Military Achievements of the British at the Battle of the Somme

Military Achievements of the British at the Battle of the Somme

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Military Achievements of the British at the Battle of the Somme

Post-war British folklore has deemed the Battle of the Somme a
military catastrophe of the greatest kind. The image of the reckless
slaughter of British troops on July 1st 1916 and the idea of "Lions
being led by Donkeys"1 to their fate, which compromised of death is
what resides in the minds of most regarding the Battle of the Somme.
If at all a victory, it would have been classed as a 'Phyrric
Victory'. On the surface it seems that very little land was gained
over an extensive battle at the cost of many lives. It cannot be
denied that the casualties were great, and to an extent unnecessary.
It cannot be denied that the tactics and planning before and on July 1st
1916 were far from ingenious. However, what is usually forgotten in
the minds of the public, is that there was more to the Battle of the
Somme than July 1st; to judge this battle one must examine the whole
battle, spanning four months. The idea of the Battle of the Somme
being a success has emerged over the last forty years, and this
argument has its merits, especially so if one penetrates the surface
of the question and looks deeper.

Prior to the Somme, there was a leaping gap in the calibre of the
British and German armies. How the British army fared has been much
publicised, but details of the German army's plight have been less so.
German casualties are estimated in the region of 670,000, a greater
number than the combined British (420,000) and French (200,000)
casualties. These casualties were more catastrophic for the Germans
than for us, as they had fewer men and were already faltering from the
pressure at Verdun. Whereas we lost green troops and pals battalions
on the Somme, the Germans lost their first string. In their own words,
"What still remained of the old first class peace trained German
infantry had been expended on the battlefield."2 And "No art of the
commander could give them back the trained artillery which had been

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destroyed."3 We also broke some of the most formidable defences on the
Western Front. The German trenches, unlike ours, were built for
eternal use, but they were forced into abandoning their most prized
territory. They had to occupy improvised trench lines, which were less
capable of withstanding further attacks. The moral of German soldiers
plummeted to a low, they feared they were on the brink of defeat. Even
the Germans would admit "… the Somme had a profound and detrimental
impact on the German army."4 It spelt the beginning of the end. The
German army would never again be the crushing fighting machine it once
was.

As the German army was weakening, there is much evidence to support
the claim that the British army was growing stronger everyday on the
Somme. Although there were great casualties, 78% of British casualties
went on to serve their country once again. The Somme is greatly
regarded as the training ground of the British Army. The actual
experience in combat was unattainable in any school. The Somme was the
bitterest, harshest and most unforgiving training ground of all. It
"…brought professionalism to an army of amateurs…"5 Before the Somme,
the British army consisted of a great number of willing amateurs. It
emerged "…as a seasoned, professional, battle-winning force."5 Every
man who fought on the Somme improved vastly. And whilst the morale of
the German army faltered, the morale of the British army was raised.
There was "… a definite and growing sense of superiority over the
enemy, man to man…"6 After the Somme, the British Army had become
stronger, both physically and psychologically.

Other gains were also made, strategically and tactically. The
commanders improved as did their tactics and ideas. Attrition proved
itself a successful tactic. It also "…wrested the strategic initiative
on the Western Front back from the Germans…"4 If not a strategic
victory, the Somme could certainly be considered a strategic success.

In conclusion, the British made great military gains on the Somme,
and, especially when looked at comparatively, it should be considered
a success rather than a failure.
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