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32Bravo
12-29-2007, 07:11 AM
As we debate who is the better general, here and there, it seems to me that those that we consider the better generals, are those that have made something out of nothing, or have achieved something were all others failed.

One general who impressed me, was General Byng, particularly for his performance in capturing Vimy Ridge. This was done in style and, considering other batles of the time (and even those of the French from whom he took over the operational area) the Canadians suffered relatively light casualties. This was mainly on account of the Canadian forces being small in number and, therefore, not to be wasted. Byng developed an excellent plan and succeeded in capturing the ridge.

http://firstworldwar.com/battles/vimyridge.htm

http://firstworldwar.com/bio/byng.htm

pdf27
12-29-2007, 07:49 AM
I'd add Plumer and Monash to that list for the same reasons.

The other one is Haig. Distinctly controversial, but if you read into it (John Terraine is IMHO particularly good) it becomes more and more apparent that Haig's reputation was destroyed by Lloyd George for political reasons. Indeed, I'm coming around to the opinion that Lloyd George's libelling of Haig and his general attempts to obfuscate the victories scored by the BEF in the last hundred days of WW1 are one of the major factors responsible for WW2. I'm coming around to the opinion that the "stab in the back" legend exploited by Hitler wouldn't have survived without also being believed in France and the UK - and Lloyd George's hatchet job on Haig and the BEF was largely responsible for this.

32Bravo
12-29-2007, 12:20 PM
I'd add Plumer and Monash to that list for the same reasons.

The other one is Haig. Distinctly controversial, but if you read into it (John Terraine is IMHO particularly good) it becomes more and more apparent that Haig's reputation was destroyed by Lloyd George for political reasons. Indeed, I'm coming around to the opinion that Lloyd George's libelling of Haig and his general attempts to obfuscate the victories scored by the BEF in the last hundred days of WW1 are one of the major factors responsible for WW2. I'm coming around to the opinion that the "stab in the back" legend exploited by Hitler wouldn't have survived without also being believed in France and the UK - and Lloyd George's hatchet job on Haig and the BEF was largely responsible for this.

Interesting politicking. I have very little knowledge of this area, just bits which I have picked up here and their in short articles. I'm sure that you're right, Lloyd George was yet another man with a massive ego.

pdf27
12-29-2007, 02:51 PM
I'm sure that you're right, Lloyd George was yet another man with a massive ego.
To illustrate a point, during the Kaiserslacht in 1918 (aka the Ludendorff offensive) there were about 500,000 trained British soldiers sitting around in the UK "defending against an invasion" - on the explicit orders of Lloyd George. Had those troops (or even a large fraction of them) been made available to Haig then the German offensive would have been contained with far less difficulty and British casualties would have been a fraction of what they were. As it was they did nothing - largely because Lloyd George hated Haig, was persistently trying to undermine him by any means possible and was obsessed with a strategy of knocking the German satellite countries out of the war.

In reality, of course, the war was won on the Western Front and largely by the BEF. IMHO Lloyd-George's attempts to disguise this to cover up his own political misjudgement are at the root of the current "lions led by donkeys" attitude, and to a great extent the cause of the "stab in the back" myth not being discredited until way too late.
The First World War was IMHO the greatest military victory in the history of the UK, and a crushing military defeat for Germany on the Western front in particular.

Edit: Couple of book suggestions -
1) Forgotten Victory by Gary Sheffield - covers the whole war, and seeking to explode myths rather than provide a history of the war.
2) To Win a War by John Terraine - more of a conventional history, but only really covering from about Cambrai onwards. Focuses more on the high level command decisions (Clemenceau, Lloyd George, Haig, Pershing, etc.) than on the actual battles. Highly recommended.

Drake
12-29-2007, 03:51 PM
Uiuiui, largely by the BEF, where did you get that? The french would imho disagree.

32Bravo
12-29-2007, 05:43 PM
Uiuiui, largely by the BEF, where did you get that? The french would imho disagree.

By 1918 the French were knackered, as were the Germans, nd the Americans had only begun to become involved. The only army in the field of any consequence was that of the British.

You have my permission to disagree.

pdf27
12-29-2007, 07:11 PM
That's basically it. The French army stopped the Germans in 1914-16, when the British army was either a tiny force (the old contemptibles) or still learning it's trade (the Somme). Prior to the Somme the British army was about as important as the Belgians in terms of the amount of front they covered and their impact on the war (the Royal Navy are an entirely different matter).

From about spring 1917 onwards to the end of the war the French army was effectively crippled - Chemin des Dames in spring 1917 led to widespread mutiny and from that point onwards the French army wasn't really capable of more than local offensives. The British army however was still gaining in strength until early 1918, and was able to inflict significant defeats on the Germans in summer 1917 (third Ypres) and throughout 1918.

Nickdfresh
12-30-2007, 12:24 AM
By 1918 the French were knackered, as were the Germans, nd the Americans had only begun to become involved. The only army in the field of any consequence was that of the British.

You have my permission to disagree.

But who "knackered" the Germans at Verdun?

Nickdfresh
12-30-2007, 12:25 AM
That's basically it. The French army stopped the Germans in 1914-16, when the British army was either a tiny force (the old contemptibles) or still learning it's trade (the Somme). Prior to the Somme the British army was about as important as the Belgians in terms of the amount of front they covered and their impact on the war (the Royal Navy are an entirely different matter).

From about spring 1917 onwards to the end of the war the French army was effectively crippled - Chemin des Dames in spring 1917 led to widespread mutiny and from that point onwards the French army wasn't really capable of more than local offensives. The British army however was still gaining in strength until early 1918, and was able to inflict significant defeats on the Germans in summer 1917 (third Ypres) and throughout 1918.

The French launched a series of successful offensives that had every bit the impact of the British and the Americans...

pdf27
12-30-2007, 05:51 AM
The French launched a series of successful offensives that had every bit the impact of the British and the Americans...
In 1918? You need to read a bit more history. The French had more impact than the Americans, but the British (& Empire/Dominion) forces had more impact than everybody else put together. In the last hundred days, the BEF captured 188,700 prisoners, while the French, Americans and Belgians between them captured 196,700 (of which the Americans captured 43,000). In terms of distance covered (always a misleading figure in WWW1), the Americans advanced a maximum of 30 miles, averaging about 15 over the course of the last hundred days. The BEF averaged about 60, while even the Belgians managed about 50 and the French managing a similar amount in the Chemin des Dames region. There are good reasons for this - the Americans were by and large still following a doctrine that had riflemen closing with and destroying the enemy as the decisive arm which would not have looked out of place on the Somme, and which everybody else had discarded two years previously. Fortunately for them they were not facing the German Army of 1916, which had largely been destroyed at Verdun, the Somme and Ypres. Had they been doing so then they would almost certainly have been stopped dead.

Drake
12-30-2007, 06:09 AM
The expression "the western front was largely won by the BEF" is like saying a football match which ended 7-6 in the 93 minute was won by the guy alone who scored the seventh goal in the 92nd minute.

32Bravo
12-30-2007, 06:45 AM
The expression "the western front was largely won by the BEF" is like saying a football match which ended 7-6 in the 93 minute was won by the guy alone who scored the seventh goal in the 92nd minute.

For my part, I don't recall saying that. However, they did score the 7th goal. :)

pdf27
12-30-2007, 06:53 AM
More like the 5th, 6th and 7th goals. In the last few years of WW1 the BEF had the majority of the offensive power of the allied armies and was responsible for the majority of the damage to the Germans.

32Bravo
12-30-2007, 07:06 AM
More like the 5th, 6th and 7th goals. In the last few years of WW1 the BEF had the majority of the offensive power of the allied armies and was responsible for the majority of the damage to the Germans.


I stand corrected! :)

Drake
12-30-2007, 07:21 AM
The british were able to muster more offensive power because france had to defend the longer lines (and do you know that it actually physically pains me to defend the french military capabilites :twisted:)
So imho it's a bit unfair to reap the rewards of a combined effort.

And the role of the US is imho pretty hard to evaluate as they probably influenced the whole game more through potentials than through actual physical presence and fighting. But imho they were crucial to finally tip the balance.

32Bravo
12-30-2007, 07:36 AM
But who "knackered" the Germans at Verdun?

The Germans. While the French were on strike.

32Bravo
12-30-2007, 07:45 AM
The british were able to muster more offensive power because france had to defend the longer lines (and do you know that it actually physically pains me to defend the french military capabilites :twisted:)
So imho it's a bit unfair to reap the rewards of a combined effort.

And the role of the US is imho pretty hard to evaluate as they probably influenced the whole game more through potentials than through actual physical presence and fighting. But imho they were crucial to finally tip the balance.


My sense of fair play has to agree with some of this. The French military prowess consisted of the Pantaloon Rouge - a veritable meatgrinder.

Yes the American factor was its potential. It did help to tip the balance, but I wouldn't agree thta it was crucial (One of the demoralising factors, from the German point of view, during their Spring Offensive, was the amount of British supply dumps they overran as they advanced. They grew steadily to understand that they could not win a war against an army which was, even at this stage of the war, so well supplied, while they were short of just about everything).

In the meantime the BEF was doing some serious fighting, and winning.

The French spent themelves at Verdun, once again because of Gallic elan. They, in their wastage of manpower were a spent force and needed the BEF to distract the Germans with the Somme offensive. British politicians once again interfering and overruling the advice of their generals.

Drake
12-30-2007, 08:47 AM
Yes the American factor was its potential. It did help to tip the balance, but I wouldn't agree thta it was crucial (One of the demoralising factors, from the German point of view, during their Spring Offensive, was the amount of British supply dumps they overran as they advanced. They grew steadily to understand that they could not win a war against an army which was, even at this stage of the war, so well supplied, while they were short of just about everything).

What I find impossible to tell is how an absence of the US in the war would've played out in the minds of the french and italians in late 1917 after the collapse of russia and during their respective mutinies.

pdf27
12-30-2007, 08:57 AM
Depends when - by the end of the war the French lines weren't all that much longer than the British, and they had a very large sector (through the Vosges mountains down to Switzerland) where nothing really happened during the war (60,000 casualties on both sides for the entire war in the Vosges sector).

As for the US, my attitude is that Pershing did less with more troops than any general since McClellan.

32Bravo
12-30-2007, 09:03 AM
Depends when - by the end of the war the French lines weren't all that much longer than the British, and they had a very large sector (through the Vosges mountains down to Switzerland) where nothing really happened during the war (60,000 casualties on both sides for the entire war in the Vosges sector).

As for the US, my attitude is that Pershing did less with more troops than any general since McClellan.


Aah, you tell it so well. :)

pdf27
12-30-2007, 09:13 AM
What I find impossible to tell is how an absence of the US in the war would've played out in the minds of the french and italians in late 1917 after the collapse of russia and during their respective mutinies.
Italians - no telling, although they had substantial British and French forces stiffening them by that time.
French - unlikely. If you look into the French mutinies they were more against incompetent senior officers than against continuing the war, and the French units continued to man the line even while nominally in a state of mutiny. A lot of it was also down to how Nivelle had promised them that Chemin des Dames would end the war in a few days - it didn't, and even though losses weren't all that severe the shock of disappointment more than anything else caused the mutinies. With the ascent of Clemenceau and Foch to head the Government and Army respectively, IMHO the French army would have recovered without US assistance anyway.

32Bravo
12-30-2007, 09:28 AM
Yes, I think the effect the US involvement had was more upon the German High Command than it had on the allied armies.

Rising Sun*
12-30-2007, 09:54 AM
As for the US, my attitude is that Pershing did less with more troops than any general since McClellan.

A bit harsh?

Should these two factors be considered?

First, did the Yanks have independence of operation, or were they under ultimate French control under Foch? If the latter, it's hardly their fault about whether or not they did much, is it?

Second, was there an attitude towards the Americans by Allied leadership which limited their involvement under American leadership?

I'm wondering whether the Americans suffered the same problems of European disdain that the Australians did, which generally denied them lack of independence of operation.

When the Australians were given independence of action at Le Hamel, they demonstrated the new tactics which contributed a great deal to the victories which concluded the war.

Significantly, green American troops were attached to the Australians in the action at Le Hamel and distinguished themselves as keen and brave troops, winning praise from Australian troops who had by then up to four years of battle experience.

Chateau Thierry and related events weren't exactly a cake walk, nor insiginificant battles, by themselves or in wider strategic terms.

Much as it pains me to give the Yanks any credit for doing anything after establishing in WWI their tradition of arriving late in a world war :D, it seems rather unfair to be dismissive of their contribution.

Rising Sun*
12-30-2007, 10:03 AM
One of the demoralising factors, from the German point of view, during their Spring Offensive, was the amount of British supply dumps they overran as they advanced. They grew steadily to understand that they could not win a war against an army which was, even at this stage of the war, so well supplied, while they were short of just about everything.

I doubt they needed to see what the British had.

Germany lacked the capacity to feed itself properly by 1918. Food riots had started before then in Germany.

Germany was pretty much on its knees in a number of domestic respects by 1918.

It copped a few finishing kicks to the head as its allies surrendered in 1918, independently of what was happening on the Western Front, which is too often overlooked in the histories which treat the Western Front as if it was the only battlefield and Germany as the only combatant on that side. Each surrender released more forces to confront Germany on the Western Front, in time. The writing was on the wall.

32Bravo
12-30-2007, 10:36 AM
I doubt they needed to see what the British had.

Germany lacked the capacity to feed itself properly by 1918. Food riots had started before then in Germany.

Germany was pretty much on its knees in a number of domestic respects by 1918.




Very true.

I'm talking about the frontline troops here, not the staff, the polticians or the people back home.

Why seeing what the British had had demoralising effect on them, was that up until then they had assumed that the British were suffering from the same privations. Once they advanced and saw with their own eyes what was available to the British, and their allies, they began to understand that they could not win. They also undrstood that the British were falling back and shortening their supply chain while theirs was elongating, and they had not the logisitic support to sustain the offensive. Add to that that they outran their artillery umbrella.

32Bravo
12-30-2007, 10:41 AM
It copped a few finishing kicks to the head as its allies surrendered in 1918, independently of what was happening on the Western Front, which is too often overlooked in the histories which treat the Western Front as if it was the only battlefield and Germany as the only combatant on that side. Each surrender released more forces to confront Germany on the Western Front, in time. The writing was on the wall.

Yes, the whole is greater than the sum of the individual parts.

The Western Front is where the main war effort was fought, and the release of troops in other theatres would enable the Westen Front to be reinforced. It was on the Western Front that the war had to be won....And it was.

pdf27
12-30-2007, 11:36 AM
First, did the Yanks have independence of operation, or were they under ultimate French control under Foch? If the latter, it's hardly their fault about whether or not they did much, is it?
Pershing took the attitude that other than in exceptional circumstances US troops would only fight under ultimate US command, and throughout he strongly resisted being put under anyone (including Foch). His basic attitude can be summed up as that he would rather not fight than fight under a non-US commander. Which is pretty much what he went ahead and did.


Second, was there an attitude towards the Americans by Allied leadership which limited their involvement under American leadership?
The main limiting factor was that they simply had no appropriate training for trench warfare and virtually no appropriate equipment. Virtually all mechanised equipment had to be provided by the British and all the artillery by the French before the US troops were fit for battle.


I'm wondering whether the Americans suffered the same problems of European disdain that the Australians did, which generally denied them lack of independence of operation.
When did the Australians experience this? I would suspect this was earlier in the war when higher commanders were still trying to control the battle as it unfolded. As the war went on they started to realise this was simply impossible and limited themselves to pre-battle planning, with the lower echelon commanders fighting the battle. If this is the case, I would expect the Australians to have the same independence of operation as any other British or Canadian unit of similar size. After all, in a conflict of that size nobody is going to let a Corps fight their own private war.


When the Australians were given independence of action at Le Hamel, they demonstrated the new tactics which contributed a great deal to the victories which concluded the war.
True, although I would point out at this point it was hardly a uniquely Australian achievement. Plumer for instance used very similar "bite and hold" tactics in taking Messines Ridge in 1917. Monash really just refined an existing set of tactics, following a trend that was present throughout the BEF to plan for limited tactical success and deliberately avoid trying for a breakthrough.


Significantly, green American troops were attached to the Australians in the action at Le Hamel and distinguished themselves as keen and brave troops, winning praise from Australian troops who had by then up to four years of battle experience.
To be exact, four companies of them which were all the US army could scrape together at the time, despite having nearly a million troops in France.
It is also instructive to look at the experiences of the 27th and 30th US Army divisions which were attached to the Australian Corps for the battle to break the Siegfried line. To put it bluntly, they were stopped dead and only broke through after the British 46th division broke through elsewhere, and the US divisions displayed a level of competence which would not have been out of place on the first day of the Somme.


Chateau Thierry and related events weren't exactly a cake walk, nor insiginificant battles, by themselves or in wider strategic terms.
Quote from a participant:

We had a wonderful barrage from our artillery, which was falling only a few yards in front of us, all the time we were advancing... After we made it to the top of the hill the Germans opened up with their machine guns, hand and rifle grenades and trench mortars. Just then we all seemed to go crazy for we gave a yell like a bunch of wild indians and started down the hill running and cursing in the face of the machine gun fire. Men were falling on every side, but we kept going, yelling and firing as we went. How any of us got through the murderous machine gun fire the Germans were putting up I will never be able to tell... On this little hill were at least eight hundred dead men and several hundred wounded.
Oh, and 80% of the troops fighting at Chateau Thierry were French...

Panzerknacker
12-30-2007, 09:41 PM
A completely off-topic, but I just want to point that there is a B league footbal team in the province of Buenos Aires called "Douglas Haig" in honor of the general....I suposse some englander definately liked that guy and was not bother for the appaling tactics used by the british commander.

Rising Sun*
12-30-2007, 10:28 PM
A completely off-topic, but I just want to point that there is a B league footbal team in the province of Buenos Aires called "Douglas Haig" in honor of the general....I suposse some englander definately liked that guy and was not bother for the appaling tactics used by the british commander.

Can't think where I read it, but a while back I saw a reappraisal of Haig that argued he actually didn't do a bad job in the circumstances confronting him. Wish I could remember the reasons advanced to support that argument.

pdf27
12-31-2007, 04:01 AM
I suposse some englander definately liked that guy and was not bother for the appaling tactics used by the british commander.
Haig was very, very popular with the troops at the end of the war - the idea that he was responsible for "appalling tactics" didn't grow up until at least the 1930s, largely due to Lloyd George doing a hatchet job on him in his memoirs. Postwar Haig also did a hell of a lot to help disabled ex-servicemen and the like - the poppy appeal was for a very long time known as the "Haig Fund" in his honour - by popular demand rather than him wanting to big himself up.

32Bravo
12-31-2007, 07:37 AM
I suposse some englander definately liked that guy and was not bother for the appaling tactics used by the british commander.

In the early years, no side had the technology and tactics to deal with the devastating effect of the machine gun coupled with barbed wire, and the resulting stalemate situation of trench warfare. For example, the artillery had not the ability to lay on a creeping barage; there were no tanks to deal with the wire; the training of troops did not put enough store on fire and maneouvre (and if they had it would have made little difference given the above).

It has been argued (somewhere?) that the Americans ought to have been able to teach the allies some lessons, considering their experience of trench warfare in their civil war - but it seems they didn't learn the lessons themselves (if there were any).

Do you have any solutions, P.K., given the circumstances?

Rising Sun*
12-31-2007, 08:20 AM
For example, the artillery had not the ability to lay on a creeping barage ...

Was it a lack of artillery ability, or that the tactic wasn't fully developed yet and the associated technology wasn't up to it?

My understanding is that even quite late in the war the biggest problem was that communications between the infantry field commanders and artillery weren't assured, so that when things didn't go as planned there wasn't always the ability to alter the artillery timetable and ranges.

Thus advancing Allied troops hit by unexpected defensive fire could be stranded behind a barrage moving away from them, or unable to press home an advantage because the artillery was running to a fixed timetable that took no account of events in the field.

Wireless communications in WWII overcame a lot of the problems of field telephones and runners which, I think, caused some local disasters in WWI because of the lack of communication between distant artillery providing indirect fire and the infantry advancing under it.

pdf27
12-31-2007, 08:39 AM
Was it a lack of artillery ability, or that the tactic wasn't fully developed yet and the associated technology wasn't up to it?
Largely because nobody had realised they might need it - indirect fire was a relatively new ability (you can't really do a creeping barrage with direct fire - at least not safely for your own troops). Once people realised they needed it and could do it it came into very common use.


My understanding is that even quite late in the war the biggest problem was that communications between the infantry field commanders and artillery weren't assured, so that when things didn't go as planned there wasn't always the ability to alter the artillery timetable and ranges.
More than that - WW1 is probably the only war in history where commanders at all levels were routinely cut off from each other. In previous wars (Franco-Prussian, American Civil War, etc.) the battlefields were much smaller so generals had a measure of voice control, and being aboveground was much less hostile so runners had relative freedom of movement. Postwar portable radios came in and solved the problem. The Germans never really got their heads around the nature of the problem and suffered accordingly (after they ground to a halt on the Marne, they never again had a successful offensive against the western Allies in terms of distance gained). The Allies eventually understood that the problem simply meant they couldn't break through the front and changed their strategy to "bite and hold"/"peaceful penetration". Basically they bit off chunks of the front - destroying or capturing any Germans in it in the process - according to a pre-set plan then as soon as they reached the limit of the plan stopped the battle. By late 1918 they had this down to a fine art, and would be ready to start again on another part of the front within a week or so. This - finally - restored movement to the battlefield, but didn't make it a war of manouver.


Thus advancing Allied troops hit by unexpected defensive fire could be stranded behind a barrage moving away from them, or unable to press home an advantage because the artillery was running to a fixed timetable that took no account of events in the field.
It worked against the Germans too. For a long time the German tactic was to immediately counterattack with whatever they could scrape together against any Allied penetration into their lines. With the communication problems if shelling or anything else had cut their telephone cables they would be launching unsupported attacks with no reserves - one of the reasons the Germans suffered so badly on the Somme.


Wireless communications in WWII overcame a lot of the problems of field telephones and runners which, I think, caused some local disasters in WWI because of the lack of communication between distant artillery providing indirect fire and the infantry advancing under it.
More like 90% of the problems of WW1. Outfit a WW1 army with modern radios and you would be in virtually a WW2 scenario.

Rising Sun*
12-31-2007, 09:52 AM
Outfit a WW1 army with modern radios and you would be in virtually a WW2 scenario.

But would it have changed dramatically the way WWI was fought?

The Allies still had to get out of the trenches, and the Germans had pretty much perfected defensive machine gun and other fire, with the benefit of being in entrenched positions which almost by definition were going to be primarily defensive rather than the Allies' problem of always attacking the Germans.

I suspect that even the best wireless communications in the world wouldn't have made any real difference up to 1916, and not much until there was some movement in the latter part of 1918.

pdf27
12-31-2007, 10:51 AM
But would it have changed dramatically the way WWI was fought?
The Allies still had to get out of the trenches, and the Germans had pretty much perfected defensive machine gun and other fire, with the benefit of being in entrenched positions which almost by definition were going to be primarily defensive rather than the Allies' problem of always attacking the Germans.
Almost certainly. If you look at how attacks went, apart from rare exceptions such as Beaumont Hamel the Allied attacks could always seize the German first line of trenches. The problems they had were:
1) Keeping these trenches in the face of German counterattack.
2) Exploiting their break-in without proper artillery support.
Ultimately these were solved by pre-planned fire to protect the seized area and help expand it, as well as pre-planned limited exploitation.



I suspect that even the best wireless communications in the world wouldn't have made any real difference up to 1916, and not much until there was some movement in the latter part of 1918.
Artillery on call would have made an immense difference, as would the ability to call up reserves when needed. Having a FOO with the attacking troops as opposed to pre-planned fire is the difference between night and day if the enemy doesn't cooperate.

Nickdfresh
12-31-2007, 09:38 PM
In 1918? You need to read a bit more history. The French had more impact than the Americans, but the British (& Empire/Dominion) forces had more impact than everybody else put together. In the last hundred days, the BEF captured 188,700 prisoners, while the French, Americans and Belgians between them captured 196,700 (of which the Americans captured 43,000). In terms of distance covered (always a misleading figure in WWW1), the Americans advanced a maximum of 30 miles, averaging about 15 over the course of the last hundred days. The BEF averaged about 60, while even the Belgians managed about 50 and the French managing a similar amount in the Chemin des Dames region. There are good reasons for this - the Americans were by and large still following a doctrine that had riflemen closing with and destroying the enemy as the decisive arm which would not have looked out of place on the Somme, and which everybody else had discarded two years previously. Fortunately for them they were not facing the German Army of 1916, which had largely been destroyed at Verdun, the Somme and Ypres. Had they been doing so then they would almost certainly have been stopped dead.

All true. But the "impact" cannot be measured purely in numbers of prisoners and miles taken. All tactical my friend, tactical. The Strategically dim position Germany was facing resulting from the US entry into the War is what made it all possible, it is also how and why we got there. The British Army suffered some key defeats in 1918 as did the French as the Germans were forced to make one last push with the shock troops of Spring. Although both certainly contained the threat and recovered while inflicting heavy casualties on the Germans largely negating their successes. But it was mainly the US Army and Marine Corp that halted the Germans at Belleau Wood, otherwise they probably would have taken Paris. And the American entry in the war marked the nail in the German coffin, and the difference between a negotiated peace and what was in effect an unconditional surrender. It was the threat of boundless, fresh US manpower that was the looming on the German war machine and indeed allowed the British (and their Commonwealth forces), whose revision of tactics, planning, and training was admittedly excellent --to take the gambles that insured victory. Otherwise, they would have sulked in the purgatory of stalemate...

As for the "German Army of 1916," the Germans were also no longer fighting the Russians in 1918, freeing up numerous divisions and resources for the Western Front which made good many of their losses of 1916-1917. I would surmise that the German soldier of 1918 may have had some of their best training with the infiltration tactics of "Storm Troopers." Ultimately, it was the German high command that wasted their potential and often misused them, deviating from the plans, causing them to take almost as many casualties as they inflicted.

But you are correct. I do need more history on WWI. It's becoming a slight fancy...

Nickdfresh
12-31-2007, 09:51 PM
Depends when - by the end of the war the French lines weren't all that much longer than the British, and they had a very large sector (through the Vosges mountains down to Switzerland) where nothing really happened during the war (60,000 casualties on both sides for the entire war in the Vosges sector).

As for the US, my attitude is that Pershing did less with more troops than any general since McClellan.

This was largely political, since he refused to feed his soldiers to the Allied commands...And commanding an army raised from almost nothing in the space of 18 months is no easy task...

Rising Sun*
01-01-2008, 05:31 AM
pdf27

Thanks for your comments on my comments.

I've been educated.

Did you get those insights mainly from reading or from your officer training? I'm wondering if WWI is studied in that sort of depth in TA officer training.

pdf27
01-01-2008, 07:07 AM
All true. But the "impact" cannot be measured purely in numbers of prisoners and miles taken. All tactical my friend, tactical. The Strategically dim position Germany was facing resulting from the US entry into the War is what made it all possible, it is also how and why we got there.
Ummm... maybe. I will concede that US entry into the war was one factor in the timing of the Kaiserschlacht offensive, and that it had a significant effect on Allied morale. However, from a month or two after the US entry into the war when the Germans realised that they weren't actually doing anything of significance to the war effort until August/September 1918 the Germans actually seemed largely dismissive of the US threat and generally thought that the war would be over before the US made a significant contribution.


The British Army suffered some key defeats in 1918 as did the French as the Germans were forced to make one last push with the shock troops of Spring. Although both certainly contained the threat and recovered while inflicting heavy casualties on the Germans largely negating their successes.
It's relatively easy to make an arguament that all the battles were allied defensive victories. The Germans never managed to break through the line and suffered horrendous casualties in the process. Much worse, they started suffering from breakdowns in discipline in the process - breaking off attacks to loot captured stores for instance. An army that acts like that is on the verge of total defeat - as happened a few months later at virtually the same point during the battle of Amiens.


But it was mainly the US Army and Marine Corp that halted the Germans at Belleau Wood, otherwise they probably would have taken Paris.
Ummm... Bellau Wood was one (rather small) part of the big battle. It has loomed rather large in US perceptions because it was their first major battle, but they weren't all that big a part of the battle. Overall, in the Second Battle of the Marne the French suffered 95,000 casualties, the BEF 13,000 and the Americans 12,000. That puts US casualties at 10% of those for the battle of the Marne (and it was after all the battle of the Marne as a whole which stopped the German thrust on Paris, not the US contribution in particular).
German casualties incidentally were 1.4 times more than the combined allied total.


It was the threat of boundless, fresh US manpower that was the looming on the German war machine and indeed allowed the British (and their Commonwealth forces), whose revision of tactics, planning, and training was admittedly excellent --to take the gambles that insured victory. Otherwise, they would have sulked in the purgatory of stalemate...
Maybe. Thing is the Allies were planning on this and the plan said that they would be launching the attacks to win the war in 1919, not 1918. It is actually very interesting to look into this planning (see this link (http://worldatwar.net/chandelle/v2/v2n1/1919.html)) as it throws a great deal of light on the development of modern warfare. It's virtually the prototype of Blitzkrieg, while there are some major errors in it that the Germans largely carried forward into WW2 and were only fixed by the Soviets.
One other important thing to remember - the general perception that attacking is more costly than defending just isn't true. It's a classic case of "the other side of the hill" in action - you see your own losses but not those of your enemy. Even in battles such as the Somme generally considered an attacking disaster casualties were roughly equivalent, and by the end of the war the attackers routinely took much lower casualties.


As for the "German Army of 1916," the Germans were also no longer fighting the Russians in 1918, freeing up numerous divisions and resources for the Western Front which made good many of their losses of 1916-1917.
Only in terms of warm bodies. The troops withdrawn from Russia weren't actually up to much - they had large numbers of communists within them, and since they'd been fighting a very different war weren't really suited to the Western Front. It's also worth noting that the Germans had to leave a million soldiers engaged in occupying the territories handed over at Brest-Litovsk.


I would surmise that the German soldier of 1918 may have had some of their best training with the infiltration tactics of "Storm Troopers." Ultimately, it was the German high command that wasted their potential and often misused them, deviating from the plans, causing them to take almost as many casualties as they inflicted.
Again, that's something that's badly overblown. Fire and manouver, hurricane artillery bombardments etc. were all features of the battle of Passchendaele nearly a year earlier. The only substantial difference was the emphasis on hitting weak points in the initial attack, leaving any points of resistance to follow on units. Given the conditions prevailing in WW1, that is at best of marginal benefit.

One big thing to point out about the initial German offensives against Fifth Army is that it had been gravely weakened prior to the attack - from memory the Germans outnumbered it about 2:1, and it was holding what was generally recognised at the time as too much front.

pdf27
01-01-2008, 07:13 AM
And commanding an army raised from almost nothing in the space of 18 months is no easy task...
Haig fought the battle of the Somme a whisker over 18 months after British entry to the war...


Did you get those insights mainly from reading or from your officer training? I'm wondering if WWI is studied in that sort of depth in TA officer training.
WW1 as such isn't studied, but small-unit (Platoon and smaller) infantry tactics are pretty much all you do. That gives you a rather good understanding of the problems of command and control, and given that we're still using 30 year old Clansman radios which frequently fail also gives you practice at trying to command people spread over a wide area in a firefight without radio (at least 10 times harder). Mix this in with a fair bit of reading on WW1 out of personal interest and some things just jump out at you.

Rising Sun*
01-01-2008, 07:46 AM
... given that we're still using 30 year old Clansman radios which frequently fail also gives you practice at trying to command people spread over a wide area in a firefight without radio (at least 10 times harder).

Some things don't change. Around 1970 we had US radios (?10 sets?) which came with very nice US pattern harnesses which, alas didn't fit onto anything on our 37 pattern webbing. So the choices were lug it by hand with your weapon in the other hand or rig up a Heath Robinson arrangement which fundamentally bore the radio's weight by tying a couple of straps in front of your throat, which was a bugger in heavy country as the aerial snagged every branch and nearly throttled you. The best part was that a lot of the time the radios were out of contact, so they weren't worth carrying anyway.

Nickdfresh
01-01-2008, 01:51 PM
Ummm... maybe. I will concede that US entry into the war was one factor in the timing of the Kaiserschlacht offensive, and that it had a significant effect on Allied morale. However, from a month or two after the US entry into the war when the Germans realised that they weren't actually doing anything of significance to the war effort until August/September 1918 the Germans actually seemed largely dismissive of the US threat and generally thought that the war would be over before the US made a significant contribution.

Which allowed for them to in effect serve as a strategic reserve, and to allow for a more aggressive stance of a seasoned, reinvigorated British Army...



It's relatively easy to make an arguament that all the battles were allied defensive victories. The Germans never managed to break through the line and suffered horrendous casualties in the process. Much worse, they started suffering from breakdowns in discipline in the process - breaking off attacks to loot captured stores for instance. An army that acts like that is on the verge of total defeat - as happened a few months later at virtually the same point during the battle of Amiens.

Well I'll agree that if they weren't Allied victories, they were certainly Pyrrhic ones for the Germans...Interesting point about the break downs in discipline though...



Ummm... Bellau Wood was one (rather small) part of the big battle. It has loomed rather large in US perceptions because it was their first major battle, but they weren't all that big a part of the battle. Overall, in the Second Battle of the Marne the French suffered 95,000 casualties, the BEF 13,000 and the Americans 12,000. That puts US casualties at 10% of those for the battle of the Marne (and it was after all the battle of the Marne as a whole which stopped the German thrust on Paris, not the US contribution in particular).
German casualties incidentally were 1.4 times more than the combined allied total.

Quite correct. But Bellau Wood was a battle that's significance lies far beyond American national pride (of which both the British and French went to good lengths to squash by unfairly judging an amateur army, or Marine Corp in that case, built largely from scratch from an enfeebled, tiny peace time 'constabulary force,' as second rate when they themselves were second rate an amateurish in 1914). Albeit, the US Army was quite a mechanized one at that, and did in fact have experience in wide maneuver in the 1916 "Punitive Expedition," however European battlefields were not always kind to mechanized warfare. Also keep in mind that only recently (1916) had the US even bothered to update its organization of the primitive colonial era militia system to one of a more standardized Nat'l Guard akin to the TA and whatnot. The last large scale US military adventure beyond what were essentially counterinsurgency campaigns in the Americas, The West, and in the Philippines in addition to a small, limited fight against the second rate Spanish Army was the American Civil War. Still very much in living memory, the institutional knowledge of commanding and maintaining a huge army was lost and there was relatively little experience or doctrine at commanding such a force, which would of course take time.

Gen. Pershing was under considerable political pressure from the overall American public that had in fact witnessed first class endemic incompetence and inability to decipher the modern changes in warfare which caused the slaughters on the Somme...I can't say I blame him for being skittish at the prospect of lending out his forces piecemeal to the French when it took so long for a unified command structure to be put in place...

Back to the Wood. What Belleau Wood showed was that the Americans, inexperienced and green, were indeed prepared to fight toe to toe with battle hardened German units, and the German hopes that perhaps the Americans would be completely useless for years and a quick defeat could be inflicted were extinguished there. And beyond the Marines at Belleau Wood, the US Army played a far greater role in blunting the German advance than did any other Allied force in that particular offensive or sub-offensive or whatever is was...


Maybe. Thing is the Allies were planning on this and the plan said that they would be launching the attacks to win the war in 1919, not 1918. It is actually very interesting to look into this planning (see this link (http://worldatwar.net/chandelle/v2/v2n1/1919.html)) as it throws a great deal of light on the development of modern warfare. It's virtually the prototype of Blitzkrieg, while there are some major errors in it that the Germans largely carried forward into WW2 and were only fixed by the Soviets.
One other important thing to remember - the general perception that attacking is more costly than defending just isn't true. It's a classic case of "the other side of the hill" in action - you see your own losses but not those of your enemy. Even in battles such as the Somme generally considered an attacking disaster casualties were roughly equivalent, and by the end of the war the attackers routinely took much lower casualties.

Absolutely agreed.

I recently saw something on the military channel entitled "Battlefield" (I think) featuring a British historian and his son recounting battles with the aid of computer CGI and modern demonstrations with (mostly) the British Army...They do a pretty impressive job.

One of the things they presented as the knew British planning to counter act the War's main scourge: what was the technology of defense versus the lack of tech for offense, as even the tank, though very effective when properly used, was still too primitive automotively speaking (i.e. unreliable, and sadistically wearing on their crews) to have much of an impact. So the general staff used an intricate plan of artillery bombardments that would only cease as the infantry wheeled up onto the German positions confounding the German expectations of warfare and causing a catastrophic breakthrough; inflicting a "shock and awe" on the Kaisers troopers akin to what they would do to the French 22 years later. The attacks were so precise and timing was the key, that the Germans simply didn't know what was happening and like the French of 1940, became catatonic...

I am wondering if you find this assessment correct?



Only in terms of warm bodies. The troops withdrawn from Russia weren't actually up to much - they had large numbers of communists within them, and since they'd been fighting a very different war weren't really suited to the Western Front. It's also worth noting that the Germans had to leave a million soldiers engaged in occupying the territories handed over at Brest-Litovsk.

Interesting. But I just read on Wiki that it was like about 50 divisions, which is no small number.


Again, that's something that's badly overblown. Fire and manouver, hurricane artillery bombardments etc. were all features of the battle of Passchendaele nearly a year earlier. The only substantial difference was the emphasis on hitting weak points in the initial attack, leaving any points of resistance to follow on units. Given the conditions prevailing in WW1, that is at best of marginal benefit.

One big thing to point out about the initial German offensives against Fifth Army is that it had been gravely weakened prior to the attack - from memory the Germans outnumbered it about 2:1, and it was holding what was generally recognised at the time as too much front.

And as a general compliment, I must say I find your off-hand knowledge on WWI quite impressive. Well played sir, well played...

pdf27
01-01-2008, 03:36 PM
Which allowed for them to in effect serve as a strategic reserve, and to allow for a more aggressive stance of a seasoned, reinvigorated British Army...
Maybe. I really need to read up a hell of a lot further on the correspndence between Haig, Foch, Pershing and Lloyd George to comment either way on this one. It is by no means simple - Lloyd George was persistently trying to undermine Haig and commit the UK to a strategy of attacking anywhere but the Western front. There are a lot of second-order effects like whether the level of US presence in France strengthened Haig's hand in his arguaments with Lloyd George that I really can't answer from what I know right now.


Well I'll agree that if they weren't Allied victories, they were certainly Pyrrhic ones for the Germans...Interesting point about the break downs in discipline though...
The discipline thing really came back to haunt the Germans shortly afterwards. Ludendorff described the battle of Amiens as "the black day of the German army" not because of the scale of the defeat but because discipline broke down and large formations gave up and surrendered rather than fighting. When this started happening he knew Germany was finished.


did in fact have experience in wide maneuver in the 1916 "Punitive Expedition," however European battlefields were not always kind to mechanized warfare.
That's something of an understatement. Trying to fight that sort of battle in the circumstances prevailing on the Western front is a good way to get a lot of men killed to little effect. The first day of the Somme was planned by soldiers with a similar history (Boer war, various imperial wars, etc.). It was only the later experience on the Western front - which Pershing thought was evidence of defeatism - that enabled them to win battles later on.


Still very much in living memory, the institutional knowledge of commanding and maintaining a huge army was lost and there was relatively little experience or doctrine at commanding such a force, which would of course take time.
Again, not exactly a problem unique to the US. When Haig took over the BEF in 1914 the largest and most complex force previously commanded by a British general had been that under Wellington on the field of Waterloo. France, Russia and Germany were mostly ready for a large industrial conflict but nobody else was close.


Gen. Pershing was under considerable political pressure from the overall American public that had in fact witnessed first class endemic incompetence and inability to decipher the modern changes in warfare which caused the slaughters on the Somme...I can't say I blame him for being skittish at the prospect of lending out his forces piecemeal to the French when it took so long for a unified command structure to be put in place...
From a purely American point of view he was making the correct decision. From an allied point of view it was the wrong one.


I recently saw something on the military channel entitled "Battlefield" (I think) featuring a British historian and his son recounting battles with the aid of computer CGI and modern demonstrations with (mostly) the British Army...They do a pretty impressive job.
Peter and Dan Snow? They're TV presenters, not historians. Indeed, Peter Snow is best known for presenting election results as they come in on TV with his Swingometer (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swingometer)!


One of the things they presented as the knew British planning to counter act the War's main scourge: what was the technology of defense versus the lack of tech for offense, as even the tank, though very effective when properly used, was still too primitive automotively speaking (i.e. unreliable, and sadistically wearing on their crews) to have much of an impact. So the general staff used an intricate plan of artillery bombardments that would only cease as the infantry wheeled up onto the German positions confounding the German expectations of warfare and causing a catastrophic breakthrough; inflicting a "shock and awe" on the Kaisers troopers akin to what they would do to the French 22 years later. The attacks were so precise and timing was the key, that the Germans simply didn't know what was happening and like the French of 1940, became catatonic...
I am wondering if you find this assessment correct?
Very much so. Typically an offensive would be lucky to have half of it's tanks still working by lunchtime on the first day, and 10% by day 3. They were extremely vulnerable to direct fire artillery and mechanical breakdown, and even if not knocked out the crews routinely had to be hospitalised after an operation to recover.
The other bits that should be emphasised here are that the volume and competency of the artillery was continually improving rapidly throughout the war (even relatively minor offensives on a narrow front would have more guns supporting them than the entire battle of the Somme did by late 1918) and the move to bite-and-hold tactics. Bite and hold requires an acceptance that you aren't fighting a battle of manouver and that this battle has no chance of ending the war - both of which are politically very hard to sell - but the artillery tactics mentioned above simply won't work without it.


Interesting. But I just read on Wiki that it was like about 50 divisions, which is no small number.
Remember the scale on which WW1 was fought. From memory the British chewed up and practically destroyed 88 German divisions in the battle of the Somme. Even relatively small battles such as Cambrai involved 40 or 50 divisions between the two sides. Force densities were very high - divisions typically only held a couple of miles of the front - and they had to be frequently rotated to rest the men because trench warfare was so physically demanding.

Panzerknacker
01-01-2008, 06:08 PM
Do you have any solutions, P.K., given the circumstances?

Stosstruppen, Oh...I forgot, those were german ones. :mrgreen:

32Bravo
01-02-2008, 04:27 AM
Stosstruppen, Oh...I forgot, those were german ones. :mrgreen:

It's all greek to me. :)

32Bravo
01-02-2008, 12:27 PM
Salutations to PDF.

Below are extracts from ‘The Face of Battle’ by John Keegan. I acquired this book about twenty years ago (yet another book hiding in my loft), and so it may be out of print, but the extracts do serve to reinforce some of the comments made above.

Creeping Barrage
Following the shrapnel barrage was, for all the tumult produced, not in itself a dangerous thing to do, given accurate gunnery, for the cast of shrapnel is forward, only the occasional base-plate whining back to inflict injury on the infantry behind. By late 1917 British infantrymen had learnt, and were glad, to walk as close as twenty-five yards in the rear of a boiling, roaring cloud of explosive and dust, accepting that it was safer to court death from the barrage than to hang back and perhaps be killed by a German whom the shells had spared and one’s own tardiness had allowed to pop up from his dug-out. In July 1916, however, few gunners knew how to make a barrage ‘creep’ at a regular walking pace across a piece of enemy held territory and, prudently, few infantrymen would risk approaching too close to a barrage line until they saw it lift and move to the next target. The consequence was that the advance, even when it worked to plan took the form of a series of discontinuous and quite literally breathless jerks forward, the lift of the barrage to the next objective being the signal for the waiting infantry to leave their positions of shelter and race the intervening two or three hundred yards to regain its protection.

Captured Trenches
The British could not remain in the German trenches they had reached, having objectives to reach which lay much deeper within German trenches, yet had to remain to fight for a while if they were not to be attacked from the rear when they pushed on. The Germans, moreover, had enough of their telephone cable network intact sometimes to be able to inform their batteries which trenches were in British hands, and so to be able to call down fire on them. The British had no such link with their artillery, the telephone lines they had across no-man’s-land having almost without exception, and to no ones surprise, been cut.

pdf27
01-02-2008, 01:26 PM
By late 1917 British infantrymen had learnt, and were glad, to walk as close as twenty-five yards in the rear of a boiling, roaring cloud of explosive and dust, accepting that it was safer to court death from the barrage than to hang back and perhaps be killed by a German whom the shells had spared and one’s own tardiness had allowed to pop up from his dug-out.
This lasted rather a long time in British artillery policy. With a barrage like this, the logical conclusion is that you want lots of relatively small shells - lets you get close but keeps the enemy heads down. Thus the UK was using for instance the 25 pdr field gun long after other countries had gone to larger calibres, and it was only removed from service under the impetus of NATO standardisation (indeed, when that happened we stayed with the smallest calibre we could - 105mm - for quite some time).

32Bravo
01-02-2008, 04:17 PM
The 105 pack howitzer was a terific gun and saw service in Borneo and the Radfan in South Yemen.
http://www.history.army.mil/books/www/278b.htm

The 25 pounder was used in the defence of Mirbat in July 1972.

http://www.britains-smallwars.com/Desert_song/Mirbat.htm

The Mirbat gun can be seen at the Royal Artillery Museum, Woolwich.

The latest of the 105 light guns used mainly by 7 Para (RHA) and the Royal Marine Commandos

http://www.army.mod.uk/equipment/aad/aad_lg.htm

http://www.army.mod.uk/7pararha/regimental_equipments.htm

Rising Sun*
01-03-2008, 04:01 AM
for the cast of shrapnel is forward, only the occasional base-plate whining back to inflict injury on the infantry behind.

Interesting.

How does that work when the shell is a spinning tapered cylinder packed with explosive?

I would have thought the explosion and shrapnel were more or less evenly distributed fore and aft, depending on the angle of approach in ground and air bursts, subject to the current forward velocity of the shell imparting forward movement.

32Bravo
01-03-2008, 07:53 AM
Interesting.

How does that work when the shell is a spinning tapered cylinder packed with explosive?

I would have thought the explosion and shrapnel were more or less evenly distributed fore and aft, depending on the angle of approach in ground and air bursts, subject to the current forward velocity of the shell imparting forward movement.


Pass!

Not being an expert in Quantum Physics, I wouldn’t even begin to try to describe a quark (I'd probably give you the James Joyce version). I merely accept, or not, what the experts describe. The same applies to the ballistics and technicalities of artillery shells. I leave the serious stuff to the 'Shelldrakes'. I have, in the past, called in the odd fire-mission, but I wouldn’t even know where to begin now, and have no interest in finding out.

Never been much interested in technicalities beyond what I’ve needed to know to do the job. Not that I criticise those that are interested in such things - we’re all different.

pdf27
01-03-2008, 01:23 PM
I would have thought the explosion and shrapnel were more or less evenly distributed fore and aft, depending on the angle of approach in ground and air bursts, subject to the current forward velocity of the shell imparting forward movement.
The shell is in contact with the ground, furthermore when bursting fragments will tend to fly out perpendicular to the surface of the shell. As it's at an fairly shallow angle to the ground the bits that would otherwise fly backwards are going to hit the ground pretty rapidly. That leaves only the shell bases.

This obviously doesn't apply to mortars/aircraft bombs...

Nickdfresh
01-06-2008, 10:31 AM
Okay, what's a good primer on WWI to get started?

Keegan?

32Bravo
01-06-2008, 10:41 AM
Okay, what's a good primer on WWI to get started?

Keegan?

To get started, I would begin with 'The Guns of August'
Barbara Tuchman (An American author).

http://www.abbottsys.com/reviews.html

http://www.amazon.com/Guns-August-Barbara-W-Tuchman/dp/0345476093

Excellent book by Keegan

http://www.amazon.co.uk/First-World-War-John-Keegan/dp/0712666451