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This is a comprehensive story of the British offensive on the Somme. It is rich in historical detail. A great part of this detail consists of excerpts from diaries and reports of the actual participants, from generals to privates.
It helped me expand my knowledge of this important part of WW1 and gave me some insight into some of the appalling decisions made by the British general command as well as the motivations and courage of those tasked with carrying those decisions.
The author provides sources for his many excerpts of original material. Unfortunately he chose to provide these attributions in the body of the text instead of in a footnote. This lead the producer of this book to include these attributions in the reading of the text. This interrupts the narrative flow with frequent and repetitive citations. These attributions are fine in a printed work, but the producer should have omitted them in the audio recording.
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Peter Hart is the oral historian of Britain’s Imperial War Museum. Hart has written a well research book and has dissected the battle in detail. Hart mixes facts and figures with direct quotations from participants to help establish “the face of battle”. This narrative/analytical backdrop contextualizing the personal experiences makes for dramatic reading of the battle. Because of his job at the War Museum Hart has unrivaled access to relevant source material. The author vividly presents the run up to the “big push” expected to end the war, instead resulted in the disaster of the first day July 1, 1916. The British suffered nearly 60,000 casualties, the greatest one day lost in the history of the British Army. Hart does make a point that General Douglas Haig (British Army) wanted to start the 1916 campaign in Belgium but French General Joffre the overall commander insisted on the Somme. The battle lasted for four deadly months.
The British had only a small army as it always relied upon its navy to fight its wars. Prior wars in Europe the British primarily control the ocean and relied on its allies to fight on land. In World War One the British had to quickly build an army so it depended heavily on its colonies to man the army. The 1st Newfoundland Regiment of the Canadian Army was virtually wiped out at Beaumont Hamel on the first day of the battle July 1, 1916. The Canadian army lost 24,713 men at the Somme. Most people have never heard of Delville Wood, but if you mention it in South Africa you will find it is still a place of fame, only 780 out of 3153 men in the South African Regiment survived the battle. A comprehensive study of the battle of the Somme (1916) found that a million combatants were killed/wounded. The British Army learned to fight in the campaign with numerous innovations such as walking artillery fire, and tanks were used for the first time.
The Somme occupies a hallowed place in British memory comparable to Gallipoli for Australians or Gettysburg for Americans, but on a much bigger scale. With just under a half million causalities this was the costliest battle the British Army has ever fought. As I listened to this as an audio book, I used the internet for maps and pictures of the battle of the Somme. I understand the actual book contained many pictures and maps. Mark Ashby did an excellent job narrating the book. This is a must read book for anyone studying the battle of the Somme.
6 of 7 people found this review helpful