The generals of WW1

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The Angry Stoic
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Why do you think the generals of WW1 struggled so much on the Western front?
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Fezzick123
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(Original post by Jacob :))
Why do you think the generals of WW1 struggled so much on the Western front?
The last war of a comparable size (Napoleonic Wars) had ended pretty much 100 years previously, so no one had any memory of large scale warfare. Also, generals had become used to fighting colonial wars, so the large scale fighting on the Western Front came as a shock to them. In short, WWI was like nothing that had come before, meaning that the generals faced a steep learning curve.
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ageshallnot
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(Original post by Fezzick123)
The last war of a comparable size (Napoleonic Wars) had ended pretty much 100 years previously, so no one had any memory of large scale warfare. Also, generals had become used to fighting colonial wars, so the large scale fighting on the Western Front came as a shock to them. In short, WWI was like nothing that had come before, meaning that the generals faced a steep learning curve.
Have to disagree... the Franco-Austrian, Austro-Prussian and particularly the Franco-Prussian wars all involved armies and battles of comparable size to the Napoleonic Wars. The battle of Gravelotte-St Privat in 1870, for example, involved more than 110,000 French and 180,000 Prussians.
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The Angry Stoic
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(Original post by Fezzick123)
The last war of a comparable size (Napoleonic Wars) had ended pretty much 100 years previously, so no one had any memory of large scale warfare. Also, generals had become used to fighting colonial wars, so the large scale fighting on the Western Front came as a shock to them. In short, WWI was like nothing that had come before, meaning that the generals faced a steep learning curve.

(Original post by ageshallnot)
Have to disagree... the Franco-Austrian, Austro-Prussian and particularly the Franco-Prussian wars all involved armies and battles of comparable size to the Napoleonic Wars. The battle of Gravelotte-St Privat in 1870, for example, involved more than 110,000 French and 180,000 Prussians.
So what was the difference? Obviously the length of the conflict. I don't think the artillery was that different was it? Was the machine gun the deciding factor?
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Fezzick123
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(Original post by ageshallnot)
Have to disagree... the Franco-Austrian, Austro-Prussian and particularly the Franco-Prussian wars all involved armies and battles of comparable size to the Napoleonic Wars. The battle of Gravelotte-St Privat in 1870, for example, involved more than 110,000 French and 180,000 Prussians.
That may be true, but the numbers involved in the wars you have listed are nothing compared to the number of troops involved in WWI. Plus, the wars you have listed took place at least 40 years before the outbreak of WWI and did not feature the weapons which made the First World War so deadly and tactically challenging e.g. the Maxim Gun. Britain in particular was unprepared for a major European War as her main interest lay in the colonies, which was reflected in the small size of the British Army.
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Fezzick123
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(Original post by Jacob :))
So what was the difference? Obviously the length of the conflict. I don't think the artillery was that different was it? Was the machine gun the deciding factor?


  • Generals from all sides were inexperienced in trench warfare.
  • Weapon technology had progressed a lot since 1871, most notably with the development of machine guns.
  • Europe's armies, particularly Britain's, were geared towards colonial wars against technologically inferior enemies, not against up to date militaries.
  • European generals weren't used to commanding so many troops.
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mevidek
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I'd say it's the clash of the old and the new. The military tactics of the time were still those used decades before, and this was faced by the devastating technology of the time; this was most hauntingly illustrated with the slow, ordered marching of soldiers towards well-defended light machine gun emplacements. My view is that the tactics used by the generals were outdated and, so, the losses were so high and the progress so slow. The fact that generals believed they could simply march simply to victory meant that no decisive victories were ever won.
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The Angry Stoic
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(Original post by mevidek)
I'd say it's the clash of the old and the new. The military tactics of the time were still those used decades before, and this was faced by the devastating technology of the time; this was most hauntingly illustrated with the slow, ordered marching of soldiers towards well-defended light machine gun emplacements. My view is that the tactics used by the generals were outdated and, so, the losses were so high and the progress so slow. The fact that generals believed they could simply march simply to victory meant that no decisive victories were ever won.
You could blame that on ineffective artillery. If at the Somme the artillery had actually broken the wire and driven out the German it could have actually gone well.
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mevidek
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(Original post by Jacob :))
You could blame that on ineffective artillery. If at the Somme the artillery had actually broken the wire and driven out the German it could have actually gone well.
But the nature of warfare had changed. Artillery wasn't ineffective, both sides were just dug in so well.
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The Angry Stoic
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(Original post by mevidek)
But the nature of warfare had changed. Artillery wasn't ineffective, both sides were just dug in so well.
It got much better though. The use of rolling barrages in particular.
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mevidek
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(Original post by Jacob :))
It got much better though. The use of rolling barrages in particular.
That still doesn't explain why neither side managed to break through at all during the War. I'd still say that the clash of the eras caused the 4 year-long stalemate.
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The Angry Stoic
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(Original post by mevidek)
That still doesn't explain why neither side managed to break through at all during the War. I'd still say that the clash of the eras caused the 4 year-long stalemate.
Yeh of course.
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Fezzick123
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(Original post by Jacob :))
Yeh of course.
At the Somme, the British artillery fired mostly shrapnel, which had been very effective in colonial wars (the type which the British were used to) but was hopeless against entrenchments. The reason that the British didn't use more high explosive shells initially was because their munitions industry was geared towards making shrapnel, because that was what the British Army needed. So yes, the 'clash of eras' does have something to do with it, but I think a better description would be that WWI was like nothing before.
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scjman
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Also, the generals (who were usually fairly old) had been taught that in a war, an attacker always has the advantage. However, the opposite was true in WWI. You may have read about the first British attack on the German trenches at the Battle of the Somme, where the defending Germans literally used machine gun fire to cut down British troops in their thousands
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