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(1914-1918) WWI
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john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 816
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/6/2020 8:20:18 AM

The Battle of Loos Sept/Oct 1915 saw the BEF use poison gas (chlorine) and units of the New Army to break the German lines and try to restore a war of movement to the Western Front. It was the largest BEF operation of 1915.
It seems both CoC John French and Gen Douglas Haig thought the ground around the area unsuitable for attack and favored one further north. Information they had was that the Germans were building a second line of defense behind the first which would limit the results. They were overruled by Foch, Joffre and Lord Kitchener.
Because of artillery shortages, Haig decided to use poison gas to support the attack.
CoC French moved his HQ closer to the front but had limited phone contact with the rear and Haig. He also took control of the reserves which he believed would be needed on the second day. When Haig requested the release of these the resulting delay caused the reserves not to reach the front in a timely manner.
Total BEF casualties in the 6 divisions used numbered about 60,000. German losses in 3 divisions about 25,000.
A result of the battle very little gain for the losses. Largest BEF losses in one day until the Somme. CoC French was promoted and kicked upstairs and replace by Haig.
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/6/2020 10:29:17 AM

A breakthrough that was not exploited.

The initial attack made the breakthrough and the Germans faced an alarming crisis.

I think that the six divisions you allude to were the ones used on the first day. More were used in the ensuing week or two.

It’s a truly dismal battlefield : old mining landmarks and ground that is so flat it resembles a billiard table.

The British casualties were indeed heavy, and included a tragically high proportion of Scotsmen on the opening day. There were also Indian casualties in the diversionary attacks.

The casualties of sixty thousand included about ten thousand sustained in the diversions, and spanned a period of about two weeks. Close to one third were suffered on the first day, 25 September.

According to data from the CWGC, that day was the third worst for Britain in the Great War, surpassed only by the 1st July 1916, and 21st March 1918.

The British were obliged by the requirements of coalition warfare to make this attack. The French were calling the shots on the Western Front, and Joffre was himself aware that France was bound to support the Russians, who had taken a dreadful beating.

Serbia was also about to be overwhelmed.

The French armies in Champagne and Artois made a monstrous effort at the same time, losing several times as many men as the British.

The Germans were hard pressed and felt the strain badly, but, aided by the genius of Lossberg, they succeeded in containing the Entente offensive and even mounted significant counter attacks.

All in all, some of the most murderous fighting in history.

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
john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 816
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/6/2020 12:01:08 PM

The Germans were thinning their lines in this sector, i believe. Troops were being moved to other spots. Was it because they thought the terrain was not suitable for attack?
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/6/2020 3:40:27 PM

This sparsity of troops in the sector to be defended is not easy to account for.

Perhaps the Germans were making a virtue of necessity, adopting tactics of thinning out their front and dispersing their troops in order to husband manpower : they were acutely aware of being outnumbered, especially at a time when they were making their main effort in the East and had diverted soldiers to fight the Russians and Serbs.

They were also practitioners of their saying that “ sweat saves blood” ; their defences were elaborate and effective, and this enabled resolute and skilful troops to repulse vastly more numerous attackers. The mining cottages and slag heaps made excellent places from which to deploy enfilade MG fire, and their artillery was sited with the aim of punishing enemy troops who made any lodgement in ground that was registered to the inch.
Any hostile lodgement was likely to confine the attackers to a salient which was vulnerable to converging fire and subsequent counter attack.

These attributes apply generally to much of the story of the war on the Western Front, but I suspect that they were amplified in the conditions around Loos in September 1915.

There was, I daresay, a degree of complacency. Germans had respect for the courage and doggedness of British soldiers ; but they considered them tactically rigid and naive. A lot of the British were New Army, not endowed with the professional cadre of their 1914 forebears. More than that, the French were considered more skilful and adaptable. I wonder if this might explain the thinning of the front in that sector : maybe German strength was deployed against the French, at the expense of troops facing the British.

In the event, the Germans were shocked by the British attack, and the chlorine gas did more damage than some accounts allow for.


The sheer fury of the infantry attack - the Scots being conspicuous - made headway and Loos was captured.

Then it became apparent that the Germans showed superior reflexive skills and got their reserves up quickly, while the British failed, with fatal results.

The Germans fought like tigers and sold their lives dearly.

Fifty thousand British casualties in the main attack against twenty thousand German : that says a lot about the flawed British tactics , their excessively thickly manned deployment and, especially , the failure to get their reserves up in time.

The Germans were good at post battle analysis, and cited the British attack as what NOT to do.

This is my impression of the story of that battle. I submit it with diffidence, and worry that I make too many sweeping assertions.

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
john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 816
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/6/2020 5:08:20 PM

French decided to keep a reserve consisting of the Cavalry Corps, the Indian Cavalry Corps and XI Corps (Lieutenant-General Richard Haking), which consisted of the Guards Division and the New Army 21st Division and 24th Division, recently arrived in France and an untried corps staff. Archibald Murray, the Deputy Chief of the Imperial General Staff (DCIGS) advised French that as the troops were fresh from training, they were suited for the long marches of an exploitation rather than for trench warfare. French was doubtful that a breakthrough would be achieved. Haig and Foch, commander of the French Northern Army Group, wanted the reserves closer, to exploit a breakthrough on the first day; French agreed to move them nearer to the front but still thought they should not be committed until the second day.As part of the compromise Haig agreed to allow Gen. French to control the reserves
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/7/2020 10:49:31 AM

Here's a tabulation of the British casualties for Loos, 25 September to 16 October 1915 :

Main attack

IV Corps

15th Division : 6,896
1st Division : 6,030
47th Division : 1,830
3rd Cavalry Division : 154

Corps Total : 14,910

I Corps

9th Division : 6,058
7th Division : 5,224
2nd Division : 3,377
28th Division : 3,365

Corps Total : 18,024

XI Corps

24th Division : 4,178
21st Division : 4,051
46th Division : 3,763
12th Division : 3,339
Guards Division : 2,115

Corps Total : 17,446

Total main attack : 50,380

Casualties in subsidiary attacks :

Indian Corps

Meerut Division : 3,150
Lahore Division : 716
19th Division : 672

Corps Total : 4,538

III Corps

8th Division : 1,333
20th Division : 561

Corps Total : 1,894

V Corps

3rd Division : 3,084
14th Division : 1,817

Corps Total : 4,901

Total subsidiary attacks : 11,333

Grand Total : 61,713

Of this total, 7,766 were posted as killed ; 35,461 were wounded ; and 18,486 were missing. Large numbers of the missing were obviously dead. Many thousands of them are commemorated on the Memorial to the Missing at Dud Corner Cemetery.

For this, the British captured 53 German officers and 3,100 men, 18 artillery pieces and 32 machine guns. German official returns state their casualties in the Loos sector from 21 September to 10 October as 441 officers and 19,395 men.

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
john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 816
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/7/2020 12:18:16 PM

"A breakthrough that was not exploited."
Do you believe this so because CoC French failed to release the reserves in a timely manner? Or just general failures up and down the BEF command chain?
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/7/2020 1:23:05 PM

Both, to a degree. French bears significant culpability. Haig was justified in his outrage ; but he proved himself a bit too keen to orchestrate things to his own advantage. There was a toxic relationship to be turned to account. The following year, on the first day of the Somme, with Haig C-i-C of the BEF, British loss of life in a single day exceeded that of three weeks at Loos. Sauce for the goose ; sauce for the gander. Haig's social connections served him well in the blame game.

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
john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 816
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/7/2020 3:57:07 PM

it seems from the very beginning, 1914, John French was not the man to command the BEF. He couldn't speak French, seemed to distrust Joffre and the French command, and didn't have the style to work in a coalition
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
George
Centre Hastings
ON Canada
Posts: 10971
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/7/2020 4:30:02 PM

I have been following this thread and enjoying it.

Were the criticisms levelled at French by Kitchener and then Haig justified or motivated by professional jealousy and resentment?

I read that French was indecisive at Loos, but I wonder how much the shell crisis impacted the ability of the British to perform. French always claimed that the lack of shells and inferior shells made his task most difficult. He contacted the press to explain that the Battle of Neuve Chapelle in March of 1915 was unsuccessful because of the shell situation. That didn't go down well with the political class.

The Shell Crisis of 1915 was a political debacle and Kitchener was implicated. French made his feelings known and that must have made Lord Kitchener resent him.

The Shell Crisis also lead to the rise of David Lloyd-George who was made Minister of Munitions in the aftermath of the scandal. What did DLG think of John French?

Cheers,

George
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john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 816
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/7/2020 6:18:18 PM

Didn't French side with DLG during the Third Battle of Ypres? As part of Lloyd George's maneuvres to reduce the power of Haig and Robertson, French submitted a paper which was critical of Haig's command record and which recommended that there be no further major offensives until the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) was present in strength. French was at this time Commander-in-Chief, Home Forces for 1916–18. This period saw the country running increasingly short of manpower for the Army.
A side note: Haig saved French from bankruptcy by lending him a large sum of money in 1899.
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/8/2020 2:39:11 AM

Quote:
I have been following this thread and enjoying it.

Were the criticisms levelled at French by Kitchener and then Haig justified or motivated by professional jealousy and resentment?

I read that French was indecisive at Loos, but I wonder how much the shell crisis impacted the ability of the British to perform. French always claimed that the lack of shells and inferior shells made his task most difficult. He contacted the press to explain that the Battle of Neuve Chapelle in March of 1915 was unsuccessful because of the shell situation. That didn't go down well with the political class.

The Shell Crisis of 1915 was a political debacle and Kitchener was implicated. French made his feelings known and that must have made Lord Kitchener resent him.

The Shell Crisis also lead to the rise of David Lloyd-George who was made Minister of Munitions in the aftermath of the scandal. What did DLG think of John French?

Cheers,

George



George,

Always delightful to see you joining the party !

These are good questions .

I need to read and reflect before I attempt an answer.

Edit : I must pitch this ...just before hostilities actually started, Haig wrote In my own heart, I know that French is quite unfit for this great Command at a time of crisis in our Nation’s History.

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
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/8/2020 8:03:14 AM

Quote:
it seems from the very beginning, 1914, John French was not the man to command the BEF. He couldn't speak French, seemed to distrust Joffre and the French command, and didn't have the style to work in a coalition


Very much out of his depth.....but, in fairness , who wouldn’t be ?

For some reason I feel sorry for him. History hasn’t been kind to him.

He ran foul of army protocol by having a dalliance with a fellow officer’s wife. He had a penchant for slow horses and fast women, and, as you remind us, John, Haig came to his rescue financially.

The relationships between Haig and French reflected the toxicity of jealousy and conspiracy in the senior ranks. Kitchener was himself culpable in this respect : his selection of Smith Dorrien for command of II corps after the death of Grierson showed astonishing lack of sensitivity bearing in mind that SD and French hated each other. Then there was intrigue from Henry Wilson and the ubiquitous mendacity of David Lloyd George to throw into the mix. It does astonish one, to contemplate the way these men in high command behaved, with consequences that were literally fatal to so many. Then, it becomes apparent that the same syndrome was apparent elsewhere in this and other conflicts , before and after the Great War. Look at the shenanigans between Joe Johnston, Beauregard and Jeff Davis in the Confederacy barely half a century earlier .

I love the verdict of Margot Asquith, the Prime Minister’s wife, on meeting Haig : A remarkably stupid man ; but a superb soldier !

What does that tell us about the repute of the British Army in high society in 1914 ?

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
john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 816
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/8/2020 9:11:51 AM

Been reading Richard Holmes' Tommy. Only in small doses. It seems that at war's beginning the officer corps was suppose to be from the upper crust. The enlisted men and NCOs looked up to these people and didn't like to see a ranker promoted above his station.
Outside of French who in the British Army had any experience commanding such a large force?
I agree with your statement about the "shenanigans" in almost every conflict. It cast a new light on Eisenhower and how great a job he did in WWII
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/8/2020 9:36:32 AM

There was some disdain for the army in British society before the Great War. Lloyd George referred to them as pampered younger sons from the “heir and spare” caste, “ brilliant to the tops of their boots” and, most mortifying “ Pass men from Oxford “ !

Haldane was the man who did a lot to “ educate” the army, and render it more suited to high intensity warfare.

It’s on record that Haldane was more impressed by Haig than any other British soldier, and worked with him to equip Britain with a more modern approach to the development and training of the army.

I must find out what he had to say, or write, about French.

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
john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 816
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/8/2020 12:17:24 PM

I understand Haig had used his leave in 1905 to lobby for a job at the War Office, but the proposal was rejected by H. O. Arnold-Forster the Secretary of State for War as too blatantly relying on royal influence.
What Royal influence? And how did he get it?
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
MikeMeech

 UK
Posts: 470
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/8/2020 4:43:53 PM

Quote:
There was some disdain for the army in British society before the Great War. Lloyd George referred to them as pampered younger sons from the “heir and spare” caste, “ brilliant to the tops of their boots” and, most mortifying “ Pass men from Oxford “ !

Haldane was the man who did a lot to “ educate” the army, and render it more suited to high intensity warfare.

It’s on record that Haldane was more impressed by Haig than any other British soldier, and worked with him to equip Britain with a more modern approach to the development and training of the army.

I must find out what he had to say, or write, about French.

Regards, Phil


Hi

From 'Haldane of Cloan' by Sommer, pages 331-332, in a letter from Haldane to his mother:

"You will I expect to be sorry to see that your old friend Sir John French, who is to become Viscount French, has been removed from the command in France and is to be succeeded by Haig. I know them both intimately. We owe a great debt to French for his courage and leadership during the critical first months of the war. He is a leader in a way in which Haig can never be, for Haig is too reserved and too inarticulate to be able to make a personal appeal to men. But on the whole I think the change is justified. Haig's character is yet more solid than French's and he is technically far better equipped. I owe a great deal to his sound judgement and wide knowledge both of principles and detail, which were invaluable to me in getting my reform through. He is, I think, best fitted to deal with the new type of warfare which has come upon us. Also I hope that he will get on better with the French than did his predecessor. Sir John has never forgiven the French for leaving him in the lurch at Mons and always looks at their proposals with a suspicious eye."

I hope that is at least a part answer to your question.

Mike

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Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/8/2020 6:54:19 PM

Yes, that darned well is, Mike. !

I couldn’t have asked for a more timely or informative answer to the question of how Haldane viewed French and Haig.

Many thanks.

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
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/9/2020 4:26:58 AM

Quote:
I understand Haig had used his leave in 1905 to lobby for a job at the War Office, but the proposal was rejected by H. O. Arnold-Forster the Secretary of State for War as too blatantly relying on royal influence.
What Royal influence? And how did he get it?


John,

If I’m correct, Haig’s wife was Lady in Waiting to the Queen, which certainly meant that, in the society parlance, Haig had “ the ear of the King”.

I think that he made sure that the King was made aware of the misgivings he ( Haig) felt about French’s defects as C-i-C, even before the BEF had disembarked in France in mid August 1914.

I note that, in the historiography, even Haig’s supporters recoil from his underhand methods here.

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
john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 816
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/9/2020 6:42:03 AM

On leave from India, Haig married Dorothy Maud Vivian on 11 July 1905 after a whirlwind courtship (she had spotted him for the first time when he was playing polo at Hurlingham two years earlier). She was a daughter of Hussey Crespigny Vivian and Louisa Duff. Her father was a career diplomat holding many important posts as ambassadors to European countries. i couldn't find any other information about her being Lady in Waiting for the Queen
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/9/2020 11:38:43 AM

John,

A silly mistake on my part, I fear.

Yet, I’m so confident that there was some royal connection here, and I’m also convinced that the title Lady in Waiting has something to do with it.

I’ll do some reconnaissance and see if I can authenticate this.

Editing : Doris was Maid of Honour to Queen Alexandra . Apologies.....I tend to do this, venturing comments without checking as I should : but I wasn’t a million miles from the mark. Furthermore, Haig himself had developed a cordial relationship with the future Edward VII, having been introduced to the Royal Circle by his brother in law (?). King Edward made Haig Aide-de Camp in 1902 and awarded him CVO as a mark of “ HM’s personal esteem “.

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
john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 816
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/9/2020 12:11:23 PM

No problem Phil. Please don't think there was in any way a negative comment on my not finding any connections with the Royals and Mrs. Haig. The amount of information I have learn from you and anothers on WWI is amazing. Sometimes I feel like a volkswagen at the Indy 500.
Since Edward VII died in 1910 did Haig has any connection to George V? I have seen photos of the two on the battlefield
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/9/2020 2:51:07 PM

John,

Yes, undoubtedly Haig benefited from association with George V.

The importance of social connections was absolutely ubiquitous in those days.

One cannot help but recoil from it from our 21st Century vantage point....until of course we have to countenance the prospect that our world is still run very much on lines of it's not what you know, but who you know !

Even checking my last post, I was amused to find that Haig's entry into Royal circles was facilitated by the marriage of his sister, Henrietta, to " Willie" Jameson, who was an influential member of the Jameson whisky distilling family from Ireland, just as Haig himself was born into a Sottish whisky distilling family.

Keep it in the family !

In regard to the Loos fighting, I've mentioned the tactical inferiority of the British in comparison with the French.

In Artois, the French attacked alongside the British. At Loos, the British suffered 50,380 casualties while inflicting 19,836 on the Germans. Meanwhile the French, attacking nearby in the Arras sector, incurred 48,000 casualties and succeeded in inflicting 39,000 on the Germans. The disparity in the exchange is remarkable.

At the same time, the French made their main effort in Champagne, and paid for this with nearly 144,000 casualties, while accounting for 81,700 Germans.

In the conjoined battles, the French sustained 191,795 casualties and took 21,380 German prisoners : about nine casualties for every prisoner. This compared with sixteen British for every German prisoner .

The Battle of Loos made a profound impression on the Germans, who were shocked by the dense formations deployed by the British, which left khaki heaps of thousands of dead and dying , with struggling men trying to " play dead" before surrendering and throwing themselves on the mercy of the enemy. The folklore of the battle tells us that the Germans were moved to pity and held their fire. German accounts authenticate this.

After one such repulse, a German artillery Leutnant compared the British and French method :

How different it was from when the French launched an offensive. They operated mostly with their outstanding heavy artillery, firing at both positions and approach routes for weeks in advance with their heavies, then, two days before, with endless drum fire. They then charged the garrison and the wrecked positions under the cover of smoke, whilst unobtrusively lifting their artillery fire to the rear. It was as big a difference as day and night.

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
MikeMeech

 UK
Posts: 470
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/9/2020 3:22:09 PM

Quote:
John,

Yes, undoubtedly Haig benefited from association with George V.

The importance of social connections was absolutely ubiquitous in those days.

One cannot help but recoil from it from our 21st Century vantage point....until of course we have to countenance the prospect that our world is still run very much on lines of it's not what you know, but who you know !

Even checking my last post, I was amused to find that Haig's entry into Royal circles was facilitated by the marriage of his sister, Henrietta, to " Willie" Jameson, who was an influential member of the Jameson whisky distilling family from Ireland, just as Haig himself was born into a Sottish whisky distilling family.

Keep it in the family !


Regards, Phil



Hi

I think this is being rather overdone, Haig was not much different from every other senior Army (and Naval) officer, they all had connections to the King (he was basically the 'Commander' of the military even though he could not make decisions on when and how they were used which is what the government decided). George V did request that the senior officers could send him letters so he could know detail and their thoughts of what was going on during the war, not only Haig but quite a few others. Sir John French's connection is stated in 'The Little Field Marshal' by Richard Holmes, page 138:

"His relationship with George V was far less intimate than it had been with Edward VII, but it was the King who, in April 1913, told Seely that he proposed to make French a Field-Marshal in the next honours list."

French was writing to the King during his time in command of the BEF, Haig and others were at the same time as well, so many senior officers had the 'King's ear', it did not need 'ladies in waiting' to pass on messages!

Mike
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john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 816
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/10/2020 7:36:52 AM

I was wondering if still in 1915 the BEF was still relying on the rifleman, fire discipline and just over all discipline. I know the US Army on entering combat in 1918 still believe in the rifleman , despite all the evidence to the contary.
In addition the fear of the General Staff that the new army and recruits were not trained enough and couldn't handle open attack formations.
"Archibald Murray, the Deputy Chief of the Imperial General Staff (DCIGS) advised French that as the troops were fresh from training, they were suited for the long marches of an exploitation rather than for trench warfare."
In 1914 it was the French who relied on elan and cran. By 1915 it seems the BEF was counting on it as the French were moving away from it
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
Jim Cameron
Ossining
NY USA
Posts: 914
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/10/2020 4:10:12 PM

"A breakthrough that was not exploited."

In 1915, to what extent would a meaningful exploitation have been possible?
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Jim Cameron Every time I go to Gettysburg, I learn two things. Something new, and, how much I still don't know.
Jim Cameron
Ossining
NY USA
Posts: 914
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/10/2020 4:57:40 PM

"I was wondering if still in 1915 the BEF was still relying on the rifleman, fire discipline and just over all discipline."

My guess would be yes, both by training and experience, and, because it was going to be another couple of years before advances in material, technique, and doctrine progressed to the point where true combined arms warfare was practical. Yes, the necessary ingredients - artillery, machine guns, aircraft and aerial photography, radio - were in in place. But blending all these into a seamless force on the battlefield was still very much a work in progress.

The U.S. Army did enter the war with what some have termed the "cult of the rifle." Very much an outgrowth of decades as a glorified constabulary force, and years on the rifle range. Riflemen were pretty much all it had. But once in combat in France, I suspect that this became increasingly confined to Pershing and the AEF high command. The troops, up to and including some division commanders, and higher, were generally very accepting of French and British training, including, their emphasis on supporting weapons.
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Jim Cameron Every time I go to Gettysburg, I learn two things. Something new, and, how much I still don't know.
George
Centre Hastings
ON Canada
Posts: 10971
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/10/2020 8:18:05 PM

The British experiences before WW1 probably would not have indicated to them that changes in tactics were necessary. The Boer War had seen the British and Commonwealth forced to adapt to guerrilla tactics as the war went on but that would not have prepared them for 1914.

When the war began, both sides did attempt to manoeuvre to out flank and we know that eventually they just dug in and there were no flanks to turn.

It quickly became clear that artillery fire was killing a lot of people, many more than would have been anticipated. Pre-war planning had grossly underestimated the quantity of shells that would be needed to fight this war. The Shell Crisis of 1915 then limited what the British forces could do.

British anticipations of "wastage" were way off and as a result, staying in protective trenches began to make sense. Also the British and Commonwealth armies were very small in 1914 and early 1915. In 1914, the British had 6 divisions in the field. The French had 72. So Britain was very much in a supportive role.

By 1917, the British and Commonwealth armies were 1.5 million in 56 divisions on the western front alone. During the growth period, Britain had to learn to decentralize its management and to integrate thousands of new officers into the divisions. I read that the British staff officer cadre in 1917 was equal to the total officer cadre of 1914. The personnel demands of that sort of rapid growth are significant.

Communications limited progress during attacks in the early period of the war. Once the battle started, commanders could be in the dark. Communication techniques and technology improved greatly as the war progressed.

The introduction of small mortars and rifle grenades and the Lewis gun allowed the British to experiment with small unit tactics which proved to be very effective.

So I wonder whether it quickly became apparent that changes in tactics were necessary but circumstances influenced the speed at which tactics could be implemented.

Cheers,

George
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Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/11/2020 4:47:45 AM

Quote:
I was wondering if still in 1915 the BEF was still relying on the rifleman, fire discipline and just over all discipline. I know the US Army on entering combat in 1918 still believe in the rifleman , despite all the evidence to the contary.
In addition the fear of the General Staff that the new army and recruits were not trained enough and couldn't handle open attack formations.
"Archibald Murray, the Deputy Chief of the Imperial General Staff (DCIGS) advised French that as the troops were fresh from training, they were suited for the long marches of an exploitation rather than for trench warfare."
In 1914 it was the French who relied on elan and cran. By 1915 it seems the BEF was counting on it as the French were moving away from it


A two year gap, I reckon, John.....in the autumn offensives of 1915, the French managed to inflict two thirds of the loss on the Germans that they themselves suffered. The British struggled to attain a ratio of five to two.

Two years later, in the autumn of 1917, the British had managed to achieve the ratio that the French had attained two years earlier.

Artillery was the key.

The trauma suffered by France in the opening weeks of the war had imposed a compelled move towards husbandry through reliance on artillery and adaptable infantry tactics. It was literally an existential matter.

British deployment was still too dependant on the rifleman.

Simplistic and needing of caveat, but true enough.

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
john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 816
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/11/2020 6:57:07 AM

it also seems that British General Staff had less faith in Kitchner's New Army. Not feeling they were properly trained, they were inexperienced, and couldn't be trusted on the battlefield w/o firm control from above.
Did this and the slow evolution in new tactics lead to the Somme?
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/11/2020 7:15:13 AM

From what I’ve seen of Haig’s comments, he had every faith in the men of Kitchener’s New Army, but he was very realistic about their need for more training, and, even more so, about the need for more heavy artillery.

In the run up to the Somme Offensive in the summer of 1916, Haig suggested that the big attack be delayed until August, for those very reasons. His suggestion met with a near hysterical outburst from Joffre who blurted out - disingenuously , IMHO - that the French army would cease to exist if the pressure on Verdun was not relieved by the attack on the Somme.

There is much of the British loss and failure in those offensives that can be attributed to the pressures of coalition warfare.

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
john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 816
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/11/2020 7:44:41 AM

Loos fits the pattern. John French didn't think Loos was the place to attack by pressure from Foch and Joffre forced him to go ahead. Haig supported the attack and seemed to think it would prove a great success. French didn't which may have led to his decisions concerning the use of the reserves.
Is there any example of the British high command asking the French high command to launch an attack before they believed they ready or to save their army?
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
George
Centre Hastings
ON Canada
Posts: 10971
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/11/2020 7:58:01 AM

Yes, I believe that during the 1918 German spring offensive, the British told the French that they needed help.

I believe that Haig indicated that the French were coming in his "backs to the wall" letter. That's off the top of my head though.


George
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Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/11/2020 9:05:29 AM

Not sure, but thinking it probable, that Haig made overtures to the French to assist in his Flanders offensive in later 1917.

The French obliged with their First Army lending support north of Ypres, lavishly supported with heavy artillery.

Pertain showed how it should be done with a limited and strikingly successful attack at Malmaison in later October 1917.

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
George
Centre Hastings
ON Canada
Posts: 10971
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/11/2020 9:21:26 AM

The British were in a supportive role to the French at least, initially.

I don't think that the British would have agreed to the appointment of Foch as supreme allied commander if they felt that the French were not up to the task. There were disagreements and jealousies of course but the two great forces did work together.

We must remember that the French suffered tremendous losses in the defence of their own territory.

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Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/11/2020 12:05:45 PM

And of those tremendous losses, a fifth of the irrevocable ones were suffered in six weeks in August and September 1914.

Has there ever been a nation in a huge and prolonged war that has taken such a disproportionate amount of its total damage in the opening weeks, and still emerged victorious after several years of relentless battle ? The Soviet Union, perhaps.

The British shock was severe in 1914, but it was confined to a relatively tiny army.

The scale and immediacy of the French catastrophe imparted an urgency to the adjustment of battlefield deployment.

The British equivalent was the first day of the Somme.

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
john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 816
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/11/2020 12:19:49 PM

I have a book on my shelf entitled "Pyrrhic Victory, French strategy and operations during the Great War" by Robert Doughty. The gist of the book is the French fought themselves to exhaustion to win. With immense losses both in manpower and wealth, they came out of the war beat up.

While on the failure of BEF tactics at Loos, does the idea used later in the war, bite and hold, really show a step forward? A lot of shells fired for limited success
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/11/2020 1:15:37 PM

That’s a good book, John. I rely on it a lot.

Bite and hold worked, I think.

At least, it was a realistic response to the awful equilibrium of positional warfare.

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
George
Centre Hastings
ON Canada
Posts: 10971
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/11/2020 2:58:40 PM

The tactical approaches by 1918 were a long way from what was used in 1914.

British and Commonwealth forces drilled in small unit tactics. As mentioned grenades and rifle grenades and mortars and the Lewis gun were weapons that allowed small units to be effective.

But the emphasis on heavy MG fire was also important and was even used like artillery fire to suppress enemy activity.

Tanks were introduced and both sides made liberal use of gas.

Greater emphasis upon NCO leadership was demanded. Every soldier was appraised of his short term and long term objectives.

Preparation for a set piece attack made use of that time to provide maps so that small units knew exactly where they were headed. Mock-ups of battle fields were set up in the rear so that soldiers could practice on grounds that looked like the battle site.

Combined arms were used more effectively with aircraft, artillery and infantry working together.

Communications technology had advanced noticeably in the four years of war and divisional commanders and corps commanders were better able to understand what was happening during the course of the battle in real time.

Defence in depth or a more elastic defence saved lives and forced the attackers to penetrate deeply through multiple defensive lines. When I think about, even the demands made upon the private soldier to learn his craft and new skills were far more extensive. And necessary, for survival if anything at all.
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Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Loos 1915
Posted on: 1/11/2020 6:07:21 PM

George,

You sum it up well.

Think of that astonishing Canadian success when the Hindenburg Line was breached in late September 1918.

Near as damn it three years to the day after the British attack at Loos : how appallingly old fashioned and shambolic the 1915 attack looks compared with the Canal Du Nord three years later !

Here’s something else. We’ve just touched on the bite and hold method. On the very place where two British divisions had been massacred in half an hour ( hardly an exaggeration ) on 26 September 1915, Currie’s Canadians delivered a local, limited attack on the Germans around Hill 70 in August 1917, took their objectives and exacted a very bloody toll from the Germans who counter attacked in vain.

That kind of operation - along with the same approach by Petain at Malmaison - exemplified the attritional success of bite and hold. That’s how it could - and should - have been done.

The Germans had good reason to study Loos as a lesson in what not to do.

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
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