been written about the Battle of the Somme and it has long lain at the
heart of controversy. To many the Battle of the Somme represents tragedy
and futility. According to this analysis, the Somme was a disaster from
start to finish in which many innocent lives were lost due to the stupid
and reckless behaviour of the 'butchering and blundering' commanders.
This popular view, espoused by historians such as A J P Taylor and Alan
Clark, went largely unchallenged until other historians such as John
Terraine, Paddy Griffith, Gary Sheffield and Peter Simpkins started
to publish alternative theories. Although differing in many respects,
these historians have argued that the Somme represented an important
step forwards in the war and resulted in developments which would ultimately
lead to the defeat of Germany.
showing 142 (Durham) Heavy Battery. (DUL ref: Add MSS 1584)
together also required a change in tactics as did the circumstances.
The Army, faced with thousands of new recruits with no military experience,
was forced to standardise training and procedures and placed a greater
emphasis on the training of junior officers. Officers were also allowed
to take more initiative after the Battle of the Somme. Haig and the
other generals accepted that company commanders should be making many
tactical divisions and so the platoon rather than the company became
the key tactical unit.
developments were not confined to the infantry. In addition to pioneering
the use of the 'creeping barrage', the artillery also started to develop
the techniques of 'flash-spotting' (using the flash from the gun muzzles
of the enemy to locate enemy positions), sound-ranging (using the sound
of the enemy gunfire to calculate their position) and pre-registration
(using grid co-ordinates to target the most likely positions for guns).
These techniques allowed them to launch bombardments without giving
prior warning and proved to be very effective.
of the services also benefitted from the development of effective supply
lines. Up to and including the Battle of the Somme, supply lines were
set up on an almost ad hoc basis but this system of improvisation was
near breaking point. After the Somme, a new system of supply was brought
in by Sir Eric Geddes. This was based on predicting where supplies would
be needed and making sure that lines were quickly established. Again,
this proved very successful.
showing the signalling section of 4 Highland Light Infantry. (DUL ref:
Misc Photo Album 2)
camp see these advances and developments as being part of the learning
curve that the British Army had to embrace during the First World War
and particularly during and after the Battle of the Somme. Admittedly
progress was not smooth and the ride was bumpy but these historians
believe that the lessons learned from the Somme helped the British and
her allies to defeat the Germans in 1918.