are still those who argue that the
should never have
been fought and that the gains were not commensurate with the sacrifice.
There exists no yardstick for the measurement of such events,
there are no returns to prove whether life has been sold at its market
value. There are some
who from their manner of reasoning would appear to believe that no
battle is worth fighting unless it produces an immediately decisive
result, which is as foolish as it would be to argue that in a prize
fight no blow is worth delivering save the one that knocks the opponent
out. In point of fact
the final blow may be one of the feeblest, and even the finest judge of
the noble art watching the ring most closely would hesitate to lay down
definitely which of the blows delivered in the contest contributed most
to the result.
to whether it were wise or foolish to give battle on the
the 1st of July,
, there can surely
be only one opinion. To
have refused to fight then and there would have meant the abandonment of
to its fate and the
breakdown of co-operation with the French.
When Falkenhayn struck at
he believed that he
was striking at the heart of
, and that if he
the beating of that
heart would cease. Who
shall say that he was wrong? There
lived no shrewder judge of his fellow countrymen than Clemenceau and we
have seen how he believed that even a small disaster might produce a
peace party, who would bring the war to an inglorious conclusion. If
the proud boast Ils ne passeront pas had once been falsified, where would those who
had made it have found the spirit which would have enabled them to
continue the fight? And
had fallen, if the
sacrifice of 200,000 lives had been made in vain, what would
have thought of her
Ally, who had stood by unmoved, never raising a finger, deaf to those
passionate appeals for help? All
military writers are agreed that the
and if no further
justification were forthcoming that alone would suffice.
did more than this.
The British Army that advanced so confidently on the 1st of July
was a citizen army, only half trained to war.
The survivors in mid November were veterans who could have
discussed the military profession as equals with their ancestors who had
passed through all the South African, the Crimean or the Peninsular
campaigns. As the
final test of a new weapon must be the battlefield, so also is the
battlefield the only furnace wherein are forged the armies of victory.
It was the survivors of the
who two years later
formed the backbone of the force that smashed the Hindenburg line and
drove the invaders off the soil of
German Army, on the other hand, came into battle not with the courage of
ignorance but with the confidence of knowledge.
The world has never seen a more highly trained and perfectly
disciplined machine. From
birth every German had been taught to think himself a soldier, he had
been fed from childhood on the glorious traditions of Sadowa and
, he had been
trained from youth in the exercise of arms, and the military supremacy
had been with him
the first article of faith.
they were not taken
by surprise; they had had full time to prepare the fortifications behind
which they awaited the coming onslaught, and the elaboration, ingenuity
and intricacy of those earthworks marked a new epoch in trench warfare.
could produce no
finer soldiers than the men who manned them.
Yet after a bombardment such as they had never imagined they
found themselves driven at the point of the bayonet out of positions
they had believed impregnable.
Fighting fiercely, disputing every inch of the ground, inflicting
fearful punishment upon the foe, they were none the less compelled to
relinquish the trenches they had sworn they would hold to the last.
Falkenhayn had given orders that "not a foot's breadth of
ground must be abandoned".
Von Below had laid down that "only over our dead bodies may
the enemy advance". And
for the German soldier the result of the
was not the loss of
a few lines of trenches nor the bitterness of temporary defeat; it was
the end of a great tradition, it was the bankruptcy of a religious
faith: Two instances were brought to Haig's notice of German officers
who, being prisoners, had attempted to commit suicide - a fact of
writers have frankly admitted the psychological effect produced.
The historian of the 27 (
) Division writes,
"In the Somme fighting there was a spirit of heroism which was
never again found in the Division, however conspicuous its fighting
power remained until the end of the war."
von Hentig of the General Staff tells us that "the
was the muddy grave
of the German field army and of the faith in the infallibility of German
most precious thing lost on the
was the good
relationship between the leaders and the led."
German writer asserts that "the tragedy of the
bottle was that the
best soldiers, the stoutest-hearted men were lost; their numbers were
replaceable, their spiritual worth never could be."
the most conclusive of all evidence is the testimony of General
Ludendorff As the result of the
fighting he admits
that "we were completely exhausted on the Western Front… If the
war lasted our defeat seemed inevitable...
I cannot see as I look back how the German G.H.Q. could have
mastered the situation if the Allies had continued their blows as they
did in 1916.” ('My War Memories, by General Ludendorff, vol.1, pp.
certain British politicians, alarmed by the number of the casualties,
rallied to the cry of "No more Sommes", they little knew that
their latest slogan was also the muttered and heartfelt prayer of the
whole of the German Army, from the men in the trenches to the Commander-in-Chief.
then were the results of the first great battle fought under the supreme
command of Haig.
was saved, the
maintenance of Anglo-French co-operation was assured, the British were
taught to fight and the heart of the German Army was broken.