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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An indispensable history of the 1916 campaign - outstanding
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...
Published on 2 Jan 2006 by O. G. M. Morgan

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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The muddy grave of the German field army
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...
Published on 21 Dec 2011 by K. N. Crosby


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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An indispensable history of the 1916 campaign - outstanding, 2 Jan 2006
By 
O. G. M. Morgan (Hants, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Somme (Hardcover)
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. It will make tricky reading for those that would inflate Douglas Haig's reputation, although, even here, the authors can show how the popular image has very largely got hold of the wrong end of the stick. One point that should be made is that the book is essentially from the British perspective in its entirety. That's not a criticism and it's not to say that the authors have neglected the German sources, but it is not their aim to analyse the response of the German command in detail (except in respect to the way in which the campaign failed to force on to the Germans the expected responses which had been used, among the British General Staff and in Whitehall, to justify the carnage). The book is very well written, as ever from these two, and the maps, although very simple, are admirably clear. The photographs are well chosen, with excellent captions, but how much they contribute overall is questionable. Regardless of that, though, this work is an invaluable analysis of the campaign and should acquire the status of a classic.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First Class Dispassionate Analysis, 22 Mar 2007
This review is from: The Somme (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.

The strength of the book lies in the detailed breakdown at the operational level of command, the failure of Haig to impose his vision on General Sir Henry Rawlinson, commanding Fourth Army, and the High Command's failure 'to analyse the reasons why [its] achievements fell short of their original intentions'. Haig began by setting unrealistic objectives for the offensive, born of over-optimism, and Rawlinson demurred. Later the process would be reversed when Haig chose not to rein expectations in. Throughout we are presented with a high command seldom working in the same direction, and this is the where the roots of the tragedy lie, not in false claims about Haig's supposed attitude to machine-guns or cavalry; nor the popular - and false - impression of men walking slowly forward in lines, derived from accounts by John Buchan in 1917, and later stressed by Basil Liddell. For as the professors demonstrate, failure or success of almost every phase of the battle came down to the failure or success of the artillery, and had little or nothing to do with the tactical ability of the infantry who tried all sorts of tactical variations: it was artillery, not the machine-gun, that dominated the Somme battlefield.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The muddy grave of the German field army, 21 Dec 2011
By 
K. N. Crosby - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Somme (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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