Ireland’s Wars: Arras

On the western front, following the eventual end of the Somme campaign, soldiers settled in for a third Christmas and New Years in the trenches. 1916 had been a bloody year, with some gains and some victories to show for it. 1917 might not have the same infamous reputation, but was awash with its own blood strewn battlegrounds.

The winter was a bitterly cold one for the men occupying the opposing trenches, in places so close together that they were capable of conversing with the enemy. The iconic Christmas truce was not repeated, but there were sections of the line that went beyond quiet, and in January 1917, the Irish Guards occupied a section of the trench line where it was possible, albeit briefly, to step into no mans land and work on defences without the Germans shooting, and vice versa. At other times, Irish units were among those that would allow Germans to collect wounded without any interference. Command ended this situation quickly enough, but it is perhaps an inevitable reaction to the violence of the previous months and the need to focus on the environment as the primary foe at that time.

In terms of larger affairs, Douglas Haig launched divisionary attacks throughout the line and occasionally seemed close to ordering a major offensive action, but it took a while for anything substantial to take place. The focus of the main British military efforts – their force now extending to an astonishing 56 divisions on the western front – would now be moved back to Flanders, and primarily the area around the Ypres salient. Here, the German trench line bulged out from the norm on heights that provided a very strong defensive position: the Messines Ridge. Flattening this bulge would be a major part of British planning for 1917.

Both the 16th (Irish) and 36th (Ulster) Divisions, having suffered so much on the Somme, had been resupplied, reinforced and sent back to the front, now to Flanders and the Ypres sector, serving next to the other. While this area was quieter than the Somme – how could it not – the conditions of the trenches were arguably worse, with flooding being a major problem. The trenches here, out of sheer necessity, had actually been built up, not down, with earth piled up to create a trench, where digging down would simply have hit the unusually high water table. Some of the support and communication trenches were less than a foot deep. While the flung-up earth provided defence, the nature of these trenches could do little when it came to shellfire. Violent icy rainstorms in January exacerbated the misery as the men struggled to live in defences that were little more than mud-pits. Those in the front line were forced to spend hours a day at “stand-to” in arctic conditions. The rates of disease, most notably the dreaded trench foot, skyrocketed.

Eager to maintain the discipline and “fighting spirit” of its units on the western front ahead of any major offensive, command ordered a constant series of raids, operations that could be useful in disrupting the enemy and gathering intelligence, but which rapidly came to be dreaded by those tasked with carrying them out. The raids mostly consisted of using the cover of nightfall to quickly make their way across no mans land, hopefully surprise the defenders of the section of trench they were attacking and then kill or capture as many of the enemy as they could as quickly as they could, after which they would pull back just as quickly so they could avoid an inevitable counter-attack.

Sometimes such raids would go very well: others, like that undertaken by the 6th Connaught Rangers on the 19th February, were spotted before they had a chance to each the enemy, resulting in 44 casualties out of 199 men taking part: a rather extreme ratio for what was a relatively unimportant operation. That same month the 7th Leinster lost eight men killed in a raid, and in March their 7th battalion lost eleven more. On other occasions, the treacherous terrain and lack of visibility could be a detriment, turning units around so that they blundered back into their own trenches, becoming victims of friendly fire. And there was also the danger posed by German raids, the enemy hardly being passive themselves, that had to be defended against. Only a few weeks after suffering their own losses, the 6th Connaught Rangers repelled a German raid on the 8th of March, peppering the enemy with smaller bombs to drive them out of their trenches before harassing them with machine and Lewis gun fire.

All the while, the British were enacting their plan to neutralise the Messines Ridge, by tunnelling underneath it, setting up a colossal amount of explosives, and blowing it up. The Germans were slow to counteract this plan, believing for a long time that British efforts to do so would be impossible in the waterlogged soil, but bit by bit, British tunnellers, some of them specialised units employed from mining companies in the colonies, were making progress.

The first large-scale fighting of the year to involve Irish troops was the Battle of Arras, around 40 km’s south of Ypres, in April and May. The attack formed part of the larger Allied offensives named after French general Robert Nivelle, with the French aiming to force a decisive battle with the Germans closer to the Aisne sector.

Despite the conditions – the offensive launched during a snowstorm, the icy weather clinging on almost to the beginning of summer – the British attack was initially quite successful, with Canadian soldiers famously capturing the fearsome Vimy Ridge utilising unique infantry tactics developed specifically for trench capture. But soon enough, the extent of the German defence-in-depth put an end to easy forward movement, and then they began counter-attacks. The Leinster regiments was part of the effort, attacking a wooded area named the Bois-en-Hache on the 12th. They were thrown back by determined German resistance, with a Corporal John Cunningham famously winning a posthumous Victoria Cross for holding off a German attack single-handed, fighting with machine gun, then grenades and then nothing at all. Resistance of this kind at least turned the fighting into a stalemate and not a retreat.

Elsewhere, the 1st Royal Irish Fusiliers, as part pf the 4th Division, went against the village of Fampoux, making three and a half miles of gains before running into a figurate brick wall of German defences. Taking over 300 casualties, the battalion, and the Division, would eventually have to withdraw without taking its final objectives. On the 15th the 10th Royal Dublin Fusiliers attacked the village of Gavrelle, but without needed artillery support the movement went nowhere, leaving 85 of them casualties. Later, other battalions of the Dublins were involved in the nearby Battle of Arleux, a supporting action for French offensives, though mostly in a reserve role. One of the Dublins killed during this time was a Sergeant William “Bill” Kent, brother of IRB member and executed signatory Eamonn Ceannt.

Arras was a tactical victory for the British, who made relatively substantial gains, but a strategic failure in line with the general failure of the Nivelle offensive. Hundreds of thousands of casualties were taken without forcing a breakthrough, and French soldiers would famously mutiny in the aftermath. The mutiny would, for the most part, not spread to the British lines, with the exception of some isolated cases of Australian and New Zealand units: for all the fear of nationalist sentiment and the Easter Rising effecting Irish units, there is no indication that they ever seriously came near a point of disobeying orders en masse.

The time was now coming closer for the launching of the Messines offensive, as the tunnels under the Ridge continued to be dug and explosives continued to be stockpiled. On hand to take advantage, going into battle side by side for the first time, would be the 16th and 36th Divisions. But before the mine under Messines could be blown up, some preliminary fighting would have to be done, and it would be thousands of Irishmen, nationalist and unionist, doing it.

And despite the probable despair at the recent casualties for, again, relatively little gain, there was reason for the Allies to be cheerful in the late Spring of 1917. Germany’s resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare on shipping going to Britain in combination with their botched attempt to make a military alliance with Mexico (the infamous Zimmerman telegram, that attempted to convince the Mexican government to invade the United States, an idea Mexico had neither the means nor the inclination to pursue), resulted in American entry to the conflict on the side of the Allies on April 6th 1917. The American military was in no fit state then to properly engage in the war effort, but they were coming. And despite Irish-Americans mostly calling for neutrality in the face of perceived British imperialism and the Easter Rising (their influence on American politics would have been a partial cause for Woodrow Wilson’s war aims being separate to that of the other Allies), there would be Irish among the “Doughboys” when they arrived.

To read the rest of the entries in this series, click here to go to the index.

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Review: Spielberg

Spielberg

Trailer

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I guess we were all young once.

I suppose that the first film of his I ever saw was Jurassic Park. Even then, at an age when the idea that individual personalities were in charge of films was alien to me, I knew that I was watching something very special, from people who were very good at what they did. My actual knowledge, and appreciation, of this director would come later, but like so many others, from the moment I first watched one of his films, I have had a great deal of time for him. I’ve gone through the back catalogue and I’ve followed his new projects. In that regard, I’ve seen gigantic triumphs like Lincoln, over-rated mediocrities like Bridge Of Spies and dramatic mis-steps like War Horse. But I’ve always been watching. Hell, his next film, Ready Player One, is adapted from a book I actively despise, but I’ll still probably see it, just to see what he is going to do with it.

That’s the power of the man, the director who revolutionised the idea of film as a combination of creative and commercial entity, who has had more influence and more reach than any other film-maker in history. So, what better focus for a documentary study like this? Susan Lacy is behind the camera: Steven Spielberg is in front of it.

What we have here is, essentially, a chance for Spielberg and his collaborators to talk about him, his life and his greatest hits, in a very loose chronological fashion. And while there are insights aplenty and getting this kind of exposure to this kind of genius is nothing to be sniffed at – the film being a fairly gargantuan 144 long, meant to be enjoyed with ad breaks – Spielberg will still end up leaving you a little cold, due to the fact that it is no way critical enough of its subject. That isn’t the object of the exercise and it reduces any impact it could make.

Spielberg unfolds around a selection of Spielberg’s more notable films – Jaws, Close Encounters, E.T, Schindler’s List, Jurassic Park all get prominent time – and some of less notable – Empire Of The Sun and Munich for examples – in a bid to understand where he came from and what he’s been trying to say. The unfolding picture is of a young man, then later an older man, desperate to prove himself in a cutthroat business, but always willing to take risks with what he was creating. The very first scene involves Spielberg outlining that a teenaged viewing of Lawrence Of Arabia nearly ended his film career there and then, as “the bar was too high”, but it was that sense of goiNg for broke that made Spielberg the success he was.

Being Hollywood’s golden boy, following those first few huge successes, had its downsides. He felt he can go for it and try and craft a comedy, ending up with the forgettable 1941, his first encounter with failure post-Jaws. But then again, sometimes the risks pay off: this is the guy who made Schindler’s List, and then turned around and made Jurassic Park, all in the same 12-month period. One, a searingly evocative Holocaust piece that cuts to the very core of Spielberg’s background, the other a Hail Mary pass relying on computer technology that had only just been created. And both were gigantic commercial and critical successes.

It’s stuff like that which makes Spielberg such a fascinating artist, but there’s only so much praise you can take before you start to wonder if that’s all this is. The moments of true introspection are rare: the controversy over deleted material for The Colour Purple for example, is passed over quickly in a dismissive way and even the aforementioned 1941 is treated as just a small blip on the radar. Spielberg is more interested in talking about what drives him, and none of the other talking heads are willing to be critical.

A lot talking heads too. Spielberg’s family, his directorial friends, actors he’s worked with, producers, composers, it goes on and on. Very famous people – Oprah Winfrey, Liam Neeson, Tom Cruise, John Williams, Christian Bale, Ralph Fiennes, George Lucas – have maybe a few seconds here and there to essentially butt in, before they are squeezed out by everyone else. I wonder how much footage for this was cut? It could have been a TV show.

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“Shout”

And that quantity of talking heads all tripping over themselves to prise Spielberg is part of why there is little genuine reflection. And there is stuff to criticise, or at least debate here. Has Spielberg been responsible for a generally quaint-tification of American cinema? Is his cinema too hopeful in tone across the board? Does he sometimes cover up bland characterisation with visual spectacle? Does he stutter when it comes to tackling the truly big issues, as critics of Schlinder’s List and Munich would attest? What of his TV work, and other non-film projects? And what was up with casting Kate Capshaw in Temple Of Doom?

I bring that last part up because the documentary stays fairly invested in Spielberg’s family life, both with his own parents and with his own wives and many children. Spielberg is a child of divorce with a distant father he didn’t get on with for long periods and a mother who seems fairly manic and not exactly an authority figure; perhaps more relevantly, Spielberg has been divorced himself. It is little wonder then that every other film he has made includes some sort of “lost child” theme, or have adult male antagonist that are forced into making difficult personal decisions. This speaks to that tortured relationship with his own father, that’s punctuated by some very surprisingly revealing interviews with Arnold and Edith Spielberg.

The other insights are fascinating, if a little well-worn. Spielberg’s talent at directing children comes through in off-camera clips of E.T, (but nothing on his comparative failure at it for The BFG). Saving Private Ryan production members discuss how little Spielberg told them about the famous D-Day assault sequence, so they would have as natural reactions as possible, with camera personnel becoming impromptu war documentarians. And as far back as Jaws, we see a director willing to not just go the extra mile, but an extra twenty, in the pursuit of authenticity and the framing of the moment just right, showcasing endurance in a hectic schedule, and ingenuity in making perfection out of disaster (when the robotic shark broke, they went with the dragged barrels, and the change has become iconic).

The other stuff isn’t so good. Spielberg is influenced by a strong idealist streak. Hardly a big surprise. Spielberg’s Judaism and connection to Israel is apparent in his films. You don’t say. He grew up in the suburbs and started his film career with a Super 8 and his friends. Colour me stunned. With a 144 minutes to fill, you’d think Spielberg wouldn’t fall back on old chestnuts like these to fill its time.

Even allowing for the occasional mis-steps, Spielberg is still the man who made a nightmarish monster out of a malfunctioning shark robot; who achieved a confluence of visuals, music and acting to surpass nearly all others in E.T.; who used black-and-white to startling effect in one story, then turned around and gave birth to the new digital age of blockbusters straight after; and who continues to push boundaries and exhibit that same risk-taking ethos that served him well in the past, albeit he has less to lose now. I can’t be too critical of the guy who turned a vibrating glass of water into an iconic visual element, or who produced the Animaniacs. This documentary is a victory lap of sorts, and not one that will stick with you, but hell, Steven Spielberg has earned it. Him I recommend. This, not as much.

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Meh

(All images are copyright of HBO).

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Ireland’s Wars: The Rest Of The Mesopotamian Campaign

A short enough entry this week, more of a coda to an area we have covered already.

The fall of Kut was a terrible defeat for the Allies in Mesopotamia, made worse by the fact that it came so soon after the fall of the Gallipoli beachheads. But for the British along the Tigris and the Euphrates, the campaign in the region was far from over, and the Irish units with them would soon be thrown back into the fight. While there were plenty that questioned whether British and Imperial troops should be there at all, now that such a serious reverse had occurred they were bound to respond, to make up for the loss and to prevent any possible spread of unrest among Muslim populations in the rest of the Empire that could result from further success by the Ottomans.

In order to retrieve the situation, the problems of transport infrastructure had to be dealt with. That meant improving supply storage in Basra, and building railway lines out of that city to offset the use of the rivers as the primary means of moving troops. Ports and roads were improved, and more supply and water depots put in place on the routes to the north. All the while, what troops were in theatre underwent additional training and acclimatisation, so that when the time came they would be better suited to desert warfare.

For six months, there was little large-scale fighting in Mesopotamia, with British commanders ordered to restrain themselves from making any efforts on Kut, or the bigger prize of Baghdad. But in the last weeks of 1916, plans changed as the Russians began to make in-roads into the region, giving the British the impetus they needed to take control themselves. The Ottoman military in the area had also been reduced in the meantime, with soldiers diverted to the other fronts and the Germans less interested in assisting their ally in the region. The new British commander, General Frederick Maude, opened his offensive in December 1916, marching up either bank of the Tigris. The 1st battalion of the Connaught Rangers was with him as he went.

Maude was patient and methodical in his approach, mindful of the transport problems and the environmental difficulties of fighting in a desert winter, where the biting cold of the night could cause frostbite while disease spread rapidly. Numerous strongpoints were tackled in turn, and the depleted Ottoman’s withdrew bit by bit. By February, Maude was within sight of Kut, and after defeating the Ottoman forces arraigned there, liberated the town. The Ottoman retreated in good order however, unlike their British counterparts the previous year.

The following month, Maude defeated the Ottomans yet again, and entered Baghdad on March 11th, a remarkable turnaround from the failures of 1916. The Ottomans, losing men and material at a rapid rate, fled northwards. Maude did not continue his advance, reckoning that he had gone as far as he could reasonably go without risking too much by continuing. His supply lines were stretched, and the heat was increasing with every day.

All the while, the 1st battalion of the Connaught Rangers was there. After their experiences in the trenches of the western front, settling in to the warfare of the desert must have been a disorientating change of pace, and this could only have gotten worse as they marched with Maude’s victorious army, a victory that soon altered the nature of the Mesopotamian campaign to one of counter-insurgency warfare. Most of the actual fighting was done by other units and regiments, with the Rangers primarily employed in supporting roles, guarding prisoners of war, cleaning up battlefields of debris and bodies, and unloading transports filled with needed supplies.

With the fall of Baghdad, much of the British Army became largely constabulary, fending off raids from the Ottomans and the local tribesmen, who were resolutely opposed to the British. Isolated patrols could be easy prey to such foes, and the Rangers, along with other units, lacked the training to properly fight such an asymmetrical conflict. In such circumstances, mistakes were inevitably made: after a Colonel of an Indian unit was killed in a raid, the Rangers took part in punitive village burning and pillaging of local homesteads. The British Army, it seemed, had retained precious little knowledge of the excruciating experience of the Boer War.

The remainder of the Connaught Rangers’ time in Mesopotamia mostly consisted of patrolling the area between Baghdad and Feluja (Fallujah), and building defences to prepare for what was seen as an inevitable Ottoman counter-attack. The enemy had withdrawn northwards without much of a fight; now waiting for them to come back would prove just as tedious for those units that didn’t get any part in the limited fighting that had occurred with the relief of Kut and the capture of Baghdad. The tour for units like the Connaught Rangers would have been hot, riddled with the perils of disease, and enlivened only by the occasional engagement from enemy forces that would have fired from distance and largely vanished before any proper counter-response could have been dealt.

Most of the fighting in Mesopotamia was done, with neither side was all that committed to the campaign. By 1918, the British position would be expanded gradually, but all while troops were being siphoned off for the fighting in Palestine. When the opposing sides did meet, the British proved victorious repeatedly, but never to great or decisive effect. In October 1918, after one last brief flurry of campaigning to get as favourable a position as possible, an armistice ended the fighting in Mesopotamia altogether. However, the aftermath, wherein the British attempted to colonise Mesopotamia and take advantage of its rich oil resources, rapidly became a messy affair, one that easily calls to mind more recent conflicts in the area. The British would be dealing with the consequences for some time to come.

The Connaught Rangers were out of the theatre by then though, having been withdrawn in April of 1918, for redeployment elsewhere. 285 of the 2’000 or so members of the regiment to serve along the Tigris and Euphrates had died there, with a significant proportion of those falling to cholera and dysentery rather than the bullets of the enemy. They were only a small portion of the incredible 256’000 British and Imperial casualties.

Mesopotamia is the forgotten campaign of the overall conflict, one fought as much for the upkeep of British prestige as it was for oil and the expediency of fighting the Ottoman military wherever they were. The Middle-Eastern war very quickly saw the fighting in or around the Holy Land supersede that taking place there. The Irish were in Palestine too, and it was to there that the Connaught Rangers had been sent.

To read the rest of the entries in this series, click here to go to the index.

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Review: Justice League

Justice League

Trailer

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No Hawkgirl!?

You sort of always knew that Justice League was not going to be a success. As far back as the release of Batman V Superman, myself and others were easily able to predict both a commercial and critical failure, albeit one that I personally felt was pre-judged. Wonder Woman broke the trend for the DC movies, but the combination of elements that so turned people off for Dawn Of Justice was never going to be able to turn it around.

But man I hoped it would. I’ve loved these characters as far back as my first glimpses of Christopher Reeves’ Superman or Michael Keaton’s Batman, and I’ve loved the Justice League since Bruce Timm’s animated universe decided to cap off its various success with maybe its most triumphant representation of DC characters. And more recently, Marvel has shown that superhero team-ups are possible to actually do on the big-screen. DC’s first effort at combining franchises didn’t go all that well, but riding high on the success of Wonder Woman, maybe they could pull it together. Unless a blighted production torn apart by family tragedy and then reshoots and then multiple editing cuts had their way. Hmm.

As the world mourns the death of Superman (Henry Cavill) and slips into fear-induced anarchy, Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) and Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) go about recruiting a team of super-powered individuals to meet a new threat. Speedster Barry Allen (Ezra Miller), Atlantean Arthur Curry (Jason Mamoa) and cybernetic amalgamation Victor Stone (Ray Fisher) must band together with Batman and Wonder Woman to face down the invasion of Apokalips’ Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds) and his army of parademons.

What is it that you look for from a film like this? I suppose there are two things: a rip-roaring superhero action-adventure story, and a character-driven teamwork narrative, two things that, say, Avengers Assemble had in spades. Mess one up, and you might as well have messed both up. And while Justice League has plenty of redeeming features and kernels of good ideas, it has unfortunately messed both parts of that equation up.

The characters? Well, it’s a really mixed bag. The differing directions and reshoots mean we struggle to settle in on a main protagonist: at times it’s Ben Affleck’s Batman, brooding but looking a bit less interested than he was the other year, and at other times its Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, whose importance to affairs here was likely rearranged by the second director. The two share a somewhat fascinating but occasional awkward semi-romantic connection but are mostly just leader-bait, with Diana being the much more interesting of the two. Affleck is best when he’s in the cowl, and Gadot runs rings around him.

But Justice League lives and dies on the new arrivals, and while Aquaman is entertainingly gruff and to the point (he couldn’t care less that humanity is poisoning the oceans, he just doesn’t want to get involved), Flash is suitably manic and awkward (a little bit of Sheldon Cooper in there) and Cyborg is mysterious and dark (if you get beyond the really questionable CGI), the meddling doesn’t go to plan. You feel as if everybody has been short-changed: Aquaman’s origin is breezed over in a few sentences, Flash’s pacifism is an interesting idea that never gets fully explored and Cyborg’s struggle to get control of his mechanical side is dropped abruptly by the conclusion. These are all potentially interesting characters, but we don’t get enough of them: an extra 20, 30 minutes may have done Justice League the world of good, and allowed us the chance to see a team of differing skillsets, moods and opinions really click, ala the Avengers did a few years ago. Part of me is a little interested to see Snyder’s original 170 minute cut, even if that would probably come with lots of new problems.

The rip-roaring adventure story? It’s just about all right, a base plot of alien invasion and tracking down MacGuffins, heavy on cameos and revolving around the goofy looking Steppenwolf, a real one-note nothing of a villain out to take over the world because he wants to take over the world. Loki helped keep Avengers Assemble together, but Ciaran Hinds’ CGI monstrosity can do nothing of the sort here. You can see the plot beats coming a mile off, and while it’s not unsatisfying, and isn’t all that far off any of the MCU offerings in terms of imagination, I wouldn’t say it was anything to get too worked up about. Previous editions in the DC canon had hooks in their plots: the return of Superman, criminals forced to fight for good, heroes fighting each other, the return of Wonder Woman. Justice League doesn’t have anything to really hook you in with its plot that you won’t have seen a dozen times over elsewhere (and recently too).

The division of the two directors is patently obvious on varying levels, and conspires to ruin Justice League tonally. The MCU has its problems with drama and comedy, but errs towards comedy lately: importantly, that’s the idea from the moment the film is being made. Justice League was made as a grimdark drama, and then it was reshot as a partial comedy, and the end result is, unfortunately, a tone-deaf mess.

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Steppenwolf is a major part of this films deficiencies.

Every scrap of humorous dialogue, most notably that given to Ezra Miller, reeks of Joss Whedon. The problem with it isn’t that the jokes aren’t funny, it’s that when you put them in on top of a Zack Snyder production, they seem painfully out of place. Case in point: as the newly formed league is about to confront Steppenwolf for the first time, the Flash takes Batman aside and explains that he’s “never really done battle, I’ve just pushed some people and run away”. Funny line right? That’s sandwiched in-between Steppenwolf executing people with his bare hands (he has a funnier line too, in response to one of his victims telling him that he has a family: “Why do people keep telling me that?”). Snyder and Whedon cannot co-exist effectively, here, no matter what the two of them have said publicly.

And you can see it in other aspects too. Snyder is a big picture kind of guy who likes his expansive green-screen frame, Whedon wants the focus to be on people primarily. Snyder like his dark palette, Whedon prefers things at bit brighter. Snyder likes montage (the title sequence is so similar to its Watchmen equivalent its almost parody), Whedon prefers things a bit looser. Snyder likes action cliché dialogue, Whedon prefers jokes and quips. Snyder likes Batman. Whedon likes Wonder Woman. It’s not all that difficult to parse out which director did which scene, and its actually quite a shock to see how much of the production is Whedon’s, at least a full quarter of the experience.

And what of the Man of Steel? Is it really a spoiler to say that Henry Cavill’s Superman is back in this one? Not really. His inclusion in things really just calls attention to two very different but vital aspects of his character. The first is that, presumably in line with reshoots, this Superman is a bit different to the one of Man Of Steel and Batman V Superman. This one smiles, tells jokes and occasionally appears to have a sense of joy, which is radically out of kilter with the hero we have seen previous to this (with the exception of bathtub shenanigans). It’s a pleasant change, but one that is brief, requiring greater study in an expanded role. The second aspect is his goofy face, that has been digitally altered to remove a contract mandated moustache Cavill grew for another role, and boy is it obvious. Eye-raisingly, distractingly, laughably obvious. In the very first scene of the film, a bizarre looking Supes chats amiably to two young boys, as the audience struggles to not guffaw at how dumb his upper lip has been made to look.

A horde of other minor things accumulate rapidly. In the jump between directors, the idea of establishing shots was apparently thrown out the window. The world descends into chaos after Superman’s death, and this even inspires “reactionary terrorists” to try and blow up a chunk of London to make people afraid, in the name of “holy fear”. Batman is stunningly uncaring about maintaining his secret identity, announcing in public that he’s speaking to Alfred back in the Batcave, and casually jawing with Arthur Curry about how he’s Bruce Wayne. And there is a general sense that, if you are not an aficionado of DC, like I am, you’re going to be lost among references to Green Lanterns, mother boxes, boom tubes, Darkseid, Apokalips, and even Gorilla Grodd.

But what works about Justice League? Wonder Woman works, being written and portrayed well, graduating to a leadership role. Her relationship with Batman is a bit compelling, and I wouldn’t mind it being explored more. There is a sense of a well-working team coming together at times, with Wonder Woman, Aquaman and later Superman being the heavy hitters, Batman taking on the mooks, Flash saving innocent bystanders and Cyborg providing technical support of both a hacking and laser gun variety. The Flash has some nice back and forths with Wayne, Cyborg and Wonder Woman. The action is decent, and the finale is actually quite well put together, minus the terrible red glare that tinted a lot of it. The supporting characters bode well enough for the future, most notably JK Simmons’ Commissioner Gordon.

And there is a general sense of things slowly being pulled together. Yes it’s still a badly edited beast and yes large parts of it could have been done better. But there is effort here, a conception, a basis for the future that makes it appears as if this universe is at least evolving, and not stuck in Snyder’s grimdark, which I enjoyed for a while but that no one can enjoy indefinitely. There is a sense of fun about this Justice League and not fun like “lets turn the Thor franchise into slapstick” or a “lets do a quip-a-minute Avengers franchise”. I just mean fun, like, the characters are enjoying what they do, are finding a thrill in it while also being in a very serious situation and acknowledging it as such.

Before I conclude, I feel compelled to talk about Zach and Deborah Snyder. It’s fun to criticise movies, and it’s fun to be a bit mean in doing so. Batman V Superman, right or wrong, was the subject of a lot of that. Other films have been lambasted by me in a manner that was occasionally hyperbolistic in pursuit of punchier writing or eliciting laughs. But when the Snyders have to make public the fact that their daughter has committed suicide, as to do otherwise while leaving the production of Justice League would inevitably result in misjudged commentary and likely taunting, well it makes me a little bit sad. I have tried to never get personal when it comes to film critique, or needlessly hypercritical. I have only consciously deviated from that when I feel that a director or writer has become, through obvious intent or unintentional laziness, insulting towards their audience in the craft that they have made. I will renew the effort to hold true to that sentiment, so I can play even a tiny insignificant part in producing an atmosphere among internet film criticism that allows private griefs to remain private.

Back on topic, and to conclude, Justice League is not a perfect, great or even good film. It’s groaning under the multitude of problems that it must deal with: the varying styles, tones and artistic direction of its two directors, a by-the-numbers plot, a rubbish villain and a wonky narrative that has, ala Suicide Squad, been the victim of a few to many edits. But there are good things here and there as well: the cast is mostly good, the action is fine and when Justice League gets going and its elements fit together, it really does come off as a film worthy of the characters and team it is trying to represent.

Bruce Timm’s show remains the pinnacle of how the Justice League have been portrayed outside of print media, and that is unlikely to change anytime soon. But there’s signs of hope in the Snyder/Whedon Justice League, that DC and Warner Bros might be able to turn this ship around. Perhaps a refocused effort on their singular stories – like stand-alone films for Aquaman, Batman and Flash, not to mention sequels for Wonder Woman and maybe even Suicide Squad now that they have a better idea of what works and what doesn’t there – will produce more digestible, and financially viable, fruit. But for now I must acknowledge that Justice League is another bump on the road for this universe, but one that might just be worth seeing, even if it’s only via streaming in a year or so. Partially recommended.

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Come together…for a better sequel?

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Ireland’s Wars: Yenikoi

At the conclusion of the first Allied campaign operating out of Salonika, the British and French found themselves hemmed in by the unexpected might of the Bulgarian enemy, backed up by Austro-Hungarian and German support. On the 5th January 1916, Austria-Hungary invaded Montenegro, which capitulated within the month, and then continued their invasion down the Adriatic coast and into Albania, where an Italian army was routed. The Allies in the region were forced back into the fortified camp around the city of Thessaloniki, joined by the remnants of the Serbian military that had survived the fall of their nation, and soon stood ready to fight again.

The narrower front and the defensive advantages of the site left the Allies in an impregnable position, albeit one that was also essentially a state of limbo. The official neutrality of the Greeks – with a pro-German monarchy opposed to a pro-Allied government – complicated matters even more. And so, for the first half of 1916, the British Army soldiers in Salonika, the 10th (Irish) Division, the Irish regiments of the 27th Division and other Irish units with them, were stuck.

With precious little soldiering to do, aside from defending against the odd raid, or warding against ambush on patrol, most of the infantry became diggers and rudimentary engineers, ordered to expand and improve the defences around the “entrenched camp”, constructing trenches, lines of barbed wire and other fortifications designed as much to ward off the possibility of a Central Power attack as to actually deal with one. This lack of military activity soon had the soldiers based there derogatorily dubbed the “Gardiners of Salonika” by others serving in more active fronts. So non-existent was warfare, that it seems the opposing sides entrenched closest to each other had an informal “live and let live” arrangement.

As such, the primary enemy that the Irish, and the Allies, had to deal with was nature. Those working in the early months of the year had the bitter Balkan cold and frostbite to deal with as they laboured in higher altitude areas, but things were as bad or worse when the weather improved, and then became scorching, unleashing plagues of malaria-carrying mosquitos on the armed forces. If heatstroke didn’t get you, the stings of the insects would, and rapidly spreading disease was the inevitable result. While a quiet posting in terms of bullets and shells, at times the Salonika front was almost as deadly for units as France and Belgium, and all in a manner that had many questioning why they were dying there at all.

Bulgarian pressure on Greece had resulted in some fighting in the narrow valleys approaching the encampment, but it was not until Romanian entry into the war in August, on the side of the Allies, that things really heated up again in the Balkans. The Romanian declaration would result in huge portions of the country being occupied by Germany, but caused the opening of another nearby front and a potential aggressor on the northern Bulgarian border. Sensing that the Allies would quickly take advantage of the situation, German-Bulgarian forces launched their own invasion of mainland Greece (they were mostly Bulgarian of course, with the Germans occupied with the Somme, Verdun, Romania and counter-offensives from Russia all through that time). They got roughly 80km’s into Greece – thanks in part to the Greek King ordering his troops not to resist – before stalling, and the act would eventually lead to Greece joining the war proper in 1917, after a coup by pro-Allied military officers.

The planned Allied offensive was meant to be French led with the British in a supporting position. Indeed, there were elements of the British leadership that did not want to be in Salonika at all, seeing the whole front as a pointless operation, and so they were happy to let the French, always more gung-ho about the Salonika front, take the lead. But the initiative of the Bulgarians, followed by a now counter-attack by the French in September, meant that the British, and Irish, were forced to take a slightly more pro-active role in affairs instead. French, Serbian and British forces were all thrown into the fighting.

After victory in the Battle of Kajmakcalan, the Allies achieved a breakthrough, and the Central Power military presence was forced to withdraw to a northern defensive lines. This withdrawal allowed an opportunity for British forces to expand and consolidate a hold on the strategically vital Struma River Valley area to the east, where numerous towns and strongpoints existed to impede progress. One of these was the village of Yenokoi, modern-day Provatas. It was here that the 10th and 27th Divisions were given the chance to do some actual war duty.

The attack was primarily carried out by battalions of the Royal Dublin and Royal Munster Fusiliers, with the Royal Irish Rifles, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and Royal Irish Fusiliers also taking part. In the early hours of the 3rd October, the crossed the Struma, attacking Yenikoi from a south-easterly direction. The village was bombarded by a sudden artillery assault, before the infantry went forward, their advance coming against the flames of the village buildings.

The Bulgarian defenders offered brief resistance to this initial assault, turning tail as soon as the Irish had entered the village outskirts. The advance and capture of the village had been so quick that British artillery still fired down on Yenokoi even after the Bulgarians had retreated. The enemy had trench positions just to the north of the village, and so were easily able to regroup.

The Irish, fully aware that a counter-attack was inevitable, dug-in as best they could in what time they had available. Within a few hours, the Bulgarians came back, in a series of attacks that would last the rest of the day. The Irish had entrenched just outside the north of the village as their furthest point, but were inactive for the first two attacks, that failed in the face of British artillery.

It was not until the third Bulgarian counter-attack, in the afternoon, that enemy progress was made. Up to then, the most casualties that the Irish had taken had been from friendly fire; now they faced a more difficult challenge. The Bulgarian artillery, up to then largely immaterial, finally began to make a difference, and a the Bulgarian infantry, despite heavy casualties from small arm and artillery fire, were able to re-establish a foothold in the village. This success was the signal for a larger offensive from multiple battalions, and soon the Irish were extremely hard-pressed.

The situation became confused, as some Irish units were ordered backwards while others, kept in reserve, were ordered forwards. The Irish were able to hold a loose line around the centre of the village for a time, but elements of command did not feel that the village could be held. Artillery was still inflicting plenty of casualties on the attackers, but the Irish were taking heavy casualties themselves and were now exhausted (important to remember that all of these units were weakened owing to illness before fighting had even started). By the time night fell that day, most of them had withdrawn, some on the basis of orders that were countermanded too late.

But the British still retained a foothold in the village, and in the early hours of the following morning, moved to advance again, only to find that the Bulgarians, minus a few snipers and their wounded (and dead) had decided that Yenikoi was not worth fighting for anymore. The village was taken without opposition, and the next domino in the Struma River Valley fell. However, the British would do little more during this phase of offensive operations.

Instead, it was the other Allies nations that took up the slack, with Russian and Italian troops added to the French and Serbian that were already engaged, with Ottoman reinforcements for the Central Powers briefly making the region a true representation of the nature of World War One’s alliance systems. The Battle of the Crna Bend in October/November ended the offensive with a partial Allied virtue, as the key city of Monastir (modern day Bitola) was occupied, but with expected gains elsewhere thwarted. Much like the end of fighting in 1915, both sides had reasons to be happy: the Allies as they had expanded the front-line and were on the doorstep of Serbia, and the Central Powers as they had withstood the worst of the offensive and now maintained strong mountainous positions. 50’000 Allies and more Bulgarians were casualties from the fighting, but many more were forced back to base owing to malaria and other diseases.

For the Irish, the end of the campaigning season largely meant that it was time to return to Thessaloniki and the maintenance of defensive works for the entrenched camp. While there was still some small-scale fighting for the 10th Division to do, their future experience of the war would be largely away from Salonika: the entry of the Greeks into the conflict proper in 1917 would free up some of the British units for service elsewhere. The western front always needed more men, but there were other theatres of war too, and more Irish would soon be fighting in the Middle-East.

To read the rest of the entries in this series, click here to go to the index.

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The Villain Checklist: Escalation

Over our last few entries we have explored the nature of the villains relationship with the hero, but now, as we enter the final stretch of our analysis, we must turn back to the villain’s path specifically. To be even more exact, we must look at the later stages of a villain’s journey and their existence, and how their impact on the story being told grows. Thusly:

Escalation – The bad guy should, at some point in the story, escalate their efforts and activities to a higher and more dangerous point than they were before.

We should all know what I mean by this, but I’ll go into a bit more detail regardless. You can’t have a central antagonist who just does the same thing at the same level the entire narrative long. It’s boring and would get stale fast. If the villain doesn’t evolve their methods, expand their capability to make themselves a more credible threat, then what exactly is the point of having a central antagonist at all?

The escalated activity of the villain is always relative to what they were doing in the first place. To get to the point of escalation, there has to be a baseline of villainy. To take our three stock examples, the con-man, the supervillain and the galactic overlord, they all have things they would do at the start of the story to demonstrate that they are the antagonists, as discussed in our “Kick The Dog” entry. But, at some point in their respective stories, they need to up the ante, go beyond what they were doing before, and establish not only that they are a threat, but that they are a growing threat.

The con-man might start out cheating the sweet old lady out of her life savings, but later he might try and kill her as part of a twisted insurance scam. The supervillain might kill an underling or two, but later he might try and take over the entire west coast. The galactic overlord might blow up a rebel spaceship to start things off, but it won’t be all that long before he’s blowing up planets. Regardless of the villain and regardless of their individual elements, there should always be a point when they are operating above and beyond where they were operating previously.

All that being said, it is important that there is still a line between point A and point B, a logical chain wherein we can understand why the villain is suddenly upping the stakes in the manner that they are. Random acts of greater violence or aimless grabs at power for no good reason tend to leave an audience feeling flat: going back to my thoughts on consistency, the escalation has to make sense for the character undertaking it.

Let’s look at a few examples.

Rather than start out with Star Wars like I usually do, I thought instead we might look at a very direct example of escalation in practice, through the Joker of The Dark Knight. One of the underlying themes of that whole trilogy is escalation, as discussed by Gordon at the concluding of Batman Begins: criminals react to everything the police do in terms of the war on crime, now what’s going to happen once the crimefighters are wearing masks and leaping off rooftops? The Joker encapsulates the answer to that question, a deranged man wearing his own kind of mask, and no longer playing by the rules of society like others. Even within the confines of The Dark Knight itself, there is a sense of escalation in the Joker’s activities, as he moves from robbing mafia owned banks to assassinations to bombings to holding an entire city hostage as part of his insane parlour games. One of the points of that film is how dismissive the authorities are of the Joker initially, so obsessed as they are with dealing with organized crime; but once the escalation occurs, the mob are secondary problems. And there is a consistency to the escalation, indeed, part of the genius of the Joker is that every act, from A to B, is part of his larger, demented, goal of vying for the “soul of Gotham”.

Goal_Joker

This whole scene was an escalation.

To take a look at a negative example, albeit one where the problem is more to do with editing and pacing, let’s consider Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four, and its version of Victor von Doom. Following the inciting incident of the plot – the main characters’ exposure to the elements of “Planet Zero” – von Doom vanishes from the screen for the majority of the second act, only really coming back into play as an important narrative tentpole late-on, as he returns from the other dimension, wreaks havoc in the medical base, and then decides he’s going to destroy the world to save his adopted one. Or something. There is an escalation there – of sorts – but it’s done so quickly and with such little regard for how such a story is traditionally structured, that it’s impossible for von Doom’s megalomania to really resonate with the audience. Which is a shame, as the sequence wherein von Doom flexes his powers and runs amok is probably the films best in terms of visuals and tone, but it doesn’t have sufficient set-up to act as either an effective act of antagonism or escalation.

Escalation_Von Doom

Dooooooom. Uh huh.

OK, how about Star Wars then? Darth Vader escalates things a bit in the course of A New Hope, insofar as he is involved in the decision to blow-up Alderaan (though it’s really Grand Moff Tarkin that’s responsible for that), but apart from this, you can say that Vader’s actions in the course of the film generally become a bit more cruel and devious as things progress. When we first see him he is uncaring about the fates of his men and chokes a rebel to death out of anger; later, he tortures Leia for information, kills Obi-Wan without much care and then tracks the Millennium Falcon back to the rebel base on Yavin IV, a rebel base he has no problem with wiping out. So, insofar as Vader becomes a more intelligent seeming and capable villain as the film progresses, we can say there is an escalation in his actions.

Consistency_Vader

This is an escalation too.

On the opposite side of the coin is Maul of course, a character who doesn’t really escalate anything in the course of his film. The first time he interacts with the protagonist characters he tries to kill them: the next, and last, time he interacts with the protagonist characters he tries to kill them, only he’s taking on two at a time the second time. In terms of his general plan of action, nothing really changes: his initial goal is to find and capture Princess Amidala, and his methods of going about this don’t really change. He’s just an obstacle whose idea of escalating his threat is to turn on the other side of his lightsaber.

Kick_Maul

Same old, same old.

Let’s look at contrasting examples from the MCU. In Thor, our villain Loki starts out just trying to destabilise things in Asgard and ruining his brothers big coronation day, but then later escalates things by actively trying to murder his brother. In Thor: The Dark World, Malekith, an otherwise rather rubbish villain, has an initial goal of dicking over Asgard and wrecking the place in a surprise attack in order to get the Aether, but then later, in the final act, he’s essentially trying to destroy the universe. Then there’s Hela from the recent Thor: Ragnarok. Hela comes back from wherever she was imprisoned with the goal of taking over Asgard, which she subsequently does with relative ease. And then she wants control of the Bifrost in order to launch a campaign to take over the universe, and stopping her from achieving this control is the crux of the remaining Asgard-based plot. Nothing flashy or overly-detailed, but it all works well enough (other aspects of these characters do not however).

Risk_Loki

Just one good example.

Since I’m replaying it recently, how about we once again talk about Dr Wallace Breen from Half-Life 2? Breen is only met in person at the conclusion of the story, and up to then the players only interactions with him are the so-called “Breencasts”. Therefore, any narrative path for the character, up to and including escalation, can only be judged through these, and a few other elements. Throughout the beginning and middle sections of the story, Breen and the Combine pursue Freeman, and any messages Breen has on the topic are addressed to society at large, and not to Gordon himself, or to the Combine forces. But, in the chapter “Nova Prospekt”, which forms part of the second-to-third act shift, there is a noticeable change in Breen’s demeanour when he gets on the mic, now to upbraid his soldiers for failing to capture Gordon, and to start using increasingly desperate rhetoric warning that continued failure may well result in humanity’s extinction. While it may be a stretch to call this escalation – the larger escalation of the rebellion against the Combine may suffice – it is still a moment when the villain starts acting differently, threatening more, and generally can be perceived as losing control of the larger situation, a state of affairs caused by the players actions.

Define_Breen

He never shuts up.

How about something a little more child-friendly? Well, sort of. The Wicked Stepmother in Cinderella – and we’re talking the Kenneth Branagh version here – starts out as someone just trying to take over the household of Ella after her father’s death, treating Ella like garbage and letting her own daughters run amok. Once the possibility of getting her family into royal circles pops up, she changes her modus operandi when it comes to Ella, going so far as to lock her up in the attic so that she can’t escape the house. In a sense, this doesn’t really amount to much, but relatively speaking it’s a big step-up from the casual cruelty of earlier in the film.

c2

The film would lose much if Cate Blanchett wasn’t involved.

Lastly, the villain in the last film I watched, the excellent Paddington 2, featuring a great turn from Hugh Grant as ego-driven actor Phoenix Buchanan. Buchanan’s goal is to follow a pop-up book treasure map by breaking into a slew of London landmarks, in the process of which he gets the title character falsely accused and sent to prison. I wouldn’t say that there is a great deal of escalation in terms of the Buchanan’s character – his goals and method stay consistently at a similar level throughout – but I suppose we can say there should be an exception for comedy villains, required more to make us laugh harder as the story goes, rather than make themselves seem more threatening.

Escalation_Phoenix Buchanan

You should check out this film.

We’ve covered a lot of territory in this series, but in our final two entries, we have to start moving towards finality. Next time, we’ll look at the villain’s end.

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Ireland’s Wars: The End Of The Somme

September was wearing on, and the weather was getting steadily worse, but the Somme campaign continued. The 36th (Ulster) and 16th (Irish) Divisions had share their share of the fighting (and the casualties) but plenty of other Irish units separate to them  – or the original “named” regiments –were fighting and dying on the Somme.

One of them was the Irish Guards, who had entered the fray properly during the fighting around Ginchy and then advanced again on the 25th September, as part of the larger Guards Division’s assault on Lesboeufs. The attack on this area was part of the larger Battle of Flers-Courcelette, a combined British-French assault that aimed to push on from the capture of Guillemont and Ginchy and take the next section of German lines, the last of those kind of assaults that would take place during the Somme. Lesboeuf had already been the target of assault, none of which had been successful.

The Irish Guards were in the support phase of the attack, carried out primarily by battalions of the Coldstream Guards, but they were caught in an intense German artillery bombardment as they moved forward behind their own creeping barrage. Between that, repeatedly having to pause to deal with defensive impediments and the machine gun fire, the advance was brutally slow and costly, but the first trench lines were reached. Before long, the casualties that had been incurred were so large that the various regiments of the Division in combat melded into ad-hoc combined units to consolidate the gains and resist the German counter-attacks, By the end of the day, the 2nd battalion of the Irish Guards had less than 170 men left, but the objective had been taken. However, the larger point of the whole operation fell to the wayside due to failures elsewhere, that prevented any hoped for rout of the enemy.

This assault is notable for probably being the first time that Irish units went into battle supported by the latest military innovation set to change the face of warfare (eventually): the tank. The new trundling machines made their first battlefield appearance during the Somme, albeit one of limited effectiveness, as the vehicles were slow, prone to breakdown and often ended up being death-traps for the crews inside.

Much of what was left of the battle involved desperate efforts to capture new tracks of high ground that had come within attacking range, such as those at Thiepvel or near the Ancre River, with a heightened sense of urgency given the nature of the changing weather and the reality that soon further offensive operations would be made impossible. The Royal Irish Fusiliers were some of the next Irish units involved in these attacks as the fighting moved up into October, launching offensives from the Lesboeufs area, towards sections of the German trench line code-named “RAINY” and “DEWDROP”. German gunners withheld their fire during the Fusiliers’ advance, before opening up when they were massed in their sights. Going on the attack was at least pro-active, as otherwise they merely stayed in place in captured trench line and withstood a constant artillery bombardment. The Fusiliers took nearly 400 casualties as part of their efforts, and were forced backwards. Having suffered so many casualties during their time in the line, the 1st battalion had to be withdrawn from the front entirely.

One of the last co-ordinated British offensives of the battle was the effort to take Le Transloy, wherein the Allies would essentially reach the high water mark of the campaign. The 2nd battalion of the Dublin Fusiliers took part in the fighting, again operating from near Lesboeufs, and subsequently aimed at German machine gun nests and other strongpoints, positions they were only partially able to take, with German machine gunners again waiting until the last moment to concentrate fire. The advance had been delayed until late afternoon, in the hope that hanging mist would dissipate, but it did not. Le Transloy would remain outside of the Allies’ gains as the fighting drew to a close.

One of the last Irish units to be engaged in the battle was the 10th battalion of the Dublin Fusiliers, a unit that had already seen fighting before the Somme, indeed, before they had even gotten to France, having been employed as part of the British counter-response to the Easter Rising. Due to quirks in the operational reality for the British Army – the disbanding and merging of reduced regiments across the board – when the 10th Dublins arrived in the Somme, it was as back up to the 63rd (Royal Navy) Division, a unit made of Navy and Marines volunteers and reservists not needed for naval service. Their casualties had been so extensive that regular infantry now had to fill the gaps. That, and in the aftermath of the Rising, British high command were reluctant to place more Irish units together, at least in the short term.

The Battle of the Ancre, which followed the Battle of the Ancre Heights, was the last significant engagement of the Somme campaign. By now it was November, and the fighting was talking place during snowfalls, the misery of the mud and the shelling compounded by the bitter cold. This final offensive, using units of the British Reserve Army, was inherently limited in nature, designed to help pave the way for assaults in the new year, and to force the Germans to maintain troop deployments on the western front for the benefit of allies elsewhere.

The 10th Dublins attacked German trenches near Beacourt on the 13th of November, on the northern section of the campaign front. Beacourt should have been taken in the first days of the campaign, but the general failure of the northern half meant it still lay in German hands. The tanks supporting the attack became stuck in mud. The 10th sustained brutal casualties – nearly 50% of the battalion strength – but took their objectives over two days of hard fighting.

The Battle of the Somme ended only a few days later, with the loss of life and terrible weather preventing the possibility of further attacks. Over a million men on all sides had become casualties: Somewhere in the region of 30’000 of these had been Irish or been from Irish “named” regiments. In return for this, the Allies had advanced little more than six miles at the deepest point of penetration.

Intense debate has raged in the century since the Somme, discussing whether the battle had been worth it, and whether it could be called an Allied victory. Certainly, the Allies gained ground, and at a rate that they had been unable to since the trenches had first been dug. It is also important to note that the mass casualties were more keenly felt by the Germans, who could not as easily replace the soldiers killed there as Britain or France could (having, at the time, still a war against Tsarist Russia to fight). The British Army, so largely inexperienced before the battle started, gained a lot of insight into how industrial warfare had to be fought.

But was all that worth the 623’000 Allied casualties? And the casualties incurred in the Battle of Verdun fought further south? It is the personal opinion of this writer that it was not, though that is an opinion coloured by the 20:20 provided by hindsight. Taking such meagre amounts of ground at such an expense of blood should never be deemed acceptable, even in the pursuit of the sometimes legitimate strategy of attrition. The attacks on the 1st of July should have been better organised through the use of shorter-term hurricane bombardment and better infantry tactics, and when that attack failed a more considered re-appraisal of what to do with the offensive should have been carried out, rather than the continued frontal assaults that resulted in so much bloodshed.

The 36th and 16th Divisions had been shattered, but both would fight again, and before too long. 1916 had been a terrible year on the western front, and 1917 presaged little better. Across the various fronts of the First World War, Irish regiments would have to steel themselves to the continuing reality of the war, and the fighting that was yet to come.

To read the rest of the entries in this series, click here to go to the index.

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