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Victory at Amiens

On 8 August 1918 in Northern France, a mainly British force attacked on a 15 mile front and advanced to a depth of 7 miles. In so doing it inflicted 70,000 casualties on the Germans capturing 500 guns while suffering 44,000 casualties of its own. The Battle of Amiens as it became known, was the first clearly-successful, large-scale, Allied offensive operation on the Western Front. Ludendorff, the German commander, famously called it the “Black day of the German army”. But then again he was always a bit of a flibbertygibbet.

Although no one knew it at the time the Battle of Amiens heralded the beginning of the Hundred Days Offensive in which Allied success followed Allied success. By November the Germans realised that the game was up and sued for peace.

Amiens did not take place in a vacuum. At the Second Battle of the Marne which took place a few weeks earlier the Germans had attacked and the French and Americans had successfully counter-attacked. This brought to an end German hopes of a quick victory.

By this stage the Germans had been on the offensive since March. While they had taken plenty of territory they had failed to deliver a knockout blow. To achieve even this they had had to put everything on the line: men, material and, crucially, morale. Meanwhile, back in Germany the population was starving and Spanish influenza was killing thousands.

So was Amiens the consequence of German weakness? It certainly played a part and the propensity of German soldiers to surrender – that morale thing – was unprecedented. However, all the casualty figures I have seen from the Ludendorff Offensive indicate that the numbers were pretty even with any advantage there was going to the Germans.

One thing it wasn’t was the Americans. They weren’t at Amiens. Indeed it is debatable as to whether they were ever very effective offensively. That is not to denigrate American efforts, it is merely to point out that success on the Western Front required skill and experience which the Americans never had the time to acquire.

The missing piece in the jigsaw is British tactics. At Amiens they used tanks, gas, smoke, creeping barrages, predicted barrages, new infantry tactics and airborne resupply. The predicted barrage was particularly important because it managed to introduce an element of surprise to the battlefield. Some claim that a lot of British success in 1918 was down to its embracing wireless radios. Others to the 106 fuze. Others to investing heavily in motor lorries. That last one might sound mundane but in war logistics matter.

Even Haig had learnt. Normally he would have ordered his men to press on but when Foch – by this time his nominal commander – urged Haig to do precisely that, Haig said “no”. He had learnt that Western Front battles were a case of diminishing returns. Better to close down this battle and start another one somewhere else – something that his lorries would now allow him to do.

So why have so few heard of Amiens? Why doesn’t it occupy a similar position to Agincourt, Waterloo and El Alamein? Quite simply because it doesn’t fit the narrative. The lazy story we’ve all heard a million times tells us that the Western Front was all about incompetent generals and stalemate. Amiens and the Hundred Days Offensive show this to be nonsense.

A more accurate narrative might be that winning on the Western Front was never going to be easy but they got there in the end.

THE HUNDRED DAYS OFFENSIVE, AUGUST-NOVEMBER 1918 (Q 9273) Dump of German heavy artillery guns and howitzers (15 cm guns and a 21 cm Mörser 16 heavy howitzer) captured in the Battle of Amiens by the British Fourth Army, 27 August 1918. Those in foreground were captured by the 2nd Canadian Division and the B Company, 3rd Battalion, Tank Corps. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205245048

49 comments to Victory at Amiens

  • Jacob

    The British Generals learned… it took them 4 years and hundreds of thousands (British) casualties who died in vain during those 4 years… (Nobody ever claimed that the French Generals learned anything, ever, they were a total loss in this war).

    The learning should have been done before the war, that is what military academies are for….
    The learned nothing from recent military battles like the Russo-Japanese war or the American civil war.

    The luck of the Allies is that the Germans were as foolish and even more idiotic than the Allies.
    Having won the war on the Eastern front, the Germans should have stayed on the defense in the West, and offered some concessions for Peace – eg. retreating from France and Belgium. But, no. Delusions of grandeur drove them to the attack in March-July 1918, which totally exhausted their army and resources, and cut their morale. It was this piece of idiocy that facilitated the later Allied victories.

    Yes, the Allies were victorious, a Pyrrhic victory. Victory without glory, without joy, without positive consequences, which was only a prelude to the next act of suicide.

  • Patrick Crozier

    What would you have done differently?

  • Mr Black

    It seems to have been the case in both wars that the Germans simply could not be beaten on the field until they had completely exhausted their manpower at which point the allies, still having enough men available, could claim victory.

  • terence patrick hewett

    For what it is worth: my maternal grandfather spent 3 years on and off in the trenches of the Great War. He won the MM for bravery under fire: he used to dandle me on his knee – dangle the medal in front of my face and say:

    “know how I won this? p*ssed out of my mind on navy rum”

    I loved him dearly and his reward for bravery was 6 years of unemployment – we cockneys do not forget.

  • Jacob

    For example:
    since in 1915 the Allies (and mainly Britain) did not have the means for a decisive breakthrough – they should have stayed put, on the defensive. No senseless hurtling of infantry against dug-in trenches and machine guns.
    Ditto 1916, 1917.
    The Allies lacked manpower, armaments (artillery, tanks) and munition.

    The uselessness of such costly attacks is something the Generals refused to learn, even from their own experience, let alone from studying past wars. They repeated the idiocy again and again.

  • XC

    I am up to WW1 in Manchester’s Churchill – the whole eastern front/Turkey thing has been very interesting to listen to. Even with rose color (colour) glasses on.

    NB: John Marshall, later Chief of Staff in WWII made his mark by his brilliant logistics for Black Jack Pershing in WWI. Bellau Wood was pretty clearly a “firstest with the mostest” sort of diving save, but the rest of the ‘merican success was clearly due to logistics and the resulting agility.


  • Patrick Crozier

    Okay, so you maintain a defensive posture from 1915-1918.

    You are, I presume, aware that the British Army was suffering something like 200 deaths a day just holding the line?

    You are also, I presume, aware that at Passchendaele British and German casualties were roughly equal?

    How are you going to learn how to use tanks if you don’t attack?
    How are you going to learn how many shells and what types of shells should be used if you don’t attack? Ditto, Lewis guns, Stokes mortars, grenades and a hundred other things.

    What are the French going to think about this when they’re being pulverised at Verdun?

    What are the Germans going to think? Are they going to maintain their garrison facing the British for old times’ sake or are they going to move forces to use against the French and the Russians?

  • Schrodinger's Dog

    Victory, but at a truly horrific cost: 70,000 casualties. Plus 44,000 Germans. The public today would not stand for losses like that for a moment.

    Jacob makes an interesting point: in the years before World War I, did the military study the American Civil War? Despite being fought with relatively rudimentary weapons, it was a bloody conflict. The advances in military technology in the intervening fifty-odd years should have acted as a warning that another major war would be a bloodbath.

  • Quite so, Patrick. It is strange that whilst fairly sensible analysis abounds regarding WW2, there are a lot of very strange notion held regarding WW1, with so many seeming to think that the solutions to issues we can see now must have surely been quickly apparent at the time too, as if this was not an incredibly complex war with a great many moving parts. Yet, the way the armies were all fighting in 1918 had remarkable differences to a couple years earlier. As you mention the 106 fuse, just figuring out that fusing was so important was a cumulative and bloody process learned in real-time.

  • Jacob makes an interesting point: in the years before World War I, did the military study the American Civil War?

    Yes, but there was a very fundamental difference between the American Civil War & the Great War (one that Trevor Dupuy noted): direct fire artillery abruptly became much less effective as it became far more vulnerable due of rifled muskets. This meant that infantry and most artillery now had the same effective range, which is to say the next ridge line (in marked contrast to the Napoleonic War in which direct solid-shot cannon fire simply out-ranged smooth-bore musketry). So the biggest killer of men in the American Civil War was massed infantry gunfire of unprecedented range and accuracy.

    By the time of the Great War, artillery was now all indirect, explosive and much longer ranged, thus artillery had become the great slayer of men. Even if a massed attack could rush the machine guns and rifles of the infantry they faced to get to bayonet distance, intense indirect artillery could be directed against any breakthroughs, at least until breakthroughs gained the protection and mobility of tanks, motorised logistic support and fused artillery shells that exploded in ways that kill enemy troops rather than also digging holes to further impeded the attacker’s mobility. However getting all that to actually work in the real world are technological and organisational undertakings of non-trivial complexity.

  • William Newman

    “It seems to have been the case in both wars that the Germans simply could not be beaten on the field until they had completely exhausted their manpower at which point the allies, still having enough men available, could claim victory.”

    The German army was seriously hard to beat in WW2, and the pattern you describe is part of what was going on, but WW2 went on long enough that another pattern seems to have become at least as important: the Anglosphere improved at fighting faster than the Germans did. Probably this was partly because they were just bigger and richer (making it easier for them to upgrade to nice toys like microwave radar to sweep the Atlantic clean of U-boats, and proximity fuses, and P51s), and probably also because they started further behind in tactics and training (so they could naturally improve faster, e.g. in North Africa, in large part not by seriously innovating but by playing catchup and reducing their own goals). The Germans were also fighting with better gear at the end of the war than the beginning, but they seem to have been much more stretched by trying to do so, and didn’t have the industrial might to make the whizzy marginally-practical stuff (V2, jet aircraft, advanced submarines…) very useful, while the Anglosphere was able to push even superadvanced stuff (microwaves and digital cryptoanalysis squeezed out of pre-semiconductor electronics tech, nuclear weapons) to practicality.

    Also, even early in the war, “could not be beaten in the field” needs to be more like “could not be beaten at the end of short secure supply lines.” (Consider North Africa, in particular.) The Allies were good enough at logistics that they made some hard things look so easy that people don’t always think to give them credit for it. In part this was through naval superiority that they do get some credit for, but in part it was taking unglamorous parts of logistics more seriously (e.g., not invading Russia with horse-drawn transport, and diverting a bunch of manufacturing into things like trucks and landing ships and tankers and other transport), which seems to be underappreciated in almost any popular view of the war. Even the Soviets got to enjoy quite a bit of this advantage, bringing the war to Berlin with rather more (nice American) trucks than the Germans had been able to scare up in their effort to bring the war to Moscow (and also getting quite a lot of avgas and other handy things). And the US forces seem to have enjoyed this advantage to a somewhat ridiculous extent: I have read that American units received about 25 pounds of supplies per man per day, compared to about 5 for the Germans. That is a pretty impressive performance even without considering how long the American supply lines were, and to the extent that this logistic performance was used effectively, it naturally led to the Allies using logistically expensive tactics like very frequent aerial reconnaissance, and calling in an artillery barrage instead of risking an infantry patrol, and using air power to chew up road transport enough that large or medium-scale counterattacks were limited to windows of particularly crappy weather.

  • (Nobody ever claimed that the French Generals learned anything, ever, they were a total loss in this war).Jacob August 5, 2018 at 10:28 am

    That is not literally so. A British observer on the first day of the Somme contrasted the “quick and elastic French formations … securing their objectives with minor loss” to the clumsier British ones. That observer clearly felt the French had learnt something between 1914 and 1916 – something the British had known in 1914 but which, thanks to the destruction of much of their small regular army while the Somme army was being raised, they had to relearn.

    (Quote from memory)

  • Jim

    The picture reminds me of that classic Great War poem, The German Guns:


  • Jacob

    Three points:
    1. Some try to justify an act by stating it’s (noble) goals – helping the French, helping Russia. Sure, the goals are noble, but were these goals achieved? In case of Russia – the short answer is: no. So, mostly, the sacrifices were in vain. We know that now, the question is – could the Generals have known beforehand the futility of their actions? My answer: they should have known.

    2. “there were 200 casualties a day in defense only” – ok, that’s about 70 thousand a year. But on the Somme there were 50 or 60 thousand casualties in ONE day!

    3. “at Passchendaele British and German casualties were roughly equal” so? so what? In war the objective is victory, not casualties. Trading casualties one for one does not attest great Generalship. It is idiotic.

  • Jacob

    “So the biggest killer of men in the American Civil War was massed infantry gunfire of unprecedented range and accuracy.”

    Sure. And that is the lesson that wasn’t learned. You don’t do frontal attacks by infantry on entrenched defenders. It’s useless, and produces only casualties.
    The improvements in artillery only enhance this effect: attackers are more vulnerable to artillery fire than entrenched defenders.

  • Stephen K

    “Okay, so you maintain a defensive posture from 1915-1918. What are the French going to think about this when they’re being pulverised at Verdun?”

    “The Allies were good enough at logistics that they made some hard things look so easy that people don’t always think to give them credit for it.”

    “Some try to justify an act by stating it’s (noble) goals – helping the French, helping Russia. Sure, the goals are noble, but were these goals achieved? In case of Russia – the short answer is: no. So, mostly, the sacrifices were in vain.”
    That word ‘mostly’ is doing an awful lot of work. For the British, helping France was the key thing: look at a map if this is a hard concept to grasp. And the very costly efforts of 1914-17 did help France. There was nothing else the generals could have done that would have been significantly different, given the political, diplomatic, technological and logistic constraints they were working with. That was the tragedy.

  • And that is the lesson that wasn’t learned.

    Sure it was, which was why all sides quickly dug trenches from the Channel coast to the Swiss border.

    And learning how to use artillery offensively to hammer through trench lines was an iterative process, and in combination with other tactical and technological developments, that started to take shape by 1917.

  • Paul Marks

    The behaviour of Douglas Haig.

    In 194 – he, at BEST, panicked – see Max Hastings on that. In 1915 at Loos, the first day gassing of his own men was really the fault of the weather (it was mistake anyone could have made with the limited knowledge of this form of warfare at the time), but the second day Douglas Haig sent two fresh divisions into a suicide attack in which some eight thousand of the ten thousand men were either killed or wounded (there were no German deaths from this infantry attack at all – it was the most lopsided event in British military history). The Somme in July 1st 1916 in which some thirty thousand British solders were wounded and some twenty thousand killed – and the only officers that Haig sent home in disgrace were those officers who ordered some of their men to take cover – in short Douglas Haig wanted MORE British soldiers killed or maimed on July 1st 1916, 50 thousand British solders killed or maimed in one day was NOT ENOUGH for him. And the Passchendaele offensive of 1917 – where Plummer is passed over in favour of the useless Gough (Haig’s creature – although Haig uses Gough as a scapegoat in early 1918 – Haig’s rule was never miss an opportunity to stab a friend in the back for your own benefit, as Sir John French found out the hard way in 1915, although both Haig and Sir John French himself had already done that to Horace Smith-Dorrien, although he was not a friend of theirs he was a brother officer). And the Passchendaele offensive includes the massive and prolonged shelling of former marsh land which was dependent on drainage – guess what happened (and yes Douglas had been told what would happen), and is carried on for months – well into the winter.

    And on and on. Douglas Haig was a bit more than “incompetent” – true there is a degree of harmless farce in Haig’s behaviour in 1914, waving his pistol about and saying he would fight to the death (“sell our lives dearly”) against invisible Germans (there were no Germans near when Haig uttered these words) whilst actually retreating as fast as he could (leaving Smith-Dorrien to fight off the Germans – in a different sector), was behaviour worthy of the fictional character “Harry Flashman”. Max Hastings generously argues that Haig just panicked – but there are less generous interpretations of the behaviour of Douglas Haig (the words “play acting CAD” spring to mind), in keeping with a man who has early as 1898 was writing newspaper articles (not in his own name) giving himself credit for the work of other men (such as General Broadwood). But the behaviour of Douglas Haig in 1915 (Loos), 1916 (the Somme), and 1917 (Passchendaele) was not funny – not funny at all. One could laugh at Haig’s antics in 1914 – but for what he did in 1915, 1916 and 1917 he did indeed to deserve to be “taken out into Horseguards Square and shot” – not that Douglas Haig was ever shot in the First World War, he was very careful to avoid being killed or wounded. Unlike other British Generals – such as General Broadwood (Haig’s victim as far back as 1898 – the stolen valour disgrace) who was killed during the Passchendaele offence of 1917.

    “Harry Flashman” never behaved like this – he never got hundreds of thousands of men killed. This is not Douglas Haig pulling strings to become an officer ever after he failed his mathematics exam, or getting “help” from James Edmunds (with the knowledge, indeed encouragement, of Professor Henderson) on his other work. One can smile at the petty dislike Haig showed for Plummer (over Plummer committing the terrible crime of marking down Haig on one of those rare tests that Haig actually sat himself – and this was long after college), but it stops being funny when it leads to Gough being preferred by Haig over Plummer. If a man wants to be an army officer and swagger about pretending to be an aristocrat (Haig was not the upper class person he pretended to be – his family were “in trade”) that is one thing – but such a man should be left at home where they could be as “taciturn” as they want to be (saying “few words but manly words” and concentrating on correct “posture” and riding well at polo and the hunt, as well as playing golf) – they should NOT be charge of hundreds of thousands of men.

    “But 1918 – 1918”.

    Not early 1918 of course (friend Gough is backstabbed by Haig, just as Haig backstabbed Sir John French to cover up his own command decisions at the Battle of Loos in 1915 – so that Haig could take his Commanding Officer’s job, not that French, a cavalryman like Haig and Gough, should have been in command on the Western front in the first place, to take the blame for the defeats of early 1918) – but mid to late 1918 where the official history gives Haig the credit for the tactical work of Plummer (and others – Plummer does not deserver all the tactical credit, other British, Canadian and Australian commanders did good tactical work in 1918 and before 1918) and the strategic insight of Foch (although Foch was rather helped by the French having broken the German codes – he knew that the Germans were much weaker than they seemed to be, and that General Ludendorff was worried about the weakness of German allies, such as Bulgaria and Austro-Hungary itself, and even more worried about the many millions of soldiers America was training).

    And do not forget the very end of 1918 – November 11th. The Germans are falling apart – victory is in sight, and then the Allies throw it away. To the horror of the American (not just the French) commanders, the Germans are let off the hook (no march on Berlin – no end of the artificial state of Germany that had only been created in 1871, no restoration of an independent Bavaria or any independent states in the German lands) – and the world is doomed to the 2nd World War, instead of victory the world gets a “20 year truce” (as Foch put it, in disgust, in 1919) and then a worse war. Did Douglas Haig protest about this? Of course not – he was fully in favour of it.

    Winston Churchill is supposed to have said that history would treat him well – because he would write the history. In the case of Douglas Haig it is the case that his dairies (in their various versions) and the official documents prepared under his “influence” have become the basis for academic history. History written by men who have never shot anyone (or been shot at) in their lives. Still there are still the words of Colonel Barker and so many others from my boyhood (long dead now) and Brigadier Mallinson has recently a good (if too hurried) work on the First World War.

    The First World War was a JUST CAUSE (the Nazi “Alt Right” are quite WRONG to claim it was a war of choice – Imperial Germany FORCED war on Russia [the TWO “final letters” to the Russians – letter one we are declaring war because you are mobilising, letter two – if you, the Russians, change policy we are declaring war anyway], France [the German Declaration of War on France in 1914 – is a pack of lies, the wildest and most extreme lies] and Britain, in the British case this was confirmed by the GERMAN ambassador Karl Max – Prince Lichnowsky, who went home to Germany and took the image of Kaiser Wilhelm from the wall, and the wife of Prince Lichnowsky then forbad any guest to ever use the name of the Kaiser in that house again). But it was prolonged by the horrible “incompetence” (to use the mild and polite word that Patrick kindly uses – I would NOT be so kind as Patrick is) of Allied Commanders.

    The war should have been over much sooner that it was and with vastly less deaths – that it was not was because of the “incompetence” (that kind word again) of many Allied Commanders. The best that can be said for General Douglas Haig is that many of the French and Russian Generals were actually WORSE than he was – as were some of the British Generals. For example, if Haig should have been shot (and I think he should have been shot – see above for why) then the British Generals in command at Suvla Bay in 1915 should have been burned alive.

  • XC

    Uh, the largest killer of men in the Civil War was infection.

    Fun fact – about 15% of deaths in the civil war (direct and indirect) were inflicted by hand – bayonet, knife, and clubbed rifles. A *lot* of the battles were fought at very close range.


  • Uh, the largest killer of men in the Civil War was infection.

    Combat killer, I loath pendants

  • Paul Marks

    XC – in some ways the medical care on both sides in the American Civil War was more primitive than that of the Roman Army thousands of years before.

    And you would be right to point out that America lost an ever higher percentage of its young men from 1861 to 1865 than Britain lost from 1914 to 1918 – the idea that Britain could not have come back from the “lost generation” is clearly wrong, as America came back from the Civil War and was soon stronger than ever. It was bad POLICY ( so called “Social Reform”) that undermined Britain.

    It was not machine guns and barbed wire that made the charge ordered by General Lee at Gettysburg a terrible blunder – there were no machine guns and barded wire. That a frontal attack against prepared, and well manned, defences is likely to end in disaster was well known before Robert E. Lee was in the army – every American for example knew of such examples as the Battle of New Orleans in 1815 – no barbed wire and machine guns there. Still every man has bad days – and Lee was so tired and ill that he could not see the disaster before it actually happened (he could not visualise it).

  • NickM

    Paul is as usual right. But as to cheating your exams… Well, what about Edward “Mick” Mannock? He was almost blind in his left eye so in order to pass the sight test for the RFC he bribed someone for the chart letters and memorised them. This was not the only way Mannock was an unlikely hero. He was also a socialist and Irish nationalist (see his nickname). He also got 61+ (maybe 73) confirmed kills before dying in a “flamerino” when his machine was hit. Burning to death was something he had had a morbid though entirely rational horror of.

    – Maj Edward Corringham “Mick” Mannock, VC, DSO (and two bars), MC (and bar).

    PS. Mannock was Flight Commander of 74 “Tiger” squadron. That went on to be led by Adolph “Sailor” Malan. And to be disbanded at the start of this century by the sort of people not worthy of cleaning the latrines.

  • XC

    Well, Perry, you may loath pedants, but I wasn’t correcting you to correct you (life is too short to correct the internet) but because the weapons weren’t particularly lethal – the conditions were. Not just infected wounds, but dysentery, typhoid, starvation (thanks, Sherman), etc.

    Those of us who grew up with the “War of Northern Aggression” take this stuff seriously.


  • Chester Draws

    The problem of WWI was supply. You could break the line, but you couldn’t supply the men at the front fast enough before the counter-attack. So no breakthrough, and there were plenty, led to penetration behind the lines.

    The solution, mechanization, was coming but too slowly. Truck borne supplies can be moved up fast enough, but they weren’t in sufficient numbers in 1918.

    Most WWII battles were against dug-in men — assaults were just as deadly. But when a break was made, men and supplies could be moved up quickly enough to exploit it.

    So blaming the generals is useless. Not a single battle resulted in deep penetration without a morale collapse because it was impossible.

    The British developed tech solutions like tanks, the French small unit solutions with fire support, the Germans the stormtrooper concept. All helped only to take the trench line. None helped get the supply to them after they succeeded.

  • Jacob

    At Amiens the Allies suffered 44k casualties – dead or wounded in combat. The Germans 70k, but of these – 50K surrendered (were taken prisoners). So the score for combat casualties is 44k for the attackers vs. 20k for the defenders.
    The unusually high number of prisoners shows that the attack was lucky in hitting poor quality German units (the better German units having been squandered in the useless spring attacks by Germany).
    So, improved skill, lessons learned, tanks, artillery barrages – all these were not enough. Some luck and much incompetence of German troops helped achieve the Amiens victory.

  • Jacob

    As to the imperative of helping the French: holding the line was help enough.

  • Some try to justify an act by stating it’s (noble) goals – helping the French, helping Russia. Sure, the goals are noble, but were these goals achieved? (Jacob, August 6, 2018 at 8:21 am)

    It helped the French. Germany’s attack at Verdun was called off less than 2 weeks into the battle of the Somme – because of the battle of the Somme. Later in the year, the French were able to counterattack at Verdun and retake much ground. The French needed the help, and were very bitter it took the British so many months to begin their attack (“Sale gens, ces Khakis” was Petain’s comment, IIRC).

    In case of Russia – the short answer is: no.

    But a longer answer is possible. We now know that the Somme did not prevent Ludendorf from focussing Germany’s main effort against the Russians in late 1916 and in 1917 (albeit having to abandon some territory and building a new defence line in the west in order to do so), but there was no way they could be sure of that when they planned the Somme and there was every reason for them to see that an unchallenged Germany would have that option.

    Much interwar polemic came to conclusions like yours and resulted in our “Let’s not do anything so foolish as to attack them” strategy of 1939 and early 1940 on the western front. We know how that ended. Giving your enemy the initiative rarely ends well.

    Trading casualties one for one does not attest great Generalship. It is idiotic.

    Are you under the impression we won WWII by inflicting far more casualties on Hitler’s forces than his on us?

  • Rich Rostrom

    William Newman @August 5, 2018 at 5:34 pm:

    The Allies were good enough at logistics that they made some hard things look so easy that people don’t always think to give them credit for it… And the US forces seem to have enjoyed this advantage to a somewhat ridiculous extent…

    Consider the logistical difficulties encountered by US forces in the Pacific theater. The beaches of Normandy were a problem; the jungles of Melanesia were something much worse. The US overcame those difficulties, on a scale that literally inspired religious worship.

  • Paul Marks

    Specifically at Amiens – both Debeney (the French commander) and Rawlinson (the British and Empire commander) did good work – Rawlinson partly redeeming his horribly weak behaviour during the Somme Offensive of 1916 where, for example, he had at first agreed with the Earl of Cavan (who dragged Rawlinson to a position where he could observe a specific objective with his own eyes) that some positions could not be taken in the current military situation – but then Rawlinson gave in Haig and attacked anyway.

    However, one must remember the vast disparity in forces at Amiens – the British and French Empires deployed about three times as many men as the Germans had (the 3 to 1 advantage that one SOMETIMES, it depends on the situation, finds suggested in textbooks for an attack) and the disparity in both aircraft and tanks was also extreme.

  • Jacob

    As to Verdun: the German attack was good for the Allies. The Germans wasted their resources and man-power in vain. This was the correct way to wage war under WW1 circumstances – let the enemy attack and suffer losses. Even if Verdun fell and some ground was lost, it would still be an Allied victory, considering the losses inflicted.
    And the French counterattacks were probably a mistake.
    Following the disastrous year 1916, the French Army almost disintegrated as evidenced by the mutinies that broke out.

    The WW1 Generals did not appreciate the cardinal importance and impact of big losses in life.

    You are almost tempted to assign some validity to the Marxist claim that aristocratic Generals had no consideration for prole soldier’s lives. I don’t think this is the case, but the insensitivity to losses was indeed colossal, if not criminal. I assign it to idiocy, not class considerations (the aristocracy and educated classes suffered big losses too, proportionally even more than the proles).

    And then there is the matter of WW2. Had the Allies been less exhausted and weakened by their WW1 losses they might have done more, militarily, to prevent WW2.

  • Paul Marks

    A technically more impressive victory for General Rawlinson and the Australian commander General Monash was the British Empire and American (American forces were also important in the battle) victory of the Battle of St Quentin Canal in late 1918 – a battle that, for example, the Australian military historian Denis Winter tends to leave out of his account of the period, as the Allied commanders do well and Denis Winter does not like that (“that is gossip Paul” – well yes, but an old friend of mine went to Oxford with Denis Winter and knew him quite well, so at least there is some foundation for this “gossip”). The Allied superiority over the Germans was very thin at the Battle of St Quentin Canal (if the Allies had an advantage at all) and the ground (the actual canal crossing and so on) was very difficult to technically achieve.

    The 46th (North Midland) Division had previously fought on the Somme in the diversionary attack on Gommecourt – even Haig understood that this attack had no chance of success, it was just intended to “distract the Germans”. The division was saved by General Edward Montagu Stuart-Wortley limiting the attack – he did not keep feeding more and more men into an attack that (as I have already pointed out) even Haig understood from the start had no chance of success. For limiting his casualties (rather than wiping out his entire force) Haig took revenge on Stuart-Wortley by having him sent home in disgrace – as were some junior officers who “failed to attack” i.e. failed to get their men wiped out in a suicide attack (the junior officers sent home in disgrace had fine combat records – so any claim of cowardice is a lie).

    I might well have sent Stuart-Wortley home for the opposite reason – getting so many men killed in a attack he did not believe in, but he was sent home because he failed to get his force (such as the 46th Division – the North Midland Division later so important in 1918) wiped out – as Haig appears to have wanted. However, (as ever) the truth is more complicated than this – as there was “bad blood” between the two men going back many years.

    Stuart-Wortley is said to have been early advocate of “bite and hold” attacks – taking small amounts of land from the Germans and then digging in, and then doing the same thing again and again….. The idea being not to overrun one’s lines of supply and also to take advantage of the German practice of “defence in depth” with the German front lines being thinly held (so that British artillery attacks would kill less men) and German forces further back.

    If you only hold your forward areas thinly, we will just take them (thank you very much) and then DIG IN and force you to counter attack (and if you do not counter attack – we will take your next position later). It should be noted that German General Falkenhayn (a man of the high moral standards – and thus a sworn enemy of proto-Nazi General Ludendorff, a conflict that was carried on to a later generation in the 2nd World War) tended to get very worried about the Allies taking any land at all – urging his tactical commanders to launch immediate counter attacks if the Allies took any position (even one of little military value) and this policy increased GERMAN casualties later on in the Somme Offensive. It was alleged, with some justice, by the opponents of General Falkenhayn that he negated a lot of the value of defence-in-depth by his insistence on counter attacks in almost all circumstances.

    General Haig tended to prefer the idea of the big breakout – taking large scale objectives (much as Allenby successfully did in the Middle East – but General Allenby in the Middle East was facing a totally different situation from the Western Front). Haig preference for Gough over Plumer, another bite-and-hold type, in 1917 was not just because Plumer marked him down in an exam years before – it was also because when Haig talked with Gough the man agreed with his fellow Scotsman (Haig) about taking great objectives of real political and military value, whereas talking to the “Old Man” Plumer tended to depress Haig as Plumer tended to talk in technical terms about taking this or that German defensive position.

    At the Battle of Loos in 1915 Stuart-Wortley had complained loudly that the proposed infantry attack on the Hohenzollern Redoubt was impossible – this earned him the hatred of Richard Hanking and Douglas Haig, even though (and here I would condemn Stuart-Wortley) he, in the end, gave in (he did not RESIGN in protest – as he should have) and sent his men on what he knew was a pointless suicide attack.

    Indeed the “Bad Blood” between Haig and Stuart-Wortley may go back even further – Stuart-Wortley was famous as part of the small group of British soldiers who (with great courage and skill) had managed to get into Khartoum only a couple of days after General Gordon was killed there. Stuart-Wortley did not have to claim the courage of other men (unlike the newspaper account of later conflict in the Sudan where the actions of General Broadwood are transferred to Douglas Haig – a newspaper account that turns out to have really been written by Douglas Haig) as every one knew that he, Stuart-Wortley, was a hero.

    Generals Smith-Dorian, Plumer, and Stuart-Wortley had long records of personal (sometimes hand-to-hand) combat – Douglas Haig did not really tend to get on well with such men. Even his friend and Commanding Officer Sir John French (whose job he took after Haig backstabbed him after the Battle of Loos – sending letters to London again and again) whilst most certainly NOT a great commander – had a record of personal combat against the enemy, and Douglas Haig appears to have been uncomfortable about that.

    Of course even as an old man (and dying of heart disease) Sir John French insisted on leading his men in person in Ireland – but that war was lost before it started, by the action of General Maxwell.

    General Maxwell was perhaps the bravest General in the British Army – he had fought (personally – at the front) in battles all over the Empire. But, it is alleged, that the endless fighting had done something to him that it had not done to (for example) General Sir John French and General Henry Wilson – who both remained genial men (indeed Henry Wilson was a man of endless jokes and good humour – even making fun of his own bullet scarred face).

    After the Easter Rising of 1916 General Maxwell had become enraged. These traitors, with aid from Germany, had stabbed the United Kingdom in the back – whilst their fellow Irishmen (Catholic as well as Protestant) were dying in heaps on the Western Front – as volunteers fighting for the Crown that these backstabbing traitors had betrayed. And they had behaved in the most disgusting way in the “Rising” itself – murdering Irish policemen (Roman Catholics – not just Protestants) and others without warning. He insisted that some of the captured rebels be shot – even (infamously) having one wounded rebel tied to a stake to be shot – because the man could not stand.

    The rebels had been very UNPOPULAR in Dublin and Ireland generally – it was wildly known that some of their leaders were socialist atheists (like “Lenin” and his gang of German supported traitors in Russia a year later) and they had destroyed wide areas of Dublin – the people of Dublin had gathered in the streets to throw horse excrement and so on at the rebels when they were captured.

    But by having them shot General Maxwell turned them into heroes and religious saints (their socialism and atheism forgotten) – especially having a wounded man carried from his bed to be tired to a stake and shot.

    General Maxwell had lost the “war for public opinion” – and the later heroic conduct of Sir John French could not change that.

  • Y. Knott

    There was another factor that led-up to the Hundred Days and Germany’s defeat; this is a lesson I used to teach aspiring communicators (a long time ago), regarding the Battle of the Marne – it’s an exaggeration, but not an especially big one*, to say the Germans lost World War I because of a single mishandled message**.

    1918 was make-or-break for Germany. They’d won on the Eastern Front and knocked Russia out of the war, so their Eastern armies were streaming across Germany to reinforce the Western Front on the efficient German rail system. But America had entered the war on the Allied side, and doughboys were streaming across the Atlantic on the efficient British ocean passenger system. At home, Germany was worn threadbare and the people were starving {apparently the naughty RN were, despite it being a violation of the laws of war, including foodstuffs in their blockade}, so the Germans knew they had to win the next offensive and take Paris before they were facing fresh millions of well-fed, well-supplied Americans. The Marne was where this was supposed to happen.

    To ensure the security of their communications during the build-up, they’d just introduced one of the most fiendish cyphers ever devised – the ADFGVX cypher. Look it up if you’re not familiar – it’s a beaut’. It consisted of six (originally five) letters, chosen for their distinctiveness in morse code; and the British, no slouches at code-breaking, couldn’t make head-nor-tail of it.

    Indeed, it was so effective that the Germans themselves couldn’t make head-nor-tail of it either, and one field headquarters radio’d back that they were in receipt of the message dated XX XXX 18 but could not decipher it; would HHQ please rebroadcast it in an older cypher that the communicators were familiar with? This HHQ duly did; and the British / French having thoroughly penetrated the earlier cypher, the Allies found themselves in possession of both the original message in ADFGVX, and its plain text. These were handed-off to a brilliant French polymath, a Lieutenant Painvin, and over the course of several days drenched in skull-sweat he managed to break the ADFGVX cypher.

    It was used to decipher a brief message saying in effect “rush delivery of artillery shells to point XXXXX, transport in daylight if necessary”. This told the Allies where the schwerpunkt of the Marne offensive would be, and once again pressing the taxis of Paris into service, they were able to transport-in enough force to meet and stop the Marne offensive.

    This version of history is disputed, BTW.

    *Apparently, after the Civil War at a social event, somebody asked General Pickett as to what factors he attributed the failure of his charge at Gettysburg. He replied, “I always thought the Yankees had something to do with it.”

    ** – much like the Japanese lost WW2 by broadcasting the entire op plan for what became the Battle of Midway on a cypher machine that the Americans had penetrated.

  • Paul Marks (August 7, 2018 at 8:37 am), pinning attacks are a very proper manoeuvre in war. It is of course no fun being told off for the pinning attack that (in itself) is not expected to succeed (though occasionally it does, e.g. at Badajos in the peninsular war, where the main attack on the breaches failed with heavy casualties, but drew so many Frenchman to that point to hold the British off that the hopeless purely-diversionary attack on the castle esplanade succeeded for lack of French defenders). But you are just as dead if you die during the attack that takes its objective as during the pinning attack that enabled it. A particular pinning attack may be a bad idea. A particular operation as a whole may be a bad idea. However pinning attacks in general are part of war, and resigning because you do not care for the role is absolutely not proper military behaviour.

    Jacob (August 7, 2018 at 8:13 am), the French lost significantly more than the Germans in the early stages of Verdun, and lost more overall even when one counts the battle’s later stages when the French had the edge and were on the offensive. You are quite mistaken if you imagine that defending instead of attacking was the way to minimise casualties in WWI. The Germans routinely managed to inflict more casualties than they suffered during offensive operations. The highest daily loss rate of the British army was during the German 1918 spring offensive – more than 5000 men per day. By contrast, the Passchendaele daily loss rate was some 4000 plus per day and the Somme average did not reach 3000 per day (it was not much short of it and it was a long battle, so the totals are higher). When the inexperienced Somme army (that succeeded the skilled but small regular army with which the UK entered the war) attacked experienced German forces on the Somme, it is no surprise they lost a lot more than the defenders on their first day and took time to reach the state in which relative casualties became an area of later debate, some of it heated. Except at the very start of the war, when German reservists attacked British regulars, the Germans usually had the experience advantage, whether attacking or defending.

  • Paul Marks

    Y Knott – the main thing “the Yankees” did right at Gettysburg was the previous day – when an elite regiment from Maine (real Yankees) managed to prevent the capture of the key area of the Union position.

    Niall – Stuart-Wortley knew it was not really a “pinning attack” (it was just Haig being a swine – no apology for using harsh language), where Stuart-Wortley can be faulted is for getting so many of his men killed for no reason, of course the reason that he was sent home in disgrace was because he did not get MORE of his men killed (Haig appears to have wanted them all dead). Indeed Stuart-Wortley should have resigned a year earlier – after he received direct orders to sacrifice his men in a pointless suicide attack on the H. Redoubt at Loos (his own proposal for the position to be bombed, being rejected), but he did not. Sometimes “staying and arguing one’s case” does not work – not when one is dealing with someone like Haig (Rawlinson and the Earl of Cavan found that later in the Somme offensive – we have been to see X position and the attack on it should be called off, ATTACK ANYWAY). Stuart-Wortley should have jumped before he was pushed. “Only” 20 thousand British soldiers dead and 30 thousand wounded (in one day) was not enough for Douglas Haig – he wanted the 46th (North Midland) Division to be dead as well – and many of them were not dead (so Stuart-Wortley was toast).

    It is true that in 1918 men like Plummer had got the measure of Haig – and pretended to go along with all his suggestions whilst actually sometimes not doing so (see Geoffrey Powell, an establishment man to his fingertips, more than hinting this in his biography of Plumer) – but in 1916 on the Somme that was just not possible, one could not pretend to do what Haig said and actually do something different (he was about – he would FIND OUT). One certainly could not pretend that one’s men were dead when many of them were clearly alive (Haig would have noticed when requests came in for rations – dead men do not eat).

    Verdun – yes General Falkenhayn carefully choose a place on the line where the Germans could bombard and attack from three sides. If the French had any sense they would have abandoned the salient – but public opinion would not allow that.

    Of course public opinion also trapped General Falkenhayn – although he always insisted (to his dying day) that he was not very interested in actually taking Verdon (that his interest was in draining the French army – bleeding it to death), but German public opinion demanded that “Verdun must fall”.

    At this point the French got into full “Flashing Blade” mode (if you remember the French television series) – the fortress (or in this case lots of fortresses around a town) “must not fall” – and it became a slogging match, with the Germans losing vast numbers of men trying to do what German public opinion now demanded.

    One question is why the Germans did not put more effort into closing the one major road supplying the Verdun area – Falkenhayn’s explanation was that he did not want to take the Verdun area, but to suck more and more French soldiers to their deaths at the far end of the “sacred way” (as the French came to call the road – the secular Republic got more and more Catholic as the war went on).

    But that does not explain the relative lack of German effort to close the supply road when the German objective came to be to actually take the Verdun areas – I actually do not know why the Germans (at that stage) did not put more effort in to closing the major supply road, I am ignorant of the reasons (there must be reasons).

  • Y. Knott

    Paul – a few further cryptographical tidbits from the Great War. The German cruiser SMS Magdeburg (unable to produce the characters needed to properly type-out the full “SMS”) covered itself in glory in the Baltic in 1914, firing the first shots of the war against Russia when it shelled Libau. It also covered itself in hubris, running aground in the Gulf of Finland; the Germans put-forth their best effort to destroy the ship but it fell-into Russian hands, and among the items they recovered were three code books – the Russians duly passed one to the British. This enabled Room 40 to read German naval codes thereafter, contributing to RN victories at the Dogger Bank and Jutland, because the Germans didn’t realize the books had been taken and never replaced their codes.

    Contrast the Americans, who didn’t go-in for fancy encypherment schemes like ADFGVX; the U.S. Army on the Western Front went with books of simple three-letter code groups, each one referring to a word or phrase. On the cover of every such code book was a single three-letter group that the operator was to memorise, to be broadcast if he feared that edition of the book had been compromised or was about to fall-into enemy hands, so a new edition could be immediately handed-out. The U.S. Army went through several editions of the book during the war; and by the end of it, the three-letter group announcing an edition’s compromise had evolved to a uniform “DAM”.

    – All these from David Kahn’s excellent book The Codebreakers

  • Surellin

    “German hopes of a quick victory”. July 1918. Black humor.

  • Patrick Crozier

    I would like to echo what Perry said about Trevor Dupuy. Great man. Indeed, I wrote about him once. Here.

  • Paul Marks

    Y. Knott.

    It was an old joke in Britain that the American understanding of coding in the First World War was so bad that their codename for the Secretary of the Navy was “Neptune”. I am glad the United States Army was (in reality) a bit better than that.

    To be fair the United States went from a TINY force to a force of millions of men in a few months – “Black Jack” Pershing is often condemned, but anyone who has spent his entire life on nothing bigger than very small scale war was going to face a horribly steep learning curve when faced with the Western Front.

    To give an example – General Currie (the very good Canadian commander) was utterly baffled when he first arrived on the Western front – totally at a loss.

    Brigadier Mallinson argues that the Earl of Cavan was unjustly overlooked, both at the time and later.

    Ironically the Earl of Cavan was exactly the sort of person that modern people (from the 1960s onwards) MOCK – an aristocrat (a real one) and Commander of the Guards Division, indeed from the Grenadier Guards – of all the regiments in the Guards Division (indeed in the Army) the Grenadiers had been the most socially exclusive in 1914.

    The Earl of Cavan helped General Plumer save the Italians (to be fair both men were praised, at the time of their transfer, by General Haig who said he was losing the best British commanders – hard for even me to disagree with Douglas Haig on this particular point) and generally performed well on the Western front.

    In the great game of “if you sack Haig, who do you replace him with?” the choice of Mallinson is the Earl of Cavan – although, Plumer, Currie (if one could overlook the problem of the money he “borrowed” from his regiment), Byng, Monash, and Henry Wilson (the man who replaced Robertson – when he finally went) have been suggested.

    The point about David Lloyd-George is that he was a moral coward – he would neither “back or sack” Haig, indeed he found having a known enemy as commander very useful (as it meant no blame for casualties attached to the Prime Minster). Remember whoever D-L-G had appointed, from that moment on every death would have been on the head of the “Welsh Wizard”. Keep Haig there and it was a case of – the deaths are nothing to do with ME, Haig is in charge and everyone knows how much we hate each other.

  • Y. Knott


    Isn’t it amazing – in an awful, awful way – how many millions of our own troops lost their lives because the commanders refused to a) do their jobs, or even b) learn their jobs in the first place? It’s said the Dieppe raid actually achieved two noble goals in spite of its butcher’s bill; it mollified Stalin who was demanding a second European Front already in 1942, with significant danger he’d make a separate peace with Hitler if he didn’t get one, and it convinced the “Powers That Be” that they’d never manage a successful (eventual) invasion across the Channel while the combined Allied staffs were fighting each other like cats & dogs instead of working together as they’d have to, to pull it off.

    A lot of Siegfried Sassoon’s poetry reverberates, even today…

  • Paul Marks

    Excellent post on Trever D. Patrick.

    Of course in the German system an officer who failed his mathematics exam and needed “help” in other examinations would not have been promoted to very high rank and responsibilities.

    Nor is it “just” the study of military subjects – there is a lack of a cultural hinterland in Douglas Haig, and that matters.

    For example, if Douglas Haig had been asked the question “what are the differences between the belief system of General Falkhenhayn and the belief system of General Ludendorff” Haig WOULD (yes) have understood the question (he was NOT a stupid man). But he would not have been able to answer the question (in short he would not have known what his two best known opponents actually believed in – and how the two men had radically DIFFERENT beliefs) and he would not have understood why the question was important.

    For example, Haig would not have been able to predict that Falkenhayn would act to try and prevent the massacre of civilians by the forces of Islam when he (Falkenhayn) was transferred to the Middle East – something that Ludendorff would not have “wasted time and resources” trying to stop. For Ludendorff the words that the Austrian born senior private used about himself “such things mean nothing to me, you know this, you KNOW THIS!” apply.

    Even after the war – if a German officer gave you their “word of honour” about something, it was worth knowing of the officer actually believed in honour.

  • Martin Johnson

    The haul of captured Germans at Amiens tells the real story–all the tactical and technical stuff is interesting and no doubt had value, but German morale was at or past the tipping point. A large number of prisoners tells you the other side is falling apart, whereas a large body count tells you they are still full of fight.

    Ludendorff knew this when he called it the Black Day. The defeatism that had been growing on the home front and disaffection in the Eastern Army had now infected the Western Army where the decision would be reached.

    The great German “victory” over Russia, finalized with the Carthaginian Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, had not yielded the resources, esp. food, that had been promised; in fact, it yielded damn little. The German Army had to leave about 1M men more than it hoped in the East, and many of those being shipped through were demoralized by socialist, and in many cases specifically Bolshevik propaganda, which found fertile ground after 4 years of war and blockade. The old German Socialist inclinations that had been buried in August 1914 were not dead and were springing back to life with a Bolshevik tinge. By October, only about 10 weeks after Amiens, Germany was tipping into a truly revolutionary situation. The whole Army was on short rations and their wives and families were telling them how grim it was at home.

    The German Army was probably willing to defend the Fatherland, as the French had done after the Nivelle Mutiny in 1917, but they had given up on the Kaiser and his government and saw no reason to die in support of Ludendorff’s fantasies of a victory that they all could see was not going to happen. They all knew that the Kaiserschlacht was a last throw of the iron dice before the Amis were there in force, and they knew they had lost. In other words, the whole edifice had been morally hollowed out.

    That big prisoner count was maybe the first sign the Western Allies saw that German morale was in free fall, and it was a symptom of what had been going on in and behind the German lines. All credit to the Brits and French and Amis who kicked in the door in the last 100 Days, but the door was ready to be kicked in. THAT is what had changed from the previous 4 years. In Clausewitzian terms, the Germans had reached their culminating point around Chateau-Thierry in June. Their morale then started collapsing even before the final Allied offensive, because they knew that Germany had failed and they knew what was coming.

    All the ciphers and fuses are interesting and I learned a lot from the discussion here, but as Napoleon said, “In war the moral is to the physical as three to one;” the real story is in “All Quiet on the Western Front”.

    As for Haig, et al, imho it probably made sense to try and break the trenches in 1915, but after that failed, and without a tactical revolution, 1916 and 1917 were just butchery. Maybe the focus should have been to support Russia and keep it in the war through Vladivostok or Iran–I don’t know if that could have been done, it is such a hypothetical, and the Romanov regime was already so rotten. But 1916 and 1917 were crimes by each country against its own soldiers.

  • David Graeme

    I cannot remember where I read it, so don’t badger me, but one of the completely unexpected outcomes of the German 1918 March offensive was the advancing troops’ discovery of British food dumps, which were so absolutely stuffed with cans of corned beef, butter, cheese, decent bread, sugar, and whatnot that the German troops couldn’t help but abandon their Hutier storm tactics, break out a mess tin and sit down for a feed. An army marches on its stomach, as does society in general, and when you are (1) starving and (2) tripping over abandoned tins of beef stew, it becomes hard to brush them aside and continue to chase after angry men armed with rifles. This factor apparently slowed down the German advance in perceptible ways and contributed to the eventual slump in offensive spirit – I mean, would you feel great about defending a system that couldn’t even come up with a decent piece of sausage, when you realized your opponents were swimming in appetizing food?

  • Y. Knott

    David, I read that too – but what made the difference was not food, it was large quantities of whisky, rum &c they captured and immediately got pi$$-drunk on. As the article put it, they were affected not by the lack of German fighting spirit, but by the excess of English drinking spirit!

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stormtrooper#cite_note-19#cite_note-19 – the Wikipedia page on storm troopers.

  • Paul Marks

    No Martin Johnson – it is not true that defeating Russia (by sending in “Lenin” and supporting his coup) had gained Imperial Germany “little” – on the contrary Russia (and lands that had been part of the Russian Empire)was systematically looted of food and other resources by the Germans (and “Lenin” went along with that – he could not care less about Russians and Ukrainians, and so on, starving to death).

    So why was Germany in such economic trouble in 1918 when it was looting the east of vast amounts of food and raw materials? Germany was in such a terrible mess because of General Ludendorff’s WAR SOCIALISM. Ludendorff did not just send “Lenin” into Russia (without telling Kaiser Wilhelm II) he, Ludendorff, also practiced a form or socialism at home – not Marxism, but an older of socialism going back to such German philosophers as Fichte (just as the Nazis, the National Socialists, later did).

    As Ludwig Von Mises explained in “Nation, State and Economy” German statism under Ludendorff was far more extreme than (say) French statism in World War One – and France was also “desperate” and indeed had some of its main industrial areas occupied by the Germans (and French and Belgium civilians were enslaved by the Germans – forced to work for the Germans, and if they tried to escape the civilians were killed on the electric fence the Germans constructed on the border between Belgium and Holland).

    As Mises and others explain – in spite of the terrible handicaps that the French worked under (the loss of important areas of their country and the enslavement of their people who were made to work for the enemy) French production was actually more efficient (not less efficient) than the of War Socialism Germany.

    Sadly people (then and now) took exactly the wrong lesson from the conflict – they took the lesson that German statism worked, it did NOT work.

    British observers had been making this mistake for a very long time – writing endless praise for the economic and social polices of Bismark in the 19th century and Prussian ruler Frederick the Great in the 18th century (Edmund Burke was one of the few British observers NOT deceived by the cult of Frederick the Great – Burke denounced Frederick the Great in unsigned articles in the old “Annual Review”) and failing to see that these policies were BAD not good.

    Patrick has, in the past, been critical of the military plans of Winston Churchill in the First World War – actually Churchill’s part of these plans (thinking them up) was quite sound and the Gallipoli campaign was the logical military move (see, for example, chapter six of Brigadier Mallinson’s recent book on the First World War – or dig up Colonel Barker, the expert on campaigns against the Ottomans, from many decades ago. yes I am “older than sin and twice as ugly” I remember Colonel Barker) it was the tactical execution of these plans that was a horrible failure – the absurd behaviour of British forces after the landing at “Y beach” in the original landings (the British forces were, for once, landed in the correct place and did NOT face very heavy Turkish attack yet just hung about for awhile and then RETURNED TO THE SHIPS) and VASTLY WORSE the Suvla Bay landings that some of us mourned only a few days ago (August 6th). Many thousands of British soldiers were landed at Suvla Bay and faced only light Turkish opposition – yet their commanders (their Generals) just had the men hang about for almost two days (even WITHDRAWING the men from a hill they had occupied with permission) whilst the Turks rushed in troops to the ridge a few miles inland and built defences. Such Generals deserved to have been executed – Admiral Byng was hanged for vastly LESS than this.

    Where Winston Churchill can be justly attacked is not for his strategic thinking (which was actually sound) or the tactical failings of commanders when he was NOT in command, but rather for his “Prussianism”. Like so many British observers Winston Churchill in the late 19th and early 20th century just ASSUMED that the “Social Reform” of Prussia-Germany was the correct policy – and tried desperately to imitate it. Indeed in 1911 Britain actually went further than the Germans – as it introduced unemployment benefit (which the Germans did not yet have), and the British (with the support of the young Winston Churchill) had put British trade unions above the law – with the insane Act of 1906 (although, to be fair, Winston Churchill soon grasped, at least in private, that this Act was awful in its consequences) – which built on the Act of 1875 (the Disraeli Act – which was also mad folly).

    It was “Social Reform”, rather than the First and Second World Wars, that really destroyed the United Kingdom as a great power. And Winston Churchill was, at least in his youth, an ardent “Social Reformer” – although by the 1920s and 1930s, Neville Chamberlain (the younger son of “Radical Joe” Chamberlain – the hero of Prime Minister May today) was the real leader of the Social Reform wing of the Unionist Party (that alliance of Conservatives and Liberal Unionists in Britain) – with Winston Churchill starting to have a few reservations about the direction of policy.

    Martin Gilbert (the official biographer of Winston Churchill) implies that Winston Churchill remained the ardent Social Reformer even in the 1940s – but that is not so. Sir William Beverage was indeed an old friend of Winston Churchill – but we now know that Winston Churchill was one of only two members of the government to express some reservations about the Beverage Report (the other minister to express some doubts was the Chancellor Sir Kinsley Wood).

    The left hate Winston Churchill and seek to smear him (about the Bengal famine and everything else) – and, from their own ideological perspective, they are correct to try and smear him, as (at least in his mature years) Winston Churchill was NOT a man of the left (although he was, to an extent, in his youth).

  • Mr Ed


    would you feel great about defending a system that couldn’t even come up with a decent piece of sausage, when you realized your opponents were swimming in appetizing food?

    Socialism and sausages do not mix, it seems. I read of a similar incident in the Winter War, this one called iirc the ‘Sausage War incident’ when the Soviets surprised and overran a Finnish camp. This led to the Finns panicking and running for cover, only for the Soviets to find a cauldron of sausage stew boiling away, this was a hellishly cold winter as well, and Soviet discipline collapsed as they fell on the stew, scoffing away, giving time for the Finns to regroup, counter-attack and drive them away.

    And I heard a story of the Battle of the Bulge, Wehrmacht troops capturing American rations, only to find that some bread products had been baked in New York and air-frieghted over to Belgium, and doing some blue-sky thinking of the logistical implications of that capacity.

  • For example, if Douglas Haig had been asked the question “what are the differences between the belief system of General Falkenhayn and the belief system of General Ludendorff” Haig WOULD (yes) have understood the question (he was NOT a stupid man). But he would not have been able to answer the question (in short he would not have known what his two best known opponents actually believed in. (Paul Marks, August 7, 2018 at 6:51 pm)

    Paul, whom do you imagine in the British Army (or the British government) would during the war, have been able to answer that question accurately? Before the war, Haldane knew (and liked) German philosophy. (On being appointed war minister, he was asked by the military what kind of army he wanted and replied, “A Hegelian army!” ‘The conversation then fell off’ he noted in his diary. 🙂 ) But as to who in Britian knew much about the inner beliefs of Ludendorff (little known before the war started, and his character during it masked to a degree by the more sympathetic Hindenberg) or even about the more prominent Falkenhayen – well, that is certainly something I do not know about WWI, and I flatter myself I’ve read much.

    Paul is quite right about the Germans deriving much short-term benefit from the collapse of Russia – much, but not enough to save them.

  • Y. Knott

    There’s a whole bunch of sad stuff in the Mediterranean during WW1.

    When the war started, Turkey supported our side – but two dreadnoughts (Agincourt and Erin) were originally ordered by Brazil, and the Brazilians realised they could not afford them and let the down payments lapse. Turkey snapped them up – a lot of the cost covered by public subscription – and then on the outbreak of war, the two ships were rolled-into the Grand Fleet and Turkey was left hanging. Dreadnoughts were of immense national prestige at the time, and the Turks were howling mad at this – then the German battlecruiser Goeben (sistership of the Moltke, that fought in the battlecruiser line at Jutland) was chased into Turkish waters by a RN cruiser Sqn.

    I read about the chase – several German stokers worked themselves to death shovelling coal into the boilers, as the RN cruisers were nominally faster. They were also a lot smaller; had they caught Goeben in a gun-duel, it’d likely have sunk them all with little trouble. Adm Troubridge, in command of the cruiser Sqn, had orders to avoid trouble with superior forces, orders intended to stop him picking a fight with the Austro-Hungarians – but he knew his ships’ disparity of force with Goeben (and Breslau, a Magdeburg-class light cruiser that was along for the run) and contented himself with shadowing the Germans, intending to start the fight with a torpedo attack from his destroyers at dawn the next day, but his destroyers were too low on coal to run-out in front and make the attack. So they chased Goeben und Breslau into Turkish waters, where they were interned IAW the laws of war – and Kaiser Wilhelm promptly gave Goeben to the Turks as compensation for the two dreadnoughts the British had so cruelly stolen from them. Turkey promptly joined the war on Germany’s side.

    This had two horrible results. First, the Dardanelles campaign – William Robertson, the great “Wully” and only man who’s made it through the British Army from Private to Field Marshal, was head of the Imperial General Staff. He was a firm believer that the way to win the war was to kill Germans, not Turks; and that every man and bullet not desperately needed elsewhere should be sent to the Western Front, not penny-packeted away on the various clever schemes the upper echelons of the government were always dreaming-up. In WW1 as in WW2, the great experiments Churchill championed on the soft underbelly never seriously threatened the Germans – and both sucked-away men needed elsewhere, and suffered massive casualties and huge expense, usually due to execrable leadership (Mark Clark’s deciding he’d go-down-in-history as the man who liberated Rome instead of bypassing it IAW his orders and trapping the German forces fleeing Anzio, being merely one of numerous egregious examples).

    Second, Russia was financing its war effort by selling grain, which it shipped through Sevastopol, its only ice-free port – and once the Turks closed the Dardanelles to Russian shipping, national bankruptcy added to Lenin’s fulminations to destroy their war effort. So Goeben contributed directly to the rise of the USSR – as Churchill put it (approximately; can’t find the exact quote), never had so much human misery been encompassed in a single hull.

    And Goeben, the world’s last dreadnought, was scrapped in the 1970’s; nobody would pay the cost to make it into a museum. Troubridge was treated very badly, and though exonerated ( – his orders DID say…), never received another seagoing command. And ‘way down in the South Atlantic, Christopher Craddock vowed that he, his ships and his men would never be publically shamed as Troubridge and his Sqn had been; it was obvious to him that von Spee’s superbly modern German East Asia Sqn would be returning home through his waters, so when the Admiralty declined to provide the reinforcements he’d been pleading for, he rushed his ancient ships Good Hope and Monmouth, manned with poorly-trained reservists, into battle against them – with the expected result.

    Millions upon millions of men who died while accomplishing nothing… “War is too important to be left to the Generals”.

  • Martin Johnson

    Paul Marks–everything I have seen says that Germany got little actual economic advantage from its settlements with Ukraine (Feb. 1918) and Russia (Brest-Litovsk). I said nothing about Lenin’s “sealed train” or the general German strategy of suing Lenin to bring down the provisional Government and take Russia out of the war.

    Given just the calendar and situation on the ground, it would be quite remarkable if Germany got much useful stuff out of Russia/Ukraine between Feb/March and early August, given that they were giving priority to moving as much of the Eastern Army as possible to the West, and still had to set up the occupation of the conquered territories. The Germans had acquired legal treaty rights to a huge new empire, but turning that chaos into useful war resources was a whole other thing. Given more time, maybe, but their game was falling apart as 100,000+ Amis were entering France each month (300K+ in July) and the Brits and French had finally worked out decent tactical systems.

    I also remember seeing the stories David Graeme mentions about the effect on the German soldiers when in Michael they captured Allied stores of food, medical supplies, etc. It is all of a piece.

    Ludendorff called Aug. 8 the Black Day when he heard of the rivers of deserters headed for the rear, interfering with units being moved toward the front. We can quibble about how many tons of wheat did or didn’t get from Kiev to Berlin by such-and-such date, but the fact is that in any case German morale was collapsing.