of El Alamein , Stalingrad —43 , Kursk , Monte Cassino , and Normandy produced conditions highly reminiscent of the western front, complete with casualty rates that often equalled or exceeded those of a generation before.

This is the context in which we need to understand the battle of the Somme. It was not an aberration. It was like so many other battles of the early 20th century — battles that had evolved by the Second World War without losing their essentially attritional character. But that was the case for two reasons. First, the army was much smaller. Second, the British, unlike in —18, did not have to fight for a prolonged period against the main enemy — defeat in and the Dunkirk evacuation ensured that.

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However, casualty rates for individual units reveal that the fighting was very bloody — especially during the campaign in western Europe in — The level of losses during the bitter advance from Normandy to the Baltic would have been grimly familiar to infantrymen who fought on the Somme two decades earlier.

Unexpectedly, it was the BEF and not the French army that contributed the most troops to the first stages of the Somme. The initial plan had the French taking the lead. However on 21 February the Germans attacked around the French city of Verdun. The fighting there sucked in large numbers of French divisions, forcing the progressive scaling back of the French contribution to the forthcoming offensive.

The 1st of July was a day of mixed fortunes for the Allies. In the north of the battlefield the offensive was a disaster. In places the barbed wire was not cut, and the gunners had failed to deal with enemy artillery and machine-guns.

Visiting the WW1 Western Front Battlefields

Some divisions captured ground but were driven back through lack of support. But in the south the raw soldiers of XIII Corps, including Pals from Liverpool and Manchester, and the 8th East Surreys, who kicked footballs into action, captured all their objectives. The French also made a major advance, at a tiny cost in casualties. On 1 July the 1st Newfoundland Regiment lost men killed and wounded out of a total of , in a brave but doomed attack near Beaumont-Hamel.

This was the first contingent from the Dominions of the British empire that fought on the Somme. The Somme was an important milestone in the emergence of Dominion divisions as elite formations. This lay between the British front line, captured from the Germans on 1 July, and the defenders on Bazentin ridge.

The Battle of the Somme reassessed

When the attack was launched at dawn the defenders were surprised and rapidly overrun. A great victory appeared to be at hand. But, as we explain on page 24, it was not to be, for it proved impossible to get reserves to the right place rapidly enough to exploit the success. A cavalry attack turned out to be too little, too late.

On 15 September , the tank appeared for the first time upon a battlefield.

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Trench deadlock spurred the development of numerous weapons, including mortars and hand grenades, but the most significant was the armoured fighting vehicle. Initially developed by the British, the Mark I tank deployed in the fighting at Flers-Courcelette was a fragile machine that broke down easily. Its performance was patchy, but the success of one machine at the village of Flers was reported in the press and caught the public imagination.

Field-Marshal Sir Douglas Haig is one of the most controversial generals of all time, and his performance during the battle of the Somme is central to his reputation. Interestingly, until the s it was Passchendaele properly, the third battle of Ypres that was popularly regarded as the epitome of wasteful horror, rather than the Somme. In reality, Haig was thoroughly conversant with modern war. After the trauma of the Boer War, he played a key role in reforming the army and preparing it for a new conflict.

Haig had, among other things, been responsible for modernising the British Army. Cavalry reformed by Haig and others continued to have a place on the battlefield, even on the Somme. As C-in-C from late onwards, Haig oversaw the transformation of his inexperienced army of volunteers and conscripts to a war-winning force — but the battle of the Somme took place very early in this process.

Ultimately Haig was proved right in , but it took far longer to break the stalemate than he had anticipated. Whatever else he might have been, Haig was not a technophobe. He was a keen supporter of advanced technology, such as aircraft, quick-firing artillery and machine-guns. He has been criticised for supposedly throwing away the advantage of surprise by prematurely committing a small number of tanks to battle on 15 September. This is unjust. Tanks were simply too primitive to be war-winners, and their use to support the infantry was appropriate given the circumstances. If Haig had waited for months for large numbers to be available, the secret would probably have leaked out.

Haig has also been accused of being vastly over-optimistic, with dire results for his troops. There is some truth in this, but only some. He believed that British shelling had cut German barbed wire prior to the attack on 1 July, but that was what his intelligence staff had told him. There was a collective failure, rather than it being solely down to Haig.

Battleground Europe Guillemont Somme

The weight of explosives was spread far too thinly, and key German positions were not suppressed. Haig also consistently overrated the effect of attrition on German morale. He was not well-served by his intelligence staff in this regard, although it is not true to say that they simply told him what he wanted to hear. He made mistakes and sometimes expected too much of his raw troops. On occasion he was let down by senior subordinates. The Somme: was it really a monstrous failure? July 23, at am. Downstairs in Downton: a guide to the life of an Edwardian servant.

Try our range of BBC bestselling history magazines today! Subscribe Now. Book now. The attack of 2, men of the 16th Irish Division's 47th Brigade on September 3, would come at a grievously heavy price. The brigade lost half its men - killed or injured - but they managed to take Guillemont.

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Six days later the target was Ginchy, less than a mile away which was heavily protected. The Division won its battle but in those 10 days of fighting lost half of its total strength of 11, through death and injury - 1, men lay dead. Two small villages had been taken but at a huge cost. We squeezed a lot into our three-day trip and it's hard to pick out highlights but I think all of our group were stunned to witness at first hand the ft wide and 90ft deep Lochnagar Crater caused by two explosive charges of 24,lb and 30,lb.

It was blown, along with 16 others, at am on the morning of July 1, as a two-minute precursor to the start of the Battle of the Somme offensive. The charges were laid by tunnellers, many of them miners in peace time, who burrowed under German lines to plant the deadly ordnance. So large was the explosion that debris rose some 4,ft into the air. Here our guide Iain McHenry was particularly illuminating. He is the author of Subterranean Sappers: A History of Tunnelling Company RE from to which is considered the definitive history of this brave underground army.

Before we flew home via Brussels after a packed but hugely illuminating and fascinating trip, we also visited the Island of Ireland Peace Park with its feet high Round Tower. Located near the battle for the Messines Ridge, the memorial bears witness to the first- time Irish Catholic and Protestant soldiers united together to fight side by side against a common enemy. The Tower, built in traditional design, was constructed with stone from a British Army barracks in Tipperary and a workhouse near Mullingar. A prime mover in its construction was the late Paddy Harte, the former Donegal TD who died just last month.

It is a remarkable and fitting legacy for which he will be remembered. The acre memorial park opened features a stunning bronze Caribou Stag to mark the Battle of Beaumont-Hamel where of men of the 1st Newfoundland Regiment were killed or wounded. The Irish poet survived Gallipoli but met his end with five comrades near Ypres when a shell exploded. He is buried at Artillery Wood Military Cemetery - a poignant reminder of the senseless carnage of war. By PA Reporters The worst fears about the future of Thomas Cook have been confirmed as the firm collapsed into compulsory liquidation.

Here the PA news agency looks at some of the key questions for its No longer is it enough to have some cash and an address for the first night; now you must have a promise of employment. This last condition is proving to be the hurdle that students today cannot overcome - and so they A strike planned by British Airways pilots later this month in a dispute over pay has been called off. Jerome follows the tracks of the 16th Irish Division in Guillemont.

Only the monstrous anger of the guns. A Vickers machine gun crew in anti-gas helmets near Ovillers on the Somme, July Who will pay? What about customers on holiday? What about customers on Tanya Sweeney: 'Are dads better fathers when they're oul fellas? Also in Life. Sci-fi cityscapes. Perfectly pruned parks. Bullet trains. Japan: Why everyone should experience life with the perfect hosts The opening game of the Rugby World Cup between Stockholm on a budget: Nine top tips for thrifty travel in the Swedish capital When it comes to choosing a travel destination that Planned strike by British Airways pilots called off A strike planned by British Airways pilots later this month in a dispute over pay has been called off.

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