The "Great War" and Modern Perception

Discussion in 'Military History and Militaria' started by IndianaDel, Feb 20, 2013.

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  1. As normal in Modern Britain, as this article points out, there is a almost unbending desire to not "offend" anyone. While it is vital that the dead are honoured and their sacrifice, as well as the impact it had on the millions they left behind, to focus on that to the exclusion of other historical facts, in pursuit of a limited spectrum of other historical "facts" is to trivialise and denigrate those very loses.

    FACT. Germany was the revisionist Great power in Europe prior to the outbreak of the Great War. The Franco-German rivalry aside, Wilhelmine foreign "policy" had done much to create the very circle of Hostile Powers that they railed against. Not the least of the policies that Imperial Germany pursued that was the build up of the Imperial German Navy, which patently was a policy that was directed at the very foundations of Britain's Edwardian power.

    FACT. It was not the "Blimpish" British generals who, for almost a decade prior to the outbreak of war, effectively committed Britain to the almost unlimited liability of a Continetal war, but their political masters in Whitehall (Lloyd-George being the most vocal in condemning them Post-War for pursuing the very policy he had agreed to in the halcyon days of Pre-War peace). Having created a diplomatic scenario that would in the case of a General Continental War lead to a massive (by British if not Continental standards) commitment of British forces, to what would inevitably be the primary Theatre of Operations, next to nothing was done to ensure that the means to prosecute such a policy were provided. During the second part of the war, the full implications and casualties, are the central feature of Britain's over all collective experience of the First World War.

    FACT. Far from being "donkeys", British commanders faced the same technical problems that ALL commanders faced. In the supreme facet of technological bad luck, a century ago was at THE POINT in history when commanders could not speak to the Commanded (prior to this era verbal communications face to face were possible, by the 1940's communication by portable voice radio was the norm). This meant essentially that once engaged in battle troops could not be actively commanded, but by their most immediate superiors. Tie this up with highly evolved methods of delivering fire, always more easily arranged defensively than in the offense and you have a situation of 'mutual siege' very rapidly evolving.

    FACT. By 1918 The British Army had, alone, evolved a tactical system to allow not just an advance to be made over limited depth (almost all the contending armies had by late 1916 learned how to break in to an enemy position), but retain and ultimately expand those gains in a systematic manner in what evolved in to a continuous three month offensive.

    FACT. It is argued that the British Commanders failed to make full use of the potential of tanks and other "mechanical" means. But was there really a potential to have more fully employed them?
    Tanks seemed to have suffered about a 50% wastage rate per dieum, breakdowns being as big or bigger cause of wastage than the Germans. What tanks could and did do, was crush and tear apart German barbed wire defences (negating the need for days long artillery fire to do so) allowing initial break in to be achieved at much lower (there for sustainable) cost.
    The failure to adopt "Plan 1919 style" techniques was not stupidity, tanks simply did not have the ability to conduct 1940's style "Blitzkrieg" operations (I think it is ludicrous to imagine they would have even in 1919 too, based upon Communications limitations).
    British Artillery techniques were far in advance of that achieved by the German Army. The German High Command (OKH), even by the end of the Battle of the Somme in 1916 were horrified by this "Material Schlacht" that they could not match and struggled to meet. By 1918 massive concentrations of artillery could be brought about, where complete surprise could be achieved, employing methods the Germans could not ("Creeping" barrages) to suppress the German defences long enough for them to be overwhelmed.
    British small unit tactics were firepower based by 1917. Being conceptually very similar to what would be laid out in FSR's 60 years later (having evolved far beyond the simple "get up and walk slowly towards the enemy" idea). These ideas were spread my more broadly through British divisions, than were the vaunted "Stoss truppen" tactics of the Germans. Allowing most British units to generate enough firepower (with the attendant shock effect) to allow sustained and meaningful battlefield manuoevre to be possible.

    FACT. 1918 was THE greatest military victory the British Army has ever achieved. For the first and last time, the British army became a globally decisive force in its own right.
    The lauded United States contribution, was critical to the eventual Allied victory in 1919 (discounting the not inconsiderable moral effect that US entry in to the War in 1917 had). However as the British Army actually won the war in 1918, that American contribution is another "what if?"
    In 1918, almost fully half the Germans killed, captured and wounded were sustained in the face of the British. The central instrument in the final breaking of the German will to prevail in 1918 was the British army. Even the German spring offensives resulted in losses that as it proved, made the gains achieved Pyrrhic in nature, as division after division was eviscerated trying to smash the British army in the field.

    FACT. The First World War did not end on July 1st, 1916, or in the morass of Passchendaele in 1917, it ended with the "100 Days of 1918", yes 1918 was the the year where Britain sustained the highest casualties of the War, but as I stated earlier was the outcome of a direct chain events going back to the commitment of British politicians pre-war to place Britain on a collision course with Germany's primary military strength, its army, from 1907 at the latest.

    All of these facts will be ignored, which is to ignore the outcomes that in some small measure give meaning to the horrifying costs of a war, that otherwise is totally meaningless.
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  2. CanteenCowboy

    CanteenCowboy LE Book Reviewer

    Maybe you should go and sit in a darkened room until you calm down?

    You do make some extremely good points, most of which will be lost on most British/European people and will leave most Americans completely dumbfounded, yes the 100 days was the most significant victory that the British Army have ever won. But how many school children get taught about the 100 days, I know it wasn't covered in the history books about WW1 I had to read for my O' Level in the 1980's!
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  3. Join the club of disgruntled academics (I'm not one quite yet, only have a degree) who are resigned to watch the mainstream media, left wing and liberal pansies hijack the Great War for their own ends. Prepare for endless poetry, lions led by donkeys, the first day of the battle of the Somme, the stupidity of war, more poetry, how the war just simply ended as both sides realized how silly it all was. Any credit if given will probably be given to the Canadians or ANZACs who we treated so badly apparantly, or perhaps some other ethnic chaps. Then in a few more years we can all ignore the 200th anniversary of the battle of Waterloo as not to offend our European friends.
  4. Like you, I did my O'Levels in the 1980's and the "Lions led by donkeys" view was pretty much where the historiography ended.
    Politically the World has changed, so should the historiography of this generation. It should not be tied to the Marxist and or Revisionist views of a discredited ideology, trying to push a Hackneyed agenda of "People's History", at the cost of a accurate view of (perhaps) the most important event of the 20th Century.
    Without doubt, the military historians of today have done much to correct the misconceptions and falsehoods allowed to become generally accepted "fact". If not at this point, when exactly should we have the opportunity to correct inaccuracies and outright falsehoods?
    For my part, I think the single greatest source of disinformation, distortion and outright lies was Lloyd-George. His personal axe grinding, was to hide the mistakes he had made, the withholding of replacements in early 1918 which very nearly caused the BEF to collapse being not the sole one.
    It was upon this ample spade work that others then called forth their own "facts" to support their contentions, which in many cases have been proven to be in error or out and out fabrications.

    Was Imperial Germany as evil as say Nazis, no. But was the sacrifice needed to stop what was undeniably a bellicose and deeply flawed nation actually a waste?
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  5. Schaden

    Schaden LE Book Reviewer

    Your "facts" are nothing more than your opinions - learn the difference if you ever want to be taken even semi seriously.

    Btw wtf exactly is the point of your bleating?
  6. I live in New Zealand and have had the Gallipoli/ANZAC event taught to me my whole life.
    From what I was taught I would have sworn that only Kiwis and a Few Ozzys fought there, never were we taught that there were any British or French soldiers there.

    We were taught how much "propaganda" was used to tell the people going to war meant actually having to in a war.
    And were taught how pointless war is, because the French/British decided that they were going to play some high stakes army game with Germany, not that the French/British were trying to defend us so we didn't speak German for the rest of our existence.
    I did hate that English class, but I dominated in my exam as it was on the movie saving private ryan, which I've watched a million times, and manage to bull shit my was to top marks.
  7. Oh and how the Generals sent their men to the slaughter whilst they hid behind in safety, when in reality the Generals should be the first to die.
    Shit my English teacher was good, she should've been in charge of ISAF in Afghanistan, would've been over in 10 days not 10 years.
  8. I think the OP's views are widely accepted amongst those interested in more than a very superficial way in WW1. Especially those concerning the competence of those higher-ups and perhaps a greater willingness to look at events through the eyes of those who were witness to it rather than with that oh-so-clear 20 x 20 hindsight.

    As to what the masses know or do not know: they know little about so much that it shouldn't be seen that their collective ignorance about WW2 is a particular failing.
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  9. Auld-Yin

    Auld-Yin LE Reviewer Book Reviewer Reviews Editor

    Unfortunately when the WW1 commemorations start we will be told what to think by the media, which is very left wing in the main, especially the BBC which IMO is extremely left wing. Fact is not going to be the main focus of reporting.

    One thing is sure, there will be a plethora of new books coming out, many of which I hope will be reviewed here.

    My point, if there is one ^_~ is don't pay a huge deal of attention to what the media say, read some of the fully researched books and make your own minds up.
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  10. OK, I think the "Lions led by Donkeys" view has had its day, but, the allied commanders continued with the same tactics for most of the war despite the obvious result of mass casualties for little to no gain. It rather reminds me of the definition of stupidity; doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result.
  11. Lions led by donkeys is the mantra of the uneducated. The actual phrase I think goes back to the peninsula war.
    Plays like the Accrington pals and films such as O what a lovely war perpetuate the martyr myths of people being used as pawns in a game played by aristocracy.
    Lloyd George was a self aggrandising nasty piece of work who played people for his own ends and used others to cover his ambitions and failings.
    As for Australian teaching on history My Aussie cousin gave me a lecture on Gallipoli A few years back completely unaware that British and French troops were there including three of his ancestors.Two in the Lancashire fusiliers and one in the Munsters. Quite a high proportion of the ANZAC forces were still British subjects as well.
  12. Try Paddy Griffiths work on WWI battle tatictics 'Battle Tactics on the Western Front 1916-18'

    Not quite the full picture. The problem lies more in the fact that the Army was massively expanded very quickly with a shortage of good quality senior officers available. Too many people ended up in command who weren't fit to command Battalions and higher. Throw in an unwillingness at Higher command to issue firm orders on how to conduct business, with Divisional and Army Commanders believing it was an act of impertinence and insulting to tell a Brigade commander how to do his job, and NOT their job.

    So you end up with Brigades within the same Division all doing their own thing........

    Much like today in fact ;-)
  13. The phrase "lions led by donkeys" certainly pre-dates the First World War. I am not sure it goes back as far as the peninsular campaign but it may have been applied to the Crimean War. It was popularised in relation to the First World War by Alan Clark who based the title of his book "The Donkeys" on it in the early 1960s. Liddell Hart challenged him on the authenticity of the phrase which Clark claimed had originated from a conversation between two German generals. Richard Holmes later observed that there was no evidence of the alleged conversation ever having taken place. Clark v Lddell Hart and Holmes - who do you think is more likely to provide an honest and objective analysis?
  14. I had the pleasure once to meet the late Richard Holmes and talk history - he was a top bloke - it was sad that his dying coincided with someone very famous dying at the same time and his loss was barely marked I thought.

    It was at the time when the last veterans were dying off. He made the point that the memories these very old men were coming out with -of horrors and misery in the trenches- were often historically wrong described events that did not happen - and had been coloured by years of the "Oh What A Lovely War" and "Blackadder Goes Forth" school of "history".
    He said go back and read the letters home written at the time by young soldiers and a very different picture of the war comes out.

    The thing I dislike is that the common version of history taught to kids and generally presented in fiction, holds WW1 to be a "pointless" war -well it wasn't.
    Imperial Germany was a nasty country and the europe that would have emerged had they won would have not been a good place
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  15. Well done Indiandel, some well-documented facts on a much-maigned subject. To stir the shit a little more.

    In 1909 Colonel Walter Congreve VC, later to command a corps in France, as Commandant of the School of Musketry at Hythe, submitted a paper suggesting that each infantry battalion should have six machine-guns. The paper was rejected on cost grounds, not as bad tactics. The Chancellor at the time was a certain David (Shagger) Lloyd George, twat extraordinaire.

    Most of the bleating about casualties in the years immediately after the war was down to the Great War being the first that wht is now called the 'Chattering Classes' were involved in. Before then Wellington's Scum of the Earth did the nasty mucky fighting and the commercial and professional classes (with notable exceptions as TF etc officers) got all the experience they needed from the Times whilst sat comfortably at breakfast. Poets of said class were the worst culprits, sensitive *********.

    After the war David Lloyd George conducted a campaign of character assassination against Sir Douglas Haig which is remembered far more than the truth of the matter. Even the Septics noticed, Black Jack pershing was appalled at the stirring and commentsed along the lines of, 'They can't do that to him, he won the war.'
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