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The Somme: a bloody disaster
Task 1. Read the passage below and highlight the information on the nature of
Australians on the Western Front
Warfare on the Western Front quickly reached a stalemate(draw). Troops on both sides were largely
confined to the trenches, using machine guns, trenches, barbed wire and artillery to defend their
positions. This stalemate meant that war on the Western Front became bogged down in a senseless
series of attacks and counter-attacks, each achieving little but costing millions of lives.
These attacks tended to follow a pattern. Initially, one side would launch a long and sustained artillery
attack, during which enemy trenches would be bombarded with explosive shells. These attacks could
go on for a few hours or many days. The aim of these bombardments was to force the defending
troops underground, destroy their fortifications and clear the way for attacking troops to cross no
man’s land (the narrow strip of land between opposing trenches that belonged to neither army) and
gain enemy ground. One major problem, however, was that no man’s land was very difficult ground
to cross. Soldiers struggled through mud-filled shell holes created by
their own artillery, and were weighed down with heavy equipment. Once they had started to cross no
man’s land, they might learn that their bombardment had not destroyed the barbed wire obstacles
between the trenches. More frightening still was the possibility that the artillery attack had failed to
destroy the enemy’s fortifications. As attacking soldiers made their way across no man’s land, the
enemy could emerge from deep bunkers to fire on them with machine guns.
The only real result of most of the battles that took place on the Western Front over the four years
was death and injury.
From 1916 to 1918, Australian troops took part in many of the most important battles on the
Western Front. One of the most important was…..
•The Battle of the Somme in northern France
Task 2: Find the Somme and circle:
Go to https://www.ducksters.com/history/world_war_i/battle_of_the_somme.php
TASK 3: Use the site to complete the passage below by
deleting the incorrect word from the ones in red:The Battle of the Somme occurred in 1916/1917 was one of the
smallest/largest battles that occurred during World War I. The
battle was fought between the Allies (British and French Empires)
on one side and Germany/Russia. For many British soldiers it was
their first battle. They were part of a volunteer army called
Haig’s/Kitchener's Army, which was recruited in 1915 by Lord
Kitchener (see the famous poster to the right).
Groups within the British army were called Pal's battalions because
the volunteers were guaranteed to be placed in battalions with their
enemies/friends and neighbours – which encouraged greater
volunteering. Many brothers joined together and went to war in the
same group.
The Somme Offensive (attack) was planned by the British Commander-in-Chief Sir Douglas Haig/
Kitchener's. He wanted to break the stalemate/victory that had developed due to the building and
reinforcing of trenches over two years. His plans were changed when the Germans went on the
offensive and attacked the French/Austrians at the Battle of Verdun. The French demanded that the
British bring forward the attack at the Somme in hopes that German forces would be diverted from
Verdun/Somme to the Verdun/Somme.
Before the attack began, the British bombarded the German trenches with over 1,600,000 artillery
shells (the bombs shot from cannons). Haig thought this would destroy the German barbed
wire/plastic defences and kill/injure most of their troops. However, the Germans took shelter form the
bombardment and knew it was a warning that they were going to be attacked. Little real damage was
done to the German fortifications and many of the British shells were successes/duds and never even
After eight days of bombardment, on July 1, 1916/1918, Haig began the attack. Thousands of British
soldiers got out of their trenches and began to advance on the German lines – many were told to
run/walk in lines because there wouldn’t be any Germans alive. Haig was also worried about the level
of training of the soldiers as they were new to the army. The Germans easily gunned/tackled them
down. It was the worst/best day in the history of British warfare. They suffered around 60,000
casualties including 20,000/100,000 dead on that first day of battle. Because many men from the
same town were grouped together in the British Pal's battalions, when a battalion was wiped out,
often this meant that all the men from a given city/town in Britain were killed.
Despite the heavy casualties, the Allies continued to attack/retreat. They didn't stop attacking until
November 18. Over the 4½ months the Allies/Germans suffered around 623,000 casualties. The
Germans suffered about 500,000 casualties because their generals ordered that every time the
British advanced, German forces would have to attack and take the ground back. With over
1,000,000 total casualties on each side, the Battle of the Somme/Gallipoli was one of the
easiest/bloodiest battles in human history.
The stalemate was successfully/not broken.
TASK 4: Examine the sources and
complete the analysis questions
These photos are of German and
British troops manning machine guns
on the Western Front in 1916.
1. Are the photos above primary or
secondary sources?
2. Describe the content that is shown in these photos?
3. Using your own knowledge on the nature of warfare in WW1, what additional information can
we gain from these photos?
4. Whose perspective are they from?
5. Does the perspective make the sources more useful or less useful? Why?
6. How reliable are the photos? Give reason(s)
7. Why are these sources useful to someone studying the Western Front?
TASK 5 -Extention:
Source 6.40 “We are lousy [infested with lice], stinking, ragged, unshaven, sleepless. Even when we’re back a bit
we can’t sleep for our own guns. I have one puttee [fabric strip wound around the lower leg for protection], a
dead man’s helmet, another dead man’s gas protector, a dead man’s bayonet. My tunic is rotten with other men’s
blood and partly
splattered with a comrade’s brains. It is horrible but why you people at home not know.”
A letter from John Alexander Raws to his family. A soldier who spent only four weeks on the Western Front before he was
killed in shelling in 1916.
What makes Source 6.40 a reliable source of evidence for a historian trying to understand conditions in the trenches of
the Western Front? What limitations are there for a historian researching conditions across the entire Western Front?