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Zuber and Mons


phil andrade
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If I may, I'd like to point out that there was quite a bit of variation in the application of tactics in the German army, especially in 1914.
Very good point, Paul. This comes through in Zuber's account of the Ardennes.

Robert

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I posted this quote in another thread quite a while ago after his book on the Ardennes made us start thinking.
Joe, thanks for the quote. One quick question:

"gefechtsmäßiges Abtheilungsschießen"
Should that be Abteilungsschießen?

And a more significant question, if I may. It was a little unclear from your quote. Are you saying that Zuber misinterpreted the meaning of "Gefechtsschießen" for "Schulschießen"? If so (and again forgive me if this is not clear to me), then did Zuber get the general concepts substantially wrong (even if they were wrongly named)? It seems as if you are describing the same things: individual markmanship as well as what the British called musketry, ie the ability for a group of men to exercise fire discipline and to cover a beaten zone with collective fire.

I understand why you question the use of regimental histories. Are you saying, however, that Zuber's description of what happened in the Ardennes is wrong?

Robert

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Should that be Abteilungsschießen?

Yes indeed! My misspellings are legion -- due to a small problem I have to do all my typing through voice. I have a major shortfall in that I seldom check my work. This is compounded by trying to teach this bloody thing about German words! It is an adventure every day and I apologize for constant misspellings.

The real problem I have with Zuber and his book on the Ardennes is that I do not accept his premise. He constantly tells us that his book users two separate premises that basically isolate his analysis from operational and strategic thought.While he uses several source documents to detail tactical training I am not certain that he is using the right document -- or correct documents. Over and over again I was given the impression that his analysis was limited to the understanding of a company commander. Now while I do not like the results I commend the man for taking on the topic at all.

Gefechtsschießen seems to have been more of a fire and maneuver tool used at the platoon level. It was a command thing. Schulschießen was an individual effort. While I do not know the intricacies of the British system I have a hard time equating the collective fire to marksmanship.

I do not think Zubert got what happened in the Ardennes wrong. I think he tries to isolate it and focus German success at the tactical level. Lorraine is much more interesting, really forces you to understand operational thought and staggers the mind when one considers casualties.

Once again I like the book -- he made us think -- I think that the development is better served in appendix D. of the Handbook. And I would hope that future studies of Lorraine build upon some of the ideas that he came up with. I really look forward to the new book -- unfortunately in America it will not be out until April -- sad. God bless.

VR

Joe

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In modern British military parlance Gefechtsschiessen is field firing, whilst Schulschiessen is marksmanship. In the first case a one sided live firing tactical exercise is conducted over open ground (though there are ways of arranging for overhead opposing fire to be used), whilst the other is conducted on a standard rifle range and aims at enhancing and testing the accuracy of the fire of the individual. The higher the standard of the Gefechtsschiessen the closer the troops involved come to the ideal of Kriegsnahausbildung, i.e. the near replication of battlefield conditions.

To give you an idea of what is possible, even in Western Europe, I once orchestrated a field firing exercise at Sennelager for a battlegroup. This involved two amalgamated tank squadrons and infantry companies in armoured personnel carriers. Fire support included a flight of four Harriers firing cannon, a battery of 155 SP guns, an 81mm mortar platoon and tanks firing main armament. The reorganisation phase after the two attacks included MILAN firing practice rounds at a manned target tank and engagement of model aircraft by the battlegroup using its weapons for low level air defence. The safety traces alone filled a complete file!

Jack

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The book arrived this morning, about twenty minutes or so ago. No time was lost in settling down. I have read the first chapter and looked at the pictures. All British sources are based on Edmonds who deliberately falsified his Official History. Bloem was a fantasist. The only reliable sources are German regimental histories which have survived the bombing of WW2.

I am not re-assured but I'll put the coffee pot on and settle down to the first correct description of Mons and Le Cateau since they were fought. Incidentally, the pictures are remarkable for lack of content, I could take the same snaps around here. Zuber also continues to use these pen and ink sketches as the Ardennes book. Very reminiscent of the little space fillers from the Schlachten series.

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Here is the first paragraph of chapter 2.

" After the First World War, German officers stated almost unanimously that the German army of 1914 was the best trained and best disciplined in the world , and that the peacetime tactical doctrine and training proved themselves unequivocally in combat, leading the German army to " brilliant successes". " ......................" Such opinions must be taken seriously , since they were made by some of the most combat-experienced soldiers in modern military history, who had the benefit of four years of high-intensity warfare to educate and refine their professional judgement".

Hands up all those who think that the following material is going to be a balanced description of the fighting at Mons.

Hands up any-one who did not detect more than one questionable statement. (Go and stand outside the door).

I will try to struggle through the rest of the book but for me, the content is hopelessly compromised by the opening statements. What faith can be placed in the accounts of an author who states that all previous published sources are either mistaken or falsified? Who demands that the reports of soldiers who lost the war but insist that their tactics were victorious are to be accepted as THE TRUTH?

This is not a reassessment, this is a travesty.

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This is not a reassessment, this is a travesty.

Give him a chance, Tom : he does admit on page 12 that the "..British rifle fire was judged to be very fast and accurate..." , which is something.

I'm taking a quick trip to Verona tomorrow, and will postpone reading my copy until the middle of next week.

I do hope that I will end up agreeing with you, because the Mons story that I grew up with means a lot to me.

Phil

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I have read neither of Zuber's books but I understand that his work is.... controversial. However, I cannot see why it should not be possible to conclude that the best army in the autumn of 1914 still lost in 1918 when it would have been a very different army, fighting very different campaigns against very different enemies. They may well have been the best in 1914 but still not good enough to win in the circumstances prevailing. And if he is talking about the mass citizen continental armies of the time, which was the norm in terms of organisation and training, then I think we might have to accept the statement was true.

If, however, he is stating that they were still the best army in 1918 well then, I agree, he is pushing his luck somewhat.

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I think this is a side issue but I I am willing to bet that I could find a lot of British officers who thought that the BEF was the best army in the world, full time professionals, volunteers to a man with much more experience of war. That army also won the war. Am I now in a position to demand that what these officers say must be accepted as being true? I think not.

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Indeed but one of my queries was: are they talking about being the best trained mass citizen army a la continental Europe (which, almost by definition, has to be or should have been, less well trained throughout than the tiny and yet full-time professional UK Army which eventually became one of the armies that won the war).

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My answer to the query was to doubt whether we should accept the opinions of officers of any army when considering a question which reflects on how well they performed their duty. We may and surely should take them into consideration but just as surely we should not set them up as sole arbiters of the truth. That is not, to my way of thinking at least, a sound footing on which to base a book which claims to refute a myth.

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A point I have long since taken. But they were perhaps correct when comparing their army with those of the their continental competitors in August 1914 in which case so what? The quote used does, after all, say "German officers stated almost unanimously that the German army of 1914 was the best trained and best disciplined..."

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Do you accept that the book must be accepted then? That is, after all, the point that he is trying to establish and one of which I am more or less dubious.

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Good evening Tom and Bill,

I don't think your viewpoints are irreconcilable. I think Bill is saying that to say the German Army was the best "mass" army in 1914 is reasonable (quality and quantity) for example in comparison with the French. I think Tom is saying that the much smaller BEF was as good if not better in comparison to the Germans but it wasn't a "mass" army. Both seem reasonable viewpoints.

Like his previous book I hope that it is in the detailed information from the German regimental diaries and histories that will it prove its worth. I didn't agree with large parts of his Ardennes book but it was worth reading, I hope the new one is the same (as I've ordered it !!!)

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A point I have long since taken. But they were perhaps correct when comparing their army with those of the their continental competitors in August 1914 in which case so what? The quote used does, after all, say "German officers stated almost unanimously that the German army of 1914 was the best trained and best disciplined..."

Don't forget the second part of the sentence, Bill i.e. "...and that the peacetime tactical doctrine and training proved themselves unequivocally in combat, leading the German army to " brilliant successes". Does this not place the first part, which you quote in isolation, into a different context?

Come off it, Bill - this man trips himself up with his own flawed logic:

1) In his earlier Schlieffen book, he claims that German officers simply made up the Schlieffen plan to excuse their failings in 1914, yet he extols the virtues of their opinions in his Mons book - were they excusers of failure or sound judges of "brilliant success"?

2) The phrase "brilliant successes", given what happened in the whole of the campaign of 1914, is highly relative and thus extremely restricted in scope i.e. the old question comes back to haunt the pages of Zuber's latest offerings - did the allied forces suddenly become better trained and more disciplined than the Germans at Guise, on the Marne, and at 1st Ypres?

3) He uses, as the main reason, "the four years of high-intensity warfare experience that educated and refined German professional judgement" to tell us why the German sources are the "truth", but he ignores exactly the same experiences of allied officers when dismissing these sources almost out of hand. Is Zuber seriously trying to say that allied officers did not have "four years of high-intensity warfare experience to educate and refine their professional judgement"?

We are just starting chapter2 and Zuber raises serious, fundamental questions about the logic of his premise, and no amount of intellectual/semantic side-stepping will alter that fact. The other chapters may adequately answer the questions I raise, but I doubt it - for if he does answer them, he will simply highlight the serious flaws of his own opening premise.

Cheers-salesie.

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3) He uses, as the main reason, "the four years of high-intensity warfare experience that educated and refined German professional judgement" to tell us why the German sources are the "truth", but he ignores exactly the same experiences of allied officers when dismissing these sources almost out of hand. Is Zuber seriously trying to say that allied officers did not have "four years of high-intensity warfare experience to educate and refine their professional judgement"?

The problem is that for the last 90 years or so the history of the Great War has been based on the "truth" of the British sources, and now that someone has come along and presented a more ingenuous analysis of the German side, then suddenly there's suddenly a serious problem. I'm not sure who decreed that Zuber's works are the final word on anything; that's simply not the way it works in the field of history, and I highly doubt that Zuber would ever consider such a thing. I think it is a good thing that he ruffles a few feathers and forces certain people think a little more deeply; as much as they disagree with him, they nonetheless are compelled to sit down and carefully read his books. :thumbsup:

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The quote from Zuber provided by Tom that has led to the last few posts is:

" After the First World War, German officers stated almost unanimously that the German army of 1914 was the best trained and best disciplined in the world , and that the peacetime tactical doctrine and training proved themselves unequivocally in combat, leading the German army to " brilliant successes". " ......................" Such opinions must be taken seriously , since they were made by some of the most combat-experienced soldiers in modern military history, who had the benefit of four years of high-intensity warfare to educate and refine their professional judgement".

Surely it would be more reasonable to state so early in the book that (my words in bold):

" After the First World War, German officers stated almost unanimously that the German army of 1914 was the best trained and best disciplined in the world , and that the peacetime tactical doctrine and training proved themselves unequivocally in combat, leading the German army to " brilliant successes". " ......................" This book aims to test the validity of such opinions by analysing the performance of the German army at Mons, using sources ignored by many previous historians.

It may well be that Zuber's book, which I have not seen, demonstrates from sources ignored by other Anglophone historians that the German Army was the best in the world in 1914. Stating as early as the start of Chapter 2 that it was the best because German officers said so lays him open to the charge of having made his mind up in advance.

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The problem is that for the last 90 years or so the history of the Great War has been based on the "truth" of the British sources, and now that someone has come along and presented a more ingenuous analysis of the German side, then suddenly there's suddenly a serious problem. I'm not sure who decreed that Zuber's works are the final word on anything; that's simply not the way it works in the field of history, and I highly doubt that Zuber would ever consider such a thing. I think it is a good thing that he ruffles a few feathers and forces certain people think a little more deeply; as much as they disagree with him, they nonetheless are compelled to sit down and carefully read his books. :thumbsup:

I agree completely that Zuber can write whenever he wants, about whatever he wants, Ken, you'll get no argument from me against that point - and I would go further in saying that this applies not just to history but also to all other forms of literary work, including fiction, with very few blatantly obvious exceptions to that rule.

But, surely, the point is that if Zuber's word is not to be the final one (as you insist it is not), then how do you suppose the field of history will operate in the way you describe if no one challenges his work by highlighting the flawed logic on which his premise is based? So, seeing as no one is actually complaining that he has written his latest book only that it is fundamentally flawed, why don't you tell us why you believe his logic is not flawed instead of stating the bleedin' obvious, stating that he has every right to write what he wants?

Cheers-salesie.

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But, surely, the point is that if Zuber's word is not to be the final one (as you insist it is not), then how do you suppose the field of history will operate in the way you describe if no one challenges his work by highlighting the flawed logic on which his premise is based? So, seeing as no one is actually complaining that he has written his latest book only that it is fundamentally flawed, why don't you tell us why you believe his logic is not flawed instead of stating the bleedin' obvious, stating that he has every right to write what he wants?

Oh, is that what you're up to? And here I thought you were just having a reactionary meltdown...

Hate to break it to you, but your apparently very fundamentally biased nature renders any critique of his work fundamentally meaningless. But whatever the case, whether Zuber's theories have any merit will be determined outside of the realm of the message forum. There's a reason why most academic historians avoid these these things like the plague--they're most often just conducive to rational discussion of "controversial" topics. But if it still makes you feel important, please don't let my occasional remarks spoil your fun.

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Oh, is that what you're up to? And here I thought you were just having a reactionary meltdown...

Hate to break it to you, but your apparently very fundamentally biased nature renders any critique of his work fundamentally meaningless. But whatever the case, whether Zuber's theories have any merit will be determined outside of the realm of the message forum. There's a reason why most academic historians avoid these these things like the plague--they're most often just conducive to rational discussion of "controversial" topics. But if it still makes you feel important, please don't let my occasional remarks spoil your fun.

Apologies, Ken, I didn't realise that your consistent failure to answer pertinent questions with reasoned argument stems from your desire to avoid rational discussion of controversial topics like the plague on this waste-of-space forum.

Cheers-salesie.

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Last night I took a long hard look at the book, reading it until 1.30 am.

In so far as the Battle of Mons itself is concerned - the actual fighting of August 23 - Zuber's assessment of German casualties, based on careful analysis of Regimental histories, yields an estimate of roughly 2,000 German casualties as against 1,600 suffered by the British. At first glance this is enough to dispel the view that British rifle fire was overwhelmingly effective and had a dramatic effect. But on closer analysis, the implication needs to be reconsidered. The majority of British casualties in August 1914 - over 55% - were taken prisoner. If this applies to the battle of Mons itself - and why should it not ? - then the actual number of British soldiers killed and wounded would have been fewer than 1,000, even allowing for the fact that a proportion of the prisoners would have been wounded. The 2,000 German casualties were surely virtually all killed or wounded : the ratio of loss, in terms of those actually hit in the fighting, was therefore well over two to one against the Germans ... a disparity that does indeed attest the effect of British fire.

And so I think we must allow that Zuber's analysis of German tactics is sound, his research authentic, and his conclusions reasonable.

Where I recoil from the book - and, I must say, with a sense of outrage - is when Zuber becomes an apologist for Wilhelmite Germany's war policy, arguing that it was a war of defence, and that attempts to pin the blame on German aggression are mistaken at best and downright historical conspiracy at worst. He states that Belgian francs -tireurs did attack German soldiers on a significant scale, and, by implication, depicts German behaviour in Belgium in 1914 in a light irreconcilable with the fact that five or six thousand civilians were killed by the German army, many of them in systematic massacre. He goes way beyond his proper remit here, and convinces me that, as a scholar of German battlefield tactics, he is to be valued, but that as a commentator on the role Germany played in the outbreak of the Great War, he should be censured.

Phil

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Apologies, Ken, I didn't realise that your consistent failure to answer pertinent questions with reasoned argument stems from your desire to avoid rational discussion of controversial topics like the plague on this waste-of-space forum.

Cheers-salesie.

Maybe you should just give it a rest.

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Seconded.

I have issued one shot across the bows earlier in the thread. 90% of the above is great reading and has a wide appeal to many members. This is the sort of thread that, in my opinion, this forum needs more of. I hate it when personal bickerings start to spill over. A heated debate is one thing. Personal insults / comments are another and will not be tolerated.

I will not close the thread if this continues as it is vauable, but I will not hesitate to suspend members who get personal again.

[There can be a gap of several hours between me returning to this thread so I ask members to use the 'report' function if, in my absence, this line in the sand is transgressed. Thank you.]

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Don't forget the second part of the sentence, Bill i.e. "...and that the peacetime tactical doctrine and training proved themselves unequivocally in combat, leading the German army to " brilliant successes". Does this not place the first part, which you quote in isolation, into a different context?

Not necessarily - but with the proviso that I haven't read the book. But, I take it that, as the subject of the book is Mons, he is writing about the opening weeks of the war where, if anyone had brilliant successes (up to the Marne) it was the Germans. Perhaps we need to have more of the opening part of this infamous Chapter 2 presented to us in the hope we may all judge to what he is precisely referring. But anyway, whatever these opening lines actually state it does appear to me to be something of a 'rush to judgement' to condemn an entire book because of a couple of lines early on.

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Good evening Tom and Bill,

I don't think your viewpoints are irreconcilable. I think Bill is saying that to say the German Army was the best "mass" army in 1914 is reasonable (quality and quantity) for example in comparison with the French. I think Tom is saying that the much smaller BEF was as good if not better in comparison to the Germans but it wasn't a "mass" army. Both seem reasonable viewpoints.

Like his previous book I hope that it is in the detailed information from the German regimental diaries and histories that will it prove its worth. I didn't agree with large parts of his Ardennes book but it was worth reading, I hope the new one is the same (as I've ordered it !!!)

Hi Ron and Bill.

As I feared, interesting as it is, this is a side issue. My point is that Zuber is trying to convince readers that his book must be accepted because it is based on statements by German officers and their beliefs. That is not a logical argument. Whether it is true or not. I should not have added the secondary point, that there is reason to think it false. I believe that to be the case but it is superfluous to my main point. I'll be stepping back out the thread for a while. I see that a bush war has broken out, in which I have no desire to get involved.

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