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The Great War 1914-1917

Things were looking good for the Allies at the close of 1916. The French had pushed back the Germans at Verdun. The British were consistently doing much the same on the Somme. The Russians had made huge gains at the expense of the Austrians during the Brusilov Offensive. The Italians were continuing to attack and it appeared that it was finally all systems go on the Salonika Front. The only real fly in the ointment was Romania which was being invaded.

Away from the frontlines there was also plenty of scope for optimism. The British were at last getting guns and shells in sufficient quantities. The Irish rebellion had been crushed. The U-boat campaign was quiescent. Conscription seemed to be working. Even the Russians seemed to have turned the corner when it came to their supply problems.

Most importantly, the Western Allies – and particularly the French under a dashing young commander – appeared to have found the formula for winning battles on the Western Front.

Meanwhile the Germans were slowly and literally being starved by a combination of the Blockade and their own economic incompetence. Splits were beginning to appear with the communist, Karl Liebnecht demanding an end to the war. At the same time they were having to prop up their increasingly helpless allies. In Austria, the death of Emperor Franz Josef followed on the heels of the assassination of the Prime Minister by another communist in protest at the continuing refusal to recall parliament.

It must have looked like victory was just around the corner. In such situations you often find that unscrupulous politicians like to jockey for position in order to be able to take the credit. Not that such things would ever happen in Britain.

On 6 December, having out-manoeuvred his predecessor, David Lloyd George became Prime Minister.

Oh and the name of that dashing French commander – he of the formula? Nivelle. Robert Nivelle.

The Times 28 September 1916

The Times 28 September 1916

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17 comments to The Great War 1914-1917

  • I had no idea about this. I thought things only perked up for the Brits and their allies at the very end. And I didn’t know anything about Nivelle.

    Please keep these postings coming.

  • CaptDMO

    Was that new formula..?
    Hey, maybe sending the “Gentleman’s C” sons of the rich, to supervise and report on the attrition of rank and file trench warfare, ISN’T
    the best way to get back to brandy and cigars by the fire, without the womenfolk fussing with those annoying white feathers?
    Maybe a protected, stationary, fortification ISN’T the best place to actually be, in an extended siege?

  • John Galt III

    Can you Europeans explain the last 100 years or so of Germany and the Germans to me: WWI, then WWII and finally the apparent cultural and national suicide going on there now? Are the Germans bent on self destruction? What have been and are their motives?

  • Alisa

    JGIII, Paul Marks has written on this extensively, here and elsewhere.

  • JGIII, perhaps too much Gotterdamerung and too little common sense?

  • Mr Ed

    JG III,

    They are only following orders.

  • Philip Scott Thomas

    Even the Russians seemed to have turned the corner when it came to their supply problems.

    A subject of which I know little, alas. But I do remember the late, great Alistair Cooke, in one of his Letters From America, saying that the proximate cause of the Russian Revolution was the economic crisis engendered by the difficulties in keeping their immense supply line going with sufficient hay for their cavalry’s horses. Any comment?

  • Mr Ed

    the proximate cause of the Russian Revolution was the economic crisis engendered by the difficulties in keeping their immense supply line going with sufficient hay for their cavalry’s horses.

    Many believe that was truly the last straw.

  • Philip Scott Thomas

    Mr. Ed,

    Thank you and good night.
    Do try the veal. And don’t forget to tip your waitress generously. 🙂

  • Paul Marks

    Robert Nivelle is a deeply controversial commander (as Patrick knows) – after some early successes he was promoted and given his head for a great offensive on the Western front.

    We will never know if his ideas would have been successful or not – as the Germans withdrew from the positions he had carefully planned to take. However, rather than saying “the Germans have withdrawn from the positions I had planned to take – we will have to go back to square one and start planning again” Nivelle pressed ahead with an attack and his offensive failed. As hopes had been got up so high – the resulting crash of hopes was terrible for the French Army which almost fell apart in later semi mutinies (whether they were formal mutinies or not is hotly contested – it varied).

    As for the claim that he had made some scientific or mathematical discovery – to be fair he never formally stated that he had (some of the “quotes” attributed to Neville are just “often recycled fictions”, but he IMPLIED it (and that gave a horrible false impression).

    Someone like Arthur Currie would have said (when the Germans changed their positions) “well bugger this – we will have to start planning and training and rehearsing, rehearsing, rehearsing, again from square one” – but Nivelle was not Arthur Currie.

    German motives – yes Alisa I have gone into the motives of the German elite. Many times.

    In the Middle East 1916 was one of recovery – the terrible blundering of 1915 (Townsend and co in what is now Iraq – and the chaos of British clown Admirals and Generals in the the effort to get to Constantinople by various sea-and-land operations – ending in the horrible farce at Sulva Bay when what should have been a straightforward British victory was thrown away by perhaps the worse British display of command in history) was over.

    Russia made as supreme last effort in 1916 – but one “detail” ruined the Brusilov offensive. The Battle of K. – where the Imperial Guard was basically destroyed.

    The lack of the Imperial Guard was to have wide reaching political consequences in 1917.

    The decision of the Czar to take personal command of the front (or at least to say he was in personal command) was unfortunate in two respects.

    It meant that casualties at the front were “his fault” in a way that were not directly “the fault” of other European heads of state (say the Emperor of German,y or the King of the United Kingdom, or the President of France) who were not directly in command.

    Also it left chaos at home – back in St Petersburg.

    Whatever one thinks of an hereditary head of government (at least in theory – of course ministers were really in charge, or rather the big Russian bureaucracy was in charge) an ABSENTEE head of government was a disaster.

    While the Czar was playing soldiers at the front (and I do not think that “playing soldiers” is unfair – although he was NOT a cruel or uncaring man) real power in St Petersburg was slipping away.

    Of course had the Czar actually led an attack and been killed he would have been a hero and a martyr – but he did not do that.

  • Paul Marks

    Of course 1916 is the year that German “War Socialism” takes full control.

    This was wildly seen as a success (as it fitted with the fashionable ideas of the day – ideas that were becoming fashionable outside Germany and had been doing so for quite some time).

    As Ludwig Von Mises noted in “Nation, State and Economy” – German War Socialism was actually a terrible failure.

    Normally one would expect a short term boost at the expense of the long term, as the state tends to neglect things such as maintaining capital – being obsessed with short term matters. But Germany did not even benefit even in the short term – not relative to French production which (with far fewer industrial resources – what industrial areas France had, mostly fell to the Germans in 1914) did better than Germany.

    The “scientific planning of Germany” may have been a bit better than the endless (and leaderless) bureaucracy of the Russians – but it was not a success in terms of military supplies. The French did better at producing shells and so on.

  • John Galt III

    Thanks Alisa

    Will read all articles on Germany Paul Marks wrote to enlighten myself.

  • Mr Ed

    JG III

    The Mises Institute has published Ludwig von Mises’ excellent short book Omnipotent Government which is basically a history of bad German thought, here is a link to their title page from which it can be downloaded.

  • Paul Marks

    Of course the headline in “The Times” reminds us that the Somme offensive did not end after the first of July 1916 – it carried on for months. The people in command of the British Army seem to have had no conscience (or rather to have suppressed their conscience) – getting 20 thousand British soldiers killed and thirty thousand British soldiers wounded, IN ONE DAY, was not enough for them.

    On the German side, demands by the commanding General that not an yard of ground (even if it was of no military value) should be conceded without counter attack caused vast numbers of GERMAN casualties.

    The difference was that the German General was sacked.

  • Paul Marks

    “Sacked” was unfair to Fritz Von Below – “sidelined” would have been more just, and he had performed well early on. So I apologise to the late German General for my remark.

    However, he did become obsessed with not giving up ground – even ground of no military value (launching desperate counter attacks over land that was not worth it), and this caused very large scale unnecessary German casualties.

  • Mr Ed

    However, he did become obsessed with not giving up ground – even ground of no military value (launching desperate counter attacks over land that was not worth it), and this caused very large scale unnecessary German casualties.

    I seem to remember a certain Bavarian Corporal taking that as an example to follow.

  • Paul Marks

    Yes Mr Ed – Adolf Hitler.

    To be fair the “stand and die” order in December 1941 held the Russians after the failed attack on Moscow. But Mr Hitler kept doing it.

    Still – even “stand and die” is better than ordering counter attacks over ground that is of no military value.