Malcolm & Dan Joe (WW1)

"Dan-Joe & Malcolm (WW1)" -- TOC

Ch. 11 - Criticisms of The Battle of The Somme

On November 18th, 1916, the Battle of the Somme, an Allied offensive, was called off. Winter was setting in, and, classically, this is when major operations should be dropped into low gear. That would have been a good cover; but the facts are that the matter was a disaster for everyone; it had to be ended. The facts53 came out in subsequent years: great numbers54 of young men on all sides were dropped to the mud, ripped up by machine gun bullets or blasted to pieces by exploding bombs. Malcolm Morrison, as we have seen, was one of these young men. For the Morrison family of Glace Bay, the Battle of the Somme was a horrible family destroying event: one boy dead, the other one's health, gone.

"The Somme was one of the war's longest attritional campaigns, and remains a source of great historical controversy. Critics suggest that ineffective and callous British generals ordered their soldiers forward in fruitless and costly attacks, giving them neither proper weapons nor effective tactics to break through the enemy trenches. Other historians further suggest that little more could have been done at this stage in the war to achieve victory, and that the attrition of German troops along the Somme eased enough pressure from the French at Verdun to ensure the Allied front did not collapse in 1916. French demands for help, they argue, forced the British to attack before they were ready. Without enough heavy artillery or shells to suppress enemy fire, the British suffered staggering casualties.
The Somme was a costly stalemate that led to harsh criticism of Allied commanders, especially Haig
55, and German determination to avoid similar casualties by altering their defensive systems. In the fighting of 1917, improved Allied assault tactics would face deeper, more sophisticated German defences."56
The above quote from the is as fine an analysis of the Battle of the Somme as one will likely find. The criticism is echoed in most all of the accounts of this battle. The distinguished historian, Llewellyn Woodward (1890-1971) to whom we refereed earlier in this work, in referring to Haig's method of winning was "clumsy, tragically expensive of life, and based for too long on a misreading of the facts." Woodward has also questioned the morality of the policy of attrition. He described it as the "killing Germans until the German army was worn down and exhausted". He further argued that it "was not only wasteful and, intellectually, a confession of impotence; it was also extremely dangerous. The Germans might counter Haig's plan by allowing him to wear down his own army in a series of unsuccessful attacks against a skillful defence."57

NEXT [Chapter 12, "Winter In The Trenches (1916-1917)"]


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Peter Landry