We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Repington delivers a corker

Charles à Court Repington was a former army officer who became The Times’s military correspondent. I have mentioned him before and so far I have been pretty impressed with his analyses. But in this article (here and here), in which he considers strategy and high-level tactics, he outdoes himself.

Here are his main points:

1. The Western Front is the key theatre. It’s also the nearest. Britain’s main effort must be concentrated here.
2. The allies must co-ordinate their efforts. Going on the offensive at the same time stretches the enemy’s resources.
3. The search for a breakthrough is futile. The allies need to wear out the enemy through bite-and-hold techniques – in other words, take a chunk out of the enemy’s line and hold it.
4. Cavalry is useless.
5. There are too many cavalry generals in senior positions.
6. Artillery is the dominant arm in this war, or as the French were later to put it: “artillery conquers, infantry occupies.”
7. The artillery needs more shells.

So, what happened?

After the catastrophe at Gallipoli, the “Easterners”, as they were known – or “cranks” as I tend to think of them – were largely ignored. The main effort was indeed put on the Western Front and that is where the war was eventually won.

Co-ordination. As it happens, at Chantilly in December 1915, the Allies had already agreed to co-ordinate their efforts. Unfortunately, the Germans took the initiative at Verdun, more or less completely taking the French out of the picture. Still, the Somme, the Brusilov offensive and an Italian offensive did take place at more or less the same time.

Haig continued to look for breakthroughs until about August 1917. He did so despite just about everyone around him – including Robertson, his nominal superior – thinking he was wrong. He did so in the belief – partly fed by an intelligence chief who told him what he wanted to hear – that the German army was about to crack.

Cavalry. Some claim that cavalry was useful in the Hundred Days Offensive of 1918. Personally, I am doubtful. It certainly wasn’t any use beforehand with the exception of 1914.

Cavalry generals. If we look at the really useless Western-Front commanders (army commanders and above) we find Allenby, Gough and French – all cavalry. The successful ones were Plumer, Horne, Byng and (belatedly) Rawlinson, of whom only Byng had any background in cavalry.

That artillery was the dominant arm is beyond question. In battle after battle, if the artillery was right, victory followed. If it wasn’t, it didn’t. That’s not to say there weren’t great changes in infantry tactics and equipment, just that these were a lot less important. It took until 1917 for the artillery to acquire the shells it needed.

About the only thing he gets wrong is his 150,000 figure for German casualties at Loos. The real figure was about a fifth of that. Otherwise he is bang on the money.


34 comments to Repington delivers a corker

  • Jacob

    3. The search for a breakthrough is futile. The allies need to wear out the enemy through bite-and-hold techniques – in other words, take a chunk out of the enemy’s line and hold it.

    If breakthrough is impossible (correct) then limited offensives are a costly and vain waste of blood. Staying put and letting the enemy shed his blood in vain offensive ventures would have been a better tactic.

  • Patrick Crozier

    Assuming that the enemy would have obliged. It also assumes that the attacker would have lost more than the defender – not always the case in the First World War especially after mid-1917.

  • Patrick Crozier

    It should also be pointed out that it was the limited offensives of the Hundred Days that led to victory.

  • Alsadius

    He’s right on cavalry and the difficulty of getting a proper breakthrough, but otherwise, I don’t buy it. Combined multi-theatre offensives were tried, and they failed, because a) it was too easy to defend in WW1, and b) because the pre-1918 idea of an offensive was vastly too small to be decisive. You list off Somme, Brusilov, Verdun, and Sixth Isonzo happening at the same basic time, and they did – those were four of the biggest battles of the mid-war period. Right in the middle of it, the Romanians joined the war and brought two dozen divisions into the fighting along a new front that hadn’t really been defended prior…and the Germans still pulled enough men out of other lines to shatter their armies within a few months. Combined offensives were simply not the answer.

    Gleefully accepting unfavourable casualty ratios for no adequately explained reason, while the seemingly the cornerstone of Allied strategy on the Western Front, was even worse. He cites inflicting 200,000 German casualties a month as the goal, but the actual Allied result was less than half that. If you exclude the wounded who came back to fight again, the actual numbers for the mid-war years were less than 40,000. They were gaining more than twice that just from new recruitment of young men coming of age. The grand strategy of “kill Germans” was utterly ridiculous, and a complete failure.

    Also, the war wasn’t won in the West – yes, that’s where most of the casualties happened, but the collapse of the Central Powers started on the ridiculous little Salonika front, not the gigantic Western front that’d seen so many millions of dead. The Germans were holding the Western line until the moment of the armistice(falling back, but holding a continuous, defended line), but they fell apart in the East.

  • Patrick Crozier

    It seems unlikely that a front hundreds of miles away from its borders, with poor communications and a long way away from the Allies the Salonika front could seriously have menaced Germany. Meanwhile, the Western Front was much nearer and the Germans were losing despite their best efforts not to. The threat was clear.

    There is a very simple reason why the Allies lost more men than the Germans: the Germans were better killers. Why they were better killers is subject to debate but I find Trevor Dupuy’s arguments – mainly concerning the General Staff – highly persuasive. However, the Allies got a lot better at it as the war went on.

    There is a belief now, as indeed there was at the time, that there was a simple solution to the German menace. The truth is it’s an illusion. The war had to be fought, it had to be fought on the Western Front and high casualties were inevitable.

  • Reconstruct

    Wait a minute. Wasn’t it precisely the ‘Garden army’ of Salonika which precipitated the final German collapse? I’m pretty sure that’s what the German’s thought, anyway.

  • Alsadius

    Yes, it was literally the Salonika front that ended the war. The Western front never broke, but the Bulgarian request for an armistice left the front basically undefended, and within a month Allied troops had taken out Constantinople and knocked the Ottomans out of the war, crossed the Danube and threatened Hungary, and between that and an Italian success, Austria-Hungary disintegrated and the remnants sued for peace. With all their allies falling apart, the Germans decided to throw in the towel rather than try to continue their retreat to a defensible line in the Western theatre.

    I’m not claiming that the Western Front was unimportant, but it was empirically not what won the war.

  • Jacob

    “It should also be pointed out that it was the limited offensives of the Hundred Days that led to victory.”

    No. What led to the allied victory was the idiotic and failed German spring offensive of April 1918.

  • Jacob

    It was the failure of the spring, 1918, German big and “decisive” offensive that broke the spirit of Ludendorf, and convinced him that the war was un-winnable.

  • Alsadius

    Jacob: Failed, but not idiotic. They had no better hope of winning than the Ludendorff offensives.

  • Jacob

    “They had no better hope of winning than the Ludendorff offensives.”

    They had. (not of winning). They could have sued for peace with the West at the end of 1917, once they got the cease fire in the East.
    They could have offered to give up all French occupied territories, INCLUDING Alsace and Lorraine. Such a peace would have been the best fate for Germany (and for anybody else), by far.

    But there were no wise men in Germany’s leadership, only fools, the same ones who started the War, and didn’t learn anything during the 4 years it lasted.
    It is believed that Germany had, at least, better generals than the West (not a high bar). False. Their generals, like the western ones, didn’t understand the nature of the war they were fighting, and learned nothing during the war’s duration.

  • Chris

    The most important factor was the Allied Blockade and the failure of the Central Powers to respond adequately to it. It caused severe hardship. Not only were there food riots and starvation on the home front throughout the war, it impacted the army as well. Germans were using crepe paper to bandage wounds in some instances. A great reason for the demoralization of the Germany Army in the Spring Offensive was the German soldier finding the bountiful Allied supplies. It destroyed discipline as soldiers sacked the supply depots instead of advancing, and convinced them the Allies could not be defeated once the second reason for the Allied victory appeared – the massive amounts of American forces arriving. On a purely tactical or operational level, the American troops did not contribute much. However, the Americans represented a huge new manpower entering the fight and supplies. It boosted Allied morale at a critical point, and the only hope of German victory in 1918 was to force the issue before the Americans arrived in force. If the US had not entered the war, it would have been a very different 1918. Assuming the war was not ended by negotiation in 1917. These were what created the conditions for the Allied success of the Hundred Days Campaign – the German Army was disintegrating from the inside at that time.

    The Allies won because their Grand Strategy was superior, assisted by favorable geography. Otherwise, the Germans outfought them everywhere. Same thing would happen twenty years later.

  • Paul Marks

    Point one contradicts point two.

    Unless Britain and France link up with Russia the allies can not “coordinate” – and that means that Constantinople needs to be taken (so that Ottomans are knocked out of the war and Britain and France can “coordinate” with Russia).

    Taking Constantinople is perfectly practical – as it is the only enemy capital on the sea. The thing is to get the Royal Navy their – and that depended on the Royal Navy and the British army being competent.

    Not wonderful – just competent.

    However, the commanders sent out to Sulva Bay were indeed “cranks” Patrick – see Colonel Barker (the historian of British military operations against the Ottomans). None of them was fit for command.

    They landed with tens of thousands of troops against a few hundred Turks – and they just SAT THERE whilst the Turks rushed in reinforcements and built defences.

    Cranks indeed – accept that I do not think you meant the Generals sent out to command the operation.

  • Paul Marks

    Yes Patrick – Haig was indeed a cavalry general (if he was even that – some historians suggest that the only cavalry operation that Haig was supposedly in charge of, in the Sudan, was really the work of General Broadwood) and yes Haig was useless.

    But remember Allenby performed well in the Middle East – Haig MIGHT have done so as well.

    Haig might also have performed competently at Sulva Bay.

    Which was all that was needed – not a good performance, just a competent one.

    Even one of Haig’s demented frontal attacks, at walking pace (and in line – also demented) would have worked had it been launched at once.

    Surprise and speed are what matters. Concentration of overwhelming force (yes backed with massive fire-power) at a weak point of the enemy.

    Then rapid reinforcement and exploitation – not waiting for an enemy counter attack.

    Enemy forces that are cut off, tend to surrender when they know your own forces are now BEHIND them.

    As for “bite and hold” that sounds like the siege warfare of the Western Front.

    For a “bit and hold” policy to be adopted on the Western front then Haig would have had to be replaced.

    Either by Plumer – or (perhaps better for political reasons) the Canadian commander Currie.

    However, siege warfare in the Western front is a long term matter.

    Russia would collapse if left isolated – and all the resources of Russia would come under German control.

    A successful siege depends on CUTTING OFF THE SUPPLIES of the enemy.

    Russia would have to be secured.

    Which means the Ottomans needed to be knocked out of the war. Otherwise one could not coordinate the siege with the Russian Empire.

    Because the Russian Empire would collapse – if kept isolated.

    Remember the Germans would have won the war.

    No compromise peace of 1918 – an actual German victory.

    Had the Germans (via incredible stupidity and WICKEDNESS) not brought the Americans into the war.

    Just as the Germans manages to knock the Russians out of the war – so they dragged America into it.

    The German elite knew they could not win in the long term with America in the war – which is why Operation Michael was launched to try and knock out the French and British forces before the Americans started to arrive.

    Operation Michael failed – just.

    After that it was only a matter of time before Berlin fell – Lundendorf and the others knew this. The Americans could put millions of soldiers into the field – armed and supplied (not the one rifle for three men – or the rest of the Russian farce).

    It was only a matter of time – the German command knew this. And Plumer and Foch were driving the Germans back in 1918 (with Haig giving unhelpful advice – which he carefully revised after the war as he changed his dairy and so on).

    The German commanders must have been utterly astonished when their proposal for a Cease Fire was accepted.

    It was the final betrayal of Allied troops – although YES it saved in the lives in the short term.

    The French and American commanders were disgusted. Their victory had been taken from them. And they knew that it was (in the words of Foch) “a twenty year truce” – Germany would have to be fought again (for the desire of the German academic and general elite to rule-the-world was undiminished).

    I do not know what Plumer thought – as he tended to keep such opinions to himself.

  • Paul Marks

    I should have used the word “clowns” not “cranks” – as that is the word Colonel Barker, rightly, uses to describe the British generals sent out to command at Sulva Bay.

    They were all awful (in their various ways) – for example one of them was fresh out of a home for the insane (no I am not making this up) and spent the operation in his tent – screaming and crying.

    He was NOT the worst British commander in the operation. As at least he did not issue orders to his troops to give back hills they had occupied (at least one British general did that – as the men had occupied the hill “without permission”).

    Still how did the Americans come into the war?

    The Rothbardian account (which most libertarians are taught) is that Woodrow Wilson was a warmonger – and that Neville Chamberlain in relation to World War II was also a warmonger (Donald Trump’s friend Pat Buchanan also teaches this “libertarian” view – with friends like Trump and Buchanan….).

    In reality Woodrow Wilson did all he could to keep the United States OUT of the war.

    I do not like Wilson (quite the contrary), but this is the truth.

    Not only were large numbers of Americans killed when the Germans sunk civilian ships.

    But also there was a massive campaign of German funded terrorism inside the United States BEFORE America was in the war.

    And the Germans stirred up Mexico against the United States.

    Not that the Germans had any real intention of letting the Mexicans keep Texas and so on even in the unlikely event the Mexicans captured it.

    As there are no universal principles of moral right and wrong (see fashionable German philosophy on this point) the Germans could promise the Mexicans anything.

    Even though the German academic and political elite really wanted everything for their own power.

    This is not to say that Richard Ely and those he influenced (Woodrow Wilson as well as T. Roosevelt) did not have relativist (evolutionary morality) views of their own.

    But it was the Germans who, repeatedly, attacked the Americans – not the other way round.

    Only someone so mentally twisted that they regarded the Korean War as a American aggression and World War II (yes World War II) as the fault of the Western allies (manipulated by the “bankers” and “big business”) could regard America entering World War One as the “fault” of Woodrow Wilson.

  • Laird

    Paul, the Germans certainly did everything possible to drag the US into the war, but I think you’re wrong about Wilson. Despite the fact that his re-election campaign in 1916 cynically centered on the phrase “he kept us out of war”, even before the election he was secretly scheming to get us into it. Personally, I think he was terrified that the war would end before he had a chance to get our troops over there and share in the glorious victory.

  • Paul Marks

    The German excuse?

    American businessmen were selling military supplies to the Allies.

    Which had been standard practice in wars for centuries.

    A blockade of one’s enemy is one thing. Endless attacks on civilian of neutral powers in another.

    But not if one’s objective is World Conquest.

    Remember also the status of German official documents.

    Such as the Declaration of War on France in 1914.

    Which has the French bombing Bavaria and so on.

  • Paul Marks

    on civilians is another.

  • Alsadius

    Jacob: Yes, in principle it was possible for Germany to sue for peace in 1917. No plausible nation would ever have done it, though. They’d just vanquished a major foe, they’d been reliably winning every combat against the other two for years, they were inflicting terrifying losses on the Allied merchant marine(worse than even the WW2 peak!), and they were still a functional nation with powerful allies. If you think the “November criminals” argument Hitler rode to power was bad, the November 1917 “criminals” would have been seen as far worse.

    Paul: Yeah, I’m with you. Gallipoli was a practical operation that would have shortened the war dramatically(and probably prevented the Soviet rise) had it succeeded. It was completely botched by all involved, however, and the miscarriage wrecked years of plans. That said, who on earth thinks that Wilson was a warmonger? I’ve never heard such silliness in my life. He was an awful President and a sub-par human being, but he did love peace.

  • Jan Hards

    If you will indulge a basic question, what were armies on the Western Front doing in 1918 (and afterwards in WW2) which made the trench obsolete?

    Why were the Germans able to make the kinds of breakthroughs in Ludendorff Offensive and the Allies able to make the larger breakthroughs during the Hundred Days which were impossible in, say, 1916 at Verdun for the Germans and the Somme for the Allies? Or to put it another way – why are the Germans at the Somme and the French at Verdun able to hold off such massive assaults in 1916 but (to pluck a more recent example out of the air) the Germans are not able to hold and destroy the Allies on the beaches of Normandy in 1944 (surely a vastly more precarious place to launch an invasion than the Somme)?

    I expect you will say it was explicable by pointing to the use from 1918 onwards of tanks, better artillery, aircraft and better battlefield communication which results in a war of great mobility? If the British had available to them in June 1916 say a WW2 type tank division and had deployed it on the Somme front, I presume it would have quickly created a break through to the German rear?

    I guess what I am trying to put my finger on is why in the history of warfare do we go through this period during WW1 (arguably the tendency begins during the siege of Petersburg during the US Civil War although I don’t have enough knowledge of the 1870 Franco-Prussian War to know why it did not arise there) where the trench dominates the battlefield. But before 1864 and after the spring of 1918 it does not.

  • Jacob

    It wasn’t the trench. It was the machine gun. The development of the machine gun made infantry and cavalry attacks futile, giving entrenched defenders an overwhelming advantage over the attacker.

  • Alsadius

    Jan: Yeah, the tank was the big difference post-WW1. They move faster than cavalry and are invulnerable to ordinary small arms, and that’s a powerful combination. During WW1, they played a moderate role(and could have played a bigger one had the initial surprise not been wasted on a tiny offensive in the middle of the Somme quagmire), but tech developments between the wars made them fearsome.

    During WW1, the biggest change was improved tactical use of the weapons they already had. At the beginning of the war, once the race to the sea was over, it seemed logical to bombard the everloving snot out of enemy positions before attacking. You’d leave the lines undefended, right? Nope. The pillboxes would survive, they’d have days to bring reinforcements to the sector, and as soon as you started the attack for real, the defenders would pop out and machine-gun you down. Even if you gained some land, you’d just shattered the land you gained, which made your logistical train totally untenable for further advances or even holding on. Once they started using quick, accurate barrages with no lead time(like Brusilov), creeping barrages that gave infantry cover mid-attack(like Currie), and better “stormtrooper” infantry tactics(like Ludendorff), you can get much less deadly and destructive attacks, and one that actually give them a chance to succeed. Add in the fact that all parties finally had enough guns and shells to launch wide-ranging attacks simultaneously, and you have a battle that can actually be won.

  • Paul Marks

    Jan Hands – the British plan at the Somme was never practical, indeed the real plan was not the official plan.

    The official plan was that Haig was going for a breakthrough – but the tactical set up does not reflect that.

    For example where were the skirmishers? The assault teams going in fast to secure German firing positions so that the main body of the advance would not be shot down? The Germans in Operation Michael did not invent anything (with their “Storm Troops”) – the British army knew about such tactics centuries before (but Haig did not use them on July 1st 1916).

    And why were the men in line? It has been known for centuries that to advance slowly and in line is suicide when attacking prepared defences.

    Haig was really already playing the “attrition” game – hoping to kill more Germans than they would kill his men.

    But even the attrition game can not be successfully played this way – he, of course, actually lost more men than the Germans did (Haig just lied about it afterwards – as he mostly did about everything).

    As for troops who actally believed that the Battle was a serious effort to break through the German positions?

    Yes some men actually believed Haig – even after all his previous betrayals.

    The Ulster Division believed him – and attacked hard-and-fast and took the positions they were supposed to take.

    They found themselves isolated – as the mainland British units had got shot down (walking slowly in lines – as they had been ordered to do) – so the Ulster Division had to come back again.

    Shot on the way back.

    The fault of the Ulster Division was that they acted as if the official plan was the real one – i.e. that they were actually supposed to capture the positions they were told to capture. So they hit hard-and-fast as attacking infantry soldiers are supposed to.

    They had not grasped that they real plan was just to play a giant blood soaked game.

    Remember Haig and the other generals did not kill themselves after the scale of casualties was known.

    They did not even resign.

    They were not really shocked that there was no breakthrough and that that twenty thousand British soldiers were dead in one day (and another 30 thousand wounded).

    They were not really shocked – because this was not wildly different from what they had intended to happen.

    Perhaps they had not intended to kill quite so many British soldiers in return for (basically) no gain at all – but they were not shocked by it.

    As for shame?

    They had no shame – because they were men without basic HONOUR.


    Say one had challenged Haig to a duel.

    Do you think he would have turned up?

    Of course he would not – he would just have quietly got the Military Police to arrest you.

    Men like Haig were good (very good) at posing as warriors – but they were not really warriors.

    They had no Code of Honour.

    No shame.

  • Paul Marks

    I had better give some names (and CORRECTIONS) about Sulva Bay.

    The family and friends of Major General Hammersley claim that he had “recovered” from his nervous breakdown before he was sent – and had never been in an official loony bin (just a quite place to recover).

    They also state that he did not cry and scream in his tent – that he just sat quietly with his hands over his head not talking to people.

    Which is, I admit, better than giving terrible orders as the other British commanders did.

    General Stopford did not go ashore at the start of the operation – saying his leg hurt.

    A life time in the army had not taught him the basic point that even if you really are in pain you do not mention it, and you do your job. Or die trying to do your job.

    The job in this case was to case was to capture some hills (by surprise and speed) so that IX Corps could link up with the Anzacs – thus enabling the Royal Navy to sail into the Sea of Marmara and then knock Constantinople out – thus making “coordination” with Russians possible.

    Obviously if Constantinople was still dividing the Allies one could not fully “coordinate” with the Russians.

    Hammersley and Stopford were obviously unfit for command. And Kitchener deserves blame for selecting Stopford.

    Lieutenant General Sir Brian Mahon was no better – he resigned because he thought he was too senior to be in charge of a small scale operation.

    Some British soldiers (without orders from anyone) did occupy Scimitar Hill – but were ordered to give it up.

    As one may only take things one is ordered to take – in the bureaucratic mess that was the British Army at the time.

    What were they doing rather than attacking a few hundred Turkish militia in the hills?

    Tens of thousands of British soldiers were just sitting about – for days.

    “Waiting for the artillery” – as if it was freaking Western Front.

    None of the Generals seemed to understand that their job was to take the hills BEFORE the Turks rushed in reinforcements and built defences.

    In a real army Stopford, Hammersley (sorry family and friends – if you say he had “recovered” from his mental illness then it can not be used in his defence) and General Mahon would have been court marshalled and executed.

    And Sir Ian Hamilton? He just covered his backside by saying how much he disagreed with Stopford’s lack of activity.

    That is not good enough – Hamilton had the power to remove Stopford. He eventually did that – but much too late.

    A few hundred Turks had been replaced by many thousands of Turks.

    Sorry – but Sir Ian Hamilton should have been court marshalled and shot as well.

  • Paul Marks

    Of course if one was dealing with actual warrior Generals court marshal and execution would not have been necessary.

    As soon as it was clear that their orders (for example Mahon’s refusal to attack – and his eventual dodge of resigning “I am too senior for this” so that he could avoid getting too close to armed Turks) had led to disaster….

    Well real commanders would have been their own executioners.

    After ensuring that new commanders were in their place.

    To placate religious criticism of suicide – it could have been stated that Stopford, Hammersley and Mahon had accidents whilst clearing their revolvers.

    The Anzacs (the Australian and New Zealand troops) had been given a task that was very difficult – if possible at all (essentially landed in the wrong place).

    The British troops at Sulva Bay had been given a perfectly possible job.

    But they had betrayed by their own commanders.

  • Alsadius

    I think you play up the merits of suicide a bit much, but yeah, tactical boneheadedness was kind of endemic in that war.

  • Patrick Crozier

    What were the armies doing in 1918 that made trench warfare redundant?

    The big tactical change on the British side was the introduction of the predicted barrage. Before the predicted barrage guns had to “register” – fire some shells at the enemy and see where they landed. This tipped off the enemy that an attack was on the way. With a predicted barrage, individual gun characteristics were figured out in advance with the result that a gun could be placed into position and fired straight away. This introduced surprise onto the battlefield.

    Communications improved massively. Airborne artillery spotting using wireless meant that airmen could spot enemy guns and tell friendly guns what they should be firing at almost instantly. This removed most enemy artillery from the battlefield. Remember, artillery was the big killer in the First World War, not the machine gun.

    There were a myriad of other improvements: the 106 fuze which increased the effectiveness of high explosive; SS143 which introduce new infantry tactics; models of the battlefield so that the infantry knew in advance what to attack (and still used today); livens projectors; gas and smoke shells; machine-gun barrages; airborne re-supply so that advanced units were not left isolated; frontline wireless (apparently) which made communication instantaneous; the Lewis gun which gave attacking units much more firepower; a re-organisation of railways which meant that the focus of attack could be moved very quickly.

    The one thing that didn’t make much difference was the tank. Unreliable and vulnerable they tended to get knocked out very quickly.

    Overshadowing all of this was the war of materiel – the materialschlacht as the Germans called it. In 1914 Britain had a small army and a correspondingly small war industry. Ramping that up was always going to be difficult. By 1917 they had more or less got the right sort of stuff in the right quantities but it meant two years in which they were fighting at a huge disadvantage.

    As for the Germans, as I understand it, it was a similar story just done better. Their big problem was that in the long run they just didn’t have the men or the shells.

  • Murph

    A breakout was entirely possible but it needed two elements:

    1. Combined arms/corps formations
    2. Precision in timing and movement

    The man who delivered it was Sir John Monash. Initially a reservist/militiaman, He had an engineering background and could intellectually cope with complex systems.

    Most British and French generals were simply unable to cope with the planning, let alone execution of such operations as they had been intellectually stifled by their professional training. He introduced was was (initially) pejoratively termed “Mathe-Tactics”:

    [at the Battle of Hamel] All the Allies’ objectives were achieved in 93 minutes, just three minutes more than Monash’s calculated battle time of 90 minutes.

    Such was the impact of his victories, Monash became the first man to be knighted in the field by the monarch since the 100 years war.

    Montgomery wrote:

    I would name Sir John Monash as the best general on the western front in Europe

  • Murph

    Re: Monash: He was also a Jew; which really got the Germans, Keith Murdoch and large swathes of the British establishment quite buttburt.

  • Patrick Crozier

    Much as I admire Monash he did not achieve a breakthrough at Le Hamel. A breakthrough means breaking the enemy’s line and putting your forces through it. This did not happen at Le Hamel. What happened at there was a “bite” and a “hold” albeit a very good one.

    It is worth mentioning that after the battle Haig circulated Monash’s battleplan far and wide.

  • Patrick Crozier

    Not sure we can argue that the Germans hated Jews at the time. In the Germans’ proposals for peace in 1916 one stipulation was freedom for the Jews in Russia.

  • Rich Rostrom

    Paul Marks @ January 26, 2016 at 10:17 pm:

    But also there was a massive campaign of German funded terrorism inside the United States BEFORE America was in the war.

    Not so much terrorism as industrial sabotage, e.g. the Black Tom explosion. Though part of the intent was to make Americans afraid to produce munitions for the Allies, so “terror” does come into it.

    And the Germans stirred up Mexico against the United States.

    The Germans tried to stir up Mexico. But the Mexican reaction was “Ay carramba! Es muy loco.”

  • Patrick Crozier

    The man in charge of the sabotage was one Franz von Papen. Yes, that Franz von Papen.

  • Jacob

    “for Germany to sue for peace in 1917. No plausible nation would ever have done it, though”

    I beg to differ. Rational and wise leaders would have done it, as it was the best alternative. (I concede that few nations are wise and rational).
    The Germans were neither. They were rather crazy. Therefore it was “impossible” for them to do it.

    The causes for WW1 have always been debated and have perplexed all historians. The only plausible explanation of how the war started, or rather – why the Germans started the war – is that they were crazy. Germany wanted to dominate the World, and they thought they could do it, that they had such a formidable army that they could beat the rest of Europe, combined. This was a crazy thought – as is proven by the results. They were both power thirsty and romantic (i.e. unrealistic) about it.

    One would have hoped that by 1917, after losing several million men, and gaining a lot of experience in actual battles, with failed offensives, they would know better, would manage to rethink their unrealistic illusions, and give up, and do the sensible thing. But they remained as unrealistic in 1917 as they were in 1914, and learned nothing. And they stayed crazy for WW2, the craziness of Germany’s WW2 leaders is more widely accepted (and obvious), only it is exactly the same craziness already manifest in WW1.

    It was only Churchill’s massive destruction of German cities by bombing, in 1945, and the Russian’s raping and razing of Berlin which drove some realism into the German mentality.

    Ludendorff understood, in June 1918, after his failed offensive, that Germany’s dreams were unrealistic. A good (rational) General would have understood this beforehand, and avoided an adventure doomed to fail.