Pen & Sword, 2016
On the 100 year anniversary of the official end of the Somme campaign after 141 days’ fighting, it seems fitting to post a review of a book that examines the campaign holistically. The Somme Reconsidered is essentially a reprint of Liddle’s 1992 work, The 1916 Battle of the Somme: A Re-Appraisal. However unlike many reprints, Liddle has updated his work to reflect the developments in evidence and discussion that have occurred in the intervening years.
The formula of the book does not break with the approach that has been adopted by authors both before and since; setting the context for the campaign, exploring the preparations, describing the opening day, examining the rest of the campaign (particularly the first use of tanks and the end of the campaign), and providing an overall evaluation.
Liddle’s advantage is the collection of testimonies, recollections, and personal accounts he has amassed over the years and that comprises the Liddle Collection at Leeds University. This is utilised to great effect, bringing in relevant and poignant accounts to support the narrative.
Liddle provides a brief historiography of the campaign, examining how it has been portrayed and dissected and how the thinking about the campaign has evolved and developed. He sits firmly in the Sheffield/Philpott camp, that the campaign was a success for the British in that it wore down the German Army and contributed to victory in 1918. However he does explore the views of others who do not agree with this interpretation, such as Robin Prior and Trevor Wilson.
In his evaluation Liddle examines the battle-readiness of the British Army and why the campaign did not achieve any breakthroughs (particularly on 14th July and 15th September). He argues that ultimately the campaign protected the French from the German threat at Verdun, and that at the close of the campaign the morale of the British soldiers remained high. Ultimately though, it was victory at a cost.
The book provides a succinct account of the campaign, although because of this consequently lacks the depth of some of the weightier books about the campaign. At the very least it should prompt the uninitiated to question some of the sweeping statements about the campaign that are often trotted out.
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The 1916 Battle of the Somme Reconsidered