France: the bloody battle of the Somme in the bloody first world war

This video is about the Battle of the Somme.

From Socialist Worker weekly in Britain:

Slaughter at the Somme

The Battle of the Somme, which took place 90 years ago, reveals the horror of the First World War of 1914-18 and the system that created it, writes historian Neil Faulkner

On 1 July 1916, 150,000 British soldiers went “over the top” on the Western Front to attack the German trenches in the Somme region.

The front, along which British and French armies confronted the German army, stretched from Switzerland to the Channel.

For 18 months there had been a stalemate.

The German defences on the Somme were made up of consecutive lines of trenches and dug-outs, thousands of yards deep.

They were defended by riflemen, machine guns, artillery and belts of impenetrable barbed wire.

By the end of the first day, 19,000 British soldiers were dead and a further 38,000 wounded.

This was the bloodiest single day in British history.

There had been no gains at all along most of the front.

The assault waves had been so effectively scythed by machine guns and blasted by artillery that some battalions had lost three quarters of their men within minutes of leaving the trenches.

Sheltering in a shell-hole near the German wire, Corporal Ashurst looked back across no man’s land.

He said, “Hundreds of dead lay about, and wounded men were trying to crawl back to safety.

“As I lay there watching their painful efforts to get back to our line, I watched these poor fellows suddenly try to rise on their feet and then fall in a heap and lie very still. …

For 90 years, in Britain at least, the Somme has symbolised the waste of war.

Recently, however, a new generation of revisionist military historians has challenged this view. Revisionism is very much in vogue.

Revolutions are trivialised, empires are rehabilitated, wars are retrospectively justified and tarnished reputations are polished up.

Revisionist history is an academic wing of neo-liberalism – the past is being recast to conform to a Blairite vision of the world.

The revisionists argue that the standard description of British soldiers in the First World War as “lions led by donkeys” – the donkeys being the generals – is false. …

They [British World War I generals] promised great “breakthroughs”.

They predicted the enemy’s imminent “morale collapse”.

Each year was to be the last year of the war.

They dared not admit that half a million men and 1,500 guns were not enough.

Like US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld in Iraq, who predicted victory on the cheap with a small specialised army, they probably deluded themselves.

They certainly had to delude others.

The awful truth about the war could not be told – lest support for it collapse.

On the battlefield itself, class snobbery crippled tactical innovation.

The generals were long service professional officers recruited, with few exceptions, from the upper classes, and trained in small scale colonial wars.

They doubted the discipline and fighting skills of the new mass army of working class volunteers.

“Neither our new formations nor the old divisions have the same discipline that obtained in our army of a year ago,” complained General Rawlinson, Haig’s commander on the Somme.

So on the battlefield they were to be kept under tight rein, denied the initiative and flexibility essential to modern infantry tactics.

“The assaulting troops must push forward at a steady pace in successive lines,” intoned Rawlinson.

Men walking in lines can be monitored and controlled – and easily shot down.

The real criticism of Haig and Rawlinson is not, however, that they were bad generals.

Had they been good generals, the casualties might have been fewer, but there would still have been slaughter, destruction and waste on a mindnumbing scale.

The real criticism is that they were leading members of a rapacious ruling class prepared to sacrifice millions in a war for empire and profit.

The battle of the Somme, by any rational assessment, was barbaric and insane.

The politicians, generals and profiteers had produced a world in which millions of soldiers were grappling with death in a blasted landscape of mud, blood and wire.

And millions of workers and peasants were having their lives torn apart by hunger, poverty and disease.

See also here.

South African soldiers at the Somme: here.

Executions of British soldiers in World War I: here.

Horses in World War I: here.

Prostitution in World War I: here.

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49 thoughts on “France: the bloody battle of the Somme in the bloody first world war

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