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 (1914-1918) WWI Battles    
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anemone
DONCASTER S. YORKS, UK
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British Army Generalship in the Great War of 1914/18
Posted on: 5/19/2017 6:42:42 AM
From "Oh What a Lovely War" to "Blackadder Goes Forth", popular culture has alternately attacked and ridiculed their lack of tactical imagination and consistently over-optimistic view of the conflict.This emphasis on British commanders does overlook the fact that strategy on the Western Front was heavily influenced by the French.

However in the imagination of the populace- the grim statistics of the First World War (on average around 5,000 soldiers were killed for every single day of the war) and the perceived pointlessness of many of the assaults combined to produce a picture of a British High Command, presided over by Douglas Haig, almost more dangerous than the enemy. This was not necessarily the view during and immediately after the war.

Was the British Army- Lions overseen by Donkeys ????

Regards

Jim
---------------
Pro Patria Saepe Pro Rege Semper

Lightning
Glasgow, UK
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Re: British Army Generalship in the Great War of 1914/18
Posted on: 5/19/2017 7:13:09 AM
If they were donkeys, then they were brave donkeys. I understand well over 200 officers above Brigade command were killed or wounded, with a fatality rate of nearly 80 (IIRC). Mistakes were no doubt made, but I refuse to accept that the general officers of the British Army were anything other than reasonably competent men (with variances towards both inspired talent and catastrophic ineptitude) thrown into a world of rapidly evolving technological change on the battlefield and beyond.

Cheers,

Colin
---------------
"There is no course open to us but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause, each one of us must fight to the end."

George
Centre Hastings, ON, Canada
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Re: British Army Generalship in the Great War of 1914/18
Posted on: 5/19/2017 7:38:01 AM
We have the image of the officer class in the British imperial forces as coming from the upper class and perhaps unfairly labelled as effete.

Is it fair to say that most imperial officers at the highest levels were professional soldiers? Even if wealthy and perhaps securing a commission through networking, were they all trained at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst?

I am talking about the officer corps that existed in Aug. of 1914. Was it possible to be an officer in the peace time army without the proper connections?

I have read that when the BEF was all but destroyed in the initial stages of the war, that not only was it necessary to rebuild Kitchener's army but also the officer cadre associated.

So Officer Cadet Battalions were established in 1916 and began to churn out officers from "non-traditional backgrounds", in a 4 month training period.


Quote:
Over the next 4 years, the British Army grew from 730,000 men & five divisions to 3,560,000 & fifty divisions, drawn from the Territorial Army in 1915, Kitchener’s New Army in 1916 & the 'Conscripts' of 1917 & 1918.

There was an increase in the number of officers, from 12,000 to 164,000.

In all, 247,061 commissions were granted during the war, about 100,000 from pre-war OTCs, & tens of thousands more from the ranks, men who were commissioned as ‘Wartime Temporary’ officers, after four months training in Officer Cadet Battalions (OCB), formed early in 1916.


This quote was taken from the following website:

[Read More]


Did any senior imperial officers of note arise from this new class of officer recruit, those who may have come from "non-traditional backgrounds"?

Now that I think about it, I really don't know what "non-traditional background" means in the British army.

I had assumed that most senior officers came from the well placed and well to do upper crust.

Was it possible for a regular working guy of modest means to find himself in an Officer Cadet Battalion?


Cheers,

George

anemone
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Re: British Army Generalship in the Great War of 1914/18
Posted on: 5/19/2017 7:53:10 AM
Hi Colin

The manner of the 1918 victory clearly demonstrates the dreadful military mistakes of the i914-17 years of the war. There was- I must admit- a ‘new willingness to terminate attacks in good time in 1918’, emphasising the old tendency to press assaults long after the position had become hopeless eg the Somme and 3rd Ypres.

The rise of new generals such as Allenby,Byng. Henry Rawlinson,Arthur Curry and John Monash came at the expense of of generals such as Hubert Gough, sacked in March 1918.

It almost appeared miraculous that Haig could have such a turn around in attitude in 1918; but he did have some very determined senior generals- whom he heeded when they called a timely halt.

Regards

Jim
---------------
Pro Patria Saepe Pro Rege Semper

George
Centre Hastings, ON, Canada
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Re: British Army Generalship in the Great War of 1914/18
Posted on: 5/19/2017 8:20:57 AM

Quote:
The rise of new generals such as Henry Rawlinson,Arthur Curry and John Monash came at the expense of of generals such as Hubert Gough, sacked in March 1918.


I must point out that Curry and Monash were not "born" to the task of leadership as Rawlinson was.

Rawlinson was Eton educated and then on to Royal Military College. For me, he represents the primary source of leadership in the British army before the events of 1914/15 shredded the 5 division army of pre-war Britain.

That doesn't mean that he wasn't good. Just being rich and privileged does not mean that a person cannot be effective.

Curry and Monash were products of the Dominions.

They had more modest beginnings though Monash was university educated and was a civil engineer.

Arthur Currie was born in farm country in Ontario. He was bright but financial constraints precluded university education until later. But he left university before he finished.
Became a teacher as a last resort in British Columbia.
Became involved in real estate.

Both Monash and Currie were militia men.

Could a man from the UK with similar background have reasonably expected to become a general in the imperial forces?

Lightning
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Re: British Army Generalship in the Great War of 1914/18
Posted on: 5/19/2017 9:06:03 AM

Quote:
Could a man from the UK with similar background have reasonably expected to become a general in the imperial forces?
--George


Hi George,

Sir William Robertson, of meagre family means (though not empoverished) enlisted as Private and ended up a Field Marshal (and CIGC during WW1), the only British soldier ever to achieve such a feat. It wasn't impossible, but was quite rare.

Pre-war, most the non-Guards infantry officers (and also Indian Army regiments) could just about manage to live a decent lifestyle expected of an officer on their salary without family assistance. This was impossible in the Guards units and the cavalry, where the demands of extravagant uniform and mess fees were well beyond the pay on offer.

During the war, I expect these financial costs went down. The demands of war no doubt superseded those of mess traditions. There was a war to win, afterall.

Cheers,

Colin
---------------
"There is no course open to us but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause, each one of us must fight to the end."

anemone
DONCASTER S. YORKS, UK
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Re: British Army Generalship in the Great War of 1914/18
Posted on: 5/19/2017 9:26:24 AM

Quote:
Both Monash and Currie were militia men.

Could a man from the UK with similar background have reasonably expected to become a general in the imperial forces?


Straight answer to a straight question-Absolutely not IMHO.All officers of General rank had to pass out at the Royal Military Academy,Sandhurst
where the vetting appraisal was extremely stringent and had everything to do with class,as opposed to ability.

Regards

jim
---------------
Pro Patria Saepe Pro Rege Semper

Lightning
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Re: British Army Generalship in the Great War of 1914/18
Posted on: 5/19/2017 10:09:49 AM

Quote:


Straight answer to a straight question-Absolutely not IMHO.All officers of General rank had to pass out at the Royal Military Academy,Sandhurst
where the vetting appraisal was extremely stringent and had everything to do with class,as opposed to ability.

Regards

jim
--anemone


Jim,

I see you ignored the example of Wullie Robertson in that ridiculous statement. The academic criteria for RMS was stringently high, so much so that even Winston Churchill failed to sufficiently pass his examinations there and ended up in the Hussars, the cavalry version of a reject pile for surplus sons of the aristocracy. For all its ills, British Army officers were quite well trained and educated once the purchase of commissions was abolished.

Cheers,

Colin
---------------
"There is no course open to us but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause, each one of us must fight to the end."

anemone
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Re: British Army Generalship in the Great War of 1914/18
Posted on: 5/19/2017 10:48:02 AM
So OK -one distinguished junior officer did manage to gain entry; but failed so he persevered and made the grade.A "one off" does not make my statement ridiculous-"one swallow does not a summer make"-however it is propitious to know where you are coming from

Robertson applied to attend Staff College at Camberley. Unlike most applicants, he could not afford to take extended leave from his job (on the intelligence staff at Simla) to attend a crammer, and had he failed he would have been too old to apply again, so he rose between 4 and 5 am each day to study mathematics, German, and French with the assistance of his wife. He later qualified as an interpreter in French.

He just missed a place, but was given a nominated place on the recommendation of Sir George White (Commander-in-Chief, India). In 1897, accompanied by his wife and baby son, he became the first former ranker to go there .

Regards

Jim
---------------
Pro Patria Saepe Pro Rege Semper

George
Centre Hastings, ON, Canada
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Re: British Army Generalship in the Great War of 1914/18
Posted on: 5/19/2017 11:57:25 AM
Hi Colin,

I was aware that officers purchased uniforms. What exactly are "mess fees"?

And in Canada at the start of the war, some regiments were raised by private citizens, something that I always found rather odd.

So a rich man would offer to raise and pay for a regiment. Hamilton Gault was one such man. He contacted the Dept. of Militia and Defence with an offer of $100,000 (2 million today) to raise a regiment.



Militia and Defence offered to buy some equipment and so Colonel Gault set about recruiting and the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry was born.

Did this sort of thing happen in the UK? The PPCLI is often noted as the last privately raised regiment in the British Empire. So I presume that prior to their creation, the same thing must have happened in the UK.

BTW, I don't believe that Gault paid wages to the soldiers. He just paid the start-up costs.

As well, he was a militia man and so he became the 2IC of the regiment. Boer war vet so not without experience.

Cheers,

George

Lightning
Glasgow, UK
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Re: British Army Generalship in the Great War of 1914/18
Posted on: 5/19/2017 12:23:17 PM
Hi George,

"Mess fees" would include the required dress uniform, the food, wine, spirits, sport (and associated kit), shared cost of social events, accommodation and so on. They would also be expected to top up the pay of servants and batmen, as per the patrician spirit of the time. It was expensive being an army officer, which meant many men from lower social status often refused the offer of a commission.

For example, Colour Sergeant Bourne (already the youngest Colour Sergeant in the army), who fought at Rourke's Drift in 1879, was offered a commission in the aftermath. I don't remember the exact quote and my books are currently packed away due to a house refurb, but I believe he said something along the lines of "being the last son in line and the family exchequer exhausted, I had to refuse", as the pay on offer was not enough to live as an officer expected.

Cheers,

Colin
---------------
"There is no course open to us but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause, each one of us must fight to the end."

Lightning
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Re: British Army Generalship in the Great War of 1914/18
Posted on: 5/19/2017 12:33:13 PM
Jim,

At least cite wiki as your source before you lift a whole chunk from an article, please. Still, had you read further on the wiki article, you would have read that WR came second in his staff class and ranked lower in certain examinations, so he was hardly a prodigal and mercurial talent. Rather, he was a competent grafter, with a talent for logistics and organsiation.

The Haldane reforms professionalised the British staff officers, creating the Staff College, as well as creating efficient "back office" functions away from the trenches. The army postal system, for example, was expanded with relative ease as the army expanded massively in size. Untrained staff officers would have been found out instantly, as men would have gone hungry without competency. I can't find any examples of hungry British soldiers in many wars after South Africa, situation permitting.

Becoming an army officer wasn't easy - plenty of rich young men were turned away as they were too stupid or inept to get by. Of course, strings were pulled, as so aptly demonstrated by Lord Roberts' son (Frederick), who failed umpteen exams despite all the advantages of his Field Marshal father, was finally granted a commission and promptly died, gallantly, at the hands of the Boers in South Africa.

The combat officers were taught small arms tactics; how to co-ordinate in offensive and defensive action with the artillery; how to use cavalry as mounted infantry and how to use terrain appropriately. The French were astonished to see the professional BEF using the hedgerows as camoflauge cover, whilst they marched in line towards the German guns. Obviously tactics evolved and time went on, but the British army officers were at least the equal of their French and German counterparts in terms of training and professionalism.

Cheers,

Colin
---------------
"There is no course open to us but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause, each one of us must fight to the end."

anemone
DONCASTER S. YORKS, UK
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Re: British Army Generalship in the Great War of 1914/18
Posted on: 5/19/2017 12:56:00 PM
John Keegan in The New Statesman in 1979, referred to 'that hideously unattractive group, the British generals of the First World War' (he hasn't changed his mind); The same enlightened publication, in 1979, accused me of fantastic philistinism for suggesting 'that generals who presided over the demolition of a whole British generation are something more respectable than idiots'

[Read More]

If this is unfair comment by a noted historian-please tell me why it is unfair.

Regards

Jim
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MikeMeech
UK
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Re: British Army Generalship in the Great War of 1914/18
Posted on: 5/19/2017 1:26:56 PM
Hi

It appears that the 'Social eliteness', if it really was, was not the preserve of the British Army, it also appears in the AIF. In Cutluck's 'War letters of General Monash', p233 has Major General Monash writing on the Australian 3rd Division that:

"The Officers...represent the cream of our professional and educated classes, young engineers, architects, medicals, accountants, pastoralists, public school boys and so on."

Basically the same groups as the WW1 BEF recruited their officers from (not to mention the large numbers recruited from the ranks during the war).

Michael Molkentin mentions in an article in the Journal of the Australian War memorial, that the AFC had a preference for the privately educated when recruiting pilots and observers. Again the same that is alleged about the RFC.

A lot of recruitment for the officer class was more about 'education' in most cases, that would at the time be the middle or upper classes.

'Generals' in the BEF would have been in the army a long time before WW1 and would have had to go through the army 'education' system at different levels from Sandhurst, Woolwich and later Staff College at Camberley or Quetta in India. That would 'weed' out many, as did active service in different parts of the Empire. Did some 'fail' yes as did German, French and other nations 'Generals', it was after all a rather 'difficult' war to manage and posed huge problems at all levels of command not to mention at the tactical and technical level.

Mike

George
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Re: British Army Generalship in the Great War of 1914/18
Posted on: 5/19/2017 1:43:40 PM
Thanks Mike.

I have often wondered whether command issues in the Canadian Corps had anything to do with the selection process for officers.

Our Minister of Defence, Sam Hughes, a man who was unstable was fond of promoting people into important positions just because they were friends.

Even his own son Garnet rose to prominence in the Corps until Arthur Currie imposed a ceiling on his advancement.

Frankly, there was far too much patronage going on.

I don't know whether that happened in a more professional army like the British army.

Canada had so much less to choose from when compared to the British and so they looked to militia officers or men who had served with the British forces.

But Sam Hughes was vindictive so if an officer opposed something like the Ross Rifle, he was toast.

Even very good militia officers lost their commands when Sam was assembling his little army at Valcartier. Not being a Tory was sufficient grounds for Sam Hughes.

As well, well known Conservatives in the militia expected to be rewarded with advancement.

On the other hand, he did approve of Arthur Currie who was a Liberal but also a good friend of his son Garnet.

And he would reject professional soldiers who had perhaps served with the British because he was convinced that the citizen volunteer army would fight better than any professional army.

Sounds rather chaotic doesn't it?

Cheers,

George

anemone
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Re: British Army Generalship in the Great War of 1914/18
Posted on: 5/19/2017 1:46:28 PM

Quote:
it was after all a rather 'difficult' war to manage and posed huge problems at all levels of command not to mention at the tactical and technical level.


Thank you for your interest and input Mike.I would however be most grateful to see you enlarge on this last statement Mike. Would you say that British generalship was successful in the management of this difficult war-if so -in what way Mike.I do however accept that some generals were better than others- as one might expect.

Regards

Jim
---------------
Pro Patria Saepe Pro Rege Semper

MikeMeech
UK
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Re: British Army Generalship in the Great War of 1914/18
Posted on: 5/20/2017 6:34:23 AM

Quote:

Quote:
it was after all a rather 'difficult' war to manage and posed huge problems at all levels of command not to mention at the tactical and technical level.


Thank you for your interest and input Mike.I would however be most grateful to see you enlarge on this last statement Mike. Would you say that British generalship was successful in the management of this difficult war-if so -in what way Mike.I do however accept that some generals were better than others- as one might expect.

Regards

Jim
--anemone

Hi

Without writing an essay (and there are whole books on the various aspects on the 'management' of the war by the GHQ). First GHQ had to manage the expansion of the BEF from its small professional base, many of whom had been lost, through a mass volunteer then conscript army on a continental scale. It had to do this with a very limited number of 'experts' and therefore organize a whole training system involving 'schools' and pamphlets to spread 'best' practice. All this ultimately succeeded, not without difficulty on the way.
GHQ also oversaw a whole range of trials of tactics and new equipment to see what worked and what didn't throughout the war, this was then spread through the 'schools' and pamphlets. GHQ tried to work at a standardization of methods, this was actually quite difficult as formations whether Armies, Corps, Divisions and even Battalions had there own ideas of what worked and what didn't "for them". Again a reason for trials and experiments was to 'prove' what worked for the 'most on the most occasions' whether tactics or equipment and then passed on through the systems mentioned. While 'individuals' are mentioned reference certain tactics or introduction of equipment it was usually rather more complicated.
GHQ also had to work with its allies, the French being 'senior partner' of course and had to co-ordinate its efforts with what the French 'wanted'. GHQ also had to deal with 'British and Empire' politicians and try to get its needs on supply, manpower and improved weapons and equipment through them and home industry via the War Office.
There was also a lot of trying to co-ordinate with the home training system to keep them up to date with the current methods of warfare, it appears the home training establishment were quite keen on this judging by correspondence in the archives.
All this caused 'problems' for GHQ, the shortage of trained Staff Officers to find 'solutions' did not help, but ultimately GHQ oversaw relatively 'successful' solutions to the problems it was faced with.
That is a short answer to a rather more complex subject and is also probably inadequate in covering all the work done.

Mike

anemone
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Re: British Army Generalship in the Great War of 1914/18
Posted on: 5/20/2017 6:57:59 AM
Thank you Mike-my big concern is with the k Divisions- sent out from UK as complete units; but were pretty badly used-particularly at Loos and the Somme.The manner of attack-full frontal and loaded down with equipment-going forward at walking pace in broad daylight into uncut wire and pre warned German m/c guns- was singularly idiosyncratic IMHO.If this was bringing these units up to Western Front standards-I stand aghast.Smacks of 18th Century Marlborough's "Bid the Soldiers Shoot"
The 36th Ulster Division had cottoned on to the right approach by lying out on the tapes close the enemy positions and when the attack went in they were completely successful BUT as they were the only Division to do this- were naturally cut off and took heavy casualties for their ingenuity.

Regards

Jim
---------------
Pro Patria Saepe Pro Rege Semper

MikeMeech
UK
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Re: British Army Generalship in the Great War of 1914/18
Posted on: 5/20/2017 9:45:35 AM

Quote:
Thank you Mike-my big concern is with the k Divisions- sent out from UK as complete units; but were pretty badly used-particularly at Loos and the Somme.The manner of attack-full frontal and loaded down with equipment-going forward at walking pace in broad daylight into uncut wire and pre warned German m/c guns- was singularly idiosyncratic IMHO.If this was bringing these units up to Western Front standards-I stand aghast.Smacks of 18th Century Marlborough's "Bid the Soldiers Shoot"
The 36th Ulster Division had cottoned on to the right approach by lying out on the tapes close the enemy positions and when the attack went in they were completely successful BUT as they were the only Division to do this- were naturally cut off and took heavy casualties for their ingenuity.

Regards

Jim
--anemone

Hi Jim

I thought the subject of the 'Somme Tactics' had been covered before on the Forum. Prior and Wilson in 'The Somme' point out on page 115 that:

"..for the 80 battalions that went over the top in the first attack on 1 July, 53 crept out into no man's land close to the German wire before zero and then rushed the German line, while ten others rushed the line from their own parapet. This leaves just 17 battalions, 12 of which advanced at a steady pace and five for which no evidence exists.
There is a further complicating factor here. At least some of the battalions who walked across no man's land at a steady pace did so because they were following a creeping barrage. These were some of the most successful units of all on the first day."

Rawlinson's pre-Somme 'Tactical Notes' did not lay down any particular doctrine for the best method of advancing. It was basically left to the local commander, 'man on the spot', to decide depending on the terrain and circumstances. P & W point out that the prohibitive numbers of deaths and other casualties were due to :

"As long as most German machine-gunners and artillerymen survived the British bombardment, the slaughter of attacking infantry would occur whatever infantry tactics were used."

It all depended on the Artillery Plan. However, we also see that having overwhelming artillery and infantry in attack with a mist that could hide you still could mean heavy casualties, as in the first day of the German Spring Offensive in 1918, Op Michael. Despite the above and using 'infiltration' tactics the Germans suffered about 40,000 casualties on day one, and that was advancing over ground the Germans had given up willingly in the Spring of 1917, without the mist there would probably been even more casualties!
On the 1 July 1916 it was not just the 36th Division who 'cottoned on' to the 'right approach'.

Mike

anemone
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Re: British Army Generalship in the Great War of 1914/18
Posted on: 5/20/2017 11:29:28 AM
I really do appreciate your enduring patience Mike-I do have Prior and Wilson's book (but not read as yet-my eyesight is now so weak- I cannot read the printed word) and therefore am obliged to recant what I stipulated about 36th Ulster Divisions tactic.


Quote:
It was basically left to the local commander, 'man on the spot', to decide depending on the terrain and circumstances. P & W point out that the prohibitive numbers of deaths and other casualties were due to :

"As long as most German machine-gunners and artillerymen survived the British bombardment, the slaughter of attacking infantry would occur whatever infantry tactics were used."


So this attack was doomed to failure-which was "almost" the considered outcome- which was not good-now put down to artillery support failure.

With 53 Btns rushing the German positions-did all of them suffer the same fate as the Btns of the 36th Division ie. caught in isolation.???

Another serious problem that Haig had to contend with was the poor quality of ammunition supplied for much of the war by British factories. Shells would either not explode with sufficient force or not explode at all. And yet, even when this became clear, Haig continued to put far too much faith into the power of artillary bombardment and he consistently underestimated German defences.

It took years for the British High Command to learn these lessons and to develop effective ways to use the new forms of military equipment available to them – aircraft, tanks and gas weapons.

Regards

Jim
---------------
Pro Patria Saepe Pro Rege Semper

Riaindevoy
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Re: British Army Generalship in the Great War of 1914/18
Posted on: 5/20/2017 8:14:36 PM
The Western Front was a very different war than what these senior officers were expecting after decades of career soldiering. Instead of mixing movement with weapons employment it was all about meticulous employment of weapons and other technology, so much of their training and experience was wasted and the other part had to be developed on the job in the face of the most tactically proficient army in the world. Their 'fault' was that they didn't adapt quickly enough, however the British army was expanding rapidly and needed all the officers it could get, so didn't have the luxury of sacking Army, Corps and Divisional commanders secure in the knowledge that their successful subordinates could be promoted into the vacant positions.

A pretty bad situation to be in.

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anemone
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Re: British Army Generalship in the Great War of 1914/18
Posted on: 5/21/2017 3:51:59 AM
I cannot do other than agree with your comments Riain. The officer corps of Britain’s pre-war professional army was trained to fight small colonial wars in far off places such as the Sudan, South Africa and India’s North-West Frontier, against indigenous people armed with spears, swords and ancient muskets.

What the British Army — apart from a few visionaries — was not expecting was to be pitched against a huge modern war machine equipped with heavy artillery and machine guns and trained to fight and win on the fields of Europe. But that is exactly what they got in 1914 and for ensuing years.As most of the High Command were cavalry officers-they had a long and difficult learning curve in a difficult war-this brought many failings to the fore in what for them- was for the most part- was an "attacking" infantry war.

Regards

Jim
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Phil andrade
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Re: British Army Generalship in the Great War of 1914/18
Posted on: 5/21/2017 5:24:40 AM
What are the citeria of assessment that we should use when we evaluate British generalship 1914-18 ?

Ability to deliver victory ?

No doubt about the answer to that.

Was the cost excessively high ?

Here the answer is more complex....roughly one million dead from the British Empire is a mind boggling figure ; sufficient to engender such intense emotion that scapegoats are sought : who better than the Generals, especially if they are caricatured as upper class ?

Set against the enormity of the task that was required of them, is there scope for reconsideration and revision ?

When he assumed high command in late 1915, Haig wrote that three years of warfare and the destruction of one tenth of Britian's manhood was a price worth paying for the defeat of German militarism.

He was proved correct in his reckoning of duration and cost : was he right in advocating this as a price worth paying ?

And is it arguable that his victory failed in its alleged purpose ?

The militarism that he sought to defeat emerged in the folllowing generation in a yet more atrocious form.

I'll be reflecting on this, and hope to make some decent contributions.

Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!"

"That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress."

Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes

Phil andrade
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Re: British Army Generalship in the Great War of 1914/18
Posted on: 5/21/2017 5:25:40 AM
Double post
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Lightning
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Re: British Army Generalship in the Great War of 1914/18
Posted on: 5/21/2017 6:32:53 AM

Quote:
The officer corps of Britain’s pre-war professional army was trained to fight small colonial wars in far off places such as the Sudan, South Africa and India’s North-West Frontier, against indigenous people armed with spears, swords and ancient muskets.

What the British Army — apart from a few visionaries — was not expecting was to be pitched against a huge modern war machine equipped with heavy artillery and machine guns and trained to fight and win on the fields of Europe. But that is exactly what they got in 1914 and for ensuing years.As most of the High Command were cavalry officers-they had a long and difficult learning curve in a difficult war-this brought many failings to the fore in what for them- was for the most part- was an "attacking" infantry war.

Regards

Jim
--anemone


Jim,

With respect, that's not entirely true. The South African War could hardly be described as small (500k Imperial troops deployed) nor against ill-armed natives, as the Boer artillery and Mauser rifles were at least the equal of the kit that the British employed. It was this war that taught the army the vital need for prepared defensive positions such as trenches when facing an enemy with artillery; for planned artillery bombardment supporting advancing infantry; the abandonment of volley rifle fire in favour of suppressive high rate fire instead; that cavalry was better deployed as mounted infantry; and so on. These lessons weren't lost on the British, nor was the fact that during the war they had no friends to call on (other than the fledgling "white" colonies) had the Germans went to war with them over the blockade.

It was the war and the feeling of dangerous political isolation that led to further reforms of the army structure (including the creation of the a Territorial Army and Army Reserve to increase trained manpower), better training for staff officers (supply had been a big issue during the SA war), along with diplomatic overtures to France in particular to heal old wounds and create a united front against German (Prussian) militarism. This is in turn led to the creation of a six division expeditionary force, specifically designed for continental warfare against a common foe and able to be deployed relatively swiftly. There can be no doubt that the British army pre-1914 knew exactly which enemy they were planning and training to fight; and the enemy certainly wasn't armed with sticks, clubs and muskets.

Cheers,

Colin
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Phil andrade
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Re: British Army Generalship in the Great War of 1914/18
Posted on: 5/21/2017 6:36:45 AM
Strange that the Germans suffered twice as many military deaths as the entire British Empire - and three times as many as the United Kingdom- and they lost ....but their generals escaped the opprobrium that was heaped on Haig.

Editing : perhaps not so strange after all....why blame generals when you can blame Jews and socialists instead ?

Regards , Phil

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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!"

"That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress."

Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes

anemone
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Re: British Army Generalship in the Great War of 1914/18
Posted on: 5/21/2017 6:46:56 AM

Quote:
What are the criteria of assessment that we should use when we evaluate British generalship 1914-18 ?

Ability to deliver victory ?

No doubt about the answer to that.

Was the cost excessively high ?


For the years 1915,16 and 17 there were few discernible victories-apart from those won by Dominion troops under Dominion command eg Vimy Ridge ans Mount Sorrel.

The numerous small, but costly relatively small operations of 1915; added to the Armageddons of 1916 and 17 were all the more deplorable due to an inability to call a halt to battles which were continued long after the objective was obviously unattainable.

1918 was a different "kettle of fish" The Kaiserschlacht was bravely fought with admirable determination and and for once we ran out the winners IMHO.The Last Hundred Days offensive was the resolute determination to end this ghastly war-which was achieved at great cost for sure; but the Allies had won emphatically.

Regards

Jim
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Pro Patria Saepe Pro Rege Semper

anemone
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Re: British Army Generalship in the Great War of 1914/18
Posted on: 5/21/2017 8:40:17 AM
Colin


Quote:
The second Boer War did have a major impact on British tactics leading up to WW!. The war had shown that modern rifles and artillery provided greater accuracy, range and rates of fire than before.

This led to the belief in a fire zone of increased depth and danger, and the need for formations that were more open. One of the most useful lessons was the necessity of cover for the attackers
-but was this acted upon in WW1 ???


Quote:
During the war in South Africa, clear terrain had been sought when on the offensive, and rough terrain in defence. The new emphasis on fields of fire meant a reversal in policy
BBC News.Was this policy used in WW1-I think not


Quote:
Finally, following the French, the British began to consider frontal attacks as decisive, giving them official sanction in the 1912 field service regulations. This marked the greatest diversion from the Boer War experience and the flank attacks of Lord Roberts
.And what did frontal attacks achieve-nothing in my opinion; but an unacceptable butcher's bill.

NB.There was some fearful failures during 1899 including :- Magersfontein,Stormburg,Colenso,Talana Hill,Elandslaadt and Spion Kop to name but a few.

Regards

Jim
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George
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Re: British Army Generalship in the Great War of 1914/18
Posted on: 5/21/2017 9:48:02 AM
Jim, if you please, would you cite your sources.

Some of the last post referring to the Boer War, comes from the BBC-history web site.

It is dishonest to plunk full text in a post as if to claim it as one's own. Put it in quotations and then make your own comment.

I think that you would get more response if you did so.

Believe me, I am trying to be helpful.


Cheers,

George


anemone
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Re: British Army Generalship in the Great War of 1914/18
Posted on: 5/21/2017 10:05:10 AM
Done George -many thanks for the "wake up call"

Regards

Jim
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Phil Andrade
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Re: British Army Generalship in the Great War of 1914/18
Posted on: 5/21/2017 11:18:00 AM
Jim,

You allude to the "unacceptable butcher's bill".

What differentiates the acceptable from the unacceptable: the absolute size, or the more relative aspects as determined by success or failure ?

Regards, Phil
---------------
"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!"

"That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress."

Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes

Jim Cameron
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Re: British Army Generalship in the Great War of 1914/18
Posted on: 5/21/2017 11:18:02 AM

Quote:
What are the citeria of assessment that we should use when we evaluate British generalship 1914-18 ?

Ability to deliver victory ?

No doubt about the answer to that.

Was the cost excessively high ?

Here the answer is more complex....roughly one million dead from the British Empire is a mind boggling figure ; sufficient to engender such intense emotion that scapegoats are sought : who better than the Generals, especially if they are caricatured as upper class ?

Set against the enormity of the task that was required of them, is there scope for reconsideration and revision ?



Before British generalship is written off as incompetent, even criminally so, with "chateau generals" throwing away the lives of their men for little gain, one must consider the all but intractable situation they were faced with. Faced with well sited, carefully engineered defensive zones all but immune to a breakthrough, massive artillery and machine gun fire, reinforcements​ fed in by sophisticated rail nets all but immune to interdiction, no flanks to turn, what were the alternatives? Any course of action was going to cost men. Yes, tactics and weapons would evolve, but so did the enemy response. Eventually, the stalemate would be broken, but doing so would take years. Tanks didn't just appear out of nowhere. Rolling barrages and the infantry/artillery coordination necessary to make them effective, took years of trial and error to perfect. And as has been said of attritional warfare, casualties along the way mattered less than who was still standing at the end.

What could have been done differently? Unless both sides are willing to talk peace, what choice is there except to keep fighting?
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Re: British Army Generalship in the Great War of 1914/18
Posted on: 5/21/2017 11:57:15 AM
Your argument wins my heated agreement, Mr Cameron.

There is a determination to attribute culpability to British generalship in that war.

This determination remains especially strong in British folklore.

A sense of outrage unmatched in any other of the nations that fought.

One must wonder why.

Regards, Phil

---------------
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"That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress."

Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes

anemone
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Re: British Army Generalship in the Great War of 1914/18
Posted on: 5/21/2017 12:14:02 PM
Many thanks Jim for your interest and input.Your statement below set me thinking.


Quote:
And as has been said of attritional warfare, casualties along the way mattered less than who was still standing at the end.

What could have been done differently? Unless both sides are willing to talk peace, what choice is there except to keep fighting?


By 1916/17 the situation on the Western Front was stalemated-what could have been done?? Well a second front could have been opened; and not under the noses of the enemy- as at Gallipoli; but in Normandy well to south of the war zone.Troops could have been withdrawn from the minor theatres of war; and as in WW2-the US may have participated.The troops landed at the ports of Le Havre, Rouen, Caen and Cherburg.

This Second front army of say 100,000 men (8 Infantry divisions with artillery) could have been tasked to roll up the enemy's southern flank while the main existing front kept the enemy occupied where they were- by making selected attacks.Far fetched you say-yes I suppose so but- it could- in my opinion-have possibly been done.

Regards

Jim
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MikeMeech
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Re: British Army Generalship in the Great War of 1914/18
Posted on: 5/21/2017 1:32:38 PM

Quote:
Many thanks Jim for your interest and input.Your statement below set me thinking.


Quote:
And as has been said of attritional warfare, casualties along the way mattered less than who was still standing at the end.

What could have been done differently? Unless both sides are willing to talk peace, what choice is there except to keep fighting?


By 1916/17 the situation on the Western Front was stalemated-what could have been done?? Well a second front could have been opened; and not under the noses of the enemy- as at Gallipoli; but in Normandy well to south of the war zone.Troops could have been withdrawn from the minor theatres of war; and as in WW2-the US may have participated.The troops landed at the ports of Le Havre, Rouen, Caen and Cherburg.

This Second front army of say 100,000 men (8 Infantry divisions with artillery) could have been tasked to roll up the enemy's southern flank while the main existing front kept the enemy occupied where they were- by making selected attacks.Far fetched you say-yes I suppose so but- it could- in my opinion-have possibly been done.

Regards

Jim
--anemone

Hi Jim

I am not sure where you want this attack to happen? Do you mean from the French part of the line just south of the BEF? Or further south (Nancy to Swiss border?). If from the French part of the line surely then you would have the French Army involved? The US Army would not be available in large numbers and equipped until about mid 1918 whatever the circumstances so really any earlier they are not in play. At what date are you contemplating this 'second front', I don't see any 'southern flank' to 'roll up', you would still have to break in and then break through German defences. I can't see why this would 'work' more than other attacks that happened?

Mike


Phil andrade
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Re: British Army Generalship in the Great War of 1914/18
Posted on: 5/21/2017 1:38:22 PM
When it comes to culpability , Passchendaele stands preeminent in notoriety : not on account of the number - the Somme cost many more British lives ; Arras had a higher casualty rate ; and the German Spring Offensive cost as many British casualties in six weeks as Passchendaele cost in fifteen - but because it was uniquely futile , and predicated on delusion.

A quarter of a million casualties sustained in capturing a quagmire in 105 days in 1917 ; a quarter of a million in an existential struggle against a mighty German offensive in forty days in 1918...the same butcher's bill, but somehow more unacceptable in the former.

I would judge Haig culpable for Passchendaele , but not for the Somme or Arras : OTOH, let those who blame him give him credit for his successes....

Regards , Phil
---------------
"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!"

"That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress."

Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes

anemone
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Re: British Army Generalship in the Great War of 1914/18
Posted on: 5/21/2017 2:10:17 PM
Mike-I was thinking to link up with Gen.Castleneau near Nancy in 1917; and break the German line there abouts and start the roll up. I appreciate what I have written about "a roll up of the southern flank" may well be nonsense because there isn't a southern flank as you point out; but it might just have worked- given that the German defences in that part of France were not as strong as further north.It was just a thought that if Gallipoli was thought easy-this may have been easier.

Regards

Jim
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anemone
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Re: British Army Generalship in the Great War of 1914/18
Posted on: 5/21/2017 2:24:44 PM

Quote:
I would judge Haig culpable for Passchendaele , but not for the Somme or Arras : OTOH, let those who blame him give him credit for his successes....


Phil i do not hold Haig responsible for the Somme-he was obliged to undertake this bloody horror via the French predicament at Verdun.

3rd Ypres is very much down to him-no question about that-he thought that breaking through to the Plain of Douai he could get to Antwerp.When he did- via the Canadians- who took Passchendaele Ridge-his plan for Antwerp was gone.A bloodbath for absolutely nothing.The same goes for Gough at the Bloodtub battle at Bullecourt.

Regards

Jim
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Jim Cameron
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Re: British Army Generalship in the Great War of 1914/18
Posted on: 5/21/2017 3:01:24 PM

Quote:
Many thanks Jim for your interest and input.Your statement below set me thinking.


Quote:
And as has been said of attritional warfare, casualties along the way mattered less than who was still standing at the end.

What could have been done differently? Unless both sides are willing to talk peace, what choice is there except to keep fighting?


By 1916/17 the situation on the Western Front was stalemated-what could have been done?? Well a second front could have been opened; and not under the noses of the enemy- as at Gallipoli; but in Normandy well to south of the war zone.Troops could have been withdrawn from the minor theatres of war; and as in WW2-the US may have participated.The troops landed at the ports of Le Havre, Rouen, Caen and Cherburg.

This Second front army of say 100,000 men (8 Infantry divisions with artillery) could have been tasked to roll up the enemy's southern flank while the main existing front kept the enemy occupied where they were- by making selected attacks.Far fetched you say-yes I suppose so but- it could- in my opinion-have possibly been done.

Regards

Jim
--anemone


Normandy certainly wasn't well to the south of the war zone, but in any event I don't see a 100,000 man army rolling up the German southern flank. From where?
---------------
Jim Cameron

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Jim Cameron
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Re: British Army Generalship in the Great War of 1914/18
Posted on: 5/21/2017 3:49:07 PM

Quote:
Your argument wins my heated agreement, Mr Cameron.

There is a determination to attribute culpability to British generalship in that war.

This determination remains especially strong in British folklore.

A sense of outrage unmatched in any other of the nations that fought.

One must wonder why.

Regards, Phil


--Phil Andrade


I believe that you have hit on the crux of the matter. It has become part of British folklore. Ongoing scholarship may chip away at it, but it being a matter of perception I suspect that the tendency to attribute culpability will linger.

It is interesting that this seems largely a British thing. As suggested above, the Germans found other scapgoats. The French had no choice but to fight, their country having been invaded and occupied. The British, however, could be said to have decided to enter the war, which perhaps made the resulting casualties harder to justify.

The same thing might well have happened with the Americans, especially had to war lasted into 1919. As it was, in the inter-war years many Americans felt that they had been taken advantage of and "sold a bill of goods" by the Allies. But the Armistice helped keep U.S. casualties to a relative minimum, despite the poor state of training of much of the AEF. Had U.S. losses been heavier, however, one could easily see the rather stiff and remote Pershing being seen as another Haig.
---------------
Jim Cameron

Every time I go to Gettysburg, I learn two things. Something new, and, how much I still don't know.

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