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Discuss Six Weeks an Officers life at the Front1 in The Book Club on Navy Net; Originally Posted by TeeCeeCee Did it save lives? From what I can see, both world wars have only ended when 1 side (it happens to have been the germans in both wars) has been bled ...
- 04-01-12, 11:48 #21
- Join Date
- Jun 2007
Bluntly, in WW1 the war was only going to be won on the Western Front and that meant the Germans v UK, France, Italy (from time to time), and Belgium, with the Russians in the east until 1917. If you keep a war going at 1:1 then obviously the Germans are going to run out of men first.
However, the corollary to that is that it's not an even 1:1 - not all fronts and all nations are suffering casualties at an equal rate all the way through the war. Whilst most of Verdun is happening, things are relatively quiet for the British (until 1st June 1916), and indeed the Somme was a notoriously "quiet" sector of the Western Front until the battle. Consequently, you have to look at it thorugh the lens of the British establishment at the time. You get sucked in to helping out the French on big occasions, like Verdun, but other than that, how worried are you - provided they don't actually collapse? In the chaos of a French collapse, do the British get chased all the way back to the sea? Rounded up as prisoners, or killed where they stand? If option 1 or 3 then does that mean more are killed than died on the Somme helping to prevent this from happening?
The same goes for anything else - what if the Germans had broken to the French at Fort Vaux, would that have saved the lives of the British on the Somme? The blunt truth is, probably. It's all about which sectors/fronts you let get hot, when, and for how long. It's also about the balance, in an alliance, of casualties. Did the Somme save British lives by making sure the war ended earlier? Possibly/probably. Did it save overall lives? Who knows.
Counterfactual is difficult, because obviously history is about what happened - but hopefully you can see where I'm going with this - you have to see why people made the decisions they did, and what they thought the alternatives were. If you're making the decisions on the ground (at any level from General to sergeant), you have to work with what might make a difference. Everything is about trying to secure freedom of movement, because wth everything so static the first one to break through will cause absolute havoc.
I'll also pick up the point about attrition that you posited a couple of posts earlier. Again, you've got two lots of massed armies facing each other. By implication, you're suggesting either we pack up and go home (which would probably not have endeared us to the French or Belgians, given that we went to war to help them), or we sit tight in our lines and do nothing until we have developed the technologies and tactics that will help us to win.
You've got the Germans dug in along the front, usually commanding any heights, so giving them an advantage, with concrete bunkers, machine guns, barbed wire, and the morale boost that comes from holding enemy territory. Essentially, everything is in their favour.
Against that, you've got a citizen army from the UK, with very little in the way of offensive countermeasures, except those that they develop through trial and error. If we sat tight for four years then tried to rush it at the end, where does the R&D happen. Also, what does it do to the morale of the army? We rotated troops through the front line pretty regularly, more so than the Germans. We had a vested interest in keeping things at the front relatively hot, to stop units "going off" and losing their edge. It's terrible, but that's what industrialised warfare looks like - it's also partly why we suffered throughout WW2 by the Americans thinking that British commanders were over-cautious when it came to attack (they'd been subalterns in WW1 and didn't want to visit the same thing on a new generation).
Anyway, I'm aware that's a bit rambling, but it's my lunchbreak and I haven't got time to think it through anymore than that....
Last edited by kinross_special; 04-01-12 at 12:55.A British officer only runs in 2 situations- between the wickets and towards the sound of gunfire