One of the bloodiest battles in world history—a military tragedy that would come to define a generation.
On July 1, 1916, the British Army launched the “Big Push” that was supposed to bring an end to the horrific stalemate on the Western Front between British, French, and German forces. What resulted was one of the greatest single human catastrophes in twentieth century warfare. Scrambling out of trenches in the face of German machine guns and artillery fire, the Allied Powers lost over twenty thousand soldiers that first day. This “battle” would drag on for another four bloody months, resulting in over one million causalities among the three powers.
As the oral historian at the Imperial War Museum in London, Peter Hart has brought to light new material never before seen or heard. The Somme is an unparalleled evocation of World War I’s iconic contest—the definitive account of one of the major tragedies of the twentieth century.
Hart is the current master of an approach to military history developed by Martin Middlebrook and Lyn Macdonald. Direct quotations from participants establish the face of battle, then combined with a narrative/analytical backdrop contextualizing the personal experiences. As oral historian of Britain's Imperial War Museum, Hart has unrivaled access to relevant sources. This book, published in Britain in 2005, is a masterful synthesis of the human and the operational aspects of a campaign that increasingly defines the British experience in the Great War. Hart vividly presents the runup to the Big Push expected to end the war; the disaster of July 1, 1916, when the British army suffered nearly 60,000 casualties; and the numbing months of attrition as British troops bled against the German defenses. Hart describes the horror as reflecting not the stupidity of individual generals and politicians but the determination of nations to resolve their differences by a war fought to the finish. The British army learned how to fight battles like the Somme, built around fire power. But its learning curve was slippery with blood. Hart honors the men who paid the price. Photos, maps.
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An Ode to Those Who Fight in Wars
I have long wanted to read about WW1 from the point of view of those who fought in the trenches of the Western Front. Peter Hart's book revealed the feeling of those who suffered, fought and died in the struggle born in the ignorance of the leaders of nations and their peoples. Hart's book should be required reading in schools both here and abroad lest ours and future generations make the same mistakes as those who have gone before us.