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Old 29th January 2013, 08:50 AM   #41
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Originally Posted by StankApe View Post
episode I watched last night had him safely behind the lines during Verdun as he watched (via periscope) what he assumed was going to be the final moments of the battle and the lynchpin to securing victory in France.

Didn't quite turn out that way
I love the German Verdun philosophy: If we kill as many French as they kill Germans we win! Cold-blooded Prussian thinking.
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Old 29th January 2013, 08:54 AM   #42
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Originally Posted by StankApe View Post
We talk about D-Day casualties and what a horrible experience it was. 10,000 casualties includig 2,500 killed. But the British lost 60,000 alone on the first day of Somme , and during the Hundred Days Offensive nearly 2 MILLION casualties!!! over 95 days which is over 21,000 PER DAY!!

it's mind boggling how terrible that war was.
Keep in mind the British figures often include Commonwealth troops as well. Not that that diminishes them in any way of course.
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Old 29th January 2013, 09:01 AM   #43
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Originally Posted by quadraginta View Post
Some epidemiologists have opined that we can ascribe the transmission (if not the virulence as well) of the Spanish Flu to that war.

That would pump up the Wow Factor by several orders of magnitude. 50 to 100 million additional fatalities from 1918 to 1920 by most recent estimates. That was a significant chunk of the entire world population. (India alone had as many or more flu deaths than all of the WWI combat fatalities from all nations combined.)

It seems odd that this is barely remembered at all except by historians. At least most people know there was a WWI, even if they are a bit hazy on the details.
And some places, like Australia and New Zealand, only got the Spanish Flu because of returning soldiers who were infected.
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Old 29th January 2013, 09:08 AM   #44
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To be honest, I'm not sure that the Kaiser was much worse than any other ruler, or government at the time. The political map of Europe at that time was complex enough that you would need a flowchart to keep track. To add to that, most governments were not shy about their preparations for war.

One of the main factors behind WW1, though they were many and complex, was the sheer lack of understanding of what a world war would be like. Most military theorists and strategists believed that any war would be over in weeks, and would be won by whoever attacked first (cult of the offensive). This set up Europe as a powder keg, with everyone primed to attack at the slightest hint that the other powers might go to war. A war at that point was nearly inevitable.

When the offensive strategies suddenly met the reality of 20th century warfare, it was to everyone's huge surprise. Almost all the participants were very slow to understand and adapt, and most of that adaptation was done by the troops on the ground in a very Darwinian way. The trench warfare was simply a ad hoc solution to the fact that everyone died whenever they tried to rush the other side.

WW1 has some epic and bizarre situations, with Germans (as well as others) using cavalry charges, decked out in their uniforms and pointy helmets, only to be cut down in seconds. The British got the idea that if at first you don't succeed, try the exact same thing but use a lot more men next time.

Interestingly, for WW2 most countries had adopted a defensive strategy rather than offensive, in essence preparing for another WW1. The Germans however, had actually understood that technology was now able to support an offensive strategy, which allowed them great success at first.

When you look at films of combatants heading to battle for WW1, most of them are smiling, waving their hats and seeming very eager. WW2 produced a much more somber attitude.

Hindsight is a lot easier than foresight.

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Old 29th January 2013, 09:16 AM   #45
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Originally Posted by Gawdzilla View Post
Anybody else think the Kaiser had ADHD?
It wouldn't surprise me, though I'm hesitant to diagnose someone 100 years after the fact.


Charles Beans Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–1918 is widely considered one of the best official histories ever written, and due to its focus on one of the smaller Allied States it can and does go into a great amount of detail. It's freely available online from the Australian War Memorial.

http://www.awm.gov.au/histories/first_world_war/

He also released a abridged single volume work if 12 volumes is too much, which can be found at the bottom of the WW1 list. It's all in PDF.

Another excellent, and far more recent work is Les Carlyon's The Great War, concentrating solely on Australian action on the Western Front.

I'll have to check that BBC series out.
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Old 29th January 2013, 09:18 AM   #46
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Originally Posted by StankApe View Post
episode I watched last night had him safely behind the lines during Verdun as he watched (via periscope) what he assumed was going to be the final moments of the battle and the lynchpin to securing victory in France.

Didn't quite turn out that way
Well one would hardly expect him to be in the front line, that would be stupidity.
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Old 29th January 2013, 09:27 AM   #47
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Originally Posted by Damien Evans View Post
Well one would hardly expect him to be in the front line, that would be stupidity.
His own son, however, did command troops at Verdun. In fact, he presented his sabre to the commander of the troops defending Ft. Vaux (one hell of a tough fight and the subject of a script I plan on writing one of these days).
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Old 29th January 2013, 09:28 AM   #48
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Originally Posted by aggle-rithm View Post
I guess that's when they learned it was no longer appropriate to march in formation into the line of fire.
I am no military historian - not even an amateur one - but it seems to me that lesson should have been learned at Gettysburg. If you ever have the chance to visit the battlefield, go to the point where the Confederate troops stepped out of cover to begin their "charge" - a long walk across largely open field towards the Union troops and artillery, perched on the hills and able to pour fire into them the whole way. Imagine yourself walking that way and then trying to doubletime uphill into that.

The Killer Angels, though maybe not the most accurate book (so I have heard), nevertheless gives a gripping and heartbreaking account of this doomed charge... which was replayed over decades as the weapons the men were fed to became ever more terrible.
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Old 29th January 2013, 09:32 AM   #49
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Originally Posted by Damien Evans View Post
Well one would hardly expect him to be in the front line, that would be stupidity.
I was commenting more on his self satisfaction rather than his location
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Old 29th January 2013, 09:33 AM   #50
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Originally Posted by sts60 View Post
I am no military historian - not even an amateur one - but it seems to me that lesson should have been learned at Gettysburg. If you ever have the chance to visit the battlefield, go to the point where the Confederate troops stepped out of cover to begin their "charge" - a long walk across largely open field towards the Union troops and artillery, perched on the hills and able to pour fire into them the whole way. Imagine yourself walking that way and then trying to doubletime uphill into that.

The Killer Angels, though maybe not the most accurate book (so I have heard), nevertheless gives a gripping and heartbreaking account of this doomed charge... which was replayed over decades as the weapons the men were fed to became ever more terrible.
But Americans were amateurs, you see. We didn't know anything about war, let alone enough to tell the masters in Europe how to go about it!

If you look at photos of Petersburg during the siege it's not hard to picture Mausers or Enfields instead of muskets in those trenches.
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Old 29th January 2013, 09:40 AM   #51
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Originally Posted by Gawdzilla View Post
I love the German Verdun philosophy: If we kill as many French as they kill Germans we win! Cold-blooded Prussian thinking.
the term used by the plan's creator (who's name escapes me ) was "we will bleed France to death'
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Old 29th January 2013, 09:46 AM   #52
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Originally Posted by StankApe View Post
We talk about D-Day casualties and what a horrible experience it was. 10,000 casualties includig 2,500 killed. But the British lost 60,000 alone on the first day of Somme , and during the Hundred Days Offensive nearly 2 MILLION casualties!!! over 95 days which is over 21,000 PER DAY!!

it's mind boggling how terrible that war was.
Just a note: I think the 2 million is total casualties to all sides in the hundred days... British alone were probably on the order of 400k.

Some of the things to note:

Artillery was the big killer. Everyone hears about machine guns but Artillery was responsible for about 60% of casualties, everything else (rifles, machine guns, grenades, bayonets, etc makes is splitting the remaining 40%).

First World War battles were not necessarily bloodier at the sharp end than World War 2 battles. For example the rate of death in UK divisions in Normandy (WW2) was 10% higher than rate of death for UK divisions in the battle of the Somme (1916 WW1) - 100 versus 90 per week. The difference was that on the Somme you had three times the divisions fighting for four times as long (hence about 10 times the casualties). A lot of the UK population, seeing the unprecedentedly high casulaties, see this as evidence of unique incompetance… and while there was some incompetance an awful lot of it was simply down to: wage war on a larger scale, get larger casualties.

Finally, to the OP: the Great War is an outstanding series. If you want a book reccomendation, then apart from any campaign/battles that might interest you, I'd recommend John Terraine's "White Heat: The New Warfare 1914 - 1918" it really rams home the huge change in technology both just before and during the war (and how almost everything in "modern war" originated in WW1… though obviously a lot of it wasn't capable of being fully exploited at that time). IIRC, it also talks about how, by mid/late war, the problem wasn't "how do we break in to the enemy trench" but how do we maintain command and control of the battle for the purposes of reinforcement/exploitation/breakthrough and how to exploit" (basically they needed man-portable radios and faster/reliable tanks). It's that inability of the attacker to maintain command and control over an attack and consolidate/exploit initial gains that saw so many of the battles become attritional see-saws.
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Old 29th January 2013, 09:47 AM   #53
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My grandfather was a surgeon, who was involved in the American war effort. I can't recall exactly where he ended up, but I do have a couple of souvenirs he brought back, including a German helmet labeled in pencil "Verdun, 11-11-1918" from the time, apparently, when the war ended and there was a general exchange of helmets.

One of his stories, possibly from Verdun but not sure, was that at one point casualties were so high that they ran out of sutures. At the end, they stitched up a badly wounded soldier entirely with safety pins. One of his great regrets was that he never followed up on this to see how that soldier had fared after he got home.
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Old 29th January 2013, 09:47 AM   #54
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Originally Posted by Gawdzilla View Post
I love the German Verdun philosophy: If we kill as many French as they kill Germans we win! Cold-blooded Prussian thinking.
To some extent, but Falkenhayn's (possible, since it was stated post-war as his plan) intention to fight a battle of attrition is not without merit. By 1916 it was pretty clear the war was one of attrition, though there were several commanders (and leaders) who did not recognise this. Falkenhayn, arguably, at least aknowledged it.

Not to say that Verdun wasn't a failure. I say this because Falkenhayn clearly did not pass this information onto his commanders who were under the impression they were trying to break through the French line. That they almost succeeded has resulted in Falkenhayn being accused of deliberately scuppering his own offensive. That is if he actually intended a battle of attrition from the off.

Originally Posted by RobDegraves View Post
The British got the idea that if at first you don't succeed, try the exact same thing but use a lot more men next time.
Though I agree with most of your post, this bit is a little simplistic. Every major offensive by the British involved changes to tactics. The improvement in artillery tactics from 1914 to 1917 is one major case in point. Infantry tactics changed dramatically up to 1918.
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Old 29th January 2013, 09:49 AM   #55
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Originally Posted by Giz View Post
Just a note: I think the 2 million is total casualties to all sides in the hundred days... British alone were probably on the order of 400k.
.
Yeah, i realized later that I had kinda muddied that by preceding it with the mention of the British casualties...sorry
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Old 29th January 2013, 09:51 AM   #56
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Originally Posted by StankApe View Post
the term used by the plan's creator (who's name escapes me ) was "we will bleed France to death'
It was Field Marshal Erich von Falkenhayn.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erich_von_Falkenhayn

He chose Verdun as a place of both strategic importance to the French Defence, and as a place of historic importance the loss of which would be unacceptable to the French public. It was, as Les Carlyon put it, wondrous in its cynicism.
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Old 29th January 2013, 09:54 AM   #57
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What I find so remarkable about WW1 was how it was much more defensive of a war than I had thought. The western front was pretty much this strategy over and over:

sit in trench for 3 months, fortifying and stabilizing

have terrifying battle for 3 months

move approximately 3 miles in one direction or another for a limited amount of time

be driven back to your original trench

wash ,rinse,repeat


well, after the initial German push anyway.
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Old 29th January 2013, 09:55 AM   #58
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Originally Posted by Polaris View Post
But Americans were amateurs, you see. We didn't know anything about war, let alone enough to tell the masters in Europe how to go about it!

If you look at photos of Petersburg during the siege it's not hard to picture Mausers or Enfields instead of muskets in those trenches.
This would be the same Americans whose offensive doctrine was one which had been discarded by the European armies some 2 years earlier?

No one learned anything from the ACW.
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Old 29th January 2013, 10:01 AM   #59
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Originally Posted by Tolls View Post
This would be the same Americans whose offensive doctrine was one which had been discarded by the European armies some 2 years earlier?

No one learned anything from the ACW.
The Russo-Japanese war of 1904-5 was roundly ignored in Western Europe as well.
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Old 29th January 2013, 10:29 AM   #60
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Originally Posted by Damien Evans View Post
The Russo-Japanese war of 1904-5 was roundly ignored in Western Europe as well.
Oh no. The West took what they wanted from it.
"Waves of troops win battles".
It reinforced the, then prevalent, idea that morale would win out over bullets.

Britain had an opportunity to learn something useful and skip some of the early learning curve. That was from the Boer War, where Redvers Buller was starting to figure out infantry tactics that worked against the new rifles. Of course he then got the sack and that opportunity went with him.
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Old 29th January 2013, 10:56 AM   #61
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Originally Posted by Polaris View Post
But Americans were amateurs, you see. We didn't know anything about war, let alone enough to tell the masters in Europe how to go about it!

If you look at photos of Petersburg during the siege it's not hard to picture Mausers or Enfields instead of muskets in those trenches.
That sentiment is occasionally expressed. It ignores the fact that the European nations fought several wars in the period between the ACW and WW1. Such as the mentioned Russo-Japanese war, the Crimean war, the war of 1870 and maybe others I don't know of the top of my head.
AFAIK the European nations had observers that paid attention to the ACW. I don't know to what a degree military lessons were learned from that. They certainly did not need to, as they all had plentiful of own experiences to learn from.
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Old 29th January 2013, 10:57 AM   #62
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Originally Posted by Tolls View Post
Oh no. The West took what they wanted from it.
"Waves of troops win battles".
It reinforced the, then prevalent, idea that morale would win out over bullets.

Britain had an opportunity to learn something useful and skip some of the early learning curve. That was from the Boer War, where Redvers Buller was starting to figure out infantry tactics that worked against the new rifles. Of course he then got the sack and that opportunity went with him.
What exactly should have been learned?
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Old 29th January 2013, 10:57 AM   #63
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Originally Posted by Damien Evans View Post
It wouldn't surprise me, though I'm hesitant to diagnose someone 100 years after the fact.
I'm sure he won't be too upset if we make a conditional diagnosis based on information related via the people who knew him.
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Old 29th January 2013, 11:07 AM   #64
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Originally Posted by GnaGnaMan View Post
That sentiment is occasionally expressed. It ignores the fact that the European nations fought several wars in the period between the ACW and WW1. Such as the mentioned Russo-Japanese war, the Crimean war, the war of 1870 and maybe others I don't know of the top of my head.
AFAIK the European nations had observers that paid attention to the ACW. I don't know to what a degree military lessons were learned from that. They certainly did not need to, as they all had plentiful of own experiences to learn from.

I think the Crimean War was in the 1850's… before the ACW. Basically, I think the latest "conventional" war to European eyes (i.e. not the Boer War) was the Russo-Japanese war. Which showed that human wave attacks could work if (a) your troops had high morale (not a problem), and (b) your oppoenents forces were incompetent, ill trained, ill led, poorly-equipped (by Franco-German standards). Only problem… part (b) didn't reflect the Western Front.
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Old 29th January 2013, 11:18 AM   #65
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The enormous casualty lists of WWI were largely as a result of the scale of operations.

Yes, the British took 60,000 casualties on the first day of the Somme but IIRC, something like 500,000 men were engaged. Haig was probably right when he said

"...the total casualties are estimated at over 40,000 to date. This cannot be considered severe in view of the numbers engaged, and the length of front attacked."

In fact, casualty rates were not unprecedented either by the standards of Napoleonic battles or by the standards of later battles following D-Day in the next war.

The British tend to have this mawkish and slightly ghoulish attitiude to WWI derived from casualty numbers not casualty rates. The public's attitude towards Haig is slanderous in its ignorance.
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Old 29th January 2013, 11:27 AM   #66
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Originally Posted by Gawdzilla View Post
I love the German Verdun philosophy: If we kill as many French as they kill Germans we win! Cold-blooded Prussian thinking.
This is a lesson the Germans never really learned. It became irrelevant after World War II. The Prussian officer class was not ordering their own to their deaths. I don't think the ease with which Prussians ordered "the other", meaning Germans not of their class to their deaths is explored often enough.

ETA: The French were just as bad.

Last edited by Craig4; 29th January 2013 at 11:30 AM.
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Old 29th January 2013, 11:34 AM   #67
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IMHO the best single volume History of World War One remains John Keegan's "The First World War".
For studies of individual battles; I like Alastair Horne's "The Price Of Glory" on Verdun. Yes, The Somme was horrible but Verdun was every bit as bad.
For the War at Sea, Robert Massie's "Castles of Iron" is pretty good.

There have been a great many films on World War One,(Speilberg's "War Horse" was a hit last year) but "All Quiet On The Western Front" (1931) and Kubrick's "Paths Of Glory" (1957) remain the best.

For fiction I like "All Quiet On The Western Front" by Remarque,"A Farwell To Arms" by Hemingway and "The General" by C.S.Forester.
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Old 29th January 2013, 11:34 AM   #68
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Originally Posted by Giz View Post
I think the Crimean War was in the 1850's… before the ACW.
D'uh. Right. I had that on the wrong side of the ACW.
It can still serve as an example of a war fought with a comparable level of technology, though then others like the austro-prussion war should also be mentioned.

Quote:
Basically, I think the latest "conventional" war to European eyes (i.e. not the Boer War) was the Russo-Japanese war. Which showed that human wave attacks could work if (a) your troops had high morale (not a problem), and (b) your oppoenents forces were incompetent, ill trained, ill led, poorly-equipped (by Franco-German standards). Only problem… part (b) didn't reflect the Western Front.
It's not that infantry assaults don't work. The problem is that the defender in Europe was always able to man another defense position behind the one that was overrun.
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Old 29th January 2013, 11:35 AM   #69
Hubert Cumberdale
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Originally Posted by Giz View Post
IIRC, it also talks about how, by mid/late war, the problem wasn't "how do we break in to the enemy trench" but how do we maintain command and control of the battle for the purposes of reinforcement/exploitation/breakthrough and how to exploit" (basically they needed man-portable radios and faster/reliable tanks). It's that inability of the attacker to maintain command and control over an attack and consolidate/exploit initial gains that saw so many of the battles become attritional see-saws.
Wasnt it in the battle of Loos that a new army battalion simply walked back after capturing the German trenches because they simply didnt know any better and there was no one to tell them otherwise?

...and how to get the artillery up... When you advance you advance closer to the enemy artillery while leaving your own behind...... It was perfectly possible to break into the enemy trench line. But after that......
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Old 29th January 2013, 11:35 AM   #70
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Originally Posted by FenerFan View Post
This reminded me of a documentary I watched in which they spoke about how the Germans and French constantly attempted to dig underneath enemy trenches in an attempt to blow them up. Over time, the competing groups of diggers communicated with each other. As the war drew to a close they actually would tell each other when and where the charges would be detonated. They had developed some odd brand of camaraderie.
Some of the German soldiers were disgusted by this sharing of information with the enemy, including a young Adolph Hitler.
If you use Google Maps satellite imagery and search the area around Ypres, Belgum you will find hundreds of nearly perfectly round "ponds" that are the craters left over from these minings. Some are quite large.
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Old 29th January 2013, 11:36 AM   #71
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Originally Posted by Polaris View Post
But Americans were amateurs, you see. We didn't know anything about war, let alone enough to tell the masters in Europe how to go about it!

If you look at photos of Petersburg during the siege it's not hard to picture Mausers or Enfields instead of muskets in those trenches.
The whole Petersburg Campaign was a sort of "Coming Attractions" for the Western Front in World War One.

Interestingly enough, Moltke the Elder, commander of the Prussian Army during the Franco Prussian War, was one of the few high up European Military commanders who followed the Civil War closley,and demanded detailed reports from the Prussian observes in the US.
When Sheridan was posted as the US Observer to the Prussian Army in 1870, Moltke made a point of having some long dicussions with him.

A lot of stupidity in the high commands of everybody involved in World War One, but the Russian High Command takes the prize. They are so inept they actually make the British High Command look competent in comparasion.....

Last edited by dudalb; 29th January 2013 at 11:41 AM.
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Old 29th January 2013, 11:42 AM   #72
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Originally Posted by GnaGnaMan View Post

It's not that infantry assaults don't work. The problem is that the defender in Europe was always able to man another defense position behind the one that was overrun.
Well, I'd say the main difference is between breaking-in and then the exploitation of that success. Due to a lack of communication technology and maneuver elements, the defender was far more likely to be able to apply reserves at the right time and place than the attacker (the Germans launched over 300 local counter attacks during the Somme - so its not just a question of a defender being able to withdraw in good order but also that disorganized, disorientated, unsupported, tired attackers being vulnerable to timely & organized counter strokes.)
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Old 29th January 2013, 11:43 AM   #73
Hubert Cumberdale
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Originally Posted by dudalb View Post
The whole Petersburg Campaign was a sort of "Coming Attractions" for the Western Front in World War One.

A lot of stupidity in the high commands of everybody involved in World War One, but the Russian High Command takes the prize. They are so inept they actually make the British High Command look competent in comparasion.....
Whats more likely, that all of the highest ranking officers in the most advanced armies in the world were all incompetent, or that given hindsight, you are somewhat failing to appreciate the difficulties they faced?
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Old 29th January 2013, 11:43 AM   #74
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Jutland, victory or draw? And for whom?
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Old 29th January 2013, 11:46 AM   #75
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Originally Posted by Gawdzilla View Post
Jutland, victory or draw? And for whom?
British victory. It ended the German navy for the rest of the war...... An expensive victory though.
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Old 29th January 2013, 11:52 AM   #76
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Originally Posted by StankApe View Post
I have recently discovered the 26 part BBC series The Great War about WW1. I knew it was a vicious and terrible war, but the sheer number of casualties in a relatively small amount of conflicts is just staggering. 6 figure casualty levels in 8 hours of fighting? OMG!!!

I have learned a great deal about it via this program and I plan on grabbing a few books down the road to expand my knowledge of it. (as sadly, due to the USA's limited input, we don't spend much time on this war in school).

I know that the victors write the history and all that, but the Kaiser seems like an inhuman monster.
(Also posted on "What book are you reading?" forum)

If you are interested in WW1 I can recommend Ashworth "Trench Warfare 1914-1918: The Live and Let Live System".

Basically he argues that for long stretches in the of the war - except when the higher echelons (who were not in the front line and therefore safe) sent men into battle - there was deliberate collusion between the opposing forces to avoid casualties. Well worth reading.

I got a lot of stick from my (late) mother-in-law about it. She only read the main title and not the subtitle!

Last edited by Anerystos; 29th January 2013 at 12:23 PM. Reason: Correcting errors in punctuation!
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Old 29th January 2013, 11:54 AM   #77
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Originally Posted by Gawdzilla View Post
Jutland, victory or draw? And for whom?
Tactically (casualties) - German
Strategically - clearly British

As a US war correspondent wrote: "The German fleet has assaulted its jailor but it is still in jail."
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Old 29th January 2013, 11:58 AM   #78
Hubert Cumberdale
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Originally Posted by Giz View Post
Tactically (casualties) - German
Strategically - clearly British

As a US war correspondent wrote: "The German fleet has assaulted its jailor but it is still in jail."
And here's the thing, the Germans had been trying to get the RN into a trap for the past two years. All they'd achieved was to uselessly hand a propaganda coup to their enemy by shelling his coastal towns and get a bloody nose. This last time things could have gone very badly wrong indeed and they knew it, so they werent going to try that again.

Jellicoe did exactly the right thing. His treatment thereafter was shameful.
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Old 29th January 2013, 12:02 PM   #79
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Originally Posted by Hubert Cumberdale View Post
Whats more likely, that all of the highest ranking officers in the most advanced armies in the world were all incompetent, or that given hindsight, you are somewhat failing to appreciate the difficulties they faced?
This.


I can think of some "command" stupidity though... some of Lloyd George's machinations spring to mind.

On the other hand, a shout out to British professionalism at the top: the senior British Officer for most of the war (Chief of the Imperial General Staff) was Roberts (the only high commander of any side during the war to have come up from the ranks). (And who had the unenviable task of trying to keep Lloyd George focused on the Western Front as the decisive theater - for which thankless task he was eventually sacked)
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Old 29th January 2013, 12:07 PM   #80
Anerystos
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Originally Posted by FenerFan View Post
This reminded me of a documentary I watched in which they spoke about how the Germans and French constantly attempted to dig underneath enemy trenches in an attempt to blow them up. Over time, the competing groups of diggers communicated with each other. As the war drew to a close they actually would tell each other when and where the charges would be detonated. They had developed some odd brand of camaraderie.
Some of the German soldiers were disgusted by this sharing of information with the enemy, including a young Adolph Hitler.

(It has been a bit of time since I watched the documentary. I think have the basic info right, please correct me if I am wrong.)

It appears that on the British side (at least) they used miners from the various British coal fields.
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