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Somme Battle Conspiracy

Political journalist and Unionist Revisionist Dr John Coulter, with the North awash with the Somme battle 90th anniversary commemorations, explores the conspiracy theory the 36th Ulster Division was deliberately sacrificed to destroy Unionist boss Edward Carson's Ulster Volunteer Force

Dr John Coulter • 28 June 2006

While thousands of Orange Order and Royal British Legion members will use the Marching Season to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the bloody Battle of the Somme during World War One, they do so under the cloud of conspiracy an entire Protestant division was deliberately sent to their deaths.

1st July marked the opening day of the battle along the River Somme in France; a day which became the bloodiest in the history of the British Army.

While the British suffered 57,470 casualties, including 19,240 dead, it was the fate of one Irish unit, the 36th Ulster Division, which has become the central point of the new conspiracy theory on the 90th anniversary of that fateful day in 1916.

The Famous 36th, as it is sometimes fondly remembered, suffered 5,104 casualties, of which about 2,069 were killed.

Ironically, while the day was a total military failure for the British along the 25-mile front in northern France, the 36th was one of only three divisions that day to capture their German objectives.

The overall plan had been to attack the German forces to take the pressure off the French who were bogged down by the Germans at another Great War bloodbath, Verdun, also in France.

However, the overwhelming majority of the 36th was comprised of Unionist leader Lord Edward Carson's 80,000-strong Ulster Volunteer Force which he had formed, armed and trained in 1912 to forcibly combat the threat of Home Rule in Ireland.

The outbreak of World War One had temporarily put the deepening Irish crisis on hold. Even the British Army stationed in Ireland would not take on Carson's UVF.

While nationalists had responded by forming the Irish Volunteers, they would be no match in the looming civil war with the UVF. The UVF was at its strongest in the nine Northern counties comprising the Ulster province.

However, the British authorities – and especially Liberal Prime Minister Herbert Asquith – feared Carson's UVF could control up to 18 or 19 Irish counties in a bloody showdown with the Irish Volunteers.

Such a move would cut Ireland equally in two with the Ulster Volunteers controlling 18, the nationalist Volunteers holding the remaining 14.

However, with the outbreak of war the massed ranks of the UVF were able to contribute 13 battalions for the three Irish regiments based in pre-partition Ulster – the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, the Royal Irish Fusiliers and the Royal Irish Rifles.

But Carson wanted permission to form his own regiment based on the UVF. However, many UVF members refused to wait until the 36th became a reality and crossed to England or Scotland to enlist, or joined the 10th or 16th Irish Divisions, which had already been formed by the British War Office in Ireland.

But the core of Carson's UVF remained intact and joined the 36th en bloc. In July 1916, Asquith saw an opportunity to rid him of the Unionist Irish problem.

The PM gave the British Commander in Chief Douglas Haig permission to attack the Germans. Haig preferred the open ground at Flanders – but Asquith supported the Somme offensive to draw German troops away from the beleaguered French at Verdun.

However, in allocating the objectives along the 25-mile offensive, the 36th was given what appeared to be an almost impossible task – an uphill advance to take the large strongpoint complex in the German lines called the Schwaben Redoubt.

The attack at 7.30 am on 1st July was preceded by several days of a massive artillery bombardment of enemy barbed wire and front lines. But the Germans merely dug in and waited for the barrage to lift.

As soon as it did, they scrambled out of their deep trenches and set up their machine-guns. But the bungling British commanders wrongly assumed the Germans would have been blasted to pieces with the shelling and merely ordered their troops to simply walk across No Man's Land and into the supposed deserted enemy trenches.

This supposed Sunday afternoon stroll tactic was to be the death of thousands. Many English units stumbled only a matter of yards from their trenches before being slaughtered by the never-ending fusiliages from the German machine-gunners.

Had the 36th followed the English orders accurately, the entire division would have been dead by the time people had finished their breakfasts back home in the North.

But 1st July was a special day for the Ulster contingent. Under the old Roman calendar, the battle of the Boyne had been fought on 1st July 1690 – and the date was now dubbed the Mini Twelfth in Northern Protestant folklore.

Numerous members of the 36th donned their Orange sashes, shouted No Surrender, and rather than form up in waves as their English overlords had commanded them – the 36th dashed towards the German redoubt.

However, the sensible tactic of the charge did not help the 36th avoid the slaughter. Many of Carson's finest and most clever UVF officers, Non Commissioned Officers (NCOs) and UVF regulars died, or were horribly wounded as they attacked their position at Thiepval.

Thousands of other UVF members fighting with other English, Scottish and Irish regiments were slaughtered, too, on 1st July – primarily because of the daft 'walk, don't run' order by the English generals.

In spite of taking and holding the Schwaben Redoubt near Thiepval, no progress had been made by the divisions on either of the 36th's flanks. On 2nd July, the 36th was ordered to retreat as no reinforcements could be sent.

But the damage to Carson's army was done. The vast majority of the UVF's finest commanders were either dead or maimed because of 1st July.

By the time Armistice Day came in November 1918, and the battered and bruised remnants of the former UVF trickled back from the blood-soaked trenches of Europe, there was no way Carson could re-group his once 80,000 member private army.

Within months of the end of World War One, Michael Collins and his revamped guerilla IRA began their War of Independence in January 1919. Carson had no army to push south. He was at the mercy of the British Government.

As the minutes of silence are held for the 36th at Somme commemorations this weekend, many should ponder - was the death of Carson's UVF army just merely part of the senseless slaughter of that day, or was it an orchestrated political decision to ethnically cleanse a troublesome illegal Protestant militia?















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Index: Current Articles

2 July 2006

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Forum Magazine Editorial

Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome
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Monsignor Denis Faul: Tribute
Ruairí Ó Brádaigh

Protest Continues in Maghaberry
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Where the Wind Blows
Dr John Coulter

What's Shaking
John Kennedy

Left, Right, Left, Right Wrong
Mick Hall

Irish Democracy, A Framework for Unity
Francis Mackey

The Peace Progress and the State
Davy Carlin

'The Church Brought to its Knees': Two books on Catholic Ireland's retreat
Seaghán Ó Murchú

Somme Battle Conspiracy
Dr John Coulter

March March March
John Kennedy

What's Good for the Goose is Good for the Gander!
Patrick Hurley

Sovereignty Movement Condemns Racist Attacks
Andy Martin, 32 CSM

Greens Propose Plastic Bag Tax to Help Fund Environment Watchdog
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The Framing of Michael McKevitt: Introduction
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The Framing of Michael McKevitt: Garda Harassment & Eventual Sitch-up
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Dolours Price

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Anthony McIntyre

22 June 2006

The Framing of Michael McKevitt
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Fr Des Wilson

Demagogues and Demigod
Tommy Gorman

Getting It Tight
John Kennedy

The Restoration of Restorative Justice
Marcel M. Baumann

DUP Analysis
Dr John Coulter

Father Faul
Fr. Sean McManus

Aiden Hulme Repatriation Picket
Paul Doyle

Prison Protest Begins
Republican Prisoners Action Group (RPAG), Republican Sinn Fein, Newry

New Hero, and a Legacy
Dr John Coulter

Charlie's Angel
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The Letters page has been updated.

Profile: Mehdi Mozaffari
Anthony McIntyre

The Blanket, the Cartoons and the End of Left and Right
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A Welcome End
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Freedom of Speech index



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