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The road to the Somme. Some thoughts on strategy.

Amidst everything else that’s been going on over the last few days, Britain managed to commemorate the centenary of the first day of the Somme. For those who are unaware of the details 60,000 soldiers of a volunteer army became casualties, 20,000 died while the gains in terms of territory and dead Germans were minimal. While I found most of the commemorations cloying I thought the decision to dress up a bunch of young men in First World War uniforms and strategically position them in our larger cities was an act of genius.

But sadness and horror does not excuse the abandonment of cognitive functions. Many are happy to blame bad generalship and from the sounds of it there was plenty present that day but there were other, deeper, strategic reasons for the disaster.

First of all, Britain was fighting a war in Western Europe against a large, well-equipped and tactically skillful enemy. That is a recipe for a bloodbath. Britain repeated the exercise twice in the Second World War (May 1940 and June 1944 onwards). They were bloodbaths too. We tend to forget that fact because overall the numbers killed in the Second World War were much lower than than the First and because they achieved a succession of clear victories.

Secondly, Britain began the war with a small army. To make a worthwhile contribution Britain was going to have to raise and train a large army. Soldiering, like any other job, is one where experience counts. Anyone who is familiar with the rapid expansion of an organisation will know that this is a recipe for confusion and chaos. In the case of the British army the inexperience existed at all levels. Corporals were doing the jobs of Sergeant Majors, Captains doing the jobs of Colonels and Colonels doing the jobs of Generals. Haig himself (according to Gary Sheffield) was doing jobs that would be carried out by three men in the Second World War. Talking of the Second World War, it is worth pointing out that it took three years for the British to achieve an offensive victory (Alamein) over the Germans which is much the same as the First (Vimy).

Thirdly, Britain began the war with a small arms industry. Expanding that involved all the problems mentioned above plus the difficulty in building and equipping the factories. It comes as no surprise that many of the shells fired at the Somme were duds and even if they were working they were often of the wrong type: too much shrapnel, not enough high explosive.

Fourthly, the Allies needed to co-ordinate. Co-ordinating your efforts means that the enemy cannot concentrate his efforts on one of you and defeat you in detail. This was the thinking behind the Chantilly agreement of December 1915. The idea was that the allies – France, Russia, Britain and Italy – would all go on the offensive at the same time. Russia had done her bit in the Brusilov offensive. Now it was Britain and France’s turn.

Fifthly, the battle of Verdun. It is almost impossible to put into words the desperation of the French army by June 1916. It was fighting against a skillful and determined enemy for what had become sacred ground. It had reached the end of its tether and Britain had no choice but to come to its aid by fighting and thus drawing off the German effort. The original intention was for the more experienced French to have a much larger role at the Somme. Verdun put paid to that which meant that the British had to take the lead. As it happened, the Germans ended offensive operations at Verdun shortly after the battle began.

British troops attacking German trenches near Mametz, on first day of the Somme. From here: https://twitter.com/prchovanec_hist/status/749031026039586816

British troops attacking German trenches near Mametz, on first day of the Somme. From here: https://twitter.com/prchovanec_hist/status/749031026039586816

26 comments to The road to the Somme. Some thoughts on strategy.

  • Lee Moore

    I apologise if this is veering too wildly off the subject too quickly.

    1. Although I’ve read lots of stuff about WW2 and looked at lots of maps, it was only recently when I bothered to look at a series of maps of the Western Front from June 1944 to May 1945 that it fully dawned on me how odd the advance was. Basically there was two solid months of virtually no progress in June and July, followed by the complete recapture of the whole of France during August, followed by pretty much nothing by way of territorial progress for six solid months almost till the middle of March, followed by sweeping across Germany in six weeks by the end of April. In other words there were two phases of 4 weeks and 6 weeks of rapid advance, studded within a year that was otherwise more or less stalemate.

    2. Which leads me to conclude that attacking defended positions is jolly hard work, while attacking empty spaces is a damn sight easier. The Wehrmacht’s experience in Russia seems to have been similar. They made dazzling encirclements and mobile advances, covering huge tracts of turf. But when they attacked seriously defended positions head on, they got a very bloody nose. None of this is remotely surprising, except for the fact that lots of generals still appeared to believe strongly in the frontal assault theory. eg the Hurtgen Forest disaster which appears to have been completely pointless.

  • As you say, Verdun! We had to attack, and keep on attacking after the 1st day. It was several days before the Germans decided that holding on the Somme necessitated halting Verdun – and replacing Falkenhayn with Hindenburg and Ludendorff.

    Another point is that what is obvious in retrospect is less so at the time. Haig knew his army was inexperienced but he also knew he’d never had so many shells to fire. The British army imagined the pulverised German front-line positions would fall easily, just as the Germans (and _many_ British intellectuals and high-ups) imagined the 1940 air raids would break London.

    Humans can take a lot more than people think. As the saying goes, “There is a lot of ruin in a nation”; also in a city; also in an army.

  • Jacob

    Defense seems to have been the correct and best tactic at least since the American Civil War, if not since Waterloo. So, it might have been better to reinforce the defense at Verdun instead of attacking on the Somme.

  • Derek Buxton

    I notice that we were “ill equipped to fight a war” in the early 1900s.
    As indeed we were in 1939 and are now. We have little if anything in the form of an arms industry. A few years ago when we were part of a UN fighting force, I seem to recall Belgium refusing to sell us rounds for the Belgium Rifles we had bought. Oops, politicians do not do history!

  • Fen Tiger

    “reinforce the defense at Verdun”

    Yes, keeping that meatgrinder fed was clearly the best option…

  • Jacob

    In defense, the “meatgrinder” grinds 5 times slower.

  • Jacob, Falkenhayn’s plan for Verdun was to attack the French where the strategic terrain favoured the attacker. It took herculean efforts to keep the sole French supply line running. Deploying the somme armies at Verdun would have been impractical.

    The “defensive” battles of WWI include incessant counter-attacks by the “defenders”. The Germans trained to recapture their own trenches in swift counter-attacks. A passive defensive strategy would have seen them swiftly beaten.

    The greatest daily loss rate sustained by the British army in WWI was during the Kaiserschlacht of 1918. The French lost more than the Germans at Verdun. The notion that defending armies suffer fewer casualties seems to be a myth; it is certainly open to strong challenge.

  • Bod

    Entrenched positions are inherently costly to assault and cheap to defend *until* the offense deploys artillery, armor or enjoys air superiority.

  • Alsadius

    Verdun was almost the only major battle in the war where the attackers suffered fewer loses than the defenders, though(perhaps the same is true of the initial German attack of 1914 as well, but I’m not sure of the precise numbers there – a lot of the Allied casualties were in French attacks). Aside from single-day set-piece events like Vimy, or times when the French had more balls than brains, defence was better on manpower. Now, you don’t win a war on the defensive, but it should have been the dominant strategy in WW1, punctuated by occasional set-pieces to keep your opponents honest.

    Of course, the monkey wrench in that was the Russians. They didn’t have a French-style line of fortifications, because the manpower:space ratio was too different. Keeping Russia in the war would have been a nightmare unless the Germans were forced to look west(and in the end proved impossible even with them looking west). This is the biggest reason I’m sympathetic to Churchill’s Dardanelles campaign – opening the straits to supply traffic for the Russians would have given them more aid than the Somme, at vastly less cost, on top of knocking the Turks out of the war.

  • Ed Snack

    The talk of going on the defensive has one gaping hole, the status quo favoured the Germans. They were the ones occupying almost all of Belgium and a chunk of North western France. It was strategically almost impossible for the French to simply acquiesce in that and allow the Germans that strategic and negotiating advantage. Even as late as the end of 1917 German terms for ending the war included the annexation of Belgium and the use of French naval ports on the Atlantic coast.

    Having gained the strategic initiative in 1914, the Germans could afford to be more defensive.

    Also, comparing WW1 to WW2, the casualty rates are not dissimilar on a per days basis. The Normandy campaign and follow up was considerably shorter in duration, leading to lower casualties in total. The original long pause before the break-through was just the period it took to put the German’s into a position absolutely open to a near complete defeat. Montgomery quite masterfully kept them unbalanced so that almost their entire armoured forces faced the British and Canadians around Caen so when the Americans could engineer a breakthrough the German’s had no way to recover. That is also attributable to Hitlers strategy as well, by forcing everyone into the front line and not to give up any territory unless forcefully evicted he prolonged the initial defence but made a complete defeat all the more likely as there were no reserves availableit’s a pity that politics and logistics meant that the Allies in WW2 couldn’t keep following up hard. Once back across the Seine the Germans had less than 1 division of armoured forces available for the whole western front, and only scattered remnants of infantry in many places. However because for how the Normandy campaigned was structured with the British in the West those forces most capable of a vigorous pursuit were badly placed to pursue on the main axis of retreat. So you got Patton hearing off in essentially a pointless direction and Montgomery with the forces least suited to rapid pursuit hamstrung in the North for lack of supply. the war could have been over by early December with luck, and saved a lot of lives and prevented the Soviets from making such inroads.

  • Jacob

    “The talk of going on the defensive has one gaping hole, the status quo favoured the Germans. ”

    It would have favored the Germans if they acted wisely and stayed put. Maybe – if the blockade didn’t undermine them.
    They didn’t. It was the failure of their April 1918 all out offensive that ended WW1. It was the allied defense and repulse of that attack that won the war. The later allied advance was just a mop-up.

    Anyhow – the allied offensives (before the end of 1918) all failed, and only produced casualties in horrible numbers. Surely, in retrospect, it is clear they were follies.

  • Mr Black

    There could have been no successful attacks without the failures to learn from. Sitting idle in the trenches for 3 years would have created the finest defensive line in the world, but it would have also been utterly unable to launch an attack.

  • Patrick Crozier

    The Hundred Days Offensive from 8 August 1918 on was, IIRC, one of the bloodiest offensives the British army has ever fought. Far from a mopping-up operation.

    300,000 casualties according to Wikipedia.

  • Jacob

    “There could have been no successful attacks without the failures to learn from.”

    The learning should have been done by studying the history of 19th century battles, and understanding the power of the machine gun.

  • Jacob

    The battle on the Somme: almost 800,000 casualties and no result at all…

  • Jacob

    “Sitting idle in the trenches for 3 years…”

    You sit idle (defending) in the trenches until you have a chance to succeed, even if it takes 3 years. No point in sacrificing soldiers in vain.

  • Laird

    Well, this seems appropriate here: the connection between the Somme and Mordor.

  • Paul Marks

    The facts of the matter are as follows.

    A major offensive on the Western Front was a fundamentally mistaken idea.

    However, had it been decided that one was needed (perhaps for political reasons) it should not have been entrusted to Douglas Haig or commanders he picked.

    Even after two years on the Western Front (and a lifetime in the army) Douglas Haig did not grasp the basics (the basics) of infantry tactics – nor did the commanders he tended to place his faith in.

    Douglas Haig never did come to understand the basics of infantry tactics – neither in attack (as his antics in 1917 were to show, just as much as his antics in 1916 or 1915) nor in defence (the defensive failures of the British army in early 1918 were the direct responsibility of Haig’s henchmen General Gough – but Haig had approved the policy of relying on strong points which proved to be fundamentally unsound).

    General Haig might have performed well elsewhere – had he, for example, been put in command of operations in the Middle East. We shall never know.

    However, in regards to the Western Front Douglas Haig was unfit for command.

    This had been shown as early as 1915 – and continued to be shown again and again and again.

    As for war production.

    As Ludwig Von Mises pointed out in “Nation, State and Economy” German “War Socialism” was a FAILURE.

    In spite of having lost its major industrial areas at the start of the war even French heavy industry outperformed German in terms of output per man and so on.

    This was not because of better French “planning” than German “planning” – it was not better planning, it was less planning (more room for private companies to act).

    And there was the vast industry of the United States (bigger than that of Germany even before the war) call upon also.

    Even before America went to war – geography meant that American companies were supplying the Allies (as their goods could reach, with difficulty, but reach) Britain and France, but not Germany.

    Russia was a great let-down of the war.

    Russian industry had the highest growth rate before the First World War – and was approaching the size of French industry (although not German or British). During the First World War Russia became increasingly chaotic.

    The wartime Russian government was as interventionist as the German – but less well organised.

    Of course Russia (like France) was unready for war in 1914.

    Russian military reorganisation (modernisation) was not due to be finished till 1918.

    French military reorganisation (modernisation) was not due to be finished till 1916.

    The Germans in 1914 were ready for war and knew that, if they delayed, their position would get weaker and weaker.

    That is why there is the tissue-of-lies German Declaration of War upon France in 1914 (which has the French supposedly bombing Bavaria and so on).

    The German elite knew that if they delayed war both France and Russia would get stronger and stronger.

    That is how the German elite justified their lies (the pack of lies that is the German Declaration of War upon Russia and the even worse pack of lies that is the German Declaration of War upon France) to themselves.

    “War now – or certain defeat later”.

    Of course, as the President of France (a philosopher) pointed out in 1914 the German academic elite (whose ideas dominated the political elite) denied the very existence of universal principles of “reason and justice”. The German Declaration of War was not really on France – it was the universal principles of reason and justice themselves, which the German “historicist” academic and political elite denied the existence of.

    The treatment of the civilian populations by the Germans has long been dismissed as Allied propaganda – but it was not propaganda, it happened.

    Just as the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of civilians by the savage Islamic Ottomans was not Allied propaganda – it happened.

    The Germans treated civilian populations as slaves – to be put to work in the War Economy (working to destroy their own countries). The Germans also murdered large numbers of civilians without cause, and used electric fences (yes they were that “advanced”) to prevent their new slaves escaping into neutral countries.

    Had Imperial Germany won the war it would have treated British civilians the war in treated Belgian and French civilians – as slaves, to be used to in production for a future war against the United States.

    Imperial Germany had world-wide designs – and was already stirring up Mexico against the United States, and there was a major subversion network in the United States itself. There were murders and terrorist explosions in the United States – long before the American Declaration of War. As well as the sinking of American ships with the deaths of thousands of Americans.

    Douglas Haig was unfit for the Western Front – he was a rotten General whose errors cost vast numbers of British soldiers their lives.

    No one, other than a pig, can defend Douglas Haig as a general – however, Douglas Haig was NOT an evil man.

    General Ludendorff (basically the German ruler in the later half of the First World War) was an evil man – not just a proto Nazi, but the logical consequence of PRE war German thinking. Denis Winter’s description of Ludendorff (in “Haig’s Command”) is utterly absurd – concentrating on how polite Ludendorff was, not on the essentially satanic (the word is not too strong) evil of Ludendorff’s collectivist beliefs (partly, I suspect, because Denis Winter shares some of those collectivist beliefs).

    Had the Germans won – the Europe that people such as Ludendorff would have created would have been Hell-on-Earth and they would have used the Capital of Europe and European Empires to fund fresh conquests – the United States would NOT have safe.

    Whereas all Haig really wanted to do was play golf and go riding.

    Leaving aside the question of military tactics – as important as it is.

    The First World War, just as with the Second World War, was a clash of good versus evil – in relation to Britain and Germany.

    This does NOT mean every ordinary German was evil (of course not) – but the ideas (the aims – the belief system) of the German elite were evil – in the First World War, not just the Second World War.

    It was an evil that had to be defeated – indeed DESTROYED.

    The central failing of the British elite (including Haig himself) was their false idea that the German leaders were, basically, “people like us”.

    They were not – and their ideas were NOT thought up by some Austrian born Corporal.

    As the French military commander Foch and some of the American military commanders feared in 1918 the failure to DESTROY Germany (the acceptance of essentially a “compromise peace”) was not really peace – it was a “20 year truce” whilst the German elite rebuilt and tried their next effort to conquer Europe and then the world.

    I am a political person, I do not deny it – nor am I ashamed of it.

    And I find Haig’s failure to understand the basic philosophical beliefs of the German academic and political elite perhaps even harder to forgive than his lack of basic knowledge of infantry tactics.

    “But Paul – Haig’s lack of understanding of basic infantry tactics led to hundreds of thousands of British and Imperial troops losing their lives”.

    So it did – but his (and the rest of the British establishment) failure to understand the BELIEFS of the German academic and political elite cost many MILLIONS of people their lives – as it led to the Second World War.

    The idea of men like Haig is (essentially) that philosophical ideas do not matter – and this was NOT just the view of Haig, his enemy David Lloyd George (and most of the rest of the political elite back home) were just as mistaken – indeed most of the establishment (including Haig) thought that David Lloyd George was too tough on the Germans (an absurd reversal of the truth). None of them seem to have grasped the vital importance of German IDEAS – beliefs, principles.

    Some of the French (of that time) did understand – but the British and American governments would not listen.

  • Paul Marks

    To those who would object that the “Young Turk” regime as not Islamic.

    Some of them may have been (privately) atheists – but they were (like their German allies) radial collectivists.

    They also used Islamism to stir up their warriors (many of who were not Turks) into pitiless savagery – mostly against civilians (who they murdered in hundreds of thousands with all the refinements of sadistic cruelty).

    German agents did the same thing – claiming (quite falsely) that the German Emperor had converted to Islam and was going to share out the British and French women among the faithful.

    I must stress this was NOT what British and French agents were saying about the Germans – this is what GERMAN agents were saying.

    The activities of German agents in Latin America (not just Mexico) and in the United States itself was also very extensive.

    Again it was not like the activities of British agents – it was the opposite.

    The German agents were trying (with the full support of their governing elite – and the philosophy of their universities) were deliberately trying to stir up all that was most base in human beings.

    Appealing to the worst in people – not the best in people. The later Marxist agitators in Latin America were just carrying on where the Germans left off.

    “The Americans are richer than you because they have stolen your land – take their wealth for yourselves, and take their women also….”

    Of course in the long term aims of the “geo politics” of the German academic and political elite the Latin Americans would not have been allowed to keep any of that.

    The Latin Americans were going (in the long term) to be exterminated or enslaved.

    The German academic elite had rejected the very concept of universal natural law – natural justice.

    Their aim was not to play golf and ride horses.

    They were not really “people like us” Douglas.

  • Paul Marks

    For the difference between an understanding of basic infantry tactics and the ideas of Haig and co in relation to the Somme.

    Examine the difference in conduct between the “Ulster Division” (which started off as a private army before the First World War – sworn to fight even Parliament, if need be, to prevent a “United Ireland”) and those units who followed the rules of Haig and co on the First of July 1916.

    Of course the offensive launched on that day was a strategic mistake – but it did not have to be a tactical mess as well. Such fantasy assumptions as “the artillery will clear the way – not even a rat will have survived in the German positions” have no place in serious military thinking. And July 1st 1916 was NOT the first day of Haig and co (as the BBC and others imply) – they had actually been one the Western Front for two years. If they did not understand basic infantry tactics by July 1916, and they clearly did not, then there was something seriously wrong with them as military commanders.

    Like another “educated Scot” I know in civilian life – General Haig just carried on making the same mistakes again-and-again, refusing to learn. Although the financial losses of an amusement park are rather less serious than getting vast numbers of your own men killed.

    Still attention now turns to another anniversary – July 12th.

    I hope people remember that William of Orange’s crack personal guard, the Blue Guard, were mostly ROMAN CATHOLICS.

    The war was not sectarian in aim (although the memory of it has become so) it was an effort to stop the “Sun King” Louis XIV unifying Europe under his tyranny. An effort to stop European unity (under a restored LATE Roman Empire – but one centered in Paris) that was supported by the Pope – yes the Pope supported William of Orange in relation to the Battle of the Boyne.

    James II – or James “the Shithead” (as his own supporters, yes supporters, in Ireland called him) was a puppet of Louis XIV.

  • Paul Marks

    For a display of tactical ineptitude the FRENCH and RUSSIAN armies of 1914 are classic examples.

    The Russian 1st Army was defeated by inferior German numbers – due to the blunders of its commanders.

    The Russian 2nd Army was ordered (by the high command) to march into a German trap that its (the Russian) own scouts had detected, and essentially wiped out (the Russian General in command committing suicide in shame – showing that he had some basic sense of honour – which is more than the Russian High Command did).

    In 1916 (two years later) the Russian Imperial Guard Army was sent down three causeways in a bog (with the Germans in front and on both sides) and essentially wiped out – even Haig would have had doubts about that Russian plan.

    “Why did not the Imperial Guard save the Czar?” is a question that one still sometimes hears – the answer is simple, the Imperial Guard Army (yes it was the size of an army) of 1914 was mostly DEAD by the Revolution of 1917 – dead men do not save anyone.

    The French in 1914 did not have the faintest idea about infantry tactics.

    The French Generals of 1914 knew as much about basic infantry tactics as they knew about the Klingon language of the “Star Trek” television series of many years later.

    Frontal attacks (in line) by brightly dressed soldiers – with the standard fantasies about “artillery clearing the way”.

    However, by 1916 French understanding had improved.

    French tactical performance on the Somme at the start of the offensive was much better than the British Generals (although that was not difficult as Haig and co were utterly unfit for command).

    Creeping barrages – designed to keep-the-enemies-heads-down or down in their 40 feet deep underground positions (not to “clear the way”) were developed by the French (not the British Army – as the BBC claimed in recent days).

    True the Germans could hide from artillery fire deep underground – but they could not at-the-same-time hide from artillery fire and man their machine guns and so on.

    As long as the shells were still dropping on the German positions a few seconds before the Allied soldiers were upon them, artillery was very useful indeed. Yes – the Germans practiced “defence in depth” (with the front positions only lightly manned), but the same tactics could be used against their other lines of defence.

    Also the French no longer walked in neat lines and so on – they had learned how to behave by 1916.

    However, the French were guilty of a terrible error in the mid period of the First World War.

    Holding on to Verdun.

    Tactically yes the French held Verdun – but a vast cost of men.

    The German objective was to “bleed the French white” by attacking at a place where they (the Germans) were on three sides of the French – and hundreds of thousands of Frenchmen were slaughtered at Verdun – their incredible courage wasted (although the Germans also lost very large numbers of men – by forgetting their original objective and actually trying to TAKE Verdun which they should not have tried to do).

    Just as the incredible courage of the French in 1914 had been wasted.

    Dead men do not learn anything – and the throwing away of its best men in the first two years of the war left the French army open to mutiny later.

    A wiser policy would have to never man Verdun in the first place – to allow the Germans to have the salient if they wanted it.

    Just as the Germans later withdrew from the Somme area – back to the, shorter, Hindenburg line of defence.

    The area of the Somme battle was, essentially, of NO STRATEGIC VALUE.

    Which makes the sacrifice of the twenty thousand dead British soldiers and the thousand wounded British soldiers on July 1st 1916 (and the vast numbers killed and maimed later) all the more pointless.

  • Paul Marks

    The “scientific killing machine” developed by the determinist Frederick the Great in the 18th century was a power of terrible effectiveness.

    The British never understood the thinking of the Prussian elite (well some British people, such as Edmund Burke, did understand – but most did not).

    Indeed Frederick the Great was a hero in Britain – with the British upper classes even imitating the “clipped” way that Prussian aristocrats spoke.

    British idiots visiting Berlin (like British idiots visiting the Soviet Union in the 1930s) were in awe of all they witnessed.

    For example they remarked on the lack of cripples on the streets of Berlin – in spite of all the wars of Frederick the Great.

    There were indeed few cripples on the streets of Berlin and other Prussian cities – because in the Slave Army of Frederick the Great soldiers who had wounds that would make them unfit for future military service were LEFT TO DIE.

    This did not seem to occur to the British idiots – with their faith in the wonders of the Prussian State and its “philosophy” (the evil ravings of Fichte and co) even if they did not actually understand this philosophy.

    Of course there was indeed a Classical Liberal period in Prussia – of real economic reform in the early 1800s, but that is NOT what British (or American) idiots admired.

    They admired the beast Frederick the Great – or the beast Bismark a century later.

    As for the Prussian (and later German) military.

    The “scientific killing machine” developed by Frederick the Great had one great weakness.

    Its lack of skirmishers – for skirmishers depend on tactical freedom, and this Frederick the Great (with his Thomas Hobbes like view of people as MACHINES – robots) would not allow.

    The French greatly exploited this Prussian weakness at such battles as Jena.

    By the 20th century the German Army had managed to pull off a philosophical (and it was philosophical) trick.

    Tactical freedom married to strategic (political) collectivism.

    German thought no longer (as Frederick the Great had) regarded soldiers as simply machines – Thomas Hobbes style clockwork dolls.

    On the contrary soldiers were expected to show creative thought – called “Mission Command” in the 2nd World War.

    German officers and even private soldiers were expected to think-for-themselves to an extent that was unknown in the British Army (apart from in special units).

    But, but, but…….

    This was think for yourselves at a TACTICAL level.

    German soldiers were not allowed to think for themselves at a MORAL level – they were trained to accept the policies of the German High Command and to laugh and the very concept of universal rules of moral conduct not subject to the “historical stage” or the interests of the state.

    The Germans were indeed “the most educated people in the world” – but British and American idiots did not really understand what that “education” really was. And sadly many of the British and American elite (including President Woodrow Wilson himself) were PARTLY influenced by these ideas – which led to President Wilson and others being filled with CONTEMPT for the principles of the American Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.

    Of course even in the 2nd World War there were many Germans who still held to either Christian or humanist concepts of moral conduct – both efforts to find and live by universal laws of moral conduct.

    However that was not the German philosophy.

    Neither in the Second World War – or the First World War.

    A German victory in either World War would have led to a new Dark Age – but without the monastic houses of Ireland and elsewhere. A Dark Age of collectivism – and a denial of the very existence of “universal principles of reason and justice” as the French President correctly put it in 1914.

    And, no, the United States would not have escaped this new Dark Age.

  • Paul Marks

    When you see a forest is your first military thought that your own men and-or the enemy might use it for concealment?

    Or is your first military thought that your slave soldiers might ESCAPE into the forest?

    If the latter – “congratulations” you are Frederick “the Great”.

  • Jacob

    Paul Marks is entirely correct about the insane, satanic dimension of German philosophy and culture (not to mention the military machine).

    I recommend the book “I Sleep in Hitler’s Room” about contemporary Germany.


  • ns

    Thanks, Paul, for the info. The activities of the German spies in the US is often overlooked or dismissed as not a very serious effort, but they did sink a number of ships through sabotage long before war was declared.

    As for William of Orange, I’ve extended my timeline from 1789 to a century earlier:
    Great Britain, on the right side of European Civil Wars from before 1689 through Brexit!

  • Rich Rostrom

    There is one aspect of WW I that is often overlooked by those unfamiliar with military history. From the time of the ancient Greeks through the American Civil War, infantry combats were nearly always won by the side in closer order. When three or four swords or spears face one, the one falls back or dies. Furthermore, men marching forward shoulder-to-shoulder are carried forward by the collective impulse of the formation. (There is a similar effect on defense.) That morale effect applied even in the gunpowder era, when missile combat gradually became dominant over shock action.

    This kind of maneuver required lots of drill; less-trained troops in looser order fell before the phalanxes, legions, and tercios.

    Of course there were some missile-armed light troops and skirmishers, but they were elite specialists, not expected to close with the enemy and decide the battle. And cavalry was a whole different issue.

    Thus for thousands of years, all military experience said that to strike the heaviest blows, mass your troops.

    In the American Civil War, the bayonet still carried the day sometimes, but missile firepower was becoming powerful enough to beat back most attacks. By WW I, muzzle-loading rifle-muskets had been replaced by bolt-action repeating rifles, and defenses were augmented by machine guns and barbed wire.

    The generals had to learn, by horrible experience, that mass action was ineffective.

    The Germans found the answer. They discovered that even average soldiers can be trained to go forward in dispersed order. I think this was in some ways a consequence of the great material progress of the 19th century. The average soldier of WW I, in education, intellect, self-reliance, initiative, would have been considered elite a century before.

    Lee Moore: The maps of the 1944-1945 campaign don’t show the logistical obstacles faced by the Allies. The seven weeks after D-Day were occupied in clearing a large beachhead and bringing ashore the vast number of troops and supplies needed for decisive blows. (One week was lost to the Great Storm.) The COBRA breakout followed, and the sweep over France and Belgium – which had to end when Allied troops outran their supplies. The next two months were occupied in clearing the Scheldt (to open Antwerp), and repairing railroads to the Channel ports and Marseille. Until supply was re-established, the Allies were limited to local offensives in Lorraine and the Netherlands. Then came the German counterattack in “the Bulge”, which took six weeks to contain and drive back. Then, starting in February, the eleven-week sweep across Germany.

    The same pattern of long intervals of sitting and short intervals of rapid movement also appears in the North African campaign and on the Russian Front, for much the same reason.