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Was the Battle of the Somme a failure

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  • Pages: 8
  • Word count: 1898
  • Category: Failure

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1) Source A, written by Malcolm Brown, expresses the opinion of people who believed the Battle of the Somme was ‘a tragic massacre of a generation’ and ‘an event so terrible it killed the breezy, crusading spirit of 1914-15. Furthermore it tells of the opinion that the Somme ended a ‘Golden Age’. Brown states the fact that the 9th Yorks and Lancasters Lost 423 men in its first battle.

2) Source B, a cartoon from Punch published in February 1917, is giving the artists impression of World War I Generals and their roles in battles. Before World War I, battles had been fought on much thinner fronts, thus making Generals able to give commands to all his troops because he could be close to all of them at the same time. In World War I, fronts were much wider and Generals had to stay way behind front lines to give orders to all the troops and had to be done using phones and messengers. The artist clearly does not like the way that the General stays in safety while the infantry fighting are suffering immensely in hard conditions with death everywhere.

This feeling was common among a lot of people and the artist portrays the General as quite fat and unfit in the drawing, illustrating how he is always in safety not doing any action while his soldiers go to there deaths without the General caring. The dialogue below the drawing shows how the General is asking for the difference between the rehearsal and the real thing. The major replies wittily ‘the absence of the General’ thus portraying how the General does all the talking at training when he is in safety but when it comes to the real thing he appears cowardly by staying back behind the trenches. This image of the Generals was most likely brought about by the consequences of bad tactics at the Battle of the Somme and was the feeling of many British citizens.

3) Sources C and D are two different accounts of events leading up to and during the first day of the Somme. Source C being an extract of the novel Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks and source D being an account from a German Soldier on the front lines on the first day. They describe different events but can be seen to give quite a similar impression.

Source A Conveys a sense of confidence in the British soldiers as they greeted the speech with ‘An outbreak of cheering’ illustrating there confidence in a victory. This confidence links in with the account from the German soldier in source D who describes the British Soldiers as coming on ‘at a steady pace as if expecting nothing alive in [his] trenches. This description conveys this sense of confidence similar to Source C.

However the two sources cannot be described as giving a very similar impression when they talk about 2 completely different aspects of the Battle of the Somme. Source C is a speech made by a Colonel and the response of the soldiers while D is an account from a German soldier describing British troops approaching him. Source C is also not happening on the first day of the Somme and is most likely said a few days before unlike source C. They describe different things as shown, so cannot be seen as giving a very similar impression of the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

The two sources, while having their slight similarities they give different descriptions which leads me to believe that these sources give a not similar impression of the first day of the Battle of The Somme. Their ideas do not conflict each other but do not give a similar impression.

4) Source F mentions the casualty figures of the first day of the Battle of the Somme. The figures show that it was a terrible day where the British suffered very heavy casualties. Source and E try and explain the casualty figures.

Source D is an account from a German Soldier who describes the British coming ‘on at a steady pace expecting to find nothing alive in [his] trenches’. This would explain the casualty figures partially because if they were walking towards German trenches they would’ve posed easy targets and could be killed easily by the defending Germans. This tactic of walking across no-man’s land proved disastrous and was one of the causes of the high casually figures.

Source E which is also a primary source comments on how the Germans did not have low morale and had a very good trench system and the German soldiers are still strong. Because the trenches were so well made the shells from Artillery were not as deadly. The British thought the Germans would be wiped out so were confident, however this did not happen so the British encountered heavy resistance from these highly trained soldiers who had a very good morale which meant they worked harder making it harder to attack. This would explain the casualties to an extent.

The 2 sources explain source F fairly well but they do not explain them fully because there are many other reasons why the British had such high casualties. The Ineffectiveness of the artillery against the enemy barbed wire, meant that soldiers were delayed because the barb wire was in the way. This was another reason for the high casualties as they got shot at when they were cutting the wire. The machine gun was another reason for the high casualties. The slow walking troops got massacred by the machine gun causing many deaths and explaining the high casualty figures. Lastly another reason for high casualty figures was the fact that the troops we’re new and inexperienced so did not know how to deal with situations like these so got killed more easily.

Source D and E while explaining the casualty figures to an extent they do not explain the casualty figures fully because there were many other reasons for the high casualties which they don’t explain.

5) Both of the sources G and H can have their reliability brought into question. Source G was written by Lloyd George and published in 1933-36 as his War Memoirs. Lloyd George was very critical of the Battle of the Somme in his memoirs and disliked the Generals of World War I so was seen as very biased against them especially Haig who wrote Source H. Lloyd George writes that some of the best German officers were killed at the Somme but it killed more of British’s best.

However the Germans that were killed were different to the British that were killed. The Germans were clever, skilled officers and the British who died were the inexperienced infantrymen. This shows how Lloyd George’s description is misleading and therefore not very reliable. He says that the Battle of the Somme was a failure unlike Haig who says that the British proved they could force Germany out of a strong position.

Haig portrays the Somme as a success because of the way it destroyed Germany’s morale and forced the Germans out of a strong defensive position. Haig does make some reliable points, however he is most likely to be biased because he was Commander-in-Chief at the Battle of the Somme so in his report he would want to make it seem as a big a success as possible. He doesn’t mention that the loss of British men was great and that it did not achieve its first purpose which was to cause a breakthrough and drive Germany back. This shows how he is biased and only tells the good things that happened during the Battle of the Somme and wanted to gain favor of the British cabinet because they were employing him.

The two sources are both biased accounts of the Battle of the Somme with Lloyd George explaining bad things which happened in the battle and Haig explaining the good things that happened. This leads me to conclude that they don’t give reliable views of the Battle of the Somme.

6) The Sources provide different views and some support the idea of AJP Taylor and some reject his idea. However we have to call into question the reliability of the sources and if they support or reject AJP Taylor’s quote.

Source A comments on the ‘tragic massacre of a generation’ which would seem to supports Taylor’s words but this statement seems to be a bit of an overstatement as a massacre describes when something has been wiped out yet on the Somme many men did die but not most of them. It describes ‘an end of a golden age’ which was said by the 9th Yorks and Lancasters which seems to describe the shock that hit most of the men when they went out to war. However they had unrealistic expectations of war and needed to be brought back down to earth.

Source B which is the drawing from Punch magazine and is conveying the message that the Generals were not very intelligent and sent young men to their lives. However the artist most likely never experienced the war so is make an unjustified assessment, it shows the typical view of Generals because people were so disgusted by the deaths on the Somme.

Source C supports Taylor’s quote because it explains of the soldiers excitement and hunger for war which soon disappeared after they experienced fighting and when they were brought back down to earth. Source C cannot be called too reliable because it was published in 1994 so is most likely somewhat inaccurate and cannot be called too reliable.

Source F is a table showing the number of casualties the British received on the first day of the Somme. It is most likely reliable and shows how many people died on the first day of the Somme. This was probably very shocking for many soldiers and can supports Taylor’s idea. Source D an eye witness account explains the British advance and how it was walking across waiting to get slaughtered by German machine gun fire. This kind of fighting can also support Taylor’s quote because it is accurate of what actually happened and is most likely quite reliable.

Source G which comments that the ‘Somme killed off far more of our best’

Is by Lloyd George and is partially true and does supports Taylor’s idea, however it is not very reliable and considered bias as I said before. Source E states that Germans had strong morale and good physique and says that the Germans had excellent defenses stopping the British which was true and these defenses proved to be decisive in the Battle and caused big losses on the British’s side the source slightly supports Taylor’s idea but not strongly.

Sources I and H however describe the fact that the Germans morale and will to fight was also drained and they had suffered from having too high expectations of the war. It tells of a German Soldiers disgust at life. This shows that it was not only the British soldiers that got brought down to earth by World War I but also the Germans.

I believe that the sources do provide evidence to supports AJP Taylor’s words. The evidence is fairly reliable but shows how British troops had unrealistic expectations of war and war only server to make them realize the reality of war. The sources also show that it was not only the British whose ‘Zest and Idealism’ perished but also the Germans and other countries.


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