Jump to content
Great War Forum

Remembered Today:

Sign in to follow this  
Alan Lines

Lions led by donkeys?

Recommended Posts

armourersergeant
Hi Pals.

Very interesting discussion, just like to take it back a bit.

A 'Scape Goat'?

Major-General E.J. Montague-Stuart-Wortley for the failure of the attacks of the 46th Division at Gommecourt?

Your opinions Pals, and was, he, as i believe, the only Divisional Commander to be 'made accountable' for his actions on the first day of the Somme offensive.

The Division due to the constant need for the preparation of the offensive were tired and exhausted. The trenches were in a quagmire, hardly an ideal situation to launch an attack on well prepared and well defended German Front line at Gommecourt Wood.

Any opinions?

Regards, Chris.

Bill Macormack, bmac on the forum, is in the process of writing a book about this divisions attack on 1st Jul;y to accompany the one he did on 56th.

My opinion of MSW is that he did not prepare his division very well, failed to get foward and around his men, one of the reasons Snow his corps commander gave for siting his dismissal, though he may have been covering his own back. MSW by most accounts was not a good officer. As for the ground etc that they attacked across, I think, given 56th's successes, could have made a better job of it given better preperation. Some of that blame I feel has to go to corps command for bad co-ordination.

I believe he was the only one, he certainly was the first, to be dismissed.

regards

Arm

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
armourersergeant
I just cant agree with your sentiments towards Gough. Putting Third Ypres aside, in March 1918 Gough not only sent back misleading information to GHQ concerning the gravity of Fifth Army's position, so delaying reinforcement by three French divisions, he gave contradictory orders, placed five of his available eight divisions in the Forward Zone with a no withdrawal order, picked poor positions to defend and displayed no understanding of an elastic defence. On the other-hand parts of Fifth Army were led at the local level to a very high standard and I have nothing but admiration for them, just not for Gough, who badly let them down, IMHO.

Could I ask what your opinion of Byng is at this time, the mistakes he did, or did not, make and how this impacted on 5th Army. My arguement was that Gough was himself a scapegoat. That he had too few troops and too much line to hold, poor ground and hardly any time to prepare his defences. Byng on the other hand had more troops and less line to hold. Did 3rd Army perform better than 5th Army, given these factors or not and the volume of troops stacked against them in the March attacks?

regards

Arm.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Jonathan Saunders
Could I ask what your opinion of Byng is at this time, the mistakes he did, or did not, make and how this impacted on 5th Army. My arguement was that Gough was himself a scapegoat. That he had too few troops and too much line to hold, poor ground and hardly any time to prepare his defences. Byng on the other hand had more troops and less line to hold. Did 3rd Army perform better than 5th Army, given these factors or not and the volume of troops stacked against them in the March attacks?

regards

Arm.

Arm,

First of all can I just be clear this is my opinion.

I cant recall the exact circumstances but I know at one point Third Army, or an element there of, fell back further than they should have – as far as I can recall that is the main criticism of Byng in the retreat. Byng arguably had more time, definitely more men, certainly less Line and did not face the main thrust of the German offensive but I am not clear if you are suggesting this absolves Gough from the errors he was responsible for (some of which he was responsible for in conjunction with Haig).

Generally speaking what helps Byng is that he had a track record for Vimy and 20 Nov (Cambrai becomes blurred after 20 Nov but again IMHO Haig is at best complicit in failures at Cambrai and at worst bears the brunt of responsibility). On the otherhand, IMHO, Gough’s track record was uninspiring at best.

There are some good books you should probably read if you have not already done so – I picked all three up fairly cheaply in paperback.

Martin Kitchen - The German Offensives (I think it is called)

Tim Travers - How The War Was One

Tim Travers - The Killing Ground

Of course by reading them you may come to different conclusions to me.

Regards,

Jon

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Jonathan Saunders
MSW by most accounts was not a good officer. As for the ground etc that they attacked across, I think, given 56th's successes, could have made a better job of it given better preperation. Some of that blame I feel has to go to corps command for bad co-ordination.

You have the better of me regarding Stuart-Wortley’s pre-1 July reputation but there were several issues surrounding the feint that led to abysmal conditions for 46 Div – and in fact if it was a feint a full scale infantry attack was not necessary but that is another debate. I am thinking lack of counter-battery work, uncut wire, unfavourable starting position etc.

My understanding is that Stuart-Wortley cancelled further attacks by his Division, and this was the crux for his sacking. From a very distant and uniformed view, this appears to have been a valiant and sensible course of action by Stuart-Wortley.

Arm – can I ask you a question. Why do my conclusions, which no doubt arise from the same reading material, differ so greatly from everybody else’s?

Regards,

Jon S

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
armourersergeant
Arm,

First of all can I just be clear this is my opinion.

I cant recall the exact circumstances but I know at one point Third Army, or an element there of, fell back further than they should have – as far as I can recall that is the main criticism of Byng in the retreat. Byng arguably had more time, definitely more men, certainly less Line and did not face the main thrust of the German offensive but I am not clear if you are suggesting this absolves Gough from the errors he was responsible for (some of which he was responsible for in conjunction with Haig).

Generally speaking what helps Byng is that he had a track record for Vimy and 20 Nov (Cambrai becomes blurred after 20 Nov but again IMHO Haig is at best complicit in failures at Cambrai and at worst bears the brunt of responsibility). On the otherhand, IMHO, Gough’s track record was uninspiring at best.

There are some good books you should probably read if you have not already done so – I picked all three up fairly cheaply in paperback.

Martin Kitchen - The German Offensives (I think it is called)

Tim Travers - How The War Was One

Tim Travers - The Killing Ground

Of course by reading them you may come to different conclusions to me.

Regards,

Jon

Jon,

I use Byng to show that mistakes were made along the line. From the limited reading I have done and I admit 'Goughie' by Farrar-Hockley colours my ancient thinking even though I try not to let them. I have read Travers 'Killing Ground' and do think he asks some good questions, though I do not go as far as agreeing with his conclusions. Incidently the story/account at the end by the Brigadier Gen Sandilands? (book not to hand) I find hard to swallow, almost as if its teller had an axe to grind, thouigh if true does show Gough in a poor light.

As for reputations, you have to pretend that both men have just arrived at the front. Then try to see if Gough performed worse than Byng. I say again I do not try to say Gough did everything correctly, just that he was as good or bad as the rest.

Arm

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
armourersergeant
You have the better of me regarding Stuart-Wortley’s pre-1 July reputation but there were several issues surrounding the feint that led to abysmal conditions for 46 Div – and in fact if it was a feint a full scale infantry attack was not necessary but that is another debate. I am thinking lack of counter-battery work, uncut wire, unfavourable starting position etc.

My understanding is that Stuart-Wortley cancelled further attacks by his Division, and this was the crux for his sacking. From a very distant and uniformed view, this appears to have been a valiant and sensible course of action by Stuart-Wortley.

From Snow's diary, obvioulsy not unbiased, he refers to MSW being not of sound ability and temperment to get into the front line, he hints at inclination to do so as well. What else I have read also seems to say his character was very much my reputation has been ruined, no real thought for the rep of his men etc.

As to him not sending his men back in, I await Bills new book, however I have an impression that he hesitated and cogitated and failed to graps the nettle, failing to send rather than choosing to send, however as I say I await Bills new book.

As for teh plan, 46th I believe was lacking in artillery plans, as MSW was temp corps commander (one begs why?) when Snow was on leave in May and early June 1916, that he would have been aware of 56th's plans and failed to see his were lacking (as did VII Corps!) shows his lack of ability or his arrogance to change his plans. He was not of course alone.

regards

Arm

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Jonathan Saunders
I do not try to say Gough did everything correctly

just so I am clear, can you outline what Gough did correctly, so I know your starting point.

Jon

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Jonathan Saunders
MSW was temp corps commander (one begs why?)

Thanks Arm - I will try and read up before we meet in October.

Regards,

Jon

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
armourersergeant
Arm – can I ask you a question. Why do my conclusions, which no doubt arise from the same reading material, differ so greatly from everybody else’s?

It is not really surprising that we can read the same book and get differing things out of it. We are perhaps looking for something different, so we use/read the stats the way that fits our line. Take the comment above about Sandilands, do I choose to see it as not an accurate account or do I really believe it to be in accurate as it does not fit my line of thinking. I know what I think but am I being coloured by my stance.

Arm

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
armourersergeant
just so I am clear, can you outline what Gough did correctly, so I know your starting point.

Jon

Need to think on this one a tad. Been sometime since I read around this subject. Will get back to you.

Arm

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Jonathan Saunders
It is not really surprising that we can read the same book and get differing things out of it.

Ive been sitting next to the same bloke at football for years. We never see the same game!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Ozzie

""Ive been sitting next to the same bloke at football for years. We never see the same game! ""

Jon, you are so damn right. Funny how others can't see that wisdom.

(Sorry, my own little rant coming out) (PS And it does NOT refer to this thread either, BTW)

Please carry on, I find this thread absolutely fascinating, and more to the point, very educational and enlightening.

Ta

Kim

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Jonathan Saunders
Need to think on this one a tad. Been sometime since I read around this subject. Will get back to you.

Arm

Arm - a new take on our Byng / Gough debate.

Byng’s position appears to have been compromised by an over optimistic sitrep by GHQ. Until I can clarify one way or the other, I am making the assumption that the sitrep was based on Gough’s report to GHQ that Fifth Army were holding the German advance. I am not sure at this stage but I am going to summise that this was a contributory factor to the delay in Byng withdrawing and the consequent disorder that occurred in Third Army.

Two more considerations that I have been reminded of:

1) Byng did re-establish control of the situation. (I am currently under the impression that Byng was trying hard to maintain contact with Gough’s retreating left flank).

2) Re Gough having less men – if he had given an accurate sitrep to GHQ, Petain would have sent the agreed three Divisions much earlier. It was only after GHQ became aware of the gravity of the situation that Haig asked Petain to reinforce Gough as had been agreed. I think two French Divisions were available to Gough within hours and a third French division within 24 hours. Therefore my current thinking is that Gough was partly responsible for the shortage of men available to him to resist the German advance.

Best regards,

Jon S

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Jonathan Saunders
Please carry on, I find this thread absolutely fascinating, and more to the point, very educational and enlightening.

Ta

Kim

Kim - I'd be happy if you wanted to add your thoughts. Perhaps me and Arm should back out and let others continue.

Regards,

Jon S

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Chris_Baker

So no one has been able to make a convincing case that any General was a donkey in 1918 ....

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
ejcmartin
Thanks Arm - I will try and read up before we meet in October.

Are there any tickets being sold to witness this meeting? Great thread, much like a tennis match, Arm to JS, JS back to Arm, (nice volley....) etc..

One thing is for certain, I have learned a lot.

PS I graduated high school from Earl Haig Secondary School in Toronto, so does that put me in the "Donkey" camp or not?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
armourersergeant
Kim - I'd be happy if you wanted to add your thoughts. Perhaps me and Arm should back out and let others continue.

Regards,

Jon S

Thats code for 'we are running out of steam!'

regards

Arm

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
armourersergeant
So no one has been able to make a convincing case that any General was a donkey in 1918 ....

I am sure I can come up with a donkey somehwere Chris. Let me think on it. :blink:

Ah Lundnedorf, attacks with no real objective deprives the German army of its best men and condems Germany to defeat.

Hows that?

Arm

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
IanA
Thats code for 'we are running out of steam!'

regards

Arm

Way back in post#102 I did try a tentative contribution but it sank without trace. :rolleyes:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Chris_Baker

I can't support the idea that Ludendorff was a donkey. Bull-headed, domineering and unpleasant, certainly. But not a donkey. His 1918 offensives did have an objective: to win the war.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Crunchy

Hi Jon,

Again, thanks you for your response to my earlier post and my apologies for taking so long to get back to you.

Taking your last point first:

You may have a point with the "no experience or little understanding" line but surely it is about quality of the argument put forward and it is that issue rather than "no experience". but Haig did make many errors, arguably too many, and it is right that we should discuss them reasonably, and critique Haig accordingly.

That is the crux of the point I was trying to make. If we are to label Haig and his generals as "donkey" or critique them then we ought to make a plausible and reasonable argument to sustain the claim. IMO, many people who pass judgment do so without an understanding of the difficulties and complexities of the task the generals of the Great War faced. The sole criteria appears to be that horrendous casualties were suffered, ipso facto they must be "donkeys" and incompetents. The thrust of my previous post is why are people so ready to condemn when they have never been in the position themselves or worse, haven't even been in the profession they feel so competent to pass judgment on? Pass judgment by all means, but let's do so with valid comments based on a real understanding of the subject that can only be achieved by reading in breadth and depth and a readiness to change any pre-conceived ideas either way.

On a similar line, I observed an incident in which a Corporal once criticized the Squadron Operations Officer, a Captain, and suggested he, the Corporal, could do a better job. He was given the opportunity and was made the OpsO for a week, with the Captain to assist him. After two days the Corporal asked to be relieved of his temporary appointment, saying the job was far more complex than he had thought and acknowledged the competence of the captain. The point is: unless we've actually been in the position, we really don't have a full understanding of what is involved.

I am not suggesting that one has to have military service to be a military historian. As I have said in another thread it doesn't matter what a person's background or training is to be a good historian. Nonetheless, I think it is beneficial if one has a sound understanding of the practicalities and complexities of military operations and the myriad of factors that can impact on them, particularly if one is writing analytical rather than narrative history. Whether this is gained by service in the military or by astute study and observation doesn't really matter.

Charles Messenger makes this point very well in his post above. Having that experience tends to give one an insight into the subject that other's probably don't have and thus a better understanding of the intricacies of the subject. That doesn't make them better historians but they are less likely to pass shallow judgments on the issue. Even those with military experience post 1960 don't really appreciate the extent of the difficulties faced in 1915 -1916, but they have a reasonable idea of them.

With respect Jonathan, your quote below takes a very simplistic view.

There is plenty of evidence of officers of all ranks and ORs that used their wits (often without the benefit of much more than an elementary education let alone Staff College) that succeeded in becoming very competent practitioners of war. Admittedly Generals may have been faced with a bigger picture but everything is relative and so why should it be so vastly different for an Army or Corps or Divisional Commander to achieve competence?

There is vast difference in the complexity and issues to be addressed between say, company level and corps level, let alone army level. In comparison, company level operations versus army level operations are akin to kindergarten versus post-graduate university studies. There is no comparison to the range of responsibilities, the complexity of operations, logistics and coordination and the myriad of matters that have to be considered and acted upon at higher formation level.

I think it would be fair to say that, relatively, there were just as many innovative improvements made at the divisional, corps and army levels as there were at the company, battalion and brigade levels and the bite & hold tactics is but one example. I don't think it is fair to suggest that the professional military officers did not use their wits or intelligence and did not become competent practitioners of war. The whole issue of planning and improvements is an amalgam of ideas from all levels and various people. In the end one person has to make a decision as to which method to adopt and often he has to choose from differing advice and ideas. Not all of the decisions were Haig's and nor should they have been. It is somewhat unfair to imply that Haig alone was responsible for the failures and others were responsible for the successes.

With regard to Monash's rise being more rapid than Gough's. From my understanding Gough was a brigade commander in August 1914 and an army commander in July 1916, three steps in less than two years. Monash, albeit a militia officer, was a brigade commander in 1914. a divisional commander in mid-1916 and a corps commander in November 1917, two steps in over three years. Currie was also a brigade commander in 1914 but I am not sure when he was promoted to divisional and corps command, but neither of them were elevated as quickly as Gough. Monash, like Currie, was a superb divisional and corps commander, but let us not forget that there were 12 months between the time he was appointed GOC 3rd Australian Division and his first divisional attack at Messines, during which time he was able to absorb the lessons being learned by others at the Front. Furthermore, the two divisional attacks he controlled (Messines and Broodseinde) were made under the planning and direction of Plumer. Furthermore, there were some British divisional and corps commanders who were just as innovative and competent as them and some dominion divisional commanders who were poor.

On another tack, let's take Allenby. He did not excel as a corps or army commander on the Western Front but he performed with distinction in the Middle East. How do we explain that - a 'donkey' in France (Hooge - 1915 and Gommecourt - 1916) but an excellent Theatre Commander in the Middle East? Well, the front line conditions and the enemy he was opposing were substantially different, although he had considerable other difficulties to overcome. Had Haig been given the Middle East instead of the BEF, we may well be quoting him as an example of a good general.

I agree that Haig made mistakes, but neither was he a fool. To blame him for all the mistakes and poor performances that occurred on the Western front is a bit like blaming the manager or coach of a football team for mistakes made by players on the football field. Certainly Haig made mistakes. [Edit] Did he make too many? Well by 1917 he must have been doing something right because the opening attacks by the British at Arras, Vimy, Messines, 3rd Ypres and Cambrai were successful and each made substantial gains on the first day. Or are we to say Haig had nothing to do with them but we can hold him responsible for all of the mistakes?

I am inclined to agree with Chris Baker regarding your comments on achieving better results at the Somme. Some of them are self-evident truths after the event. What I was seeking was a better overall plan rather than pointing out mistakes in the original plan. Everything is easy in hindsight.

I agree with you that the artillery counter battery fire was poorly coordinated and that the failure to diminish the effect of the German guns caused considerable casualties. This partly resulted from the need to switch some of the batteries from counter battery work to cutting the wire on the deeper objectives. Nor should we forget the considerable advances made in artillery techniques during the war, some of which are still in use today. In 1916 the problem of firing at distant and precise targets with accuracy had yet to be resolved. It was a period of vast change for the Gunners, from an approach that in 1914 was largely direct fire to the far more difficult indirect fire, however, I would defer to Robert Dunlop on this point.

I agree that the blowing of the mine at the Hawthorn Redoubt ten minutes prior to the assault made no sense at all. Apparently Hunter-Weston's plan was to blow the mine four hours prior to zero hour and seize it immediately. His rationale being that the time gap would reduce German fears of an impending assault. GHQ (Haig) objected to this and insisted that all mines be blown at the same time. For some reason it was blown at 7.20am and both the British opposite the mine and the Germans rushed to secure the crater - the Germans won the race. (See Prior & Wilson The Somme p72). But I doubt the blowing of the mine at zero hour would have ensured success or blowing it early doomed the attack to failure. A greater error was the Gunners lifting the barrage across the whole VIII Corps front at 7.20am rather than the batteries firing on the Redoubt and this should have been foreseen.

I have already discussed the fallacy of Gommecourt being a credible feint in another thread and completely agree with you. But again, I think we are being wise after the event.

With regard to the bite & hold tactics. This was a new concept in 1916 and had not been proven. Like everything else, there are often differing views on the best tactics to be used in an impending operation. What surprised me were the differing types of assault tactics used by different divisions and corps during the attack and perhaps this reflects different attitudes as to what would succeed, as well as poor evaluations by divisional and corps commanders. We now know Rawlinson's approach was correct but on 1st July 1916 it was an untried concept.

I doubt that anyone has the recipe for ensuring accurate intelligence reports are received. Even today, with more sophisticated means, intelligence assessments on the same subject can vary considerably.

I am not sure what you are implying in point vi).

Yes, Haig didn't have to defeat the Germans by himself, but he had to work towards that end in conjunction with the rest of the Allies. Your proposed strategy is one option. How do you see that strategy being carried out and how do you see attrition being achieved 'whereby you inflicted significantly higher rates of casualties on your enemy than you were suffering yourself.' ? I would suggest that it is easier said than done and that Haig was seeking to cause significantly greater casualties on the Germans than on his own Army.

By 1st July 1916 the war had been in progress for nearly two years - there were plenty of lessons to take from the battles of 1915, yet the same type of basic mistakes and lack of iniative was still being found in the higher eschelons of Command.

I don't think this is a fair assessment of the situation in 1916. I believe the High Command was seeking to apply the lessons from 1915. One lesson taken from 1915 was that the German defences could only be overcome with heavy artillery support and a constant supply of HE ammunition. At the Somme Haig attempted to apply this lesson with a week-long battering of the German lines, which was the heaviest Allied bombardment of the war so far. Another lesson was to have reserves closer to the front, which Haig did. After Neuve Chapelle and Aubers Ridge it was agreed that limited, short front offensives would never work. At the Boulogne conference it was agreed that to have a realistic chance of success an offensive must have a continuous front of at least 25 miles and the Anglo- French frontage at the Somme sought to achieve this. You, yourself, have said that Rawlinson was advocating limited objectives with B&H. He was also introducing the first steps towards employing the creeping barrage, but it was only used in XIII Corps. On 1st July some divisions employed a creeping barrage with great success, others crept up to the edge of the barrage and rushed the German trenches when it lifted. Clearly, these were attempts to be innovative and learn from 1915. Some worked, some didn't. On 14 July the British mounted a highly successful night attack, which was a significant change from previous tactics. This, IMO, demonstrates a readiness to learn from previous experience.

In summary, like you, I think the term 'donkey' is inappropriate and unecessarily disparaging and that the quality of the argument put forward is more important than the issue of 'no experience'. My objection is with those who adhere to the 'donkey' theory without substantiating their position with reasonable debate, but fall back on shallow quotes from historians whose extreme views have long been discredited. This is not to say the generals are above reproach, they are not. But if we are to criticize them we should at least be fair and have some understanding of the complexities and difficulties they faced.

Regards

Chris

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Ozzie
Kim - I'd be happy if you wanted to add your thoughts. Perhaps me and Arm should back out and let others continue.

Regards,

Jon S

No way should you should back out, I have learnt more in this post than for a long time.

BTW I am still in Kindergarten in the sphere of the War.

One thing I would like to ask, in my simplistic way, and please, without bringing down heavy amounts of HE, is

Surely the success of a General, relies on the men under him. All the way to the PBI.

If an attack on position X is given to Battalion A, who have a track record of achieving success, and an attack on position Y is given to Battalion B who have not got the track record as good as A, and do not complete their mission, then who is to blame? The PBI or the General?

This leads into, how well did the General outine orders, how cohesive were the units involved in planning the attacks, and how much allowance was given to sub officers in using their iniative and previous experience?

You see, all that has been posted seems to point in two directions. One, those who were open minded and took on board the experience and thoughts of their lower ranks, and Two, those that went by the book, no matter what.

It seems to me, that any higher officer that took the time to take on board all the intel from all the sources, tended to make a better fist of it than those that stuck to their way, or by the manual.

Just a uneducated way of looking at things by me.

Cheers

Kim

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Jonathan Saunders
Thats code for 'we are running out of steam!'

regards

Arm

Not quite ... I was trying to say that I knew when I should shut up and I thought that time had arrived, and probably passed, but Chris (Crunchy) has just given me a new lease of life.

More to follow ... :D

EDIT - Arm, I was also thinking earlier about Stuart-Wortley. Whatever way you look at it he was still a scape-goat

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Crunchy

Hi Kim,

Your view is not simplistic and no HE is on the way. Your post is very pertinent to this debate.

Firstly you are absolutely correct in that there were those who were open minded and learned from previous mistakes, some faster than others, and some who learned very little. This occured at all levels of command. The problem was not so much following the book but that the book was being rewritten during the war.

With regard to the examples of battalion A and battalion B, you have posed a difficult question. I am not sure if I can provide a satisfactory answer, but I will give it a go. Your question addresses two issues: training and planning of the attack.

Training. If the general was a brigade commander (BRIG-GEN) then the link between the battalion (PBI) and the general is a direct one and the brigadier should be taking a very active interest in the training of his battalions, through the battalion commanders (PBI), and probably supervising battalion B more closely than battalion A to ensure its level of capability is improved. In the same way, good divisional (MAJ-GEN) and corps commanders (LT-GEN) will take an active interest in the training of their infantry battalions and their supporting arms (artillery, engineers, signals, etc) and services (transport, ordnance, traffic control, etc) within their command. The higher the level of the formation, the wider the number and the broader the range of training requirements involved. Battalion commanders were responsible for training their companies and the battalion as a whole. Brigade commanders had their four battalions and brigade staff to train to levels of proficiency across the brigade. Divisional commanders were responsible for the divisional staff, three brigades and their battalions, the artillery brigade and its batteries, the engineer companies, the divisional ammunition column, the divisional transport, MPs etc. At corps level the LT-GEN would be responsible for his divisions and the corps troops such as heavy artillery, bridging and third line services, although divisions were moved from corps to corps depending on operational needs. The primary responsibility for training the battalion lies with the battalion commander. The secondary, but no less important responsibility for training lies with the brigade commander for battalions and the divisional commander for the brigades and their divisional arms and services to ensure the training is appropriate, relevant and consistent and with ensuring the various arms and services can integrate and work together on the battlefield. Good corps and army commanders would also take an active interest in the training of their formations and ensuring the incorporation of new ideas and doctrine across their formations. Thus good corps commanders would be viewing and commenting on the training of battalions and the other units they were responsible for, however, they must get the right balance between delegating and supervising without micro-managing their subordinates. Part of the problem for the British Army was the lack of a central operational/battle analysis system and a standard training system. This was particularly evident in early years of the war and a consequence of the much valued "Regimental System".

Thus who is responsible if battalion B is not trained properly for the attack? IMO, the battalion (PBI), the brigade (BRIG-GEN) and the divisional (MAJ-GEN) commanders.

Planning. In planning the attack, the battalion, the brigade and the divisional commander should all be involved in planning the battalion's attack in great detail and exchanging ideas on how best to undertake the task. The brigade commander doesn't own the resources needed to support his battalion, such as artillery, engineers and logistics. He relies on the divisional commander and his staff to provide and coordinate them into the plan, working with himself (BRIG-GEN) , his staff, the battalion commander and the battalion staff. However, the divisional commander does not own the heavy artillery that may be needed to support the attack, they are generally corps assets; furthermore, some of the logistics and other support may be provided at corps level. Hence another level of planning, coordination and allocation of resources to tasks is introduced. The battalion may be supported by the artillery of a flanking division and thus an extra element of planning and coordination is introduced. If the battalion is part of a major divisional or corps attack, involving many other battalions, then the issue of allocating resources between competing priorities becomes a major problem for the staff. As in business, subordinate units want more resources than there are available to satisfy everyone's demands. If the battalion is taking part in a major army level attack the issues and problems of planning, coordination and allocation of resources becomes even greater. While the GEN's at all levels are responsible for their plans they are only as strong as the weakest link in the chain and it is unlikely that a corps commander would do the detailed planning for each of his battalions - that is the responsibility of the brigade and battalion commanders and, to some extent, the divisional commander who is also responsible for a whole set of support planning and coordination. Some corps commanders supervised aspects of the planning and coordination very closely, others delegated more to their staffs and subordinate commanders. The delivery of good clear orders was imperative and while a corps commander might provide very clear orders, a subordinate brigade or battalion commander might not be so clear in his orders to the battalion. As in every line of business, there were excellent, good, average and poor performers and varying levels of competence at all levels down to and including the PBI. OR's were not immune from this variance of quality and competence as some people tend to imply.

If the battalion fails to take its objective, who is responsible? I doubt that we can say it was either the GEN (at whichever level) or the PBI - it is likely to be a combination of factors of which one will definatly be the nature of the enemy's response (no-one can guarantee success or how the enemy will seek to defeat the attack). Others may be a specific instance of inadequate planning or coordination between the various staffs or poor execution by the battalion. Another may well be what Clausewitz called the friction of war, which he described as "Everything in war is very simple, but the simplest thing is difficult. The difficulties accumulate and end by producing a kind of friction that is inconceivable unless one has experienced war. ... Countless minor incidents - the kind you can never really foresee - combine to lower the general level of performance, so that one always falls far short of the intended goal. Iron will cannot overcome this friction; ... " In battalion B's attack the friction may well be the troops veering off course in the darkness or the smoke and dust, a mistaken order, a particular machine gun post that hasn't been destroyed by the artillery or an unforeseen incident such as a previously unknown enemy heavy battery opens up and catches the troops on the starting tapes or there might be an accumulation of small factors which together impact on the battalion's attack. It is not really a matter of either the GEN or the PBI is to blame, it is generally a combination of things.

Kim, I hope I have made some sense of trying to answer your question. [Edit] It is a very basic explanation and doesn't take into account the very real difficulties of providing accurate and responsive artillery support at a time when man-pack radios were not available and communications between the infantry and the artillery batteries relied on runners , pre-planned signals using flares or telephone lines that were regularly cut by enemy artillery fire. Hence the need for pre-planned artillery support that couldn't be altered quickly if part of the attack was held up for one reason or another. The introduction of reliable man-pack radios down to battalion, company and battery level were only introduced sometime during the Second World War and this offered vast improvements in the responsiveness of artillery to change fire plans during the assault if part of the attack was held up. I remember the ANPRC-25 man pack radio being introduced in the mid 1960's and this was a big improvement on the old "10 set" it replaced. The 25 set was replaced by the 77 set and the troops now have a whole new suite of radios with capabilities we could only dream of. The point here is the generals and their troops in the Great War did not have the sophisticated technology we take for granted.

Regards

Chris

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Ozzie

Chris, that is the clearest account yet I have seen to explain the army.

Thankyou very much, I'll be printing this one off.

Cheers

Kim

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  

×
×
  • Create New...