Read The First Day on the Somme by Martin Middlebrook Online


On 1 July, 1916, a continuous line of British soldiers climbed out from the trenches of the Somme into No Man's Land and began to walk steadily towards dug-in German troops armed with machine-guns and defended by thick barbed wire. By the end of that day, as old tactics were met by the reality of modern warfare, there had been more than 60,000 British casualties - a thirdOn 1 July, 1916, a continuous line of British soldiers climbed out from the trenches of the Somme into No Man's Land and began to walk steadily towards dug-in German troops armed with machine-guns and defended by thick barbed wire. By the end of that day, as old tactics were met by the reality of modern warfare, there had been more than 60,000 British casualties - a third of them fatal. Martin Middlebrook's classic account of the blackest day in the history of the British army draws on official records, local newspapers, autobiographies, novels and poems from the time. Most importantly, it also takes in the accounts of hundreds of survivors: normal men, many of them volunteers, who found themselves thrown into a scene of unparalleled tragedy and horror. Compelling and intensely moving, it describes the true events behind the sacrifice of a generation of young men - killed as much by the folly of their commanders as by the bullets of their enemies....

Title : The First Day on the Somme
Author :
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ISBN : 9780140171341
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 355 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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The First Day on the Somme Reviews

  • Tony
    2019-04-24 14:43

    Simply brilliant. Martin Middlebrook explains the build-up, first day, and aftermath of the Battle of the Somme in a clear and accessible style, using numerous first hand accounts which put you right in middle of the action. Although he focuses on the first day (the clue's in the title...) the author somehow manages to use it as a microcosm of the entire war - so this would probably be a good place to start for someone new to WW1. I especially like the way he frames the story by following ten soldiers from their enlistment, through to the battle, the remainder of the war and their post war life. Analysis and opinion are left until the final chapter, so you get to make your own mind up as the battle unfolds. I read the Penguin edition which has plenty of clear & helpful maps.

  • 'Aussie Rick'
    2019-04-23 20:43

    This book was the catalyst for my enduring fascination for books covering the Western Front. I use to despair in trying to read books about the Great War, as they were mind numbing with the numbers of dead, I was too young to appreciate what I was reading. Martin Middlebrook’s “The First Day on the Somme” changed all that and gave me a love for this period of history and a better appreciation of what these poor soldiers went through. If anyone wants to better understand the Great War or the Battle on the Somme this is the book to start off with. For those who are interested the author went on to write another account from the German perspective covering the March 1918 offensive titled “The Kaiser’s Battle”.

  • Jonny Ruddock
    2019-04-12 21:03

    This was, I think, the first "serious" book I read about the First World War, way back in 1991. And it's still, probably, the best I've ever read. Mr Middlebrook takes a "just the facts" approach to the events of 1st July 1916, presenting the events of the day through the experiences of ten of the participants, with some emphasis on other major actions taking place throughout the day. The lead in to the attack is well covered, and a background to the formation of the New Army, the location of the attack and the defences and defenders are also well covered. I left the book feeling that the events of the terrible day had been well covered, without hyperbole and with the actual analysis left to the end of the book, you are able to make your own judgements based solely on events.While inevitably there will be newer books, this will always for me be the definitive best read on the First Day on the Somme. With its easy style it is recommended to anyone with even a passing interest in the First World War.

  • Mike
    2019-04-19 14:46

    A signed copy, I read this just before taking a battlefield tour of the Somme. The book was excellent preparation to walking the battlefield. Highly recommended, book and tour.WWI remains at the forefront of the British memory. This book illustrates why. It has many tales of personal courage, tragedy and various experiences of the battle. Standing on the battlefield, I was struck at how brave these men were in that terrifying place. The carnage was unimaginable, no protection from the machine guns and arty fire. The destruction of the New Army "Pals" battalions is especially poignant, imagine losing all your buddies from the home neighborhood at the same time and place. A very sobering book. How the leadership was able to throw away the army is baffling and maddening.

  • Stan Pedzick
    2019-04-21 15:41

    Wow...Simply mind blowing at the level hubris and gall on the part of the British General staff, to murder so many of your own men solely to relieve the French, and then to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory because of your unwillingness to change your strategy when presented with information that does not conform to what your preconceived notions said should happen is just adding more insult to injury. Well, that would be the case if you then did not blame the troops for failing to do their jobs, based on your insane plans to begin with.This book has good maps (in the Kindle Fire addition and Paper addition at least), and follows various troops and units to their fates.

  • Michael Dolan
    2019-04-11 14:43

    I love Martin Middlebrooke's method of getting at the detail. In The First Day on the Somme he follows twelve individuals and their military careers before the battle as well as an overview of the day itself. The only drawback to this is that some might think that what was actually a four month long battle only lasted a single day. Other Middlebrooke books worth reading are three or four he did on RAF raids in WW2 on Hamburg, Berlin and Schweinfurt-Regensburg.

  • Anthony Ryan
    2019-04-17 23:01

    Based on hundreds of interviews with survivors, Martin Middlebrook's seminal work stands as a valuable oral history of one of the worst days of the First World War. A harrowing and fitting tribute to a now mostly vanished generation.

  • Heikki
    2019-04-01 22:46

    The First Day on the Somme, Martin Middlebrook, 1971, Penguin Books, ISBN 0-14-139071-9The Great War of 1914-1918 included many battles that have become legendary, perhaps none more so than that of Verdun. A separate effort, aimed at alleviating the pressure the French were experiencing at Verdun, became known as the Battle of the Somme, July 1, 1916. The story of this bloodiest of all British battles has been admirably told by Martin Middlebrook.This book is the tale of human courage of the men in the trenches, dimwitted thinking of generals, unfounded belief in the power of the artillery, and above all, the honor and devotion to duty of the single infantry private. It was believed that a week of artillery bombardment would pulverize the German defences, and allow the British to advance to their targets in parade formations.This was not to be. The Germans had dug deep, and the amount of barbed wire was staggering. Moreover, the British expected their artillery to cut the German wires and create lanes along which to advance; they also sent out parties to cut holes in the perimeters and marked them with white strips. The artillery didn't manage to cut the wire nearly as well as was expected, and the infantry met huge tangled obstacles along the way. The biggest blunders were General Rawlinson's decision to delay the onset of the attack after the artillery bombardment was over; the Germans had time to man their machine gun positions, which had survived the bombardment much better than expected, and this enabled them to scythe down thousands of men who walked towards their positions. The Germans couldn't believe it when they saw the British advance methodically and slowly, and the murderous cross-fire slaughtered the British.Another unbelievable error was not to use the only breakthrough on the right flank to attack the Germans from the side and behind - as well as the decision not to use cavalry. It was the end of the era of the cavalry to be sure, but in this battle, the large cavalry contingent could have made a huge difference, had it been let to advance through a breach and cause havoc in the rear of the Germans. They could only wonder at this decision when their lines became thin and tenuously jeld, but the British never released the cavalry and thus lost the only chance of success at the Somme.In a way this battle reminds me of Tarawa and the US Marines. There, too, the belief in the intense naval bombardment caused casualties when the Japanese re-manned their positions right after the bombardment lifted. Hundreds of Marines were killed as they waded ashore in the direct sight of Japanese with their machine guns and artillery. The US did not lose 57,470 men in casualties as the British did, however. This single day cost the British more than any other day in any war, or indeed, months of other wars. The heartbreaking tale of innocence lost is a key part of this book as Middlebrook confidently relates the fates of men who joined up with their friends to form units such as the "Manchester Pals" and "Grimsby Chums". These men fought and died with their friends, and in the process, those who survived ceased to believe in their country which had sacrificed them.This book is an excellent starting point if you want to read quality books on war. Middlebrook's series on the Bomber Command of WW2 is unrivalled, as is his book "Convoy" which tells the story of the bitter sea battles of the Atlantic through the eyes of men on one such journey.

  • Martin
    2019-04-05 19:44

    Martin Middlebrook's narrative and analysis of the worst day in British military history was published in 1972. Thus, it may be outdated by the past four decades of scholarship on the folly of the First World War. Still, this book has some strengths, even if Middlebrook's prose fails to fully convey the human drama of what happened on July 1st, 1916. In one day the British 3rd and 4th Armies lost more than 50,000 casualties -- dead, wounded, captured and missing. At times his narrative was gripping. Row after row of men from Kitchener's 'New Army' remorselessly mowed down by German machine guns, men tangled in enemy barbed wire and riddled with bullets, the sheer hopelessness of the infantry assault; it all put my mind in a trench at zero hour, wondering what it would be like to face Death, how the men summoned the courage to "go over the top." Of course, the ferocious German resistance was a surprise to many soldiers who had been told that the previous week's artillery bombardment would render the German trenches defenseless.Scholars have long debated who was to blame for the disastrous losses that wiped out the cream of British society in a few hours. Middlebrook is not harsh on Haig. Adam Hochschild's "To End All Wars" and Keegan's works of genius, "The First World War" and "Face of Battle," are better books on these subjects.

  • Jack Buechner
    2019-04-22 22:45

    The truth is that I enjoy reading history. Military history in particular. But the death-strategies (manslaughter on an epic scale) of WW I leave me cold. Middlebrook's "Somme" is page after page of carnage without any military or even political achievement. Rather it was a template for both sides to fight the last war with waves and waves of humans trying to ignore rapid fire weapons and the ever increasing technology in killing without a clue as to how to gain victory. Line after line of numbers, regiments, armaments, casualties, deaths and the missing start to lose their shock value and begin to look as though it is a very bright and industrious term paper rather than a chronicle of a campaign. Statistics play an important part in understanding history and, for that matter, the essence of human folly, but I felt as though I had eaten too much of a unseasoned dish.....full, but unsatisfied.

  • Adele
    2019-04-24 17:47

    Fascinating stories of the utmost heroism and also the worst military decision making ever in the history of the British army. I couldn't put it down.

  • VLT
    2019-04-02 17:44

    A monumentally inane battle strategy, egotistical generals, profligate waste of human life.

  • Neil
    2019-04-11 21:51

    An outstanding read! Having recently visited The Somme battlefield it was amazing to read the experiences first hand.

  • Joe Hill
    2019-03-29 20:45

    The first person to ever look at the First World War through individual accounts of the men. Has been a great resource both academically & personally.

  • Christiaan
    2019-04-12 23:06

    Must read for WW1 fanatics

  • Geraldine
    2019-04-21 15:05

    An outstanding book, all the more so for being under-stated and lacking grandstanding.Very simple premise, some 50 years after the Battle of the Somme, an amateur sets out to research how the first day was experienced by and affected the soldiers that took part. He did this by interviewing the - by then ageing - survivors and by trawling the archives, and then by writing an immensely readable book. Of course, given the subject matter, I can't call it enjoyable, but it was fulfilling and ticked just about every possible box.He started with the assumption that the reader might not know much about the First World War or the Army, and provided a succinct background that did not patronise those that know a bit more. He didn't dwell on the causes but briefly outlined why and how so many men volunteered in the summer and autumn of 1914. He explained Army organisation far better than anyone else ever has, again without going into tedious detail.He selected 10 individuals to follow through, men of different ages, socio-economic backgrounds and military experience - Regulars, Territorials and Kitchener's 'New Army'. From different parts of the country and whose Battle, and War, ended differently.And then he describes the first day of the Battle of the Somme. He uses the stories of these 10 men, and the diaries and memories of many others to tell a story. He never gets bogged down in the tedium of the minutiae of manoeuvres, but provides enough background to explain. He explains who the various generals were and there various responsibilities, and above all he tells an intensely human story of real ordinary men who fought on the Somme.I have no criticisms except that the typesetting for the Kindle version contained numerous errors. Not the author's fault, but regrettable. Throughout the body of the text 'Yorks and Lancs' was rendered as 'Yorks and Lanes', somewhat of an insult to the red rose that sacrificed so much.Some observations. I looked through the list at the end of survivors, more than 50 years after the battle. Men who were old men when I was in nappies. I looked at their places of residence and was shocked how comprehensively it covered everywhere I had lived - although a lot were labelled just as 'Nottingham', I saw Westcliff-on-Sea and Leigh-on-Sea, not just Southend. I saw Sale, Altrincham and Urmston, not just 'Manchester'. Brixton Hill, Herne Hill, Tulse Hill as well as 'Brixton'. And these were just the men who had a) survived the first day of the Somme b) survived further months of action there c) survived the rest of the War d) survived the random vicissitudes of civilian life e) survived WWII and f) lived beyond retirement age (well beyond, in most cases). Obviously many will have relocated from their home towns (but many not) but it gives a chilling indication of just how much of the country was affected by this one day of this one battle.It's worth noting that this book is just about all about men. Of course it is, it's the story of those who fought on the front line. Worthwhile books about women in the war are Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain and The Roses of No Man's Land by Lyn Macdonald. This is absolutely not a criticism.Also, and again, I don't fault the author, I get very frustrated at the presentation of casualty figures. Dead/died of wounds/missing eventually declared dead I can process. But the figures on wounded are misleading. To me, there's at least three kinds of 'wounded' - a) body-shattering/life-disrupting injuries that destroy a man; b) injuries that take a long time to heal - often months of hospitalisation and discharge from the army but allow a return to something that resembles normality; and c) short-term injuries and illnesses similar to those that they might suffer in training, sport or civilian life, such as bone breaks, joint dislocations and illnesses (mumps, chicken pox etc and surely D&V must have been rife). In another book I read of a soldier who missed the first day of the Somme because he twisted his ankle and was retired to light duties for a few days. But he counts as a 'casualty'. And of course, what is entirely unquantified is the extent and depth of psychological injury.I would recommend this book to just about everybody. People in their mid-teens just embarking on GCSE study of WW1 (I wish I had read it at 15); people who are only vaguely aware of the reality of Trench Warfare; people who read 20th Century history and want to know before the centenary celebrations; and academics, who might learn how to tell a story in a way that all these people can learn and understand.

  • Jerry Smith
    2019-03-31 19:01

    I rarely give 5 stars to books here on Goodreads and I debated doing so here. The fact that I did so is probably more to do with my particular interests in this conflict, and the awful day of July 1st 1916 than any particular outstanding merits of the book itself in terms of writing or particular literary style (although I found that style to be somber, informative but also very readable). Any Brit with any level of interest in WW1 will be familiar with the awful events of July 1st 1916 and that 50-60000 casualties taken by the Army on that day. However this book does an excellent job of telling the whole story of that day, the successes (and there were some) as well as the carnage and the losses. To those with only a passing awareness of the battle, it may seem that it only lasted one day when in fact, it dragged on until November and the winter finally brought the tremendous struggle to an end.The full battle is beyond the scope of the book although Middlebrook covers the remainder of the battle in summary at the end. It is amazing that it took the allied armies 3 months to reach objectives that were goals of that first day's "big push". Studying the battles of WW1, and the Somme in particular, makes one realize that it is all too easy to resort to platitudes such as "Lions led by Donkeys" and to blame "The Generals" for the appalling war of attrition into which the Western Front descended. There is no doubt some truth in this but it is a lot more complex that that and much of that history seems to be more developed today than in 1972 when this book was written. However, 50 years after the events is still long enough to gain perspective and, it seems to me, Middlebrook is very fair in his analysis of the performance of the generals. It is clear that the Chiefs of Staff were holed up in luxury several miles behind the line, and they do come in for criticism, but WW1 saw a large number of officers and commanders killed and this is mentioned here too in some detail.What I like about this book is the structure and the approach. MM sets the scene and explains the lead up to the conflict itself and the battle in particular. This is obviously important - one can't see such major fighting in isolation as we need to know why it happened and why it happened there and how it related to the rest of the war. For example, the conversations between the allies are well covered, in particular the desperation of the French to have the Brits relieve the pressure they were under in trying to hold Verdun against a sustained German offensive.However this is not simply a book about the tactics of the battle and the war (although those are well covered) but we get to hear about the common soldiers; how they died, how they lived, what happened. It also covers the lost opportunities - the right side gains that were lost for want of reinforcements and cavalry that were never used. The feeling of going over the top when you can see bullets kicking up dirt on the parapet. How it must have felt walking into that wall of fire.It's a very good book, highly recommended. At the same time analytical, thought provoking and poignant.

  • Graham
    2019-03-29 20:45

    THE ORIGINS OF MODERN DISSILLUSIONMENT: Can anyone really understand this most classic of WWI battles, with its numbing calculus of bodies? The total inanity of it? The massive amounts of technology involved and the sheer amount of human wastage... 20,000 dead and 40,000 wounded withing 5 hours of fighting...? Martin Middlebrook has done a great job at bringing the evocative spirit of the Army to light and its sacrifice on the Somme. It is a small tragedy that people all over the British Commonwealth and the US would completely forget what modern man was capable of doing almost 100 yrs ago. It was a largest pile of human killing ever witnessed in a single day and it should be more properly remembered. Although other battles have lasted longer and consumed a few more lives... only at the Somme in 1916 do you see the full horror of mechanised death unbound. Middlebrook descibes this army how and why it was comprised, the Pals Regiments (a novel idea that tragically would never be used by any army to recruit people), the regular Older British Army from 1914, the "Old Contemptables," the strategic situationa and the tactics employed in the greatest concentration of artillery firepower ever witnessed. So much so that it was described as a 24 hour frieght train passing overhead for 2 full weeks of pre-bombardment. The heroics are here as well, the medical facilities that could not save many without modern antibiotics, the relentless marching with "guns at slope" into the German Machine Guns. Whole regiments destroyed. Whole battalions of 700 men with less than 100 effectives by noon on the first day was hardly novel.The Somme represented a lot and in some ways signifiies the beginning of the modern era of doubt and the downfall of absolute authority and tradition. Authority and tradition that allowed such a catastrophe to happen. Beyond the battle if one is looking for the origins of post-modernism, as Wittgenstein learned, WWI taught the forgotten generation a lot. From the biting impact of bullets upon 10s of thousands of sacrificed servicemen, people eventually came to see that the world was more than empty slogans of glory and death for "King and Country".Middlebrook has done a great job with this book.

  • Costa Panayi
    2019-04-22 19:00

    The book was quite a 'heavy' read for me personally and there was a lot to take in. I thought this was a general book about 'The First Day on the Somme', but as this was only a single day of the Battle, a LOT had happened. Lots of information was written about it, and it was quite detailed. So many regiments and battalions were mentioned, the tactics, how many died, who died and where, who was not worthy of command anymore, etc. It was not the most interesting book to read, but I did learn a fair amount about the Somme from a tactical perspective. For some reason I enjoyed the book more to the end..but then that could have been because I wanted to finish it. It was not a fun/enjoyable read, but it was full of information, tactics, names dates etc. I would probably give it a 3.5, but that is because I did not enjoy it as much as I would have hoped.

  • Christopher Chambers
    2019-04-01 18:07

    I came to this from the bibliography of Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory and the Conquest of Everest and because family lore has it that my grandfather was on the Somme; I pledged to read it before the 100th anniversary this July.So I am no historian, military or otherwise, but I found the book beautifully balances academic distance with care and concern for the men who fought that day. And it is about that single first day of fighting. That gives Middlebrook ample space to look at the army that took the field, how they came to be there and, to a lesser extent, the men they faced across no mans' land.Before the introduction he lists ten men of different backgrounds, experiences and positions across the front and follows their fates. Yet he never lets this motif become exclusive or, as it might in other hands (or times), sentimental. Nevertheless, those ten emerge fully as individuals and their fortunes (and fortune has much to do with it) are keenly felt.The time is ever present and although the author doesn't consider the causes of the Great War, he does analyse the politics of the allied armies. With this perspective he is less damning than contemporary writers might be on the strategy and tactics. Quite simply the Somme happened to relieve the French at Verdun and, to an extent, thus inevitable. One of the many moving vignettes belongs to Pte King waiting in the lines. His recently arrived daughter was named Gladys Hope Verdun King; not just the generals were aware of the wider significance of the battle to come.This edition is quite marvellous with excellent maps (including a pullout to extend left alongside the open book detailing the positions of the followed soldiers) and photographs.

  • Fred
    2019-03-27 22:55

    This book recounts the events of July 1 1916 from the viewpoint of several soldiers who fought that day. Martin Middlebrook, a layperson to the field of history, took it upon himself to track down the men who survived the Battle of the Somme and interview them. It is both a valuable work of history and an entertaining read. If you are not familiar with the outlines of the battle you may find the book confusing as it moves from regiment to regiment around the field. The average soldier had no idea what was happening on the grand scale so we are treated to "micro-views" of the battle. There are summaries at the beginning of the book of the creations of Haig's volunteer, civilian army and the opening month of the war which are very helpful. he also includes accounts of the rest of the war at the end of the book as well as what happened to the soldiers later in life. It is one of the best parts of the book. The heart of the narrative is a step by step description of the dawn, morning, noon, afternoon and evening of the bloodiest day in English history. It is a must read for any "fan" of World War 1.

  • Elliott
    2019-04-09 16:51

    I deliberately made a point to avoid reading this book until the last part of June 2016- when 100 years ago the artillery was being set up and commencing its long bombardment. I finished the book on the date that the Somme was scheduled to begin. I remember reading an anecdote in The Price of Glory by Aleister Horne where during the official commemoration of Verdun the usually unshakable Charles de Gaulle had to excuse himself for weeping during the remembrance, and even separate a whole century's worth of time from the Somme reading the recollections that Martin Middlebrook assembled I felt so melancholy and depressed I could not help but close the book and step away for a while. There were sixty thousand casualties on the first day of the Somme. My hometown is one tenth that amount. Imagining that scale of mutilation: six hometowns stacked on top of one another in the aether of imagination gone in 24 hours time is horror compounded a thousandfold. You needn't read the gore to hurt from that image of 60,000 men just disappearing.

  • Izzy
    2019-04-14 22:10

    An excellent overview of the first day of the Somme, though it did tail off a little towards the end. I think I would have done better to have read this continuously over one period; because I dipped in and out, I kept getting lost and losing the narrative. Some extremely moving accounts from the men who were there and a very comprehensive dissection of the events. The maps were particularly good.

  • Guy Cabell
    2019-04-14 20:43

    This is a very well laid-out history of what happened on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, July 1, 1916 - how the British troops who fought there were assembled, how they were equipped and led, and the simple mistakes that turned this day into a seminal event in the history of the United Kingdom. Mr. Middlebrook is cautious in laying blame on different leaders, but does carefully explain what worked and what didn't.

  • Emily
    2019-04-07 20:45

    If there's anything worse than knowing the basic gist of things at the Somme (horrifying loss of life and futility of the attempted advance), then it is knowing the details of the first day. Part of what's fascinating, though, about this account is that Middlebrook spent what must have been many hundreds of hours corresponding with or interviewing survivors, and his account relies as much as on their reminiscences as on official sources.

  • John
    2019-04-21 18:53

    A friend from Scotland gave me a copy of this book after we sat in a pub in Carlisle one evening discussing war and our father's experiences and John Keeghan's "Face of Battle." It is a meticulous, highly detailed book that probably comes as close as anything can to providing and understanding of the fear, terror, and utter drudgery of life in the trenches in WWI.

  • Dave
    2019-04-12 17:50

    Well written book from an era when authors used footnotes instead of those abominations known 'as 'endnotes' that require you to use two bookmarks when reading. Well researched as well with lots of quotes from the participants. Thoroughly enjoyed this book, other than the very tragic subject matter, of course.

  • Jaqui Lane
    2019-03-28 17:01

    A heartbreaking and very direct account of the first day of the Battle of the Somme.I actually read this as I was undertaking a military history tour of the Somme battlefields and it provided a factual and surprisingly personal perspective of the first day.For those who think their school history summary of the Somme is enough, buy this book.

  • AskHistorians
    2019-04-18 22:59

    A very in-depth analysis of the first day of the Somme from a British perspective. This book goes into detail about most battalions who fought on the First Day of the Somme and who took part in that famous initial charge at zero hour. It's a very informative book that includes everything an amateur historian needs to know.

  • Andrew Herbert
    2019-04-06 22:10

    Excellent book. Very well written and thorough. He seems to be reluctant to blame the generals, but Rawlinson comes off worst. Lots of eyewitness comments as he follows troops of the New Army into their first battle. Grim. Very grim to imagine the slaughter and stupidity mixed with bravery.