Stalemate Why There Was No Movement On

Stalemate: Why There Was No Movement On The Wester Essay, Research Paper Introduction The Western Front during the course of World War I was a virtual stalemate.There are a number of reasons for this lack of movement including tacticalunderachievements, technological improvements, and the hindrances caused by massiveopposing armies in a small, restrictive area.

Stalemate: Why There Was No Movement On The Wester Essay, Research Paper

Introduction The Western Front during the course of World War I was a virtual stalemate.There are a number of reasons for this lack of movement including tacticalunderachievements, technological improvements, and the hindrances caused by massiveopposing armies in a small, restrictive area. These, however do not include the veryimportant and often overlooked reason: lack of good leadership. Tactical Underachievements As is commonly known, Germany fought on opposite sides of the line from theFrench and English. Both sides had other Allies but we are concerned with the WesternFront which was mainly Germany versus France and England. Both sides developed warplans. Germany had the well-known Schlieffen Plan and the French had their Plan XVII.When the maneuvering had stabilized after the autumn of 1914 the Western Frontbecame well established. Soon to follow would be the entrenching of forces on bothsides. An important piece of the Schlieffen Plan was the establishment of a system ofreserves. The reserves were trained soldiers who did not serve on a full time basis.Although trained, these men would go back to their jobs in society. The reserves wouldtrain periodically throughout the year. These soldiers were essentially used as backups. InW.W.I these men would come up to the front to spell the regular fighting men in a majorcrisis. This system of reserves worked so well for Germany during their unification thatHelmuth Von Moltke (the senior) implemented this system in the Schlieffen Plan. Theother major powers of Europe adopted almost identical systems, with the exception ofEngland. She instead relied on her superior navy for security. The reserve systemprovided commanders the extra men to continue on in battles with heavy casualties. The mobilization rates for each country involved, varied. Germany s wasconsidered the most efficient. The least efficient mobilization rate belonged to Russia.This was due to the massive size of her army and the lack of railroads. It took theRussians a number of months to fully mobilize it s army. The only advantage to this wasthat Russia was still receiving fresh troops long after the Germans entire army had beenengaged in battle. The Schlieffen Plan was designed to attack France first and after defeating theFrench, turn its attention to the Russians. This order of events was planned as so becauseof the knowledge of the slow mobility rate of the Russian army. Germany actuallyoverestimated the ability of the Russians to mobilize. The Germans planned on theRussians taking six weeks to mobilize. However, the Russians were not fully mobilizedwithin this time span. With the German and French mobilization rates being rather closeto the same speed, the Germans gave the French and themselves between one and twoweeks. This gave the Germans roughly two months to execute the Schlieffen Plan. The Germans were aware of their slight numerical advantage over the Allies onthe Western Front. However, they also knew they would have to strategically beat theAllies for this operation to succeed. The Germans also were aware of the number ofsoldiers each side would have fighting, and they knew they must attack France veryaggressively. These great numbers of troops that would be involved would make a battlerestricted to the Franco-German border a virtual impossibility. The Schlieffen Plan calledfor two wings, a right and left. The right wing would be considerably stronger than theleft. This would cause the French to push the left wing back into Germany and at thesame time pulling the French in. The right wing would then storm through Belgium andcapture Paris and the French army, hopefully eliminating them from the war. The French plan didn t do much to set them up for victory. Plan XVII had no realstrategy, it depended on the idea that the French soldier was brave enough and hadenough guts to overcome bullets. The plan was to directly assault the German frontierwith reckless abandon. The idea was, you built up a firing line by advancing in smallrushes of detachments, then by the voloume of your fire you attempted to overcome thepeople who were either advancing against you or were shooting at you (Simkins, 305).This plan was rather zealous, however it did not change until was executed in August of1914. The Schlieffen Plan was changed though. Before it was implemented thecommander in charge of the plan, Schlieffen, was succeeded by the nephew of HelmuthVon Moltke of the same name. Moltke shrunk the size of the right wing. The ratio of 8:1,right wing forces to left wing forces respectively, was changed to 3:1. The weakenedright wing was probably the biggest cause of the failure of the Schlieffen Plan but not theonly. As expected in the opening of the campaign, the French attacked. they were easilyrepelled, not only because of an overzealous plan but also because they were still dressedin bright red-and-blue uniforms. The French soldiers were easily handled by theGermans. Not expecting such success against the French offensive, the German left wingcountered and drove back the French instead of drawing them in. This blunder saved theFrench from walking right into the trap. The strong right wing was having troubles of itsown. The British Expeditionary Force, which was considered the elite infantry of thatday, were holding up the right wing s advance through Belgium. Also, the Germancommander of the furthest right army feared he was not close enough to his companionon his immediate left so he ordered his men to close the gap a little. This in turn causedthe entire German forces to miss Paris altogether and subsequently caused the failure ofthe Schlieffen Plan. This plan was very well thought out, however the execution of it leftmuch to be desired. The French Plan XVII was a great compliment to the SchlieffenPlan. Had the commander of this plan executed it to perfection, would the war haveended much sooner? This is a question that will never be answered. After the failure of the Schlieffen Plan the two sides engaged in a race for thechannel coast. This did nothing to the final outcome except help stabilize the WesternFront. The only thing left to do was to dig in and not give up ground. At this point in time Erich Von Falkenhayn took over as commander of the armedforces in the west. Falkenhayn is probably famous for his bankrupt policy of winning thewar by attrition (Guinn). He believed that France could be beaten by attacking anddefeating one of their major strong points , Verdun. Falkenhayn intended to bleedthem white . This simply meant that if enough men and ammunition were used theycould either breakthrough relatively easy or completely pound the enemy intosubmission. This was the idea of attacking the enemy regardless of loss (Lloyd, 51).This method was tried and obviously didn t work. The Allies tried such tactics as well.They repeatedly attacked over the top. This type of warfare led to a French mutiny in1917. The French soldiers refused to attack in this manner any longer. It makes onewonder why the commanders in this war could not see the futility in such tactics. Toomany lives were sacrificed for the amount of territory gained which is measurable inyards.Technological Improvements This section deals with the advanced nature of technology in weaponry that came aboutin the first World War or shortly before it. It should be mentioned that the technologyitself was not the reason for the immobile nature of the Western Front. However, theinability of the commanders to adapt to this new type of weaponry was. In the 1800 sGermany became a unified country after the Franco-Prussian War. The tactics usedduring this confrontation won the war for Germany. With that war being the most recentin German and French history the commanders went with the mindset of don t fix whatisn t broken. The commanders also paid no attention to the examples of theRusso-Japanese War and the Second Boer War of 1899-1902, that clearly showed a needfor a more advanced way to execute in battle. With a little foresight the European powersmay have been able to avoid a deadlock or at least avoided the countless casualtiessuffered on both sides. The machine gun was a technological improvement for lack of a better word,that easily became a dominant factor on the Western Front. The French and English putlittle stock into the effectiveness of the machine gun. For the English a battalion manytimes only had two. The Allies quickly saw how easily and efficiently a machine guncould mow down an entire attacking battalion charging through No Man s Land. Thiswas the power of a single machine gun emplacement in a stretch of trenchline. TheGermans saw the usefulness of this weapon early on and promptly set up machine guncompanies along side their infantry companies. So it s obvious there were more than oneof these weapons along the miles of trenches. Both sides did not help themselves much in a charge towards the enemy s trench.The Allies more so than the Germans would use old, outdated tactics in an attack. Onehistorian writes, The infantry, which had advanced as on parade, keeping carefully dressed , had been slaughtered by machine gun fire (Guinn, 143). The men would lineup along the trench and rely on their superhuman speed and what the French referred toas cran and elan or more commonly known as guts to reach and overtake the enemy strench. When the first wave was gunned down the second, third, fourth, and sometimesfifth would follow suit. Reinforcing a line already halted by casualties simply resulted ineven greater losses without any corresponding advance (Simkins, 306). The number of weapons increased dramatically per division from 1914 to 1918.The average of machine guns alone went from twenty four per division in 1914 toanywhere from fifty to one hundred per division in 1918. This number alone shows thechange of heart concerning machine guns by the Allies. A second weapon that evolved technologically was artillery. Rapid fire,breech-loaded canons were the new artillery of the day. This was much faster than itsancestors who were loaded through the muzzle. The range of artillery and their efficiencyincreased as well. Commanders of the first World War were again stuck in the old way ofdoing things when it came to artillery. Both sides bought into the idea that artillerycoupled with a gutsy infantry was enough to overwhelm the enemy. As mentioned beforethe French army put more stock into this than any other. This idea was probablyattributed to the Napoleonic doctrine of the same strategy. What wasn t taken intoaccount by these commanders was Napoleon only used this strategy of a center thrustwhen he was numerically superior to his enemy. This is what Napoleon s reputationcame from. However, when Napoleon was outnumbered by his enemy he would usemaneuvers instead of an all out charge. The shells used in the first World War were much more different than those usedin Napoleon s day. The modern shells of the time were designed to explode, some withshrapnel. In Napoleon s day the shells of choice were not actually shells at all. They weresolid balls that would take out a number of troops that may have been stacked togetherlike bowling pins. Troops also would attack each other with bayonets because a musketdid not do much good when charging the enemy. This idea of charging became suicidewith the advent of the machine gun. A new type of weapon altogether was introduced on the Western Front: poisongas . The Germans were the first to use this weapon in the war in 1915. They used itagainst French troops. The French reaction to this unknown chemical weapon was tothrow down their weapons and flee. This caused a hole in the French line. This took theGermans by surprise. The Germans advanced a few miles and then just stopped. Theyfailed to take advantage of this rare opportunity. This raises the question of why did theyuse gas in the first place if they had no intention of it working? Had the Germangenerals been less skeptical of the new weapon, they could have exploited it moresweepingly (Lloyd, 54). When weapons are based on scientific knowledge such as poison gas they ceaseto be secret . The feeling even today is that advancements in science are not consideredthe sole property of one nation but are available for the advancement of everyone. So itgoes with scientific weapons as well. The Germans enjoyed a momentary advantage, butkeeping the last statement in mind the Allies quickly caught up. Soon after the first gasattack by the Germans, the Allies implemented gas warfare into their arsenal as well. Atthis point the poison gas was an advantage to neither side. Troops were now beingsupplied with gas masks which helped to make this weapon less affective. In the end gas

was more of a hindrance than a weapon. The total casualties from gas attacks were onlyabout 15% of the total casualties in the war. The question could be asked, why didn t the advanced technological weapons ofthe day cause a breakthrough for one side or the other? If these weapons were sopowerful and could crush the enemy why didn t they? The answer is because both sideswere crushing each other, both sides had these weapons. Battles of Significance The battles on the Western Front are an important aspect to consider when tryingto understand the immobility of this Front. The amount of casualties some of thesebattles produced were mind boggling. They were truly exercises in futility. Theunimaginative leaders in these battles were a large part of the continuance of lunacyportrayed in these campaigns. This displays itself well in a battle that took place on November 10, 1914 atFromelles. Young, German, bright-eyed troops who were trained by retired officers of theFranco-Prussian War made up the 48th Reserve Division. These youngsters were used toin a last ditch effort to break through the Allied positions. As was pointed out earlier,tactics hadn t evolved but technology had. These young students marched into battle as ifthey were in a parade. They had banners, drums, and they were even singing. On theother side of the line were trained, professional British army units. The result is all toopredictable. The 48th Reserve Division was slaughtered. This event is referred to as the Slaughter of the Innocents . As mentioned before at the Second Battle of Ypres in April 1915, Chlorine gaswas thrust into the war by Germany. The hole it produced in the French line of four and ahalf miles was considered a great opportunity for a German breakthrough. It was notexploited. This could have given Germany a great advantage and possibly turned the warin their favor. However, as was all too common in the Great War, the leadership (in thiscase Falkenhayn) stopped after gaining merely two miles. The battle of Verdun is another campaign that should be looked at as an exercisein futility. To demonstrate this point, all the further one has to look is to the attackingarmy s (Germany) commander, Falkenhayn. This battle was the first of the big-push type attacks by the Germans. The thing to focus on in discussing this battle is theintention of Falkenhayn. Now one would think a commander would try to set up his armyto be victorious. Falkenhayn s idea of doing this was to try and beat France over the headuntil they submitted. In Falkenhayn s ultimate wisdom, he chose a city that he knew theFrench would defend to the last man. However, it was never about capturing the city ofVerdun. It was about bleeding the French white . He didn t want the city but he didwant to break the French. Falkenhayn estimated that three French soldiers would die forevery one German soldier. This battle was not as clean cut as he thought it would be.This battle turned into a slaughter house. The French were not as easy to defeat and werenot dying three times more than Germans. The ratio was almost 1:1. It was obvious theGermans were not gaining much ground. When even Falkenhayn had seen enoughbutchering Disastrously, an order went out to press the attack regardless of loss (Lloyd, 51). Over a million men from both sides lay dead and no significant amount ofterritory changed hands. The Allies were not exempt from these type of battle plans. The British executedtheir idiotic campaign in the First Battle of the Somme. The British Kitchener Army wereyoung and exuberant but most of all naive troops. The plan of attack in this campaignwas similar to what had already been tried and failed. All they did was get out of thetrenches and stroll acrossed No Man s Land. However, there was on redeeming qualityabout this attack, the officers actually were out in front leading the charge. Suffice it tosay, this attempt of an absurd tactic failed yet again. The tragedy was that for severalmonths, and through no fault of their own, the men were trained for a type of openwarfare which bore little or no resemblance to the conditions they would meet on theWestern Front and else where (Simkins, 304). At the end of the first day alone there was60,000 casualties. At the end of the first day the results were clear. Along the Northerntwo-thirds of the British line of attack there had been absolutely no progress (Guinn,143). This continued for four months. Around a million or more men were killed in onecampaign and very little ground was gained. There were some attempts to try new tactics that had a lot of potential to besuccessful. One of these attempts was the first time tanks were used to break theopponents defense. This was in Cambrai at the end of November, 1917. More than threehundred tanks were used by the British to break the German line. It was successful indoing just that. One day produced a territorial gain of six miles for the British. However,just as the Germans did in breaking through the French line with gas, the tanks juststopped. The Germans then quickly plugged the hole. The questions posed for both of these incidents is why did they stop? It isundeniable that these successes had the potential to lead to great victories and perhapsonce again create movement on the Western Front. The exploitation of these rareopportunities were not carried out . A big contributor to the failure of thesebreakthroughs was lack of men left. Astronomical numbers of casualties were piled forboth sides in battles like The First Battle of the Somme and Verdun. The Calvary wasunable to come and clean up or catch the enemy on the defensive simply because therewasn t a Calvary any longer. The biggest change in tactics was the overall approach and objective. Instead ofthrowing men at fortified strong points in the vain hope of somehow weakening them, afew commanders intended to exploit the weak points of the enemy. This idea seems to bean obvious way to conduct a war. However, as the Western Front had showed itapparently wasn t at this time. One example of this new way of thinking was theGermans Kaiserschlacht offensive in 1918. The Germans used the machine gun in anattack capacity which proved to be affective in the Spanish-American War. They alsoused what is called drumfire barrage. This was using artillery very heavily for a shortamount of time to shock the enemy and put them on the defensive. Also the men carryingout the attack were troops specifically trained for speed and assault. In other words, thesetroops were trained to get to the enemy using better methods than just running and tryingto beat bullets with guts. These men executed this offensive as they had planned to. Theresult falls into the same pattern that the past few battles have. There is a breakthroughand the troops stop. The commanders had no idea what to do when a break in stalematetook place and they didn t have enough men to do something if they did. Obviously theydidn t think that far ahead. These battles do show, however, that there were some lateattempts at the evolution of tactics. The problem is that it was too little, too late.Leadership The last three sections have all talked about different aspects which had a hand inthe lack of movement on the Western Front. There has in these sections, been anunderlying theme: lack of good leadership. True, the advancement in technology createda major stumbling block, but not one too big to overcome. At this point one mustremember both sides possessed this technology. When the playing field is evened by thelack of having an advantage in weaponry, then the tactics become crucial. Tactics thenreflect on the ability of the leadership. The first ground roots aspect of leadership is training. If a man is not trained welland he is thrown into a situation of combat he obviously will have a lack of confidence.If many men like this are put into a battle that lasted the amount of time most of thebattles of the war did, their morale will diminish much more quickly than trained menwill. This isn t to say that none of these soldiers were trained. That would be a falsestatement. The British had a long standing tradition of military and their troops on awhole had better training than any other country in the war. The Germans were trainednot as well but close to the British. The French were not trained near as well as theBritish or the Germans. How much training is needed if the philosophy of yourcommanders is to fight and rely on guts? These men that did have sufficient training werewasted. The poor leadership used them up in mindless engagements such as Verdun andthe Somme. Needless to say the armies were dwindling at the front and more troops wereneeded quickly. This obviously caused the level of training to decrease. Take a look atthe Kitchener Army. Insufficient attention was paid during the training of Kitchener sarmy to its adaptation to the special conditions of trench warfare and the domination ofthe open ground by machine guns and artillery (Simkins, 306). These soldiers didn t getthe training to keep them alive, not that it would have done them much good consideringthe way they attacked. It is no wonder the French army had so much mutiny in 1917. Morale is a very strong and important aspect of leadership. This only makessense. Men who don t have confidence don t have good morale therefore they do notfight to win. Sun Tzu is regarded as the earliest military theorist. He makes an importantpoint regarding morale and lack of movement, Victory is the main object of war…delay… [means] morale [is] depressed (Crane, 13). There were years of delay on theWestern Front. Napoleon knew the importance of leaders upholding the morale of theirtroops, he says, The morale is to the physical as three is to one (Crane,13). Napoleondid this with great skill. Opponents of his by the names of Wellington and Blucher, bothhave said that Napoleon s presence on the battlefield was worth an additional 40,000men (Crane, 14). French leaders shunned the thought of a mobile front. A memo from the FrenchGeneral Headquarters that was dated May 1, 1918. says, Americans dream of operatingin open country after having broken through the front. This results in too much attentionbeing devoted to this form of operation (Crane, 15). This is a great example to show thebackwards thinking of some of the Allied commanders. B.H. Liddell Hart was a captain on the Western Front. He wrote a book calledStrategy and in this book he repeatedly mentions one major point. Successful tactics inmilitary are of the kind of maneuvering and attacking indirectly. This was demonstratedby General Black Jack Pershing. He often used machine guns on the attack and artilleryfor close support. This tactic was used successfully by the Strosstruppen in theKaiserschlacht offensive and also in the Spanish-American War. He also used artillery tocut off the enemy. He would use this barrage of artillery not against the enemy trenchesbut instead to destroy sensitive points such as communications, railheads, etc. Hisintentions, although they were not new in the history of war, seemed almost innovativecompared to Western Front tactics up to this point. Western Front commanders for yearsdid not show an attitude or even an intention to win the war. If they had they would haverealized the craziness of their decisions and reverted their tactics to what was proven towin wars. These commanders were truly fighting a war of attrition. They took on theattitude of if we have more men standing after it is all said and done, then it is a victory.The price of that victory was never considered. Conclusion The First World War was a war of little movement. The forces of Germany werepitted against the forces of France and England. The war was not intended to last as longas it did and it was not intended to be a stalemate. After the failure of the Schlieffen Planthe Western Front was established and it didn t move for four years. Some of the reasonsfor this were outdated tactics, new technological weapons, soldiers of great numberswere fighting in small areas, and the greatest reason was lack of good leadership. Withthe advent of machine guns and rapid-fire artillery, old tactics of charging at the enemywere no longer feasible to win a war. Machine guns could drop entire battalions. Theleadership of both sides failed to adapt their tactics to the new age of fighting. The resultof this was millions of deaths on both sides. New tactics were attempted but made no realdifference with the lack of soldiers to exploit the breakthroughs they created. Could thedeadlock of the Western Front have been different had it been fought differently? Thisquestion is one that cannot be answered for sure. BIBLIOGRAPHYBlundering to Glory: Napoleon s Military Campaigns. , Owen, Connelly. ScholarlyResources, Wilmington, DE. 1987British Strategy and Politics 1914 to 1918. Guinn, Paul. Oxford University Press,Oxford. 1965Kitcheners Army. Simkins, Peter. Manchester University Press, Manchester and NewYork. 1988Sun-tzu ping fa. English. Sun tzu. Quill, New York. 1993The War in the Trenches. Lloyd, Alan. William Clowes & Sons, Ltd., London. 1976The Static Front. Crane, Michael J. 1989.Downloaded 4/20/98 from kansite/ww_one/comment/crane.htm