Somme Offensive Pt 2

By noon on March 21st, 1918, the entire forward zone of the Fifth Army had been captured, with the exception of a number of strongpoints and redoubts which, though surrounded, continued to resist. The troops holding the forward areas - two thirds of the available manpower, according to British doctrine of having one third kept in reserve - were mostly lost, either killed during the bombardment or the advance, or, more often, taken prisoner as they were quickly engulfed by the enemy.

The situation was so bad that General Gough was forced to order a general retreat while new lines were hastily prepared. The adjacent Third Army had fared better, but was compelled to fall back also so as to keep in position alongside the Fifth.

" Suddenly, as we were arranging our game of football, someone noticed that an engine was arriving for our train. We bundled in, and up to the casualty clearing station. Something new. The Germans had broken through. No one who did not know the stability of trench war can realise the astonishment of the German push. Thousands and hundreds of thousands of men had died pushing the line forward a hundred yards; that had been the rule for the past two years. And here was a push of thirty miles and an army crumpled up in a day or two. French soldiers shouted at us, "What's happened to the bloody Fifth Army?" The British had lost the war. It was said not to be safe to go out because the French were so angry.

Up at the line again we became aware in the early morning mist - I remember it vividly today - of thousands of bodies, acres and acres of them, lying out on the ground, with scraps of German grey or British khaki hanging out over the stretchers. They were very few bearers, and so we loaded the train ourselves, making no distinction between England and Germans; every inch of the train was full."

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