A battle won is a battle which we will not acknowledge to be lost… Ferdinand Foch


 

Wilhelm II, Emperor of Germany and King of Prussia; King George V, 1913.

Wilhelm II, Emperor of Germany and King of Prussia; King George V, 1913.

Three armies on the Somme : the first battle of the twentieth century William Philpott New York : Alfred A. Knopf, [2010], c 2009 Hardcover. Originally published in Great Britain in different form as Bloody victory : the sacrifice on the Somme and the making of the twentieth century : the battle, the myth, the legacy by Little, Brown … in London, in 2009. 1st U.S. ed. xiii, 631 p., [24] p. of plates : ill., maps ; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

General Officers of World War I .

General Officers of World War I .

For decades, the Battle of the Somme has exemplified the horrors and futility of trench warfare. Yet in Three Armies on the Somme, Philpott makes an argument that the battle ultimately gave the British and French forces on the Western Front the knowledge and experience to bring World War I to a stalemate and the American’s to a victorious end.

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It was the most brutal fight in a war that scarred generations. Infantrymen lined up opposite massed artillery and machine guns. Chlorine gas filled the air. The dead and dying littered the shattered earth of no man’s land. Survivors were rattled with shell-shock. We remember the shedding of so much young blood and condemn the generals who sent their men to their deaths. Ever since, the Somme has been seen as a waste: even as the war continued, respected leaders — Winston Churchill and David Lloyd George among them — judged the battle a pointless one.

Douglas Haig, 1st Earl Haig; Ferdinand Foch; John Joseph Pershing .

Douglas Haig, 1st Earl Haig; Ferdinand Foch; John Joseph Pershing .

While previous histories have rightly documented the missteps of British command, no account has fully recognized the fact that allied generals were witnessing the spontaneous evolution of warfare even as they sent their troops “over the top.” Philpott shows that twentieth-century war as we know it simply didn’t exist before the Battle of the Somme: new technologies like the armored tank made their battlefield debut, while developments in communications lagged behind commanders’ needs. Attrition emerged as the only means of defeating industrialized belligerents that were mobilizing all their resources for war. At the Somme, the allied armies acquired the necessary lessons of modern warfare, without which they could never have prevailed.

King George V visiting the Red Cross War Hospital, Torquay

King George V visiting the Red Cross War Hospital, Torquay

 

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