Finaliza la segunda batalla del Somme

Finaliza la segunda batalla del Somme

Durante la Primera Guerra Mundial, la Segunda Batalla del Somme, la primera gran ofensiva alemana en más de un año, termina en el frente occidental.

El 21 de marzo de 1918, comenzó una gran ofensiva contra las posiciones aliadas en la región francesa del río Somme con cinco horas de bombardeo de más de 9.000 piezas de artillería alemana. El quinto ejército británico, mal preparado, fue rápidamente abrumado y obligado a retirarse. Durante una semana, los alemanes avanzaron hacia París, bombardeando la ciudad desde una distancia de 80 millas con sus cañones "Big Bertha". Sin embargo, las tropas alemanas mal abastecidas pronto se agotaron, y los aliados detuvieron el avance alemán cuando la artillería francesa derribó los cañones alemanes que asediaban París. El 2 de abril, el general estadounidense John J. Pershing envió tropas estadounidenses a las trincheras para ayudar a defender París y rechazar la ofensiva alemana. Fue el primer despliegue importante de tropas estadounidenses en la Primera Guerra Mundial. Varios miles de tropas estadounidenses lucharon junto a británicos y franceses en la Segunda Batalla de Somme.

Cuando terminó la ofensiva de Somme el 4 de abril, los alemanes habían avanzado casi 40 millas, infligido unas 200.000 bajas y capturado a 70.000 prisioneros y más de 1.000 cañones aliados. Sin embargo, los alemanes sufrieron casi tantas bajas como sus enemigos y carecían de las nuevas reservas y el impulso de suministro de que disfrutaban los aliados tras la entrada estadounidense en la lucha.


John Buchan y su & # 8216Batalla del Somme & # 8217 (1916)

El final de esta semana marca el centenario del final de la Batalla de Alberto (1 al 13 de julio de 1916), que comprendió las dos primeras semanas de operaciones ofensivas anglo-francesas en la Batalla del Somme.

También conocida como la Ofensiva del Somme, la Batalla del Somme fue una batalla de la Primera Guerra Mundial entre las fuerzas de los Imperios Británico y Francés por un lado y el Imperio Alemán por el otro.

Parte del gran Monumento a los Desaparecidos del Somme, en Thiepval, diseñado por Sir Edwin Lutyens (GDE 2014).

Tuvo lugar en el curso superior del río Somme (Picardía, Francia) en tres fases principales y varias batallas entre julio y noviembre de 1916: en Albert, Bazentin Ridge, Fromelles, Delville Wood, Pozières Ridge, Guillemont, Ginchy, Flers-Courcelette , Morval, Transloy Ridge, Thiepval Ridge, Ancre Heights y en Ancre. Durante las batallas, el uso del poder aéreo resultó importante, y la Ofensiva también vio el primer uso del tanque blindado como arma. Al final de los combates en el Somme, el ejército británico había perdido más de 400.000 hombres en un avance de apenas seis millas. Entre todos los beligerantes, más de 1.000.000 resultaron muertos o heridos.

Página de título de & # 8216The Battle of the Somme & # 8217, por John Buchan, publicado en 1916.

Aunque estas pérdidas fueron enormes, en su obra La batalla del Somme (1916) John Buchan, autor y más tarde gobernador general de Canadá (1935-37) y canciller de la Universidad de Edimburgo (1937-40), describió la ofensiva de Somme como tan exitosa que marcó el final de la guerra de trincheras y la inicio de una campaña al aire libre.

Buchan había sido reclutado por la Oficina de Propaganda de Guerra y se le pidió que organizara la publicación de una historia de la guerra en forma de revista mensual. Incapaz de persuadir a otros para que lo ayudaran con el proyecto, Buchan decidió abordarlo solo, publicando a través de Thomas Nelson & amp Sons Ltd. La primera entrega apareció en febrero de 1915 en Nelson & # 8217s Historia de la guerra. Las ganancias y las regalías propias de Buchan fueron donadas a organizaciones benéficas de guerra.

Página de título del Volumen II de & # 8216The Battle of the Somme & # 8217, por John Buchan, publicado en 1916.

Más tarde, en la primavera de 1915, Buchan se incorporó al Ejército como periodista y se le asignó la responsabilidad de proporcionar artículos para Los tiempos y el Noticias diarias, y cubrió la segunda batalla de Ypres y la batalla de Loos. Desde junio de 1916 estaba redactando comunicados para Haig y otros en el Estado Mayor del Cuartel General (GHQ), y su rango también le proporcionó los documentos necesarios para redactar el Nelson & # 8217s Historia de la guerra.

Monumento alemán erigido a los soldados caídos después de que tomaron Beaumont Hamel, 1914.

La estrecha relación de Buchan con los líderes militares británicos hizo que fuera extremadamente difícil para él incluir comentarios críticos sobre la forma en que se estaba librando la guerra, y su Historia de la guerra proporcionó al público una impresión completamente falsa de lo que estaba sucediendo en el Frente. De hecho, en 1915 Buchan les decía a sus lectores que Alemania estaba al borde de la derrota.

Bosquejo del mapa en el libro de Buchan & # 8217 que muestra la posición cambiante del frente alemán un poco más allá de la ciudad de Albert en el Somme.

Buchan escribió una serie de panfletos y estos & # 8211 trabajos de propaganda & # 8211 fueron publicados por Oxford University Press. El escribio: Gran Bretaña & # 8217s guerra terrestre (1915) Los logros de Francia (1915) y, La batalla de Jutlandia (1916). También publicado en 1916 fue su obra La batalla del Somme.

Croquis de los sistemas de trincheras alrededor de Thiepval en el Somme. En el borde de Thiepval Wood hoy se encuentra el enorme Monumento a los Desaparecidos del Somme, construido con ladrillos, diseñado por Sir Edwin Lutyens y presentado en 1932.

En su trabajo, La batalla del Somme, Buchan afirmó que la batalla del Somme fue una victoria aliada y que permitiría a Gran Bretaña utilizar su caballería superior. Lo que Buchan no dijo a sus lectores fue que de los 110.000 soldados británicos que realizaron el asalto, más de 57.000 resultaron bajas y 20.000 murieron. Como se dijo anteriormente, al final de los combates, solo el ejército británico había perdido más de 400.000 hombres para un avance de apenas seis millas, y entre todos los beligerantes, más de 1.000.000 murieron o resultaron heridos.

Parte del pequeño cementerio CWGC en Dernancourt, cerca de Albert, en el Somme, también diseñado por Sir Edwin Lutyens (GDE 2014).

El mapa y el boceto en esta publicación (del libro de Buchan & # 8217) muestran esa área de la región francesa de Somme donde se desarrolló la Batalla. Algunos de los monumentos más importantes y algunos de los cementerios más grandes (y muchos pequeños) atendidos por la Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) y, por supuesto, Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge (VDK) se encuentran dentro de las áreas que se muestran: Thiepval Memorial Ulster Memorial Torre del cráter de la mina Lochnagar en La Boisselle McRae & # 8217s Battalion Great War Memorial en Contalmaison Courcelette Memorial, un monumento de guerra canadiense (los combates en Flers-Courcelette vieron el primer uso de tanques en el campo de batalla & # 8230 en el Somme) y, en cementerios como como el del cementerio militar alemán de Vermandovillers y el cementerio militar alemán de Fricourt, y en el pequeño cementerio CWGC en Dernancourt cerca de Albert.

Buchan & # 8217s Batalla del Somme, publicado en 1916 por T. Nelson, Londres, puede solicitarse en el Centro de Colecciones de Investigación, Colecciones Especiales y leerse allí en la Sala de Lectura. Tiene marca comercial: S.B. .9 (40427) Buc.

Dr. Graeme D. Eddie, Bibliotecario asistente Archivos y manuscritos, Biblioteca de la Universidad de Edimburgo


Contenido

El 15 de agosto de 1918, el mariscal de campo Douglas Haig rechazó las demandas del mariscal Ferdinand Foch de continuar la ofensiva de Amiens, ya que el ataque estaba fallando cuando las tropas superaban a sus suministros y artillería, y las reservas alemanas se trasladaban al sector. En cambio, Haig comenzó a planificar una ofensiva en Albert, que se inauguró el 21 de agosto. El ataque principal fue lanzado por el Tercer Ejército Británico, con el II Cuerpo de Estados Unidos adjunto.

La segunda batalla comenzó el 21 de agosto con la apertura de la Segunda Batalla de Bapaume al norte del río mismo. Eso se convirtió en un avance que empujó al Segundo Ejército alemán hacia atrás en un frente de 55 kilómetros, desde el sur de Douai hasta La Fère, al sur de Saint-Quentin, Aisne. Albert fue capturado el 22 de agosto. El 26 de agosto, el Primer Ejército británico amplió el ataque en otros doce kilómetros, a veces llamada Segunda Batalla de Arras. & # 911 & # 93 Bapaume cayó el 29 de agosto. El cuerpo australiano cruzó el río Somme en la noche del 31 de agosto y rompió las líneas alemanas en la batalla de Mont St. Quentin y la batalla de Péronne. El comandante del Cuarto Ejército británico, el general Henry Rawlinson, describió los avances australianos del 31 de agosto al 4 de septiembre como el mayor logro militar de la guerra. & # 912 & # 93

En la mañana del 2 de septiembre, después de una dura batalla, el Cuerpo Canadiense tomó el control de la línea Drocourt-Quéant (que representa el borde occidental de la Línea Hindenburg). La batalla fue librada por la 1ª División canadiense, 4ª División y por la 52ª División británica. & # 913 & # 93 Se infligieron numerosas bajas alemanas, y los canadienses también capturaron a más de 6.000 prisioneros ilesos. Las pérdidas de Canadá ascendieron a 5.600. & # 914 & # 93 Al mediodía de ese día, el comandante alemán, Erich Ludendorff, había decidido retirarse detrás del Canal du Nord.

El 2 de septiembre, los alemanes se habían visto obligados a regresar a la Línea Hindenburg, desde la que habían lanzado su ofensiva en la primavera.

En su camino hacia la Línea Hindenburg, en una feroz batalla, las tropas canadienses, lideradas por el general Sir Arthur Currie, superaron los movimientos de tierra del incompleto Canal du Nord durante la Batalla de Canal du Nord. & # 915 & # 93

A finales de septiembre / principios de octubre, una de las batallas épicas de toda la guerra fue la ruptura de la Línea Hindenburg (la Batalla del Canal de St. Quentin) por las tropas británicas, australianas y estadounidenses (bajo el mando del general australiano John Monash). Poco después, los canadienses rompieron la línea Hindenburg en la batalla de Cambrai.

Una parte clave de la línea de suministro alemana corría paralela al frente. Esta segunda batalla de 1918 alrededor del Somme fue parte de una estrategia diseñada para empujar partes de la línea alemana hacia atrás detrás de esta línea principal de suministro, cortando así y haciendo imposible el mantenimiento eficiente de las fuerzas alemanas en el frente. La campaña se inició con la batalla de Bapaume y, poco después, la batalla de Saint-Mihiel, fuera del área de Somme, con el objetivo de reducir los salientes antes de utilizar la fluidez de la línea quebrada para avanzar hacia el ferrocarril estratégico. Se esperaba que esta fluidez estuviera presente ya que, debido al avance alemán en la primavera, las fuerzas alemanas estaban muy por delante de sus hasta ahora inexpugnables y muy bien preparadas defensas en la Línea Hindenburg.

Esta política funcionó, pero se necesitó un trabajo muy decidido en el canal de St. Quentin, entre las defensas preparadas, para lograr el éxito.


En el momento de la Segunda Batalla de Somme, las fuerzas alemanas intentaban conquistar el Frente Occidental, un área de tierra crítica durante la Primera Guerra Mundial, antes de que los estadounidenses llegaran para ofrecer a los Aliados los refuerzos que tanto necesitaban.

Esta batalla comenzó el 21 de marzo de 1918, cuando los alemanes atacaron a los ejércitos británicos en la región francesa del río Somme con artillería que disparó más de 1.000.000 de proyectiles en un lapso de cinco horas. Los británicos no estaban preparados para un ataque de este tamaño y se vieron obligados a retirarse. Alemania luego continuó con sus ofensas y se dirigió hacia París, Francia.

Para el 2 de abril de 1918, miles de tropas estadounidenses se desplegaron en París y ayudaron a los franceses y británicos a luchar contra Alemania para que no avanzara más. Solo dos días después de que los estadounidenses entraran en la Segunda Batalla de Somme, los alemanes se quedaron sin recursos y se vieron obligados a poner fin a sus ofensas.


Segunda batalla del Somme

La Segunda Batalla del Somme fue una ofensiva alemana parcialmente exitosa contra las fuerzas aliadas en el frente occidental durante la última parte de la Primera Guerra Mundial. La batalla tuvo lugar entre el 21 de marzo y el 5 de abril de 1918. La Segunda Batalla del Somme también se llama la batalla de Saint-Quentin.

El 3 de marzo de 1918, Alemania y Rusia firmaron un tratado de paz, poniendo fin a los combates entre los dos países. El comandante alemán, el general Erich Ludendorff, quería utilizar las tropas alemanas liberadas de luchar contra los rusos para lograr una victoria en el frente occidental, antes de que llegaran las tropas estadounidenses para reforzar a los aliados. Su primera ofensiva se dirigió contra los ejércitos británicos bastante débiles al norte del río Somme. Las trincheras británicas fueron bombardeadas y gaseadas antes de un masivo ataque matutino en una densa niebla, que tomó a los británicos por sorpresa. Su primera y segunda línea cayeron rápidamente, y el 22 de marzo el destrozado ejército británico estaba en retirada y había perdido contacto con los franceses del sur. Los alemanes avanzaron rápidamente, con la esperanza de abrir una brecha permanente entre los franceses y los británicos, pero para el 28 de marzo, los aliados habían reunido nuevas tropas que detuvieron el avance alemán.

La ofensiva alemana había obtenido la mayor ganancia territorial en el frente occidental desde los primeros meses de la guerra a finales de 1914. Los alemanes habían avanzado casi 40 millas (64 kilómetros) y habían tomado cerca de 70.000 prisioneros. Sin embargo, a pesar de estos avances, las líneas aliadas solo se doblaron, no se rompieron. La Segunda Batalla del Somme no fue estratégicamente importante para Alemania y solo agotó los limitados recursos del país.


Segunda batalla del Somme: bajas estadounidenses

La Segunda Batalla del Somme de 1918 se libró durante la Primera Guerra Mundial en el Frente Occidental del 8 de agosto al 3 de septiembre de 1918, en la cuenca del río Somme. Fue parte de una serie de contraofensivas exitosas en respuesta a la Ofensiva de Primavera alemana.

La característica más significativa de las batallas del Somme de 1918 fue que, con la primera Batalla del Somme de 1918 que había detenido lo que había comenzado como una ofensiva alemana abrumadora, la segunda formó la parte central del avance de los Aliados hacia el Armisticio el 11 de noviembre de 1918. .

La batalla comenzó con la apertura de la Segunda Batalla de Bapaume al norte del río. Eso se convirtió en un avance que hizo retroceder al Segundo Ejército alemán decenas de millas. A principios de septiembre, los alemanes se vieron obligados a regresar a la Línea Hindenburg. Cuando la ofensiva de Somme finalmente terminó el 4 de abril, los alemanes habían avanzado casi 40 millas, infligido unas 200.000 bajas y capturado a 70.000 prisioneros y más de 1.000 cañones aliados. Los alemanes sufrieron casi el mismo número de bajas.


Número de bajas y víctimas mortales de la batalla del Somme en 1916

Se reconoce que la Primera Batalla del Somme fue una de las batallas más devastadoras y sangrientas de todos los tiempos. La batalla tuvo lugar durante la Primera Guerra Mundial, entre las fuerzas aliadas británicas y francesas y las fuerzas alemanas opuestas, del 1 de julio al 18 de noviembre de 1916. Inicialmente, se suponía que este ataque estaba dirigido por el ejército francés, sin embargo, su enfoque cambió a la Batalla. de Verdún, donde estaban atrapados en un punto muerto mortal contra las fuerzas alemanas, por lo que el papel de los británicos cambió de apoyo a liderazgo. Tras una semana de intensos bombardeos de artillería británica, en la mañana del 1 de julio de 1916 más de 100 mil soldados británicos cargaron contra las líneas enemigas, en lo que se convertiría en el día más sangriento de la historia del ejército británico. Las trincheras alemanas se cavaron tan profundamente que el fuego de artillería no tuvo el efecto deseado y no logró despejar suficientemente gran parte del alambre de púas, lo que significa que las ametralladoras alemanas pudieron derribar a miles de tropas que se acercaban mientras intentaban precipitarse. a través de la tierra de nadie. Al final del día, las tropas británicas aseguraron aproximadamente 8 kilómetros cuadrados de terreno, a lo largo de un frente que se extendía 24 km (con un promedio de solo 0,33 km desde la línea de ataque inicial), a un costo de más de 57 mil bajas, incluidas más de 19 mil. muertes. En comparación, los ejércitos alemán y francés eran de tamaños relativamente similares, sin embargo, su tasa de mortalidad fue mucho menor.

El progreso fue lento
El primer día marcó gran parte del tono para el resto de la batalla. Las fuerzas alemanas pudieron retirarse y cavar nuevas trincheras y formar sus defensas más rápido de lo que los británicos y franceses pudieron movilizar sus ataques, lo que significa que el progreso fue lento y costó muchas, muchas vidas. La mayoría de las bajas de las fuerzas británicas y francesas provino del fuego de ametralladoras alemanas. Si bien la Batalla del Somme se considera justamente como el mejor ejemplo de guerra de trincheras, también es importante señalar que las respectivas fuerzas aéreas desempeñaron un papel importante en la recopilación de información y la coordinación de ataques, así como los regimientos de artillería que proporcionaron gran parte de la información. el fuego de supresión e interrumpió las cadenas de suministro de los demás. El 15 de septiembre también marcó el primer uso de un tanque en la batalla, donde los británicos enviaron una pequeña flota de tanques al campo, con resultados mixtos.

Legado del Somme
Al final de la Batalla, las bajas fueron elevadas. A medida que avanzaba la batalla, los franceses se involucraron más y los soldados alemanes comenzaron a caer más rápidamente. La batalla terminó el 18 de noviembre de 1916, con más de un millón de bajas y 300 mil muertes. Aunque las bajas fueron altas para todos los bandos, la batalla se recuerda de manera más prominente en Gran Bretaña y la Commonwealth como un ejemplo del último sacrificio hecho por los hombres que sirvieron durante la Primera Guerra Mundial.


La batalla duró 141 días desde el 1 de julio hasta el 18 de noviembre de 1916.

Los británicos capturaron solo tres millas cuadradas de territorio el primer día.

Al final de las hostilidades, los británicos habían avanzado solo siete millas y no pudieron romper la defensa alemana.

Gran Bretaña esperaba dar el golpe decisivo contra Alemania a orillas del río Somme en el norte de Francia después de dos años de estancamiento en las trincheras.

Los generales esperaban poder romper las líneas alemanas y aliviar la presión sobre los asediados franceses que estaban involucrados en una lucha a vida o muerte con Alemania en Verdún.

Un aterrador bombardeo de artillería de dos semanas tuvo como objetivo ablandar a los alemanes y limpiar el alambre de púas que atravesaba No Man & # x27s Land, el área de tierra embarrada entre las trincheras opuestas.

El 1 de julio de 1916 llegó la orden de pasar por alto, y cientos de miles de tropas británicas y de la Commonwealth pasearon por la tierra de nadie.


Fondo

Reunidos en Chantilly en diciembre de 1915, el alto mando aliado trabajó para desarrollar planes de guerra para el año siguiente. Se acordó que el camino más eficaz a seguir serían las ofensivas simultáneas en los frentes oriental, occidental e italiano. Este enfoque impediría que las Potencias Centrales pudieran trasladar tropas para hacer frente a cada amenaza por turno. En el frente occidental, los planificadores británicos y franceses avanzaron y finalmente decidieron montar una gran ofensiva combinada a lo largo del río Somme. El plan inicial requería que la mayor parte de las tropas fueran francesas con el apoyo del Cuarto Ejército británico en el norte. Aunque apoyaba el plan, el comandante de la Fuerza Expedicionaria Británica, el general Sir Douglas Haig, había deseado originalmente atacar en Flandes.

A medida que se desarrollaron los planes para la ofensiva de Somme, pronto se cambiaron en respuesta a que los alemanes abrieran la Batalla de Verdún a fines de febrero de 1916. En lugar de asestar el golpe paralizante a los alemanes, el objetivo principal de la ofensiva de Somme ahora sería aliviar la presión sobre los asediados defensores franceses en Verdún. Además, la composición principal de las tropas involucradas sería británica en lugar de francesa.


Fuentes primarias

(1) Después de la guerra, Sir William Robertson, Jefe del Estado Mayor Imperial, intentó explicar la estrategia en la Batalla del Somme.

Recordando el descontento mostrado por los ministros a fines de 1915 porque las operaciones no habían cumplido sus expectativas, el Estado Mayor tomó la precaución de dejar bien en claro de antemano la naturaleza del éxito que podría producir la campaña de Somme. La necesidad de aliviar la presión sobre el ejército francés en Verdún permanece y es más urgente que nunca. Este es, por tanto, el primer objetivo que se alcanzará con la ofensiva combinada británica y francesa. El segundo objetivo es infligir las mayores pérdidas posibles a los ejércitos alemanes.

(2) Sir Douglas Haig, órdenes de batalla enviadas justo antes de la Batalla del Somme (mayo de 1916)

El Primer, Segundo y Tercer Ejércitos tomarán medidas para engañar al enemigo en cuanto al frente real de ataque, para desgastarlo y reducir su eficacia de combate tanto durante los tres días previos al asalto como durante las operaciones subsiguientes. Los preparativos para engañar al enemigo deben hacerse sin demora. Esto se realizará mediante:

(a) Preparativos preliminares como el avance de nuestras trincheras y savias, construcción de trincheras de montaje ficticio, emplazamientos de armas, etc.

(b) Corte de alambre a intervalos a lo largo de todo el frente con el fin de inducir al enemigo a ocupar sus defensas y causar fatiga.

(c) Descargas de gas, cuando sea posible, en lugares seleccionados a lo largo de todo el frente británico, acompañadas de una descarga de humo, con miras a hacer que el enemigo use sus cascos de gas e inducir fatiga y causar bajas.

d) Bombardeos de artillería sobre comunicaciones importantes con miras a dificultar los refuerzos, el socorro y el suministro.

e) Bombardeo nocturno de los alojamientos de descanso.

(f) Descargas de humo intermitentes durante el día, acompañadas de fuego de metralla en las defensas del frente del enemigo con miras a causar pérdidas.

(g) Incursiones nocturnas, de la fuerza de una compañía y hacia arriba, en una escala extensa, en el sistema de defensa del frente del enemigo. Estos se prepararán mediante intensos bombardeos de artillería y morteros de trinchera.

(3) George Mallory, era el comandante de la 40ª Batería de Asedio en el Somme. Escribió una carta a su esposa, Ruth Mallory, el 2 de julio de 1916.

Nuestra parte era mantener una barrera de fuego en ciertas líneas, "elevando" después de ciertos tiempos fijos de una a otra más remota y así sucesivamente. Por supuesto, no pudimos saber cómo iban las cosas durante varias horas. Pero entonces los heridos - casos ambulantes - empezaron a pasar y bandas de prisioneros. Escuchamos varios relatos, pero parecía emerger con bastante claridad que el ataque se detuvo en algún lugar por fuego de ametralladora y esto fue confirmado por la naturaleza de nuestras propias tareas después de que terminó el & quot; aluvión & quot. Para mí, este resultado, junto con la visión de los heridos, fue tremendamente doloroso. Pasé la mayor parte de la mañana en la sala de mapas junto a la carretera, esperando para ayudar a Lithgow (el oficial al mando) a encontrar nuevos objetivos.

(4) Sir Douglas Haig explicó la importancia de usar artillería pesada en la Batalla del Somme en su libro. Despachos, que se publicó después de la guerra.

La posición del enemigo a ser atacado era de un carácter muy formidable, situada en un terreno elevado y ondulado. El primer y segundo sistema consistía cada uno en varias líneas de trincheras profundas, bien provistas de refugios a prueba de bombas y con numerosas trincheras de comunicación que las conectaban. El frente de las trincheras de cada sistema estaba protegido por enredos de alambre, muchos de ellos en dos cinturones de cuarenta metros de ancho, construidos con estacas de hierro, entrelazadas con alambre de púas, a menudo casi tan grueso como el dedo de un hombre. Las defensas de esta naturaleza solo podían atacarse con la perspectiva de éxito después de una cuidadosa preparación de la artillería.

(5) Philip Gibbs, un periodista, observó la preparación para la gran ofensiva en el Somme en julio de 1916.

Antes del amanecer, en la oscuridad, estaba con una masa de caballería frente a Fricourt. Haig, como hombre de caballería, estaba obsesionado con la idea de que rompería la línea alemana y enviaría a la caballería. Fue una esperanza fantástica, ridiculizada por el Alto Mando alemán en su informe sobre las Batallas del Somme que luego capturamos.

Frente a nosotros no había una línea, sino una posición de fortaleza, de veinte millas de profundidad, atrincherada y fortificada, defendida por masas de postes de ametralladoras y miles de cañones en un amplio arco. ¡No hay posibilidad de caballería! Pero esa noche se agruparon detrás de la infantería. Entre ellos estaba la caballería india, cuyos rostros oscuros se iluminaban de vez en cuando por un momento, cuando alguien encendía una cerilla para encender un cigarrillo.

Antes del amanecer hubo un gran silencio. Nos hablamos en susurros, si hablamos. Entonces, de repente, nuestros cañones se abrieron en un aluvión de fuego de intensidad colosal. Nunca antes, y creo que nunca desde entonces, incluso en la Segunda Guerra Mundial, se habían acumulado tantas armas detrás de un frente de batalla. Fue un trueno rodante de fuego de proyectil, y la tierra vomitó llamas, y el cielo se iluminó con proyectiles estallando. Parecía como si nada pudiera vivir, ni una hormiga, bajo esa estupenda tormenta de artillería. Pero los alemanes vivían en sus profundos refugios, y cuando nuestras oleadas de hombres pasaron, se encontraron con mortíferos disparos de ametralladoras y morteros.

Nuestros hombres no llegaron a ninguna parte el primer día. Los ametralladores alemanes los habían cortado como hierba y, después de que se levantó nuestro bombardeo, se apresuraron a encontrarse con nuestros hombres al aire libre. Muchos de los mejores batallones fueron casi aniquilados y nuestras bajas fueron terribles.

Un médico alemán hecho prisionero cerca de La Boiselle se quedó para cuidar a nuestros heridos en un dugout en lugar de bajar a un lugar seguro. Lo conocí regresando a través del campo de batalla a la mañana siguiente. Uno de nuestros hombres llevaba su bolso y tuve una charla con él. Era un hombre alto, corpulento, de barba negra y hablaba bien inglés. `` ¡Esta guerra! '', dijo. Continuamos matándonos sin ningún propósito. Es una guerra contra la religión y contra la civilización y no veo un final para ella ''.

(6) Declaración emitida por el ejército británico con base en París sobre la ofensiva de Somme (3 de julio de 1916)

El primer día de la ofensiva es muy satisfactorio. El éxito no es un rayo, como ha ocurrido anteriormente en operaciones similares, pero es importante sobre todo porque es rico en promesas. Ya no se trata aquí de intentos de perforar como con un cuchillo. Es un empujón más bien lento, continuo y metódico, que perdona vidas, hasta el día en que la resistencia del enemigo, incesantemente golpeada, se derrumbará en algún momento. Desde hoy, los primeros resultados de las nuevas tácticas permiten esperar con confianza los desarrollos.

(7) El soldado George Morgan, Ist Bradford Pals, participó en la batalla del Somme el 1 de julio de 1916.

No hubo demora cuando llegó la hora cero. Nuestro oficial de pelotón hizo sonar su silbato y fue el primero en subir por la escalerilla, con su revólver en una mano y un cigarrillo en la otra. "Vamos, muchachos", dijo, y subió. Subimos tras él uno a la vez. Nunca volví a ver al oficial. Su nombre está en el monumento a los desaparecidos que construyeron después de la guerra en Thiepval. Solo era joven pero era un hombre muy valiente.

(8) John Irvine, Expreso diario (3 de julio de 1916)

Una disminución perceptible de nuestro fuego poco después de las siete fue el primer indicio que se nos dio de que nuestros valientes soldados estaban a punto de saltar de sus trincheras y avanzar contra el enemigo. A los no combatientes, por supuesto, no se les permitió presenciar este espectáculo, pero se me informó que el vigor y el entusiasmo del primer asalto fueron dignos de las mejores tradiciones del ejército británico.

No tuvimos que esperar mucho para recibir noticias, y fue totalmente satisfactorio y alentador. El mensaje recibido a las diez en punto decía algo así: “En un frente de veinte millas al norte y al sur del Somme, nosotros y nuestros aliados franceses hemos avanzado y tomado la primera línea de trincheras alemana. Atacamos vigorosamente a Fricourt, La Boiselle y Mametz. Los prisioneros alemanes se están rindiendo libremente y muchos ya han caído en nuestras manos.

(9) William Beach Thomas, Con los británicos en el Somme (1917)

Nadie supo durante horas ninguna noticia verdadera (del primer día de la Batalla del Somme). Destellos de esperanza, semáforos de expectación, indicios de calamidad solo penetraron el humo, el polvo y las balas que asfixiaron las trincheras. La tensión era insoportable. Los teléfonos, las palomas mensajeras, las conjeturas de los observadores directos, los registros de los corredores, los destellos de los hombres del aire, todo combinado, apenas podía penetrar la niebla de la guerra. Los heridos que lucharon por salir de las trincheras alemanas sabían poco.

(10) La crónica diaria (3 de julio de 1916)

I de julio de 1916: Aproximadamente a las 7.30 en punto de esta mañana, el ejército británico lanzó un enérgico ataque. El frente se extiende a unas 20 millas al norte del Somme. El asalto fue precedido por un terrible bombardeo, que duró aproximadamente una hora y media. Es demasiado pronto para dar algo más que los detalles más mínimos, ya que la lucha se está intensificando, pero las tropas británicas ya han ocupado la línea del frente alemana. Muchos prisioneros ya han caído en nuestras manos y, por lo que se puede determinar, nuestras bajas no han sido numerosas.

(11) Herbert Russell, envió un telegrama a Reuters sobre la batalla del Somme (1 de julio de 1916)

Buen avance en territorio enemigo. Se dice que las tropas británicas han luchado con mucha valentía y hemos hecho muchos prisioneros. Hasta ahora, el día va bien para Gran Bretaña y Francia.

(12) George Mallory, era el comandante de la 40ª Batería de Asedio en el Somme. Escribió una carta a su esposa, Ruth Mallory, el 15 de agosto de 1916.

No me opongo a los cadáveres mientras estén frescos; pronto descubrí que podía razonar así con ellos. Entre tú y yo está toda la diferencia entre la vida y la muerte. Pero este es un hecho aceptado de que los hombres son asesinados y no tengo más que aprender sobre eso de usted, y la diferencia no es mayor porque su mandíbula cuelga y su carne cambia de color o la sangre rezuma de sus heridas. Con los heridos es diferente. Siempre me angustia verlos.

(13) George Coppard fue un ametrallador en la batalla del Somme. En su libro Con una ametralladora a Cambrai, describió lo que vio el 2 de julio de 1916.

A la mañana siguiente, los artilleros inspeccionamos la espantosa escena frente a nuestra trinchera. Había un par de binoculares en el equipo y, bajo la luz deslumbrante de un caluroso día de mediados de verano, todo se reveló desolado y claro. El terreno era más bien como las tierras bajas de Sussex, con suaves colinas, pliegues y valles, lo que dificultaba al principio identificar todas las trincheras enemigas mientras se curvaban y retorcían en las laderas.

Finalmente, quedó claro que la línea alemana seguía puntos de eminencia, siempre dando una visión dominante de la Tierra de Nadie. Inmediatamente al frente, y extendiéndose de izquierda a derecha hasta quedar oculto a la vista, había una clara evidencia de que el ataque había sido brutalmente repelido. Cientos de muertos, muchos de la Brigada 37, quedaron tirados como escombros arrastrados hasta una marca de agua alta. Muchos murieron en el cable enemigo como en el suelo, como peces atrapados en la red. Colgaban allí en posturas grotescas. Algunos parecían estar rezando por haber muerto de rodillas y el alambre había impedido su caída. Por la forma en que los muertos estaban igualmente esparcidos, ya sea sobre el cable o tendidos frente a él, estaba claro que no había huecos en el cable en el momento del ataque.

El fuego concentrado de ametralladora de suficientes cañones para dominar cada centímetro del cable había hecho su terrible trabajo. Los alemanes deben haber estado reforzando el cable durante meses. Era tan denso que la luz del día apenas se podía ver a través de él. A través de los anteojos parecía una masa negra. La fe alemana en el alambre masivo había dado sus frutos.

¿Cómo imaginaron nuestros planificadores que Tommies, habiendo sobrevivido a todos los demás peligros, y había muchos al cruzar la tierra de nadie, atravesaría el cable alemán? Had they studied the black density of it through their powerful binoculars? Who told them that artillery fire would pound such wire to pieces, making it possible to get through? Any Tommy could have told them that shell fire lifts wire up and drops it down, often in a worse tangle than before.

(14) General Rees, commander of 94th Infantry Brigade at the Somme, described how his men went into battle on 1st July, 1916.

They advanced in line after line, dressed as if on parade, and not a man shirked going through the extremely heavy barrage, or facing the machine-gun and rifle fire that finally wiped them out. I saw the lines which advanced in such admirable order melting away under the fire. Yet not a man wavered, broke the ranks, or attempted to come back. I have never seen, I would never have imagined, such a magnificent display of gallantry, discipline and determination. The reports I have had from the very few survivors of this marvellous advance bear out what I saw with my own eyes, viz, that hardly a man of ours got to the German front line.

(15) German machine-gunner at the Somme.

The officers were in the front. I noticed one of them walking calmly carrying a walking stick. When we started firing we just had to load and reload. They went down in their hundreds. You didn't have to aim, we just fired into them.

(16) John Buchan described the first day of the offensive at the Somme in his pamphlet, The Battle of the Somme (1916)

The British moved forward in line after line, dressed as if on parade not a man wavered or broke ranks but minute by minute the ordered lines melted away under the deluge of high explosives, shrapnel, rifle, and machine-gun fire. The splendid troops shed their blood like water for the liberty of the world.

(17) Harold Mellersh was a young platoon commander who took part in the Somme offensive.

Nothing happened at first. We advanced at a slow double. I noticed that it had begun to rain. Then the enemy machine-gunning started, first one gun, then many. They traversed, and every now and then there came the swish of bullets.

It's a bloody death trap, someone said. I told him to shut up. But was he right? We struggled on through the mud and the rain and the shelling. Then came a terrific crack above my head, a jolt in my left shoulder, and at the same time I was watching in an amazed, detached sort of way my right forearm twist upwards of its own volition and then hang limp. I realised that I had been hit.

I was suddenly filled with a surge of happiness. It was a physical feeling almost, consciousness of a reprieve from the shadow of death, no less. That I had just taken part in a failure, that I had really done nothing to help win the war, these things were forgotten - if ever indeed they had entered my consciousness.

(18) Clare Tisdall worked as a nurse at a Casualty Clearing Station during the Battle of the Somme.

During the Somme we practically never stopped. I was up for seventeen nights before I had a night in bed. A lot of the boys had legs blown off, or hastily amputated at the front-line. These boys were the ones who were in the greatest pain, and I very often used to have to hold the stump up in the ambulance for the whole journey, so that it wouldn't bump on the stretcher.

The worse case I saw - and it still haunts me - was of a man being carried past us. It was at night, and in the dim light I thought that his face was covered with a black cloth. But as he came nearer, I was horrified to realize that the whole lower half of his face had been completely blown off and what had appeared to be a black cloth was a huge gaping hole. It was the only time I nearly fainted.

(19) Ford Madox Ford served at Mametz Wood during the Battle of the Somme. He wrote about his experiences in his book, No Enemy: A Tale of Reconstruction (1929)

I don't think that many of those who were one's comrades did not at times feel a certain hopelessness. And so they would sit in the chairs of the lost and forgotten. You will say this is bitter. It Is. It was bitter to have seen the 38th Division murdered in Mametz Wood - and to guess what underlay that.

(20) In his pamphlet, The Battle of the Somme, John Buchan describes the Allied attack on German lines on 14th July.

The attack failed nowhere. In some parts if was slower than others, where the enemy's defence had been less comprehensively destroyed, but by the afternoon all our tasks had been accomplished. The audacious enterprise had been crowned with unparalleled success. Germans may write on their badges that God is with them, but our lads - they know.

(21) Manchester Guardian (18th September 1916)

The British army has struck the enemy another heavy blow north of the Somme. Attacking shortly after dawn yesterday morning on a front of more than six miles north-east from Combles, it now occupies a new strip of reconquered territory including three fortified villages behind the German third line and many local positions of great strength.

Fighting has continued since without intermission, and the initiative remains with our troops, who made further advances beyond Courcelette, Martinpuich, and Flers to-day. After the first shock yesterday morning, when the enemy surrendered freely, showing signs of demoralisation, there has been stubborn resistance, and much of the ground gained afterwards was only wrested from him by the determination and strength of the British battalions pitted against him. The Bavarian and German divisions have fought well, but nevertheless they have been steadily pushed backwards from the line they took up after their first defeats in the Somme campaign.

British patrols have approached Eaucourt l'Abbaye and Geudecourt, and while no definite information is obtainable to-night regarding the exact extent of our gains they are rather more than the territory described in detail in this despatch. The battle is not over. Famous British regiments are lying in the open to-night holding their position with the greatest heroism. All that the enemy can do in the way of artillery reprisals he is doing to-night. But despite the tenacity with which the reinforced German troops are clinging to their positions everything gained has been maintained. Progress may not be at the same speed as in the first assault yesterday morning, but it is thorough and none the less sure.

The story of the capture of Courcelette and Martinpuich, which were wrested from the Bavarians virtually street by street yesterday, will be as dramatic as any narrative told in this war. They are the chief episodes in the first two days of this offensive, but I can only give a bare summary now of the furious conflict which raged for possession of these obscure ruined villages. There are evidences that the unexpected British offensive disorganised the plans of the German higher command for an important counter-attack to recover the ground lost since July 1. Heavy concentrations of infantry were taking place, and the unusually strong resistance on the British left was due to the presence of an abnormal number of troops behind Martinpuich and Courcelette. In spite of this the divisions taking part in yesterday's attack splendidly achieved their purpose.

Armoured cars working with the infantry were the great surprise of this attack. Sinister, formidable, and industrious, these novel machines pushed boldly into "No Man's Land," astonishing our soldiers no less than they frightened the enemy. Presently I shall relate some strange incidents of their first grand tour in Picardy, of Bavarians bolting before them like rabbits and others surrendering in picturesque attitudes of terror, and the delightful story of the Bavarian colonel who was carted about for hours in the belly of one of them like Jonah in the whale, while his captors slew the men of his broken division.

It is too soon yet to advertise their best points to an interested world. The entire army nevertheless is talking about them, and you might imagine that yesterday's operation was altogether a battle of armed chauffeurs if you listened to the stories of some of the spectators. They inspired confidence and laughter. No other incident of the war has created such amusement in the face of death as their debut before the trenches of Martinpuich and Flers. Their quaintness and seeming air of profound intelligence commended them to a critical audience. It was as though one of Mr. Heath Robinson's jokes had been utilised for a deadly purpose, and one laughed even before the dire effect on the enemy was observed.

Flers fell into British hands comparatively easily. The troops sent against it from the north of Delville Wood, astride of the sunken road leading to its southern extremity, reached the place in three easy laps supported by armoured cars. As a preliminary measure one car planted itself at the north-east corner of the wood before dawn and cleared a small enemy party from two connected trenches. It was not a difficult task for the "boches" promptly surrendered. The first halting-place of the Flers-bound troops was a German switch-trench north-east of Ginchy, part of the so-called third line, which they reached at the time appointed. There was a slight obstacle in the form of a redoubt constructed at the angle of the line where it crossed the Ginchy-Lesboeufs road. Machine-gun fire was well directed from this work, but two armoured cars came up and poured a destructive counter-fire into it, and then one of the many watchful aeroplanes swooped down almost within hailing distance and joined in the battle. The dismayed Bavarians promptly yielded to this strange alliance. Armoured cars and aeroplane went their several ways and the infantry carried on. The redoubt sheltered a dressing station where there were a number of German wounded. The second phase of the Flers advance brought the attackers to the trenches at the end of the village. Little resistance was offered. Here, again, the armoured cars came forward. One of them managed to enfilade the trench both ways, killing nearly everyone in it, and then another car started up the main street, or what was the main street in pre-war days, escorted, as one spectator puts it "by the cheering British army."

It was a magnificent progress. You must imagine this unimaginable engine stalking majestically amid the ruins followed by the men in khaki, drawing the dispossessed Bavarians from their holes in the ground like a magnet and bringing them blinking into the sunlight to stare at their captors, who laughed instead of killing them. Picture its passage from one end of the ruins of Flers to the other, leaving infantry swarming through the dug-outs behind, on out of the northern end of the village, past more odds and ends of defensive positions, up the road to Gneudecourt, halting only at the outskirts. Before turning back it silenced a battery and a half of artillery, captured the gunners, and handed them over to the infantry. Finally, it retraced its foot-steps with equal composure to the old British line at the close of a profitable day. The German officers taken in Flers have not yet assimilated the scene of their capture, the crowded "High Street," and the cheering bomb-throwers marching behind the travelling fort, which displayed on one armoured side the startling placard, "Great Hun Defeat. Extra Special!"

(22) In his pamphlet, The Battle of the Somme: The Second Phase, published in 1917, John Buchan claimed that the battle marked the end of "trench fighting and the beginning of a campaign in the open."

Thenceforth, the campaign entered upon a new stage, and the first stage, which in strict terms we call the Battle of the Somme, had ended in Allied victory. We did what we set out to do step by step we drove our way through the German defences. Our major purpose was attained. It was not the recapture of territory that we sought, but the weakening of the numbers, materiel and moral of the enemy.

(23) In his book, Traveller in News, William Beach Thomas wrote about his reporting of the Battle of the Somme for the Correo diario y el Espejo diario.

A great part of the information supplied to us by (British Army Intelligence) was utterly wrong and misleading. The dispatches were largely untrue so far as they deal with concrete results. For myself, on the next day and yet more on the day after that, I was thoroughly and deeply ashamed of what I had written, for the very good reason that it was untrue. Almost all the official information was wrong. The vulgarity of enormous headlines and the enormity of one's own name did not lessen the shame.

(24) John Raws was killed at the Battle of the Somme. He wrote a letter to his brother just before he died (12th August 1916)

The glories of the Great Push are great, but the horrors are greater. With all I'd heard by word of mouth, with all I had imagined in my mind, I yet never conceived that war could be so dreadful. The carnage in our little sector was as bad, or worse, than that of Verdun, and yet I never saw a body buried in ten days. And when I came on the scene the whole place, trenches and all, was spread with dead. We had neither time nor space for burials, and the wounded could not be got away. They stayed with us and died, pitifully, with us, and then they rotted. The stench of the battlefield spread for miles around. And the sight of the limbs, the mangled bodies, and stray heads.

We lived with all this for eleven days, ate and drank and fought amid it but no, we did not sleep. Sometimes, we just fell down and became unconscious. You could not call it sleep.

The men who say they believe in war should be hung. And the men who won't come out and help us, now we're in it, are not fit for words. Had we more reinforcements up there many brave men now dead, men who stuck it and stuck it and stuck it till they died, would be alive today. Do you know that I saw with my own eyes a score of men go raving mad! I met three in 'No Man's Land' one night. Of course, we had a bad patch. But it is sad to think that one has to go back to it, and back to it, and back to it, until one is hit.

(25) Charles Hudson, journal entry on the Somme offensive in 1916, quoted in Soldier, Poet, Rebel (2007)

Elaborate and very detailed orders for the coming battle came out, and were altered and revised again and again. Inspections and addresses followed each other in rapid succession whenever we came out of the line. The country, miles ahead of our starting trench, was studied on maps and models. Mouquet Farm, the objective of my company on the first day, will always stand out in my memory as a name, though I was never to see it.

Our battalion was to be the last of the four battalions of our Brigade to go 'over the top'. We were to carry immense loads of stores needed by the leading battalion, when the forward enemy trench system was overrun, and dump our loads before we advanced on Mouquet Farm. In the opening phase therefore, we were reduced to the status of pack mules. We flattered ourselves however that we had been specially selected to carry out the more highly skilled and onerous role of open warfare fighting, when the trench system had been overcome.

Never in history, we were told, had so many guns been concentrated on any front. Our batteries had the greatest difficulty in finding gun positions, and millions of shells were dumped at the gun sites. Had all the guns, we were told, been placed on one continuous line, their wheels would have interlocked. Nothing, we were assured, could live to resist our onslaught.

The first unpleasant hitch in the arrangements occurred when the attack was put off for twenty-four hours. It was later postponed another twenty-four hours. The explanation given was that the French were not ready. Our own non-stop night and day bombardment continued. We were in the front line, with the assaulting battalions behind us in reserve trenches. Apart from the strain of waiting, we found our own shelling exhausting, and received a fair amount counter-shelling and mortaring in reply. We remained in the front line from 27 June until the night of 30 June, when we were withdrawn to allow the assaulting units to take up their positions. As a result of the forty-eight hour postponement the men were not as fresh for the attack as we had hoped, and there was a feeling abroad that a lot of ammunition had been expended which might be badly missed later.

That night, 30 June, we spent in dugouts cut into the side of a high bank. Behind us lay the shell-shattered remains of Authuile Wood, and further back the town of Albert. That night I was asked to attend a party given by the officers of another company. Reluctantly I went. Though no one in the smoke-filled dugout when I arrived was drunk, they were far from being sober and obviously strung up. Their efforts to produce a cheerful atmosphere depressed me. Feeling a wet blanket, I slipped away as soon as I decently could. As I walked back, the gaunt misshapen shell-shattered trees looked like grim tortured El Greco-like figures in the moonlight. I tried to shake off emotion, and though feeling impelled to pray, I deliberately refused myself the outlet, for to do so now, merely because I was frightened, seemed both unfair and unreasonable. Fortunately I could always sleep when the opportunity arose, and I slept normally well that night.

Though my company was not due to move up the communication trench until some time after zero hour, breakfasts were over and the men were all standing by before it was light. At dawn the huge, unbelievably huge, crescendo of the opening barrage began. Thousands and thousands of small calibre shells seemed to be whistling close above our heads to burst on the enemy front line. Larger calibre shells whined their way to seek out targets farther back, and shells from the heavies, like rumbling railway trains, could be heard almost rambling along high above us, to land with mighty detonations way back amongst the enemy strong-points and battery areas behind.

It was not long before the electrifying news came down the line that our assault battalions had overrun the enemy front line and had been seen still going strong close up behind the barrage. The men cheered up. The march to Berlin had begun! I was standing on the top of the bank, and at that moment I felt genuinely sorry for the unfortunate German infantry. I could picture in my mind the agony they were undergoing, for I could see the solid line of bursting shells throwing great clouds of earth high into the air. I thought of the horror of being in the midst of that great belt of explosion. where nothing. I thought, could live. The belt was so thick and deep that the wounded would be hit again and again.

Still there was no reply from the enemy. It looked as if our guns had silenced their batteries before they had got a shot off. I climbed down the bank anxious for more news. When our time came to advance we had to file some way along and under the embankment before turning up the communication trench. A company of the support battalion was to precede us and their men were already on the move gaily cracking ribald jokes as they passed by.

They had not long been gone when the enemy guns opened. This in itself was rather startling. How. I wondered, could any guns have survived? Only a few odd shells fell near us but the shelling farther up seemed very heavy. We were not, then, going to have it all our own way. Impatient, I slipped on ahead of the company to the entrance of the communication trench up which we were to go.

Some wounded were already being carried out and I wondered whether the stretchers would delay our advance. As I neared the trench, I saw the Brigade trench mortar officer, and went to get the latest news from him. To my disgust I found he was not only very drunk but in a terrible state of nerves. With tears running down his face, and smelling powerfully of brandy, he begged me not to take my company forward. The whole attack he shouted was a terrible failure, the trench ahead was a shambles, it was murder up there, he was on his way to tell the Brigadier so.

We found the short length of trench packed tight with wounded. Some begged for help, some to be left alone to die. I told the company sergeant major (CSM) to set about clearing the trench of wounded while I went to tell platoon commanders the alteration in our plan. When I got back the CSM was bending over a severely wounded young officer. He was very heavy and when an attempt was made to move him the pain was so acute that the men making the attempt drew back aghast. The trench was very narrow and as he lay full-length along it we had to move him. As long as I live I shall not forget the horror of lifting that poor boy. He died, a twitching mass of tautened muscles in our arms as we were carrying him. Even my own men looked at me as if I had been the monster I felt myself to be in attempting to move him. Sick with horror, I drove them on, forcing them to throw the dead bodies out of the trench.

At last the way was clear, and I called up the first platoon to go over the narrow end of the trench, two at a time. I was to go first with my two orderlies, and Bartlett, the officer commanding the first platoon, was to follow. I told the CSM to wait and see the company over but he flatly declined, saying his place was with company HO and that he was coming with me. I hadn't the heart to refuse him.

As I ran, wisps of dust seemed to be spitting up all round me, and I found myself trying to skip over them. Then it suddenly dawned on me that we were under fire, and the dust was caused by bullets. I saw someone standing up behind the bank ahead waving wildly. He was shouting something. I threw myself down. It was the second-in-command of the support battalion, an ex-regular regimental sergeant major of the Guards and a huge man. He was shouting. "Keep away, for God's sake, keep away!"

I shouted back, "What's up?"

"We are under fire here," he yelled, "You'll only draw more fire."

I realised that the fire came not only from in front of us but from across the valley to our left and behind us. My plan was hopeless. The young orderly who had had hysterics was hit. He cried out and was almost immediately hit again. I crept close up against his dead body, wondering if a man's body gave any protection. Would that machine gunner never stop blazing at us? In an extremity of fear I pulled a derelict trench mortar barrel between me and the bullets. Suddenly the fire was switched off to some other target.

The CSM had been hit as he had been crawling towards me. I had shouted to him to keep down but he crawled on, his nose close to the ground, his immense behind clearly visible, and a tempting target! It is extraordinary how in action one can be one moment almost gibbering with fright, and the next, when released from immediate physical danger, almost gay. When the CSM let out a loud yell, I shouted: "Are you hit"

"Yes, Sir," he shouted back. "But not badly."

"That will teach you to keep your bottom down," I shouted back, upon which there was a ribald cheer from the men nearby. When I reached the CSM he was quite cheerful and wanted to carry on, but was soon persuaded to return and stop more men leaving the trench.

Bartlett had taken cover in a shell hole and I rolled in to join him as the firing swept over us again. Besides us, the hole was occupied by an elderly private of one of the leading battalions. He was unwounded, quite resigned, and entirely philosophic about the situation. He said no one but a fool would attempt to go forward, as it was obvious that the attack had failed. He pointed out that we were quite safe where we were, and all we had to do was to wait until dark to get back. I asked him what he was doing unwounded in a hole so far behind his battalion. He said he was a regular soldier who had been wounded early in the war, and that he was not going to be wounded again in the sort of fool attacks that the officers sitting in comfortable offices behind the lines planned! (I give of course a paraphrase of his actual discourse.) He said he certainly would not be alive now if he had not had the sense to take cover as soon as possible after going over the top, as he had done at Festubert. Loos, and a series of other battles in which he said he had been engaged. He reckoned that this was the only hope an infantryman had of surviving the war. When the High Command had learned how to conduct a battle which had a reasonable chance of success, he would willingly take part! I told him if he went on in this way, I would put him under arrest for cowardice.

It was a strange interlude in battle, and I realised that my own uncertainty as to what should be done gave rise to it. I was agitated, feeling that inactivity was unforgivable, particularly when the leading battalions must be fighting for their lives, and sorely needing reinforcements. It seemed Useless to attempt to get forward from where we were, even if we could collect enough men to make the attempt. In the end I forced myself to get out of the shell hole and walk along parallel with the enemy line and away from the valley on our left, calling on men of all battalions who were scattered about in shell holes, to be ready to advance when I blew mv whistle.

This effort, in which I was supported by Bartlett, was shortlived. Bullets were flying all round us both from front and flank. One hit my revolver out of my hand, another drove a hole through my water bottle, and more and more fire was being concentrated upon us. Ignominiously I threw myself down. We were no better off.

It was up to me to make a decision. Bartlett quietly but firmly refused to offer any suggestion. I took the only course that seemed open to me, other than giving in altogether as the defeatist private soldier had so phlegmatically advocated, and I so vehemently condemned. We returned to our own front line, crawling all the way and calling on any men we saw to follow us, though few in fact did.

There was no movement in no man's land, though one apparently cheerful man of my own company, a wag, was crawling forward on all fours, a belt of machine gun ammunition swinging under his stomach, shouting. Anyone know the way to Mouquet Farm?

A soldier I did not know was running back screaming at the top of his voice. He was entirely naked and had presumably gone mad, or perhaps he thought he was so clearly disarmed that he would not be shot at! Bartlett and I reached our trench without mishap and began working down it, trying to collect any men we could. The shelling on the front line trench had stopped. At one trench shelter I came on a sergeant who had once been in my company, and at my summons he lurched to the narrow entrance of the tiny shelter. I thought at first he was drunk.

"Come on, Sergeant," I said, "Get your men together and follow me down the trench."

"I'd like to come with you, Sir," he said, "But I can't with this lot."

I looked down and saw to my horror that the lower part of his left leg had been practically severed. He was standing on one leg, holding himself upright by gripping the frame of the entrance.

At the junction of the front line with a communication trench further down the line, I found the staff captain (not the one with the broken nerves). I told him I was collecting the remnants of our men, and asked him if he thought I ought to make another effort to advance. I knew in my heart that I only asked because I hoped he would authorise no further effort, but he said that the last message he had had from Brigade HO was that attempts to break through to the leading battalions must continue to be made at all costs. He told me our colonel and second-in-command had gone over the top to try and carry the men forward, and both had been wounded. I must judge for myself, he said, but there had been no orders to abandon the attack.

I discovered from the staff captain what had happened. The leading battalions had swept over the enemy trenches without opposition, but had not delayed to search the deep dugouts, as this was the job of the supporting battalion. As the supporting battalion had been held up by shellfire, the German machine gunners in the deep dugouts had had time to emerge from their cover and open fire. It seemed clear that, unpleasant as the prospect was, a further effort to advance must be made. There was a slight depression in no man's land further to the right, which would give a narrow column of men, crawling, cover from fire from both flanks and front. I determined to try this, and the staff captain wished me luck.

Bartlett had by now collected about forty men, and standing on the fire step, I told them what had happened. There could not be many enemy in the front line, I said. If we could once penetrate into the enemy trench it would not be difficult to bomb our way along it then we could call forward many of our own men who were pinned to the ground in no man's land. I painted a very rosy picture. One more effort and victory was ours. Hundreds of battles had. I said, been lost for the lack of that one last effort.

We had got a good many men over the parapet when a machine gun opened up. I do not think the fire was actually directed at us but I was just giving a man a hand up when a bullet went straight through the lobe of his ear, splashing blood over both of us. The men in the trench below were very shaken, though not more than I was! The man hit wasted no time in diving into cover, but there was nothing I could do except stay where I was, as the men would never have come on if I were to disappear into the cover I was longing to take. Luckily the enemy machine gunner did not swing his gun back as I had feared.

When all the men were over the parapet, Bartlett and I started to crawl past them up to the top of the column. Not a shot was being fired at us and I told Bartlett to pass the men as they came up, down a line parallel to the enemy trench, while I crawled on a bit to see if the wire opposite us was destroyed. I heard a few enemy talking well away to our left, a machine gun opened up, but it was firing away from us. The wire seemed fairly well destroyed. I slipped back to Bartlett to find that only eight men had reached him, and that no one else seemed to be coming. Eight men were enough to surprise and capture the machine gun or never. I jumped up and feeling rather absurdly dramatic, I ran along our short line of men shouting "Charge!" Bartlett was at my heels and as I turned towards the enemy line some men rose to their feet.

I remember trying to jump some twisted wire, being tripped up and falling headlong into a deep shell hole right on top of a dead man and an astonished corporal. Soon a shower of hand bombs were bursting all round us and the corporal and myself pressed ourselves into the side of the shell hole. When I had recovered my breath I shouted for Bartlett and was relieved to hear a muffled reply from a nearby shell hole.

It was now about eleven o'clock on a very hot day. Bartlett and I managed to dig our way towards each other with bayonets, but we failed to get in touch with any of our men, who had apparently not come as far. The corporal turned out to be badly wounded and in spite of our efforts to help him his pain increased as the day wore on. Whenever we showed any sign of life the enemy lobbed a bomb at us and we soon learned to keep quiet.

That night, except for an occasional flare and a little desultory shelling, was absolutely quiet. In the light of a flare it seemed as if the whole of no man's land was one moving mass of men crawling and dragging themselves or their wounded comrades back to our trenches. Bartlett and I tried to carry the corporal but he was very heavy and in such pain that he begged me to be put down at frequent intervals. There were some stretcher bearers about and I sent Bartlett to find one but he lost his way and I did not see him again until next day.

In the end I crawled under the corporal and managed to get him onto my shoulders. He died in my arms soon after we reached our own front line.

(26) In his autobiography, My War Memories, 1914-1918, Eric Ludendorff wrote about the impact of the Battle of the Somme.

On the Somme the enemy's powerful artillery, assisted by excellent aeroplane observation and fed with enormous supplies of ammunition, had kept down our own fire and destroyed our artillery. The defence of our Infantry had become so flabby that the massed attacks of the enemy always succeeded. Not only did our moral

suffer, but in addition to fearful wastage in killed and wounded, we lost a large number of prisoners and much material.

The most pressing demands of our officers were for an increase of artillery, ammunition, aircraft and balloons, as well as larger and more punctual allotments of fresh divisions and other troops to make possible a better system of reliefs.

The equipment of the Entente armies with war material had been carried out on a scale hitherto unknown. The Battle of the Somme showed us every day how great was the advantage of the enemy in this respect.

When we added to this the hatred and immense determination of the Entente, their starvation-blockade or stranglehold, and their mischievous and lying propaganda, which was so dangerous for us, it was quite obvious that our victory was inconceivable unless Germany and her Allies threw into the scale everything they had, both in manpower and industrial resources, and unless every man who went to the front took with him from home a resolute faith in victory and an unshakable conviction that the German Army must conquer for the sake of the Fatherland. The soldier on the battlefield, who endures the most terrible strain that any man can undergo, stands, in his hour of need, in dire want of this moral reinforcement from home, to enable him to stand firm and hold out at the front.

(27) After the war General Sixt von Armin wrote about what the German Army learnt from the Battle of the Somme.

One of the most important lessons drawn from the Battle of the Somme is that, under heavy, methodical artillery fire, the front line should be only thinly held, but by reliable men and a few machine guns, even when there is always a possibility of a hostile attack. When this was not done, the casualties were so great before the enemy's attack was launched, that the possibility of the front line repulsing the attack by its own unaided efforts was very doubtful. The danger of the front line being rushed when so lightly held must be overcome by placing supports (infantry and machine guns), distributed in groups according to the ground, as close as possible behind the foremost fighting line. Their task is to rush forward to reinforce the front line at the moment the enemy attacks, without waiting for orders from the rear. In all cases where this procedure was adopted, we succeeded in repulsing and inflicting very heavy losses on the enemy, who imagined that he had merely to drop into a trench filled with dead.

(28) Duff Cooper was asked by the Haig family to write Sir Douglas Haig's official biography. The book included an evaluation of Haig's tactics at the Battle of the Somme.

There are still those who argue that the Battle of the Somme should never have been fought and that the gains were not commensurate with the sacrifice. There exists no yardstick for the measurement of such events, there are no returns to prove whether life has been sold at its market value. There are some who from their manner of reasoning would appear to believe that no battle is worth fighting unless it produces an immediately decisive result which is as foolish as it would be to argue that in a prize fight no blow is worth delivering save the one that knocks the opponent out. As to whether it were wise or foolish to give battle on the Somme on the first of July, 1916, there can surely be only one opinion. To have refused to fight then and there would have meant the abandonment of Verdun to its fate and the breakdown of the co-operation with the French.

(29) Frank Percy Crozier, A Brass Hat in No Man's Land (1930)

We receive orders to go into the line on the right of the British Army, near the River Somme. The great battle of 1916 has died down. It is November. The weather has brought the fight to a standstill. `General Winter' is in command. We occupy a line recently taken over from the French. In reality there is no line in the trench sense. The men occupy - hellholes. Six entire villages in the neighbourhood have been destroyed by the shells of both sides. Only a little red rubble remains, and that is mostly brick mud. It freezes hard, then it thaws. Never was there a winter such as the men endured in 1916 and 1917. The last was bad enough this is worse, as accommodation in the line does not exist. Dugouts and communication trenches cannot be constructed during a battle after, it is too late, as the mud and rain prevent the carrying up of material. Latrines there are none. The sanitary arrangements are entirely haphazard and makeshift. Disinfectants help.

We at brigade are comfortable - the French have seen to that. Otherwise the conditions are appalling. The condition known as trench feet is our bugbear but the measures taken last year, if properly carried out, suffice to combat the evil. One battalion, through neglect, loses over a hundred men in four days from this malady. The colonel is at fault, and goes away. This example improves matters.

Little can be done, except keep the sick rate down during the next three trying months. How the men live I do not know. They cannot be reached by day as there are no trenches. Cover there is none. Once this place was a field of corn, now it is a sea of mud. On it the French fought a desperate battle, earlier in the year. My daily route on a duckboard track lies through the Rancourt valley. I count a hundred and two unburied Frenchmen, lying as they fell, to the left of me while opposite there are the corpses of fifty-five German machine-gunners by their guns, the cartridge belts and boxes still being in position. Viewed from the technical and tactical point of view their dead bodies and the machine guns afford a first-rate exposition of modern tactics. Later, when the ground hardens, and we can walk about without fear of drowning or being engulfed, I take officers over the battlefield and point out the lessons to be learnt, having in view the positions of the dead bodies. The stench is awful but then, and only then, are we able to get at the dead for burial. If the times are hard for human beings, on account of the mud and misery which they endure with astounding fortitude, the same may be said of the animals. My heart bleeds for the horses and mules. We are in the wilderness, miles from towns and theatres, the flood of battle having parched the hills and dales of Picardy in its advance against civilization. Like all other floods, it carries disaster in its track, with this addition, being man-made, and ill-founded, as it is, in its primary inception, it lacks the lustre of God-inspired help. God is wrongly claimed as an ally, by both parties, to the detriment of the other whereas the Almighty, benevolent and magnanimous, watches over all and waits the call to enter - but not as a destroyer.

The men in muddy hell need daily supplies. The conditions are so vile that no man can endure more than forty-eight hours at a stretch in the forward puddles and squelch pits. Do those at home in comfort, warmth, and cultured environment realise what they owe to the stout hearts on the western front? No wheeled traffic can approach within three miles of the forward pits for roads which were useful to the pre-war farmers have now disappeared. Everything must be carried up by men or mules. The latter, stripped of harness, or fully dressed, die nightly in the holes and craters, as they bring their loads to the men they serve so faithfully and well, urged on by whips and kindness. But one false step means death by suffocation. Sheer exhaustion claims its quota, for the transport lines themselves are devoid of cover from wind and rain. Such is the animals' war, and could animal lovers see the distress of their dumb friends they would never permit another conflict.


Ver el vídeo: The battle of SommeLa batalla del Somme 1928, Gran bretaña, M. A. Wetherell.