Somme: Into the Breach by Hugh Sebag-Montefiore

Review published on January 25, 2018.

The Great War of 1914-1916 has never captured my educational nature as much as the Second World War has, however, if books about WW1 were written as well as this one, I might have shown more consideration. Hugh Sebag Montefiore has excelled himself yet again with this 650+ page paperback book entitled Somme: Into the Breach.

After just reading the introduction to the paperback edition, one gets a flavour of the narrative; it is indeed as intense as the author can make it. Like lots of people, I have only a simple working knowledge of how the war was carried out. Sebag-Montefiore has searched high and low to bring together contemporary accounts, diaries, reports, dispatches, letters and beyond, in order to complete the picture as much as can be done. The detail is astonishing; the descriptive details are often harrowing yet at the same time, essential to understanding how so many young men, from differing nations, often needlessly, laid down their lives.

As the title suggests, this book is mainly about the battle of the River Somme in 1916. The author compiles things in a more or less chronological order; the various positions that were attacked and defended all have their own chapters. Each of these chapters exposes what went wrong, what went right, the final outcome, and following deliberations at a later date, we thus learn whom to blame for the debacle.

The writing certainly shows how the ‘class’ struggle was alive and well back then, how the officer classes were hopelessly out of their depth, how sheer arrogance and petty in-fighting caused so many to make the ultimate sacrifice. On the German side, they had old-style Prussian officers, who again were so far out of date and touch with reality that it beggars belief that they did not lose earlier. The author points to some British prisoners captured before the battle ensued, who gave away the battle plans verbally when interrogated. Thus, the German machine gunners were well prepared for the charge when it came, they literally scythed down thousands of able bodied men for precious little gain to the British.

A superbly written book throughout, it tells it how it was, two or three collections of photographs included, which shows trench warfare, and pristine officers. I personally regard the book as stunning to be honest, a long read for a lot of people, but ultimately worth it. It could quite possibly be the definitive book on the story of the Somme. It also tells of the introduction of early tank warfare, the deploying of Mustard gas, or the flame-thrower, and other more ’up to date’ methods of warmongering.

Reg Seward 5/1

Somme: Into the Breach by Hugh Sebag-Montefiore
Penguin 9780141043326 pbk Nov 2017

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