My Great War lecture notes

E11 of Collected Articles


Management context: to use modern management theories and practices to better understand decision making in military history.

The military events of the Great War (in brief):

French enter Lorraine, stopped in front of Morhange and Sarrebourg. End of French Plan 19.
German central armies hold French at Charleloi.
Following Schlieffen Plan, German right wing advances through Belgium and Mons where it pushes back the BEF.
It loses 2 corps to Russia and closes up so turning inside Paris and exposing its flank – no repeat of siege of 1871.
Pushed back from Marne to the river Aisne where line stabilizes.
Professional BEF spent by First Ypres during Race to the Sea.

BEF’s inconclusive battles at Neuve-Chapelle, Aubers Ridge, Festubert, etc. Canadians hold German gas attack at Second Ypres.
French capture Notre Dame de Lorette ridge but not Vimy Ridge. First Champagne battle capture Perthes-les-Hurlus.
Major efforts: BEF at Loos-en-Gohelle, French at Souchez and Second Champagne.

French hold Verdun and break German lines at Fay on 1 July, Somme river.
BEF and the Somme.

Germans retreat to Hindenburg Line.
BEF and Battle of Arras, Canadians take Vimy Ridge. Meanwhile Nivelle’s Offensive on the Aisne leads to mutinies by many French units.
BEF successful at Messines ridge but suffer at Third Ypres (Passchendale) from July. Planned autumn sea-borne attack at Nieuwpoort supporting Third Ypres not implemented. First great tank attack at Cambrai in November is a draw.

Germans’ Spring Offensive uses up stormtroopers from Eastern Front. Australian’s great raid at le Hamel (4 July) lays solid foundations for BEF’s Battle of Amiens on 8 August. So begins the 100 days Advance to Victory.

Fundamental military issues:
• Peace could not come whilst Germans held the industrial heartland of France – hence limitations to political agreements whilst combatants still strong.
• Experience curve learning for fighting technological war based on explosives (shells and mining), machine guns, aircraft and tanks.
• Mobility by train networks made breaking through a continuous line difficult.
• Evolution of ‘bite and hold’ – take position, consolidate to prevent re-take, transfer bite to another part of the line and repeat – keeping defenders off-balance.
• All-arms small fighting units evolved from French at Verdun.
• Lessons about mobility led to Germans’ 1939 to 1941 ‘blitzkreig’ successes.
• The Great War can be seen within the context of the 1870 to 1945 expansion and eventual defeat of Greater Germany. The European Union now provides containment within a 50-year-old political structure.

The BEF’s Learning Curve
Five battles selected for each year:
• Aisne, 1914;
• Loos-en-Gohelle, 1915;
• Bazentin Ridge, 1916;
• Cambrai, 1917;
• Amiens, 1918.

Survey of 34 factors, military, topographical, environmental, etc, based on Likert 5-point Scale.
Statistically significant improvement in performance.

Second Battle of Champagne
• Why of interest? Pincer attacks at Champagne and Artois(with Loos) to begin clearing the large salient pointing at Paris.
• Objective; To clear the Germans off the Souain, Tahure and Mesnil ridges and to command the railway line from Challerange to Rheims and the Aisne.
• Actions; 5 thrusts from 25 September 1915 to 18 October 1915.
• Special features; Reverse slopes and crest-lines protect German trenches, destruction of 2 cavalry divisions on crest-lines, Petain’s Alpine 75 mm howitzers successful at Hand of Massiges.
• Outcome; Gain Tahure but held before tops of Souain and Mesnil, attackers and defenders each suffer 150k casualties.

GB/gnab – 20/2/2007