Historian Peter Barton explores the events of the Battle of the Somme.
Part 1: First Day – Erster Tag
Barton explores the events leading up to and on the notoriously bloody first day of the offensive. Walking the battlefield, he explains the failures that led to over 20,000 British deaths. Barton argues that to get a better understanding of events, you should not only confront what the British did badly but what their enemy did better. The Germans were able to skilfully use the landscape of the Somme to maximise casualties amongst their enemy. And based on research in German archives, Barton shows just how much they knew in advance about Allied plans through captured documents and interrogations of captured British prisoners and deserters who were persistently ‘spilling the beans’.
Part 2: Defence in Depth – Verteidigung in der Tiefe
Barton concentrates on the second phase of the battle, from the middle of July to the middle of September 1916. Barton reveals how an Allied advance on objectives which should have lasted days and weeks took months and resulted in yet more carnage on the Somme battlefield. Whilst British tactics were unvarying, that of their German enemy evolved using the changing landscape of the battlefield. The slowness of the Allied advance during this period Barton explains by the emergence of new German tactics – defence in depth.
Part 3: End Game – End Spiel
Barton concludes his history of the battle in the final months of the campaign. He shows how a remarkable German tactical revolution begun in the summer of 1916 continued throughout this period to frustrate the Allied advance. This would have profound implications, tragically extending the entire First World War far beyond Allied expectations. Barton also presents a new narrative which argues that the battle of the Somme ended not in the winter of 1916, but in the spring of 1917. And he reaches the conclusion that there was no British victory.