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Remembered Today:

Attrition


PhilB
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can I just check what you mean by this? Is it your understanding that a major breakthrough was the primary tactical objective for day one? Or are you referring to a longer-term 'strategic' objective?

Robert,

I am referring to the longer term 'strategic' objective and to what I regard as Haig's over optimistic views of what he thought could be achieved. IMO Haig was 'obsessed' with a achievinga breakthrough that would allow him to pass his cavalry through and behind the German lines. This I think also influenced the first day objectives. Rawlinson's initial plans appear to have focussed on more limited objectives for 1st July while Haig expected greater results.

Regads

Chris

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IMO Haig was 'obsessed' with a achieving a breakthrough that would allow him to pass his cavalry through and behind the German lines.
Thanks for the clarification, Chris. 'Obsessed' is quite a strong word. It usually means a total focus on something, to the exclusion of anything else. Is this what you mean - I note that you have enclosed the work in single quotes, which suggests something else?

Robert

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Robert,

Yes, I was scratching around looking for an appropriate word hence the quotes. Obssessed is too strong perhaps pre-occupation might be a better word. Whatever it is, I think Haig's objective with getting the cavalry through and behind the German lines was instrumental in his approach to the battle.

Regards

Chris

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I think Haig's objective with getting the cavalry through and behind the German lines was instrumental in his approach to the battle.

Regards

Chris

This must have been imbued since his cornet days. I suspect that no cavalry general ever stopped looking for the G in gap! Just as well Rawlinson was not cavalry? Phil B

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Crunchy said:
...pre-occupation might be a better word.

Chris, understood. Thanks for the clarification.

Quote
Whatever it is, I think Haig's objective with getting the cavalry through and behind the German lines was instrumental in his approach to the battle.

Before discussing this issue in more detail, have you seen the previous posts in this thread about the planning for July 1? This post is particularly relevant and lies in the midst of the other posts:

 

There are a couple of other questions I would like to pose. Based on your previous experience, given that the British Fourth Army did not have intrinsic cavalry assets (nor any other British army at this time), and given that more than one British army was involved in the attack, what level of command would you expect to make the decision about whether cavalry was to be used?

Secondly, had you been aware before that the French were preparing cavalry for use during the Somme offensive?

Robert

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There are a couple of other questions I would like to pose. Based on your previous experience, given that the British Fourth Army did not have intrinsic cavalry assets (nor any other British army at this time), and given that more than one British army was involved in the attack, what level of command would you expect to make the decision about whether cavalry was to be used?

Secondly, had you been aware before that the French were preparing cavalry for use during the Somme offensive?

Hello Robert,

My apologies for not getting back to you earlier.

I had read somewhere that the French had intended to use cavalry during the Somme offensive but I do not know the details.

With regard to the first question, I assume you are referring to the decision to actually commit the cavalry into the battle given Haig had planned for cavalry to be used if the conditions were favourable for them to be pushed through.

As a matter of principle a Commander is given a task and the resources to undertake it. If the task includes exploiting a breakthrough, then he must be given the resources to do so and the decision to commit them at an appropriate time should reside with him. In doing so he may or may not consult with his superior commander when committing them, depending on the situation.

Applying this to the Somme during the initial stages of the offensive is complex given Haig’s shifting strategic objectives and changing command arrangements regarding the breakthrough. As I understand it, initially Gough’s cavalry corps was to operate as part of Rawlinson’s Fourth Army. In this situation Rawlinson would make the decision when to commit the cavalry if the opportunity arose. Then on 16th June while the offensive was still entrusted to Fourth Army, Gough (now the Reserve Army) became independent of Fourth Army and if all went well the cavalry under Gough was to exploit any full breach of the enemy’s defences. In principle, Haig would be responsible for committing the exploitation force. This, however, is not a satisfactory arrangement given the communications of the day and the distance that GHQ was from the battle front. If an opportunity to exploit a breach occurs it is generally a fleeting one and time is of the essence. I don't think it was appropriate for Haig to make the decision; he was too far from the scene for the opportunity to be seized upon quickly. Nor do I think Gough should have responsibility as he was not in a position to know when the opportunity for exploitation existed. Rawlinson was the man on the spot fighting the battle and responsible for the main offensive. He was in the best position to judge when the breach was made and when forces responsible for exploiting it should be passed through. Had the opportunity to commit the cavalry arisen, I would have expected Rawlinson to make that decision and tell Gough to exploit the opportunity. Then on 22 June Haig placed Gough’s cavalry divisions under Fourth Army’s control. Under this arrangement the decision to commit the cavalry rests with Rawlinson but Gough still has Army Command status and the task of exploiting to Bapaume and then turning northwards. When Gough advised Haig on 27 June that he was uncertain of his position under Rawlinson, and uncertain of his objectives, an acceptable procedure had to be worked out. This is hardly a satisfactory command arrangement.

I have difficulty understanding the logic of Haig’s command arrangements after 16th June. Gough was a LTGEN and initially had a cavalry corps; there appeared to be no imperative to raise his command to Army status and make him independent of Fourth Army. A more suitable arrangement would have been to give Rawlinson responsibility and the resources for the complete offensive including exploitation up to a clearly defined and achievable line of exploitation. This would have placed the exploitation force (Gough) under Rawlinson and established a simple, clean and workable command arrangement.

Moving on to when Gough was given responsibility for the battle north of the Albert-Bapaume road and two Armies were involve fighting side by side. As I understand it, Gough's task was initially to take Pozieres and then to fight northwards with a view to taking the Theipval position from the rear. The main offensive to drive east and "break" the German line was still entrusted to Rawlinson. Thus I would expect Rawlinson to still have the responsibility to exploit any breakthrough. He should be given the resources for doing so and, again, the decision to commit them would have been his.

Regards

Chris

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No problem, Chris. It is great to have your response. You have raised some interesting points.

With regard to the first question, I assume you are referring to the decision to actually commit the cavalry into the battle given Haig had planned for cavalry to be used if the conditions were favourable for them to be pushed through.
This wasn't what I was referring to but your comments raise some important issues. Thank you for defining how you interpreted the question. I want to refer back to some of the sources before following up.

My original question related to what command level might have responsibility in the first instance for deciding that cavalry would be part of the plan, rather than who would decide when the cavalry would be used, if at all. You mentioned that Haig had decided on the plan. Essentially, he was operating as an Army Group Commander from a French perspective, though we tend to see him as C-in-C. In any event, what level of command might be expected to take such a decision, leaving aside the individual.

Robert

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Robert,

My apologies for the misinterpretation. In regard to your question the Commander who directs the operation to take place and, more importantly, who controls the resources would decide what resources will be made available for it. In relation to the Somme it would be the C-in-C BEF who determined whether cavalry would be employed. He directed the British part of the Somme offensive, operating in cooperation with the French not subordinate to them, and controlled the resources to be employed.

While you say Haig was acting as an Army Group Commander from the French perspective, I'm not sure that is correct. He was an independent British C-in-C operating in cooperation with the French and in this capacity acted independently from Joffre as a separate allied force. Joffre knew this and it was one of the flaws in the Allied command arrangements, that is, the lack of an overall single Allied Supreme Commander on the Western Front. This continued until the crisis of 1918 when Foch was appointed Allied C-in-C and then Haig was subordinate to Foch for operational matters.

regards

Chris

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While you say Haig was acting as an Army Group Commander from the French perspective, I'm not sure that is correct.
Chris, sorry I only meant that the French had the intermediate layer of command at the Army Group level, given the size of their army. You are quite right with respect to the difference in actual command, both politically and militarily.

Robert

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In relation to the Somme it would be the C-in-C BEF who determined whether cavalry would be employed.
Chris, I wanted to distinguish between the Army Group commander level and the C-in-C. Cavalry divisions could be regarded as GHQ assets, which is why the C-in-C post would have ultimate control over their allocation, if I understand correctly. This is in accordance with your comment. Thus, Haig would have been the commander who was expected to make the initial decision about cavalry - not because he was ex-cavalry but because he was C-in-C. I would expect, but do not know for sure, that Joffre, not Foch, would have had the same authority to require/ensure that the French cavalry be readied. Irrespective, neither Joffe nor Foch were cavalrymen. Leaving aside, for just a moment, your important points about who was to control the cavalry at the Army command level, I don't think that the decision per se to allocate cavalry can be regarded as an eccentricity or preoccupation on Haig's part. There may be other factors that point to this (I have tried to capture a lesser sense than 'obsession' but please correct the words I have chosen) but, I would respectfully submit, not the decision as such.

Robert

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I don't think that the decision per se to allocate cavalry can be regarded as an eccentricity or preoccupation on Haig's part. There may be other factors that point to this (I have tried to capture a lesser sense than 'obsession' but please correct the words I have chosen) but, I would respectfully submit, not the decision as such.

Robert,

Yes you are correct. The use of cavalry would be determined by the object to be achieved and the concept of operations. Haig's concept of a breakthrough, passing forces through to operate in depth behind the German defences with the objective of rolling up the German flank would require a highly mobile force. Cavalry provided the level of mobility required.

Regards

Chris

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I don't think that the decision per se to allocate cavalry can be regarded as an eccentricity or preoccupation on Haig's part. There may be other factors that point to this (I have tried to capture a lesser sense than 'obsession' but please correct the words I have chosen) but, I would respectfully submit, not the decision as such.

Robert - I understood that the French did not anticpate using the cavalry on the first day, please do correct me if I am wrong, which suggests they envisaged a different impact role for their cavalry. However Haig was indeed preoccupied (IMHO) with forcing the cavalry through on the first day.

Regards,

Jon

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Jon, I am working step-wise through the various issues. The only point I wanted to clarify is who (what level of command) would we expect to make the decision to use cavalry. The 'how' is the next issue. As I mentioned in this message:

 

there is evidence that Haig was not preoccupied with forcing cavalry through.

With regard to the French use of cavalry, there is evidence (which I will publish) that they regretted not having their cavalry ready and, within a few days, the cavalry were mobilized ready to exploit a 'G' when they launched their next attack. And on several occasions after that.

Robert

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Haig's concept of a breakthrough, passing forces through to operate in depth behind the German defences with the objective of rolling up the German flank would require a highly mobile force.
Chris, you made some very valid points about the command level responsible for actually launching the cavalry, once a gap was identified. You noted that Rawlinson was the commander 'on the spot' who was 'in the best position to judge'. Conversely, Gough 'was not in a position to know when the opportunity for exploitation existed'.

There is an alternative view. If the German line had collapsed completely and an enormous gap had opened up, then the way would have been open for deep exploitation. In this case, the cavalry should have begun operating as an independent cavalry force, rather like the majority of the British cavalry prior to the clash at Mons. Haig may have had this in mind when he thought about 'how' the cavalry should be commanded (which is not the same question as 'by whom'). At this point, I think it is helpful to relate one of Haig's cavalry studies, which he published in a book by the same name in 1907. The studies, strategic and tactical, related to Staff rides that took place in India during Haig's time there as Inspector-General of Cavalry in India. The second study, subtitled 'Delhi', is directly relevant. I don't know whether this study directly influenced Haig's thinking in 1916 but the similarities are significant, at least from the perspective of understanding why Rawlinson (better read as 'the Army Commander responsible for the sector through which the cavalry might advance') was not given responsibility for the cavalry. The study is introduced as 'the employment of Independent Cavalry Divisions, to follow up a defeated Hostile Army...'. Of note is the historical comparison that was used as the basis for the study. Haig and his Staff Officers analysed the 'work of the Cavalry with the 1st and 2nd German Armies, 8th-18th August, 1870'. The key points are contained in the second of the following paragraghs - the first paragraph is included to give some context:

"Having gained touch with the enemy about Rezonville, the two Cavalry Divisions should have sought to discover where [the French] main body was, by moving via Doncourt upon Auboué, and sending reconnaissances as quietly as possible eastwards to ascertain the extent of the enemy's position.

But it seems only natural that the [German] 5th and 6th Cavalry Divisions should, on this occasion, have behaved like ordinary Divisional Cavalry [emphasis in the original], since they were acting as parts of different Army Corps. No matter how numerous a body of Cavalry to be attached to an Infantry Division, or to an Army Corps, it is only human for the Commander of that unit to employ the Cavalry under his orders solely within the narrow limits of his own sphere of operations, for the furtherance of his own personal aims, and not for the general benefit of the whole Army."

Thus, Haig's decision not to go with Rawlinson can be seen as a decision unrelated to Rawlinson the person, but to the notion that true exploitation could only occur if the cavalry operated as independent cavalry, according to the definition of independent cavalry that pertained in 1916 - it was a well-recognised concept.

Robert

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In case an enormous gap did not open up, Haig noted in the third Cavalry Study (Aurangabad):

"During the événement [borrowed from Napoleon, and refering to the 'supreme effort'], and in the pursuit or retreat, it will probably be the indepedent Cavalry that will take the principal part; but owing to the very great frontage of a defensive position to-day [ie in this modern era], it is probable that the combat will resolve itself into a line of almost separate encounters, and in each of these the advance-guard Cavalry must be ready to take up analogous roles at any moment."

Robert

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Thus, Haig's decision not to go with Rawlinson can be seen as a decision unrelated to Rawlinson the person, but to the notion that true exploitation could only occur if the cavalry operated as independent cavalry, according to the definition of independent cavalry that pertained in 1916 - it was a well-recognised concept.

Robert - not trying to catch you out at all, nor break up your interesting continuation of this discussion with Chris, but the following two points spring to my tactically naive mind.

1) Previously you have tried to convince me that Haig's primary objectives for the first phase were limited and to my mind this doesnt now sit comfortably with your independant cavalry theory.

2) If a large gap occured (and I am not sure that Haig had any reason to think a significant gap would occur) then you have told me previously that Haig's intention was for the infantry to be pushed through ahead of the cavalry. Surely an independant cavalry command is in conflict with this?

Regards,

Jon

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Robert and Jonathan,

I have a few things to address over the next couple of days so I will get back to you later. My immediate impression is that I think we are talking about a different situation in 1870 than in 1916 vis a vis the cavalry. Let me think about it and I will get back to you.

Happy Robbie Burns Day for yesterday (our time, just come from a Burns Day party) and happy Australia Day for today!!!!

regards

Chris

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Happy Australia Day, Chris.

With regard to the comparison between 1870 and 1916, I have tried to illustrate the general principles that may have underpinned Haig's thinking about command of the cavalry element. It poses an alternative view to the one that you outlined, but is not necessarily casually related to Haig's decision to go with Gough. Nor, I hasten to add, is the view any more valid. I just wanted to share the historical context, which is not widely presented in the current literature.

Robert

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1) Previously you have tried to convince me that Haig's primary objectives for the first phase were limited and to my mind this doesnt now sit comfortably with your independant cavalry theory.
Jon, thanks for raising these concerns. What I have tried to demonstrate is that Haig did not change Rawlinson's original plan, except to widen the frontage. The final objectives for the infantry were the objectives that Rawlinson had set, ie short of the second line. Haig ensured that if the German line disintegrated, then plans were in place to exploit this. Furthermore, the plans were in place in case the breakthrough occurred at some later time, given that Haig did not disagree with Rawlinson that the battle might well go on for longer than one day, including not having achieved the infantry objectives of the first day. Haig noted that this might happen.

The current issue relates to how Haig would have conceived of the cavalry being used, in the event that they came into action like, for example, the exploitation phase of Megiddo.

2) If a large gap occured (and I am not sure that Haig had any reason to think a significant gap would occur) then you have told me previously that Haig's intention was for the infantry to be pushed through ahead of the cavalry. Surely an independant cavalry command is in conflict with this?
Haig definitely wanted a contingency in place for cavalry to exploit a breakthrough, if it occurred. It was the C-in-C's role to make this decision. The exploitation would be deep into enemy territory, relatively speaking, if possible. If I gave the impression that infantry would push through first, then that was not correct - I did not mean to give that impression. I did mention that Haig wanted the infantry commanders to understand that if all resistance collapsed, then they should push advance guards beyond the last infantry objective. This process would have happened in parallel with the advance of cavalry.

It was not inappropriate (forgive the double negative) before the battle to think that a significant gap might occur. Given the size of the cavalry force that Haig allocated, then he was thinking about the possibility of a significant gap. Joffre thought a significant gap might open up at some point in time - his concept of 'rupture' was much more like the line disintegrating, as opposed to his previous concept of 'breakthrough' - and Joffre was not a cavalryman. Large numbers of French cavalry were gathered around the camp that was created behind the Somme. At Neuve Chapelle and Loos, a significant part of the German front line had appeared to disintegrate within the first hours of the assault.

Robert

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  • 1 year later...
Thus, Haig's decision not to go with Rawlinson can be seen as a decision unrelated to Rawlinson the person, but to the notion that true exploitation could only occur if the cavalry operated as independent cavalry, according to the definition of independent cavalry that pertained in 1916 - it was a well-recognised concept.

Robert and Jonathan,

I see I promised you a reply some 18 months ago and then promptly dropped out of the thread. My apologies.

Firstly, Robert, the matter of personalities is not an issue. Irrespective of who commanded what formation, the consideration really gets down to who (ie command function) runs the battlefield and who is in the best position to commit the exploitation force at the right time. None of my previous comments have taken into account the actual personalities involved.

Secondly, to provide some context to my other points, exploiting a breakthrough and the command and control arrangements for doing so are problematic when communications and control over the battlefield are difficult. I think we have to be careful we don't compartmentalise it from the main battle and subsequently draw wrong conclusions. Exploitation is a consequence of the main attack when the conditions are right and the opportunity presents itself. It is not a given but ought to be planned for and forces allocated for it. These forces are part of the reserve and generally they are very mobile so as to be able to move through quickly and exploit any opportunities that present themselves. Usually this was cavalry and horse artillery, although fresh infantry can undertake limited exploitation. Often these forces were used up as part of the reserve in simply winning the battle and thus were not available for exploitation; at other times the opportunity did not present itself. In the days when battlefields were smaller and an army commander was able to survey and control them personally, the reserve (or exploitation force) was under his direct command and he was in the best position to judge when to use it. In the Great War these conditions did not exist and communications were poor. Thus new problems presented themselves and the old arrangements were inadequate; hence the issue of who should command the exploitation force was a real problem. Fundamentally these forces should be under the commander who is controlling the battle as he is in the best position to determine when and where to commit them.

Thirdly Jonathan's questions at post # 216. I think Robert has addressed them so my only comment is to reinforce the view that commanders ought to make provision for a possible exploitation of a successful attack and provide the resources for it as part of his planning. If Haig thought an opportunity might be possible then he was bound to plan accordingly, for whenever the opportunity arose, whether on the first day or later. By planning for it we ought not to draw the conclusion that he planned on using them the first day - we can say that by planning for an exploitation opportunity he believed an opportunity might arise but he also acknowledged it might not occur. To not plan for it was to throw any subsequent opportunity away. So it seems he is damned because he did plan for it; he would have been damned if he didn't and an opportunity had presented itself.

Fourthly, the situation on the Somme and those pertaining in August 1870 were quite different but I accept Haig's considerations of the use of an Independent Cavalry Force may have underpinned his thinking about the use of such a force to achieve exploitation on the Somme; although I am sure Haig would have recognised the quite different situation at the Somme to that he was discussing regarding the Germans in 1870. There he seems to be talking about an Army level cavalry force devoted to wider and deeper reconnaissance or indeed disruption in the enemy's rear, as the German cavalry did not perform well at the strategic (or operational) level in 1870. But I haven't seen his work so I am not sure. Nonetheless, exploitation has a definite limit and any Independent Cavalry Force would need to be reinforced by strong infantry and artillery forces if the objectives seized during exploitation were to be held. The real issue at the Somme was that only a portion of the German Army, not the whole of it, would have been defeated. Both shoulders of the battlefield would have held or at least been bent back. Had the opportunity presented itself for exploitation at some point, sooner rather than later, the Independent Cavalry Force would have been confronted by stronger forces. Thus in my view Rawlinson, or whoever commanded Fourth Army, was initially responsible for controlling the battle and thus was in the best position to determine when the exploitation force ought to be committed. The poor communications of the day meant that if the opportunity was to be seized quickly, then Rawlinson ought to have commanded the force and directed its operations; he was also responsible for getting the infantry and artillery reinforcements up to consolidate the line taken during exploitation.

Others could rightly argue for a different arrangement in the circumstances. In the situation of the Somme, there were other issues which influenced the command and control arrangements. Haig, as CinC, was directing the offensive and detailing what was to be achieved. Rawlinson was undertaking the detailed planning of the battle and controlling it once the offensive commenced. It was right and proper that Haig oversaw the planning and preparations but part of the problem was that Haig and Rawlinson were not of the same mind as to what could and couldn't be achieved, hence initially we had two commanders involved in planning and later running the one battle. Another problem was that Gough had been elevated to Army Commander and was of the same status as Rawlinson, albeit somewhat junior to Rawlinson both in seniority and experience at that level. These issues complicated the matter concerning the command and control arrangements for the exploitation force.

I am not sure I have explained my views very well but I hope that answers some of the questions posed.

Regards

Chris

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I`m sure the answer to these questions is in the previous 222 posts somewhere, but could someone comment on:-

Once a war has become accepted as a war of attrition, as WW1 was early on, how does that change the nature of the planning for subsequent battles/campaigns? If one of the aims of a battle is breakthrough (and subsequent exploitation) how does that differ from a battle in a non-attritional war? What are the distinctive features of an attritional battle/campaign?

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.. so my only comment is to reinforce the view that commanders ought to make provision for a possible exploitation of a successful attack and provide the resources for it as part of his planning. If Haig thought an opportunity might be possible then he was bound to plan accordingly, for whenever the opportunity arose, whether on the first day or later.

Chris,

Totally agree. As you know, Robert and I have been debating this for years and somewhere along the line a misunderstanding occured between us with regard to the proposed use of cavalry in the event a gap occurred. Robert clarified his point and I had really nothing to add, as I think I was an observer rather than participant at that stage.

Thanks for providing your thoughts on exploitation.

Best regards,

Jonathan S

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I would suggest that the characteristics of an attritional battle are frequently small scale attacks on a relatively narrow frontage, sometimes attacks are made consecutively, at times concurrent I am thinking here of the mid Somme battles such as Guillemont, Martinpuich-High Wood-Longueval (Switch Line) or Mouquet Farm 15th July - 14th September. Those who took part in these attacks often opined that the artillery support was diluted and inadequate. The opposition's artillery on the other hand was able to concentrate its firepower on the bite-sized incursions

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