Sunday, November 24, 2013

Review of The German Army on the Somme 1914-1916

Author:  Jack Sheldon.
Title:  The German Army on the Somme 1914-1916.
Publisher:  Sword and Pen Books.
Copyright:  2006 (2007 and 2012).
Pages:  432.
Price:  $32.50 (US).

Even after a week of constant reading, it took a while to get through The German Army on the Somme 1914-1916.  The author does an excellent job with his sources.  The narrative flows uninterrupted throughout the book.  However, there is so much material to cover with the Battle of the Somme, I felt overwhelmed at times reading it.

There are nine chapters.  Each chapter runs about 40-50 pages.  Chapters 4-9 cover from July 1, 1916 to December 31, 1916.  The grind of positional warfare comes across in the reading.  Units are chewed up and spent by artillery and machine gun fire.  What's left is sent back to the rear to rest and rebuild.  Afterward, the same units are put in the trenches again to began the process all over.  But the German army held the Somme despite the huge expenditure of Allied men and material.

I've always had a bad taste for Field Marshal Haig.  Historians have given him mixed reviews.  Even though this was mainly about the German war effort on the Somme, the loss of British soldiers is folly bordering on criminal.  Some 600,000 casualties for five months of slaughter.  60,000 dead on the first day of July 1916 alone.  Statistics like that boggle my mind.  The losses are enormous.  But that is the product of industrialized death during the modern era.  I read about the Germans running out of shells for their artillery batteries and having to conserve them in the face of the huge Allied shell expenditure.  Landscape becoming as barren as the moon because of the constant shelling.  Trench-foot, rats, flies, and the mud sapping the life out of the combatants during the lulls in fighting.  Talk about hell on earth.  That was the Somme...

The Germans did a good job husbanding their troops.  They stopped defending every inch of ground when Ludendorff and Hindenburg took over the German war effort in the summer of 1916.  Until then, the Germans suffered high casualties with their hold at all cost tactics.  But the whole Somme effort crippled the German army with losses it could never make up afterwards.

Recommended.  Though I've had an easier time reading other WWI histories.  Most of this book is actual after action reports and recollections of German veterans.  

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