Question of the Day #4

Badger73

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#2
Bootie, you've certainly made this a complicated question! As a non-European, I would suggest the answer is still "yes", an understanding if not study of WW1 remains relevant but "no" such understanding is not vital per se. WW1 initiated the effective ending of the Colonial era for several European nations. It ushered the Bolshevik Revolution into Russia. It certainly laid the seeds of WW2. It was a world of nation states not overshadowed by one or two super powers.

With regard to the "myths" of WW1, you cite British survival rates of trench warfare. Austrian, Belgian, French, German, Italian, and Russian survival rates differ. Mons and Ypres still stand as monuments of military futility unique to a war which included poison gas and massed assaults. Units of the French Army and much of the Russian Army mutinied. It ended France's dominant role in Europe. The Versailles Treaty created the conditions for the development of Nazism in Germany. I think it matters as all history matters, it shapes who and what we are today. Failure to appreciate it leads to misunderstanding current events and the future consequences of ill considered choices.
 

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#3
Another non-European but I think the answer is still yes for pretty much the reasons Badger outlined. It marked a pivotal turning point in the role of Governments, the way a population looks upon their political elites, and for better or worse set up the 20th Century. Maybe a different story when I'm old and grey however.

Over here it's a bit hit and miss in the school curriculum with a heavy focus only really given to Gallipoli but and little else (including the Australian actions on the Western Front and in the Middle East post 1915). Puts a bee in my bonnet for sure. I remember a bunch of Aussie tourists going around Europe in 2009 and when we got to Sarajevo I had to go find the spot where ol' Mr Ferdinand was shot but had to explain to the group why the spot was important. Impromptu history lesson occurred. :mad:
 

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#5
Few teachers, the media, etc. are really interested in the military side of First World War history other than wringing hands at the dreadful cost. What is too often lost is the fact that the British (and the 'colonial' partners from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, etc.) had progressed military tactics and doctrine almost to where the Germans were in 1939. It would have been far better if the whole dreadful mess never happened, but if militaries *have* to remain relevant (I think this is addressed in another question of the day), then nations owe it to their citizens and especially their soldiers to keep up to date and provide the best possible conditions for their soldiers to labour under. The British Empire's war effort was far from perfect, but considering the learning curve went from attacking in company waves with artillery direct firing over open sights in support, to the evolution of combined arms tactics, squad-based infantry battalions, the light machine gun, indirect artillery firing a variety of complex barrages and fire plans, etc., the military did an admirable job. It was costly, obscenely so, but it does them a disservice to judge them with 100 years of hindsight. At the end of the day, the British felt they had a national imperative, and turned in a creditable performance on the battlefield that advanced the military art dramatically.

Just about everything modern militaries do today was developed in the First World War, be it tanks, armoured cars, air support, wireless communication, etc. So yes, it is not just relevant, but important that we understand how these technologies and tactics developed.
 
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The Spider

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#7
The military always trains to fight the last war they fought. New tactics and ideas are heavily resisted by the rank and file. Airplanes countered battleships, armor countered ball artillery rounds, missiles are countering aircraft carriers. But, only battle losses counter old ways of thinking. WW1 taught commanders that human waves against machine guns were ineffective, common sense should have done the same thing. We never seem to learn, officers have to learn the lessons of new tactics and ideas at the price of their troops lives. When I worked for the military, some one came up with the idea "No more Task force Smiths" (see the Korean war), we were to train to skill levels not time. That lasted two months. Too hard, too many failures. Lesson: the military is into putting pegs in holes, not square pegs in square holes, round pegs in round holes, just putting any peg in any hole.
My point is: should we studying WW1 for the lessons it teaches? My answer, Yes. Will it really help for the military to study it? Not likely.
 

Michael Dorosh

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#8
WW1 taught commanders that human waves against machine guns were ineffective, common sense should have done the same thing.
The effects of massed firearms on grouped infantry were observed centuries before 1914. It seems a main concern was not vulnerability of the infantry to fire, but of the command and control radius of infantry units. Individual initiative in armies of the 1800's, say was historically low. Rankers of first world nations often were illiterate, very often conscripts. British manuals circa 1914 emphasized tight groupings of company-sized formations because they could be controlled by one or two officers, and probably as important to them, it had 'always been done that way.'

Using the British as an example, between the open warfare of late 1916 and the Somme in the summer of 1916, there were few dramatic battles and relatively little advancement of the military art. The Somme was the watershed. On 1 July 1916, the start of the British summer offensive, the command control issue was still so prevalent that company-sized waves were prescribed. The British were relying heavily on conscripts with very little training. Some divisions, however, recognized the importance of gaining the German firestep before the Germans, and infiltrated into No Man's Land before their barrage.

After the Somme, the British began learning what the French and Germans had already started to figure out - exposing entire companies of men in massed ranks was untenable. In 1914, the number of machine guns on the front was relatively low, by 1916 the proportion had grown significantly. Infantry companies were divided into smaller groups - platoons, and platoons into squads - that had always been there, but never for tactical purposes. Perhaps the most significant change was the greater reliance on junior leaders and individual initiative. At Vimy Ridge, every man in the assault formations was briefed on the overall plan, and maps were freely distributed so every soldier in the four Canadian divisions would have a sense of the part he was expected to play. This was relatively new. Indirect artillery barrages only appeared experimentally in the Boer War, by 1917 they were de rigeur - and incredibly flexible, with box barrages, rolling barrages, etc. Machine guns began to be fired indirectly during the First World War, and tanks and armoured cars appeared midway through the war, ineffective at first, and slowly evolving as a separate branch.

It's easy to dismiss generals in 1914 as simple-minded fools, but tactics and technology go hand in hand, and there would be no real reason to expect advances in the latter to advance the other instantaneously. Even at that, "human wave" wasn't a term I would expect to find in any 1914 era infantry manual. Learning to fight in World War I was costly but it wasn't from a simple-minded inability to see what was plainly in front of their own eyes.
 
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The Spider

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#9
Really? So if you could go back to WW1, you would group assault a machine gun nest, because its the thing we have always done. Simply because there isn't any other plan? I humbly beg to disagree, the officer on the grounds job is to develop tactics to meet an enemy's threat, orthodox or not. Failure to adapt to an ever changing environment is the mark of a failed officer and a fool. Go ask the French if sticking to the Maginot plan was a war winner. An American soldier will tell you, follow the manual only as long as it works, when it stops working, toss the manual. Tactics don't evolve by themselves, tactics evolve because officers and men adapt to changing conditions. The French lost because they were unable to adapt quickly enough to a change in tactics. Have you ever serviced under an incompetent? Its quite the experience.
 

Michael Dorosh

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#10
Really? So if you could go back to WW1, you would group assault a machine gun nest, because its the thing we have always done. Simply because there isn't any other plan? I humbly beg to disagree, the officer on the grounds job is to develop tactics to meet an enemy's threat, orthodox or not. Failure to adapt to an ever changing environment is the mark of a failed officer and a fool.
How easy it is to second guess professionals 100 years after the fact. If the solutions were so simple, then why did millions of soldiers in all the combatant armies stay so oblivious to it for so long? Nonsense. Tactics and capabilities improved exponentially during the war, but it was a slow process. I'd suggest Rawlings' "Technology and the Canadian Corps", Corrigan's "Mud, Blood and Poppycock" and Desmond Morton's 'When Your Number's Up' for a good introduction to the evolution of military tactics.

Go ask the French if sticking to the Maginot plan was a war winner. An American soldier will tell you, follow the manual only as long as it works, when it stops working, toss the manual. Tactics don't evolve by themselves, tactics evolve because officers and men adapt to changing conditions.
Which is exactly what happened, so we seem to agree on everything but how long it takes.

The French lost because they were unable to adapt quickly enough to a change in tactics.
You're arguing about strategy here. And the Germans didn't have any radically new strategies in the Battle of France (I presume that's what you mean - France was on the winning side in both World Wars). They relied on concentration of force, and the battle of annihilation. They certainly had new technologies to aid them in their strategies.

Have you ever serviced under anincompetent? Its quite the experience.
Humans are by their nature incompetent. Vincent Bugliosi talks about this in book on the O.J. Simpson trial. I would say serving under incompetents is the normal human experience. What is not normal is expecting different. :)
 
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The Spider

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How easy it is to second guess professionals 100 years after the fact. If the solutions were so simple, then why did millions of soldiers in all the combatant armies stay so oblivious to it for so long? Nonsense. Tactics and capabilities improved exponentially during the war, but it was a slow process. I'd suggest Rawlings' "Technology and the Canadian Corps", Corrigan's "Mud, Blood and Poppycock" and Desmond Morton's 'When Your Number's Up' for a good introduction to the evolution of military tactics.

I'll see if I can find a copy of them. Thanks.

Which is exactly what happened, so we seem to agree on everything but how long it takes.

Officers in the field can't afford to wait for a arm chair general to come up with the right strategy for the situation. They have to observe, calculate the odds and address the issue immediately. If what they decide works then its a good tactic, if not well, hopefully there will be someone left to report it didn't work.

You're arguing about strategy here. And the Germans didn't have any radically new strategies in the Battle of France (I presume that's what you mean - France was on the winning side in both World Wars). They relied on concentration of force, and the battle of annihilation. They certainly had new technologies to aid them in their strategies.

Strategy is the plan which failed for the French and was successful for the Germans. Tactics are how they dealt with the failure or success. The French's strategy was to man and maintain the Maginot Line. The German's strategy was to bypass the line. The French strategy failed because their strategy was based on the faulty assumption that the Germans would just dust off their WW1 attack strategy and use it. The French might still have been able to defend against the bypass , they had units in place to do it with, but they failed to use the proper tactics to bring their available force to bear on the Germans. Strategy is the plan for dealing with the enemy, tactics is how you actually bring your forces to bear on the enemy. I know the difference between strategy and tactics. The French commanding general was an old man who didn't have the energy nor a proper staff to deal effectively with the German bypass.

Humans are by their nature incompetent. Vincent Bugliosi talks about this in book on the O.J. Simpson trial. I would say serving under incompetents is the normal human experience. What is not normal is expecting different. :)
I personally expect to be led by a reasonably well trained, competent officer. The US military does a reasonably good job of training its officers and usually backs them up with pretty good NCOs. By your statement I have to assume you're not American or haven't served in combat forces. New officers bungle quite a bit, the NCO's job is to tactfully put them back on track and advise them until the officers master their craft. Incompetent officers are usually spirited off to non combat duties, if they are unable to learn. No one catches the brass ring every time but they have too know where the ring is. Combat troops aren't normal people, as you think of normal people, the normal gets beaten out of them pretty quickly. If you start screwing up, they get nervous and irritable rather quickly and that's not good for your health.
 
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The Spider

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#12
How easy it is to second guess professionals 100 years after the fact. If the solutions were so simple, then why did millions of soldiers in all the combatant armies stay so oblivious to it for so long? Nonsense. Tactics and capabilities improved exponentially during the war, but it was a slow process. I'd suggest Rawlings' "Technology and the Canadian Corps", Corrigan's "Mud, Blood and Poppycock" and Desmond Morton's 'When Your Number's Up' for a good introduction to the evolution of military tactics.



Which is exactly what happened, so we seem to agree on everything but how long it takes.



You're arguing about strategy here. And the Germans didn't have any radically new strategies in the Battle of France (I presume that's what you mean - France was on the winning side in both World Wars). They relied on concentration of force, and the battle of annihilation. They certainly had new technologies to aid them in their strategies.

Lucky French. Then they drug us into Vietnam.

Humans are by their nature incompetent. Vincent Bugliosi talks about this in book on the O.J. Simpson trial. I would say serving under incompetents is the normal human experience. What is not normal is expecting different. :)
 

Michael Dorosh

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#13
I personally expect to be led by a reasonably well trained, competent officer. The US military does a reasonably good job of training its officers and usually backs them up with pretty good NCOs. By your statement I have to assume you're not American or haven't served in combat forces. New officers bungle quite a bit, the NCO's job is to tactfully put them back on track and advise them until the officers master their craft. Incompetent officers are usually spirited off to non combat duties, if they are unable to learn. No one catches the brass ring every time but they have too know where the ring is. Combat troops aren't normal people, as you think of normal people, the normal gets beaten out of them pretty quickly. If you start screwing up, they get nervous and irritable rather quickly and that's not good for your health.
By not understanding how to quote my responses properly, you kind of prove my point about the nature of human incompetence. :) Humans are by nature lazy and incompetent. I've been in the Canadian military, part-time, for 29 years. Trust me when I tell you I've seen good officers and NCOs, and I've seen bad ones. And the good ones make as many mistakes as the bad ones. It's human nature. Thinking that any officer could have stepped on the battlefield in 1915, instantly deduced the "correct" thing to do, and then spread the word across the front is fantasy. It's expecting far too much. Which is exactly why militaries do train to fight the last war they fought. If you've actually served in the military, you will know how slow institutional change really is.
 
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The Spider

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#14
By not understanding how to quote my responses properly, you kind of prove my point about the nature of human incompetence. :) Humans are by nature lazy and incompetent. I've been in the Canadian military, part-time, for 29 years. Trust me when I tell you I've seen good officers and NCOs, and I've seen bad ones. And the good ones make as many mistakes as the bad ones. It's human nature. Thinking that any officer could have stepped on the battlefield in 1915, instantly deduced the "correct" thing to do, and then spread the word across the front is fantasy. It's expecting far too much. Which is exactly why militaries do train to fight the last war they fought. If you've actually served in the military, you will know how slow institutional change really is.
Change is almost impossible in some cases. I'm surprised we don't still use muskets. One officer controls a few men, he decides what those few men are going to do. If you're caught in an ambush, you have no time to decide, you have to know what to do and do it.
 
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The Spider

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#15
My posting maybe a bit confusing as I haven't figured out the posting yet. Clearly your not understanding what I'm saying, so maybe you have a somewhat valid point. Miscommunication and misunderstanding aren't a sign of incompetence, its a classic communication failure.
 

Badger73

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#16
<snipped>
It's easy to dismiss generals in 1914 as simple-minded fools, but tactics and technology go hand in hand, and there would be no real reason to expect advances in the latter to advance the other instantaneously. Even at that, "human wave" wasn't a term I would expect to find in any 1914 era infantry manual. Learning to fight in World War I was costly but it wasn't from a simple-minded inability to see what was plainly in front of their own eyes.

There's an argument that the lessons learned from the Russo-Japanese War 1904-1905 demonstrated that "human wave" type assaults were the most effective way to overcome enemy entrenchments with the weaponry of the times. That was the paradigm shared among military professionals entering WW1. Those subsequent WW1 lessons learned showed the 1905 Japanese success against Russia to be the anomalies instead. What is obvious in hindsight isn't usually clear in the early fog of a current war.
 
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casper

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#18
With out studying WW1 you have no primer to understand the economic and political reasons for WW2. Knowledge is never a bad idea. and u can never have enough of it. Look at American They dont teach much if anything about any of the wars and now they've elected a totalitarian and many of them cant even connect the dots to any time in history where that was a bad idea.
 

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#19
You are speaking out of ignorance, Casper. Many of us here in the USA have a working knowledge of the economic and political upheavals that led to WW1 & WW2. Where are you from? Do you think the average citizen in your country is somehow better educated in the politics of 70 years ago than we are here in the USA? I suspect you are most likely influenced by the sensationalistic news media which probably stereotypes Americans as uncaring of world politics.
 
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casper

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#20
Im Canadian and my extent of education about ww1 and 2 was hitler BAD! WW1 happened. If i wasn't interested in the subject on my own free time I would have no idea about any of the details. sorry if i hit a sore spot about Americans I didnt mean that the problem is exclusively yours. I just dont think we learn enough about the wars because it happen to Europe not to us sort of mentality.