Why did the Battle of the Somme fail to achieve its objectives?


British Mark I tank at the Somme

The Battle of the Somme or the Somme Offensive was a series of battles that occurred during the Summer and Autumn of 1916. It involved British and French forces launching a massive assault on the German lines in an effort to break the stalemate on the Western Front. The Battle was primarily a battle between the Germans and the British. The offensive achieved very little and both sides suffered heavy casualties. The British only advanced a few miles and the German lines held. The stalemate was not broken by the offensive. Historians have argued whether the Somme was a failure or a partial success. It is clear that the British and French did not secure their main objectives during the battle. Why did the Somme offensive failed to achieve its planners’ primary goals? This failure at the Somme was due to poor leadership, planning and a stubborn German defence.

Since 1914, the war on both the eastern and the western front had become a war of attrition. Both sides had established a series of defensive lines, involving thousands of miles of trenches and they regularly attacked and counter-attacked each other for little or no strategic or tactical advantage.[1] The western military and the governments were eager to end the war or at least to be seen as delivering a victory. There were concerns that the public would not tolerate a war indefinitely.

The resources of France and Britain had become stretched and they needed a victory to demonstrate that they were winning the war to their public. There was a genuine desire to end the stalemate which was costing thousands of lives per week.[2] Then there was the strategic situation on both the eastern and the western front. The Russians had been planning their own assault on the Austro-Hungarians in the east, an attack from the west would mean that the Germans could not come to the aid of their allies in Vienna. Then there were the almost simultaneous massive battles taking place in Verdun.[3] The Germans and the French were engaged in a bloody battle for the fortress of Verdun. The French army had found itself hard pressed and many feared that they would break and this could result in the Germans driving a wedge between the British in the north and the French armies in the south. The Somme was seen as necessary to alleviate the pressure on the French and to assist the Russian offensive.

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Categories: Military History

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