17 November 2005
The Somme, Channel Four, 9pm, Monday 14 November

Some observations:

  • Good special effects.  I especially liked the battle sound effects and the whizzing sound of the bullets.  OK, so we’ve heard it a fair few times over recent years (starting with Private Ryan) but it’s still good.
  • One gets the feeling the Blackadder Goes Forth school of history is having a hard time of it.  Although this was still very much of that ilk one got the impression that they were drawing in their horns.  There was a lot less of the walking in rows, generals were buffoons of the sort I can remember from the 1970s.  The revisionists are starting to win the argument.
  • War is awful.  Yup, message received loud and clear.  Several times.  But so what?  Ok, try to avoid it.  Splendid.  But what if you can’t avoid it?  Answer came there none.  Now, I suppose I might be being a tad optimistic to hope for a discussion of how the British army improved its ammunition, fire plans, gun registration, infantry tactics secrecy and reconnaisance but I would expect something…
  • The real problem is that although they mentioned most of the key issues: Verdun, Britian’s tiny pre-War army etc, the producers failed to join up the dots.  What was the impact of Verdun on the Somme?  What was the effect of Britain having such a small pre-War army (an army that got a lot smaller by Christmas)?  Their biggest failing was omitting to state what the Somme was for.  It was not to gain territory.  It was to relieve the pressure on the French at Verdun and to wear out the Germans.  It achieved both of these things.  Within days of the opening of the Somme the Germans went on the defensive at Verdun.  The German Official history describes the Somme (not Verdun) as the “muddy grave of the German field army”1.
  • Then a real howler.  At the end, they stated that very little ground was gained at the Somme.  Wasn’t it?  A few months later the Germans withdrew up to 30 miles in operation Alberich.  Intelligent readers might like to ask themselves why.

1. All the Kaiser’s Men, Ian Passingham, Sutton (2003), p127

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  1. I wondered why they didn’t bring up Verdun, particularly after mentioning the French involvement. The French troops were used to this sort of thing, having had experience of Verdun.

    Also, tanks should have been mentioned.

    Posted by Milo Thurston on 18 November 2005 at 08:16pm

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