Britain And The Western Front of World War One

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Question 1: How would these posters help to encourage British men to join the army?

These posters would have helped encourage men to join the army by making them feel guilty, how would they face their families in the years to come; what would happen when there grandchildren asked what they did in the war. It would also help by appealing to national pride, this is there country keep it that way.

Question 2: What impression would British civilians get of life in the trenches from source B?

It gives a false impression of what life in the trenches was like. The soldiers weren’t comfortable as depicted, they weren’t out of danger as is shown by their carelessness and they didn’t get as much rations e.g. cigarettes as they wanted either. There isn’t any smoke or mud and they act as if they have plenty of time whereas in the trenches it would be a great rush to get out of the trenches because the enemy would have snipers and machine gunners ready to cut the men down.

Question 3: what impression do you get of the trenches from sources C and D?

The impression that you get of life in the trenches is that it was far from pleasant. They were infested with lice and beetles, which would have made it an even more ghastly place to live. The men had no cover and the trenches were full of water and mud, which would have made it hard to sleep; and to go with that because of the lack of shelter many died from exposure and pneumonia. It gives the impression that it would be one of the worst places ever to have to live in.

Question 4: What are the advantages and disadvantages of this type of source to an historian writing about life in the trenches?

The advantages of a source like this are that it was written by some one who was there and it has things about the trenches in it but it wasn’t written at the time and the man who wrote could have over exaggerated a bit but that is quite unlikely.

Question 5: Using the sources in this section and your own knowledge write an account of what life in the trenches was like for a British soldier.

Life in the trenches was very bad, after rain of any kind you were up to your knees in mud. The trenches were also infested with lice and other vermin. The smell was the worst though; unemptied latrine buckets, half buried bodies decomposing, rotting sandbags and the acrid smoke that choked your lungs hung in the air so thick the suns light barely ever reached the ground. Many suffered from trench foot and many died from exposure and pneumonia because there was no shelter, they slept out in the open of the trench.

If they sent a gas attack at night the only chance you had was the person on watch realising and warning you before you died silently in your sleep. There were many diseases that ran rife in the trenches; dysentery and some times cholera and scurvy. When you attacked you had to attack straight at the front because there was no way around the enemy trenches. There was very little chance of survival due to the mass of enemy machine guns and for the lucky few that survived the only prospect was returning to the trenches and the hellish life they led there. They were quite well fed but occasionally their rations didn’t arrive and they would have to forage for food.

Section B: Preparation And Planning

Question 6: According to source F why did the British take the decision to launch an attack on the Somme?

According to source F the British launched an attack on the Somme because they needed to relieve pressure on their allies the French army at Verdun. They attacked to help distract the enemy from the French at Verdun and also to wear down the enemy as much as possible by attrition.

Question 7: How might the advice given in source G have influenced Haig in the planning of the Somme offensive?

The advice in source G could have influenced Haig to be less cautious in his attack and merely throw wave upon wave of men at the German trenches instead of trying other routes to victory. It could also have made him believe that all he needed was as many men as possible, and bravely led they would capture the enemy trenches.

Question 8: Study the sources G and H. What similarities and differences can you find in the opinions of Haig and Foch?

The similarities between Foch and Haig’s opinions were, that success depends on morale and determination, and with them it is possible to capture machine guns and trenches. The differences in their opinions are; Haig doesn’t believe numerical advantage is important in capturing machine guns as he states it is “a much overrated” weapon whereas Foch acknowledges the machine gun’s prowess.

Question 9: According to source I what was the difference of opinion between Rawlinson and Haig over the planned offensive?

According to source I the main difference in opinion between them was that Haig wanted to use infantry to break through the enemy lines whereas Rawlinson wished to use artillery to break through the enemy lines and the infantry to hold the captured trenches.

Question 10: Using the information in the sources and your own knowledge explain why Haig felt the battle of the Somme was necessary.

Haig felt the battle of the Somme was necessary because he needed to alleviate pressure from the French army at Verdun and he hoped to wear down the enemy as much as possible (source F). He also believed that he would be able to deal the Germans a considerable blow or at least to wear them down with attrition and be in the superior position. He chose to attack at the Somme because the two other possible places to attack from where not as suitable; he could have attacked at Vimi ridge, which was a veritably impenetrable maze of German trenches. The other place was Ypres in Belgium several battles had already been fought there and the ground was more water than earth, it was a quagmire and would remove any momentum from an attack. The Somme was the perfect place to attack, the land was flat and undisturbed; the ground was also chalk which removed the chance that it could flood.

Section C: The Battle Of The Somme

Question 11: What evidence is there in source J to suggest that the bombardment was a failure?

The evidence is that the Germans hid in underground bunkers, which protected them from the bombardment leaving them untouched. After the bombardment the Germans rushed to their positions to await the British attack leaving the bombardment to not have filled its objectives and therefore be a failure.

Question 12: According to source K who was responsible for the failure to destroy the barbed wire?

According to source K the Generals were responsible for the failure to destroy the barbed wire; according to source K it was a well-known fact that artillery fire doesn’t destroy barbed wire.

Question 13: What criticisms are made of Haig in this report?

It states that Haig lived in luxury which means he wasn’t prepared to make the same sacrifices as his men were. He does not appear to care about the way his men lived. This source shows Haig was out of touch with the way his army lived.

Question 14: How does the evidence in source M support the view that the battle of the Somme was badly planned?

It is shown to have been badly planned because the men had to carry over 66lbs with them when they advanced on the German trenches; they carried all their equipment and supplies. They could barely move let alone fight and when the Germans that had hidden in the bunkers opened fire the British were massacred because they could barely move due to the inhibitions of all the equipment they were carrying.

Question 15: What advantages and disadvantages does source N have to an historian writing about the battle of the Somme?

The advantages of the source are that it is about the battle of the Somme and it has been written by someone who was there but the one disadvantage of it is that the man does not seem to be very sane.

Question 16: Using the information in the sources and your own knowledge, what happened at the battle of the Somme?

The battle of the Somme began on the 1st of July 1916. The battle was preceded by a 7-day artillery bombardment, which ended at 6:50 am on the 1st of July; the first wave went over the top at 7:00 am. Unknown to the soldiers and the generals the artillery bombardment that was supposed to have destroyed the barbed wire and killed all the enemy in the German trenches had failed to achieve either of its objectives (sources J and K) because the enemy had hidden in underground bunkers and artillery fire doesn’t destroy barbed wire. The first wave went over the top bearing all its equipment (source M) over 66lbs per man, which hampered their movement considerably leaving them only able to advance at a slow walk.

Thus the encumbered men met the uncut barbed wire and were presently slaughtered by the German machine guns. After the 1st wave fell back with up to 90% casualties it was the turn of the second wave to attack; and they did even though they knew what was awaiting them. This is how the first day of the Somme passed, with wave upon wave of men charging into enemy gunfire. The only successes came from the southern half of the battlefield where some of the enemy trenches were taken. By nightfall on the first day the British had suffered 60 000 casualties, 20 000 dead and 40 000 wounded; some of the units had suffered 90% casualties. The battle went on until November when the British were forced to stop attacking because the weather was so bad. As the battle progressed Haig tried out new strategies, like night attacks, going under the trenches with mines and tanks but none of these made a great difference during the battle.

Tanks were introduced in September but all their attacks failed because they either got stuck in the mud or broke down. It wasn’t just the British and the French that fought on the Somme; troops came from all over the commonwealth. On the 15th of July 3000 south Africans fought at delville wood, which was nicknamed devil wood and after 5 days there were only 800 of them left. Australian troops tried to capture Pozieres over 6 weeks (July and August) and lost 23 000 men in its capture. The worst casualties on the Somme were taken by Newfoundland (Canadian) troops at Beaumont Hamel; they lost 700 men out of 850 in 20 minutes. The total casualties on the British side was 420 000 dead and they gained 125 square miles. This means that for every dead British soldier they gained 0.476 square metres (approx). The French lost 200 000 men.

Section D: Lions Led By Donkeys?

Question 17: Do sources O and P support or contradict the evidence in source k. Explain your answer.

Sources O and P contradict source K by saying that the barbed wire was well cut and that the attack was going really well. Whereas in source K it says that the barbed wire was still there and the British were being killed easily by the German machine guns. He also says “the enemy is so short of men he is collecting them from all parts of the line” which he could not possibly have known, what is stated in sources O and P is not what actually happened at the battle of the Somme on these dates.

Question 18: What points is Haig trying to make in source Q?

Haig is trying to point out that he cannot win the war without people dieing. He is trying to make people see how costly the war is going to be. Another thing he might be trying to do is make excuses for himself before he has even begun. He is also showing that if the nation is taking heavy casualties then the war is going to plan and it will all be over soon.

Question 19: How does this source help to explain why Haig saw the first day of the Somme as a “success” in source P?

This helps explain why Haig viewed the first day of the Somme as a success; by explaining how he is expecting heavy casualties and so when he gets them he isn’t worried because he thinks its all going to plan. Haig also thought that if he was taking heavy casualties the enemies must be taking much worse.

Question 20: Why does Douglas Haig feel that the battle of the Somme was justified?

Haig feels it was justified because it achieved a lot; he wore down the enemy, he gained some land, left the enemy with low morale and gained a huge amount of experience for the troops. It also left the enemy weak and helped bring about the end of war by; letting the enemy believe that the allies could carry on having battles like the Somme all over the western front.

Question 21: In what ways does source S support Haig’s belief that the battle of the Somme was vital to the eventual allied victory (source R)?

Source S supports Haig’s claims that the Somme lowered the enemy morale and also threatened them with Somme type battles all over the western front. Which would eventually win the war for the allies because they had greater numbers of men and material than the Germans did.

Question 22: In what ways do sources T and U suggest that Haig was a successful general?

Sources T and U suggest that Haig was a successful general by pointing out that a successful general is one who wins wars as Haig did. They also point out that though the cost of victory was appalling, Haig’s methods were in line with the ideas of the time. He also pushed the most powerful army the in the world off French soil. In source U it presents some peoples argument that the Somme should never have been fought, because no battle is worth fighting unless it provides an immediate result. It goes on to say that this is as stupid as saying that in a prize fight no blow is worth delivering unless it knocks out the opponent. The point of the Somme was not annihilate the enemy but to wear her down as much as possible, weakening her for the knockout blow or to leave her with so little men that the war could not be sustained much longer.

Question 23: Using the information in the sources as well as your own knowledge, were contemporaries correct in regarding the British army as “lions led by donkeys”?

To answer this question I must first say what I interpret the statement “lions led by donkeys” to mean; which is that all the men had the characteristics of lions e.g. courageous, fearsome and strong. And that all the generals had the characteristics of donkeys e.g. stupid, stubborn, old fashioned, etc.

To decide whether the generals were donkeys and men lions I will first look at General Douglas Haig commander in chief of the British army in particular and at the men in general.

Haig was trained in the royal military college in Sandhurst, he was taught how to fight with cavalry, not to shrink from the attack etc. After completing his training he joined the 7th Hussars (cavalry regiment), he experienced active service in Sudan (1898) and the Boer war (1899-1902) where he served under major-general Sir John French. The enemies he fought against in Africa had no modern weaponry and this is where Haig got most of his idea about war, which left him without any experience when it came to modern warfare. Haig began the war under the command of Sir John French in 1914, Haig was appointed commander in chief in December 1915 after Sir John French’s retirement. Haig was under pressure from home to finish the war quickly and from the French calling for continued action on the western front to distract the Germans from where they were attacking the French army at Verdun. He and one of his generals then came up with the idea for the Somme offensive.

He had a 7-day bombardment before the men were to attack and this was supposed to destroy the barbed wire and kill the men in the trenches but it accomplished none of its objectives and so as the British attacked trenches they believed to be empty of German soldiers they were cut down by machine gun fire (sources J and K). He carried on attacking until November when the weather was so bad he had to abandon the assault. During the whole battle they had advanced 12km and suffered 420 000 British casualties and 200 000 French casualties. Many will claim Haig should have called off the attack after the 1st day when there were 60 000 casualties and that this shows Haig’s stubbornness.

There are several points you have to take into consideration though and they are: John Chateris Haig’s head of intelligence was supplying him with overly optimistic information which lead Haig to believe that one more push and he could win the battle. Also the man who was planning Haig’s battles General Kiggel never went to the trenches until 1917; after 10 minutes he suffered a nervous breakdown. Haig was also expecting heavy casualties (source Q) so when he gets them he isn’t worried, he thinks everything is going to plan and he carries on attacking because of these combined factors: the pressure from the French, the information of Chateris and the pressure from home to end the war.

One battle that he has no excuses for is the 3rd battle of Ypres or Passchendaele in 1917. Haig ordered attacks uphill against fortified German positions, which had concrete pillboxes. The battle was a disaster, the battlefield turned into a quagmire, med drowned in shell holes or were sucked under by the mud, supplies couldn’t get through and basically the whole army got stuck in the mud. Within 1 mile of Ypres a 3rd of all British dead during world war one are buried.

Haig did try out new ideas and strategies as the war progressed; mining under the German trenches, planes for reconnaissance but by the time he received the information it was out of date, he tried tanks but there attacks largely failed because they either broke down or got stuck in the mud they did win one battle though at Flers. As the war progressed the British troops got better and so did the artillery, by the end of the war the British had by far the best artillery. The advancement of the British army is shown best by their last battle at Amiens in 1918; it was a big victory because all the parts of the army worked together and it all went to plan. On the 11th of November 1918 the war ended and Haig was cheered. At the end of the war the British had suffered a total of 723 000 dead and many more wounded; even so they didn’t lose that many more men than everyone else. And we have keep in mind source Q because in it Haig makes a real point he cannot win a war without the sacrifice of men’s lives.

Next I will look at the men and whether they truly were lions. Many of the soldiers in the 1st world war were under the age of 18 and weren’t actually the right age to enter the army. Most people also believed that it would be an easy war and that it would be over by Christmas. They men still fought though and carried on volunteering after Christmas and ultimately won the war, and they showed much bravery in doing so. For example at the Somme the second wave to come out of the trenches knew what was awaiting them and carried on anyway.

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