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Somme: Into the Breach

de Hugh Sebag-Montefiore

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The notion of battles as the irreducible building blocks of war demands a single verdict of each campaign--victory, defeat, stalemate. But this kind of accounting leaves no room to record the nuances and twists of actual conflict. In Somme: Into the Breach, the noted military historian Hugh Sebag-Montefiore shows that by turning our focus to stories of the front line--to acts of heroism and moments of both terror and triumph--we can counter, and even change, familiar narratives. Planned as a decisive strike but fought as a bloody battle of attrition, the Battle of the Somme claimed over a million dead or wounded in months of fighting that have long epitomized the tragedy and folly of World War I. Yet by focusing on the first-hand experiences and personal stories of both Allied and enemy soldiers, Hugh Sebag-Montefiore defies the customary framing of incompetent generals and senseless slaughter. In its place, eyewitness accounts relive scenes of extraordinary courage and sacrifice, as soldiers ordered "over the top" ventured into No Man's Land and enemy trenches, where they met a hail of machine-gun fire, thickets of barbed wire, and exploding shells. Rescuing from history the many forgotten heroes whose bravery has been overlooked, and giving voice to their bereaved relatives at home, Hugh Sebag-Montefiore reveals the Somme campaign in all its glory as well as its misery, helping us to realize that there are many meaningful ways to define a battle when seen through the eyes of those who lived it.--… (mais)
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Somme – Into the Breach

Hugh Sebag-Montefiore’s latest history book is a searing account of the Somme with some fresh insight and research. While the Somme resonates here in the western Europe, and has captured the imagination during the centenary of the Battle in 1916.

There is a lot to be admired about this general history of the battle, that does not just look at the first day of the Somme but the months that followed the first attacks on the 1st July. What is good is that he does highlight that there were successes on the first day where Allied troops did break through German lines.

Into the Breach does look at the background and the build-up and planning of the offensive, while Verdun is mentioned, and linked he forgets the Somme Offensive was to relieve the under pressure French at Verdun. The Somme was supposed to punch a hole in the German lines and the battles at Verdun were therefore linked because of that. It is often forgotten here, that the British were the junior partners on the western front to the French.

There is the argument that General Rawlinson was indebted to Haig, and this caused unnecessary deaths which is used in this book, which is quite frankly irrelevant, when balancing the pressure, they were under. The Somme as well as coming about because of the French being under attack at Verdun, and the British War Cabinet needing a successful front to bring the war to an end.

Yes, the 1st July was costly for British lives, but not as bad as it had been for the French who lost over 27,000 dead in August 1914. It must not be forgotten that the French, who had been invaded during World War One, and suffered far worse deaths, double those of the British, showed heroism which is often forgotten, or simply not mentioned.

Like many historians I have read many books on this subject, even though it is easy to pick holes in the minutia Hugh Sebag-Montefiore has written one of the best accounts that is easy to read as a general history. He does acknowledge that the tactics that were employed by the British, there were no real alternatives at the time, and that it is easy from distance and hindsight to point out the errors. What he does do is pay homage to the men that served, to those killed and wounded, and recognises the suffering this battle caused.

This is an excellent general history for those who are interested to learn more about the Battle of the Somme, while it is long for some, it is an excellent introduction. While there may be more balanced books out there, they can be as dry as hell and not too readable unless you are a student and need to read the book. Into the Breach is a book that you can dip in and out of, enjoy and learn, while at the same time question various actions. While to me there could be more about the politics that surrounded the battle and its planning and the various communication and administrative problems.

This is a well-researched book, using new sources as well as frequently quoted ones and this is an excellent addition to the canon on the Somme, which I can recommend. ( )
  atticusfinch1048 | Jun 21, 2016 |
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The notion of battles as the irreducible building blocks of war demands a single verdict of each campaign--victory, defeat, stalemate. But this kind of accounting leaves no room to record the nuances and twists of actual conflict. In Somme: Into the Breach, the noted military historian Hugh Sebag-Montefiore shows that by turning our focus to stories of the front line--to acts of heroism and moments of both terror and triumph--we can counter, and even change, familiar narratives. Planned as a decisive strike but fought as a bloody battle of attrition, the Battle of the Somme claimed over a million dead or wounded in months of fighting that have long epitomized the tragedy and folly of World War I. Yet by focusing on the first-hand experiences and personal stories of both Allied and enemy soldiers, Hugh Sebag-Montefiore defies the customary framing of incompetent generals and senseless slaughter. In its place, eyewitness accounts relive scenes of extraordinary courage and sacrifice, as soldiers ordered "over the top" ventured into No Man's Land and enemy trenches, where they met a hail of machine-gun fire, thickets of barbed wire, and exploding shells. Rescuing from history the many forgotten heroes whose bravery has been overlooked, and giving voice to their bereaved relatives at home, Hugh Sebag-Montefiore reveals the Somme campaign in all its glory as well as its misery, helping us to realize that there are many meaningful ways to define a battle when seen through the eyes of those who lived it.--

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