HY 480 Week 10 Notes
HY 480 Week 10 Notes HY 480
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This 11 page Class Notes was uploaded by Rhiannon Hein on Friday April 1, 2016. The Class Notes belongs to HY 480 at University of Alabama - Tuscaloosa taught by Dr. Harold Selesky in Spring 2016. Since its upload, it has received 10 views. For similar materials see Survey of Military History in History at University of Alabama - Tuscaloosa.
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Date Created: 04/01/16
Griffith Chapter 1 Notes Paddy Griffith will locate a certain failure the full extent of British achievement, especially in the second half of the war. The fact that the war involved enormous frustration and sacrifice is evident, but more controversial is the underlying question of whether or not those disasters could have been avoided. o Most interpretations since the 1920s believe that it was largely the stupidity or inflexibility or the high command that prevented a timely adaption. According to this interpretation, the war was fought by “Lions led by Donkeys,” or by courageous soldiers who deserved far better leadership than they received. Haig’s 19 century mind couldn’t cope with a 20 century war. This critique carries particular weight in the first half of the war, when almost everything was improvised out of nothing. o Both the scientists and the soldiers were at an early stage in designing the shape of new warfare. There have been different motivations behind these interpretations: Populist mockery of the ruling class Widespread belief that if something goes badly wrong it must automatically be the fault of the man at the top. Haig held to the doctrine an officer must be ruthlessly stellenbosched (sent home) if his efforts end in failure. o It has always been notoriously difficult to figure out who should have stellenbosched Haig, and precisely when. The War Office was in the hands of career politicians who lacked st sufficient leverage to get Haig sacked for the 1 July debacle and later even Passchendaele itself. o Haig’s major critics, Lloyd George and Winston Churchill, eventually managed to argue themselves into a position according to which most of the decisive fighting should be entrusted to a combo of the Tank Corps an the Rumanian and Italian armies. This position surely would’ve led to a total defeat in the West. o Although Lloyd George never managed to get rid of Haig, by the end of the war he had undoubtedly emerged as by far the most prominent British politician. o We can agree that the combined efforts of Lloyd George and Churchill did add a certain dynamism to several aspects of the war’s prosecution. Both the tanks and the stokes mortar were given significant boosts, as was the adaptation of the convoy system in 1917. However, Lloyd George himself had accepted Haig’s misguided idea of an offensive at Ypres in 1917. He was personally very deeply implicated in the outcome of these events. Beyond the unavoidably crushing problems of technological development and the rapidly changing warfare, the high command too often willfully closed its ears to voices of reason from below and responded to hastily to imperatives from above. o Not even the most fervent apologists for the generals can ultimately exonerate them from blame for much of what went wrong. A second strand (and less felt) criticism is that the true failure is deemed to have lain less with a few inadequate personalities among senior generals and more with the entire lower echelon of its officer corps. Recently, a great deal of highly nationalistic historiography has been written by non Britons who have condemned almost the entire British effort in WWI as tactically worse than naïve. o The ‘colonial’ critique is based upon the cultural, political, and institutional separation from the mother country which allowed colonial troops to pursue slightly different patterns of organization and tactics than those advocated by GHQ and Haig. The German military is naturally elevated to a higher plane of military insight, but can we really trust such a view, given the fact that the Germans lost WWI completely? o Is it not more likely that in tactical affairs the Germans were stumbling along a track every bit as blind and halting as that of the British? It may be argued that the problems posed by new materials and technological conditions were simply too great to be capable of any solution at all. o The dissenting minority answer to the various “incompetence” theories is therefore that by and large the BEF did as well as could have possibly been expected. o Attempts to make scapegoats of Haig or Gough break down the fact that no one else could do any better and they failed to find a solution for the simple reason that there was no solution to be found. The question of competence or incompetence in the BEF’s leadership is political and strategic. o Whether or not Britian should’ve been involved in the first place, and whether it should have put as much stress it did on the Western Front. In technological terms the British were ahead of the Germans in practically every department, and yet, there did continue to be some tactical failures until the war’s end. o One of the reasons for this was the reluctance of generals to call off battles which had run out of steam, or to cancel attacks which didn’t have proper preparation. By 1916, however, sound principles had already been worked out, and in some aspects even earlier, and for the remainder of hostilities it was largely a matter of translating the theory into routine practice. the first two years of the British war effort represent the time of greatest amateurism, blundering, and fumbling. o It was the sacrificial but ultimately vital French efforts in 1915 and 1916, when most techniques of modern warfare were still in their infancy, that gave Britain the breathing space she needed to assemble and equip an army. o The generals have often and justly been criticized for the deficiencies of the prewar army. o However, by basing our view in the Great War tactics mainly on the first two years, we are restricting our ability to do full justice to whatever tactical mastery was finally achieved during the remainder of hostilities. By clearing our minds of the mistakes through with the BEF almost inevitably had to pass before it could take on the full burden of the second half of the war, can focus properly on the true quality of the final “finished product” itself. o Selesky will disagree with the statement that the BEF had to go through these mistakes, that it had to be a part of the learning process. It is the aim of the present book to investigate precisely how well or badly the mature British imperial war machine conducted tactical attacks during the second half of the war. o The high command enjoyed the full perspective of hindsight over its earlier mistakes and out to have known just what to do and what not to do. If the army was ultimately victorious, does that reflect and inherent ability to reform itself in the tactical field or was it simply a case of the big battalions inevitably winning a war of attrition despite slowness and failure of self reform? All of the new measures could be attributed to an increased awareness of the need for improved tactics and fighting methods at a time when the war was becoming inexorably and more professional, of to a tightening of the grip held by the top over the bottom of the heirarchy. o The degree to which tactical change was really driven by considerations of social control as opposed to practical responses in the face of new battle conditions makes a fascinating question which ahs by no means been decided. Another reason for concentrating on the second half of the war is that there seems to have been far more of it than there was on the first half. o While the British offensive battles of 1915 were niggardly in scale and short in duration, the British effort of the last two years was prodigiously vast. o The question of scale is worth analysis since many people imagine the Western Front to have been one vast uninterrupted battle. st 1 July was always seen as exceptional by almost everyone who had anything to do with it. o It was the “Bloody Sunday” or the “Tiananmen Square” which stood out from the less deadly, but nevertheless far more significant and corrosive structural violence all around it. The balance of serious action still rests heavily on the second half of the war. o It was only on and after 1 July 1916 that the main bulk of the British war effort was able to get fully up to top speed, so the date may be said to represent a very significant “changing of gear.” The present book will try to assess the eventual achievement of “the British staff officer” and his subordinates in the tactical field during the last two years of the war, especially in regards to the infantry. Kennedy Britain in WWI Notes I. The British were not particularly effective at the “sharp end” of battle fighting, and were slow to discover ways of improving their operational performance. a. Yet they were much better at grand strategy than Germany, having evolved a politicostrategic process to exploit the country’s natural advantages and balance means against ends. II. The strong points of the British system could help to mitigate the weaknesses which were exposed at the operational and tactical level but could not completely eliminate those weaknesses. III. This chapter will show that the tendency of Britain was for a gradual improvement in military and naval effectiveness. a. The British in 1914 were not very well prepared for actual conditions of battle. i. Since its empire had the strategic and economic capacity to endure a lengthy war, it had the chance to learn from experience and improve its fighting machine. 1. You can make stupid mistakes at the beginning if you have the resources to absorb those mistakes. IV. The real issue is not so much the actual enhancement of British military effectiveness as the question of why it took so long to improve operational performance. a. This is the central question—how do you assign blame? i. Kennedy: Kennedy believes that leadership simply wasn’t where it needed to be, that commanders didn’t know what they were doing and didn’t adjust as quickly as they could have to new fighting techniques. ii. Griffith: they hadn’t ever seen the rapid advances in technology before, how were they supposed to adjust to that so quickly? V. Because the British were forced by geographical and historical circumstances to campaign in four major areas, the assessments of British military effectiveness must be made not only according to the differing levels but also according to the particular campaign. VI. It still seems valid to argue that the overall tendency was for an improvement in Britain’s military effectiveness. VII. Although the politics of war in Britain were extremely heated and controversial, there was never much doubt of the broad political will to commit national resources until the enemy was defeated. a. There was almost no question that civilian opinion would provide the funds deemed necessary by military organizations. VIII. In acquiring the financial resources, there were also few obstacles. a. Britain was an immensely wealthy country, and while there were some questions about the consequences of paying for the war, there was less of a threat that resources would run dry. IX. Getting access to the industrial and technological resources needed to produce the right military equipment was an altogether more difficult area for the British. a. The story, however, is one of initial failures and steady improvements. b. One of the problems was that the equipment needed soon changed according to the experiences of conflict. c. The greatest problem was the completely unforeseen quantitative needs of the armed services when it was realized that it would be a long, drawnout, total war. X. The sheer number of areas in which British industry was found incapable of supplying the increased demands was very large. XI. While the British munitions manufacturers could and did produce both guns and shells in excess of the targets set in prewar plans, they could in no way meet the inflated demands made by the extended mass warfare along the Western Front. XII. The chief fault was not that of the armaments industry, but the chronically bad method of military contracting, the running down of the government’s own ordnance factories prior to the war, and the reliance upon private industry to close any gap. a. It’s not the actual infrastructure, it’s how you manage the infrastructure that makes the difference. b. Kennedy argues that they had seen enough, they knew enough, to do better than they did. XIII. There are two larger questions at play here: a. How viable was the British policy of “limited liability” (requiring no great armies and munitions) before 1914? b. How necessary and useful was the operational strategy of generals like French and Haig in blasting a potential breakthrough area with millions of shells? XIV. While it is necessary at this point to realize that material resources alone do not win wars, the inadequacies in equipment and supply certainly did affect British military effectiveness. XV. Britain was fortunate in one sense, in that the far larger French Army could take the brunt of the German military pressure in the west until half the British forces were ready. XVI. It should be noted that only in 1916, Haig possessed more than 1 million men under his command, and yet, these numbers were not enough. a. Conscription was introduced to the UK in 1916, a sign that recruitment was falling and controls over manpower were now replacing laissezfaire order. b. For much of 1917, Haig and his fellow generals pleaded for reinforcements. XVII. This manpower shortage reflected certain political, economic, and strategic priorities as much as demographic constraints. XVIII. Quality control is a lot easier to answer than the question of manpower. There is little evidence that the quality of the Royal Navy’s personnel guard was anything other than good. a. The biggest problem the British faced was in finding qualified manpower for the army. XIX. The political goals of Britain and its empire slowly changed during the conflict. a. First, the overriding strategic objective was the defeat of Germany and of that country’s perceived threat to British interests at sea and on land. b. It was difficult to see how Germany’s capacity to upset the European balance could be satisfactorily contained unless by total defeat. c. The political aim of forcing internal constitutional reforms upon the German elite was increasingly advocated. XX. Meanwhile, there was concern in some quarters that the total elimination of Germany would leave the British Empire exposed to the renewed ambitions of French and Russia. a. This helps to explain why the strategic objective of defeating Germany did not always seem to guarantee the longterm political goals of the British nation. XXI. Since the defeat of AustriaHungary was not central to British strategic objective, no great risks were taken to defeat the Habsburg monarchy. a. British strategy was essentially supportive and defensive. XXII. Defeating Turkey would, the British government felt, unequivocally secure certain political goals. a. It would allow the West to reestablish contact with Russia b. It would help sustain the country’s task of engaging the German forces in the east. c. Others argued that this defeat could bring territorial gains which would enhance the British Empire’s security in the Middle East and Persian Gulf. XXIII. In the naval war against Germany, there was both consistency and logic in British policy. a. The defeat of the High Seas Fleet was vital for Britain’s own strategic and economic independence. b. All accepted that command of the sea had to be preserved. XXIV. The land struggle against Germany, however, involved enormous costs which called into question the entire strategy of defeating Germany in the field. XXV. “If we are to condemn [the total commitment of British resources to the Western Front], we must distinguish three elements: a. Operational b. Strategic c. Political d. One may accept the war’s necessity on strategic and political grounds without endorsing the manner in which the operations were actually conducted. XXVI. In the early stages of the war, the prevailing assumption that the Liberal Cabinet was to let the service ministries get on with the fighting while the nation mobilized itself to provide the required resources. a. This was not satisfactory when it came to an ambitious new wartime venture, although hit had been satisfactory to the navy. b. It was also not satisfactory to individual Cabinet ministers who felt themselves entitled to have a voice in operational strategy. XXVII. The various ad hoc measures to the end of 1915 had still not synthesized political control, strategic deliberation, and executive authority. XXVIII. Only with further changes of 1915 and 1916 did structure really improve. XXIX. The real issue in British policy was the degree to which the political leadership could influence the military to achieve strategic goals by practicable means. a. There were repeated tensions between “frocks” and “brass hats” XXX. Despite the British traditions of imperial and naval campaigning, little in the way of adequate force size and structure was ready for war in extraEuropean operations. XXXI. The British also persistently underestimated the defensive capacity of the Turks. XXXII. In the surface war in the North Sea, the force size and structure was consistent with the defined strategic goals and courses of action. XXXIII. The size of the British forces in France was never enough to achieve the military goal of defeating the German Army during the first three years of the war. XXXIV. Behind the force structures themselves lay the larger logistical infrastructure, and the national industrialtechnical base. a. This base existed but it took a long time to mobilize it fully for wartime purposes. XXXV. Before the war, there was virtually no British airframe or aeroengine industry; it had to be constructed from scratch. a. Once again, the key problem was organization. XXXVI. The British army in France by 1916 was the largest, most complicated, and most comprehensive single organization ever evolved by the British nation. a. Provided Britain retained command of the area, access to raw materials was not a major problem. XXXVII. The real issue, in negotiating with Allies over strategic objectives, was the degree to which British resources should be concentrated along the Western Front. a. Strategic integration with Russia was for the most part impossible due to geographical constraints. XXXVIII. Strategic cooperation with Japan was never so important; perhaps for that reason, it was generally harmonious, although there were British political suspicions about Tokyo’s intentions with China. XXXIX. All these organizational steps would be useless if the British and their allies did not hit upon a strategy of damaging their foes without being more badly hurt themselves. XL. Command of the sea, and general control of the extraEuropean world, gave Britain, its allies, and its empires enormous advantages of flexibility in their operations against the German colonies and the outlying parts of the Turkish Empire. a. In these campaigns, British strengths were placed against the weaknesses of their foes. i. In operations that failed, the British possessed the strategic strengths but were unable to execute the design effectively. XLI. The war along the western front did not normally conform to this ideal of setting strengths against weaknesses. a. The British Army usually placed its strengths against an even more formidable German strength. XLII. At the operational level, the British Army and Navy fought their own wars and there was little interservice cooperation with regard to military campaigning. XLIII. Both services got increasing use out of their air forces, at first only for reconnaissance, and then for control of the skies above the trenches, and then as support for military operations. a. This process was a slow one and the Royal Navy in particular failed to exploit this new weapon. XLIV. Within the two main services, it seems evident that it took a long time before combined arms and integrated operational methods were used effectively. a. This was partly to do with the state of technology. XLV. During the first three years of warfare on the Western Front, the integration of the British Army’s operational methods and its ideas about combined arms were crude and simplistic. XLVI. In 1917—1918, however, a whole variety of new reforms occurred which promised much greater military effectiveness. a. These advances in combined arms theory were often vitiated by breakdowns in communication during actual battles, by technical failures, by infantry failing, etc. b. Much of this reform was generated at the divisional level and was not fully noticed at the top. i. These reforms, therefore, were piecemeal rather than uniform, and applied only late in the war. XLVII.British military organizations did not have a very good record in terms of operational mobility and flexibility (given the backwardness with respect to combined arms). a. Traditional defender of Haig argue that formidable obstacles meant easy successes were impossible. i. Many critics, however, assert that the blind repetition of setpiece assaults which never succeeded reveals the unimaginative and callous nature of senior officers. b. The consequences of these attitudes were disastrous. i. Officers who objected to futile attacks were regarded as suspect by their superiors. A low casualty rate was taken as evidence that a regiment was shirking and led to dismissals. c. These attitudes of the officers and the dismissals of their subordinates seems to imply that while changes could be tried out, they would be on a piecemeal basis, and that the army as a whole did not encourage reassessment. XLVIII. Part of the difficult which the British (and other) military organizations faced was that their operational concepts were not matched by the appropriate technology. a. The operational concept soon of longrange strategic bombing was developed before machines were ready to carry out such deep penetration missions. b. In the land war, the technology for a breakthrough offensive was not available until after 1917. c. However, while it is true that newer technology had to first be created, there was also a considerable distrust of anything that represented a threat to traditional fighting. XLIX. British military intelligence on the Western Front concentrated far too much of its attention upon the impossible task of guessing when the enemy would “crack.” L. British and French generals faced a problem of trying to defeat the formidable German Army in the field or of advising their political leaders that pressure should be applied elsewhere. a. The general staffs insisted upon a breakthrough victory on the Western Front, but trench warfare (beginning in late 1914) meant that a breakthrough would require even more men and more guns. LI. It was at the “sharp end” of war, the actual conditions of battle, that the British found it most difficult to be militarily effective. a. This needs a detailed analysis which makes allowance for differing requirements of land, sea, and aerial warfare. LII. The key issue for the Royal Flying Corps was not the tactical positioning of an aircraft of the flying formations, but whether the corps possessed planes fast enough and maneuverable enough to take on the German Albatros. a. When better aircrafts arrived, the high casualty rates for pilots dropped. LIII. The Royal Navy’s tactical record during the war was neither distinguished nor disastrous, but it improved over time. a. In the war against the Uboats, the convoy system placed British strengths against the weaknesses of attacking submarines. b. In the surface was in the North Sea, the British objective of maintaining command of the sea could usually be achieved by a waiting policy. i. If the High Seas Fleet did emerge, the intention was to engage and defeat. ii. Tactical weaknesses would’ve made success in battle less likely. c. For much of the war, the Royal Navy’s approach to tactical training still reflected its prewar conceptions of battle. LIV. It was easier to achieve unit cohesion in the Royal Navy in smaller commands. LV. The most controversial aspect of British tactical effectiveness remains the army’s performance on the Western front. a. Repeated failures here threatened to undermined British Grand Strategy and seemed to bleed to death most of the ablebodied male population. b. However, after nearly 4 years of failure, the British Army did manage to achieve a breakthrough in the summer of 1918. LVI. Given the unpromising circumstances the British had to deal with (Germans had the higher ground), it can be argued that there was no easy solution. a. The geographical and technological constraints meant that they could achieve success only through unrelenting pressure. LVII. However, it is also been argued that the British and French manpower losses were so sever because of the use of wrong tactical approaches. a. It’s often pointed out that, in the later stages of the war, officers in various national staffs came to see that tactics were crude, uneconomic, and hopeless, and that other tactics (surprise, restoring mobility) were possible. i. Kennedy believes that the British Army never utilized surprise and that this signals their ineffectiveness. LVIII. Two final points are worth making: a. There was no proven relationship between troop unrest and poor fighting capacity. b. It seems worth arguing that the widespread disillusionment and sense of futility were much more frequently a post1919 experience. i. Combatants returned home and wondered whether the socalled victory had been worth the appalling costs. LIX. If the discussion of the British Army’s tactical weaknesses along the Western Front presents a gloomy picture, it’s important to know that in 1917 things began to change. a. There are some obvious reasons for this transformation. i. The Passchendale operation had shown the sheer futility of setpiece, massbombardment offensives. ii. A considerable number of middle to senior officers were devoting their energies to improving British military effectiveness. iii. The artillery had evolved into a very powerful and forwardlooking arm. iv. The aerial war over the trenches was swinging in the direction of the Allies. b. All of these factors coincided with a marked improvement in tactical doctrine and training for the infantry. c. There was a revolution in British tactics, but it came late, was piecemeal, sand was not directed from the top. d. The overall conclusion must be: the British tactical record along the Western Front was not a good one, although it must be said that the German Army in situ showed few obvious weaknesses to be exploited. i. Even if the British tactics had been applied earlier, it cannot be proved that it would’ve led to a decisive victory. LX. Britain enjoyed certain very important strategic advantages during the First World War. a. It possessed a superiority in economic and industrial resources. b. By commanding the sea, it prevented Central Powers from getting access to overseas supplies. c. With an established array of colonies and bases, it wasn’t seriously challenged outside of Europe. d. Their own geographical position cramped the prospects of a strategic breakthrough by the High Seas Fleet. LXI. On the other hand, Germany possessed strategic advantages in the land campaigns. a. Any campaign to dislodge the German Army was going to be a hard one. b. Such victory was harder still for the British because of their military ineffectiveness in key areas. i. The Royal Navy’s performance revealed weaknesses in material, command, communications, and tactics. 1. The Admiralty was also slow to adopt countermeasures. ii. In the war along the Western Front, the generals repeatedly sent troops forward in unfavorable circumstances and only belatedly and partially agreed to the newer, more flexible tactics. iii. Much of the campaigning away from the Western Front was also inept. 1. This was exacerbated by tensions between soldiers and civilians and by institutions that did not allow for a full assessment of strategic possibilities. LXII. These structures should not cause one to forget the campaigns in which the British were extremely successful: a. The war in the air b. The post1917 defeat of the Uboats c. Allenby’s drive through the Middle East d. The penetration of the Hindenburg line. LXIII. However, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that British military effectiveness was only moderately good. a. Not possessing an adequate system for analyzing the operational and tactical conditions thrown upon by modern warfare and new technology, or for encouraging initiative and imagination, the British unwittingly retarded the prospects of solving some of the problems with which they were confronted.
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