The Modernization of the British Army, The Battle of the Somme, 1916

The Battle of the Somme saw horrendous loss of life and suffering on an unimaginable scale. This World War I battle is particularly seen as a symbol of the futility of war and the huge price that is paid by the people involved. On July 1 1916 the casualties were the highest of any British battle to date. Some 20,000 men were killed and 40,000 wounded on that one day alone.

The stark facts of the Battle of the Somme are difficult to comprehend. In the 141 days of the conflict the Allies advanced a mere 7 miles at the cost of many thousands of lives. Losses were on an unimaginable scale on both sides. The Allies lost 125,000 men. Almost 300,000 were injured. The German Army suffered the loss of even more men than the Allies – some put the figures as high as 680,000 dead and wounded.

These facts are shocking. However, the Battle of the Somme is also seen as a turning point in the modernization of the British Army. It was a huge price to pay, but lessons were learned. Many historians argue that the Battle of the Somme paved the way for the Allied victory in 1918.

One of the most significant changes was in the realization that training of recruits had to be improved and standardized. The push to enlist meant that one million men had joined the Allied forces by Christmas of 1914. At first the army training program was not able to deal efficiently with training such a large number of raw recruits. Training was greatly improved after the Battle of the Somme.

Following the Battle of the Somme it was also recognized that more control to make decisions should be given to the Officers on the ground rather than a centralized command. Communication was slow and a higher command did not always have the ability to make informed decisions about what action the troops should take. Officers on the ground were given more power over decisions of how to act in particular situations.

There were also many advancements in military tactics. The Battle of the Somme was the first conflict in which the technique of the “creeping barrage” was used. This innovative tactic allowed for a more efficient advancement by placing artillery fire just ahead of the infantry, rather than the simpler technique of a long artillery bombardment ahead of the advance.

Other techniques were developed which made it easier to detect the location of the enemy. These included flash spotting which was a technique which involved observing the flash of light from a gun when fired to located the position of the artillery.

The aftermath of the Battle of the Somme also saw a much more efficient organization of supply lines to the troops. Prior to that time the supply line system was disorganized and haphazard. The development of a supply line system greatly enhanced the efficiency of the troops.

Airborne reconnaissance also began to play a much larger part in gathering intelligence for the Allies. A lot of important information was gathered from airborne missions. The different branches of the forces started to communicate and work together much more effectively. The Air Force started to work closely with the artillery and infantry providing them with intelligence and air cover.

The loss of life at the Battle of the Somme can never be forgotten or its impact diminished. However, the men who sacrificed their lives and the families who lost their loved ones did not suffer in vain. The Battle of the Somme ultimately paved the way for the Allied victory in 1918. The lessons that were learned were crucial to the ending the Great War.


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