“Publishers, app developers and filmmakers have been turning out a growing body of content to help mark the historic milestone.”
IN MANY WAYS, the 1916 Somme offensive symbolizes the carnage and futility of the wider First World War: It was an industrial-scale slaughter with no clear outcome.
Fought on the Western Front over 140 days, the operation saw 99 British, Commonwealth and French divisions assault the German defences along a 30-mile front in northeastern France. More than a million men became casualties in the savage fighting; 57,000 were killed or wounded in the first day alone! Yet despite the staggering cost in human lives, the battle did little to change the strategic situation on the Western Front — after four-and-a-half-months of unremitting bloodshed, the Allies had pushed the Germans back just six miles.
July 1, 2016 marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Somme. Not surprisingly, public interest in what for many is the defining episode of the First World War continues to mount. And for their part, publishers, app developers and film makers have been turning out a growing body of content to help mark the historic milestone. Over the past several weeks, we here at MilitaryHistoryNow.com have dutifully pored over much of it. Here are some of the highlights.
The Somme: The Epic Battle in the Soldiers’ Own Words and Photographs by journalist and historian Richard Van Emden is an oral and visual history of the landmark offensive from those who took part in it. Haunting first-hand anecdotes from survivors of the slaughter are interspersed with rare and in some cases never-before-published snapshots taken in the trenches on both sides of No Man’s Land. The 400-page volume is published by the U.K.-based Pen & Sword Books. It’s certainly worth a look.
The Somme Reconsidered
In The Battle of the Somme Companion from Osprey Publishing, 12 noted historians explore various aspects of the slaughter from military, technological and historical perspectives. Featuring an introduction from Sir Hew Strachan, the topics explored in the 288-page volume include the Somme’s strategic impact on the wider war, the role of air power in the battle, the offensive from German and French perspectives and how the human cost of the campaign has shaped our understanding of World War One. Also from the same publisher is British Infantryman vs German Infantryman: Somme 1916. Written by Stephen Bull, this 80-page softcover work compares equipment, weapons and training of the German soldier and the English Tommy. Like with many titles from Osprey, colourful art, original diagrams and archival photography help bring the analysis to life.
A Visual History
Cartoonist Joe Sacco’s The Great War: July 1, 1916. The First Day of the Battle of the Somme is like no other book about the conflict you’ve ever seen. An illustrated anatomy of the offensive’s bloody opening hours, Sacco explores the cataclysm in breathtakingly intricate detail. The 24-foot-long, hand-drawn panoramic pulls out of a cardboard sleeve and is accompanied by a 16-page booklet explaining the visuals. Originally published in 2013 by W.W. Norton, you’ll want to add the The Great War: July 1, 1916 The First Day of the Battle of the Somme to your bookshelf this summer.
The Somme Invades Your Smartphone
The Royal British Legion and Dan Snow, Britain’s best-known public historian, have joined forces to produce an impressive (and totally free) interactive digital app: Remember: The Battle of the Somme 1916 – 2016. Available for both Apple and Android smartphones and tablets, the collection features historic film footage and photography, first-hand accounts of the action and lavish animated maps that track the battle as it unfolded. For those who like their history on the cutting edge, this one’s for you. Check it out HERE.
History’s First Draft
The fighting on the Somme had been raging for just a month when the British War Office released a feature length newsreel documentary updating the public about the offensive. Shot by cameramen operating on the front lines in France, the 77-minute Battle of the Somme offered the public an unprecedented glimpse of trench warfare. Even though many of the silent film’s now iconic sequences were staged far from the battlefield (namely one depicting British Tommies going ‘over the top), much of the footage in the movie is indeed authentic. The public was spellbound by the grim battlefield visuals. “If the exhibition of this picture all over the world does not end war, god help civilization,” remarked future British prime minister David Lloyd George after a screening. Not surprisingly, the movie was a box office smash. In just six weeks it was seen seen by more than 20 million people in 18 countries — and now you can see it in its entirety here.