Do the commanders of the First World War deserve their reputation as ‘Butchers and Bunglers’?
New situation, old tactics.
Outbreak of war
Stalemate on the Western Front, but success for the Central Powers elsewhere
Battles at Verdun and the Somme
Allied failures at Passchendaele and along the Aisne
The Great German Spring Offensive - and Defeat
Trenches this big had never been used before
700 miles of trenches stretching form the Belgium coast to the Swiss frontier
yet, the distance between enemy trenches could be as little as 100-200 meters
…To break the stalemate on the Western Front Tanks, aeroplanes, and poison gas were used and direct attacks with troops going over the top. Even the German generals, considered the best in the war used the suicidal tactics of sending troops over the top to attack.
The battle of Verdun (1916)
Planned by Erich von Falkenhayn, attrition of French fortress system around Verdun. He Calculated:
French pride wouldn’t allow them to give up
Three French solders would die for every German killed…thus France would be ‘bled white’
There was a insensitive German attack on Verdun (the first time flame throwers had been used). But French troops & supplies poured in to defend Verdun.
21 February onwards, defended by the French General Pétain and his troops.
Strong defensive tactics
‘they shall not pass’
Consequently ‘the battle became a hell from which neither side could escape.(Brendon: 36)’. By June the Germans had taken Fort Vaux and were within a few miles of the Verdun fortress. By July the area became a mass of mud and rubble and the Germans abandoned the attack.
Pressure on allies to attack elsewhere on the Western Front. -The battle of the Somme had begun
500 000 French and 400 000 German casualties.
Germany didn’t launch any more offensives on the western front until 1918
General Falkenhayn was replaced with Generals Hindenburg and Ludendorff
The battle of the Somme
Planned since March 1916, General Haig helped plan the attack. He wanted to show British strength, but Joffre’s aim was only to wear the enemy down. This was done by a week of heavy allied fire over the German trenches and then an attack involving troops walking through no-man’s-land to get to enemy trenches. Kitchener’s New Army’ had arrived and there was pressure from Verdun to begin the attack. The troops went over the top on the 1st July. As planned, one week before the attacks the British bombarded German lines with more artillery.
The allied Bombardment
To demolish German
…so that it would be easier and safer for a British attack on enemy trenches.
Around one and a half million shells fired.
German troops spent days in their nine-meter shelters
created large craters in no-mans land.
cut all British telephone lines.
did not harm their guns or trenches and the barbed wire remained uncut.