The Battle of the Somme ended in 1916 but the battle of words has continued down the years. This video effectively ends that debate.
The first day on the Somme saw the greatest losses ever suffered by the British Army in one day. Only the Roman defeat at Cannae and the German Spring offensives of 1918 are comparable in terms of the loss of life. Moreover the horror of the Somme continued for months after that fateful first day.
It was the tragedy of the Somme, more than any other experience which provoked the popular revulsion towards war and the rise of pacifism as a new political force in the 20th century.
In the 1950s and 1960s several historians advanced the view that Haig was doing what had to be done and that his attrition tactics were essential, to break the will of the professional German army and to save the French from defeat in the aftermath of Verdun. These attempts to rehabilitate Haig were firmly rebuffed by the late AJP Taylor, undoubtedly the greatest 20th century historian, but the seeds of doubt had been planted and the question continued to be asked - was the sacrifice of the Somme justified after all.
The Line of Fire film of the Somme paints a picture of Haig as a cavalry officer completely out of touch with the circumstances of modern warfare, his mistakes so obvious and so massive that nothing can possibly serve as an excuse. He over-rules General Rawlinson and sets the men impossible targets. He assumes that guns firing shrapnell will destroy barbed wire, and fails to act on reports from the front line that the wire has not been destroyed. His trenches are overlooked by the Germans who can see every aspect of the British preparations. The list goes on but of all the errors one stands out as wicked above all the others which ae merely stupid.
Haig did not trust his men. They had volunteered to leave their civilian jobs and fight in the "Kitchener Army", but as they were not professionals in his eyes he was afraid that they might become disorganised if they charged towards the German lines. He therefore ordered them to walk, slowly, in long lines which presented perfect targets for the German machine guns. And walk they did. Carrying heavy packs, tools, rolls of barbed wire and various other kit, they walked slowly forwards to their death.
The film illustrates the incompetence of the high command by highlighting two situations where the British attack did best - and where in both cases the local commanders had specifically disobeyed the order to walk forward slowly.
This video effectively settles 90 years of argument and forever establishes General Sir Douglas Haig as the inexcusable Butcher of the Somme.