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British Brass Sent Men Into Machine Gun Massacre: Lewis Lapham

The cover jacket of
The cover jacket of "To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918" by Adam Hochschild. Source: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt via Bloomberg

July 30 (Bloomberg) -- Dug into trenches behind massive rows of barbed wire at Loos, France, the Germans couldn’t believe their eyes on Sept. 26, 1915.

British troops were walking toward them across no man’s land. They opened fire with machine guns located in protected bunkers.

(To listen to the podcast, click here.)

The 10,000 advancing soldiers began falling, and soon their comrades were walking on top of the dead and wounded, slipping and sliding in the mud and the blood. Too numerous to be buried, the bodies festered until rats picked the skeletons clean.

Fighting continued for several more weeks, and by the end, there were more than 61,000 Allied casualties and no real gains.

The British generals who ordered the massacre later downplayed the efficacy of the newfangled machine gun in a memo to the Ministry of Munitions, saying it had not “altered the universally accepted principle that superior numbers of bayonets closing with the enemy is what finally turns the scale.”

Even in 1918, British forces still had only one machine gun for every 61 men.

I spoke with Adam Hochschild, author of “To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion,” on the following topics:

1. Murderous Folly

2. Loyalty and Rebellion

3. Propaganda Effort

4. Trench Warfare

5. Industrial Combat

To buy this book in North America, click here.

(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)

To contact the writer on the story: Lewis Lapham in New York at lhl@laphamsquarterly.org.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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