REVIEW by CHRIS BAKER (THE LONG, LONG TRAIL)
The first day of the Somme is surely the most written-about action conducted by the British Army in the Great War. There is scarcely a blade of grass along the miles of German front line assaulted in that day that has not been described in detail. I can only speculate as to why the advance made by XIII Corps at the southern end of that line, alongside the French Sixth Army, appears to have attracted the least attention: perhaps it was not tragic or bloody enough; generated no poems; has fewest battlefield memorials. The attack in this area was a success, with tough objectives achieved at considerable human cost to both sides. As we have recently learned from Jack Sheldon’s masterly Fighting the Somme, the Germans had reduced their defensive resources in this area and were greatly concerned that once Montauban fell it might lead to the British gaining important ground for capture of their selected schwerpunkt, the Thiepval ridge. The advance made on 1 July 1916 in the area of Montauban and Mametz, coupled with almost total failure elsewhere, ultimately led to Haig’s geographic reorientation of the offensive and deserves analysis and more consideration than it is usually given. ‘Zero Hour Z Day’ provides a solid basis for doing so.
In his introduction, the author tells us that the book is the result of years of research; I can believe it. We are taken, in detail, through the background to the assault; the months of raiding and trench warfare that precede the battle; the plans, objectives and preparations; the execution of the attack (in which the book concentrates on the 30th and 18th (Eastern) Divisions); and the aftermath of battle. The presentation of it all is excellent, covering thoughts and deeds from corps level down to the battalions and companies. The book is well laid out, with dozens of splendid coloured maps, annotated aerial views, and ‘then and now’ photographs. For anyone who already knows the area it is a treat. For readers new to this ground and battle, it could not be made clearer. The text is well written and referenced to sources, and as such will make a reference work of lasting value.
‘Zero Hour Z Day’ is testament to the possibilities through self-publishing and short-run printing these days. It is a physical product of high quality. It has to be said though, that it is not the easiest book to handle. The book is large (almost 30cm by 21cm) and very heavy at over six pounds in weight. I wouldn’t fancy carrying it anywhere; I couldn’t read it on a train or plane; and I’m not sure my knees would stand propping it up for bedtime reading! It’s not even a good fit for my bookshelves. I understand that the author is offering a subsidised postage rate for buyers: an important factor for something of this scale. Maybe the paperback would be a more practical proposition for most readers. Overall, a terrific addition to the British historiography of the Somme.
A4 size softback, 512 pages in 35 chapters; 79 colour maps; 142 B&W photographs; 41 colour photographs; 83 colour and B&W aerial photographs; 650 bios and images of the men; 38 sketches.
Overseas clients please note: Due to excessively high wrapped weight shipping is weighted on this title.