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on 18 September 2016
This book places the battle of the Somme in its full context, setting it not just as a battle in its own right, but part of the wider battle that encompasses the fighting from 1915 until the summer of 1918 on the western front. When viewed through this prism, Philpott argues that the success and significance of the Somme has been underplayed in history, with the focus being on the human tragedy (which is never denied), and the myths that have grown from interwar views, notably those of Churchill and Lloyd George, but also Liddell Hart and A.J.P Taylor. This view of the battle, and many heavy weight historians are taken to task here, the flaws and agendas in their arguments exposed.

The author also brings to the fore the role of France and the French army in the battle, restoring their rightful lace in its history, in a way that has not been done before, reminding the reader that France was not just involved in Verdun in 1916, but had an important role to play on the Somme too. This alone makes the book required reading for a serious scholar of the western front.

Certainly not a popular history, this weighty tome, the hard back version is in excess of 600 pages, has an impressive scope, focusing not just on the military tactics deployed but the wider geopolitical, entente politics, and historical context for the battle. The tragedy of the soldiers experience is alluded too, but this is not a bringing to life of the individual soldier's experience, and in fact argues how this focus has distorted our understanding of the battle.
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on 5 July 2009
This is an extraordinary book that put the Somme back into the wider context of the First War. Too many books in English only deal with the British aspect of the Battles (all of them - Philpott lists 5 although, understandably, the 1916 action dominates this book) of the Somme - some are open about this (Middlebrook states that his story deals only with the British side) but the majority ignore, for instance, the French involvement in the actions of July 1st which was crucial. Philpott queries the myth of the Somme as "something that went wrong" rather as an critical, victorious event in the middle of a long war - almost analogous to Stalingrad 27 years later. The battle destroyed the figments of any form of legitimacy in the German Government, creating a dictatorship of Ludendorff and Hindenburg who only paid lip service to the Kaiser. It effectively ensured that Germany could not win the war - the March 21st 1918 offensive not withstanding.

The Somme is remembered as a national tragedy - especially in Northern Ireland (and in places such as Newfoundland as well as the homes of the Pals Battalions). Philpott argues, convincingly, that the Somme should be remembered as a victory - albeit one not recognised at the tme.
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on 13 July 2016
One of the new 'revisionist' historians, WP explains the way the Somme was fought and, to some extent, exonerates the 'donkeys'. At the same time WP does not deny the cold, 'mathematical approach to war'. War is, and always was, horror one cannot sugar that pill.

My main criticisms are that for a non-specialist it is far too detailed and long and most importantly it lacks READABLE maps!
The maps it does have are essentially black, grey & white
This failure to adequately 'illustrate' the battle(s) makes following the events very hard indeed and is, IMO, the principle defect of this book.

I did like the way WP takes a broader view and actually covers 1918 & 1940 Somme battles too.

Overall unless you need to follow every twist and turn, and have access to good maps elsewhere, I would, sadly, say avoid.
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VINE VOICEon 31 May 2010
This is the best book on the Great War that I have read in many a year. Well written in an engaging style, it is founded on excellent research and good, common sense. It single-handedly destroys much of the mythology and misunderstanding of the 1916 Battle of the Somme and I applaud the author for that.

The Somme was not about one day, as so many books, TV programmes, press articles and battlefield tours would still have us believe. It was a huge affair of several quite different phases over five months, in which it could be argued that the British army finally came to the big boy's game. "Bloody Victory" puts it into proper context - and that means concentration on French strategy, tactics and fighting, for they dominated the reason why Britain fought this battle and why it fought they way it did, where it did, and when it did. I learned a great deal from this book about the French part of the Somme: the leadership struggles, tactical development and the stages of the fighting. Philpott argues clearly with regard to the Allies attritional strategy, highlights great successes in September 1916 and the over-long plunge into morale-sapping fights in the mud and dark of October and November. Out of it all comes a sense that the British army had come on by leaps and bounds from 1 July to the successful assaults of November, not least in the realisation that man for man, this new army was the equal of the world's best. For Britain, the Somme was not seen at the time as a defeat - far from it - but somehow (not least thanks to the self-interested poison pens of Churchill and Lloyd George) it soon came to feel like it was. The author explores French, British and German operations, effects and legacies in truly masterly fashion.
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on 13 May 2010
William Philpott was presented with the Templer Medal Book Prize for BLOODY VICTORY by HRH The Duke of Kent, Patron of The SOCIETY FOR ARMY HISTORICAL RESEARCH, which awards the annual prize, in April 2010. There can be few more deserving recipients. Although no amount of revisionism can disguise the awful British defeat of July 1, 1916 [the French faring better] the author convincingly argues that the five battles of the Somme, of which the 1916 battle was critical, must be taken together and that their effect was to destroy the German army's ability to win the war. This might not have seemed evident to a jittery Haig in the Kaiser's offensive of March 1918, but that gamble foundered through the ruptures of command, government and manpower caused on the Somme, albeit fanned by the attrition at Ypres, and the blockade.
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on 20 January 2010
Bloody Marvellous.
This is an outstanding contribution to our understanding of the war on the Western Front in WW1. It's beautifully written. Dr Philpott's knowledge of the French army is profound, and he brings out clearly how they were fighting the Germans on something like equal terms while the raw British citizen army was painfully learning the necessary techniques.
After reading this book my respect for Haig, Rawlinson and the fighting men of the British and Commonwealth armies is in no way diminished, but I have learnt a valuable lesson about the character and professional skill of Foch and his hard-fighting French army.
In my opinion Bloody Victory is destined to take its place, like Michael Howard's Franco-Prussian War, as the standard work on its subject.
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on 25 August 2012
Author tries and fails to wins operational goal by using attritionist tactics

This is not a history book describing the Battle of the Somme as it happened. This book has an "operational" agenda, to try and refute the "myth" that the Somme was a big useless waste of human material for extremely little gain.

To do this, the author tries to employ the same attritionist tactics that he so advocates in his book.
-He scrapes up every reasonably credible quote of heavy German casualties and failing morale (to his credit, he DOES mention that French and British morale is cracking though supposedly not as much as the Germans).
-He tries to say the goal was attrition all along, and that it was a "break-in" rather than a "break-through" (though he is forced to admit at least at some point Haig was hoping for a break-through), and even tries the deny the value of taking territory.
-He keeps repeating, like a mantra that under the circumstances attrition (and inefficient attrition at that) is the best that could be expected.
-And he catalogues every tiny success the Allied forces had. The entire mid-section of the book is filled with countless "Division X attacks and grabs Y village".

Yet, the excessive detail actually is his worst enemy. The need to keep writing this kind of insignificant stuff over and over, along with very large-scale maps making clear how slow the going really was, convince the reader that the conventional variant is close to the truth. Add some healthy skepticism of his choice of statistics and quotes, and his "attack" bogs down just like the Somme, leaving the reader almost as fatigued as the soldier on the front for no operational gain...
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on 28 June 2010
Bloody Victory by Wm. Philpott has earned the Western Front Association's Norman B. Tomlinson, Jr. Prize for 2009. The prize is a check for $3,000. Annual winners of this award are chosen by a panel headed by Profressor Dennis Showalter of Colorado College, past President of the Society for Military History. Bloody Victory will be published by Knopf the United States in October under the title Three Armies on the Somme.
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on 17 September 2014
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