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That's not training !


Tom Tulloch-Marshall
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(nb - NO political intent here).

“That’s not training, that’s just preparing for sacrifice.” - (Colonel Ian Brazier (Retd) Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, heckling Defence Secretary Philip Hammond at the Conservative party conference 29/9/13 - over reservists with 26 days a year training replacing full-time soldiers being made redundant).

I just thought that that was an interesting and maybe "WW1 pertinent" turn of phrase. Did we, the British and Colonial / Dominion armies, simply train men to "sacrifice" level during WW1, or were they trained to a degree which would have given them a fighting chance had they come up against men with Regular Army training ? - ie would New Army men who enlisted and were trained during 1915-16 have gained practical fighting skills and tactical awareness (in the widest possible sense) that would have been up to fighting, on an even footing, Regulars of 1914 with 3, 5, or 7 years non-war service ?

Tom

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I just thought that that was an interesting and maybe "WW1 pertinent" turn of phrase. Did we, the British and Colonial / Dominion armies, simply train men to "sacrifice" level during WW1, or were they trained to a degree which would have given them a fighting chance had they come up against men with Regular Army training ? - ie would New Army men who enlisted and were trained during 1915-16 have gained practical fighting skills and tactical awareness (in the widest possible sense) that would have been up to fighting, on an even footing, Regulars of 1914 with 3, 5, or 7 years non-war service ?

Tom

The evidence from the experience of three of the first Kitchener Divisions to see action would suggest their training was insufficient. Correspondence between surviving Officers and the author of the OH Gallipoli would indicate that the 10th (Irish) Div, 11th (Northern) Div and 13th (Western) Div were insufficiently trained in Aug 1915. Measuring this is of course highly subjective as there are simply too many factors which interplay to be able to single out 'training' in my view, however if the surviving officers are to be believed, training was insufficient. I might add that the same could be said of the TF Divisions at Gallipoli some of which were highly criticised.

Raw courage in the face of a determined and disciplined entrenched enemy was no substitute for inadequate could not offset poor training.

MG

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Raw courage in the face of a determined and disciplined entrenched enemy was no substitute for inadequate training.

MG

I suspect you mean - no substitute for adequate training

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The evidence from the experience of three of the first Kitchener Divisions to see action would suggest their training was insufficient. Correspondence between surviving Officers and the author of the OH Gallipoli would indicate that the 10th (Irish) Div, 11th (Northern) Div and 13th (Western) Div were insufficiently trained in Aug 1915. Measuring this is of course highly subjective as there are simply too many factors which interplay to be able to single out 'training' in my view, however if the surviving officers are to be believed, training was insufficient. I might add that the same could be said of the TF Divisions at Gallipoli some of which were highly criticised.

Raw courage in the face of a determined and disciplined entrenched enemy was no substitute for inadequate could not offset poor training.

MG

I suspect that it is more complicated than this. Adequate training is more than the length of training it's also a combination of being trained in the right things and how you are being trained. Years of being trained in the wrong approach may be worse than useless as it may atrophy the ability to learn to adapt to changing circumstances. I can remember working with one senior officer who on someone commenting on the length of experience of a particular individual snorted and commented that this amounted to "20 years of continuously making the same mistakes" and going on to point out that he could now do the wrong things extremely efficiently. As the war progressed training seems to have been more and more about the ability to adapt to circumstances than following blindly a particular approach

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Presumably all six divisions of K1 received broadly similar training, and 9th, 12th and 14th Divisions seem to have done fairly well in France. Perhaps not only the terrain, but also the fact that logistical and medical support, in Gallipoli was stretched too thinly, were important factors and, as the Suvla campaign was comparatively short, the other three divisions had no time to recover from a shaky start.

The command of those three, at divisional and Corps level, has also come in for some criticism. Perhaps the blame for inadequate training lies more with these and other senior officers than with the doctrines underlying their training syllabus.

Ron

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Simple examples might help illustrate the point. The 10th Irish Div and 11th Northern Divs made an amphibious landing at night, possibly one of the most difficult and complex military operations. This was done with the absolute minimum of training and was the first time most of the two divisions had seen action (one Bde of the 11th Div had spent a few days at Helles before). To attempt such a difficult task with raw troops would I think warrant significantly more training than they were given.

The low level of preparation led to a few avoidable disasters such as the grounding of some of the lighters due to poor loading. Overburdened troops drowned trying to get ashore from grounded lighters, vital equipment such as machine guns were lost in the sea. Operations (such as night amphibious landings) where the chances of critical failure are high needed much better preparation and more thorough training.

Troops were sent in with white armbands, no weapons loaded and told to take positions at the point of the bayonet. In the dark. This had terrible consequences for the assaulting battalions in terms of casualties. Logistics for ammunition and water were simply terrible, leaving battalions in the thick of fighting running out of both within hours of landing. Water discipline varied considerably across units perhaps illustrating a lack of standardised training and preparation. Maps were either not issued or inaccurate and command and control at battalion level virtually collapsed within days due to massive officer casualties at platoon and Company level. There appears to have been no training in operating 'artillery formation' across the type of terrain that was expected, despite the experiences gleanded from Helles and ANZAC. Some tactics (read training) had changed immediately before the landing with for example the creation of a reserve of Officers and men at battalion level. The Officers of the 34th Bde (11th Div) make rather pointed comments that the few days at Helles before the landings at Suvla made a massive difference. Similar comments were made by 40th Bde Officers (13th Div) who were operating at ANZAC after a short introduction to warfare at Helles. Of the nine Brigades in the three K1 Divisions, only two had any form of exposure to trench warfare before being thrown into battle. Poor planning and poor training. The consequences were simply terrible with 68% OR casualties and 98% Officer casualties in just 14 days.

The first 14 days at Suvla would probably be an excellent case study of not how to conduct a campaign. While many aspects could be blamed on generalship, significant aspects of training fell far short of what could have been done in the days running up to the landing. That is not my opinion, it is the opinion of more than a few Officers who survived who expressed their views quite bluntly in correspondence with the official historian.

One might call it 'lack of experience' rather than lack of training. I believe T E Lawrence said something along the lines of 'with two thousand years of examples behind us, when fighting we have excuses when fighting for not fighting well'.

If one wants to look beyond K1 at the TF divisions in the same theatre, one at least was described as 'half trained' by a senior staff officer and another (Yeomanry) was sent in as infantry with no relevant training and unfamiliar equipment that was given to them just days before.

In my view there is no question that K1 and the TF Divisions at Gallipoli were insufficiently trained. It is no surprise that most of the published histories of the Divisions in question rather conveniently gloss over this inconvenient truth. Some of the battalion histories are rather more honest.

I have not delved into the Operations and training of K1 in France and Flanders at the beginning, but I suspect the published histories will not be the place to find the truth. MG

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... Perhaps the blame for inadequate training lies more with these and other senior officers than with the doctrines underlying their training syllabus.

+ what others have said. - But did that make the New Army men "worse" in terms of training than Regulars of the same period ? - If the entire British attacking force of 1/7/16 had been Regular soldiers with a few years pre-war training (and no great amount of war service prior to 1/7/16) would they have fared better or worse than the New Army men did ?

Maybe the question cant really be answered, but I just found Col Brazier's statement (post #1) to be a bit troubling when thinking of what the WW1 parallel might have been.

Tom

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Forgive my ignorance, I am not a military man.

I am interested in what Tom has to say. Was there any indication that in the real situations that the men in the trenches found themselves those 'trained' had any advantage over those with little training?

Am I correct in thinking that 'training' (for new recruits) would have had only two aims;

1. Technical; i.e. familiarisation with equipment used, which I assume to be mainly the lee Enfield rifle.

2. Indoctrination; i.e. the elimination of personal initiative, the importance of obey all orders without question and 'membership' of a specific group.

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I can offer some statistics for three battalions, based on just under 1200 Service Records of men who became casualties. (Total sample size c. 2000 records. Sample appears representative, as percentage of records for men killed (a known number) is within 1% of the numbers for the men I have on my Battalion Rolls.)

1/5th King's Own 1/4th King's Own 2/5th King's Own

How experienced were the men who became casualties?

Within first three months of getting to the trenches. 61% 45% 51.3%

Between 4-6 months in the trenches. 19% 19% 16.4%

Between 7-12 months in the trenches. 14% 26% 15.4%

over 12 months in the trenches. 6% 10% 16.9%

The 2/5th had a much longer period of training in the UK before deploying to F & F, but there isn't much of a variation in the statistics. Figures clearly show that what mattered was time at the Front. Casualty (killed and wounded) rates for the Battalions are; 1/5th- 63% of all who served; the 1/4th- 66% of all who served and the 2/5th- 67%.

Edited to change format which had been destroyed when save to Forum so it didn't make sense!

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There are many dimensions of 'training'. One is the degree to which the training is carried out, or the discipline a unit has in executing tactics according to orders. From "Military Identities" by David French page 228

'A R Bain, a Territorial Officer in the 1/7th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders: " was attached to one regular unit, the 2/ Seaforths. And their discipline was absolutely perfect. I mean they were born soldiers. I put it down as the finest battalion of infantry I have ever seen in my life, the 2/ Seaforth Highlanders. But there it was just a matter of very strict discipline. They had to do what they were told. there was no nonsense. Territorials, you had to work round them to their better nature...and he liked to do things his own way....." '

I would also argue that in military matters training also means going over the same drills repeatedly until it is second nature. . Two soldiers might have been 'trained' in the same weapon, say, but if one of the two had done this repeatedly and one had not, I would argue one is more trained than the other. Training isn't just complying with the training manual.

MG

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I can offer some statistics for three battalions, based on just under 1200 Service Records of men who became casualties. (Total sample size c. 2000 records. Sample appears representative, as percentage of records for men killed (a known number) is within 1% of the numbers for the men I have on my Battalion Rolls.)

1/5th King's Own 1/4th King's Own 2/5th King's Own

How experienced were the men who became casualties? Within first three months of getting to the trenches. 61% 45% 51.3% Between 4-6 months in the trenches. 19% 19% 16.4% Between 7-12 months in the trenches. 14% 26% 15.4% over 12 months in the trenches. 6% 10% 16.9%

The 2/5th had a much longer period of training in the UK before deploying to F & F, but there isn't much of a variation in the statistics. Figures clearly show that what mattered was time at the Front. Casualty (killed and wounded) rates for the Battalions are; 1/5th- 63% of all who served; the 1/4th- 66% of all who served and the 2/5th- 67%.

Kevin - Very interesting stats....have you looked into any variances over the duration of the war..i.e. did casualty rates drop as the war progressed regardless of time spent at the front i.e. were tactics impacting this or is this simply a function of experience in the front line? Just curious. MG

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Kevin - Very interesting stats....have you looked into any variances over the duration of the war..i.e. did casualty rates drop as the war progressed regardless of time spent at the front i.e. were tactics impacting this or is this simply a function of experience in the front line? Just curious. MG

Martin- I haven't actually worked these out, but I'd offer an opinion that the earlier battles led to greater casualties for a 'given action' with the 1/4th and 1/5th. Whilst sheer numbers were much higher in July & September 17 Ypres, German counter-attack at Cambrai and Givenchy in April 18, what was achieved or attempted in these later battles was greater. It's quite clear that the revised infantry tactics of 1917 onwards were very effective and in some operations allowed them to 'roll over' enemy defences with few casualties. For example, the Crater attacks at Givenchy on 26th April 1918, total Battalion fatalities were less than the number of enemy killed by just one Sergeant! (He did get the VC for this, but another NCO personally accounted for similar numbers of the enemy.) After the July 31st action in 1917, accounts from Platoon NCOs clearly show a confidence that any machine gun or gun position could be dealt with within five minutes.

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Martin- I haven't actually worked these out, but I'd offer an opinion that the earlier battles led to greater casualties for a 'given action' with the 1/4th and 1/5th. Whilst sheer numbers were much higher in July & September 17 Ypres, German counter-attack at Cambrai and Givenchy in April 18, what was achieved or attempted in these later battles was greater. It's quite clear that the revised infantry tactics of 1917 onwards were very effective and in some operations allowed them to 'roll over' enemy defences with few casualties. For example, the Crater attacks at Givenchy on 26th April 1918, total Battalion fatalities were less than the number of enemy killed by just one Sergeant! (He did get the VC for this, but another NCO personally accounted for similar numbers of the enemy.) After the July 31st action in 1917, accounts from Platoon NCOs clearly show a confidence that any machine gun or gun position could be dealt with within five minutes.

Thanks Kevin...I have little doubt that time spent in the trenches and time before becoming a casualty are correlated in some way.... The challenge is to be able to isolate these two factors from everything else going on which I am not convinced is possible.

I would have thought that tactics (the creation of the LOOB for example) weapons (Lewis for example), size of battalions (smaller as the war progressed), the massive increase in the proportion of supporting artillery after the crisis of 1915 for example and a thousand other factors would impact the data, and of course just where and when these battalions were in battle. In the research I have done, a very high percentage of battalions' casualties generally speaking seem to be concentrated into very few specific events rather than spread throughout the war.

The implication you suggest that inexperienced soldiers had a higher chance of becoming a casualty is interesting though and might have some link to training.

MG

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Martin, the 2/5th only got to France in Feb 17 and I know that they had considerable training in trench mortars, Lewis and the Mills in the UK. The fact that their casualties were similarly high in the initial months, when new weapons were issued and better artillery support the norm, does lean towards the 'experience at the actual front counts most' theory. I'm sure that knowing when to duck matters, but that's not the end of the story. Speaking from personal experience and I'm sure that any other forum members who've been 'ground pounders' will agree, that an effective infantry section is a very highly tuned machine, the job requiring far more skill than most would imagine. A section acts as a cohesive unit and this is very difficult to train for unless you are training with the actual section you're going to war with, rather than just a group of other chaps to make up the numbers. It's one thing to practice on a range with blanks, but nothing beats live fire and movement and you need really switched on men to achieve this, otherwise accidents happen. What was interesting, was that men who were experienced soldiers in one unit, but then posted/transferred out, were almost as likely to become a casualty in the first three months in their new unit, as men new to the war.

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Not sure if Pertinent however the 3rd Division were asked to comment regarding the calibre of troops being received in January 1915 with all Brigade Commanders reporting the the Divisional .O.C. who then duly reported to the Corps Commander. These reports are in the 3rd Divisions A & Q war diary.

Headquarters

3rd Division

1. I have received the reports from unit Commanders and they bare all agreed on one point, that they receive too many men who are unfitted, either owing to old age, or some physical defect to undergo the exposure and work consequent on life in the trenches.

Two units 5th Fusiliers and Lincolns consider that the men are generally up to the average (with the above exceptions) both in material and training, but the Royal Fusiliers and Royal Scots Fusiliers state that the class of man they are getting is far from satisfactory, the standard of training they say is indifferent, the men are of low class and with no intelligence, their physique is poor, and their discipline is very bad.

In the case of the Royal Scots Fusiliers the O.C. reports that since the arrival of a large draft last month, their has been a marked increase in crime.

The O.C. Royal Fusiliers states, that the majority of the N.C.O.'s who came out are useless and are not strong enough to see that orders are carried out, and I am of the opinion, that very often, this is at the bottom of a good deal of crime.

2. The best age seems to be between 25 and 32, v ery few men over 40 are any good, especially re-enlisted men. In the re-reinforcements which O.C. Royal Scots Fusiliers has received has received since the middle of Decemeber 25% are over 40 years old. To take one single case:- I myself met an old soldier the other day, who I used to know in South Africa, he then had over 21 years service and could not get through a weeks manoeuvres without going sick. I am quite sure he would not last a month out here.

31st January 1915

W. Douglas Smith, Brig - General

Commanding 9th Infantry Brigade.

Andy

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Headquarters

3rd Division

With reference to the 2nd Corps letter No. D/578 dated 29th January 1915, forwarded under 3rd Division No. A/1330/2 of the 30th idem, I beg to forward herewith reports of Commanding Officers of the battalions of this Brigade concerning re-inforcements.

It will be seen that the opinions differ and I think it is hard to generalize, as so much depends on the District which the men belong, and also the energy and capability of the Officer Commanding the Depot and Officers Commanding Reserve Battalions.

As far as I can judge the Wiltshire and Worcestershire Regiments are well served in respect to their reinforcements. The South Lancashire Regiment get a fair class of men, but they are very badly trained and the fault lies with the Officers in England; this battalion should be easily reinforced in every respect as it is the only battalion of the Regiment on service; nearly all other Regiments have to find reinforcements for 2 or 4 battalions. I have asked the Officer Commanding 2/South Lancs to enquire into the matter and report again later.

The Royal Irish Rifles have been getting a very poor class of men; all the good recruits from their District (Belfast) are canvassed to join the Ulster Division, and consequently the S.R. Battalions get men who are rejected elsewhere.

4/2/15

C. Ballard, Brig - General

Commanding 7th Infantry Brigade.

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Headquarters

3rd Division

With reference to your A/1330/2 dated 30/1/15, it is not easy to report in general terms as to the quality etc. of reinforcements for the Brigade, which is composed of Battalions recruited from different classes of the population viz:-

Highlanders (Gordons)

Lowlanders (Royal Scots)

Londoners (Middlesex)

Agricultural (Suffolks)

2. I am therefore forwarding the reports of the Commanding Officers for reference.

3. I am able to report, however, that the reinforcements that have arrived recently, are on the whole, satisfactory.

There is a large proportion of men of good physique and of a suitable age. The compare very favourably in both respects with the ordinary type of youth who enlists in the time of peace, and they come from a better class.

4. I have very few immature lads, but on the other hand there is a proportion of men of 40 years of age or more, who are too old for the work required of a Private in the trenches.

5. The wastage occurs chiefly among the old re-enlisted men who seem to suffer the most from the life in the trenches. Many of them are rheumatic and others have defective teeth. The best age would appear to be between 25 and 30.

6. The standard of training, on the whole, low; in some cases quite insufficient.

7. It is a cause for complaint that the drafts do not contain a proper proportion of N.C.O.'s, and that the N.C.O.'s who ;leave the front sick or wounded seldom return.

8. Trained machine gunners and men trained in the use and upkeep of telephones are also very much needed.

1/2/15

W.H. Bowes, Brig General

Commanding 8th Infantry Brigade.

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A soldier who is new to actual combat quite often behaves diferently to one who has combat experience.

Example - read Band of Brothers - the opening hours of D day is the units first experience of combat and survivors state that they took risks which just days later they wouldn't even think about. 1982 - forces with lots of training but it took actual combat consitions to get that extra % of efficiency.

That sixth sense of when to duck, reading the ground etc etc comes with experience in the field actually doing the job. However being a part of a well oiled team that acts instictivly together comes with time spent training together.

I do not have source material for this but I belive that new joiners to any team tend to suffer higher casualty rates - they do not gel quite so effectivly with the other team members and are not best mates with them yet.

Intresting stats and comments

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A soldier who is new to actual combat quite often behaves diferently to one who has combat experience. ...

I think that Ernst Junger made a similar observation in Storm of Steel in that he expressed a preference for younger soldiers who did not have too much battle experience at the front. (I don't think that extended to too little training though !).

Tom

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