Jump to content
The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Zuber and Mons


phil andrade
 Share

Recommended Posts

The Mons Myth...this book displeased me when I saw it in the Imperial War Museum shop this morning.

Having said that, I've just gone and bought it on Amazon....it's no good me shying away from an account just because it doesn't comply with my preferred way of thinking. We've been through all this before in that classic thread "The Machine Guns of Mons", and, by the way, many of the things we mentioned in that heated debate are apparent in Zuber's book, too. The Germans did not come forward in great masses and get mown down in swathes by British musketry : they exhibited much skill in their tactics of firepower and movement, and succeeded in encircling and overwhelming British battalions. German casualties have been exaggerated in British accounts. If you like to think about fifteen rounds rapid giving the Germans a bloody nose and teaching them a lesson in tactics, then this book will upset you. On the other hand, if the German soldiers were as good at outfighting their Anglo-French enemies as Zuber will have us believe, then this serves to nuture our sense of wonder that they lost the war.

Phil

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks for that Phil, I didn't realise it was already "out".

Zuber prompts you to re-examine you own "beliefs" if nothing else. If it's like his "Ardennes" book which I found very "stimulating" it may suffer from an over-reliance on German unit histories which he tends to take as gospel.

Nonetheless I will probably get a copy as his books do contain an awful lot of dry information and as a non-German speaker I am very restricted in looking at the Great War from the German perspective (Mr Sheldon apart !)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The traditional images of the battles of Mons/Le Cateau meant as much to me as those of the Alamo do to Texans. It hurts to see them challenged, let alone demolished. But if scholarship is to prevail, we must forego the appeal of romantic history and address reality. I suspect that Zuber " doth protest too much", and might be as prone to exaggerating German tactical superiority as our home grown British historians have extolled that of the Old Contemptibles. Anyway, the book arrives in the next day or two, so I'll read it properly and keep an open mind....

Phil

Link to comment
Share on other sites

If it's like his "Ardennes" book which I found very "stimulating" it may suffer from an over-reliance on German unit histories which he tends to take as gospel.
I find this far more helpful than the converse, which is the complete absence of information from German unit histories. Worse still, a few quotes from Bloem and Juenger. For Mons, there is lots of information about the British side of the story. The bigger problem with Mons will be, as we discovered in the MGs at Mons thread, that the full details of the British units have not been studied adequately yet. There are lots of clues, as pointed out in the aforementioned thread, that all was not as well in the British defence of the Mons area as many historians have made out.

Robert

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The Mons Myth...this book displeased me when I saw it in the Imperial War Museum shop this morning.

Having said that, I've just gone and bought it on Amazon....it's no good me shying away from an account just because it doesn't comply with my preferred way of thinking. We've been through all this before in that classic thread "The Machine Guns of Mons", and, by the way, many of the things we mentioned in that heated debate are apparent in Zuber's book, too. The Germans did not come forward in great masses and get mown down in swathes by British musketry : they exhibited much skill in their tactics of firepower and movement, and succeeded in encircling and overwhelming British battalions. German casualties have been exaggerated in British accounts. If you like to think about fifteen rounds rapid giving the Germans a bloody nose and teaching them a lesson in tactics, then this book will upset you. On the other hand, if the German soldiers were as good at outfighting their Anglo-French enemies as Zuber will have us believe, then this serves to nuture our sense of wonder that they lost the war.

Phil

What's distressing about it, Phil? Haven't you twigged on yet – if his previous offerings are anything to go by then Terence "the Schlieffen plan never existed, it was an invention of the German high Command after the war to excuse their failings" Zuber is no more than an American exponent of the Lions led by Donkeys school from the German side - hardly an original concept, is it?

And, now that all this “new German” material has come to light, which leads many to clap with joy at finally being given the “truth”, how long after Zuber’s Lions led by Donkeys take on things will we see a German revisionist school arising from the same material?

Cheers-salesie.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Like everyone else, I have not read this book yet, but I have been presenting the Battle of Mons for years on battlefield tours in precisely the terms that Robert describes. Ralph Whitehead's work is starting to show that the figures for casualties published in the German regimental histories are at least extremely close to the final computed figures and in private communications to me he has shown that for Le Cateau, for example, the total variations are within single figures - therefore statistically irrelevant, if not in human terms of course.

That being the case, if Terry's work points to gross exaggeration concerning losses allegedly inflicted by British units, I shall not be a bit surprised. The forbears of my own regiment fought with great gallantry at Mons and throughout the retreat, but I strongly doubt a number of the assertions made by their historians. To give you one example, 2 SLanR, which took a terrible pounding at Frameries on day 2, withdrew under fire, suffering more casualties in that one action than their predecessors had during the entire Peninsular War. In the aftermath, Lt Col C Wanliss, the CO, wrote an account in which he acknowledged that during the course of the battle the Germans manoeuvred, until his men were taken in enfilade, but he goes on to say that the crews of his two machine guns, which were wiped out in the action, prevented complete disaster through their sacrifice, by stopping the battalion from being totally outflanked before it could withdraw. So far so good, but then he spoils it all by stating in a phrase that has echoed down the years, 'However, they did their work well and probably accounted for something like 1,000 Germans.' I am afraid the answer to that is, 'In your dreams.'

IR 64 acknowledged the bravery of the British and the skill with which the fighting withdrawal was conducted, but it was the machine gun detachment of this regiment, commanded by Lt von Quast, which did the South Lancashires so much damage firing from the top of a slag heap. By its own admission, it suffered 'heavy losses' during the action, especially amongst its 1st Bn which was particularly involved: 3 officers and fifty OR killed, 8 officers and 207 men wounded and fourteen OR missing. Of course other regiments were involved in and around Frameries, but so were other British units so, if Wanliss was right, no other man from any British unit hit anybody. Is this probable?

Anyway I am going to read what Terry has to say with interest.

Jack

Link to comment
Share on other sites

A mis-representation of Zuber's work, salesie. His book on the Ardennes is far more sophisticated than you suggest.

Robert

So sophisticated, Robert, that it leaves us with fundamental questions about his conclusions, such as: If, as according to Zuber in his Ardennes book, the German army won these early encounters because they were much better trained, and applied sounder tactics and better lower-level leadership than the French - howcome the French 5th army turned at Guise on the 29th August and inflicted a sharp set-back on the German 2nd army, and some days later the whole French army turned, fought and stopped the Germans cold on the Marne then drove them back north - had they suddenly become better trained than the Germans?

Cheers-salesie.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

By its own admission, it suffered 'heavy losses' during the action, especially amongst its 1st Bn which was particularly involved: 3 officers and fifty OR killed, 8 officers and 207 men wounded and fourteen OR missing.Jack

Jack Those 282 casualties that you mention : were they for the whole of IR64, or just for the 1st Bn ?

I remember reading a reference you made to that fight, and it cited the diary of a young German officer who supervised the burial of the dead, and he mentioned 169 Germans being buried as against 135 British soldiers - a figure that indicated two things : that the Germans did suffer somewhat heavier casualties in killed and wounded than the British, although not to the extent that British folklore would have us believe; and that German accounts are - in this case at least - fairly accurate and honest appraisals of what happened on the battlefield.

Phil

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Zuber has provided very significant insights (along with those sections of Jack's books covering the same period) that help answer the fundamental questions you have raised. More work is needed, of course, but this doesn't include throwing out Zuber's effort because you don't believe that the Germans could have been better trained, applied sounder tactics and had better lower-level leadership. FWIIW, I have been examining French training techniques and the concerns raised by Joffre et al pre-war. In addition, work is ongoing to examine how the French responded to the tactical defeats inflicted by the Germans. Lastly, there are many aspects of the fundamental questions that have not been addressed by Zuber because they lie outside the scope of his book.

Robert

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Zuber has provided very significant insights (along with those sections of Jack's books covering the same period) that help answer the fundamental questions you have raised. More work is needed, of course, but this doesn't include throwing out Zuber's effort because you don't believe that the Germans could have been better trained, applied sounder tactics and had better lower-level leadership. FWIIW, I have been examining French training techniques and the concerns raised by Joffre et al pre-war. In addition, work is ongoing to examine how the French responded to the tactical defeats inflicted by the Germans. Lastly, there are many aspects of the fundamental questions that have not been addressed by Zuber because they lie outside the scope of his book.

Robert

To avoid any confusion, Robert, are you saying that German tactical success in these early battles can be attributed to better training, application of tactics and lower level leadership - but when it comes to allied tactical successes shortly afterwards then the reason for sucess has yet to be discovered but investigations are continuing? And, saying that Zuber had every right to ignore such fundamentals, because the scope of his book is restricted, even though such fundamentals make his restricted-in-scope conclusions seem highly suspect to say the least? In analogous form, saying that Zuber's conclusions should not be criticised because he only wrote about the "Titanic" not the "iceberg"?

Cheers-salesie.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

To avoid any confusion, salesie, I am saying that you adopt a simplistic reductionist view of anything 'German'. The issues are more complex than you wish to make them (just to pre-empt another usual response, I know that Germany lost the war ;) ). For example, I never said, or implied, that Zuber ignored fundamentals.

Robert

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Phil

Those figures are for the whole of IR 64, which was just one of the regiments involved at Ciply/Frameries, just as 2 SLanR was only one of the British units there. I do not know if you are familiar with the area, but it was and is a straggly built-up sort of place, so the fight through from start to finish was quite complicated. I do not want to get into a detailed discussion of casualties here, though I suspect that Terry will have looked at it. I know that he consulted every single available German regimental history during his research.

I cannot rmember where I picked up the report to which you refer. I should have to go looking for it again. However, I do not think that it invalidates my point. IR 24 (of Douaumont fame) was also in and around Frameries, but mostly in a different part of it - they came across Scots casualties, for example. They, too, had high cas, more than IR 64, but who knows who inflicted them? - certainly not a pair of machine guns covering one small part of the battlfield. So even if there was a total of 1,000 German casualties during the battle, Wanlis was still wrong and what he wrote misleading.

Jack

Link to comment
Share on other sites

To avoid any confusion, salesie, I am saying that you adopt a simplistic reductionist view of anything 'German'. The issues are more complex than you wish to make them (just to pre-empt another usual response, I know that Germany lost the war ;) ). For example, I never said, or implied, that Zuber ignored fundamentals.

Robert

That's rather churlish of you, Robert - you know as well as I do that Germany losing the war was much more to do with long-term strategic reasons not short-term tactics, and thus, in many ways, is irrelevant to Zuber's conclusions about the early fighting in the Ardennes.

There are those who see immense complexity as being more "truthful" than simplicity, and thus are never satisfied until they have complexity, and this school tends to be more theoretical than pragmatic, yet one of the most prominent theorists that ever lived, Albert Einstein, summed it up thus, "If you can't explain your theories in simple terms then you don't fully understand your own theories". And, it seems to me, that we are in one of those situations when discussing Zuber's conclusions, and the fairly recent trend that in many ways eulogises the German army of 1914.

Those who support this trend tend to point to German pre-war training as being superior, and point to this superiority manifesting itself on the battlefield. But when reminded of the fact that in war, more than in any other field of human endeavour, it is results that count more than any other facet, they seem to automatically reach for the "it's more complex than that" argument, especially when it's pointed out that the German army never achieved any of its objectives in the west in 1914. Their answer seems to be almost universal i.e. it's a simple matter of "training and application" when discussing German tactical success, but "it's much more complex than that" when asked about allied tactical successes shortly afterwards in the same campaign. Come off it, Robert, do you seriously expect us to accept that load of old flannel?

It may be over-simplified to you, Robert - but to me it seems quite valid to ask the question I asked earlier. Because, if this oh so simple question is not adequately answered then this whole premise of Zuber's is seriously undermined i.e. how can “superior training and application” of the Germans be used as a fundamental cause for tactical success if just afterwards the, by definition, “inferior training and application” of the French turned the tables on the previously superior Germans?

It's not a case of complexity, Robert, it's a matter of logic i.e. if this theory of Zuber's is valid then why did the superior suddenly become the inferior shortly afterwards? And whether the answer is complex or simple, it must surely also apply equally to the earlier assumption of superiority, because, as sure as eggs is eggs, Joffre can't have given his army enough extra training in two weeks, or the German army can’t have forgotten all their training in a fortnight?

Cheers-salesie.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thank you, Jack.

Might it be that the British people are especially susceptible to the power of the myth in their folklore about the Great War ?

Of course, before we accept that, we must not forget that the German people were themselves led astray by the most pernicious myth of all : that the German army was undefeated in 1918, and was stabbed in the back.

Phil

Link to comment
Share on other sites

... Joffre can't have given his army enough extra training in two weeks, or the German army can’t have forgotten all their training in a fortnight?
salesie, as I mentioned in my previous email, this is precisely what is being looked at. The degradation of German tactical effectiveness has been examined in more detail by Holger Herwig, though there is a lot more work to be done on this. I suspect that Jack's forthcoming book on First Ypres is going to shed further light on this issue. I have been collating evidence on the relative lack of French training (and the severe shortages of NCOs, etc), as well as the steps taken after the defeats in the Battle of the Frontiers. There were operational issues that influenced the outcome of the first weeks of the war, which must be considered over and above the purely tactical.

Robert

Link to comment
Share on other sites

salesie, as I mentioned in my previous email, this is precisely what is being looked at. The degradation of German tactical effectiveness has been examined in more detail by Holger Herwig, though there is a lot more work to be done on this. I suspect that Jack's forthcoming book on First Ypres is going to shed further light on this issue. I have been collating evidence on the relative lack of French training (and the severe shortages of NCOs, etc), as well as the steps taken after the defeats in the Battle of the Frontiers. There were operational issues that influenced the outcome of the first weeks of the war, which must be considered over and above the purely tactical.

Robert

That's better, Robert, and pretty much sums-up my problem with Zuber's oh so narrow conclusions.

Cheers-salesie.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thank you oh mighty one :lol: . If you had taken the time and respect to read the previous email(s) then we could have got to this point without you resorting to derogatory remarks, etc ;)

Robert

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I read Zuber's book on the Ardennes and was not happy with it. I thought he exaggerated the superiority of the German Armies over the French. I was left wondering how they managed to get checked at the Marne. I also pointed out that his book was a mine of information although not always presented in a manner which was easy to assimilate. I will probably buy this latest book at some point. As has been stated, he does a tremendous amount of research. I do not doubt his facts and figures for an instant but I will probably draw my own conclusions from them. One of the reasons that French armies could turn the tables on the German ought to be fairly obvious. The Germans had marched from Germany, through Belgium and half across France. They had fought running battles with the Entente for much of the way and now were confronted by fresh armies. They could well have been better trained and led, especially at company and battalion level but they were cream crackered and suffering from an over extended LoC.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thank you oh mighty one :lol: . If you had taken the time and respect to read the previous email(s) then we could have got to this point without you resorting to derogatory remarks, etc ;)

Robert

I did read them, Robert - and I've just re-read them, and you were, somewhat indignantly, clearly making excuses for Zuber instead of saying that he may be wrong in his conclusions because much bigger operational forces were almost certainly in play spanning the very narrow scope of his book (which is how I interpreted your later post, and was in fact the rationale underpinning my original, highly pertinent question).

Contrary to popular belief, I am open to cogent argument vis-à-vis German army effectiveness compared to the allies, but I'm certainly not going to accept efforts like Zuber's at face value by ignoring the glaringly obvious questions his work leaves in its wake; questions that cast serious doubt, as demonstrated earlier by me, on the validity of the author’s conclusions.

Apart from that I’m quite happy, oh learned one. :lol:

Cheers-salesie.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I read Zuber's book on the Ardennes and was not happy with it. I thought he exaggerated the superiority of the German Armies over the French. I was left wondering how they managed to get checked at the Marne.
Tom, I understand but Zuber's book should not be read as a definitive account of the Battle of the Frontiers as a whole. Even less so the Battle of the Marne. Zuber has addressed a specific set of battles, those that occurred in the Ardennes. There is no doubt that the Germans emphatically won the engagement battles. Even without Zuber, that much is very clear from the historical records. Zuber stopped his analysis at the end of the two days of battles, but there are hints of the French ability to handle rearguard actions effectively (and the German inability to counter these actions as effectively). The checks on the Marne involved a number of other factors coming into play.

I have studied several of the French accounts, and some of the German accounts. While I disagree with some of Zuber's generalisations, FWIIW, his analyses of the battles are very good. One of Zuber's most significant conclusions is that blind adherence to the doctrine of l'offensive à outrance was not the cause of the French problems. This is a very important contribution, IMHO.

I have also looked at the British records of Mons in great detail, as well as some of the German sources. I am really looking for to getting Zuber's book on this battle too.

Robert

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Contrary to popular belief, I am open to cogent argument vis-à-vis German army effectiveness compared to the allies...
Excellent, because you are correct when you suggest that it does not seem like it to others.

Robert

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Excellent, because you are correct when you suggest that it does not seem like it to others.

Robert

Do you think I'd be more popular, Robert, if I accepted that the best team lost in 1914, and/or that the BEF just got lucky, and/or that all the allied history, war diaries, eye-witness accounts etc. are seriously flawed and that the contradictory German ones aren't, and/or accept the excuses you tried to fob me off with when I criticised Zuber? Do you think that would make me more popular?

No need to answer, Robert, these are rhetorical questions - the first thing that came into my head when reading your post.

Cheers-salesie.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

No, it is not about making, or agreeing with, 'populist' ideas. It is about discussing things in a more respectful way, without suggesting that people are trying to 'fob' you off, or using what some people perceive as derogatory terms, or without seeming to dictate how people should respond to your posts, or adopting a seeming superior air and then stating you won't continue to participate if someone doesn't seem to play to your 'rules'.

Robert

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I am very interested in this next step of Zuber's! The American editions are always behind the British ones -- less-expensive but behind. If this author does nothing else he certainly makes us think and to me he is very much worth considering as he brings up great food for thought. So this next one should add another piece. I posted this quote in another thread quite a while ago after his book on the Ardennes made us start thinking. Look at the debates this guy's ideas have fostered.

I read this book and I'm quite thankful that Zuber brings up so many issues to make you think. He really stirs the pot and as long as you can get over some bias it is well worth struggling through.

We did not refer to this book at all when doing the Handbook of Imperial Germany. In 20/20 hindsight that was probably a very good idea. We have many many many disagreements with the way that this book has been presented. We think it is a great thing that he tackled the subject but I think there are some serious shortfalls. Of course I am also biased however I would highly recommend anybody interested in this subject read appendix D. of the Handbook of Imperial Germany. This covers the development of tactics and doctrine as well as equipment in the German army from the Franco Prussian war to the start of World War I. It is heavily footnoted to the original sources and will give you a significantly different view of development than you receive from Zuber.

I do not accept his premise about operational and strategic warfare and I think it is one thing that really limits understanding in the book. The other one is that the sources used do not trace development and therefore are taken in many cases out of context. While appendix D. does not cover the detail of this book there are whole concepts of German marksmanship training and German marksmanship that are just ignored. For instance:

QUOTE

"Gefechtsschießen" was completely different. "Schulschießen" should improve the musketry skills of the single soldier, whereas "Gefechtsschießen" (probably translated best as kind of combat style life firing exercise) was carried out on platoon level usually. Complete infantry platoons in peace-time strength (about 50 men) had to engage targets on what they assumed to be combat distances between 800 and 1,600 metres. At these distances "Gefechtsschießen" didn't try to engage single targets by single infantry rifles but tried to engage bigger targets by volley fire carried out by the entire platoon. Later with having the M/88 and the M/98 infantry rifles "Gefechtsschießen" was carried out up to 2,000 metres. To link-up with "Schulschießen" "Gefechtsschießen" was divided into "Gefechtsschießen" of the individual soldier starting at 250 metres and going up to 600 metres. At 500 to 600 metres single targets were replaced by kind of sqaure targets (single targets usually showed the silhouette of a single kneeling soldier, sqaure targets were groups of those individual targets indicating an enemy infantry squad). Only after completing these exercises "Gefechtsschießen" of the complete platoon at higher distances stated.

QUOTE

Zuber is right about the estimated trajectory. Firing with 700 metres sights the bullets would fall between 640 and 760 metres during to wind, wear of barrel etc. not estimating the target error of the individual soldier. A further difficulty was made up by moving targets (or rapidly moving targets like cavalry and horse artillery. Therefore each company usually had at least one soldier to estimate target distance (later equipped with an optical range finder) reporting target distance to the company or platoon commander. The platoon commander who had usually broken up his platoon into two to three "pelotons" (French word meaning kind of firing unit or firing squad) commanded direction and range to his platoon making sure that the pelotons set different sights. To engage a target at 700 meteres sights were usually set at 600, 700 and 800 metres to cope with the dispersion of the rifles and the scattering of the infantrymen.

I think that makes clear that individual musketry was usually trained on rifle ranges at 100 - 400 metres distance. Only once a year there was a chance to practice on higher distance usually in the corps training centers. This "Gefechtsschießen" or "gefechtsmäßiges Abtheilungsschießen" was not done to further improve individual marksmanship beyond 400 or 500 metres (which would be bloody nonsense) but to practice volley fire of complete platoons or even companies. This volley fire on higher distance was a kind of machine-gun fire before machine-guns were invented. Therefore "Gefechtsschießen" was rather perceived as kind of tactical training for platoon commander and NCOs than individual musketry.

I would question seriously the limitation of the sources used. Regimental histories have some serious potential flaws and Jack Sheldon has shown repeatedly that sometimes they do not align with reality. We have started probing a similar topic for our next book in Lorraine. I really get the impression that the training approach is done with the mindset of a former company commander. While I commend him for tackling this subject and standing inside the fire I think we need another appraisal before his research is accepted.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...