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  • Battle of Somme

    What if...

    The Times of London carried the following headline?

    July 2, 1916 - Haig suspends Big Push, Rawlinson sacked !
    Last edited by Canuckster; 16 Nov 08, 13:09.

  • #2
    many many many young lads live (to die another day)
    "Freedom cannot exist without discipline, self-discipline, and rights cannot exist without duties. Those who do not observe their duties do not deserve their rights."--Oriana Fallaci

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    • #3
      Are you assuming that Haig calls off the attack at the last possible minute? Presuambly it would take time for the news to get back.

      If Haig had suspended the attack altogether (it was postponed because of three days of heavy rain) then he would have to answer a lot of questions from the French due to the fact that the whole point of the first Somme offensive was to take the pressure of the French army at Verdun.
      Hitler played Golf. His bunker shot was a hole in one.

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      • #4
        Probably a bad idea to set it up as a newspaper headline. Just trying to be artsey-fartsey. Trying for a scenario where everything happens as it did historically up to and including the end of the first day but changes after that.

        John Charteris (Haig’s CIS) had a habit of providing false and overly optimistic reports to Haig. It was probably based upon the false intel from Charteris that Haig on Day 2 actually wrote into his diary that things seemed to be going well.

        In this fantasy scenario, actual losses of 60,000 casualties and 20,000 KIA are reported to both Haig and David Lloyd-George. These two never saw eye-to-eye anyways, and when Lloyd George see the carnage from the first day, threatens to use all of his political clout and demands a suspension of operations. Its obvious there has to be a scapegoat, and Rawlinson is it.

        You can almost use any scenario you want. Most criticism of the Somme and 3rd Ypres seem to be that the operations should have been shut down when it was obvious early that these operations weren’t going anywhere. Maybe a new title for thread:

        What if they shut down the Somme much earlier than they actually did?

        And if so...

        Would that have made any difference to the French at Verdun? Would the Western front collapse? Could they still win the war?
        Last edited by Canuckster; 16 Nov 08, 22:22.

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        • #5
          Depends on how the attack was 'shut down'. There must have been a pile of artillery ammuntion remaining, and a lot of unused infantry. firing off all that artillery for a few more weeks, and making demonstrations with the infantry might keep the Germans bemused for a while. Organizing quickly a new attack elsewhere (with better tactics) might accomplish somethisng, assuming the British had that ability in the its HQ staffs.

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          • #6
            On the French what-if part :

            Considering the offensive was to be lead mainly by British troops ( From Ancre to Gomécourt by 26 British Div. and 11 French Div. if I recall ), the canceling of the offensive would have infuriated Joffre and Foch who would have unwillingly accepted it.

            The Interesting point is that by "preventing" the needless slaughter of 60 000 troops for 10 km, some French political issues would not have been raised concerning the way Joffre and Foch conducted the war.
            That means delaying or reducing the 1916-1917 strikes and mutiny movements which lead to the canceling of the "all out offensive" or "offensive à outrance" French war policy.
            The non-quelled bloodthirsty Foch attitude combined with the strategical arguing with the British High command would have surely served German propaganda.

            ie : Making Verdun body count even more insane (but not really changing the overall outcome).

            Best Regards,
            Raum_Schiff.

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            • #7
              Had the attack been canceled or attenuated as decribed here. Would there have been any possibity of a 'improvement; of British intantry tactics. Or were the senior Brit leaders unable to grasp that need?

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              • #8
                Originally posted by raum_schiff View Post
                On the French what-if part :

                Considering the offensive was to be lead mainly by British troops ( From Ancre to Gomécourt by 26 British Div. and 11 French Div. if I recall ), the canceling of the offensive would have infuriated Joffre and Foch who would have unwillingly accepted it.
                So you don't think any rift between the French & British over the suspension of operations would have been serious enough to affect overall war efforts?

                The Interesting point is that by "preventing" the needless slaughter of 60 000 troops for 10 km, some French political issues would not have been raised concerning the way Joffre and Foch conducted the war.
                That means delaying or reducing the 1916-1917 strikes and mutiny movements which lead to the canceling of the "all out offensive" or "offensive à outrance" French war policy.
                Possible, but if all French operations remained as they did historically, wouldn't the mutinies still happen? I would think the concern of the average poilu would be more about their treatment under French command, than what may have happneded to the Tommy under British at Somme.

                The non-quelled bloodthirsty Foch attitude combined with the strategical arguing with the British High command would have surely served German propaganda.

                ie : Making Verdun body count even more insane (but not really changing the overall outcome).

                Best Regards,
                Raum_Schiff.
                I tend to agree and lean towards the conclusion that "the Somme was neccessary to relieve pressure off Verdun" as an after-the-fact excuse for the excessive carnage that took place. German offensive seemed to have petered out before Somme took place, (and definatley after its continuance) plus if the French were so hard pressed, how were they able to go to the major offense in the July timeframe and still have active role in Somme offensive.

                Most English (language) authors on the Somme tend to support idea that it was needed to relieve French at Verdun. Influence from Official History perhaps? I haven't had opportunity to read any French authors on the subject. Your answer suggests that relief wasn't really needed; do most French historians/authors tend to the same conclusion as well?
                Last edited by Canuckster; 20 Nov 08, 13:45.

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by Carl Schwamberg View Post
                  Had the attack been canceled or attenuated as decribed here. Would there have been any possibity of a 'improvement; of British intantry tactics. Or were the senior Brit leaders unable to grasp that need?
                  That may be the million dollar question ! A year later and 3rd Ypres certainly had a certain look and sameness as the Somme. Although in my fantasy scenario, there would almost have to be an enquiry as to why Day One went so horribly wrong.

                  BTW-- bit of a faux pas in my original sceanrio. Lloyd George didn't become PM until late 1916. Asquith was the PM at the time but may not have had the strength or conviction to have put a halt to any operation (need to do some more reading here).
                  Last edited by Canuckster; 20 Nov 08, 13:42.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Canuckster View Post

                    I tend to agree and lean towards the conclusion that "the Somme was neccessary to relieve pressure off Verdun" as an after-the-fact excuse for the excessive carnage that took place. German offensive seemed to have petered out before Somme took place, (and definatley after its continuance) plus if the French were so hard pressed, how were they able to go to the major offense in the July timeframe and still have active role in Somme offensive.
                    Let's not forget that the French involvement in the Somme offensive was considerably smaller than it was originally intended to be and this was clearly a result of the need to feed more forces into Verdun. The gradual reduction of the French component of the assault forced the British to continually adjust their plans for the offensive. Whether maintaining the offensive was necessary is debatable (it's a much clearer issue regarding 3rd Ypres) but the French Army may not have been able to withstand another concerted offensive had the Germans not been heavily engaged by the BEF.

                    Now to the thread question specifically. Whilst the sacking of the incompetent Rawlinson would have been fully justified there would have been serious questions regarding German casualties and the weakness of their positions on the British right flank after Day One. 'Spineless' would have been a term used to describe the British High Command for failing to press home what advantage they had. The French reaction would have been worse after suffering such severe casualties at Verdun. The perception would have been that the British were not prepared to make the necessary sacrifices to win the war, seriously undermining Anglo-French relations. Had this remained an issue into 1917 the Nivelle Offensive would have brought the Entente crashing down as the French army mutinied.
                    Signing out.

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Canuckster View Post
                      So you don't think any rift between the French & British over the suspension of operations would have been serious enough to affect overall war efforts?
                      In 1916 The French high command, and especially Joffre (who actively promoted this "Somme idea" despite the warnings of other generals) was in an uneasy "political" position:
                      The Dec. 1915 Conference of Chantilly planned a move in the Flandre region, Joffre changed his mind one month after the conference.
                      IMHO, the English willingly helping the French in that re-planed offensive, would have stood on higher moral ground should their withdrawal happened. The inter-allied command would have reeled but not collapsed.

                      Originally posted by Canuckster View Post
                      ... but if all French operations remained as they did historically, wouldn't the mutinies still happen?
                      I think, the mutinies were unavoidable.

                      Originally posted by Canuckster View Post
                      Most English (language) authors on the Somme tend to support idea that it was needed to relieve French at Verdun.
                      If I remember German 35 Div. were moved out of Verdun to the Somme area.
                      This surely helped the Verdun front. But this offensive was more of a shock effect and should have been treated as such (ie: consolidating taken positions buy August and Intensifying artillery fire on German positions) for by July the Verdun battle was slightly turning on the French side.

                      Originally posted by Canuckster View Post
                      I haven't had opportunity to read any French authors on the subject. Your answer suggests that relief wasn't really needed; do most French historians/authors tend to the same conclusion as well?
                      They are still divided on the subject, for example Alexandre Thers is anti-Somme and Alain Denizot is pro-Somme, but all agree that the Joffre/Foch war doctrine was disastrous, IMHO I am on the "Pyrrhic Somme" side.

                      Best Regards,
                      Raum_Schiff.
                      Last edited by raum_schiff; 20 Nov 08, 18:57.

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Full Monty View Post
                        ...The gradual reduction of the French component of the assault forced the British to continually adjust their plans for the offensive.
                        ...which would have given Haig justification that he needed to reconsider battleplans after disastorous Day One. He could also point to fact that the politicians made him do it (fantasy scenario) and French would need to take their complaints to them. Part of reason I went with 'suspended' instead of 'cancelled' in my thread opener; the Germans weren't going anywhere soon.

                        Falkenhayn historically forced von Below (2nd Army commander) into a series of costly counterattacks. Good chance he would be tempted to do the same after day1 during fantasy scenario respite. British had a huge amount of shrapnel shells which could have been used to much better effect on Germans in the open. The same shells are more or less useless if germans are hunkered down during British attacks.

                        Whether maintaining the offensive was necessary is debatable (it's a much clearer issue regarding 3rd Ypres) but the French Army may not have been able to withstand another concerted offensive had the Germans not been heavily engaged by the BEF.
                        When do you think they could have, or perhaps more importantly should have shut down operations?

                        Now to the thread question specifically. Whilst the sacking of the incompetent Rawlinson would have been fully justified...
                        Not sure I would go that far but he most likely would have been the one chosen as scapegoat. It was Haig who insisted on expansion of first day objectives.

                        ...there would have been serious questions regarding German casualties and the weakness of their positions on the British right flank after Day One. 'Spineless' would have been a term used to describe the British High Command for failing to press home what advantage they had. The French reaction would have been worse after suffering such severe casualties at Verdun. The perception would have been that the British were not prepared to make the necessary sacrifices to win the war, seriously undermining Anglo-French relations. Had this remained an issue into 1917 the Nivelle Offensive would have brought the Entente crashing down as the French army mutinied.
                        Does anyone know when actual numbers of Day1 casualties were reported? It would seem to me if they were available (almost 60,000 out of 100,000 who went over the top), it could be used as justification for time to regroup and rethink. Charteris to me seems like the biggest culprit in all of this with faulty and misleading intel, yet he never seems to get much of the blame.

                        As reported by Raum Schiff in post #11, the Germans diverted a single division to Somme. Best I could find is that a few artillery pieces were diverted. Not sure if that would be that big of a deal as far as outcome at Verdun.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Canuckster View Post
                          That may be the million dollar question ! A year later and 3rd Ypres certainly had a certain look and sameness as the Somme.
                          Correct me on this if I am wrong, but "sameness"? 3rd Ypres was, as I recall, fought in a semi-aquatic of loose mud several feet deep in places or more. It was an atrocious place to fight, flooded and wet all the time. Trenches could not even be dug owing to the water table; pillboxes had to be built instead.
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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Kirasjeri View Post
                            Correct me on this if I am wrong, but "sameness"? 3rd Ypres was, as I recall, fought in a semi-aquatic of loose mud several feet deep in places or more. It was an atrocious place to fight, flooded and wet all the time. Trenches could not even be dug owing to the water table; pillboxes had to be built instead.
                            I'm pretty sure he intends meaningless attacks for little to no gain instead of sameness of terrain. I can't imagine anything being like Passchendaele.
                            If you can't set a good example, be a glaring warning.

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by freightshaker View Post
                              I'm pretty sure he intends meaningless attacks for little to no gain instead of sameness of terrain. I can't imagine anything being like Passchendaele.


                              I've can't remember the exact saying, but read the differences in the wet conditions were 'At the Somme it was slippery, at Passchendale it was a sucking mud.'

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