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Attrition


PhilB
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QUOTE (Phil_B @ Dec 14 2006, 02:44 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Did the German Army fatally weaken in 1918 because of the battles or because 4 years of war had taken its necessary toll?

Only time for a very brief answer - the infrastructure of the German home front had crumbled as a result of four years of global war and all that meant in terms of the Royal Navy blockade.

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QUOTE (Phil_B @ Dec 14 2006, 07:39 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
So did the battles make a big difference to the war`s length? Phil B

If you are asking my opinion then no I dont think they did to any substantial degree.

My belief is that Germany could not win the war after 1914 but the Allies could lose the war by virtue of Germany winning a negotiated peace in which they could either dominate terms or have equal status ie. at worst retain the vast majority of occupied France. I think study of British battle tactics prior to the Last 100 days (when German was thoroughly weak and broken as a Nation) suggests the Allied commands came very close on the Western Front to allowing exactly that position to materialise.

Meanwhile, IMHO, the blockade was the true war of attrition that destroyed Germany but again things could have been different. If the USA had not respected the British blockade and continued to trade with Germany or if Germany had recommenced their U-boat offensive earlier, coupled with the USA remaining neutral proportionately longer, then it may well have been the British home front that crumbled.

The subject of the blockade winning the war or the war being won on the Western Front is contentious. My view is probably in the minority.

Regards,

Jon S

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"Did the German Army fatally weaken in 1918 because of the battles or because 4 years of war had taken its necessary toll?"

Perhaps you could better say that the German army had been fatally weakened by four years of battles.

The overall losses suffered by the Germans were suffered through their offensive battles, as well as their defensive operations. Verdun and the 1918 "peace" offensives being the classic examples.

The Germans simply didn't have the resources to win a long war, attritional war. They knew that long before the war started, which is why they tried the gamble that was the 1914 campaign.

Best to not forget than neither did A-H, Turkey or Bulgaria. Turkey and Bulgaria had been involved in fighting off and on since 1912, and A-H was in a precarious position to withstand the strains of an attritional struggle.

Losses on the fronts combined with economic strangulation via the Royal Navy.

Paul

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I think that the blockade played a major part in bringing the war to a close when it did. Its strangle of the German supply etc caused the Germans to fight the war the way they did in 1918. However the blockade could not win the war on its own. Its the anvil and the hammer!

The Naval blockade was the anvil to which Haig hammered the German army against.

regards

Arm

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QUOTE (Phil_B @ Dec 14 2006, 02:44 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Did the German Army fatally weaken in 1918 because of the battles or because 4 years of war had taken its necessary toll?
Phil, do you mean the battles in 1918? Or do you mean the large set piece battles throughout the war? If you mean the latter then you cannot separate these from 4 years of war. They are one and the same in terms of the effects on the German Army.

Robert

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With regards to the blockade, it had a powerful effect on Germany. But the German Army did not starve, did not run out of ammunition, or weapons to fire the ammunition. Ludendorff knew on the 8th August 1918 that things were all but finished. He had finally run out of reserves. By withdrawing and shortening the line, it was possible to free up some reserves. From then on, however, it became increasingly difficult for the German military to hold the same frontage. Not because of the blockade but because manpower shortages were becoming more and more severe. The anecdotal accounts of German soldiers and artillerists, as well as commanders, all bear testimony to the tremendous burdens of the last 100 days - the constant pressure, too little rest, the harrassing artillery fire, etc, etc. The Entente forces could keep up pressure on multiple areas of the German lines. The Germans could not maintain an equal resistance. This was a military problem.

Robert

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With regards to the blockade, it had a powerful effect on Germany. But the German Army did not starve, did not run out of ammunition, or weapons to fire the ammunition.

These are exactly the reasons why the Royal Navy blockade was the single most important contribution to ending the Great War. Despite Verdun, the Eastern Front campaign, the Somme, the 1917 Allied offensives, the German Michael offensive and the Last 100 Days, the German army still continued to function and proved it could fight furiously right up until the last days of the war. Four years of Western Front battles had not defeated Germany.

Not because of the blockade but because manpower shortages were becoming more and more severe.

But this is the same manpower crisis that the Allies would have faced if it had not been for the intervention of the USA. Luddendorf probably did know it was all up by 8 August, if not before, but not because of four years of warfare but because with the USA becoming a combatant they cpuld no longer resist the Allied offensive and because the home front was imploding and they would have had nothing left at home to fight for anyway.

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Here is what Ludendorff wrote about the effects of 8 August, 1918 and the subsequent days of fighting:

'The losses of the Second Army had been very heavy. Heavy demands had also been made upon its reserves to fill up the gaps. The infantry of some divisions had had to go into action straight off the lorries, while their artillery had been sent to some other part of the line. Units were badly mixed up. It could be foreseen that a number of additional divisions would become necessary in order to strengthen the Second Army, even if the enemy continued the offensive, and that was not certain. Besides, our losses in prisoners had been so heavy that General Headquarters was again faced with the necessity of breaking up more divisions to form reserves. Our reserves dwindled. The losses of the enemy, on the other hand, had been extraordinarily small. The balance of numbers had moved heavily against us; it was bound to become increasingly unfavourable as more American troops came in. There was no hope of materially improving our position by a counter-attack. Our only course, therefore, was to hold on.

We had to resign ourselves now to the prospect of a continuation of the enemy's offensive. Their success was too easily gained. Their wireless was jubilant, and announced - and with truth - that the morale of the German Army was no longer what it had been.'

This is not the story of the effects of a blockade. This is the effect of four years of grinding down of the German Army, until it reached the point where, holding onto the gains of the Spring offensives (apart from the loss of the Soissons salient), it had finally reached the limit of its capacity. Yes, Ludendorff pointed to the significance of the Americans but in the future tense and with respect to making the situation 'increasingly unfavourable'.

Robert

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"Four years of Western Front battles had not defeated Germany..."

I guess it depends on your definition of defeat. It could be argued that the German Army was defeated in 1914. By that I mean Germany probably lost the war in 1914.

Germany launched an offensive war which depended on defeating France quickly, and then turning on Russia. This plan failed.

What ensued was an attritional war caused by the circumstances of the limited manuever room, technology (and the lack of it) manpower, industry, ect.

In 1918 Germany launched its offensives, and again failed, and with this really lost what small chance they had to bring the war to a favorable close. Both the German offensive efforts in 1914, and 1918 were decided in the field.

The German High Command knew they couldn't win a war of attrition. Moltke wrote as much before the war.

We can't take the war apart, examine just a few aspects of it, and expect to understand the whole. One might argue it was the blockade, another it was defeat of the army. It was all of these things, and many, many more factors. Factors I might add that were not always located on or related to the Western Front.

I would say that I believe the German army was defeated in the field, but not in 1918, but 1914. What came after that was the nightmare, with some bright spots, that the German's own High Command had envisioned.

Oh yes, before I forget it, she was also defeated on the sea. Both in combat and through long-term applied sea power--the bloackade.

"This is the effect of four years of grinding down of the German Army."

This reflects an almost stereotyped view of the war. The British army started the war very small. The French battles of 1915 were breakthrough attempts. The material battles (attritonal warfare), as the Germans called it, did not start until 1916, and it could be argued (and has been) that the Somme was a breakthrough attempt that turned into an attritional battle.

The Germans did a good bit of their own grinding. Their army was not a static beast to be hacked at until it could stand no more. My point is that the German army was worn down by 4 years of fighting, not only 4 years of defending against Allied attempts at attrition on the Western Front. This would be reflecting a condition that existed later in the war, to an earlier period, and applying it to the war as a whole, which does not portray the war accurately. Germany launched large offensive operations in the West in 1914, 1916, and 1918. In 1915 she was on the offensive in the East. All of these efforts resulted in casualties, though at least in the East, they inflicted many more casualties than they cost.

Germany lost the war for many reasons, some of which extend to political and policy decisions before the war. Many factors were at work here, including the blockade.

One must be cautious of the "stab in the back," theory. There was a lot of nonsense written between the wars, and some of this has made its way into our modern literature.

Paul

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"This is the effect of four years of grinding down of the German Army."

This reflects an almost stereotyped view of the war.

Paul, I don't know of any other way to describe the process. The perspective I was trying to take was that of the army, not of its opponents who may have described their strategy as one of attrition. The effects of the various types of battles, such as you described, was not sudden and dramatic. There was a series of step-wise losses, which were initially made up for by a variety of mechanisms: reducing the size of existing formations to create new ones, calling up of reserves, production and integration of more artillery and machine guns, etc. At some point, this could not be sustained. Despite all these measures, the army reached that point during the Battle of Amiens, at least from Ludendorff's perspective.

I was also trying to capture the experience of those soldiers and artillerists who wrote about their experiences throughout the war. They describe a process that had a systematic effect over time. For each individual, the process was not linear. But the trend was downhill, particularly if you aggregate the experiences together. The losses and growing pressures are common themes. The Spring offensives marked a significant but brief upsurge in morale, to be followed by an equally significant downturn after Reims. In the last months, the pressure was almost constant. The relative lack of reserves meant little opportunity for rest and recuperation.

Robert

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This is not the story of the effects of a blockade. This is the effect of four years of grinding down of the German Army, until it reached the point where, holding onto the gains of the Spring offensives (apart from the loss of the Soissons salient), it had finally reached the limit of its capacity. Yes, Ludendorff pointed to the significance of the Americans but in the future tense and with respect to making the situation 'increasingly unfavourable'.

The position the German army found itself after 8 August 1918 was as a result of the failure of their Spring offensives in which they had really expended the last of their resources. The Spring offensives were launched in an attempt to win a negotiated peace in which Germany could still have some influence. The need for the Spring offensives came primarily from two sources 1) the impact of the German blockade and the destruction of the Home Front and 2) the entry of the USA as a combatant and all that meant.

If Germany had not launched the Spring offensives but continued with a defensive strategy on the Western Front and if the USA had remained as "neutral" as they had been prior to Feb 1917, then the war on the Western Front could have conceivably continued into 1919 and beyond (as Haig expected it to as late as October 1918). Yet in all likelihood the war would not have continued much past November 1918 because Germany would have suffered a revolution in the same way as Russia. This was because of starvation, disease and destruction of the internal German infrastructure. In other words the direct result of a successful blockade of Germany.

Regards,

Jon

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"Four years of Western Front battles had not defeated Germany..."

I guess it depends on your definition of defeat. It could be argued that the German Army was defeated in 1914. By that I mean Germany probably lost the war in 1914.

Paul,

Good post. I agree that to all intense purposes the war was lost for Germany at the end of 1914. von Falkenhyn knew that and fought 1915 and 1916 to break the Entente. I dont know your opinion but I think he gets a very bad press - as you will have guessed from my other thread, I see Germany's learning process much quicker than Britain's and I think von Falkenhyn has to be credited with this. Also von Falkenhyn was fighting battles, such as Verdun, to put as much internal pressure on the French government as possible - he saw that a German dominated peace could be won on the Western Front but that the days of one decisive battle were long past.

Regards,

Jon S

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What I like about both of your points, and what I hope I communicated, is that you are both very right in what you are saying. It was indeed a combination of many factors.

I agree that it was the blockade.

I agree it was 4 years of fighting--of which a big part were the attritional battles fought in the West.

Jon you're right about my opinion of Falkenhayn. The more I study his actions the more convinced I am of the "penny-wise, pound-foolish," tag an author put on him years ago.

Falkenhayn didn't follow through during the 1915 Eastern offensive, and he also failed to follow through at Verdun. The latter cost him his position, and a good deal of hard to replace veteran German infantry. Half measures, always half measures.

Falkenhayn is an intensely interesting character. I hope some day a decent biography of him is written in English. One of his main faults was simply the fact that we was intensely disliked by a large portion of higher-ranking German officers. He seems to get high marks as a field commander though. He defintely had some talents.

Paul

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This is just an observation on a previous issue in this interesting thread - the Gommecourt diversion.

While reading that Gommecourt was intended as a diversion from the main assault, from my own experience and training, Gommecourt was too close in both location and time to the main assault for it to have been an effective diversion.

Diversions/feints are difficult operations to pull off successfully and involve a good deal of credible deception. The aim is to convince the enemy that the main attack will take place in another area so as to draw off substantial forces to meet the diversionary operation and thus weaken the enemy’s ability to respond to the main offensive. For a diversion/feint to work it must be credible, threaten a position that is important to the enemy's operations and be such that the forces diverted to meet the diversion/feint cannot be quickly redeployed to counter the main attack.

Diversions can comprise either purely deception or a threatened assault (as Allenby did at Third Gaza in 1917 and Meggido in 1918 and what Operation Fortitude achieved prior to and after the Normandy Landings in 1944) or it can comprise an actual attack. If it is an attack then strength, timing and location are important considerations. The strength must be such that the enemy believes the feint is a serious offensive, the timing must be such that the enemy is given time to divert forces to counter the feint before the main offensive is launched and the location must be such that the diverted forces are drawn sufficiently away from the area of the main offensive that they cannot be readily redeployed to meet that offensive.

I don't believe that Gommecourt met any of these conditions and being launched at the same time as the main attack, it would have been seen by the Germans as being the flank of the British offensive. Being so close to the main assault, Gommecourt lessened the impact of drawing off substantial reserves from the main attack.

Certainly, it diverted some artillery that would otherwise have been directed against the actual northern flank at Serre, but it would have affected only those batteries that could have responded to both Serre and Gommecourt without being redeployed. As for infantry, again it only affected the German reserves in the area between Gommecourt and Serre during the initial stages of the battle. To my mind the diversion of German resources away from Serre was minimal and the aim could have been achieved with a threatened assault, deceiving the Germans that the salient was an intended objective after they had diverted resources against the main assault further south. While this would not have diverted artillery resources in range of Serre, it could have stopped the Germans from redeploying units that were in reserve around Gommecourt

Maybe Gommecourt is an example of the problem of “chasing ground”.

Regards

Chris

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While reading that Gommecourt was intended as a diversion from the main assault, from my own experience and training, Gommecourt was too close in both location and time to the main assault for it to have been an effective diversion.

Diversions/feints are difficult operations to pull off successfully and involve a good deal of credible deception. The aim is to convince the enemy that the main attack will take place in another area so as to draw off substantial forces to meet the diversionary operation and thus weaken the enemy’s ability to respond to the main offensive. For a diversion/feint to work it must be credible, threaten a position that is important to the enemy's operations and be such that the forces diverted to meet the diversion/feint cannot be quickly redeployed to counter the main attack.

Thanks, Chris. As you point out, diversions need not involve an actual attack. This is quite hard to pull off successfully. The best example that I can think of on the Western Front was the preparations for Operation Michael. There was uncertainty in the minds at GHQ and GQG about the precise point of the main attack, based on the assumption that Operation Michael was not the main attack. This assumption was reinforced by the visible preparations on a scale that suggested major offensives could be launched in any one of several locations that threatened more strategic objectives.

The diversion at Megiddo involved the use of deep raids that helped reinforce the vulnerability of the Turko-German left flank. It was then possible to use dummy horses and encampments to further exaggerate the threat. The rapid mobility of the light horsemen enabled the Schwerpunkt to be moved the other flank. It is much harder to see how Allenby's approach to Megiddo could be applied to the Western Front in general, and the Somme in particular.

Returning then to the Operation Michael model. Credible preparations for a diversionary offensive are difficult to pull off. They require significant effort to be credible - creation of roads, supply dumps, encampments, forming-up trenches, etc, across a wide frontage. If the frontage is only perceived to be one or two divisions wide, then minimal effort would be required to defend against the 'attack' and the diversion will serve no purpose. I don't know if any thought was given to diversionary measures on a very wide frontage, although I believe there were instructions to ensure active harrassment of the Germans along the frontline. In one sense, you can regard the whole lead-up to and execution of the Somme offensive as a major diversion with respect to Verdun. As I mentioned in a post yesterday, the British forces had extended their lines to take in the Somme front. Engineering and other resources may have been stretched enough as it was in order to get the necessary roads, water supplies, dumps, etc in place for the Somme. Trying to reproduce that effort in a credible way across several miles of front elsewhere at the same time would have been very difficult, I think.

You mentioned actual attacks. An isolated diversionary attack on a narrow frontage, ie the same width as the Gommecourt attack, carried out at a distant locality was highly unlikely to achieve anything. Fromelles remains the best example of this. In summary, the Germans did not have to look beyond local resources to repel the assault. If the attack is to either involve or mimick a wider frontage, then the preparations had to be much more significant, getting back to the point that I made above.

Which brings us back to Gommecourt. From the outset, the preparations for Gommecourt were to be as visible as possible. According to British Official History, the German 2nd Army submitted the following report to OHL:

'The preparations of the British in the area Serre-Gommecourt, as well as the increase of the artillery between Suzanne and Albert by 29 emplacements in the last few days, detected by air photographs, lead to the conclusion that the enemy thinks first and foremost of attacking the projecting angles of Fricourt and Gommecourt. In view of the ground and the run of the trenches, it is quite imaginable that he will only try to hold fast the front of the 26th Reserve Division between these two points by artillery fire, but will not make a serious attack. This possibility is already provided for by the disposition of the forces of the XIV Corps.'

In the same report, it was noted that 'south of the Somme also the enemy has been reinforced, actually by three French divisions. To oppose them the XVII Corps is too weak, both in infantry and guns.'

By the 14th June, the Germans had detected the 'gradual shifting of four divisions which were opposite the northern wing of the Sixth Army to the front of Second.' The French XXX Corps was detected and Crown Prince Rupprecht noted that 'a great French offensive against the Second Army is imminent.' The BOH notes that 'Falkenhayn still persisted that the main attack would be against the Sixth Army, and not the Second, "behind which he kept scarcely three divisions in reserve"'. From this evidence, OHL was still focused on the Vimy Ridge sector.

Of course, OHL had the authority to move reserves from one army to another, and any failure to do so was not down to the preparations at Gommecourt, IMHO. The redistribution of Second Army's reserves, however, were another matter. I don't know why the decision/s were taken to reinforce against the left flank of the British attack and not to support XVII Corps south of the river. Gommecourt has to have been a significant factor, IMHO. Haig knew enough about German offensive tactics to know that they might rise to the bait of the threat that the attack posed to the Gommecourt salient. It just smacks of the German application of the Cannae principle of envelopment. Maybe he was relying on this when he made the decision. If so, then he was correct. A Gommecourt launched elsewhere would not have had the same impact though, partly because Gommecourt was an extension of the British left flank but also because the nature of the attack (enveloping a salient by pinching out the base) would exaggerate its significance. Gommecourt was sufficiently geographically isolated from the main attack that the Germans could have treated it like Fromelles, not reinforcing it signficantly at all from army reserves.

It is entirely possible that Haig hoped Gommecourt would shift resources away from the main part of the British attack. I have never seen any evidence that Gommecourt was primarily designed to help the French succeed. The absence of evidence does not mean that Haig would not have understood the possibility - he knew that the total breadth of the attack was crucial. In any event, whatever Haig's hopes were, I do not think that Gommecourt can be separated from the French success in the south.

Robert

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Certainly, it diverted some artillery that would otherwise have been directed against the actual northern flank at Serre, but it would have affected only those batteries that could have responded to both Serre and Gommecourt without being redeployed. As for infantry, again it only affected the German reserves in the area between Gommecourt and Serre during the initial stages of the battle. To my mind the diversion of German resources away from Serre was minimal and the aim could have been achieved with a threatened assault, deceiving the Germans that the salient was an intended objective after they had diverted resources against the main assault further south. While this would not have diverted artillery resources in range of Serre, it could have stopped the Germans from redeploying units that were in reserve around Gommecourt
Chris, I agree with your analysis of the local impact. The reallocation of reserves probably had no substantial effect on the efforts around Serre and Thiepval. It could be argued that the 36th Division's efforts might have been diminished had more German artillery been able to focus on the attack. I doubt this. The 36th Division's attack illustrated that the best way to nullify a defensive counter-barrage was to get inside the enemy's trenches as quickly as possible. While this prevented the effects of pre-planned fire, the German artillery were still able to use direct fire as the attack penetrated deeper into the German lines.

Robert

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Robert,

Many Thanks. All of your points in response to my comments are valid and I have no disagreement with them. Certainly your point about Fromelles bears witness to the folly of employing such a localized attack as a feint. IMO Gommecourt falls into the same category. I agree that a credible diversion on the Western front would have been difficult to achieve. From what you are saying, Falkenhayn believed that the offensive would be launched in the Vimy Ridge area despite the obvious preparations at the Somme. If a credible diversion was to have been included in the Somme offensive, I feel it would have been better directed at Vimy Ridge and/or Messines because they meet the criteria of location given in my earlier post. Perhaps such a diversion/deception may have reinforced Falkenhayn’s views and drawn more forces north – but we will never know.

With the benefit of hindsight we now know that the artillery preparatory fire did not deliver the expected results for the troops on the ground. This was partly due to the availability of guns per yard of frontage.

My assessment is that Gommecourt was an unnecessary add-on that diverted British resources which could have been better used elsewhere, particularly artillery in the preparatory fire plan in support of the main assault. These resources may have had a greater impact in reducing the German resistance in the Serre - Redan Ridge - Beaumont Hamel area, although whether this would have changed the result is conjecture. Has any of your research modeling of the effect of increased artillery on the terrain models addressed this?

I have often thought that the main British offensive on 1st July was made on too broad a front. My understanding is that the British generally held the high ground north of the Ancre as far as the area west of Beaumont Hamel; they certainly did in the area of the Newfoundland Memorial Park. Please correct me if I am wrong. If so, would it not have been better to have anchored the left flank of the offensive in this area and delivered the main British assault between the Ancre and the French left flank with the object of capturing the Thiepval - Ginchy Ridge north of the Somme? This reduced frontage would have provided a greater concentration of artillery to support the assault and perhaps achieved more than it did. The German positions immediately north of the Ancre could have been subjected to a continuing barrage to help protect the right flank of the assault at Thiepval.

I have never understood why greater use was not made of mines against the German strong points in the Thiepval area. They were known to be there and this portion of the line offered the shortest route to securing a position on the high ground of the Thiepval – Ginchy Ridge, albeit on the northern end of that ridge.

What are your thoughts on these points? I would be interested to hear Jon’s view as well.

Regards

Chris

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From what you are saying, Falkenhayn believed that the offensive would be launched in the Vimy Ridge area despite the obvious preparations at the Somme. If a credible diversion was to have been included in the Somme offensive, I feel it would have been better directed at Vimy Ridge and/or Messines because they meet the criteria of location given in my earlier post. Perhaps such a diversion/deception may have reinforced Falkenhayn’s views and drawn more forces north – but we will never know.
Chris, I don't know if the BEF knew of Falkenhayn's views. It is unclear to me that the BEF knew of the German dispositions in the Vimy Ridge area - Fog of War. Charteris, in his book 'At GHQ', mentions the spreading of rumours that Lille would be the focus of the attack. A footnote then mentions 'these [rumours] had been started with a view to drawing German attention away from the Somme, and seem to have succeeded'. It is not clear who wrote the footnote. I presume it was the author, Charteris. If so, he does not indicate how he knew that the rumours were effective. Charteris does not mention that Germans were expecting an attack on Vimy Ridge, nor does he comment on German reserves being held there. He makes comments on German dispositions with respect to some other actions but the absence of comments may or may not be significant.

I outlined in a recent thread why I thought Vimy Ridge was not a good place to mount a diversion. Assuming that it was known that the Germans were expecting an attack, the BEF dispositions on the ridge were very difficult, having just been beaten back in the German attack in May and being forced to occupy exposed trenchlines. The ground had already been ploughed over in the Artois offensive, as well as the German preparatory bombardment in May. The British Official History records that the planning that was initiated by Wilson for the British counter-attack formed the basis for planning the successful assault in 1917.

For me, Falkenhayn's views illustrate something more interesting. He appears to have systematically ignored the views of his senior commanders. This gives the impression that he did not want to see what was coming on the Somme - a form of denial, which is not uncommon.

My assessment is that Gommecourt was an unnecessary add-on that diverted British resources which could have been better used elsewhere, particularly artillery in the preparatory fire plan in support of the main assault.
I fully understand the logic. The basic problem I have with the reallocation of artillery resources is that the existing ones were not used correctly in the key area. The extra guns were not really needed for wire cutting. More field guns would not have helped a barrage that was timed to lift before the infantry were close to the trenches. I think the lack of adequate counter-battery work was not primarily down to lack of artillery resources but to lack of appropriate use of those resources. A few more heavy guns that were then allocated to bombard the various redoubts and other strongpoints would not, IMHO, have made the slightest difference on "Z" Day. It was not weight of shells and numbers of guns, but how they were used.

Has any of your research modeling of the effect of increased artillery on the terrain models addressed this?
Not yet. The terrain models do not include the Gommecourt area yet. Thanks to the work of Ralph Whitehead, Jack Sheldon and others, I now have a much clearer idea of where the various German batteries were located, which was another piece of the jigsaw that I had been missing.

Robert

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I have often thought that the main British offensive on 1st July was made on too broad a front. My understanding is that the British generally held the high ground north of the Ancre as far as the area west of Beaumont Hamel; they certainly did in the area of the Newfoundland Memorial Park. Please correct me if I am wrong. If so, would it not have been better to have anchored the left flank of the offensive in this area and delivered the main British assault between the Ancre and the French left flank with the object of capturing the Thiepval - Ginchy Ridge north of the Somme? This reduced frontage would have provided a greater concentration of artillery to support the assault and perhaps achieved more than it did. The German positions immediately north of the Ancre could have been subjected to a continuing barrage to help protect the right flank of the assault at Thiepval.
Chris, when you look at the frontline, the German defences north of the Ancre project a salient to the west. Given the direction of the Ancre valley, you can appreciate why there were major concerns about the attack south of the river being taken in enfilade. It is somewhat akin to the problem that the Germans struck when their Verdun assaults were confined to the east bank of the Meuse River. It is not difficult, IMHO, to make a sound military argument for ensuring that the north side of the Ancre River was nullified as much as possible. Subjecting the German artillery to counter-battery fire would have been one approach. This would have required the guns to have been located north of the river. No problem in doing that, if they achieved their objective. An alternative approach was to get the German guns to focus somewhere else, hence the extension of the line to the north, bearing in mind that German heavy guns to the north of the river could range down in enfilade on the BEF attack to the south from some miles away.

I have never understood why greater use was not made of mines against the German strong points in the Thiepval area.
I can't answer on this one. All I can say is that the only example where mines played a significant role in the capture of a major defensive position (as opposed to very local and isolated objectives) was Messines ridge. The number of mines, and the effort taken to produce them, was possibly not reproducible on the Somme front as well?

Robert

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What are your thoughts on these points? I would be interested to hear Jon’s view as well.

Chris,

I've never considered the Somme attack without the involvement of Serre. I think if I was standing on the ridge at Serre then I would think this is where the left flank had to be anchored. One of the most annoying things about Serre is that forward saps had been dug out into NML from which the troops could have emerged much sooner and much closer to the German lines - yet they were not utilised on 1 July. It may have just made that difference.

Similar to you I have never understood why only two large mines were blown on 1 July. As you say, more use of mining would have made an immense difference in the all important northern sector.

Apologies that my reply is brief. If I can find some time I will try and give your comments (and Robert's replies) the consideration they deserve.

Regards,

Jon S

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Robert wrote:

"For me, Falkenhayn's views illustrate something more interesting. He appears to have systematically ignored the views of his senior commanders. This gives the impression that he did not want to see what was coming on the Somme - a form of denial, which is not uncommon."

Robert, I'm very interested in your comment. Can you elaborate a bit?

More recent research has shown that Falkenhayn was hoping that Verdun would prompt an Allied counter-offensive, not unlike the Somme scenario. He did underestimate the ultimate strength of the offensive.

Paul

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Robert, I'm very interested in your comment. Can you elaborate a bit?

More recent research has shown that Falkenhayn was hoping that Verdun would prompt an Allied counter-offensive, not unlike the Somme scenario. He did underestimate the ultimate strength of the offensive.

Paul, this is very interesting. My comment relates the general way in which some people react under pressure. When faced with multiple 'threats', some react by denying the significance of one or more of the threats. The problem is that it takes a lot of mental energy to do this and it creates a state of anxiety/tension, which then further impairs decision-making - a form of cognitive dissonance if you will. Outside the medical context, the author that has written a lot about this is Senge ('The Fifth Discipline', 'Dance of Change', etc). If it is true that Falkenhayn was hoping for an Entente counter-offensive (and I have no reason to believe otherwise), then it is even more surprising that he should ignore, from a practical perspective, the advice from his most senior commanders. I think it is highly likely that Falkenhayn thought that there would be a counter-attack. Not because of anything I have read. It is one of those basic principles that an experienced staff-trained general would expect, in the abstract. The real key, however, is whether the general is capable of recognising credible threats, and then taking appropriate action in response.

Robert

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Paul, this is very interesting. My comment relates the general way in which some people react under pressure. When faced with multiple 'threats', some react by denying the significance of one or more of the threats. The problem is that it takes a lot of mental energy to do this and it creates a state of anxiety/tension, which then further impairs decision-making - a form of cognitive dissonance if you will. Outside the medical context, the author that has written a lot about this is Senge ('The Fifth Discipline', 'Dance of Change', etc). If it is true that Falkenhayn was hoping for an Entente counter-offensive (and I have no reason to believe otherwise), then it is even more surprising that he should ignore, from a practical perspective, the advice from his most senior commanders. I think it is highly likely that Falkenhayn thought that there would be a counter-attack. Not because of anything I have read. It is one of those basic principles that an experienced staff-trained general would expect, in the abstract. The real key, however, is whether the general is capable of recognising credible threats, and then taking appropriate action in response.

Robert

Robert,

Falkenhayn had a habit of ignoring his advisors and senior commanders on a regular basis. On the run-up to Verdun he was approached numerous times about the number of troops (or lack thereof) and also the issue of attacking only on one bank. He refused to listen. The flanking fire from the French west bank was murderous. The German troops didn't call the ravines leading off the Meuse valley "the bowling alley," for nothing.

Paul

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The basic problem I have with the reallocation of artillery resources is that the existing ones were not used correctly in the key area. The extra guns were not really needed for wire cutting. More field guns would not have helped a barrage that was timed to lift before the infantry were close to the trenches. I think the lack of adequate counter-battery work was not primarily down to lack of artillery resources but to lack of appropriate use of those resources. A few more heavy guns that were then allocated to bombard the various redoubts and other strongpoints would not, IMHO, have made the slightest difference on "Z" Day.

Robert

Robert,

Point taken. I certainly agree that the employment of the artillery was not as good as it could have been.

Regards

Chris

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