The story of the Somme given in most textbooks, is a
generalised picture of foolish generals, who - having drilled discipline and
'battlefield morale' into the men - carelessly ordered them to walk into the
This account is typical:
On 1 July an enormous British army
began to move slowly across 'no-man's-land' towards the German defences.
The soldiers had been told the enemy trenches would be smashed.
They had expected shell-shocked soldiers ready to surrender...
Everywhere they met a hail of accurate machine-gun fire... A
brave volunteer army had marched to its death.
LE Snellgrove, The Modern World Since
You are welcome to challenge me on this, but I think, when
you read the accounts, you will find that this is a misrepresentation of the
Few British troops went over the top and walked stupidly into
a hail of bullets. In many places they used Russian saps, or
covered as much ground as possible crawling, or advanced under cover of
smoke. It is true that in many places, at first, they did as
ordered and went over the top across No Man's Land at a walk.
However, when the machine guns opened up, after a short time of surprise,
they adopted the rush/hide techniques of the French and many other tactics
of trench attack.
Not all Generals sat out the battle in chateau 50 miles
behind the lines.
Not all the Generals were careless of the lives of their
soldiers, many taking decisions contrary to their orders so they could stop
the slaughter of their men.
Not all the casualties were the 'New Army' of Pals
Battalions. Three of the 5 worst-hit Divisions (29th, 8th, 4th)
were in fact old units of the Regular Army, who showed themselves just as
brave as the volunteers of the New Army.
The three major causes of the disaster seem to have been:
Inadequate artillery - particularly using too few HE shells
(so that too many German deep dugouts/machine-gun emplacements survived -
the key element) and too many shrapnel shells (which failed to cut the wire
adequately). Where the artillery had done its job properly, the
British attacks were successful.
Poor communications, which led to Battalions advancing too
fast, or charging hopeless causes at great loss, and poor coordination of
the attacks with the artillery fire.
The failure of the Generals to act on information coming back
from the line.