The Pity of Misconceptions: (Part II of III) The Conflict

Today I continue my review of Nails Ferguson's misconceptions.

9. 'Britain’s involvement in the war caused mobility to give way to trench warfare.'

  • With the balance of offensive and defensive technologies at the time, If the war was to continue it was inevitable that mobility would give way to trench warfare. The American Civil War and the Russo-Japanese War 1904-1905 had all given clear indications of the power of defense over offense. Both these wars were gruesome harbingers of what was to follow in 1914 onwards with their introduction of barbed-wire entanglements, machine gun nests etc. So to say that Britain was responsible for the trench war the ensued is ludicrous.


10. 'That WW1 did not show the technological innovation seen inWW2'

  • The 1914 to 1918 war saw fundamental changes in warfare that in many cases  vastly enhanced in the 1939-1944 war
    • The emergence of Total War
    • The emergence of trench warfare
    • The deployment of submarines to constrict commerce flow
    • The deployment of all big gun battleships and the use of air power at sea initially for reconnaissance
    • The use of airplanes as fighter, tactical bombers and reconnaissance aircraft, and strategic bombing with zeppelins and large heavy bombers
    • The use of chemical weapons
    • The development of mass artillery that later in the war could pre-register on targets for greater effectiveness
    • Light machine guns to break the power of heavy fixed machine guns once more creating mobility.
    • Armored personnel carriers in teh form of  the Mark V* tank of 1918.
    • The deployment of the tank as a shock weapon en masse.
    • The development of storm trooper tactics.
    • The evolution of combined arms warfare with infantry, tank-artillery and planes all operating in a coherent strategy to overrun the enemy.


11. 'The British won the war in 1918'

  • In 1917, following a German encouraged communist revolution Russia sued for peace, but Germany was running out of time with the arrival of the Americans. They had but a short window of opportunity to bring about a postive resolution of the war in their favour by moving  500,000 troops from the Eastern Front to  the Western Front to mount a decisive offensive. However when Ludendorff's Spring offensive ran out of steam, and became exposed on its right flank, the French counter attacked in the second battle of the Marne in July 15th 1918 using several hundred light armed tanks, starting the German retreat. Then the second decisive blow was delivered by a combined British and French attack at the Battle of Amiens This later attack was initially planned as a local battle as all the generals expected the war to last until 1920. The sudden collapse of the Germany army came as a surprise to both parties. Whilst the British Army was without doubt the most effective army on the field in August 1918, It was Ludendorff's offensives that had destroyed the very best assault divisions in the German army and what was left was of considerably lower quality having had its best soldiers transferred to the elite assault divisions as part of the storm-trooper doctrine. The consequence was a rapid collapse of the German army and its defeat on the battlefield forcing Germany to sue for peace.


12. 'Why did the war continue for so long? Fueled by hatred'

When Germany started the war it expected a lightning victory as in 1870-71. However once that had failed it should have sued for peace. Instead it doggedly fought on against odds of 5 to1 in population, and 4 to 1 in GDP against them.  How and why?

  • A powerful belief by a proud and  young Germany that it would not be beaten and that its opponents would weaken first. Views typically held by 9 younger aggressive protagonist nation.
  • Britain too held an unshakeable self-belief as the greatest empire in man's history that it would prevail, and that its moral cause was beyond doubt.
  • For France Germany was once more on its land, but this time victory must be in favour of France.
  • All sides  governments exerted tight press controls preventing reality at the front from getting back to the people
  • Whilst the leadership who were not fighting and paying the cost were determined to continue to victory, the fighting men on each side might have been more forgiving as the example of Christmas football match and fraternizing with the enemy shows.
  • The generals feared that the trenches would become inactive so they concocted the idea of fighting patrols which were designed to stir up soldieries to ensure that peace did not spontaneously break out!!
  • That as the casualties mounted it became harder for each side to stop as they had to continue fighting to justify the terrible losses that each side had suffered.

In tomorrow's blog I will deal with NF's further misconceptions about the aftermath of WWI.



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