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]

Conscription comes to Britain

A few months ago I posted a graph of UK longevity and invited readers to guess when the NHS was created. This was difficult for the simple reason that the NHS had no effect on UK longevity.

In similar vein I now produce a graph of First World War recruitment. Now I could ask the same sort of question: when was conscription introduced? However, I won’t, because lots of people will know it was in early 1916. But the same point applies: you can’t tell.

By Wkloot - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38219353

By Wkloot – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38219353

This is extraordinary even to a state-o-sceptic like me. You would have thought it was a fairly simple matter to round up all the males between 18 and 40 and put them in uniform. But no.

One of the reasons for this was that a large number of men were in starred (or reserved) occupations. These were industries such as agriculture and munitions manufacture that were deemed to be vital to the war effort. Indeed, in 1915 the government had to issue posters asking munitions workers to stay where they were and not join up.

The truth is that voluntary means – posters, white feathers, belief in the cause – were extraordinarily successful in getting men to sign up. Family legend has it that my great-grandfather was in a starred profession (farmer) but still joined up – mainly due to being badgered to do so by the locals.

There is another aspect to this. Conscript armies aren’t supposed to be very good. And yet, the almost entirely conscript British army of 1918 performed very well.


34 comments to Conscription comes to Britain

  • Edward

    The graph is of the number of soldiers, not the number of new recruits. If recruitment was falling off, then maybe conscription* was needed to keep those numbers as they are shown?

    * I oppose military conscription utterly.

  • Ken Mitchell

    “Conscription” in WWI Britain was used more to manage the flow of recruits, because it’s impossible to draft large numbers of men into the military quickly. They must be equipped; uniforms, boots, rifles, helmets. They must be trained. When large numbers of men are all trying to enlist, it’s sometimes easier to call men up – conscription – as they can be made ready.

    The same thing happened in WWII America; the draft was in force since mid-1940, but starting in mid-1941, there was a flood of enlistments; the draft was used to manage the voluntary influx.

  • Patrick Crozier

    AIUI, conscription in Britain was introduced because recruitment was falling off.

  • Shotover

    Government depends on following the zeitgeist and claiming the credit. Could you put up a graph showing child employment in uk and when it was banned? Or state mandated education?

  • Government depends on following the zeitgeist and claiming the credit

    Yes this is very often true and both your examples are on the money.

  • lucklucky

    I missed that NHS post.

    Btw it is the same in Portugal the SNS was born in 1979, looking at children(1 year or less) death rate doesn’t show any difference. Actually a couple years later the survival rates started to get flat.

  • Alsadius

    The reason conscript armies perform badly in the modern era is that a lot of people find the thought of being in uniform and fighting to the death horrifying. In the World Wars, it was expected. Not popular, but it was more like a trip to the dentist than a trip to the gallows. By Vietnam, that spirit was lost, and so they were conscripting people who truly hated the draft, not merely ones who grumbled about it but understood it was for a good cause. Turning your army into a hotbed of passive resistance to its own leadership will destroy it, so it had to go all-volunteer. But that dynamic wasn’t at play until then.

  • Mr Ed


    Do you have a graph of soldier longevity before and after conscription?

    The backdrop to the Army of those days was a male society far more familiar with guns and shooting as a sport/pastime than now. Add a bit of drill, tactics and training and it was far easier to get a soldier out of a man than starting from today’s low base.

    And whilst we are here, would you know if conscription applied to entering the Navy? I.e. Could one avoid the Army by pre-emptive enlisting in the Navy? (Ignoring the latent power of the draft that the Navy retains at Common Law under the Royal Prerogative and the Johnny-come-lately RAF). I know that the Navy had lots of men with nothing to do, so it formed the Royal Naval Division before that was transferred to the Army.

    And here is a list of Naval Conspicious Gallantry Medal recipients (for the non-commissioned and ratings), some rather sobering citations and an insight into the wide range of Navy actions in WW1.

  • konshtok

    Conscript armies aren’t supposed to be very good. ?

    The historical examples of conscript armies that would come to mind for someone in 1915 Britain would be the greeks , the romans of the early republic and the french during the revolution/napoleon era

    all of them actually very good

  • Paul Marks

    Yes – conscript armies can perform well. As the Prussian Army showed for centuries – although Frederick the Great did warn against camping near forests (in case men escaped into them) he also was happy about conscription as it meant that one did not need to “waste” much money on crippled soldiers. In the Prussian service (at least under Frederick the Great) crippled soldiers were just left to die – and moron British visitors to Berlin committed (with approval) on the lack of crippled soldiers on the streets (unlike horrible London……) that one did not see them because they were dead did not occur to these “intellectuals”. Frederick did not have to care about recruitment – as he could always round up some more slaves and train them to be robots.

    As for the British Army in the First World War – the human wave tactics of the first couple of years did indeed lead to a manpower problem.

    Of course changing tactics was out-of-the-question……

    Some units tried to change tactics without orders from on high (most famously the Ulster Division on July 1st 1916) – but a few units changing tactics are not going to win, not if the rest of the army sticks to robotic ways.

  • The historical examples of conscript armies that would come to mind for someone in 1915 Britain would be the greeks , the romans of the early republic and the french during the revolution/napoleon era

    Certainly the Greeks and the Romans of the early republic were because they were driven by existential threats rather than opportunism (certainly after the First Slave War of the Roman Republic), not quite so convinced about the French Revolution/Napoleonic era.

  • Edward

    Yes, conscript armies quite often performed well. And slaves were quite good at picking cotton.

    Their performance is not the damn point.

    Wrong is wrong. No matter how well it works.

  • Tim Worstall

    Very good book that covers this: Mud Blood and Poppycock.

    Enlistment was slowing down and thus conscription. And also they wanted greater management of who would stay in certain industries, who would fight. Navy took very few conscripts (this was also true of National Service after WWII) and yes, being accepted by the Navy would beat conscription both times.

    As to Paul Marks and tactics not changing: I really do urge reading that book mentioned. Early WWI the BEF was the best (if smallest) army in the field. The New Armies (volunteers) which started arriving in 1916 were barely trained. Especially officers and NCOs. Thus tactics had to be very simple indeed. By 1918 British army was again the best in the field. And had worked out blitzkreig (not that we called it that, all arms cooperation instead). The idea that tactics didn’t change is, I’m afraid, nonsense.

    Finally, worth noting that British casualties in WWI were about the same proportion as most mass European wars had been. And rather less than German or French in WWI. What made the numbers (about 1 in 12 of those who served) so shocking to Britain was that the country simply hadn’t taken part in a modern, mass, European war before. In fact, not really taken part in a mass war at all. Casualty rates were no higher (and often lower) than Peninsular wars, Crimea and so on: but those were fought by professional armies, not conscript nor mass.

  • Alisa

    Conscription armies can perform well, but an argument can be made that the same armies used as examples in support of this claim (such as the German ones) could perform even better without conscription. Alternative history and all that. I suspect that the most significant factors here are cultural, as well as historically circumstantial.

    I found Alsadius’ comment above very insightful.

  • Stephen K

    As to Paul Marks and tactics not changing: I really do urge reading that book mentioned. Early WWI the BEF was the best (if smallest) army in the field. The New Armies (volunteers) which started arriving in 1916 were barely trained. Especially officers and NCOs. Thus tactics had to be very simple indeed. By 1918 British army was again the best in the field. And had worked out blitzkreig (not that we called it that, all arms cooperation instead). The idea that tactics didn’t change is, I’m afraid, nonsense.

    Mud, Blood and Poppycock is good: the author is Gordon Corrigan. There are several other revisionist authors in his line – John Terraine and Gary Sheffield spring to mind – all making a roughly similar point i.e. the notion that the British Army was especially incompetent in WW1 is a myth.

  • CaptDMO

    Quite frankly, I’m amazed that “White Feather” didn’t result in an astonishing number of shaming women being slapped down in public.
    The US had the same issues (it has been argued) with “conscription” in fighting the CSA in our “Civil” war.
    Too many sons of “respected” families were expected to risk death (with no hope of “I’ll just stand back here and point” officer status, and too many actually productive sons were volunteering, away from their fields, livestock, and forges.

  • Tim Worstall notes: “Very good book that covers this: Mud Blood and Poppycock.” I also recommend John Terraine’s “The Smoke and the Fire”. One of the issues Terraine covers spoke especially to me: the notorious “Take the damn things to a flank and hide them” quote used by various historians to defend the idea that Haig was so stupid he’d not worked out that machine guns could fire bullets fast, and that many in the British WWI army were like him. This meant something to me because I’d been through the whole experience myself.

    – When I was 12, my school made me write a history of WWI. I met the quote and swallowed the implication whole. Then I forgot all about it.

    – When I was older, I ran around Salisbury Plain with a gun, being taught section attacks: put the general-purpose machine gun on a flank (so you enfilade the enemy and don’t kill your own men as they advance) and camophlage it (it’s your most powerful unit of firepower so the enemy will shoot at it for preference).

    – When I was older still I met Terraine’s book and came to the essay on that quote. Instantly – before starting to read – I realised that I had been a fool when I was 12, and that many a so-called historian was a fool today.

  • Those who denigrate WWI tactics also tent to forget that it was the only major war in human history where battlefield leaders didn’t have voice command over their troops. It was, simply, an almost insuperable problem and the British army did astonishingly well to create the combined arms tactics it did by 1918.

  • Vinegar Joe

    “And yet, the almost entirely conscript British army of 1918 performed very well.”

    And in 1945, the Red Army backed up with NKVD officers shooting anyone who hesitated did well also.

    Might want to read Julian Putkowski’s “Shot at Dawn: Executions in World War One by Authority of the British Army Act” or watch Stanley Kubrick’s “Paths of Glory”.


    BTW, I have served in the US Army during the draft and later in the volunteer army. Night and day, gentlemen. Night and day.

  • Laird

    FWIW, I was also in the US Army during the transition from the draft to volunteer, and can attest to Vinegar Joe’s observation.

  • Paul Marks

    I think the the British army performed fairly well in 1918 – if only it (and the Americans and French) had been allowed to go on to and actually WIN the war.

    One of the rare points of agreement between Denis Winter and General Haig (an man he hates) is that the Germans were still very strong in November 1918 and so one had to make-a-deal-with-them rather than march into Germany and actually win the war.

    I disagree with both of them – I think the Germans were on the point of collapse. Of course I am a blood thirsty arm chair warrior (rather like Haig in that respect – I admit it) happy to send other men to the deaths. But even I would have paled at a million British and Empire soldiers (and almosst two million French, Belgium and Belguim soldiers – plus hundreds of thousands of Italians and so on) to their deaths for a TWENTY YEAR TRUCE that would end with the Germans coming back stronger than before.

    This was well known at the time – for example General Foch knew it which is why the deal that ended the fighting filled him with despair. After such sacrifices destroying Germany as a future threat was needed – not some squalid political deal. Nor was Weimar fundamentally different in its statism than Imperial Germany – if anything it was worse. The idea that getting rid of the fairy on top of the tree (the Emperor) would change things for the better was absurd. The trouble was the tree (Germany – or rather the German intellectual elite, Germany being the most “educated nation in the world”, and education in evil ideas not being a good thing) not the figure on top of the tree.

    As for conscription – yes it is morally wrong, so is defeat. Defeat in the First World War (yes the FIRST – not just the Second) would have led to enslavement by the Germans – see how the treated the civilian population in Belgium and French, they made them slaves in all but name.

    So the question is “can you win without conscription?” remembering that in war the supreme crime is defeat.

    Although in Ireland (even after July 1st 1916) recruitment was never a huge problem – and the idea of conscription was clearly a stupid move.

    One does not introduce conscription in Ireland for the same reason that one does not have bailiffs in Ulster.

    A “bailiff” is someone who comes to your home and takes your stuff – for debt.

    In England someone who does that is met by grumble-grumble-grumble – in Ulster they would be killed.

    Just as someone rounding up conscripts in some parts of the “island of Ireland” might be killed – even by people who were planning to join anyway.

    One must take care with dealing with naturally violent people – people who do not have to be trained to kill (because that is what they do anyway – when crossed).

  • Paul Marks

    Tim Worstall.

    Alas I have become a bad tempered middle aged man – most likely due to my being a failure in life (and the natural process of mental and physical decay on top of that).

    So I will not get into a long discussion with you on this matter – and I promise you this is not because I have a lack of respect for you. I have the highest respect for you Sir.

    On the BEF – they were good soldiers but they had (in the main) poor Generals.

    Even Haig defenders do not rate Sir John French (the man Haig stabbed in the back with his letters to the Crown – in order to take his job) very highly – and Sir John French did not (normally) rate himself very highly.

    Sir John French (who was in charge of the British forces in 1914) did not (normally) think he was a very good General – because he was not. He did think that he cared about his men (which he did) and he did think that Haig did NOT care about the men under his command – hence the suggestion of Sir John French that Douglas Haig be taken out into Horseguards in London and shot. A rather blunt thing for an Englishman to say – but Sir John was influenced by another cultural tradition in his speech and personal conduct. For all the faults of Sir John French – his personal courage (even as an old man in command of the fight against the IRA in Ireland) was very high.

    Now Sir – your suggestion that the tactics of 1916 were unavoidable because of masses of untrained men and what not.

    Again Sir I repeat that I have the highest respect for you (and no doubt for the well printed and nicely bound books which you cite) – and I fully support your Freedom of Speech.

    However, after some 45 years of dealing with this matters (from about the age of 5) and reading many books, and talking to many of the people involved as soldiers – when they were still alive, I must state that I suspect that your opinion is in error.

    I would also urge you to take care where you express such an opinion – even now, a century after the events.

    I support your Freedom of Speech. But other people (in a certain part of the world) can be rather less supportive – at least if they are caught unprepared.

    Although, they would (quite rightly) be very sorry afterwards – and understand that they had done wrong (by violating your Freedom of Speech). Once the “red mist” had cleared from their eyes.

    I would stand with you (I promise that) – not because I agree with you (I most certainly do not), but because I believe in Freedom of Speech.

    However, this would simply result in both of us (not just your good self) being beaten to a pulp – in certain places I know.

    After all I am malcoordinated and physically weak.

    Still on the specific historical matter…..

    No Sir – the tactics used in 1916 were not inevitable, nor were they correct.

  • Patrick Crozier

    A few points:

    If the 36th (Ulster) Division performed better than most that is probably because it was based on the Ulster Volunteer Force formed during the Home Rule Crisis. Thus many of its soldiers would have received training well before the war even broke out.

    I am not aware of any figures on soldier longevity although it is worth pointing out that as 4 out of 5 came back it was probably quite long.

    As Paddy Griffiths describes in his book Battle Tactics of the Western Front there were huge changes in tactics during the course of the war. Many of these were driven by new technology such as gas, Livens projectors, sound ranging, Lewis guns and radios. But many others such as creeping barrages, predicted barrages and the new infantry tactics outlined in SS143 were more the product of experience.

    I very much doubt that the conquest of Germany would have made any difference even if it had been possible. Germany was undergoing the transition from monarchy to republic. That is almost always a painful and protracted process. The French had the means and justification for conquering Germany in the early 1920s – and indeed occupied the Ruhr for a while – but didn’t. Why not?

    The more I read up on this the less convinced I become that the British Army of 1914 was all that good. The biggest problem was the artillery which thought it was a good idea to put guns in the front line.

  • Paul Marks

    As for 1918.

    It is often stated that people (such as General Plumer) had finally learned to “manage” Haig – to (his face) agree with him on everything and then do what they wanted to do anyway. And to be fair to General Douglas Haig, as long as he personally got the credit for success, I do not think he minded if people “interpreted” his orders (at least not by 1918).

    However, I also think the Germans were defeating themselves.

    It is fashionable among a certain sort of libertarian to denounce the Royal Navy blockade of Germany – but the Germans actually had lots of looted raw materials and food from Russia.

    The Germans did not care if the Russians starved – and their man “Lenin” did not care either. So everything in sight was sent to Germany.

    Yet (unlike both Haig and Denis Winter and so on) I think Germany was in the verge of utter collapse in November 1918.

    “War Socialism” – the policy of General Ludendorff and basically the entire German elite.

    The control (although not formally owned) by the state of virtually everything.

    The elite of the English speaking world (regardless of their party) all seem to assume that this policy was a wonderful success.

    But then English speakers have been awe of Prussia and Prussianism since the time of Frederick the Great in the 18th century.

    Actually by 1918 it was clear that War Socialism was an utter failure.

    It was not (just) the Royal Navy that was destroying the German economy – although (counter Rothbardians) there was nothing morally wrong with the blockade. It was the German government that was destroying the German economy.

    By late 1918 this was undermining the war effort.

    But as everyone has been taught “in time of total war the state must fully mobilise society” I doubt any of the nicely printed and well bound books mention the fact that the German government was (unintentionally) destroying the German war machine.

    Ludwig Von Mises noticed – but he was there (rather than in a Oxbridge college) so he can be ignored……

    I would argue that German War Socialism failed in the 2nd World War also.

    Although in this case Bomber Command can also take a lot of the credit for undermining German production.

    “That is a myth Paul”.

    No, with respect, as both myself and (even more) Mr Ed know – Bomber Command actually did a lot of damage to German production in the 2nd World War.

  • Paul Marks

    Patrick – God bless you, you wonderful man.

    I have told you many times that the change from a Monarchy to a Republic in Germany misses-the-pint (and explained, many times, what the point actually is). Getting rid of the Emperor, if anything, made the real problem worse.

    As for breaking up Germany “not making much difference” – well I beg to differ with you on this point.

    Finally on the idea that walking slowly (in nice straight lines) towards artillery fire and machine guns, is a good or “inevitable” idea.

    Well if you do this yourself Sir – I will listen to what you have to say about it. Just as I did with people who did do it.

    Now, my dear Sir, just go walk slowly into the path of direct fire. With those who agree with you forming a nice straight line with you – so that the enemy can clearly see you all walking slowly towards them.

  • Patrick Crozier

    For the record, the British army still “walks slowly towards the enemy”. Why? I don’t know precisely. But the answer is probably that experience has told commanders that when walking troops are more likely to spot the enemy and commanders are more likely to keep control.

    Not that the precise means by which the British army crossed no-mans-land on 1 July 1916 is particularly important. If you have failed to suppress the enemy’s artillery and machine guns you are in big trouble.

  • Germany’s WWII conscript army fought distressingly well. Like the old vikings they admired, the Nazi soldiers were “stern to inflict and stubborn to endure”. Probably very much a lesser element of this was the fact that the Wermacht got through about 5000 soldiers yearly in court martial executions and the like. (This average figure is slightly misleading; the execution rate peaked at the very end of the war, as the commanders every more ruthlessly forced their soldiers to keep fighting.)

    Paul, your sentence:

    “Even Haig defenders do not rate Sir John French (the man Haig stabbed in the back with his letters to the Crown – in order to take his job) very highly – and Sir John French did not (normally) rate himself very highly.”

    confuses me, since its elements do not seem to sit well together. From the beginning of WWI, everyone who dealt directly with Sir John French was either puzzled, disturbed or appalled by him. Thus, while Haig was doubtless very happy to pursue promotion, Sir Douglas had no need to invent falsehoods about Sir John but merely to industriously purvey facts about him, highly-pertinent to whether he should stay in command, that are also widely reported in the memoirs of others. Haig defenders – like everyone else – do not rate Sir John. However in his book 1914 Sir John very much did try to rate himself: as was truly said, the book obliged its reviewers “to search industriously for euphemisms for the verb ‘to lie.'”

    It is not necessary to regard Sarah Palin as the greatest politician the US ever produced in order to recognise that an orgy of lying was unleashed against her when polls made it briefly appear she might steal their beloved “first black president” from the media. It is not necessary to see Haig as an Alexander or a Lee to see that the notion of Haig as fatuous incompetent has been widely spread for reasons sometimes motivated, sometimes silly.

    In WWI, the competent German army committed on the order of ten million men, first to last, in their bid for conquest. Her three major enemies (Russia, France and Britain) had therefore to inflict sufficient casualties on that army to make that motivated force quit. The most trivial mathematics (too trivial, of course, but it gets you started) indicates that the UK therefore had to kill on the order of a million Germans or more, just to do its share. Given that the German army was competent, how many men will a competent general lose while killing some million German soldiers?

    The answer to that question is what one may call the null hypothesis. Wittgenstein once asked, “What would it have _looked_ like, if it had _looked_ like the earth orbited the sun, not vice versa?” Similarly, what would it have _looked_ like if it had _looked_ like Haig was an average general, neither a military genius nor an utter idiot?

  • RRS


    (Editor: these are indeed testing time)

  • Regional

    The idea that Brit soldiers walked into machine gun fire is a myth. Each platoon was divided into four sections of riflemen, riflemen with grenade launchers fitted to rifles, grenadiers and a Lewis gun section. The Germans like any army worth it’s salt deployed their machine guns that provided grazing enfilade fire from deflade positions as machine guns fire in a beaten zone, so if you can fire from the flanks it can be devastating.
    At Normandy an American Infantry company suffered devastating loses but some were able to break through the barbed wire and silence the German machine guns firing along the beach.
    FWIW, the Brits introduced the concept of blitzkrieg with tanks and aerial support to the infantry. One of the reasons for the devastating loses was poor communications in that while radio was available it wasn’t secure.
    FWIW about a third of Brit Generals were killed because while a General may ensconced in his chalet he was expected to regularly inspect the front line wearing his red tabs and the German observers seeing this would call in an artillery barrage.
    FWIW Brit soldiers were scheduled to serve in the front line for four days then moved back to the next line of trenches for four days and then the next line of trenches for four days and then back to a rest area while being fed 4,000 calories a day. That TV series of Blackadder set during WW1 is total bullshit.
    I apologise for boring you.

  • The Stigler

    “The reason conscript armies perform badly in the modern era is that a lot of people find the thought of being in uniform and fighting to the death horrifying.”

    But why do they, when they once did?

    I suggest that it’s about people having a reason to fight. If you’re going to be ruled by the Nazis, you’re going to pick up a gun. If it’s about a fight going on in Indochina that doesn’t seem to have much bearing on your existence, probably not.

  • The Sanity Inspector

    I fought I was too big to be walkin’ about the street wivout
    joinin’…I fought a lot of fings when that shell hit…I fought
    about…going over the water again…and I fought about seein’
    Mother…And I fought about dyin’. Will they let her come and see me
    quick when I get to a hospital in London? I fink I’ll write to her
    this afternoon.
    — a twenty year old cockney tommy’s last words, 1915,
    according to nurse Sister Luard, quoted in John Ellis’ _Eye-Deep in

  • OldFan

    It is not that conscript armies are inherently flawed, it is just that they are a obsolete as the Spartan Phalanx, the armored knight, and the Three Musketeers.

    The conscript army is an artifact of the industrial age. Mass produced weapons, mass produced clothing, mass produced preserved rations, mass produced leadership (military schools for both officers and NCOs) and simplified tactics formed the basis of the armies of France, England, Germany, and the USA for about 150 years. The professional, long-service armies of the 18th century faded away when faced with the modern, mass army. The communist world took it to heart as well, with Soviets and Red Chinese building the largest militaries the world has ever seen.

    These armies were pitted against each other with great vigor, but the masses of expendable troops were bolstered by elites: Guards Divisions, Panzer Regiments, Carrier Air Wings, and (of course) the entire US Marine Corps. So the wars were not waged only by apple-cheeked citizen soldiers filled with deathless zeal, despite what was depicted in the propaganda posters of the day.

    Then came the information age. The huge conscript army of Iraq (4th largest in the world!) was pitted against a professional force a fraction of its size and was utterly destroyed in 96 hours. The volunteer soldiers of the US Army (most of them with over 12 months of training) generated about 20 times the combat power of their opponents. Technology – expensive and present in relatively low numbers – is the tipping point most often mentioned, but it misses the difference in the individual soldier. The average US Specialist 4 (a corporal in olden days) was found to have been more awareness of the overall battlefield than a Regimental Commander in the Iraqi army – they were trained to not ask too many questions while our guys wanted to know what is going on to make sure nothing went wrong.

    Until recently, the U.S Army was operating under a broad guideline to not send anybody overseas until that had two years’ experience: Basic, Advanced individual and unit training. Meanwhile the Russian Army (BTW, what color is it these days?) still runs on 2-year conscripts, with only officers as professionals (they still draft their Sergeants!)

    It is very likely that we train our infantry better, more extensively, and at greater expense than any fighter pilot in WWII – because we have to.

    And just wait until we get the powered battle armor . . .

  • mikee

    Consider that WW I was fought with tactics U.S. Grant would have recognized as wasteful of human life, but with even better weaponry than that of the US Civil War. Conscript or volunteer, a massed charge against artillery and machine guns is no way to win a war.

  • Consider that WW I was fought with tactics U.S. Grant would have recognized as wasteful of human life, but with even better weaponry than that of the US Civil War. Conscript or volunteer, a massed charge against artillery and machine guns is no way to win a war.

    The big change between WW1 and WW2 was communications technology and reliable motor vehicles allowing much greater dispersal, hence lower typical daily loss rates in WW2 vis a vis WW1. The WW1 bloodbath was not (primarily) a consequence of terrible tactics and stupidity but the fact command, control and mobility were lagging the weapons technology.

    Interestingly according to Dupuy, the largest single increase in battlefield casualty rates in history was not WW1 but rather during the US Civil War/Crimea War era, due to the introduction of the rifled musket married to Napoleonic era tactics predicated on smooth bore muskets. Indeed since WW1 rates have been falling continuously in spite of steadily more lethal weapons for various reasons (including ever greater dispersal and flak jackets for example).