Category Archives: Business Battlefields

Health and Safety and the First Day of the Somme

 

The first day of the Somme is best known for 57,000 casualties suffered by the British Army; the largest in a single day, and the event that supports the idea of British generals as “Butchers and Bunglers.” Yet, paradoxically, it was concern for safety which led to disastrously high casualties and failure of most of the attacks.

Somme map first day
Attacks on the British Sector of the Somme

ir Henry Rawlinson, commander of the Fourth Army. His initial plan for a methodical advance was rejected.

The battle of the Somme originated from a decision taken in December 1915, that the Entente powers, Britain, France, Italy and Russia would all launch an attack as soon as possible in 1916. The Somme was selected as the site of the Anglo French offensive because it was the junction between the two armies. It was originally envisaged that the French Army would take the lead. However, the German offensive at Verdun, started in February 1916 cost the French and Germans armies over 200,000 casualties each. By June 1916 not only would the British have to take the lead at the Somme, offensive but the bear This had two consequences, there were fewer French troops available which meant that the British would have to take the lead. Furthermore, the attack of the Somme was imperative to take pressure from the French at Verdun.

rawlinson
Sir Henry Rawlinson, commander of the Fourth Army. His initial plan for a methodical advance was rejected.

The British Army had limited experience of offensive battles, and had never planned an operation of the scale of the battle of the Somme. In March 1915 the British had launched a successful breach into the German lines at Neuve Chapelle, supported by a concentrated barrage by the artillery of the British Expeditionary Force. During other attacks in 1915 a shortage of artillery ammunition had prevented the British from repeating this level of fire support. However, by 1916 British industry had geared up to supply the vastly expanded British Expeditionary force swelled by millions of volunteers who Kitchener’s New Army recruited in 1914-15.

The largest ever British Army would be supported by the huge quantity of artillery pieces,  1072 light and 442 medium and heavy guns

GHQ issued no special instruction on the co-operation of infantry and artillery as, in the words of the official history, this main feature of the theory of the assault was well understood. In summary, towards the the close of the bombardment, shortly before Zero, the artillery would put down an intense barrage on the enemy front trenches; at Zero this would be lifted and dropped on the next trench, from which it would be lifted at a fixed time. Before each lift, the infantry under cover of the barrage was to creep to within as close assaulting distance as the barrage permitted. This was around 100 yards from the enemy’s front parapet and the infantry was to assault as soon as the barrage lifted.”

Douglas_Haig
General Douglas Haig. He applied pressure to spread the artillery very thinly

It was impressed on all, at conferences by both Haig and Rawlinson that “nothing could exist at the conclusion of the bombardment in the area covered by it.” Owing to this optimism, the problem of evicting the Germans from the labyrinth of trenches was seen just as one of assault only. It was not seen as a race for the parapet between the attackers across no man’s land against the defenders in the their dug outs. Instead it was seen as something that could be done at leisure.

Not everyone shared this assumption. “Some Regimental officers suggested that the infantry might creep even nearer to the barrage, as was done later on and in at least one instance on the 1st of July. Forty yards was suggested instead of a hundred but it did not receive official approval. (1)

rock-paper-scissors
The race for the parapet: lethal game of rock-paper-scissors

The race to the parapet was the essence of attacking a trench. It can be envisaged as a rather deadly form of ‘rock-paper-scissors’. The defenders can either be in their dugouts or manning the trenches. The attackers can either send artillery rounds or infantrymen. Defenders lining trenches would slaughter attacking infantry but were vulnerable to artillery fire. Defenders would be reasonably safe in their dugouts, but could do nothing if the attackers were waiting at the top of the dugout steps. The key was for the assaulting infantry to be so close to the artillery barrage that the defenders had no time to react.

Shrapnel Barrage
Infantry could advance close behind the directional shrapnel barrage.

The shrapnel shells from the British 18 Pdr Field gun were highly directional, and ejected forwards, like the blast from a shotgun. In the Boer war the British found that infantry could advance to within 50 yards with some safety. Japanese troops had also used these tactics in the Russo-Japanese War, as had the French in their costly 1915 offensive in Champagne. The “dapper and charismatic” artilleryman Robert Nivelle had developed a creeping barrage (le barrage roulant) 80-100m ahead of the leading infantry. (2)

HE splinters
Shell splinters for HE shells could fly hundreds of yards laterally, making it dangerous for friendly troops to approach closer than 200 metres.

The trouble with this tactic was that it had a fatal cost. Artillery rounds do not all land in the same place, but are scattered in a cigar shaped pattern, through variation in the propellant and further dispersed by variations in the wind and of temperature and human error in laying the piece. So “getting close to the barrage” inevitably meant “in a place likely to be struck by shrapnel from a shell that fell shorter than most”. Indeed the rule of thumb, later in the war, was that unless the infantry were taking casualties from their own artillery fire, then they were not close enough.

So the commanders faced a dilemma. The men lost to artillery fire would usually be far lower than the casualties suffered from the machine guns of alert defenders. However, if the artillery preparation was going to leave the defenders unable to resist then would it be right to expose the infantry to friendly fire casualties?

Artillery Dispositions 26th June 1916 behind Newfoundland Park
British (and some French) Artillery positions behind 29th Division of VIII Corps at Beaumont Hamel

To make matters worse, the gunners firing the barrage were mostly Kitchener’s Army men. Their gunners, technicians and officers had limited training and experience, and were Artillery Keyusing ammunition and guns produced by newly expanded or hired suppliers. It might have been sensible to apply nn extra safety margin. The plans for the 1st July seem to bear this out.

The fire plan for the first day of the Somme specified an artillery barrage that would lift from the German front line trenches at zero hour, even though the distance between the British and German Trenches was much wider – from 200-800 metres across most of the assault frontage. Some British units left their trenches before zero hour, and worked their way as close as possible to the German trenches. Where they did, the British succeeded in capturing the German front lines; the Ulstermen at the Schwaben redoubt, the Highland Light infantry at the Leipzig redoubt and the 30th Division near Maricourt. Elsewhere, success was more illusive and on much of the front the assaulting infantry faced fully manned trenches.

Beaumont Hamerl 1916 NAM 59353
Artillery Bombardment Beaumont Hamel Somme 1916

The excessive safety distance between the starting barrage and the infantry wasn’t the only reason that casualties were so heavy and the gains so slight on the 1st July.  There needed to be enough breaches in the German wire. Where the wire was intact, the advance stopped. It helped if the defenders were crushed in their dugouts  or demoralised by the barrage. There were more, and heavier guns, and the dug outs were less deep south of the Albert-Bapaume.   The Germans had to be prevented from bringing down their own defensive barrage preventing movement across no mans land.  There were fewer German guns  south of the Albert Bapaume Road, and the British could call on the more numerous French heavy guns for counter battery .

By F. A. Swaine - http://www.archive.org/details/cu31924088057223, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2494174
Lieutenant General Sir Aylmer Hunter-Weston By F. A. Swaine – http://www.archive.org/details/cu31924088057223, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2494174

The worst losses and least success was on the frontage of the VIIIth corps where a “safety factor” played a grotesque part in the tragedy that unfolded. A number of a mines had been dug under the German trenches. Almost all were scheduled to be detonated at 07.28, on the 1st July, two minutes before zero hour. This would allow two minutes for the debris to fall before the British infantry assaulted the crater. One of these was under the Hawthorn redoubt near the village of Beaumont Hamel. The commander of VIII Corps, Lieutenant General Sir Aylmer Hunter-Weston wanted this to be fired some hours before the attack, so that the redoubt could be occupied before the assault, but sufficiently in advance that any general alarm would have died down by zero hour. This was vetoed by more senior commanders, but as a compromise the mine would be fired at 07.20, ten minutes before Zero.

2015-06-23 18.52.16_wire cxutting
Barrage map for 29th Division at Beaumont Hamel showing wire cutting tasks for 18 pdr batteries (blue) and trench mortars (brown) and preparation targets for 4.5″ Howitzers (yellow)

This allowed for a plan to occupy the crater early, but it required the heavy artillery bombardment of the redoubt and adjacent trenches to lift during the assault. However, instead of fire lifting only from the immediate area, all of the VIII Corps heavy artillery was ordered to lift at 7:20 a.m. and the field artillery to lift at 7:25 a.m. A light Shrapnel barrage fired by the divisional field artillery, was to continue on the front trench until zero hour but in the 29th Division sector, half of the guns were to lift three minutes early.

2015-06-23 18.52.30_barrage map 2
Barrage map for 29th Division Artillery showing the sections of front line trench and final lines for each battery.

This allowed the German defenders ten minutes notice of the impending assault and condemned the infantry from three divisions to heavy casualties and failure across the breadth of their front. It did not matter how well the wire had been cut or whether the infantry crept out into no man’s land. One of the attacking battalions lost all its officers before zero hour.

So why did the seemingly responsible commanders, who were professional experienced soldiers, get this decision so wrong?

shrapnel shells_LR
7,000 shrapnel shells, enough for a divisional creeping barrage

One simplistic, but popular explanation is that the commanders were incompetent “butchers and bunglers”iii. Professor Norman Dixon in the Psychology of Military Incompetence (4) argued that there was something about military training which led to poor decision making. Indeed, the performance of General Sir Aylmer Hunter Weston is hard to describe as anything less than incompetent. “Hunter-Bunter” was a strange man with a command style reminiscent of that of the monstrous Blackadder creation General Sir Anthony Cecil Hogmanay Melchett. The disastrous decision to lift fire early across the VIII Corps front was very much in keeping with his micro-management and idiosyncratic decision-making. He had a history of over compensating for the risks of friendly fire in Gallipoli. He was found out on the first day on the Somme. Afterwards, although he retained his command, he was never entrusted with command in an offensive and only employed on quiet sectors. Could he have been removed earlier?  To be fair to Rawlinson and Haig, Hunter-Weston was new to the Western Front. He had commanded the 29th Division and then the VIII Corps at Cape Helles in Gallipoli and arrived with his corps as an experienced commander and a reputation of relatively competent performance.

secondwave
The Second Wave: Colonel Walford’s Impression of an attack on the Somme, following the barrage shown on the left

Elsewhere in the BEF the disastrous decision about fire plan timings resulted from agreements between groups of people, commanders and subordinates and their staffs.

In the first instance, the senior commanders were not looking at this problem. The correspondence between Rawlinson and Haig shows a focus on the problems of exploiting success. In earlier battles such as Loos and Neuve Chapelle the British infantry had taken the German first line wherever they had adequate artillery support.

The plan for the Somme was a bad compromise. Rawlinson, commander of the fourth army, put forward a plan for a phased advance, initially taking just the first German line, which he and his staff thought was within the capabilities of the resources available. Haig did not think this was ambitious enough. He rejected the plans and insisted that an attempt should be made to breach both the front line and the second line to ensure that any opportunity for a breakthrough was not missed.

By F. A. Swaine - http://www.archive.org/details/cu31924088057223, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2494174
Hawthorn Redoubt mine. By F. A. Swaine – http://www.archive.org/details/cu31924088057223, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2494174

On this occasion Haig was able to impose his will on Rawlinson, despite reservations about the artillery being spread too thin made by the newly appointed artillery adviser at GHQ, General Birch. Birch and Rawlinson, having expressed their opinions in private, then issued orders and expressed their confidence in them.

As the Official History notes, not everybody assumed that the enemy would be flattened by the preparatory barrage. There seems to have been sufficient internal criticism for Rawlinson to include the following in the Fourth Army tactical notes;

“it must be remembered that all criticism by subordinates of their superiors, and of orders received from superior authority, will in the end recoil on the heads of the critics and undermine their authority with those below them.” (5)

60
The battlefield today. Part of the 29th Division sector in Newfoundland Park.  The barrage on the German trenches at the far side of the patk was provided by 13 battery of  XVII Field Brigade, which is still in the Royal Artillery as part of 28/143(Tombs Troop) Battery an AS 90 battery in 19 Regiment.

This was hardly the atmosphere in which to challenge the fundamentals of the plan. The late, great professor Richard Holmes remarked in the episode on the Battle of the Somme in the Western Front BBC series that the generals of the first world war were stronger in physical than moral courage.
It should be said that the BEF was very quick to learn and the next major attack, on the 14th July, less than two weeks after the first day, was conducted with a much greater concentration of artillery fire and with the infantry following a creeping barrage.

Major-general_James_Frederick_Noel_Birch,_Cb_Art.IWMART1784
Major General J F N Birch CB, Haig’s senior Gunner argued that the artillery was spread too thin

There is a modern relevance of the battle of the Somme. This was a major high profile project into which much had been invested and expected. The resources available weren’t enough to deliver the hoped for results. At the heart of the plan were flaws that, could have been spotted and rectified but were not. The plan required subordinates to achieve “stretch targets”, “do more with less”, and “sell the party line” within an organisational culture that inhibited internal criticism.

The safety margin dilemma occurs frequently across all walks of life. If anything, the compensation culture makes it harder to choose to take risks. It is very hard to imagine the modern British Army willingly encroach on safety distances even if was the only way to win a battle.

We may not face machine guns and un-cut wire, but we often make important business and other decisions against a back ground of pressure from peers and superiors to agree to deliver uncertain commitments as part of a team effort. Many of us are under pressure to support decisions that have been made and face severe personal and career sanctions for whistle blowing. What is it that we can do to be more effective both as leaders in these situations and followers?

If you would like to visit the Somme and see the story of the artillery on the Somme join Gunner Tours on the Somme  Centenary tour. info@gunnertours.com

Somme_centenary


The centenary of the battle of the Somme, which took place between June-and November 1916, has a special significance in Gunner history. This was the largest battle fought by the British army, costing 400,000 casualties. While public interest in the battle centres on the infantry who went 'over the top' on the first of July, the Gunner battle started a week earlier with the opening bombardment by the largest number of guns assembled.

The Somme was essentially an artillery battle, with the guns the only weapons capable of clearing wire, destroying and neutralising defences and artillery. This was an awesome responsibility, and the success or failure of the infantry was down to the effectiveness of the fire plan. The story of how the Royal Artillery learned during the campaign is one of successful innovation, and a matter of pride to Gunners.

It is also a human story. We will see where Gunner staff work made a difference; where Gunners went over the top with the infantry and where . Gunners worked to the point of exhaustion in the service of the guns.

This tour will tell this story at the places where this largest artillery battle took place 100 years after the opening barrage was fired.

 Notes:

(1) Brigadier-General Sir James E. Edmonds; Military Operations: France and Belgium, 1916, Volume I: Sir Douglas Haig’s Command to the 1st July: Battle of the Somme,, 1932

(2) Strong P and Marble S, Artillery in the Great War

(3) John Laffin;s polemic “Butchers and Bunglers of World War one” is the publication which is most associated with the term.

(4) Dixon N F, On The Psychology Of Military Incompetence, Basic Books, 1976

(5) Fourth Army Tactical Notes

Vive L’Entrepreneur!

409px-David_-_Napoleon_crossing_the_Alps_-_Malmaison1If Entrepreneurs are leaders willing to take risks and exercise initiative, taking advantage of market opportunities by planning, organizing, and employing resources, often by innovating new or improving existing products, then Napoleon Bonaparte had these qualities in bucket loads. Bonaparte was born to an inconsequential Italian family in Corsica, but rose to make himself master of most of Europe. He was the ultimate executive chairman.
.
jean-lc3a9on_gc3a9rc3b4me_003Napoleon’s rise offers a lot of inspiration for the ambitious. He certainly took advantage of opportunity, turning the chaos of revolutionary France to his personal advantage, risking his life, as well as political and personal fortunes. He was someone who got things done and left a lasting mark. He made lasting changes to much of Europe’s legal systems and administration. He also left advice in his military maxims: “those who would aspire to become a great captain should study the great captains of history”. Napoleon’s domain was the military and political rather than business worlds. However, there is a lot to be learned from his working methods, leadership style and career.

In a world without telephones or electronic messages, he managed, indeed micromanaged most of Europe from the detailed information he carried in his carriage which doubled as an office. His management style is a case study in personal productivity, decision making, executive selection and delegation. His mastery of public relations and leadership was literally legendary; the Napoleonic Legend is quite a legend. He appealed to soldiers and civilians, political and financial backers, and, according to the Duke of Wellington his appearance on the battlefield was worth forty thousand men. We may all like to think that our personal presence makes a difference to those around us, but Napoleon was someone whose influence was acknowledged by his enemies.

Detail from the Coronation of Napoleon by Louis David

Napoleon’s career offers the kind of parables that illustrate some of the challenges faced by entrepreneurs. He had no exit strategy. By 1811 he had achieved almost everything he might have reasonably wanted for himself and his family. He ruled Europe and his family were on half a dozen thrones. He had a son and the foundations of a dynasty that might have dominated Europe if not the world. But he could not stop, and no one could stop him. As a self made man, he saw no need for governance. At his coronation he took the imperial crown from the Pope’s hands to crown himself. There were no constraints on his ultimately self destructive path.

His dynasty faced many of the problems facing businesses set up with family and circles of friends. Few of his family had any aptitude for leadership and management. Some of his early loyal friends were promoted beyond their competence. There was no easy way to bring outside talent into Napoleon’s management team.

La_Bataille_du_Pont_d'ArcoleNapoleon’s immediate subordinates, the Marshals, his “management team” are interesting. They were gallant soldiers and talented commanders, most of whom could never have risen to positions of power before the French Revolution. Under Napoleon’s direction they were a formidable team, but struggled when given independent roles. Was this because Napoleon was very good at coaxing a team performance from mediocre subordinates? Or, did his working methods stifle independent thought?

If you want to read more:-

Andrew Roberts recent biography “Napoleon the Great” is very sympathetic to Napolean.

Charles Esdaile’s Napoleon’s Wars: An International History, 1803-1815 is much less so.

Napoleon’s Military Maxims are here http://www.military-info.com/freebies/maximsn.htm

logo brownIf you would like to visit some places to visit associated with Napoleon

Paris was Napoleon’s Imperial Capital, and much in the city which marks his legacy, including his tomb in les Invalides.

The battlefield of Waterloo is the site of Napoleon’s final defeat and a good place to contemplate not merely the man but his place in public memory.

The battlefields of Austerlitz and Wagram near Brno and Vienna are places to consider Napoleon at the height of his powers.

Contact us at Business Battlefields

Bosworth and Naseby – A Case Study for a Business in Transition

Opposed take over of the Family Business - Henry Tudor lands
Opposed take over of the Family Business – Henry Tudor lands

One of the most difficult transitions for a business is to move from being a family business controlled by its owner manager, to one capable of expanding to a size where a more corporate structure is needed. Guardian Water Treatment Limited is an ambitious building services business at this stage in its development.

Guardian Water Treatment LtdGuardian Water Treatment

Founded in 2001 by Mark Hobson, Guardian Water Treatment Ltd (GWT) is bringing science to the business of managing water and air purity in buildings in the face of regulation and the real risks of Legionnaires Disease. The business currently has a turnover in the £millions and has ambitions to grow to much more. GWT has a mixture of head office and home based sales and engineering teams. The management wanted to hold a management study day to get people together out of the office and to discuss some of the issues facing the business as it grows.

Opposed take over of the Family Business – Henry Tudor lands

GWT was interested in looking at the following:-

  • The step changes required as a business grows.
  • The need to change business process in order to fully benefit from the potential of technology.
  • The challenges of retaining human capital.
  • Developing culture and processes that retain flexibility and responsiveness
IMG_20130308_100035_craftsmen 2
A skilled craftsman explaining the tools of his trade

A management study day could be held, in theory, anywhere. One could hire a conference room in any of a number of hotels. But there are good reasons for looking beyond a purely formal meeting. Teams can only bond when their members have an opportunity to meet each other outside  the day to day working environment. Excursions of all sorts provide a framework for building relationships with colleagues one might have only dealt with via the telephone or email. Historically, businesses have used sporting and cultural events for management level team building, but a round of golf or a day’s shooting is not for everyone.

Business Battlefields

Business Battlefields is a business service which provides corporate business events on historic battlefields. It was founded by Frank Baldwin in 2005 and its customers include Merrill Lynch, Marks and Spencer and Boeing. Business Battlefields was engaged to find historic locations which would provide a setting for GWT’s management study day.

A visit to the battlefields is a chance to compare current organisational issues in a way which enables participants to make connections and draw lessons from history which they may not otherwise see. It provides scope to tell stories that make it easy to understand and share messages which can be applied in a business situation.

New recruits
New recruits to an industrial revolution in warfare

The battlefields of Britain offer a great background for the study of business problems. The battles of Bosworth (1485) and Naseby (1645) are a source of lessons for a business growing from being family run to building the framework to become a global player. In the case of our battlefields, the business is protection and the family is, of course, Britain’s own Royal family.

Both battlefields are situated in the East Midlands and well served by business hotels, restaurants and pubs. The Bosworth Battlefield Centre provides an excellent interpretation of the battle supported by a collection of weapons demonstrated by a medieval martial arms expert. Naseby has no interpretation centre but has viewing points, which can be supported by living history

The battles of Bosworth and Naseby represent different eras in the development of armed forces. The Battle of Bosworth 1485 is one of the last battles of the medieval age. Richard III and Henry Tudor were feudal warriors leading factions fighting for control of the family business. Their rule was personal and their armies were comprised of bands of warriors owing loyalty in a way which stretched back to 1066 and earlier. The Battle of Naseby 1645 is the start of the modern world. The British Army is descended from the New Model Army with governance and organisational structures familiar to the modern world. Today’s soldiers could understand the organisation and rank structure of the New Model Army. Between Bosworth and Naseby there had been a military revolution, based on gunpowder technology, but requiring far reaching organisational and cultural changes. These made the European model of warfare a world beating model and enabled the European countries to colonise the world between 1600-1900.

Richard III and Bosworth: A Hostile Take-over of a Family Business

Living Historians on the Battlefield of Naseby
Living Historians on the Battlefield of Naseby

The story of Richard III is one reason why the Bosworth battlefield is fascinating. There are many lessons to be drawn from his short reign. The problem with family businesses is that genetics is not the best recruitment mechanism. Richard found himself as the man with the skills and experience for the top job while knowing that it would go to his juvenile nephew. He chose to mount a coup and wrest control, but ultimately failed because he could not win over all the stakeholders. It’s a cautionary tale for anyone. Do you settle for second best or risk all to win everything? Our client hasn’t relied on recruiting family members but there are lessons to be learned by privately owned businesses of all sizes.

These battles offer examples of the significance of the organisational and cultural impact of changing technology. The big difference between Bosworth and Naseby, less than 200 years apart, is the nature of the armies. Bosworth was fought by craftsmen; Naseby by mechanics. The warriors who fought at Bosworth, from King Richard downwards were trained to varying degrees from their youth in the martial arts they practiced. It took ten years to train an archer to use a war bow, and knights, squires and men at arms took a comparable time to master the variety of edged and blunt weapons used by a late C15th army. By the C17th soldiers were drilled and trained to use simple weapons such as the musket and the pike which could be taught in hours and days rather than years. And, with drill books sent across the world, could be taught to anyone. It’s a brutal lesson in the value of scale-able, low cost and repeatable solutions.

Gunpowder – the catalyst which replaced Craftsmanship with Process

"Downsizing" meant something slightly different in the past....
In the past,  “Downsizing” could be taken literally…

Other lessons from the New Model Army are the lessons for re-structuring. In 1644 Parliament had a problem with its military forces. The armies were created by local associations and commanded by the local Lords and MPs. Its success rate had been, at best, patchy and forces were tied to local regions. Parliament took the decision to form a homogeneous national army. One of their key decisions was to remove the owners of the individual armies via what is known as a the “self denying ordnance” by which Members of Parliament, (with a few exceptions) were to resign from their command positions in the army. The New Model Army, led by Sir Thomas Fairfax demonstrated its quality in its first battle at Naseby. This has an obvious lesson for any business seeking to assimilate an amalgam of acquisitions – remove the previous management.

GWT wanted the following from the day:

  • An opportunity for the management team to get to know one another outside of the working environment.
  • A chance to discuss the challenges of embracing new technologies, growing the business and managing change.
  • To use lessons learned from history to bring to life the challenges being faced while also explaining that they are not new challenges and there are opportunities to learn from history.
  • To enjoy a new and interesting experience.

Dan Doherty, the client contact, said: ‘Frank’s encyclopedic knowledge, connections and passion for what he does makes for a unique, interesting and beneficial experience. Most importantly, Frank is no everyday military historian; he has both military experience and a successful career in business and management. This is a heady cocktail of original and high value experiences that will benefit any organisation that wants to think outside the box for team building exercises.

logo brownMore information about Business Battlefields here