The Somme

The Darkest Hour on the Western Front
Narrated by: Mark Ashby
Length: 20 hrs and 13 mins
Categories: History, Military
4.5 out of 5 stars (251 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

The Somme: these words conjure the image of war rigidly fought by traditional means even when catastrophe clearly loomed. Relying on personal testimonies never before published, this study of those who survived the first day of battle (July 1, 1916) captures this epic conflagration from all angles. Follow the action as soldiers crawl across No Man’s Land in the face of German guns, struggle with the conditions in the trenches, and survey the scene from the air as the RFC tries to control the skies above the battlefield.

©2008 Peter Hart (P)2013 Audible, Inc.

What listeners say about The Somme

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  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Harrowing Story Badly Produced

This is a comprehensive story of the British offensive on the Somme. It is rich in historical detail. A great part of this detail consists of excerpts from diaries and reports of the actual participants, from generals to privates.

It helped me expand my knowledge of this important part of WW1 and gave me some insight into some of the appalling decisions made by the British general command as well as the motivations and courage of those tasked with carrying those decisions.

The author provides sources for his many excerpts of original material. Unfortunately he chose to provide these attributions in the body of the text instead of in a footnote. This lead the producer of this book to include these attributions in the reading of the text. This interrupts the narrative flow with frequent and repetitive citations. These attributions are fine in a printed work, but the producer should have omitted them in the audio recording.

19 people found this helpful

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A fateful day

Peter Hart is the oral historian of Britain’s Imperial War Museum. Hart has written a well research book and has dissected the battle in detail. Hart mixes facts and figures with direct quotations from participants to help establish “the face of battle”. This narrative/analytical backdrop contextualizing the personal experiences makes for dramatic reading of the battle. Because of his job at the War Museum Hart has unrivaled access to relevant source material. The author vividly presents the run up to the “big push” expected to end the war, instead resulted in the disaster of the first day July 1, 1916. The British suffered nearly 60,000 casualties, the greatest one day lost in the history of the British Army. Hart does make a point that General Douglas Haig (British Army) wanted to start the 1916 campaign in Belgium but French General Joffre the overall commander insisted on the Somme. The battle lasted for four deadly months.

The British had only a small army as it always relied upon its navy to fight its wars. Prior wars in Europe the British primarily control the ocean and relied on its allies to fight on land. In World War One the British had to quickly build an army so it depended heavily on its colonies to man the army. The 1st Newfoundland Regiment of the Canadian Army was virtually wiped out at Beaumont Hamel on the first day of the battle July 1, 1916. The Canadian army lost 24,713 men at the Somme. Most people have never heard of Delville Wood, but if you mention it in South Africa you will find it is still a place of fame, only 780 out of 3153 men in the South African Regiment survived the battle. A comprehensive study of the battle of the Somme (1916) found that a million combatants were killed/wounded. The British Army learned to fight in the campaign with numerous innovations such as walking artillery fire, and tanks were used for the first time.

The Somme occupies a hallowed place in British memory comparable to Gallipoli for Australians or Gettysburg for Americans, but on a much bigger scale. With just under a half million causalities this was the costliest battle the British Army has ever fought. As I listened to this as an audio book, I used the internet for maps and pictures of the battle of the Somme. I understand the actual book contained many pictures and maps. Mark Ashby did an excellent job narrating the book. This is a must read book for anyone studying the battle of the Somme.

6 people found this helpful

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Great stories and information, poor organization

I love the book first off. The perspective is told through the letters amd journals of men who were there and you can't help but appreciate that in terms of true storytelling. The one thing I didnt care for was the organization of the book and in my opinion lack of meaningful context for alot of the tales.

2 people found this helpful

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Good story. Bad telling.

The quotes were great but having to listen to the soldier's unit after every single one broke me. Made it to Ch. 5.

2 people found this helpful

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Amazing first hand accounts.

I have recently started to study WW1. After a podcast by Dan Carlin, I purchased this audio book. I was not disappointed, my jaw was wide open while listening to the heroic tales of all the many men of the Somme.

2 people found this helpful

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Sad look into wastefulness of trench fighting

Miscommunication, no communication, naivete, over optimism, men leisurely walking at shoulder arms into German machine guns, rotting corpses, rats, no quarter etc... The Somme was a dreadful waste of human life . At the same time, the bravery of the individual soldier was praiseworthy. A majority of soldiers took a fatalistic view of the fighting. They knew they were going to die, it was just a matter of when..Arguably, men with this view didn't give their 100%. Conversely, the majority of those KIA never even got the chance to fight. They were mowed down by the hundreds walking toward the German wire..The men that did make into the German trenches seemed to take prisoners as an afterthought.,Many units did have orders not to take prisoners for fear of slowing the advance. It's a good book though, told mostly from the Commonwealth side.. Some reviewers mentioned that the reading of footnotes during the narration was distracting. I didn't mind. It is exactly how I read a book... I read every footnote as it appears. I have to know the details.

2 people found this helpful

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footnotes!!

What would have made The Somme better?

author constantly inserts quotes from participants in the battle and at the end of each quote includes their name, rank, country, company, battalion and army division. This may be fine if you are reading the book, but in the audible version, especially since the quotes are so frequent, I found it to be very annoying.

5 people found this helpful

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  • jh
  • 05-27-15

A tale of brutal war!

Awesome book! This is a must for those who are intrested in ww1.
Just puck it up you ent regret it.

2 people found this helpful

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Unending horror

This book feels like you are listening to someone bashing their head against a brick wall repeatedly hoping to break through.

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Another Hart Masterpiece

I have read this book several times, but listening to it brings it all back to life again. I do feel sorry for the narrator having to keep reading the units over and over again. Otherwise, Peter Hart nails it again, great details to the history of the battle and heart breaking inclusion of personalized letters from the soldiers themselves. Worth the listen or read to anyone interested in learning more about World War One.