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Attrition


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I cant remember Haig's exact words but as late as October 1918 he had not grasped that Germany was on her knees...

That is true and I believe it remains rather a mystery. Sheffield and Bourne in the introduction to Haig's diaries claim that Haig was concerned that the German Army was about to receive a new class of conscripts. However I don't think there is a definitive answer.

Thanks to you for sharing your views.

JGM

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Robert Dunlop

The concept of attrition relates specifically to the wearing down of the enemy. It need not imply that the attacker looses fewer men than the enemy in the process. It makes sense, however, that the attacker cannot run out of men before the defender. The key point is that the enemy will reach a point where further resistance is no longer possible, if not because the enemy's military resources are completely exhausted then because the morale of the enemy can no longer cope - surrender becomes inevitable. In the latter scenario, it is not necessary to destroy every last soldier but to destroy the ability of the enemy to resist.

There were those who believed the war would be over quickly. From what I have read, Haig was not one of them. I don't know exactly what he studied at Staff College. Bond noted that the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War were studied in great detail. Again, I don't know what lessons were drawn from these wars. The Franco-Prussian War was the more decisive of the two. It potentially reinforced the idea that a decisive victory could be won quickly. But it also seemed clear that the French were let down by their military commanders. It was a lesson in how not to command. Haig appears to have studied the ways in which the Germans fought, and kept himself abreast of the development of German offensive doctrine. If this is true, and given the strong desire of any commander to avoid the ignominy of easy defeat, then it is easy to see why the American Civil War should be such an important model.

The Civil War was a protracted war of attrition. Trench warfare was a feature but primarily in the context of sieges. Nothing new in that. The trench systems were not continuous, as occurred on the Western Front. Instead, most of the 'front line' remained relatively fluid. The lead-up to Gettysburg was a good example where the Southern forces made their way into Northern territory, then fell back again after the decisive battle. This type of movement happened on several occasions. It is not difficult to understand why generals like Haig could conceive of a long European war that did involve stalemate along the length of the Western Front.

Within the context of the American Civil War, it is also not difficult to understand the three phases of a battle. If armies were not pinned in permanent trenches, then the encounter phase represented the initial response of the defender to the incursions of an attacker. During the Gettysburg campaign, JEB Stuart's cavalry played a major role in screening the movements of the infantry. It took some time for the bulk of the Northern forces in the Washington area to respond and move north. The major encounter took place at Gettysburg, with the Northern forces heading north, deeper into their own territory.

Once the encounter took place, the middle phase represented the engagement of enemy forces. Here the key was to get the enemy committed to battle. By wearing down the enemy, it forced the enemy commander to commit his reserves. Until that time, reserves formed the major threat, given that the flanks would always be exposed though typically occupied by the mobile cavalry. Provided the enemy's reserves were committed and yours were not, then it would be possible to execute the third phase - the decisive thrust that broke the enemy and forced him to flee. Then the cavalry could do what they were best suited for - pursuit and destruction of the fleeing enemy. Or so the story goes.

The alternative was to outmanouvere the enemy. While one force pinned the enemy to front, another force would try to outflank the enemy and get behind it. Decisive breakthrough was not needed by the pinning force, only that it engage the enemy sufficiently to prevent it breaking off. This approach was favoured on all sides. It has a certain elegance. The satisfaction of outwitting as well as outmanoeuvring the enemy. Conversely, most generals had a real fear of being the one who allowed himself to fall into such a trap. Ultimately, it was the only way to thoroughly destroy an enemy force - double-envelopment being the epitome, the Cannae approach to victory.

The early phase of the war, until the end of the Race to the Sea, saw extensive use of manoeuvre on both sides and at all levels. Once trench warfare commenced, the frontal attack was the only option. Now the Western Front could be conceived of as one long battlefield. To gain a decisive victory, the enemy had to be engaged on multiple occasions and at various places until the reserves could be drained away. Then the final breakthrough would occur when the enemy collapsed completely. The Civil War analogy would be Lee's final retreat, resulting in the surrender at Appomattox. As long as the enemy had sufficient reserves, it would always be possible to contain any break-throughs.

In order to achieve this outcome, it was necessary to attack in such a way that the enemy would be forced to throw in significant reserves. Furthermore, if large numbers of the enemy could be enveloped then this would speed up the process. Salients became one type of target for the major campaigns on the Western Front. The battles of 1915 saw the BEF operating as one arm of a pincer designed to meet up with the French attacks to the south. Third Ypres can be seen in this light, cutting off the Belgian coast if successful. Another type of target was the major rail centres. Capture these and whole sections of the front would become vulnerable on either side. For the C-in-Cs, such as Haig, this type of strategic oversight was critical. It was not simply a matter of launching a battle here, then another there, just for the sake of a local battle. There had to be a strategic context.

When planning a major campaign, the context for the campaign provided the overall direction - always within the widest context of defeating the enemy completely. Thus, the battles of the Somme were part of a campaign designed, from the British perspective, to breakthrough to Bapaume and beyond. The intent was to subsequently roll up the Germans. Distant objectives feature as the final goal in virtually all battles. Writers often make a big deal of this. Prior and Wilson exemplify how easy it is to mistake the final objective of a campaign for the immediate objective of a battle within that campaign. Haig seems to have operated a form of what, in modern management parlance, is called scenario-planning - the ability to hold multiple potential outcomes as being possible. The need to have distant goals was important, if only to enable the possibility of early collapse of the enemy to be exploited. Crown Prince Wilhelm's reaction to Falkenhayn's strategy of attrition for Verdun illustrates the other reason for broader strategic goals. They provide a legitimate reason to attack, a motivation to continue - unlike Wilhelm's sense of futility in pursuing an explicit strategy of attrition.

The concept of scenario-planning also explains why Haig would have continued planning for 1919. Bear in mind that there were those in the German Army who argued very strongly for continuing the war. Crown Prince Wilhelm was one of them. He believed it was possible to create a stable defensive position along the line of Meuse, which would have held for the Winter of 18/19. Even the signing of the Armistice did not represent the end of the war.

Robert

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Thanks for that outline, Robert. I take it as a theoretical account of how attrition is "best" done. Can I also assume that you think it is an honourable way for a commander to fight a war, bearing in mind the sacrifices he is devolving onto others, as he has little alternative option? Or has honour ceased to be a consideration at this stage? Phil B

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Jonathan Saunders
The concept of scenario-planning also explains why Haig would have continued planning for 1919. Bear in mind that there were those in the German Army who argued very strongly for continuing the war. Crown Prince Wilhelm was one of them. He believed it was possible to create a stable defensive position along the line of Meuse, which would have held for the Winter of 18/19. Even the signing of the Armistice did not represent the end of the war.

Robert I agree with you on this point. Haig would have been wrong not to consider that German resistance could conceivably continue into 1919 and it was his duty to prepare for such a contingency. However it was the exact words that he used - and which I do not have at hand - which lead me to believe Haig wasnt actually aware that Germany was broken, nor that he had any grasp that the war could still be finished in 1918 - something which at the time I read this left me quite astonished and continues to do so.

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Robert Dunlop
Thanks for that outline, Robert. I take it as a theoretical account of how attrition is "best" done. Can I also assume that you think it is an honourable way for a commander to fight a war, bearing in mind the sacrifices he is devolving onto others, as he has little alternative option? Or has honour ceased to be a consideration at this stage? Phil B

Phil, I have a much more pragmatic view of this. Whether attrition was honourable or not, when the goal was to defeat and eject an army of the quality of the German army in WW1, it was the only way. Honour would only come into play at the end, once victory was attained. Bear in mind that the Second World War, with all the advances in technology, communications, etc, was a war of attrition. The main difference was that the Russians bore the brunt of this. When we speak glibly of D-Day winning the war, let us not forget the countless numbers of Russian soldiers who gave their lives to eventually stop the Germans and then advance into Germany. If Britain had been part of this process, I venture we might not even be having this discussion about attrition in the First World War.

Returning to the First World War, how could huge armies of millions be eliminated in a few weeks or months? It just simply wasn't possible, unless one side was utterly and completely incompetent. The lessons of the Franco-Prussian War had not gone unnoticed. In WW1, even the most successful battles of encirclement only took a small percentage of the total out of the equation. So long as there were reserves, and enough room to manoeuvre, it was possible to plug gaps, counter-attack, etc. Perhaps improvement in tactics, such as the greater use of technologies like tanks (Travers argues this for example), or better training, or something, might have reduced the number of British (and Dominion and French and...) deaths. I don't know. The more I read, the less certain I am about this. Each change in tactics, each new technological development brought about corresponding, almost homeostatic, responses. Just consider the enormous increase in firepower available to the BEF in the last 100 days compared with the first 100 days. I was reminded again the other day the average number of machine guns per German infantry company increased by 18-fold during the war. Did British casualties increase 18-fold? No, casualty rates were relatively constant for the major battles throughout the war. There definitely wasn't a quantum increase in casualty rates in keeping with the quantum increase in fire power from artillery, automatic weapons, other support weapons, etc. So the new technologies and tactics did not accelerate the killing, or more particularly the attrition rate, and bring about a faster end to the war.

I do not think war is honourable. More particularly, I do not think that any means of waging war is honourable. IMHO, attrition is a sine qua non for winning a war between determined equals. It is in the nature of this type of conflict.

I still vividly recall the memories of my Grandfather and the way he had been affected by the war. These memories drove me to learn about what happened. They also made the following quote all the more poignant when I read it. The quote comes from General Sir Charles Harrington, who served as Plumer's Chief of Staff on the 2nd Army, which was so heavily involved in the grinding battles of Third Ypres. Harrington wrote:

"I have knelt in the Tynecot Cemetery below Passchendaele on that hallowed ground, the most beautiful and sacred place I know in this world, I have prayed in that cemetery oppressed with fear lest even one of those gallant comrades should have lost his life owing to any fault or neglect on the part of myself and the Second Army Staff. It is a fearful responsibility to have been the one who signed and issued all the Second Army orders for those operations. All I can truthfully say is that we did our utmost. We could not have done more. History must give its verdict. I do not for one moment contend that we did not make mistakes and many of them, and as I read through those old orders before me, I keep recalling the old problems with which we were faced."

Robert

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Robert Dunlop
...Haig wasnt actually aware that Germany was broken, nor that he had any grasp that the war could still be finished in 1918 - something which at the time I read this left me quite astonished and continues to do so.
Jonathan, I would venture that Germany was not militarily broken in November 1918. The German Army remained a serious fighting unit, albeit much weakened, and was still inflicting serious casualties on the British, French and Americans. Everything else was broken but it was entirely possible that the Germans could have defended the northern side of the Meuse for the winter of 18/19, given the shrinkage in frontage and the significant natural barrier to the Entente advance at a time when they were exhausted. Mercifully, the political situation changed, and there were sufficient German generals who were prepared to support the political initiatives that resulted in the signing of the Armistice.

Robert

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Jonathan, I would venture that Germany was not militarily broken in November 1918. The German Army remained a serious fighting unit, albeit much weakened, and was still inflicting serious casualties on the British, French and Americans. Everything else was broken but it was entirely possible that the Germans could have defended the northern side of the Meuse for the winter of 18/19, given the shrinkage in frontage and the significant natural barrier to the Entente advance at a time when they were exhausted. Mercifully, the political situation changed, and there were sufficient German generals who were prepared to support the political initiatives that resulted in the signing of the Armistice.

Robert

But musn't we look at the nation as a whole, and not just the army? It is the nature of modern war that entire nations are at war, and not just the armed forces.

If she was militarily broken of not Germany was defeated--perhaps by the internal situation on the home front--but then again this was primarily brought about by military action. Loss of will to continue due to heavy losses, and privations caused by the allied blockade.

From the German side the strategy of attrition was never accepted, and for good reason. She could never hope to win a war of attrition. Attrition was adopted by Falkenhayn for a short period and led to the Verdun disaster. Though it could be argued that Verdun was part of a bigger plan for 1916 that would have led to a large German counter-attack. Hindenburg and Ludendorff again adopted the strategy of annihilation.

The German military was never easy with the theory of attrition. Pre-war Hans Delbrueck caused a storm in military circles by putting forward that Clausewitz had described two types of warfare, to include that of attrition or exhaustion. This type of strategy was to be adopted when the military lacked the sufficient power to destroy the enemy forces--which would accurately describe the situation in spring 1918, despite the number of German divisions transferred from the east.

Paul

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Jonathan Saunders
But musn't we look at the nation as a whole, and not just the army? It is the nature of modern war that entire nations are at war, and not just the armed forces.

If she was militarily broken of not Germany was defeated--perhaps by the internal situation on the home front--but then again this was primarily brought about by military action. Loss of will to continue due to heavy losses, and privations caused by the allied blockade.

Entirely agree with you.

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Like Jonathan, I do not have Haig's words to hand, however, I can understand why he would have considered a 1919 offensive. Whilst Germany may have been broken, military and civilians, the German military was, generally, still fighting on Allied soil. I am from the 'kick him while he's down' school of fighting and can understand why a military commander would prepare to carry out the coup de grace on a defeated enemy; sometimes they don't know when they are beaten.

Roxy

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Robert Dunlop
But musn't we look at the nation as a whole, and not just the army? It is the nature of modern war that entire nations are at war, and not just the armed forces.

Paul, you have touched on a key point. We can, and should, look at the nation as a whole. This was not the C-in-C's job though. So long as the military task remained the military defeat of Germany, then the C-in-C would focus on his domain. I suspect that given the military system is about bending the will of citizens to the imperatives of the military then Haig would have wanted to bend the political will in total support of the military as well. This was Ludendorff's approach for sure. Just to be clear, my point is not that either Haig or Ludendorff would have felt that war could be continued beyond the means of the nation, just that a C-in-C could not accept a civilian government's view of what was possible. Such a view would err on the side of caution, conservatism, avoidance of casualties for political reasons, etc.

If you have not already done so, I would heartily recommend Spears' book 'Prelude to Victory'. It is a superb book that superficially looks at the Nivelle's Chemin des Dames offensive. Actually, it addresses the whole issue of military vs political decision-making.

I will pick up on some of your other points later today.

Robert

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The German Army remained a serious fighting unit, albeit much weakened, and was still inflicting serious casualties on the British, French and Americans. Everything else was broken but it was entirely possible that the Germans could have defended the northern side of the Meuse for the winter of 18/19, given the shrinkage in frontage and the significant natural barrier to the Entente advance at a time when they were exhausted...

The Germans certainly were not routed comprehensively, they were certainly defeated but they were not totally destroyed (It would take 27 years for that to happen). But the German Army probably could not have gone on for much longer in 1918 or early 1919, they were suffering enormous casualties and against strengthened British and French fighting abilities and American numbers, as well as increasing American military skill, they could not have held out for a great deal of time more. We must also remember that Germany's southern border was by November 1918 exposed, by the collapse of Austria-Hungary, to Allied thrusts from the Balkans and Italy. They did not have the manpower to cover this area, i think that this might be considered another effect of attrition.

JGM

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We can, and should, look at the nation as a whole. This was not the C-in-C's job though. So long as the military task remained the military defeat of Germany, then the C-in-C would focus on his domain. Robert

There must surely be a limit to the use of attrition. It can`t be open ended. It must stop when the damage to the national wellbeing is excessive. I take your point that it may not be the CinC`s job, but to say he`s not concerned with political factors is like saying a surgeon has performed brilliantly but the patient died? When a man controls the destiny of millions of the nation`s men he must consider the wider national interest? Phil B

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Jonathan Saunders

It might be worthwhile at this juncture and apologies if this has already been mentioned, but the British war of attrition had started in 1914 with the British blockade and that did obviously impact the WF.

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Robert Dunlop

Phil, I agree that there has to be a limit. The Second World War demonstrates how far that limit can be taken, particularly in the German resistance until the death of Hitler. England was no where near that kind of limit in WW1, not that I would regard the situation in WW2 as a fixed standard. FWIIW, I think that Haig would have been interested in this limit, and the politics surrounding it. But, guess work here, not from the same perspective of national wellbeing that you have highlighted. The military perspective on national wellbeing might be something like: 'If we don't throw ever possible resource at this, we will loose and there will be no nation to be well.' Furthermore, there is the argument that if resources are prematurely constrained, then greater casualties will result. Haig could point to Lloyd George's decision to withhold men before Operation Michael and say that this action cost more lives in the end. It is not possible to fight a bit of a total war and not jeopardise the nation's wellbeing in a more fundamental way.

Haig had to abide by LGs decision, just as he would have if LG and others had decided that the BEF should stop fighting altogether. So long as the BEF was expected to continue fighting, Haig would have not done his job if he had not pressed for every ounce of effort from the nation, given that his enemy was doing exactly that. I think we might find that Haig had a lot of information about how many men might have been eligible for the army on a year by year basis. There was a constant stream of information, both formal and informal, about the status of munitions production, shipping losses, food production, etc, etc. Quite apart from what the numerous visitors to GHQ would have told him, Haig could see what the general state of the nation was like on his visits to England. I doubt that any of these indices would have given him cause to fear that a further year of war was not doable, from a military perspective.

One can look at this from a slightly different angle. Not only is the C-in-C responsible for the millions under his direct command. He is also responsible, indirectly, for the many more millions who gave birth to, were family to, were married to, were relying on the millions under his command. I think it is more difficult to appreciate this perspective from a non-French point of view. Following the Battle of the Marne, Joffre took on an almost God-like status. The attention that he drew, the control that he had, not only over his command but over the way the politicians and civil servants had to react, is said to have been a major factor in triggering his political downfall.

Robert

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...the British war of attrition had started in 1914...

Lets not forget the French war of attrition as well carried out during the battles of Champagne and Artois. In 1914 and 1915 it was the French Army which carried out most of the fighting on the Western Front for the Allies and they would maintain the largest army on the Western Front throughout the war.

JGM

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With regard to the possible continuation of the war in 1919,. I agree that it was prudent for the High Command and the politicians to plan ahead for this possibility. At the Armistice, German's military forces were still intact and were still a possible threat. This was recognised in the United Kingdom by the formation of the Z Reserve, formed specifically because both the Government and military were concerned that Germany would not agree to the terms of any peace treaty, and there was a possibility (however remote) that war may break out again.

Jon Saunders is quite right to point out that the Naval blockade of Germany played its part in all this. It is also significant that the blockade continued well after the cessation of hostilities because of the same fears.

Terry Reeves

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Robert Dunlop
From the German side the strategy of attrition was never accepted, and for good reason. She could never hope to win a war of attrition. Attrition was adopted by Falkenhayn for a short period and led to the Verdun disaster. Though it could be argued that Verdun was part of a bigger plan for 1916 that would have led to a large German counter-attack. Hindenburg and Ludendorff again adopted the strategy of annihilation.
Paul, I agree that German military planners hated the idea of attrition. Far better to concentrate effort on the quick win against each enemy in turn, while holding the others in check. So went the theory. In practice, it turned out a little different as we know. I wouldn't agree that Hindenburg and Ludendorff adopted a strategy of annihilation, at least as far as the Western Front was concerned. As I understand, they sought to hold the Entente in the West in first instance, while concentrating on Russia. They wanted to knock Russia right out of the war. While this was happening, the British and French would bleed themselves against the Hindenburg line and other defenses. Once Russia was out of the frame, then a temporary numeric superiority would result from the transfer of German forces to the Western Front. This window of opportunity would close when the influx of Americans reached a critical mass. So the Germans had to use their superiority to force the British and, more particularly, the French to sue for peace. It was not a policy of annihilation.

Furthermore, the strategy adopted for the German Spring offensives was not one of annihilation, except insofar as there was a hope that the British might be forced into such a small enclave that they would either have to disembark or they might be destroyed. Ludendorff did not plan on one huge battle that would quickly destroy the two major armies. He planned a series of battles, each designed to draw in reserves and weaken other areas, particularly the Ypres sector. He wanted to avoid breakthroughs degenerating into attritional slogging matches. Ludendorff was less than successful in this ambition. In the event, he executed a series of battles that could be considered attritional battles, wearing the British and French down to the point where one such battle would result in the decisive outcome - peace on Germany's terms, rather than complete and utter destruction of the British and French armies. Ludendorff was not sure in advance which of the battles would result in this outcome. The rolling schedule of battles was finally interrupted with Mangin's counter-offensive near Soissons in mid-1918.

Robert

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Robert,

Great e-mail. I'll try to adress some of your points. I've cut and pasted some of your comments to respond to, just to try and cut down on the length of my post.

"I wouldn't agree that Hindenburg and Ludendorff adopted a strategy of annihilation, at least as far as the Western Front was concerned. As I understand, they sought to hold the Entente in the West in first instance, while concentrating on Russia."

Robert, I would suggest the timing was bit different. German strategy was in flux for a good deal of the war, and it's hard while studying it to form a coherent picture of their path. I'm not sure there was one.

During 1915 Germany stood on the defensive in the west, and concentrated limited forces on offensive actions in the East. This occured during the reign of Falkenhayn.

In 1916 HL did advocate further offensive actions in Russia, but Falkenhayn concentrated on Verdun, either as an attritional battle, or part of a larger scheme to counter attack the allies at a later date (this enigma may never be solved).

The fact that HL advocated offensive action initially in the East, while standing on the defensive in the West does not necessarily show that they had embraced an attritional strategy. I would say the opposite was true. HL felt that attritional battles in the West would only lead to non-decisive results. Only by concentration of forces could this decisive results be achived. They were pushing for decisive actions in the east to free up forces for later decisive actions in the west.

"Once Russia was out of the frame, then a temporary numeric superiority would result from the transfer of German forces to the Western Front. This window of opportunity would close when the influx of Americans reached a critical mass. So the Germans had to use their superiority to force the British and, more particularly, the French to sue for peace. It was not a policy of annihilation."

I would suggest that this is exactly a policy of annihilation. HL sought a dictated peace on German terms, achieved by defeating the Allies, in turn. Eliminating Russia by strong offensive action and then concentrating forces on the Western front to knock out one of the Allies by manuever after a break-through, or a series of blows is exactly this.

The 1918 German offensives were planned a series of heavy blows to bring about a final decisive result. These were not attritional battles, but fought to bring an end to the war before America could make her weight felt, as you wrote.

To a large degree the failure of the 1918 offensives can be traced back to Ludendorff. His statements on his objectives during the planning phase of the 1918 offensives seem very odd in retrospect. He repeatedly emphasized his concentration on tactics as opposed to strategic goals--which would seem a bit strange for an officer in his position.

Looking at the policies and motivations of the war's leaders can be a muddled affair. I think this is doubly the case with German figures. I think what is written, especially by the protagonists, has be to be examined very carefully. German strategy (if there was a coherent strategy) is hard to understand as we often see it through the writings of the generals involved, written after the fact, and in most cases, we are limited to only what has been translated into English.

What makes it difficult to argue any of these points conclusively is that the strategy that Germany pursued seems so odd at times, and was rarely followed through to any conclusion. We can put forth that HL embraced the concept of desicive action as opposed to attrition, and I do believe this to be true. But for a good portion of the war they were not in charge of the military effort. Falkenhayn on the other hand seems to have attempted to implement an attritonal strategy--but did he? The Verdun battle is one of the least understood episodes of the war. Was it an attritional battle, or was it to be part of a bigger plan?

On attrition in general I would like to put this forward. For the Allies this is probably the only strategy that could be applied. She lacked the ability to knock out either Germany or Austria with a desicive blow. For the Germans the situation was different--perhaps Russia could have been eliminated a year earlier from the war.

I think attrition was the correct strategy for the Allies. British naval strength was the trump in this case. The tragedy of it was that this was interspersed with very costly attempts at decisive action. In other words though the Allies were forced by circumstances to adopt attrition, they did not always stick to this strategy.

This is a very interesting discussion and I hope it continues.

Paul

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Jonathan Saunders
I think attrition was the correct strategy for the Allies. British naval strength was the trump in this case. The tragedy of it was that this was interspersed with very costly attempts at decisive action. In other words though the Allies were forced by circumstances to adopt attrition, they did not always stick to this strategy.

I agree this thread is developing extremely well.

Also agree that the British Naval strength was the trump card, married together as it was with US policy to adhere to the British blockade of Germany but at the same time threaten, and so restrict, Germany over the U-boat blockade of Britain.

This is off track but I think the question that springs up now is to what degree could Germany have won the war? They could have defeated France and pushed the British out of F&F but I cannot see at anytime they could have administered total defeat on Britian without successful and unrestricted U-boat warfare - it would have been a negotiated and troubled peace. The US would never have allowed Britain to be defeated - which I believe is reflected by US attitude in the U-boat campaign - as that would leave a rich, industrial Germany all-powerful in Europe and a threat to US global interests. Better for the US to have the old, industrially out-dated and declining power holding the balance (ie Britain).

Paul and Robert - with this in mind I would be interested in your views to the extent the break-through battles engaged by Haig were necessary?

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To a large degree the failure of the 1918 offensives can be traced back to Ludendorff. His statements on his objectives during the planning phase of the 1918 offensives seem very odd in retrospect. He repeatedly emphasized his concentration on tactics as opposed to strategic goals--which would seem a bit strange for an officer in his position.

Paul

May I compliment you gentleman on the level of your posts in this thread?

I`d just add to Paul`s point here that a recognition of tactics as well as strategy seems important if a commander is to avoid catastrophic battles like were seen on the Somme and at Ypres? Surely successful tactics are a prerequisite of successful strategy? Phil B

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Paul and Robert - with this in mind I would be interested in your views to the extent the break-through battles engaged by Haig were necessary?

Jonathan,

The battles were necessary in that they were vehicles used to inflict casualties. Perhaps from the morale standpoint, or even psychologically, they had to be characterized as break-through attempts. When the objective became break-through, and increased casualties were taken trying to achieve this, then this was a depature from the attrition strategy, as I mentioned before.

The offensives fought by the Allies in the West caused huge losses for the German army. They also caused huge losses for the Allies. As distasteful as this was in the end it worked. I think chartiing the course of the war if these battles hadn't been fought would be a pretty tricky business. Less casualties? Certainly. A stonger Germany? Allies? I sure don't know who would have benefitted the most.

One factor that can't be dismissed is that of initiative. Germany spent a good deal of 1916 and 1917 reacting to Allied attacks on all fronts. Though she still managed to knock out Roumania and drive Italy back.

Attrition can be applied at different levels--strategic or tactical. The Naval bloackade is a perfect example of the strategic example. The Somme would be this applied on a tactical level--even if the battle did not start with this objective.

This is a complex subject. Many times campaigns or battles blur between the two. Barbarossa started as the classic manuever and annihilation scenario, but was decided by long-term attrition. Stalingrad is another example. The battle was bred by a large scale and long distance advance, became a battle of attrition, and ended with annihilation (destruction of the 6th army).

It's important to try and make the distinction between a strategy that was being applied, and the way a campaign or battle developed--they could be two seperate things and did diverge (usually unintentionally).

Paul

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May I compliment you gentleman on the level of your posts in this thread?

I`d just add to Paul`s point here that a recognition of tactics as well as strategy seems important if a commander is to avoid catastrophic battles like were seen on the Somme and at Ypres? Surely successful tactics are a prerequisite of successful strategy? Phil B

Phil,

You are absolutely correct. I didn't express my thought very well. I should have said when asked about his strategic objectives for the "peace offensives," Ludendorff replied that he was not worried about that, he was more worried about the tactics involved.

I think he should have given equal thought to both, and in his position he should have been the primary officer giving thought to these objectives.

There does seem to be a lack of goal when one reads about the 1918 offensives. I have the feeling that the Germans were launching huge offensives, with, at best, nebulous objectives. You can just feel it by what is not written.

It seems a bit to me like trying to knock down that old rotten garden shed in the back. You walk out with the sledge hammer and give it a few good whacks and hope something happens. But sometimes that old shed is a lot tougher than it looks.

Paul

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Jonathan Saunders
The battles were necessary in that they were vehicles used to inflict casualties ...

Paul - many thanks for your comments. I agree with all that you say but I am still left with the feeling that for the PBI attritional warfare under Haig was poorly conducted.

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Paul - many thanks for your comments. I agree with all that you say but I am still left with the feeling that for the PBI attritional warfare under Haig was poorly conducted.

Jonathan,

You may well be right. I think the vision of breaking, "To the green fields beyond." was hard to shake.

Paul

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I wouldn't want this to develop into a Haig debate, but however you wish to judge him, he had to remain optimistic about a breakthrough strategy. After 2nd Ypres there was simply no realistic chance of any sort of mobile, or to use a modern term, manouevre warfare. Here I agree with Paul; that it is difficult to see what her goals were were. They certainly had a quick and often very effective riposte in the counter attack, but this never developed into anything other than largely regaining lost ground. The strength and depth of their defences, and a later later their move to a policy of elastic defence, suggests that Germany was quite happy to rely on the allies breaking themselves on their line. That begs the question what was Germany going to do after that? Was it the hope that the Allies would capitulate and sue for peace? There doesn't seem to have been a German strategy for total military defeat of the Allies, not until 1918 at least, when the realisation struck home of the threat of America's industrial might and her considerable manpower reserves,forced them into, what turned out to be, a make or break series of offensives.

Taking all this into account, there was little choice in the method adopted, and attritional warfare was, and always is, likely to bring with it heavy casualties, irrespective of how Haig or any other senior commander on any side conducted a particular battle or phase of battle.

Terry Reeves

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