Why the Western Front Stalemated in WWI

The conventional explanation for why the Western Front in World War I settled into a stalemate is that the power of defensive weapons was stronger than the offensive methods employed.   The theory is that the defensive potential of machine-guns, artillery, repeating rifles, and trenches was unbreakable with infantry and artillery alone.   This simplistic explanation does not suffice under close scrutiny though.   If this were so, why were the Germans not stopped in France until after they had removed troops to the Eastern front for the Battle of Tannenberg and why were the French stopped cold when they attempted to invade Germany in August 1914? The reasons for … More after the Jump…

Book Review: The German Way of War by Robert M. Citino

This book is an interesting read to say the least, Dr. Citino makes the case that there is a specifically German “way of war”. That way, is what he calls operational maneuver. He traces the development of this “way of war” from the 17th century battles of the Frederick William I, the “Great Elector” of electoral Brandenburg and scion of the Hohenzollern Dynasty through to the end of World War II and the final defeat of Nazi Germany. I am not myself so convinced that the discussion should end there based on my experience talking to current German soldiers about war and battle during partnership exercises while I have been … More after the Jump…

Heroe’s Portraits: Captain Noel Chavasse

Cpt. Noel Chevasse is one of the three men who have earned the Victoria Cross twice. He was a doctor and earned both awards during the First World War. He won the first VC during the battle of the Somme when his battalion was ordered to attack the village of Guillemont. His battalion, (10th Battalion, Liverpool Regiment) suffered almost 300 casualties out of 600 men and he spent the entire day and night of the attack constantly moving inot no-man’s-land to tend to and recover the wounded while at the same time recovering identity disks from the dead who he could not bring back to friendly lines. His citation read: … More after the Jump…

Book Review: The Storm of Steel by Ernst Junger

Just about everyone has heard of Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, it is the work of fiction about World War I. It has been made into a movie several times and is supposed to represent the inhumanity of the war and the hopelessness felt by its participants in the trenches. Ernst Jünger’s, The Storm of Steel by contrast, is a different sort of World War I book entirely. Where Remarque wrote an anti-war novel based on his experiences in the war, Jünger not only did not write an anti-war account of the war he positively relished his time in the trenches. Jünger was wounded six times during … More after the Jump…

Battle Analysis: The Ludendorff Offensives of 1918

In the spring of 1918 the German army attempted a series of what they hoped would be war-winning offensives on the Western Front that ultimately were to fail and their failure led directly to the German signing of an armistice in November of 1918. The failure of the Ludendorff Offensives as they were known was strategic and operational in nature. The German army had devised a new tactical system and doctrine that broke the stalemate of the Western front. What they could not do was follow through once the front had been broken. The Germans had developed the tactical system known as infiltration in response to the stalemate of trench … More after the Jump…

Book Review: The Oxford Illustrated History of the First World War, edited by Hew Strachan

           

The Oxford Illustrated History of the First World War

The Oxford Illustrated History of the First World War, edited by Hew Strachan,  is one of those rare history books that manages to be both readable scholarly at the same time.   Indeed, it is an even rarer breed of book because it is an anthology and not by a single author.   Where many history books are written for the specialist historical crowd and there is an element of haughtiness in the writing, that condescension is entirely missing here.   This history book does not assume knowledge on the part of the reader, but at the same time does not present its material in such a way that the non-historian would be put off by it.

More after the Jump…Book Review: The Oxford Illustrated History of the First World War, edited by Hew Strachan

Book Review: Decisions for War, 1914-1917

           

Decisions for War, 1914-1917

In Decisions for War, 1914-1917, Richard Hamilton and Holger Herwig present a new thesis for the origins of World War I.   They argue that in all the belligerent countries the decision for war was made by a one person or at most a small group of individuals regardless of the type of government.   Given the wealth of material written about the origins of the First World War it seems incredible to me that this possibility has, if not been overlooked in all previous scholarship, then certainly ignored, as the authors claim[1].   While Hamilton and Herwig do not entirely discount that other factors than pure national self-interest on the part of the leaders played a role in the decision for war, they do contend that this was the overriding concern in most if not all of the wars belligerents.

            I found the book to be a fairly easy to read, the writing style was not as dry as might be expected given the topic of discussion.   Even though I do not necessarily agree with the authors, the book was fun and captivating to read.   They write with a style similar to what I try to achieve in my own writing.   It is written such that it is simultaneously engaging, factual, and descriptive, just a good read.   I do not have to agree with a book to enjoy it, and the authors certainly made reading this enjoyable.   It was laid out well and the chapters flowed in a logical progression, discussing each country in the order in which it declared war.  

More after the Jump…Book Review: Decisions for War, 1914-1917

Military Principles: Britain

To be honest, Britain did not go very far toward developing principles of war during the 19th century.  There were two reasons for this, 1. Britain was heavily committed in fighting small colonial wars such as the Indian Mutiny, and Boer War, not to mention numerous other small conflicts throughout their globe spanning colonial empire; and 2. They did not have a mass army.  In 1914 Britain could only field a small six division expeditionary force compared to the mass armies of Germany, France, and Russia. A short history of the 19th century British Army is probably called for here because it explains much.  After the defeat of Napoleon the British army … More after the Jump…

The Prussian General Staff

It has often been asserted that one of the things that set the Prussian/German Army apart from others is the General Staff System. I can buy that the Prussian General Staff was the best and has been widely imitated. I don’t know however, if the Staff System itself gave the Germans a decisive edge in warfare. Staff work counts most at the beginning of a conflict and the German experience in WWI shows that even the best staff work and fastest mobilization does not guarantee victory. It can allow a nation to drag a war out but is not a war winning advantage in and of itself. My reading of … More after the Jump…