Army could have halted Somme mas­sacre

The Daily Telegraph - - News - By Ben Farmer DEFENCE COR­RE­SPON­DENT

BRI­TISH com­man­ders at the Somme mis­in­ter­preted in­tel­li­gence that may have pre­vented the blood­i­est day in Army his­tory, a new book has claimed.

Ger­man pris­on­ers taken be­fore the bat­tle said a seven-day Bri­tish ar­tillery blitz wrecked some de­fences but warned bunkers else­where were in­tact. They were ig­nored and gen­er­als as­sumed all Ger­man lines had gone.

So when Bri­tish troops at­tacked on July 1 1916, they were easy tar­gets for Ger­man ma­chine-gun­ners who emerged from deep shel­ters: 19,000 Bri­tons died, with 41,000 in­jured, in one day.

The fail­ings were found, in pris­oner re­ports, by Hugh Se­bag-Mon­te­fiore, au­thor of Somme: Into the Breach.

Oswald Lake­maker de­serted from Mametz dur­ing the shelling, say­ing that most de­fences had “col­lapsed” but sug­gest­ing his unit’s stronger dugouts at Ovillers had likely sur­vived.

Arnold Fuchs and Ernst Girndt, held at Mon­tauban days ear­lier, gave sim­i­lar de­tails to in­ter­roga­tors.

“They [the Bri­tish] knew that there was a weak point in the Ger­man line and that the rest of the line was likely to have held,” said Mr Se­bag-Mon­te­fiore. “It was like a mas­sacre. It was com­pletely un­nec­es­sary.” A brief­ing for com­man­ders had con­cluded “ev­ery­thing was wide open”.

The claims were vin­di­cated when Bri­tish troops later broke through in the south.

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