As you will have already read the British were not only fighting the Germans late in 1916. An equally extremely difficult enemy was the infamous Somme mud and resulting underfoot conditions. Following are a few extracts from various books which try to highlight the extent of the weather problems which we must not forget effected the fighting capacities of both sides. Other fascinating comments/views detailed below include 'orders that should never have been issued' and 'vaguely defined objectives'. Just what the troops wanted to hear. It is also noted that many veterans who survived the war felt that the conditions on the Somme in the autumn of 1916 were equally as bad if not worse that as at Passchendaele the following year. Welcome to the autumn of 1916!
Extract from TWELVE DAYS THE SOMME NOVEMBER 1916 BY SIDNEY ROGERSON. 'It was like walking through caramel'
The front was certainly was quiet, save for the occasional sharp whip crack of an enemy sniper and the drone of aircraft high up in a sky which was very bright and blue for November but I had not gone twenty yards before I encountered the mud, mud which was unique even for the Somme. It was like walking through caramel. At every step, the foot stuck fast and was only wrenched out by a determined effort, bringing away with it several pounds of earth till legs ached in every muscle. No one could struggle through that mud for more than a few yards without a rest.... terrible in its clinging consistency, it was the arbiter of destiny, the supreme enemy, paralysing and mocking English and German alike. Distances were not measured in yards but in mud.
One of the wars greatest tragedies was that the High Command so seldom saw for themselves the state of the battle zone. What could the men at GHQ who ordered the terrible attacks on the Somme know of the mud from their maps? If they had known, they could never have brought themselves to belief that human flesh and blood could so nearly achieve the impossible and often succeed in carrying out orders which should never have been issued.
Extract from THE STORY OF THE SOUTH AFRICAN BRIGADE - ADAPTED FROM JOHN BUCHAN'S HISTORY OF THE SOUTH AFRICAN FORCES IN FRANCE.
October on the Somme was one succession of tempestuous gails and drenching rains. Now appeared the supreme difficulty of trench warfare. For three months the allies had been slowly advancing blasting their way forward with their great guns before each infantry arrack. And the result was that the fifty square miles of old battleground which lay behind their front lines had been tortured out of recognition. The little country roads has been wholly extorted and since they never had much of a bottom, the road menders had nothing to build upon. New roads were hard to make for the chalky soil that had been so churned up the chalk had lost all its cohesion. In all the area there was but two good highways and by the third month of the battle even these showed signs of wear and tear.
The consequence was there was two no man’s Lands – one between the front lines and one between the old enemy front and the front that we had won. The second was the bigger problem, for across it must be brought the supplies of a great army. It was a war of motor transport and we were running the equivalent of steam engines not on prepared tracks but on high roads running them in endless relays day and night. Every road became a water course and in the hollows the mud was as deep as a man’s thighs. Off the roads, the ground was one big vast bog, dug outs crumbled in and communication trenches ceased to be. Being the British front line lay six miles of sponge, varied by mud torrents. It was into such miserable warfare, under persisting rain in a decomposing land, that the South Africa Brigade was now flung.
Extract from THE HISTORY OF THE 50TH DIVISION BY EVERARD WYRELL
In some partially flooded battery positions, sinking platforms had to be restored with any battle debris which was available. The ground was so deep in mud that to move one 18 pound gun, ten or twelve horses were often required. And, to supplement the supplies brought by light railway and pack horse, ammunition had to be dragged on sledges improvised of sheets of corrugated iron. The infantry, sometimes wet to the skin and almost exhausted before zero hour were often condemned to to struggle painfully forward through the mud under heavy fire against difficult to find vaguely defined objectives.
These extracts have been taken from various sources as highlighted before each section