World War I May Finally Start Getting It’s Due

Here’s a book with a great title: Mud, Blood, and Poppycock: Britain and the Great War. From the description:

Laced with dry humour, this will overturn everything you thought you knew about Britain and the First World War. Gordon Corrigan reveals how the British embraced technology, and developed the weapons and tactics to break through the enemy trenches.

Now, I’ve already come upon the notion that the popular imagery of the Great War – idiot generals guilelessly sending millions of men to die because they didn’t grasp what machine guns did – was sketchy. Norman Stone’s World War One: A Short History conveyed very clearly that the generals understood that the tactics of the 1880’s had been rendered obsolete, but that knowing what would not work was not the same as knowing what would work. Thus, the entire war can be seen as coming to terms with war in the age of mass machinery, and all the grand “blunders”, such as the Somme, Passchendale, Verdun, were experiments to see how the victory could be obtained. That’s small comfort to the millions who died, but the generals were trying their very best to find the way forward.

The Russian general Brusilov hit upon something in his 1916 Eastern Front campain, and the Germans were generally successful (until they weren’t), but it was the British Army that found the solution. They essentially invented what became known as blitzkrieg (concentrate forces in a narrow space, penetrate that space with armor, rush through the gap) in the summer of 1918. The Germans studied British tactics at the end of the First War to discover the tactics that would upend the world in the Second.

Interestingly enough, the U.S. Army came away from it’s brief experience in WWI with an entirely different lesson: that of the primacy of artillery. Artillery has always been an American specialty, going all the way back to the war against Mexico, but after WWI the Americans became fairly obsessed with it. As a consequence, the Americans and more and better heavy guns than any of their opponents in the Second World war, and those guns were integrated into the tactical space better (via the innovation of allowing Forward Observers to call upon “all guns within range”). This gave the Americans an edge against both Germany and Japan – which was needed, as our infantry training vis-a-vis both armies was inferior, and our armor always a generation behind the Germans. (Source: Dirty Little Secrets of World War II)


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