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The Somme Hardcover – 11 Mar 2005

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; 1st Edition edition (11 Mar. 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300106947
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300106947
  • Product Dimensions: 24.1 x 16.3 x 3.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 176,489 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"A major addition to the literature on the military history of the Great War." -- Jay Winter

'...any new book by Robin Prior and Trevor Wilson be welcomed, and this is no exception.' -- The British Army Review, no. 138

Book Description

`... lively, provocative, and well sourced, and ... has become the `industry standard' account ... a very significant milestone ... it will remain invaluable.'
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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There is a widely held view about the initiation and prosecution of the Battle of the Somme. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By O. G. M. Morgan on 2 Jan. 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As an event that has left scars on several nations, the Battle of the Somme has not lacked for historians over the years. I doubt if it is possible to write a definitive account of something so big, so complex and so terrible in impact and I don't imagine that the Australian authors of this work would claim such status for this book, but anyone interested in the First World War should read this outstanding book. The format will be familiar to anyone who has read the same authors' "Passchendaele: the Untold Story". As there, Prior and Wilson look at the political background, the impetus behind the offensive, the aims of the military commanders and the evolution of the plans. Then they examine what went wrong and why. They do not, by any means, neglect the experiences of the hundreds of thousands of men at the sharp end, but this book and, say, Lyn MacDonald's "Somme" should really be considered as complementary to each other. One of the many striking features of the present book is the way it cuts away at the myths that encrust the Somme history. This isn't some fatuous revisionism, from a self-styled enfant terrible, bloody-mindedly saying the diametric opposite of whatever has been written before. Prior and Wilson most definitely are not in the business, for instance, of pretending that the Somme campaign was anything but a dreadful, lethal failure. Nevertheless, the reader may well be amazed at the frequency with which these two remarkable historians coolly dismantle legends about the Somme that have stood largely unopposed for very nearly nine decades. It would be unfair to steal any of their thunder by revealing any instances here.Read more ›
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Jon Latimer on 22 Mar. 2007
Format: Hardcover
'The most notorious battle in British military history', as Dr Gary Sheffield noted, saw the British Army suffer 57,000 casualties on the opening day, 1 July 1916. Film and television has since shaped our perceptions of the war; it still evokes images of men advancing forlornly in well-dressed lines at a steady walk into withering machine-gun fire, all for the sake of capturing a few miserable yards of muddy ground, but also the supposed unfeeling stupidity of the generals that controlled the battle, in particular, Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig.

Haig's reputation was largely trashed following the publication of David Lloyd George's memoirs after Haig's death in 1928. Ever the self-serving politician, Lloyd George sought to blame Haig for the slaughter and was assisted by Captain Basil Liddell Hart and other writers of the 1930s. But Lloyd George was equally culpable for the bloodshed of the Somme. British politicians were slow to grasp the significance of the battle that began consuming the French at Verdun in February 1916. But the Cabinet had already agreed the need for their own major offensive; Lloyd George firmly grasped the significance of this, and as Minister of Munitions, he was responsible for providing the colossal material needs of the army. Success or failure was governed partly by technical considerations such as the fuse problem that bedevilled shells, so that as many as a third failed to explode. Under Lloyd George quality control was discarded to maximise headline production rates with predictable consequences. But the bottom line was an insufficiency of heavy guns and shells. And as the day of battle drew closer, too little attention was paid to the counter-battery tasks necessary to silence German guns.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By K. N. Crosby on 21 Dec. 2011
Format: Hardcover
I fear that it could also be the grave of P&Ws credibility. They get the artillery plan wrong, make unwarranted claims about its dispersal and perpetuate the canard that the Somme was intended to be a breakthrough operation (unless the Germans obligingly folded) and that Haig overruled Rawlinson. The Germans are as conspicuously absent as competent primary research.

A good pot-boiler but not history.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 13 reviews
24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
Very critical of Haig 27 Jun. 2005
By 1. - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Prior and Wilson are very critical of Douglas Haig and contend that he never understood the complexity of modern warfare. During the intial planning of the Somme offensive Haig did not develop an effective bombardment plan that would neutralize the German defenses. As a result thousands of British soldiers were killed in the opening phases of the campaign by German defenses that managed to survive the massive British bomdardment. But this bomdbardment was very ineffective because the artillery failed to cooperate with the infantry and this led to gunners missing their target but a large margin. Haig continued his errors by believing that the battle could be a Napoleonic type of decisive victory and this made him to commit thousands of troops to a stalemated camapign. The only weakness of the book is that the authors leave out the French and German perspectives of the camapaign, but otherwise this is an excellent account of the battle.
30 of 34 people found the following review helpful
Yes the Somme was a disaster 30 Dec. 2005
By Tom Munro - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This book claims to be the first book to look at primary sources in writing a account of the battle of the Somme rather than relying on journalistic accounts of the battle. The main difference is the first day of the battle. Most previous accounts seem to have been based on one account put out in 1917 that suggested that on the opening day the artillery barrage failed to destroy the German positions. The barrage finished prematurely and that 50,000 British troops advancing at a walking pace were mowed down by German machine gunners who were able to reach their defensive positions just in time. It was suggested that the British troops were ordered to move slowly and in formation by higher command.

The book suggests that this account is one based on the movement of some troops from rear positions to the British front line. In this sector the British occupied low lying ground and the German machine guns and artillery were able to destroy the British troops even before they could enter the battle. The fact that they were distant from the front line is the reason that they were moving in close formation and moving slowly. Rather than this being a general pattern the reasons for the disaster were more complex and varied from sector to sector.

In fact the planning of the attack on the first day seems to have been entirely decentralised. The nature of the attack, the use of artillery were all made at sector level. Later in the war the most effective use of artillery during an attack was the creeping barrage. That is a slowly moving curtain of fire that allowed the infantry to move forward while the enemy position was destroyed or suppressed. On the opening day only one sector used a creeping barrage, and it is in this sector that most gains were made. In other areas the barrage was largely ineffective in destroying the German positions. The reasons for this ranged from poor accuracy, use of light guns to poor observation. One of the key factors however was the overoptimistic view that the attack could reach the third German defensive line. For that reason the artillery barrage was too widely dispersed to be effective. In addition there was little counter battery fire which meant that when the attack began the Germans were able to pour a withering and effective fire on the attackers.

Following the first day the sorts of mistakes again were not simple. The general pattern was to make small scale poorly supported attacks on a piecemeal basis which were uncoordinated. This allowed the Germans to concentrate their artillery and reserves so that at no point were they ever really threatened with a decisive breakthrough. The one positive aspect of the battle from the British point of view was that the German high command fought it almost as stupidly as the British. They believed that not an inch of ground should be given up. Thus the defence was characterised by a large number of counter attacks and very heavy German casualties because of men being kept in defensive earth works. When Falkenhayn was replaced by Hindenburg and Lundendorf they adopted a change in defensive strategy. Instead of relying on trench lines they used a defence based on the existing technology. Lots of machine guns in concrete defensive positions with most of the infantry being held back out of range of artillery fire.

Following the war Haig the British commander was the subject of attack by historians such as Liddel Hart. Generally the suggestion was that the British army was an army of lions led by donkeys. The critism after the war was partially propaganda for a form of warefare relying on movement and a mechanised arm. In recent years the Donkey theory has been much attacked as a simple caricature. In this book however the command errors of the British are outlined in embarrassing detail. Haig seemed to be living in a fantasy world developing plans unrelated to reality. Meanwhile small uncoordinated attacks occurred for months after the initial day. There seemed to be a greater understanding of the use of artillery developed by the lower ranks which made some of these effective. However the Germans were able to move seven fresh divisions into the area and to move large numbers of heavy guns because of the slow pace of offensive operations meaning that any victories achieved by the British troops could never lead to strategic victory.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
A study in military incompetence 15 Sept. 2005
By Colonel Moran - Published on
Format: Hardcover
The authors provide a highly analytical study of one of the more famous campaigns of WWI. Their conclusions seem unassailable. The British soldier performed well but senior command performance was deficient. Haig had dreams of one great Murat-like cavalry charge ending the entire war. Communication between the various senior levels of leadership was lacking or dysfunctional. Even the civilian leadership refused to take a meaningful involvement. At times the writing style is a bit dry and the text can read a bit like a spreadsheet. Yet, the authors make their point and make it well. This will probably stand as the definitive study of the Somme for years to come.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
The Second Circle of Hell in Detail 20 Oct. 2006
By Mouldy Pilgrim - Published on
Format: Hardcover
"The Somme" covers the events surrounding 1916's Battle of the Somme with a renewed look at the evidence, in some cases reviewing previously held beliefs and claims about events. In doing so, the book presents a very large amount of detail.

The book is divided into chapters that focus on different phases of the battle, with the 1st July being dealt with over a few chapters, each focusing on particular sections of the front. With operations beyond that first period, the book shifts more to a chronology-based division of discussion. Although there were lots of things happening, the authors sometimes condense them and turn their attentions to representative operations in that phase of the battle.

Coupled with extensive quotes from unit War Dairies, letters, communiques and other primary sources, the presentation of the information builds up a very solid overview the battle and its ebb and flow.

While the authors are very critical of the commanders and their failures, (a case fairly well supported, as far as I could see), they also emphasise the fact that the civilian leadership was no more enlightened, contrary to commonly held opinions. Of particular interest to the critical eyes of the authors are Haig and Rawlinson, for varying reasons.

One thing that was of particular note for myself was the inclusion of lots of maps, at least one per chapter. These maps give a good view of the section of the front for the chapter, making tracking the movements of units all that much easier.

Prior and Wilson have given a great account of the Battle of the Somme, and certainly has my recommendation for anyone wanting a starting point for the battle itself. One will end this book with a very detailed understanding of the Battle of Somme, and some of the lessons that were eventually learnt from it.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
surgical description not a "soldiers' story" type 2 Jan. 2008
By Douglas E. Libert - Published on
Format: Hardcover
The book is another British interpretation of the battle.using almost solely British sources.The author faults the British commanders for not understanding the "changing face" of 20th century industrialized warfare where artillery and machine guns were the major consideration.Haig,the British commander is characterized as a "romantic",pretty much stuck in the 1850's "charge of the Light Brigade" type mentality.According to the author,the new technologies of the tank and the airplane are still too new to make a pronounced tactical difference one way or another at the battle of the Somme.These 2 new technologies while having instances of success were minor compared to the advances in artillery and the author states that about 70% of battlefield casualties during WW1 were caused by artillery alone.
The author spends alot of time explaining the fine points of different calibers of heavy guns and mortars and their capabilities and effectiveness.The major theme of the book seems to revolve around the failure of the British High Command to understand how to properly use the "creeping barrage."Before you get to the end of this book you will definitely have the concept of a "creeping barrage" as part of your vocabulary.The German part in this book revolve around setting up good killing zones and waiting for the British Tommies to "come on."
The book would be contemporary because it stresses the resposibilities of governments to be at the top of their military game in regard to preparation,equipment,hospital sevices,etc. when indulging in a war." The oft used quote by unsuccessful politicians and general,"WE did our best"!!,doesn't cut it in regard to a war,although the quote can be successfully used when doing the dishes.
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