The Battle of the Somme – Brusilov On His Own I THE GREAT WAR – Week 102

The Battle of the Somme – Brusilov On His Own I THE GREAT WAR – Week 102

The Battle of Verdun had been fought for over
four months now, the Brusilov Offensive was a month old, and this week they were joined
as one of the biggest and bloodiest battles in human history also kicked off. This week
saw the beginning of the Battle of the Somme. I’m Indy Neidell; welcome to the Great War. Last week the Austrians released cyanide gas
on the Italians, though it was the Italians who advanced on the Asiago Plateau. The Russians
advance in Galicia slowly came to a halt as German reinforcements made a big difference,
and the Germans began moving troops and artillery to the Somme where an Allied artillery barrage
throughout the week heralded an impending offensive. Here’s what came next. Well, that offensive finally began. We beat them on the Marne
We beat them on the Aisne We gave them hell at Neuve Chappelle
And here we are again! (Gilbert) On the morning of July 1st, over 250,000 shells
were fired on the Germans in a little over an hour. That’s 3,500 per minute. The barrage
was so intense that it could be heard north of London. At 0730, mines were exploded beneath
the German trenches and then the British and French attacked along a 40 kilometer front.
The Battle of the Somme had begun. John Keegan wrote (Great War), “This is
the moment that has come to symbolize the whole of the Great War. The “lions led by
donkeys” school see it as a savage indictment of the stupidity of British generals; the
long lines of overburdened men stumbling toward the German machine guns are painted as victims,
dying for no reason. However, it is crucial to dispel that myth. The British generals
tactics were the best that could have been conceived at the time…” But the attack was a disaster. The artillery
had in many places failed to cut the barbed wire, especially when they mostly fired shrapnel
shells and not high explosives shells. The German defense system was still totally intact
and the attacks were not so much a story of British incompetence, but rather of the strength
of the German defenses and their resilience. There were upward of 100 German machine guns
that had been in armored nests that had survived the artillery, and they opened fire as the
infantry poured from the trenches. The attackers had to bunch together to get through what
were surprisingly small gaps in the German barbed wire and there they were killed en
masse. (Gilbert) Most British soldiers carried over
60 pounds of equipment, the rifle, grenades, ammo, rations, four empty sandbags, a shovel,
field dressing, a steel helmet, two gas helmets, a water bottle and a mess tin. I read in Martin
Gilbert that General Edmonds wrote in his official history, “the weight of this equipment
made it difficult to get out of the trench, impossible to move much quicker than a slow
walk, or to rise and lie down quickly.” Two German held villages, Mametz and Montauban,
were captured by the British that day and the Leipzig Redoubt, a German strongpoint.
The cost in men, though, was the highest that day of any day of battle in the entire
war. The British took 57,470 casualties (Hart); 19,240 of those were men killed. There were
actions like this one: the 6th Royal Warwicks reached their goal near Serre, but when German
machine guns hit them from both flanks they retreated to their starting point. 836 men
had set out, 520 were killed and 316 wounded. Every single man was either killed or wounded
(Gilbert) The only British Dominion force fighting that
day, from Newfoundland, was nearly totally destroyed. Of 810 men, only 100 returned unharmed.
Still, the intensity of the attack and its scale caused the Germans to immediately transfer
two divisions and 60 heavy guns up from Verdun, and it seemed to be an end to the German search
for victory there. The French attacks south of the British under
General Emile Fayolle were more successful. In the first place, the Germans weren’t
expecting an attack there. In the second, the French had a lot more experience of offensive
action than the British, and the French artillery was ruthless. The French also had a greater
proportion of heavy guns than the British and they soon put the German guns out of action
and destroyed a lot of the machine gun emplacements. The French infantry smashed through the German
lines and took the villages of Frise, Dompierre, Becquincourt, Fay, Herbecourt, and Assevillers.
But they were aware that the British were lagging behind so they paused; by the time
they renewed the offensive the Germans had reinforced and then they had it just as hard
as the British did. Still, by July 4th, they had broken through
the Germans on a ten km front. British wounded began reaching London in immense endless convoys
that day, even as the battle became a struggle for small woods and tiny villages. Proper
identification for hundreds of thousands of dead would be impossible as artillery tore
up the bodies and then the corpses. The Germans, though, had tactical issues of
their own to deal with. Falkenhayn had made clear that all lost ground must be recovered
no matter what the cost. That cost would be very high, as we will see. But high costs were the new normal, it seemed,
for they continued unabated on the Eastern Front. Alexei Brusilov’s month long offensive had
been staggering, and he had repeatedly crushed the Austro-Hungarian forces, inflicting hundreds
of thousands of casualties, however, since beginning the offensive he himself had lost
around 285,000 men killed and at least that many wounded or taken prisoners. His reserves
now were more and more often fresh recruits and he no longer had his crack, battle-hardened
troops. He had paused his offensive to regroup and
meet the Austro-German counter offensives, which had failed, and he planned to attack
to July 3rd because General Alexei Evert, in the north, was to finally attack that day
and prevent the Germans from reinforcing further south. Evert surprised everybody by attacking on
July 2nd along a 7km front 20km north of Baranovichi. They had planned to attack toward Vilna, but
less than two weeks ago Evert had changed plans. This meant that his men were really
unprepared; their maps sucked, their guns were unregistered because they hadn’t had
time for much aerial observation and once the attack began communications were in some
places non-existent. Still, they nearly made a breakthrough, but not quite, and on the
4th and 5th when they renewed the assault they were mown down. Evert rested his troops
on the 6th and 7th and the Germans added two regiments to their lines, and when the Russians
attacked on the 8th in ranks 10 or 12 deep using the same failed tactics they had in
1914 and 1915, 6 Russian divisions could not defeat one Austrian Corps backed by one German
reserve division. The Tsar had this to say, “Many of our commanding generals are silly
idiots who, even after two years of warfare, cannot learn the first and simplest lessons
in warfare.” He was right. In seven days Evert used more shells than Brusilov used
the whole month of June, and his army took 80,000 casualties while inflicting only 16,000.
General Kuropatkin, who was also to strike from the bridgeheads at Riga, made one brief
foray this week and that was it. Brusilov was basically on his own. The focal
point of his whole operation now was Kovel and then Lemberg, and let’s be clear, even
with the Somme now in full swing, Brusilov succeeding was the best chance for a real
decision in the war. If he could once again break through then Romania would quite likely
join the war with Russia and Austria-Hungary would be defeated. He thought it was worth
the risk. And when Brusilov launched his attack on the
4th he immediately opened gaps in the Austro-Germans lines and took Kopyli, and on the 5th threatened
to roll up the whole Styr front once again. By the end of the week the Russians had broken
through the Polish legion and separated them from the Austrians, the endless Russian infantry
poured into the gap, and General Alexander von Linsingen ordered the entire Austrian
northern sector to retreat 100km to behind the Stochod River. There was one other notable city that fell
this week. The Battle of Mecca came to an end after three
weeks on July 4th with the Sharifan army victorious taking the holy city from the Ottoman Empire.
The Arab Revolt was now one month old and held both Jeddah and Mecca. And a week of carnage ends. The British bleeding
themselves to death against the Germans, the French fairing a bit better, the Russians
in the north again failing on a gigantic scale, while to the south the Brusilov steamroller
rolls on. Think, there are now three campaigns going
on at once, and two of those would have over a million casualties each while the other
would be close to a million. War on that kind of scale had never before happened in human
history. Think of the Brusilov Offensive. In just one month the Russians have lost half
a million men, and they’re winning! In fact, they’re winning big. We’ve now reached
a point where you can lose half a million men in one month and that’s success. That
is Modern War. You might have seen that our animations for
the Battle of the Somme looked a bit differently this week. That’s because they were made
by Epic History TV which is a great historical YouTube channel with more top notch animated
history. You can check out his video about the First Day of the Somme right here. Our Patreon supporter of the week is Foster
Hardt. Please help us out on Patreon, so that we can make more awesome animations and improve
our show even further. Don’t forget to subscribe – see you next


  1. And at 1:50 A.M. July 14th 2016, after a grueling 6 hour marathon (after several similar marathons on the 10th through the13th) SuperKamiGuru caught up to the current Great War series episodes. Their forces celebrated by rolling over and going to sleep. Seriously though, an astounding series thus far, and completely worth the sleep deprivation.

  2. If only this channel was trasucte in french .. I hardly understand sometimes .
    Great s"how" i love your works guys !

  3. 1:30 Keegan was wrong. There are no tactics involved in frontal attacks against overwhelming firepower, that sort of attack is just an example of Generals who had no idea. As was illustrated later in the war when the competent Generals were finally able to have some influence.

  4. something that might be good for us viewers to understand the importance of the circular battle markers would be – if there was a dotted line on the map to represent where the front stands instead of trying to gauge it by the original country borders

  5. I can't possibly fathom the reason behind those 6 thumbs down. This show is absolutely amazing. Thank you all.

  6. The difference between French and British Artillery was in Fire Control.  The British had a fixed timetable and hell mend you if you fell behind.  The French Artillery used Forward Observation Officers (FOO) equipped with secure paired wire field telephones (rather than earth return which the British had only just abandoned) to allow them to call in strikes as required and to move and adjust the fire to match the pace of the advance.  This was adopted by the British later and to this day, British Infantry Regiments on deployment have a FOO attached to them.

  7. Why didn't Brusilov kill Evert? I don't mean a hanging or firing squad, I mean why didn't he just walk up to Evert and shoot him in his dumb face?

  8. Love the video as well the channel. The German trenches and bunkers were obviously very well build to survive all that artillery fire and the mines. The British generals underestimated them, they were telling the infantry that they would not meet any alive German on the other side of the No Man's land. So they sent thousands and thousands of them right accros it, but the Germans were waiting with their machine guns. So many died in the first day of the battle….
    I have two more things to share with you about the Somme battle:

    1. The tanks were used for the very first time in history in this battle. They were called Little Willie & Mark I.

    2. A young Adolf Hitler was wounded in the leg at the Somme and sent to hospital in eastern Germany where he recovered.

  9. +The Great War "The french had broken through on a ten kilometer front". I think it's rather "the french had broken through on a twenty kilometer front, ten kilometers deep in german lines".

  10. Were there any 100-year commemorations of the Somme? On-site or perhaps in UK? It was such a traumatic day in British history, like 9/11 times 6 or more.

  11. If the US had lost 5,000 men in one month while fighting in Afgahnistan or Iraq people would be screaming about a massacre and probably demanding the court martial of the commanding general and the chief of staff. And the President would be under severe criticism. Really gives you a sense of just what REAL sacrifice in war time actually means.

  12. +The Great War Was the Battle of the Somme the single bloodiest day in the war? I know that it was the bloodiest day in British military history, but weren't there some days back in 1914 where the French and Germans lost more than that in a day?

  13. Disappointed there was no mention of the Ulster Division, which was entirely made up of volunteers, the only division to reach it's objectives, advancing so quickly that they came under attack from their own artillery, suffering 5500 dead and winning 4 out of the 9 victoria crosses awarded during the battle.

  14. The British soldier shown in the photo at 2:47 seems to have a Roman Centurion style helmet with a crest of horse hair. Was such decoration acceptable in the British army?

  15. What reason did the Russian generals in the north give for their delays and changes of plans? Tummy aches? Hangover? Three day weekends?

  16. RE. weight of equipment. This was very similar to the problem the US had in Viet Nam. US GIs had about 60lbs of equipment too. The Viet Cong had a field day because while they seldom won fights, they could out manoeuvre the GIs in the jungle. US infantry today have it even worse and are sometimes saddled with 120lbs of gear. Needless to say, this slows them down and makes it harder for them to move.

  17. The Somme Offensive might not be an indictment of British tactics, but it is a condemnation of their strategy. The British bombardment and concentration had accomplished its goal of forcing a halt in German momentum at Verdun, so why did Haig persist in continuing with futility far and above his aforementioned modest goals for his forces? Haig's strategic plan is more reminiscent of that employed by Eugene of Savoy at the Battle of Malplaquet in the War of Spanish Succession: ordered to pin the French right flank through demonstration, he exceeded his orders by attacking the fortified enemy line, resulting in massive casualties. The pyrrhic victory led to the recall of the Allied commanders and the negotiated end of the war. Not only did Haig needlessly squander six hundred thousand men, he established the pattern he would follow throughout the remainder of the war: launching "limited" offensives with heavy casualties like at the Battle of Arras in summer of 1917, or launching battles where tactical success was overshadowed by his indifference to the overall strategic state of the war. I cite the Battle of Cambrai and the Third Ypres Campaign, both of which would have much more successful if Haig had waited until American and French forces were ready for a coordinated offensive. Instead his attacks in July to October 1917 simply killed a lot of Commonwealth soldiers for small gains.

  18. fucking Arabs werent jihading and helping Ottomans then, instead they fought against them.
    but they are now doing that to fight against the same enemy 100 years ago

  19. Why were russian generals in the north so unwilling to support comrades in the south? Literlally lost the war with this move for russia

  20. One of the sources you quoted mentioned the weight of British equipment. 60 lbs is considerable, sure, and does slow you down some. But I think the author overstates the impairment caused by this. I speak from (limited) military experience, but want to link the video below to demonstrate how much weight soldiers carry throughout time.

  21. Thank you for mentioning the (Royal) Newfoundland Regiment. The disaster at Beaumont Hamel is still remembered. Whilst the rest of Canada celebrates Canada Day on 1 July, Newfoundland keeps Memorial Day in memory of the Blue Puttees who died at the Somme on that day in 1916.

  22. 4:25 "The French had a lot more experience of offensive action than the British". Too bad the experience came at the cost of hundreds of thousands, if not millions of young men.

  23. You know that statistic that says "If you have 10 dollars and no debts, you are richer than 80% of Americans"? It's something like that anyway.

    That's how the Arab revolt is. They are doing the best by default in not being led by complete silly idiots.

  24. Just a note about the Newfoundlanders here, Indy says 100 made it back unharmed, but my sources say only 68 men returned unharmed of the nearly 800 who went over the top. 2 of my great great uncles being among them.

  25. my great grandfather fought at Beaumont Hamel with the Canadiens (whom i love) came back with not a single physical injury, i wonder what was going on in these brave soldiers heads before, during and after the Somme. RIP

  26. Brusilov and his men, leading the fight, suffering casualties but taking prisoners and territory. Meanwhile, the ones who were supposed to support him were trying to get him removed while ignoring his pleas for help. The frustration must have been huge, I don't think I would have be able to bear it.

    I wouldn't have blamed him if he had sent a message demanding either full support or his immediate relief of command. Not to mention leave Russia, which I think many people of that time would later wish they had done while there was time.

  27. Damn I got to give it to the Tsar he actually seems pretty smart and understanding compared to the ignorance of people that are supposed to be masters of warfare.

  28. I found this series late, and have been binge watching to try and catch up. I'm now only a year behind. If it wouldn't be much trouble, could all the armies just shuffle around in circles while I catch up? I need sleep.

  29. Germany was easily the best army they were on 3 fronts and their ally was useless yet they came so close to win countless times. Also in ww2 as well just saying

  30. I heard that in some places on the Somme, British soldiers advanced quite literally arm in arm because their superiors thought it would be a morale boost. They were quite predictably mowed down.

  31. 57,000 casualties, 19,000 dead in one day – the numbers and implications are staggering. For scale, one third of U.S. casualties from the entire Vietnam war. Sir Douglas Haig's arrogance in the specific orders on the manner in which British soldiers were to advance was beyond insane. He should have been shot.

  32. I know it first appeared a few episodes back, but I must really congratulate you on your new intro – this somber music is great and really sets the tone!

  33. I think your videos are excellent but but your support for the establishment military historian school is vexing- the argument that there was no other option in terms of tactics at the somme merely aquits the british high command without addressing the fact that Haig entered into one of the largest battles in history withot any clear military objective, which could be said of the british governments approach to the war in general. Sassoon's declaration in 1917 was so controversial because it told far too many home truths.
    It is not enough to say that Haig had no other options is insufficient, Brusilov had come close to winning the war by using new tactics. The modern defence of Haig generally seems to stem from haig's own family, and the idea that he was not criticised until long after the war and the rise of left leaning critical schools is also a myth- When Sassoon wrote the old general 'he did for them both with his plan of attack' he was clearly attacking haig and the colonial hierachy of the British Army- he was also a bestselling author. Churchill criticised him viciously as well as well as the somme ofensive (although its a bit rich after his debacle at galipoli)
    The Somme has not entered into the cultural history of the UK as a great victory or a defeat rather as a warning as to the futility and wastge of war.

  34. I still don't get why they use any writings of John Keegan. His mediocre understanding of military history is very similar to the military and civilian "leadership" that fought this war.

  35. So, most shells were too low explosives and resulted in duds? If chemicals for making explosives, were running so low, why didn't they just make fewer shells, with right components? Quality over quantity? I know they needed loads and loads of shells, but having mostly duds is such a common theme after the first year.

  36. Thank you for mentioning Newfoundlands involvement! I've heard stories that the officers were ordered to shot anyone unwilling to go over the top to prevent cowardice and desertion. July 1st a day of infamy in Newfoundland.

  37. It seems to me that Brusilov had a great idea in this offensive.
    And it seemed that they could have made a huge dent in the war if it had not stalled due the incompetence of the other generals.

  38. There's a myth that WWI was shocking by the scale of the death an destruction. It comes about because the death toll is also given in nominal terms. But relative terms are far more informative. Caesar's conquest of Gaul was probably bloodier in relative terms.

    Something ELSE had changed which made WWI stick out: photography, movie footage of the shell shocked, and widespread literacy. Now the soldiers themselves got to tell their stories.

  39. Century later it is still hard for French and Britons to admit that their losses in Western Front were actually much heavier than those of Germans. That denial based on wartime propaganda claims of German losses explained the motive of these boneheaded offensives of French and British offensives.

  40. "The Brusilov offensive cost nearly 1 million Russian casualties in June 1916 alone, and 2 million by November 1916. By 1917, the Russian people had reached their breaking point, the morale of the Russian Army was shattered, and before long, the train carrying Vladimir Ilyich Lenin would be leaving for the Finland Station." (Source: Graydon Tunstall)

  41. I'm British, I went to college with a guy from a military family, his great-grandfather was the youngest of five sons, the other four? All died, at the Somme, on the first day, within an hour of each other

  42. I have a big question, which I may have missed in an earlier episdoe…did any of the leaders try to negotiate peace? Did the Kaiser or the Tsar or whoever ask to end the war?

  43. 60lbs? I carried around 130 as a 240 gunner. I would’ve strangled small woodland creatures to get my kit down to 60lbs.

  44. A single German machine-gun on July 1 managed to hold up the British 30th Division until it was knocked out, and the 30th was the most successful British division on the day. Many other divisions were essentially massacred in no man's land, mostly by German machine-gun fire.

  45. and to think in the entirety of the vietnam there were a total of about 50,000 americans killed. In WW1 that was considered a slow day

  46. Just think if they had come up with a line charge back then like they use today to clear mines and IED's. They had the tech, its just no one came up with the idea. All you need is explosives strapped to a cable and a way to shoot it across no mans land. I figure instead of a rocket they use today maybe some sort of motor.

  47. Beaumont Hamel July 1 1916. A dark day is newfoundland history. When the rest of Canada celebrate “Canada day”. We remember, Newfoundlander first Canadian second.

  48. "The long lines of overburdened men stumbling toward the German machine guns are painted as victims, dying for no reason. However, it is crucial to dispel that myth. The British general's tactics were the best that could have been conceived at that time…"

    It seems to me that, if you try something and fail, doing the same thing again and expecting a different result is insane, yet it seems as though that's exactly the way these generals pursued the war. Now we are seeing offensives being started to take pressure off an ally instead of for tactical and strategic objectives. I don't perceive this myth is a myth. Soldiers may die for a reason, but that reason is because of incompetence, hubris and/or politics, none of which relate to sound military principles. To say the soldiers are not victims is incorrect imo.

  49. Man I don't envy Haig. Lets have a distraction worth 200.000 of your boys lest the French army cease to exist.

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