OT - 100th anniversary of the Somme

Submitted by M-Dog on July 1st, 2016 at 4:34 PM
People often think of World War I as this quaint, jaunty escapade with men on horses in silly hats, and soldiers with pop-gun bayonet rifles.  Especially as compared to World War II.
But far from it.  WWI was a gruesome brutal event, especially for the soldiers that fought in it.
Worst of all was the Battle of the Somme, begun 100 years ago today.  Link:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Somme
20,000 British soldiers died on the first day, most of them in the first 5 minutes of the battle.
After 5 days of (ineffective) cannon bombardment of the German front lines, the British commanders ordered their troops go over the top and walk over a mile of open land to the German trenches, where they were to finish them off in bayonet charges.  They were assured that the Germans would be numb and decimated from the bombardment and would put up little resistance.
Not so.
The British troops were cut down like rows of corn in a hail of German machine gun fire.  Death rates, not just casualty rates, but death rates, were 90%+ in the first wave.
In their infinite arrogant wisdom, when the British generals heard what happened, they ordered another wave to attack - with the same result. 
This type of thing went on until November 1916 until it was called off.  When it was all said and done at the price of a million casualties, the end result of the battle was that the Allies advanced into the German lines . . . only 6 miles.   
The Somme is the epitome of the saying "always fighting the last war."  The 1800's bayonet charges were no match for machine guns on the other side.  Unfortunately, it took the wise old generals in charge months and months to realize this.  When their attacks failed in piles of dead bodies, they just ordered more.  They completely ignored the reconnaissance that came back to them because it went counter to their brilliant plans.
When people on here were criticizing Brady Hoke for his 27 yards in 27 attempts game, they posted a parody sketch video of British WWI generals bragging how they will surprise the Hun by blindly charging into their lines  for the 18th time after 17 failures . . . because who would believe that someone would be so stupid as to try it again?  That sketch was based on the Somme.  It's only "funny" when separated by 100 years of history.
It's been a bad week for the Brits, but they've faced worse. Far worse.



July 1st, 2016 at 4:44 PM ^

I'm not sure anybody really thinks of WWI like that.  Most people understand that it was brutal, with trench warfare, chemical warfare, and modern weapons.


July 1st, 2016 at 5:20 PM ^

I've never heard it described as "quaint." I automatically think of mustard gas making people literally cough up their lungs and hopeless waves of poor bastards flung against Galipoli and every other god-forsaken place. Pure savagery.

Tennyson was writing about Crimea, but this couldn't be more apropos of the so-called (scoff) "Great War":

Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die

rob f

July 2nd, 2016 at 5:21 PM ^

is how my Grandpa usually referred to WWI. He served as an Army MP in France, Belgium, and Germany in the final days of WWI and for many months after Armistice Day. Although he seldom spoke to anyone about his war experience until after Grandma passed away (7 years before he died at age 89), he finally opened up to me about it a few times in his final few years, including some of the horrible things he witnessed patrolling towns the US Army liberated as the tide turned, and showing me his war souvenirs such as a German pistol, daggers, and German helmet.

Most of the time, though, he preferred to speak and laugh about his post-war duty of making sure the "doughboys" behaved in the beer halls, including retrieving them to the bases and away from the Frauleins after their "visits".

The Mad Hatter

July 1st, 2016 at 5:04 PM ^

And it was all for nothing. The allies should have marched to Berlin theinstead of signing the armistice. Then the Germans would have known they were beaten and WWII would never have happened.

Everyone Murders

July 1st, 2016 at 5:12 PM ^

Obviously the Great War was a meat grinder and a terrible waste.  But the lesson learned from that war, and the subsequent one, is more likely that total defeat and humiliation of Germany was not necessary in 1918.  Carrying on that war further to additionally beat down Germany would have been ill-advised, IMO.

Recall that Germany's struggles under the Versailles treaty gave fertile ground to Hitler's national socialism and all the evil that came with it.  Versailles and the subsequent submission of Germany played right into the hands of a nationalist zealot like Hitler.

The Allies were much wiser after WWII, allowing Germany and Japan to become full partners and to rebuild quickly. 

The Mad Hatter

July 1st, 2016 at 6:59 PM ^

But do you think the Germans would have given the French a better deal if they had won? Hell, when Russia sued for peace they made them give up a HUGE amount of land.

A big part of what fueled Hitler and all the resentment toward the allies was that your average German didn't believe they had really lost the war. The German army was still on foreign soil when they sued for peace, and that fueled the "we didn't lose the war we were betrayed by our Jewish politicians" sentiment.


July 1st, 2016 at 7:46 PM ^

The treaty of Versailles wasn't really all that harsh, at least not in comparison to the total dismemberment that happened to Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire, not to mention the peace Germany forced on Russia in 1918.  Germany got off a lot easier than any of them did.

The reason it seemed so bad to the German people was that - as you correctly noted - they were deceived by their own political/military leadership, which claimed that they had battled the Allies to a stalemate, when in fact they were collapsing and in rapid retreat.  They were on the verge of retreating back into Germany when the Allies accepted the armistice.  

Hindsight is 20-20 and it's hard to fault the Allies for wanting to get peace as soon as possible, but it's quite conceivable that the post-war period would have been very different if the Allies had continued on into German territory and then made peace, destroying any illusion of Germany being "stabbed in the back" at the negotiating table.





July 1st, 2016 at 9:36 PM ^

A very Balkan point of view, Hatter.  So where does it end?  The Germans were pissed that the Sudentland was "taken" from them and it's hello, Adolph.  Irish killed each other for a hundred years in a cycle of vengence.  And don't get me started on the Middle East.  If all we do is settle old scores, we live in perpetual hatred.


July 1st, 2016 at 7:48 PM ^

The French being completely defeated in the Franco Prussian war did nothing keep them from aching for revenge for the next forty-five years.

Carrying the war to Berlin would have done nothing except wasting more lives. The Allies essentially took everything they wanted from Germany at Versailles. Sure, the next 20 years might have unfolded differently, but it would have been just as unstable. Maybe the communists would've taken over Germany, then the west would have to contend with Stalin controlling most of Europe. Who knows?


July 1st, 2016 at 8:16 PM ^

Actually France wanted to impose a much harsher settlement on Germany than what it finally signed at Versailles.   Clemenceau was not happy with the treaty.  He said: "This is not a peace settlement.  This is a truce for 20 years."  Versailles gave Germany reason to complain but did not seriously harm its long-term prospects as a nation.  It came out of the war still mostly intact territorially and population-wise.  

It's worth comparing Germany's treatment with that of the other defeated Central Powers.  Austria, which had been one of the great European powers for centuries, was totally neutered for good.  With the stroke of a pen it lost something like 80% of its territory.   

Turkey likewise lost over half its territory and went from being the guardian of all the Islamic holy sites to being reduced to only Anatolia and forced to accept quasi-colonization by Europeans (until Greece went insane and decided to invade for even more, leading to the Turks driving all the Europeans out).

Germany was a lot better off than those two.  The problem, as noted above, was that the German people didn't see the treaty coming.  They were misled by their own leadership into thinking that the war ended in stalemate, and thus they were shocked to find out the details of the treaty.   If they had known the truth - that their country was on the verge of collapse, in retreat with no reserves left - presumably they would have accepted the treaty much more easily.



July 1st, 2016 at 8:53 PM ^

The allies could've carved Germany up if they wanted to. They had armies on the east bank of the Rhine as conditions of the armistice - Germany was defenseless. They chose not to.

Again, completely defeating the French in 1871, and handing them a treaty on par with Versailles, did not soften French attitudes a bit. I'm not sure why the Germans would be different.

If your position is that Versailles was to soft, then that's another matter.


July 1st, 2016 at 9:41 PM ^

Whether it should have been harsher is debatable; I was just responding to the statement "the Allies essentially took everything they wanted from Germany."

The Allies weren't in agreement about what to do. France, having been bled dry, wanted to go further and probably partition Germany. The U.S. wanted to take a light approach. Britain was in between and the settlement largely reflected what it wanted.

Again, completely defeating the French in 1871, and handing them a treaty on par with Versailles, did not soften French attitudes a bit. I'm not sure why the Germans would be different.

Keep in mind, the Franco-Prussian War was a much shorter conflict. World War I was so unbelievably horrific that everyone was calling it the "war to end all wars." If the Allies had penetrated into German territory and made it clear which side had prevailed, then there would have been no stab-in-the-back legend and maybe the German people could have moved on and accepted the peace. It's all hypothetical, obviously.


July 1st, 2016 at 10:45 PM ^

I thought a lot of the "stab in the back" mindset was based on munitions workers strikes and antiwar revolutionaries, and not just the armistice.

If the German army collapses in 1919 and the allies march on Berlin, I'm not sure if that mythology goes away. The Hitler's of the world would still blame it on the jews and commies, undoubtedly.


July 1st, 2016 at 5:05 PM ^

I guess I can't speak for anybody else, but when I think about WWI the things that come to mind are trench warfare, mustard gas, "No man's land," and the kind of arrogant military "leadership" you described. Oh--and the Red Baron. I guess the Red Baron is kind of quaint.


July 1st, 2016 at 5:08 PM ^

The British lost more men in one day than both sides at Gettysburg. In fact, the British lost more killed in one day than the US has in both Iraq and Afghanistan total. Roughly four times as many. The sickening thing is that this was not even the bloodiest day of the war. That was August 22 and the Battle of Frontiers when the French saw 27,000 men killed on a single day.

The Somme was a horror show. There is nothing quite like it in US history.

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July 1st, 2016 at 5:17 PM ^

Hmmm yes Somme was a meat grinder, but it did wipe out a LOT of highly trained German troops...at the cost of a lot more less trained Brits. It's a good thing too, or else the Russian offensive against the Eastern Front might have failed.

Somme was also a proving ground for chemical warfare, as both sides invented or refined their gassing strategies there.

When I studied this battle, I was struck by how tactically idiotic it was. But it was fascinating in how a general had to approach the taking of territory back then. Strategically (by which I mean how they coordinate this attack, not their choice of target), technology improvement has rendered that kind of approach useless.

Clarence Boddicker

July 1st, 2016 at 5:19 PM ^

WW I was a fucking slaughter--a terrible waste of life. One unit is shreaded by shells and machine guns, and the general responds by ordering another attack... and another... and another. All the young men in a town like Ann Arbor shot down--gone--in an instant. If only it could have been the war to end all wars. But we never learn.


July 1st, 2016 at 5:26 PM ^

In WWI Britain they had "Pals" brigades where you signed up for the army with all your friends and you were all sent off to fight together in the same brigade.

The result of this was that after the Somme, many towns and villages lost all of their young men in a single day.

It literally was like all the young men in Ann Arbor shot down--gone--in an instant.



July 1st, 2016 at 8:47 PM ^

This type of recruiting is why men hop out of the thrench knowing they probably will die. At that level it's not about fighting for your country. In the trenches you didn't let your people down. It's also why it's easier to understand Civil War amies marching elbow to eblow into deadly fire. You either go or if you make it home you live under a cowards banner for the rest of your life. 


July 1st, 2016 at 5:25 PM ^

WWI never fails to amaze me.  It wasn't only the Generals that stuck hard to traditional battle strategies, the Admirals did, also.  But the Admirals were at least willing to change things up when the old failed miserably.  Marching straight into No Man's Land was something that American's had largely avoided since the Civil War.  But the Brit's stuck to tradition, assuming that tradition would win the day.


July 1st, 2016 at 5:56 PM ^

World War I colored every choice made for the following 30+ years. It was a tragic, awful event that scarred the consciousness of all of Europe. There's a reason that Neville Chamberlain was so eager to avoid war--the idea was horrifying. It turns out he was absolutely wrong, but his viewpoint was hardly unique.

Some guys above the thread are suggesting that further incursions into Berlin would have made worse the rise of Hitler. I disagree. For starters, every bit of resentment and hostility that they worry a march on Berlin would have provoked happened anyway. 

And more to the point, the Allies were very clear at Yalta and Potsdam that WWII could only end with unconditional surrender. The idea was that Germany after WWI was an issue in large part because they felt they were NOT defeated, but treated like a defeated enemy anyway. This gave place to concepts like the "stabbed in the back" theory. The endgame of WWII was, in a sense, an overdue completion of the job not finished in 1918.

I don't know what would have happened in 1918 if they had continued to fight. Those involved could not have known what would come later. But the Armistice didn't solve what it needed to solve.


July 1st, 2016 at 6:41 PM ^

The terms of the Versailles Treaty ruined Germany's economy, as it could do nothing else, since it was to be paid in gold and Germany exhausted it's gold supply and abandoned the gold standard during the war. England wanted revenge, and shortly hyperinflation was so bad that over 4 billion marks equaled one us dollar. The Nazis rose to power largely because of this, and the chaos it caused, and their militant rise to fight off the even more radical communist uprising in postwar Germany. They suppressed the communists, won a majority in the government, and the rest is history. Had France and England agreed to Wilson's treaty, ww2 would likely have only existed in the Pacific.


July 1st, 2016 at 6:45 PM ^

Goebbels was happy that FDR went in front of the media and demanded unconditional surrender (not agreed upon by the three but supported after he said it) because it would drive the citizenry to fight, to kill and die in further horrific numbers after that conference. The loses on the western front while still magnificent seem tame in comparison.

Yalta where a war that started with the invasion of Poland was brokered to end with Poland still occupied by one of the original invaders, FDR's trusted ally Uncle Joe.