Learning Curve, The Great War
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Useful notes: Source2
Orders sent out to British commanders, 22 June 1916
(Catalogue ref: WO 158/234)
  • This document sets out the orders for the opening of the Battle of the Somme. It was originally due to start on 28 June, but was delayed until 1 July.
  • The orders were from General Haig to his deputy Sir Henry Rawlinson. Rawlinson actually did most of the detailed planning for the attack on the Somme.
  • The reputations of Haig and Rawlinson have suffered as a result of the heavy losses on the Somme. There were mistakes in the planning and carrying out of the attack.
  • Rawlinson's original plan was simple. He intended to hit the front line of German defences with intense artillery bombardments. He then planned heavy infantry attacks on the bombarded areas to destroy German positions and kill large numbers of German troops. The idea was to wear them down.
  • As this source shows, Haig wanted Rawlinson's plan to allow for the possibility that the Germans might crumble. If this happened, British forces could achieve the long awaited breakthrough. Cavalry could get behind the German defences, attack the Germans in the open, and disrupt the road and rail links that kept the German troops supplied and reinforced.
  • This caused problems because it meant the artillery bombardment was spread over a wider range of German defences and so did less damage than Rawlinson hoped. It also meant that the attacking infantry were more spread out than Rawlinson planned. Finally, it meant that cavalry and their horses were in the way of supplies of fresh troops and ammunition on the first day of the battle.
  • Rawlinson should really have argued with Haig, but in the British Army this was generally not done.
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