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Attrition


PhilB
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I outlined in a recent thread why I thought Vimy Ridge was not a good place to mount a diversion. Assuming that it was known that the Germans were expecting an attack, the BEF dispositions on the ridge were very difficult, having just been beaten back in the German attack in May and being forced to occupy exposed trenchlines. The ground had already been ploughed over in the Artois offensive, as well as the German preparatory bombardment in May. The British Official History records that the planning that was initiated by Wilson for the British counter-attack formed the basis for planning the successful assault in 1917.

Robert

Robert,

In suggesting that Vimy and/or Messines were suitable spots for a diversion, I was suggesting a threatened attack, not actually mounting a feint attack. I doubt that the British Army had the resources or the experience to mount a secondary attack for the purposes of a credible feint. Such an attack would have had to replicate a major attack on a broader front and with greater resources than the localised affairs at Gommecourt and Fromelles.

Rather, I thought that credible activity in those areas that gave indications of preparations for a major offensive, including the firing of preparatory bombardments may have have succeeded in drawing off German reserves. Given what we now know about Falkenhayn, this may have reinforced his views on Vimy.

Regards

Chris

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when you look at the frontline, the German defences north of the Ancre project a salient to the west. Given the direction of the Ancre valley, you can appreciate why there were major concerns about the attack south of the river being taken in enfilade. It is somewhat akin to the problem that the Germans struck when their Verdun assaults were confined to the east bank of the Meuse River. It is not difficult, IMHO, to make a sound military argument for ensuring that the north side of the Ancre River was nullified as much as possible. Subjecting the German artillery to counter-battery fire would have been one approach.

Robert

Robert,

I take your point about the salient effect, however, I am not sure this neccessarily meant that the ground north of the Ancre needed to have beeen included in the main assault. Ypres was a much narrower and deeper salient until the German gas attack in April 1915 and it was recreated at Third Ypres, albeit on a broader front. In most areas on the Western Front a salient effect on the flank was likely to occur when ground was seized.

The salient effect on the British left flank around Thiepval would needed to have been addressed, hence my thoughts of anchoring the the left flank of the main attack in the area Ancre - Beaumont Hamel with an artillery and MG barrage and the threat of a secondary attack there. I note your points about German artillery north of the river being able to engage any British seizure at Thiepval but counter battery fire from north of the river plus the seizure of the Thiepval high ground, which overlooks the ground behind Beaucourt, might have reduced its impact. While I note your comments regarding the direction of the Ancre and the ability of positions immediately north taking the British flank in enfilade, the proposed artillery, MG barrages and threat mentioned above might have limited the German's ability to do so.

Furthermore, while an offensive confined to south of the Ancre would have resulted in a salient on the British left flank, the same effect was true for the Germans north of the Ancre. From memory the high ground around Thiepval is higher than that north of the Ancre and overlooks the German rear areas. Thus the capture of the Thiepval high graond would have given the British an advantage over the Germans in their respective salients. The Ancre also provides an obstacle for any German counter-attacks that might have been mounted from that area. Any Britsih advance to secure the high ground south of Grandecourt actually increases the problems for the Germans in their salient. It is at this point that a well prepared secondary attack to reduce the salient at Gommecourt and the high ground east of it would have had a significant impact of the German line Serre- Beaumont Hamel.

Regards

Chris

Chris,

I've never considered the Somme attack without the involvement of Serre. I think if I was standing on the ridge at Serre then I would think this is where the left flank had to be anchored. Regards,

Jon S

Jon,

I have only been to the Serre - Beaumont Hamel area once, so I bow to your and Robert's greater knowledge of the area. Nonetheless, for the reasons given earlier and above I can't really see why Serre -Redan Ridge needed to be included in the main offensive. I accept that the Germans held the high ground here and they sit on a prominent ridge running down to the Ancre at Grandecourt and Miraumont but what impact could their retention by the Germans have on a successful British seizure of the high ground around Theipval?

To me, the more important ridge was the one running south east from just north of Beaumont Hamel to Beaucourt. I understand that the British held the higher ground in this area and in fact I was surpried when I visited the Newfoundland Memorial Park that the British trenches overlooked the Germans in this area. I would think that an artillery and MG barrage and the threat of a secondary attack in the area Ancre -Beaumont Hamel would have provided some protection to the British flank at Theipval which would then have placed the German positions immediately north of the Ancre in a salient overlooked from two sides.

I think that including Redan Ridge, Serre and Gommecourt was a case of "chasing ground" which while more prevalent in siting defensive positions can occur when planning attacks.

It would be interesting for the three of us to walk the ground, but from Down Under it is not that easy.

Regards

Chris

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In suggesting that Vimy and/or Messines were suitable spots for a diversion, I was suggesting a threatened attack, not actually mounting a feint attack. I doubt that the British Army had the resources or the experience to mount a secondary attack for the purposes of a credible feint. Rather, I thought that credible activity in those areas that gave indications of preparations for a major offensive, including the firing of preparatory bombardments may have have succeeded in drawing off German reserves.
Chris, great to have your ongoing input. You are raising a number of key issues.

I agree with your comments about a credible, actual attack. Concentrating on your point about a threatened attack, the 'preparations' and 'threats' have to be credible. From what I have read, commanders used a variety of sources to determine the degree of threat. One was the activity in the rear areas. Then there were front line preparations, absence of which was not necessarily seen as an excluding factor. The firing of preparatory bombardments was important. The scale and intensity of these bombardments was analysed. It seems as if it was easy to detect if a preparatory bombardment wasn't serious. Basically, this related to the intensity, breadth and depth of the bombardment. From these, and other variables, it was possible to decide how many guns were involved, of what type, etc. Damage analysis would also support an assessment of threat. If a credible preparatory bombardment feint was to be implemented, it would have drawn artillery away from the actual battlefield. Simply using divisional assets in the area concerned would have been, IMHO, wholly inadequate, bearing in mind that corps and army artillery assets would likely have been transferred to the actual battlefield.

Given what we now know about Falkenhayn, this may have reinforced his views on Vimy.
We know this but I don't think the Entente knew about his views.

Robert

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I think that including Redan Ridge, Serre and Gommecourt was a case of "chasing ground" which while more prevalent in siting defensive positions can occur when planning attacks.

It would be interesting for the three of us to walk the ground, but from Down Under it is not that easy.

Hi Chris - it would certainly be an education for me. Not having had any military training I am somewhat lagging behind in the strategy stakes - although I am heartened by following your exchange with Robert, most of which seems not only logical but easy to understand. So military tactics doent have to be complicated!

You may be interested to know that the Forum's "BMac" has written the bible on 56 Div's attack on Gommecourt - I have never read it cover to cover but have found it invaluable to dip into at odd times. One of the best value for money books I have purchased (and I will find the time to read it cover to cover). Take a look at Bill's website:

http://www.gommecourt.co.uk/place.htm

Back to anchoring the attack at Beaumont, then I am not sure you can secure Beaumont Hamel without taking Redan Ridge, but as I say I have no military training. I am sure Robert has been to the battlefield often enough and I would welcome his views.

Seasons greetings to all!

Jon S

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Back to anchoring the attack at Beaumont, then I am not sure you can secure Beaumont Hamel without taking Redan Ridge, but as I say I have no military training. I am sure Robert has been to the battlefield often enough and I would welcome his views.

Jon S

Jon,

I agree that to secure Beaumont Hamel you would need to take Redan Ridge. By anchoring the attack on the area north of the Ancre to Beaumont Hamel I am not advocating an attack to capture it. What I envisaged was seeking to neutralise the ability of the German defence in that area to intefere with the flank of the British attack on Thiepval.

This I saw being done using an artillery barrage fired along the line as far as the high ground north of the village of Beaumont Hamel as part of the overall preparatory bombardment. At Zero Hour (now called H Hour) the bombardment would continue to fall on the German defences and gun batteries north of the Ancre and be thickened with an MG barrage fired at Zero Hour, partucularly against those positions that could engage the assault in enfilade. The preparations prior to Zero would be such as to indicate an infantry assault was likley, but this would be threatened rather than actually carried out.

Thank you for the reference to Bmac's book - another one to my list of reads.

Have a great Christmas.

Best wishes

Chris

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The firing of preparatory bombardments was important. The scale and intensity of these bombardments was analysed. It seems as if it was easy to detect if a preparatory bombardment wasn't serious. Basically, this related to the intensity, breadth and depth of the bombardment. From these, and other variables, it was possible to decide how many guns were involved, of what type, etc. Damage analysis would also support an assessment of threat. If a credible preparatory bombardment feint was to be implemented, it would have drawn artillery away from the actual battlefield. Simply using divisional assets in the area concerned would have been, IMHO, wholly inadequate, bearing in mind that corps and army artillery assets would likely have been transferred to the actual battlefield.

Robert

Robert,

Your comments regarding the analysis of the preparatory bombardments are valid. I am not sure the extent to which Corps and Army artillery assets were withdrawn from other fronts to support Fourth Army. Surely, not all of them; hence some reasonable effect could have been achieved, although the availability of enough ammunition may have been a difficulty in achieving the desired deception compared with the weight of shells fired on the Somme. Do we know how many heavy batteries were in France at the time and how many of them supported Fourth Army in the preparatory bombardment?

I would envisage that in mounting a diversion, the bombardment would commence earlier than that prosposed for the main offensive if the object of drawing reserves away was to be effective. I would say a minimum of four days prior and continuing up until Zero Hour (now called H Hour) of the main offensive, if sufficient resources were available.

Yes, I agree the Entente wouldn't have known about Falkenhayn' s preoccupation with Vimy at the time. The point I was making was what we now know in hindsight is that if some diversionary activity had in fact been mounted at Vimy (one of only two places where I feel a credible diversion would have captured the German's attention) then such activity would have reinforced his concerns about Vimy.

Nonetheless, I think we are agreed that any credible diversion would have been difficult to achieve in terms of the resources available to the British and that Gommecourt was never going to achieve the object of a true diversion.

Have a great Christmas.

Best wishes

Chris

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I am not sure the extent to which Corps and Army artillery assets were withdrawn from other fronts to support Fourth Army.
Chris, I have never studied this in detail. Some artillery assets were reallocated but clearly not all. Fromelles illustrates this. Some neighbouring divisional assets were reallocated to support the divisions directly involved in the Fromelles assault, though these guns were of limited or no value in carrying out deep counter-battery work. The heavy artillery were described as 'all modern. But they were also only as good as the men manning them and Haking knew well that many of the gunners were untried. Some of the heavy batteries were so new they had not even fired a shot in France (Pedersen, 2004)'. This illustrates your point, with which I agree, that there were heavy artillery assets not transferred to the Somme. Clearly, there was a delicate balance to be struck. How many guns should be allocated to the diversion versus how many should be used to ensure success of the main attack?

Surely, not all of them; hence some reasonable effect could have been achieved, although the availability of enough ammunition may have been a difficulty in achieving the desired deception compared with the weight of shells fired on the Somme. Do we know how many heavy batteries were in France at the time and how many of them supported Fourth Army in the preparatory bombardment?

I don't know the total for France. The Fourth Army's attack on the Somme involved:

808 18-pounders

202 4.5" howitzers

32 4.7" guns

128 60-pounders

20 6" guns

1 9.2" gun

1 12" gun

104 6" howitzers

64 8" howitzers

60 9.2" howitzers

11 12" howitzers

6 15" howitzers

60 75mm field guns

24 120mm guns

16 220mm howitzers

Thirty aircraft were allocated to Fourth Army for counter-battery work.

VII Corps had an additional 2 15", 2 12", 24 9.2" and 28 6" howitzers; and 2 9.2", 2 6", 12 60-pdrs and 12 4.7" heavy guns.

Fromelles involved 40 60-pdrs, 22 6", 8 9.2", 5 12" howitzers; 2 6", and 1 9.2" guns, plus the field guns. A significant proportion of the heavy artillery was transferred from British Second Army.

I would envisage that in mounting a diversion, the bombardment would commence earlier than that prosposed for the main offensive if the object of drawing reserves away was to be effective. I would say a minimum of four days prior and continuing up until Zero Hour (now called H Hour) of the main offensive, if sufficient resources were available.
I totally agree with your comments about the timing of a diversionary bombardment. Your point is further strengthened when you take into account that the bombardment was preceded by set-up efforts - creating new emplacements, stockpiling ammunition, etc - all of which make the threat visible. The far bigger issue, though, is that the bombardment, once started, should pose a sufficient threat to be taken seriously. The German response to Fromelles, as described in the British Official History, is relevant:

'Late on the 19th July Falkenhayn telephoned to the Sixth Army for news... Assured that the situation was in no way critical, he enquired again on the afternoon of the 20th, when Kuhl informed him that only a holding attack had been delivered'.

The Bavarian artillery batteries directly behind the lines '"found it difficult to compete with the enemy weight of metal, but smothered the British trenches with fire". The artillery of the flank divisions, 50th Reserve and 54th Reserve, are said to have lent valuable assistance, and "thus the backbone of the British attack was broken before it left the trenches at 5.30 pm"'. The impact of the flank divisions' artillery illustrates the problem with a narrow frontage attack, as you know.

You made the point that a diversionary attack need not involve an infantry assault. Agreed. Fromelles illustrates, however, that if the artillery threat is not sufficient, it will not incite the necessary response, ie the shifting of enemy resources.

Contrast with Gommecourt. Leave aside the issue, for the moment, of whether it was the right place. Whether we agree or not on the location, it is striking to me that Gommecourt elicited a response. This is in sharp contrast to narrow frontage feints and attacks at other times / places throughout the war.

Robert

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I agree that to secure Beaumont Hamel you would need to take Redan Ridge. By anchoring the attack on the area north of the Ancre to Beaumont Hamel I am not advocating an attack to capture it. What I envisaged was seeking to neutralise the ability of the German defence in that area to intefere with the flank of the British attack on Thiepval.

This I saw being done using an artillery barrage fired along the line as far as the high ground north of the village of Beaumont Hamel as part of the overall preparatory bombardment. At Zero Hour (now called H Hour) the bombardment would continue to fall on the German defences and gun batteries north of the Ancre and be thickened with an MG barrage fired at Zero Hour, partucularly against those positions that could engage the assault in enfilade.

Chris, I want to look into these issues in more detail. It is not just a question of terrain, as you know. The only minor point is that in planning your alternative attack, significant MG barrages would not have been an option at this time.

Robert

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Gentlemen, to what extent do you think the Allied armies were better placed (in all senses, geographically, materially, numerically, strategically and morale wise) on the Somme in November than they had been in June? Phil B

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I`m interested to know whether you cognoscenti consider that the results were worth the outlay. Clearly, merely moving the front line a few miles eastwards was not. So what did the Big Push deliver? I don`t consider that saying "We weakened the German field army" or "Our army learnt big lessons" is adequate unless you can show that the cost was justified. Or is the question unanswerable because many factors are unquantifiable? Phil B

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QUOTE (Phil_B @ Dec 23 2006, 05:09 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
I`m interested to know whether you cognoscenti consider that the results were worth the outlay. Clearly, merely moving the front line a few miles eastwards was not. So what did the Big Push deliver? I don`t consider that saying "We weakened the German field army" or "Our army learnt big lessons" is adequate unless you can show that the cost was justified. Or is the question unanswerable because many factors are unquantifiable? Phil B

A very good question Phil and one I have lots of sympathy with. The command level of the British army had improved by 1918 but to what extent that was equitable to the losses experienced on the Somme then I would say, negilaible. As others will know from my previous posts, I believe the Germany army was still a formidable force in August 1918 and after, and I believe it was the pressure that resonated from the German Home Front that led to November 1918, although there were, admitedly, many contributable factors, I personally do not think the Western Front was the largest single factor and the Somme was, in equitable terms, a complete and utter disaster.

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  • 3 weeks later...
The only minor point is that in planning your alternative attack, significant MG barrages would not have been an option at this time.

Hi Robert,

Happy New Year to you.

The MG barrage I was proposing would have involved only sufficent guns to thicken up the artllery barrage on those German positions that could bring enfilade fire to bear on the British assault on Theipval, not the entire front of the barrage north of the Ancre. Surely sufficient MG's were available to achive this. The intention is to minimise the interference of any German positions that could have brought fire to bear on the flank of the assault.

I am not sure whether smoke shells were in sufficient quantity at this stage of the war, but if they were this would also assist to mask the left flank of the assault from north of the River. Every effort must be made to to minimise the casualties to your own forces and this involves using whatever resources are available and which can make a difference.

Regards

Chris

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You made the point that a diversionary attack need not involve an infantry assault. Agreed. Fromelles illustrates, however, that if the artillery threat is not sufficient, it will not incite the necessary response, ie the shifting of enemy resources.

Contrast with Gommecourt. Leave aside the issue, for the moment, of whether it was the right place. Whether we agree or not on the location, it is striking to me that Gommecourt elicited a response. This is in sharp contrast to narrow frontage feints and attacks at other times / places throughout the war.

Hi Robert,

I cannot bring up your post 182 as a reply, which the above quote is from.

I agree your point regarding Fromelles above. This applies to all so called "diversions" that are mounted at short notice, on a narrow front and with insufficient resources to provide a credible threat. I think we are agreed on this point. The diversion I was proposing was on a much larger scale than a "Fromelles" and against a point in the line that was important to the Germans (Vimy or Messines). Anything less would be useless, as Fromelles illustrated.

The aim is make the enemy think that the main attack is being mounted at the location the diversion is taking place. Nothing less than preparations on a scale similar to those being undertaken to support the main assault are desirable. Indeed, they should be made to look like they are greater than those occuring at the main assault location which hopefully are being sufficiently masked so that the enemy is led to think the diversion is actually the preparations for the main assault.

Fromelles, like Gommecourt, did not meet these criteria and while presented as a diversion, the attack was mounted to simply satisfy Haking's obssession with Aubers Ridge. OK, it was first proposed as a diversion, but the requirement for this to support the Somme was soon dropped. However, Haking continued to insist on the attack until he got his way.

With regard to your comment above on Gommecourt, I agree the Germans responded but this was in the same vein that they responded to the other attacks that gained a foothold in their line on 1st July. IMO this was because it was seen as being part of the main attack and, as they did at the Schwaben Redoubt, Ovillers la Boisselle, and indeed at Fromelles on the 19th, they responded with local reserves to eject the British lodgements. In my mind, Gommecourt was poorly thought through in what it sought to achieve.

The real question now is, do we think the British had the resources to mount a credible diversion to support the Somme offensive?

Regards

Chris

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Gentlemen, to what extent do you think the Allied armies were better placed (in all senses, geographically, materially, numerically, strategically and morale wise) on the Somme in November than they had been in June? Phil B

quote name='Phil_B' date='Dec 24 2006, 04:09 AM' post='582914']

I`m interested to know whether you cognoscenti consider that the results were worth the outlay. Clearly, merely moving the front line a few miles eastwards was not. So what did the Big Push deliver? I don`t consider that saying "We weakened the German field army" or "Our army learnt big lessons" is adequate unless you can show that the cost was justified. Or is the question unanswerable because many factors are unquantifiable? Phil B

Hi Phil,

Happy New Year to you.

Your questions are interesting and tough to answer. My efforts are rather paltry but it is a complex issue. Hence these are just preliminary and rather simplistic thoughts.

This is not so much a question as to whether the battle should have been fought or not. A major offensive had to be mounted at some time as part of the process of defeating the Germans and the Somme must be seen as part of that process.

Originally conceived as an offensive to take the pressure off the French at Verdun, I think it achieved this. On 11 July, Falkenhayn ordered that Crown Prince William's armies (fighting at Verdun) would "adopt a defensive posture". So in this sense it was strategically successful. On the other hand Haig's strategic objective of a major breakthrough was not achieved.

Geographically, the Theipval-Ginchy Ridge and the high ground north of the Ancre was secured thus placing the Germans on the lower ground. This and the need to shorten their line due to the losses suffered at Verdun and the Somme forced the Germans to retreat to the Hindenberg Line in February 1917. So in this sense its was tactical victory and a considerable geographic area of France was recovered.

With regard to numbers and morale I don't think the Allies were necessarily in a better position than the Germans after the Somme, although the fact that they had driven the Germans back was a major plus for them and I don't think morale in the BEF suffered to any great extent. On the other hand, the Germans must have seen the Somme as a defeat. Where other Army's mutinied in 1917, the BEF saw it through to the end without any major crisis in morale.

Were the results worth the outlay, and by outlay I am assuming that you mean the casualties incurred? Again the answer is not so much as to whether the battle should have been fought but more the way in which it was fought. Any major offensive on a scale such as the Somme was going to entail a large casualty list but IMO these were unacceptably excessive for what was achieved and nothing can be put forward to justify them. As Jon has said, in this sense the battle was a disaster. Putting 1st July aside, too often British and Dominion troops were wasted in poorly concieved, uncoordinated and ill-prepared attacks. Where attacks were properly planned, coordinated and prepared, such as the 14th July and 15th September, good results were achieved with relatively fewer casualties. I wouldn't completely dismiss the "lessons learned" for lessons were learned at most levels, but they cannot be put forward to justify the slaughter and they were not always applied across the board thereafter.

Apologies for the rather paltry reply but you pose a thought provoking question that deserves greater consideration than can adequately be made in a post.

Regards

Chris

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Hi Chris. Happy New Year to you as well.

The MG barrage I was proposing would have involved only sufficent guns to thicken up the artllery barrage on those German positions that could bring enfilade fire to bear on the British assault on Theipval, not the entire front of the barrage north of the Ancre. Surely sufficient MG's were available to achive this. The intention is to minimise the interference of any German positions that could have brought fire to bear on the flank of the assault.
I understand, and agree with, the reasoning you put forward. To do it properly, a relatively large number of MGs would have been needed. There would have been sufficient MGs. The problem, however, was that the concept you are proposing, which involved coordination of batteries of MGs, was not widely recognised as an option.

I am not sure whether smoke shells were in sufficient quantity at this stage of the war, but if they were this would also assist to mask the left flank of the assault from north of the River. Every effort must be made to to minimise the casualties to your own forces and this involves using whatever resources are available and which can make a difference.
I agree with the concept of masking the left flank, particularly if coupled with suppressing fire. I think that smoke shells were not available in any quantity. Smoke was considered as part of the attack planning. Mortar bombs and smoke candles are mentioned. I do not have the sources with me but will post the relevant material when I get back home. Given the location of the German positions on the north bank of the Ancre, the smoke screen would have needed to extend quite a distance - further than mortar bombs could reach. Smoke candles could generate very dense smoke clouds but the distribution of the screen would have been totally dependent on wind conditions.

Robert

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Originally conceived as an offensive to take the pressure off the French at Verdun, I think it achieved this. Chris

Thanks, Chris. A small, but important, point though. Planning for the British Somme offensive started in late 1915 BEFORE the Verdun attack had been sanctioned, let alone started. Verdun can`t be taken as the cause or justification for the Somme. It was surely fought because that`s what was expected? Phil B

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QUOTE (Phil_B @ Jan 9 2007, 10:52 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
A small, but important, point though. Planning for the British Somme offensive started in late 1915 BEFORE the Verdun attack had been sanctioned, let alone started. Verdun can`t be taken as the cause or justification for the Somme. It was surely fought because that`s what was expected?

Hi Phil,

You are quite correct, the Somme was not "initially conceived" to relieve pressure on the French at Verdun, however, this became one the main objectives as planning progressed. My poor choice of words.

The planning for what became the Somme came out of an agreement at the allied military conference held at Chantilly on 6 December, to the effect that in 1916 the four powers (France, Britain, Russia and Italy) should deliver offensives, as nearly simultaneously as possible, with their maximum forces on their respective fronts. On 28 December the British Cabinet approved a paper of intention which included " Every effort is to be made for carrying out the offensive operation next spring in the main theatre of war (France and Flanders) in close cooperation with the Allies, and in the greatest possibel strength.". A week later the following was added to the cabinet approval " ... although it must not be assumed that such operations are finally decided upon." The cabinet didn't finally give approval for a combined offensive with the French in the summer until 7th April 1916.

Following on from the original agreement, in February 1916, Haig and Joffre agreed on the the area of the Somme for a possible Anglo-French offensive, which was where the inter-allied boundary was. While Rawlinson subsequently studied the Somme lines and commenced planning for an offensive in that area, preparations for a major British offensive in other British sectors continued and Haig's preference was for a summer campaign in Flanders.

The events at Verdun put the British and French at variance regarding the timing and location for the summer offfensive. As Verdun progressed, Haig became concerned that the proposed Anglo-French offensive on the Somme might simply become a British offensive due to the French having to commit more and more divisions into the battle. Haig still preferred a British offensive to be made in Flanders. When the French, in response to a direct question from GHQ, finally agreed to commit 12 Divisions "to support the British" (rather than the 40 divisions originally intended for a major offensive for 1916), Haig finally agreed to the Somme. While Haig was for a mid-August date, Joffre insisted on an earlier date to relieve the pressure on the French at Verdun (Joffre, according to Haig's diary, claimed "The French Army would cease to exist if we did nothing till then") and in response to Joffre's demands Haig nominated "1 July or thereabouts".

Thus while you are quite correct in saying that the idea for a major offensive in 1916 began in late 1915, I think I am correct in saying that, subsequently, one of the main objectives of the Somme offensive was to relieve pressure on the French at Verdun and in that the Somme achieved this obejctive very early in the battle.

regards

Chris

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Thus while you are quite correct in saying that the idea for a major offensive in 1916 began in late 1915, I think I am correct in saying that, subsequently, one of the main objectives of the Somme offensive was to relieve pressure on the French at Verdun and in that the Somme achieved this obejctive very early in the battle.

regards

Chris

Thanks, Chris, though I suspect that:-

1/ Haig`s conduct of the Somme battle would have differed little had Verdun not been an influence and

2/ As you say, relief of Verdun pressure was achieved early on but Somme went on regardless, which makes Verdun seem incidental? Phil B

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QUOTE (Phil_B @ Jan 11 2007, 08:39 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Thanks, Chris, though I suspect that:-

1/ Haig`s conduct of the Somme battle would have differed little had Verdun not been an influence and

2/ As you say, relief of Verdun pressure was achieved early on but Somme went on regardless, which makes Verdun seem incidental? Phil B

Hi Phil,

Yes I agree with both points. My point concerning Verdun was in reference to taking pressure off the French was one of the objectives, and it was achieved. This was more Joffre's objective than Haig's and I don't think this was incidental in the overall scheme of allied operations in 1916. The way in which Haig and Rawlinson conducted the battle, I think, was driven by Haig's strategic objective of seeking a major breakthrough in the German line.

regards

Chris

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The problem, however, was that the concept you are proposing, which involved coordination of batteries of MGs, was not widely recognised as an option.

Hi Robert,

Looking back through Infantry Training 1914 chapter XV Section 160 pp 201- 202 talks about brigading sections of MG under certain circumstances to achieve a better effect. Para 3 p 202 says "By employing several sections under the control of one commander a brigade commander is able to keep a powerful reserve of fire in hand to be used for any special purpose, the probability of obtaining good effect at ranges beyond 1,200 yards is increased, and it is easier to ensure that the fire is directed on the objective desired by the brigade commander." Para 7 also recognises that MG provided opportunities " in assising the advance of their infantry ... in covering an exposed flank, ... "

This infers that the concept of coordinating sections and possibly batteries of MG to protect a flank was well understood as early as 1914. I also seem to recall seeing photos taken from newsreel of MG firing a barrage at long distance in support of an attack supposedly on 1st July.

Regards

Chris

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Chris, there are references to indirect barrage fire prior to the war as well. The problem, as I have understood it so far, is that the practice lagged a long way behind the theory. This reflected the lack of widespread understanding and acceptance of these principles in the intermediate levels of command, mirroring the problem with counter-battery fire. To have a major effect, large numbers of MGs were needed. They had to be 'brigaded' together, ie handled as if they were Army assets. This required a coordinated, centrally-driven fireplan, as well as alignment of supply and other logistics. The Canadians had picked up on this prior to 1916.

Robert

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By employing several sections under the control of one commander a brigade commander...
Chris, the clue to the root cause of the problem, as I have seen it described by MG officers, lies in the fact that in 1914 (and still to large extent in mid-1916), 'brigade commander' refers to an infantry officer, not specifically trained or familiar with the use of MGs. When I get back home, I will try and dig out some of the references.

Robert

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The way in which Haig and Rawlinson conducted the battle, I think, was driven by Haig's strategic objective of seeking a major breakthrough in the German line.
Chris, can I just check what you mean by this? Is it your understanding that a major breakthrough was the primary tactical objective for day one? Or are you referring to a longer-term 'strategic' objective?

Robert

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There is further information about the planning for the Somme offensive here:

 

As to whether Haig would have fought a 'different' battle in the absence of Verdun, I don't know. The French plans for the combined Somme offensive saw the BEF playing a comparatively small part (in relative terms - I think the absolute number of BEF resources was unlikely to have been different), as evidenced by Foch's plans:

 

An attack in which the BEF was playing a minor role along a 40 mile front would have been quite different. This would not, however, have changed the fundamental process that was needed to ensure ultimate victory against the Germans, as discussed in this thread previously. A single battle, or series of battles, or a single campaign of a series of battles, does not a total victory make. This was not unique to World War 1.

Robert

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