The Somme Herosim and Horror in the First World War

Martin Gilbert

Holt Paperbacks



Trade Paperback

368 Pages


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At 7:30 in the morning on July 1, 1916, tens of thousands of Allied soldiers advanced across no-man's land north and south of the Somme River in France toward the barbed wire and machine guns of the German front lines.

By the end of this first day of the Allied attack, the British army alone had lost 20,000 men. In the coming four and a half months, the fifteen-mile stretch of fields and villages along the Somme became the epicenter of the Great War. This desperate battle was a turning point in both the war and in military history, as the combatants saw the first appearance of tanks on the battlefield, the emergence of air war as a formidable factor in battle, and more than one million casualties (among them a young Adolf Hitler, who was wounded in the leg). In just 138 days of fighting, an average of more than 2,000 men per day were killed, 310,000 in all. The Allied forces alone lost nearly 150,000 men. And not one of the Allied objectives of the first day was reached.

In this researched account of one of history's longest and most destructive military confrontations, the distinguished historian Martin Gilbert tracks the Battle of the Somme through the experiences of foot soldiers (known to the British as the PBI, for Poor Bloody Infantry), generals, aviators, artillerymen, and nurses. Interwoven with outstanding photographs, journal entries, maps, and documents from every stage and level of planning, The Somme is an account of this bloody turning point in the Great War.


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'Chewing barbed wire'
In August 1914 the empires of Europe embarked on a war that each of them believed would be swift and victorious.
Austria-Hungary was confident it could crush Serbia within a few weeks, avenging the assassination that summer of Archduke Franz-Ferdinand of Austria, killed in Sarajevo by a Serb nationalist.
Germany, with territorial desires on the industrial region of north-west France, was confident it could reach Paris within a few months and dictate peace terms, as it had done in 1871 - and was to do again in 194
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  • Martin Gilbert

  • Sir Martin Gilbert was knighted in 1995 “for services to British history and international relations.” The author of an eight-volume biography of Winston Churchill, among his other books are Churchill: A Life, The First World War, The Second World War, and most recently The Somme. He lives in London, England.
  • Martin Gilbert ©Sigrid Estrada