Home » MA British WW1 Studies

Category Archives: MA British WW1 Studies

Advertisements

Wanting to hear about the First World War : 1915 ‘The year of trial and error’.

The Western Front Association presents the Fourth President’s Conference – a series of talks through-out the day

Fig.1 Jean-Baptiste Tournassoud Poilus of the 77th Infantry Regiment (1915)

1915: A Year of Trial and Error at the Tally Ho! Conference Centre, Birmingham

Key speakers:

  • “The Breakthrough that never was: German Plans for an Offensive on the Western Front in 1915″ Dr Robert Foley
  • “The Trench Warfare Department 1914 – 1915″ John Sneddon

Booking details

Advertisements

Why did Britain go to war in 1914?

The complex reasons that took Britain to war

A handful of belligerent political leaders, primarily in Berlin, but also in Vienna, exploited the murder by a youthful, idealistic Serbian nationalist of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne Archduke Franz Ferdinand on 28th June 1914 to realise the long-held belief in German governing circles for ‘Welpolitik’ (word policy), even a right to ‘Weltmachtstellung’ (world power). Leaders in both Russia and France did more to aggravate than to alleviate Germany’s paranoia over encirclement on the one hand, and frustrated rivalry with these established empires for land and influence around the globe.

1. Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary with his wife Sophie and children

Ultimately, and especially after the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, the machinations, deviousness, obfuscations and at times ineptitude and delusions of Germany’s leaders led Britain’s elected leaders, reluctantly, in August 1914, once all efforts at mediation had failed, and enough of Britain’s divided Conservative-Liberal coalition cabinet had united after Germany’s invasion of Belgium, to go to war when Germany failed to respond to Britain’s 4 August 1914 ultimatum.

2. Theobolad von Bethman-Hollweg, Germany’s Riechs Chancellor

Original documents identified and collated for the purposes of explaining the actions, decisions and feelings of the participants in the lead up to what became a world war (1914-18) by the likes of Imanuel Geiss (1967), John Röhl (1973) and Annika Mombauer (2013) show that Germany was inclined to risk trying to achieve world power status through conquest: a gamble that Germany’s Reich Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg (Fig. 2) described, when it went awry, as  a ‘House of Cards’.

3. Kaiser Wilhelm II

4. Gottlieb von Jagow, Germany Secretary of State

5. Helmuth von Moltke (the younger): Chief of German Staff

A handful of German leaders: the German Emperor and Prussian King, ‘Kaiser’ Wilhelm II (Wilhelm II) (Fig.3), Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg, the Imperial German Chancellor and Prussian Prime Minister, 1909-1917 (Bethmann Hollweg), Gottlieb von Jagow (Fig.4), the Secretary of State in the Auswärtiges Amt, 1913-1916 (Jagow) and Helmuth von Moltke (Fig.5), the Chief of the German General Staff 1904-1914 (Moltke), in particular, were inspired by, reading about, dreaming of, and planning ways to achieve their ambitions that ‘challenged the status quo in three ways: colonial, naval and economic’.

6. Conrad von Hötzendorf, Chief of General Staff, Austro-Hungarian Army

Whilst in Russia, a military response and opportunity to support Serbia manifested itself, firstly, the longer Austro-Hungary’s Chief of Staff Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf (Fig. 6) procrastinated and secondly, because French President Raymond Pointcaré  (France) would actively support his ally Sergie Sazanov, the Russian Foreign Minister (Russia), thus implicating both the Russian and French leadership in the causes that led to the outbreak of war.

7.  French President Raymond Pointcaré

8. Russian Foreign Minister Sergie Sazanov

The German leadership used the excuse of Franz Ferdinand’s murder in Sarajevo in June 1914, Moltke’s ‘slogan for a great war’, to risk a belligerent and acquisitive policy, firstly by bolstering Austria-Hungary against Serbia with a ‘blank cheque.’

9. Prince Lichnowsky, German Ambassador in London.

This was misguided; Jagow’s excuse to Karl Max Prince von Lichnowsky (Fig. 9), German Ambassador in London 1912-14 (Lichnowsky) was that this somehow kept the balance of power. Wars are instigated by people, not countries. When we personify Germany, Britain, France or Russia we mean a few leaders with executive power. In Germany, this meant kaiser Wilhelm II, the Reich’s Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg, Jagow and Moltke; they are the reason Britain went to war in 1914.

Due to the nature of the German constitution Wilhelm II, a constitutional monarch like Britain’s, held too much power in the burgeoning German Empire and had influence that tipped then slid others towards conflict with Germany’s neighbours.

10 The British Empire in 1937: Not so different 23 years previously

Wilhelm II held the view that Germany deserved and required the status of a Great Power like that of the British Empire (Fig. 10). Used to viewing with envy, for example, the scale and grandeur of the British Fleet in his youth, Wilhelm II, a grandson of Queen Victoria, whatever the consequences and however it could be achieved, desired that Germany too should have such a fleet, something he was able to progress through Grand-Admiral von Tirpitz, State Secretary of the Reich Navy Office (Tirpitz), and by finding a way to get around budget restrictions imposed by the Reichstag; something that the then Reich Chancellor Bülow assisted with by removing Wilhelm II’s sentimental references to his youth spent in Plymouth in a proposal document, thus indicating how those around Wilhelm II would compensate for his failings as a politician and diplomat where there was, according to Lichnowsky, a preponderance of, ‘the politics of sentiment, not Realpolitik’.

11. Grand-Admiral von Tirpitz

Although a constitutional monarchy, Wilhelm II wielded power with few checks. In the case of the kaiser this was unfortunate as he wished upon himself either the role of a great Prince of Peace ‘Friedenskaiser’ or of a great warlord ‘Obersterkriegsher’. Wilhelm II would oscillate between the two perspectives, tipping him swiftly, depending on the circumstances or his company, from being in favour either of war or of peace and thus leading to a foreign policy that Lichnowsky later described as ‘either, or’. Wilhelm II’s passions could not help but influence others, according to Röhl, for example, after 5 July 1914 ‘the tub-thumping voice of Wilhelm II became one of the most effective weapons in the hands of those statesmen in Vienna who were recklessly playing with war’. While according to Sean McMeekin Wilhelm II’s ‘incandescent rage over Sarajevo gave way to recklessness’. Two weeks later on 28 July 1914 Wilhelm II, feeling certain that Austria-Hungary could be satisfied by Serbia’s overall compliance to the ultimatum presented as a result of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand believed that ‘every reason for war drops away’.

12. Sir Edward Grey, British Foreign Minister

It was in response to such extreme oscillations that Britain’s Foreign Minister, Sir Edward Grey (aka Britain) tried to find a response that would maintain peace; though his prevarications and desire to see the British Empire initiating rather than following suggestions, for example an alliance of the powers pushing Austria-Hungary to resolve its situation with Serbia through mediation without Germany’s interference, may have stifled one of the few opportunities to avoid general war. Nonetheless, the undercurrent, in Germany, was and had been belligerent for some years, planning for war, not peace, as was apparent in the conference Wilhelm II called for on 8 December 1912 that Bethmann Hollweg described as a ‘War Council’.

13. Viscount Richard Haldane, British War Minister (1905-12)

At this conference Wilhelm II reported on what Viscount Richard Burdon Haldane (Fig. 13), British Minister of War, 1905-1912 (Haldane) had told Lichnowsky about Britain’s view of Germany. Wilhelm II in his opening address talked of the state of preparedness of the German army and navy. According to Röhl, Germany had wanted, or at least had expected, a war for some years.  Another example of the Wilhelm II’s state of mind and intent are his marginal notes (Fig. 14) . These ‘marginalia’ were so influential, that differences of opinion in the Auswärtiges Amt could, according to Geiss ‘swing round wholly and unreservedly to the harsh course ordered by the kaiser’.

14. Heinrich Leopold von Tschirschky und Bögendorff,  the German Ambassador in Vienna.

In a telegram between Heinrich Leopold von Tschirschky und Bögendorff (Fig. 14), the German Ambassador in Vienna, 1907-1916 to Jagow, for example, from Vienna, 24 July 1914, Wilhelm II wrote that ‘Austria must become preponderant in the Balkans … otherwise there will be no peace’.

15. Wilhlem II’s marginalia

While on the 29th July, Lichnowsky,  reporting on a visit to the British Foreign Secretary, Grey regarding Britain’s desire for mediation and the suggestion that Austria confine herself to occupying Belgrade Wilhelm II’s marginal note handwritten alongside Grey’s proposal, would, according to the kaiser result in Germany leaving ‘Austria in the lurch as if we were common as dirt and Mephistophelian!’ And then, throughout the telegram from Lichnowsky to Jagow, on the 1st August you are left with the impression that Wilhelm II’s excitable ‘marginalia’ must have been fuel to hawks.

16. Leopold count Bertchold von und zu Ungarshitz, Austria-Hungarian Foreign Minister

After the presentation of Austria-Hungary’s ultimatum by Leopold count Bertchold von und zu Ungarshitz, the Austro-Hungarian Foreign Minister (Berchtold) to Serbia, and its aftermath, Wilhelm II made his views of the proposed conferences emanating from Grey clear and Wilhelm II was not the only German leader whose right-wing conservatism inclined the country towards conflict. Bethmann Hollweg’s will and actions, in his own words ‘like a house of cards’ were to build a position against which Britain had to act. Britain, in this respect went to war because Germany dared to try aggression to achieve its aims once unrealistic and bungled efforts to secure Britain’s neutrality in 1914 had failed. Such diplomatic ineptitude was no clearer than when Bethmann Hollweg called in Britain’s ambassador, Sir Edward Goschen (Fig.17) on the evening of Wednesday 29 July 1914 and made  ‘a diplomatic blunder of the first order’ by passing remarks respecting the integrity of Belgium after a war that was yet to commence.

17. Sir Edward Goschen, British Ambassador in Berlin.

 Bethmann Hollweg and Wilhelm II did not act alone, there were others in the German leadership and administration, as well as in Austria-Hungary, whose collective machinations led Britain to go to war in 1914: Jagow and Moltke drove Germany’s aims while in Austria-Hungary Franz Freiherr Conrad von Hötezendorf, Chief of the General Staff, 1906-1911 and 1912-19176 (Conrad) was equally belligerent, demonstrated by a career of warmongering against Serbia. Jagow, as early as December 1912 had said that he wasn’t against war; to Lichnowsky he took the view, like that of Wilhelm II, that Austria was weak and falling behind as a power in the Triple Alliance.  Then, by way of example of his continued belligerence, after the devious way in which the Ultimatum was presented to Serbia Jagow then urged Austria to begin the war as soon as possible in order to ‘knock the bottom out of the attempts at reconciliation’. He wouldn’t stand for one of Grey’s conferences which according to Jagow, would be a ‘court of arbitration’, where the ‘timid would win through’ and in any case it was ‘Austria-Hungary’s not Britain’s nor Russia’s business. Jagow then failed to treat Grey’s initiative for mediation with any degree of urgency waiting until two hours after the time limit on the Ultimatum had expired whilst making it clear to Austria-Hungary of his tacit refusal to consider Grey’s offer. On the other hand Jagow tried to impress upon Britain that he had given the Austrian’s immediate and positive indication that he supported the British initiative. On the 25 July 1914, during a series of exchanges with Lichnowsky, Jagow insisted, hypocritically given Germany’s involvement through giving Austria-Hungary a ‘Blank Cheque’ to tackle Serbia firmly, that the ‘matter must be localised by the non-interference of all Powers’.

Moltke, was another of the German belligerents. There’s evidence of this in the Moltke-Conrad Agreement of 1909 which indicates how clear Moltke had been on how a war might play out. While in the War Council of 8 December 1912 Moltke took the view that ‘war is unavoidable sooner or later’. Then, to avert potential mediation through conference rather than sticking to Conrad’s plans for Austro-Hungarian action by the 12 August 1914, Moltke informed Lt. Colonel Biernerth the Austrian-Hungary Military Attaché in Berlin to mobilise. Moltke pushed for war throughout July 1914 because he believed that victory for Germany was possible and desirable.

According to Geiss other belligerents in Germany included leading officials in the Foreign Ministry, Count Hoyos, Forgach and Macchio in particular, and on the military side Baron Conrad von Hötzendorf Chief of the General Staff, Kribatin, General Potiorek the Governor of Bosnia-Herzegovina. It was German Imperialism and ‘Wilhelmine Welpolitik’, that according to Giess provided the latent tensions. Germany, in contrast to its agrarian neighbours Austria-Hungary and France, was an industrial force with a rapidly expanding population. Unified under the Prussian Bismark only 40 years earlier, by the turn of the century, as Hans Deltbruck put it in November 1899, ‘we want to be a world power’ achieved ‘with England means peace; against England means – through war’. Whilst Britain could tolerate a degree of Austro-Hungarian hegemony in the Balkans, it could not tolerate Germany’s potential hegemony of continental Europe. As Haldane had said to Lichnowsky ‘England could not tolerate Germany’s becoming the dominant power on the Continent and uniting it under her leadership’. Geiss believes that as one of the most powerful conservative forces in the world the German Empire would ‘uphold conservative and monastic principles by any means against the rising flood of democracy, plus its Weltpolitik, made war inevitable’ . It was born out of Germany’s fear of encirclement and of Russia’s burgeoning might, that Russia’s army was on track to become huge and that along with improved communications could by 1917 be an overwhelming threat.

18. The Balkans after the First Balkan War

The murder of Franz Ferdinand on 28 June 1914 by Serbian fanatics should have no more brought Britain into armed conflict in continental Europe than the First and Second Balkan Wars (1912/1913). Before 1914 the principle of national self-determination directly threatened the Ottoman Empire and caused the First Balkan War against Turkey. Here, at the edge of Europe, with the desire for national self-determination being achieved at a cost to the Ottoman Empire the very same movement threatened Austria-Hungary, itself ruled by a monarchy that clung to its dynasty with its threadbare grasp on its multivarious peoples. In July 1914 Jagow told Lichnowsky that as a result of her lack of energy Austria was ceasing to count as a Great Power and weakening their Triple Alliance. And so it is that Germany turned a defensive alliance into an offensive one with its aim to achieve ‘Weltmachstellung’ (world power). Britain went to war in 1914, sooner and then again later in 1939, against this enactment of a desire in the German leadership for Germany and Germans to be part of a world power.

Understanding why Britain went to war in 1914 necessitates understanding why Germany left Britain with little choice – this cuckoo in the European nest wanted to dictate to all on the continent with Britain a tame ally or at least neutral. Britain had historically always acted against a single power dominating continental Europe. Lichnowsky’s insightful thoughts on the nature of foreign diplomacy compares Britain to a step by step approach of ‘partly, partly’ while in Germany their policy had been ‘either, or’. This is how Britain went to war in 1914 with Grey’s cautious and negotiated steps as Lichnowsky described in 1928.

19. Sir Eyre Crowe, Assistant Under-Secretary of State

Whilst Britain was reluctant to take part in an armed conflict and Serbia doubted how it would cope against Austria-Hungary without Russia’s support, in France and in Russia, war was seen as an option. Lichnowsky felt that ‘Britain’ did everything to avoid war. ‘It would have been absolutely insane to precipitate it’.Such efforts at mediation were delayed, ignored, obfuscated, discombobulated and stonewalled by the likes of Bethmann Hollweg, and spurred on by the albeit oscillating and sentimental politically inept Wilhelm II.  A coalition cabinet of Liberal and Conservative politicians governed Brtiain, with Grey, the Foreign Secretary guided and advised by experienced and informed career civil servants, ambassadors and military leaders such as Sir Eyre Crowe (Fig. 19), Assistant Under-secretary of State in the British Foreign Office (Crowe), Sir George Buchanan, Sir Horace Rumbold and Sir William Nicholson.

Britain, with Grey pivotal, could not have known or believed how duplicitous Germany could be, though expert insight and analysis had been and would be provided by Crowe: Germany had ambitions and the means for aggrandisement both in Europe and Africa. ‘Either Germany is definitely aiming at a general political hegemony and maritime ascendancy’, Crowe advised in his memorandum of 1 January 1907 ‘Germany distinctly aims at playing on the world’s political stage a much larger and much more dominant part than she finds allotted to herself under the current distribution of material power. Here Crowe elucidates the dichotomy that was this fledgling cuckoo at the beginning of the 20th century: on the one hand a 20th century commercial and cultural powerhouse, on the other a 19th even an 18th political entity where the likes of Bethmann Hollweg, according to Erdmann could dream up an ‘eighteenth century cabinet war’.

According to Lichnowsky, writing in 1928, from his earliest dealings with Grey, and having spoken to Haldane he ‘repeatedly received hints to the effect that England could not remain an idle onlooker in a European war’. For the German leadership to believe that Britain would remain neutral flies in the face of the diplomatic reports they received from Lichnowsky who suggested that ‘We required [Grey] to make the Austrian standpoint as much his own as we did’. Repeatedly Grey took the initiative to see if the issues could be resolved. For example Lichnowsky to Jagow 25 july 1914, Grey’s and therefore Britain’s problem was that he ultimately came up against Germany’s fait accompli. The final days of July 1914 and the first days of August show what Grey did to try to avoid Britain having to take part in a continental war.  Röhl describes the end of July 1914 as,

‘A race between the Powers in their moves to mediate and Germany in her endeavour to bring Austria-Hungary into the war at the earliest possible moment and so give still great force to the fait accompli with which the world was to be confronted’.

On the 26 July 1914 Grey’s proposals for a four power conference would involve those countries which were not, he believed, directly involved in the pending conflict between Austria-Hungary and Serbia: Britain, France, Italy and Germany. To this end Grey instructed Sir Edward Goschen, British Ambassador in Berlin (1908-1914), to promote ‘the direct exchange of views between Austria and Russia’ not realising that Austria was already at war with Serbia and that Russia had begun premobilisation. Although the Great Powers desperately tried to prevent the local war against Serbia as the best means of averting a major one (for example, Telegram 199. 27 July, Jules Cambon, French Ambassador in Berlin to Jean-Baptiste Bienvenue-Martin, the acting French Premier/Foreign Minister from 15th to 29 July 1914), on the proposal by England for Germany to join the cabinets of London, Paris and Rome, ‘to prevent hostilities between St. Petersburg and Vienna’.

20. Jules Cambon, French Ambassador in Berlin

Although we know that the duplicitous Jagow while saying that ‘he was disposed to join the Powers and do all he could to preserve peace’, had only a few hours earlier expressed his regret to Berchtold that military operations against Serbia were ‘too long drawn’ and that ‘proceeding without delay to place the world before a fait accompli’ was vital.

The German Government again on the 28 July 1914 steadfastly rebutted all attempts at mediation – to have participated in mediation would have soon revealed the extent of Germany’s duplicity.

On the 29 July 1914 the British Cabinet met after which Grey sent for Lichnowsky repeated his suggestion that Germany take part in mediation …  ‘à quatre’  On the doctored version of the original telegram that Jagow put before Wilhelm II, one of the kaiser’s marginal notes states a preference for England making it clear to Russia and France that she will not side with them, which that night, early on the morning of 30 July 1914 turns into Bethmann Hollweg’s bid to secure British neutrality. Grey in turn explains in a conversation with Cambon, French Ambassador in London, 1898-1920, that in a general conflict Britain would not be able to remain neutral, though he explained also that there could be no guarantee of intervention by Britain until the position of Belgian neutrality was understood. Paul Cambon now asked Grey to reconsider their correspondence in 1912 and Raymond Poincare, the French Premier, attempted to make it clear to Sir Francis Bertie, Ambassador to Paris, that only an unequivocal of England’s support could save the peace.

Come 31 July 1914, Grey continues to talk peace and mediation. Nor could Grey undertake any definite agreement learning that Russia had ordered a complete mobilization of her fleet and army, ‘I still trust that situation is not irretrievable’ he said while Germany, according to Grey, Germany did not expect Britain’s neutrality. Whereas in fact, due to the mistaken weight Wilhelm II gave to a letter of 28th July 1914 from his brother Prince Heinrich, Prince of Prussia. It was Grey, by refusing to take the neutral route that caused Bethmann Hollweg’s ‘House of Cards’ to collapse. Britain went to war in 1914 because Germany had staked too much on Britain’s neutrality; under the circumstances, as the conflict escalated, Britain, the erstwhile super power and empire, was quite unwilling and unable to remain neutral.

On 1 August 1914, in a last-ditched effort to conjure up the impossible Grey had a telephone conversation with Lichnowsky that the Prince interpreted as an assurance of Britain’s neutrality in the event that France remained neutral too, though what Grey had intended to mean, some authors contend, was that he had meant to imply that Germany too would remain neutral.

21. Herbert Asquith, British Prime Minister

There were other internal reasons why Britain had not been early to make a firm stand against Germany, not least division in the British cabinet that risked a collapse of the British Government or taking a non-interventionist route, therefore having by the time the cabinet met, the support of the Unionist Part was crucial to the policy of Grey and Herbert Asquith (Fig. 21), British Prime Minister 1908-1916.

 22. Henry Wilson, Director of Military Operations

Even more importantly, Henry Wilson, British General, Director of Military Operations 1910-1914 (Fig. 22) had been successful in securing interventionist Tory pressure on the Liberals. Grey said he would resign if Viscount John Lord Morley of Blackburn, Lord President and the Council and Cabinet Minister 1910-14 (Fig. 23) and the ‘Little Englander’ faction desired ‘an uncompromising policy of non-intervention’.

23. Viscount John Lord Morley

At this stage on 1st August the cabinet still said no to Churchill, but by 3 August 1914, with the most vociferous non-interventionists gone, the cabinet approved Churchill’s previous mobilisation of the Fleet. And now, according to Cambon, if Britain would fight at sea, they would fight on land as well. Speaking in the House of Commons that day Grey declared that ‘if Britain stands aside, forfeiting her Belgian Treaty Obligations’, then we would ‘sacrifice our respect and good name and reputation’. Although Grey had, according to Lichnowsky been, ‘a force for peace’ with Germany’s invasion of neutral Belgium removing all doubts and barriers from Britain’s apparent and from Germany’s point of view plausible and desirable neutrality, Britain went to war with Germany.

24. H G Wells: The war that will end all war.

The usually misquoted H.G. Wells’ phrase, ‘the war that will end all war’ – the title to a pamphlet he wrote in November 1914, expresses what all the leaders of the combatants understood – that this would be a war on a scale like none that had gone before, a risk the German leadership wanted to take, opening a Pandora’s Box. Grey, and others, such as Viviani understood this which explains their kind of diplomacy that to some appeared then and since as evasion or indecision, whereas the evidence in the original documents shows that actions were designed to achieve peace against the odds.  Although it was the invasion of aliens that H.G. Wells (Fig. 24) wrote about in his fiction, several other authors had written about a fictional invasion of Britain by Germany, something that initially the cabinet and British Military leadership planned for and what was seen as an eventuality should Germany have been successful in conquering France and Russia. In its position as the dominant and established World Power, it was the British Empire that felt it had to meet the obligation to support France, not least because consideration had been given to alternative outcomes: France and Russia defeating Germany leaving the defensive alliance in tatters and other parts of the British Empire vulnerable.

25. Field Marshal Horatio Herbert Kitchener

Ultimately Britain alone did not ‘go to war’, but rather the British Empire, with Kitchener (Fig. 25) as its military leader, a stalwart of successful colonial rule in India and of battles in Sudan and Southern Africa, with dominion and colonial forces to call upon, blocked Germany’s way to Paris. Having paved the way for seeking common ground on foreign policy in 1904. With Britain’s own issue of internal national self-determination to manage, the question of Irish Home Rule and the Protestant countries of the north, postponed and with parliament’s and the cabinet’s support to do so, Britain presented Germany with its ultimatum.

Britain had not declared her position too late, rather she had left the door open for as long as possible hoping for mediation.

The extent to which German leaders, Bethmann Hollweg and Jagow lied about Germany’s role and actions in relation to pushing Austria-Hungary into war with Serbia and deliberately stymied British efforts to bring the Powers to conference has only subsequently been fully realised. Though the evidence was lacking, advice and insights from the likes of Buchanan, Rumbold, Nicholson and Crowe from Britain, as well as from Pointcare and Sazanov from France and Russia respectively, must have come close to confirming Grey’s fears regarding Germany’s desire to be and to prove that it was a World Power.

26. Europe in 1914 (Maps.com)

Where Germany was belligerent, Britain sort peace; where Germany was devious, Britain was politically correct; where Germany was inept, Britain was a paragon of considered diplomacy; Germany was blunt while Britain was coy, and whereas Germany’s leaders worked in the cabal of monarchic rule Britain’s leaders worked as part of a cabinet and reported to Parliament. Ultimately, Britain could not remain indifferent ‘when all Europe was in flames’ Whilst compared to other neutral states (See map Fig. 26), be it the Netherlands, Sweden or Spain, Britain and its Empire could and had to act according to its status, having the means to do so with the Fleet and the British Expeditionary Force and having, with German’s breach of Belgian neutrality, and cabinet support, not without resignations and abstentions, the legal means to do so.

 

READING LIST

Audio-Rouzea, S and Becker, A “14-18 Understanding the Great War” (2000) Hill & Wang

Clark, C (2013) “The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914”. Penguin eBook.

Geiss, I (editor) “July 1914: The Outbreak of the First World War. Selected Documents”. (1967) Norton Paperbound

Geiss, I (1976) “German Foreign Policy 1871-1914”. Routledge Direct Editions

Lichnowsky, K.M. Prince von (1928) (2014 print on demand, copy of the original) “Heading for the Abyss”. Translated by Sefton Delmer. Kessigner Legacy Reprints. Payson & Clarke

MacMillan, M (2013) :The War that ended Peace: How Europe Abandoned Peace for the First World War”.

McMeekin, S (2013) “July 1914: Countdown to War”. Icon Books eBook.

Mombauer, A  (2002) “The Origins of the First World War”.

Mombauer, A  (editor and translator) (2013) “The origins of the First World War: Diplomatic and military documents”. Documents in Modern History. Manchester University Press.

Renouvin, P (1925) (2014 an authentic reproduction of the original text) “Les Origines Immédiates de la Gueere”. (28 Juni – 4 Aoüt 1914) Gale MOML Print Editions

Röhl, J.C.G “The Kaiser and his Court: Wilhelm II and the Government of Germany” (1994) The Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge

Röhl, J.C.G (edited and introduced by) (1973) “1914: Delusion or Design: the testimony of two German Diplomats”. St. Martin’s Press

Strachan, H “The First World War” (2003) Simon & Schuster

Strachan, H (2001) “The First World War: Volume I: To Arms”. Oxford University Press. eBook.

Wells, H.G. “The war that will end war” (1914) Reprint 2014 The Library of Congress and Amazon.co.uk

 

Further Links

The BBC: 1914. Day by Day.

Ten interpretations of who started the First World War

What can historians tells us about the concept of Europe?

Who ignited the First World War?

 

 

Understand Passchendaele to understand Britain in the First World War

Like a disease my books on the First World War have more than quadrupled; you take the subject seriously (MA) and now I need six texts on everything. My current task, almost complete, is to understand what the f*ck went on during Third Ypres (Passchendaele). And now I know, largely due to this book: Passchendaele. The Untold Story (1996) Robin Prior and Trevor Wilson. When I’m told and go and explain what was going on to my grandfather, now approaching 118 and in an urn in the shed. Actually, as a machine gunner he was less likely to get killed or injured that the soldiers ‘going over the top’ – in some instances 50%, 70% even 80% of those being sent in became casualties all because … because our government i.e; Lloyd George had gone from hands on interference to letting the military get on with it, because Haig was the archetypal public school boy over promoted dim wit whose greatest skill was riding a horse and currying favour from those above and at his side. The evidence makes me angry. He could have and should have been removed, indeed, refreshing your military leaders, as France did, was probably a good idea.

A month in Passchendaele – October 1917.

I’m giving a presentation on it on June 14th. Somehow my irritation and anger needs to subside into something more objective over the next month. It is NOT revisionist to curse the British military leader who, for all the evidence, expected tens of thousands of men (not all young, my grandfather served with a bloke of 42) to fight, despite everything that he was told and knew of how futile it would be, through the quagmire of the Ypres Salient. Haig allowed value judgements and private passions to supersede common sense … and by then blunt experience and evidence of repeated failure.

A week in the Ypres Salient

My grandfather was sent in to relieve a couple of fellow machine gunners on the 19th of October 1917. Columbo House. He went in a couple of times. Also Nobles Farm. This is south of Houthulst Forest during the final efforts to take the Passchendaele ridge. Getting to this part of the line could take many hours, in the dark, at considerable risk of slipping off the duckboards into deep, unforgiving shell-holes full of mud and water, body parts, blood and chemicals from gas shells. I have the local. I haven’t quite got the dates, but he was with machine gunner Dick Piper when he died of a stomach wound and had already buried the ammunition carrier Henry Gartenfeld – a married man with two kids in his early forties by the way. My grandfather always expressed his dismay that the man had got in, that the war should have been for unmarried men with no attachments. He had none. Or he kept quiet about it.

My impressions of what he went through ‘keeping the gun in action’ for a week, without relief, for a week have changed over 46 years. What I saw in my mind’s eye when I was five or six, cannot be the same as what I perceived when I was ten, or twenty or even thirty years older. As well as his own two men, dead or dying there were, some twenty Guards lying behind a wall next to this pill-box. All dead beat, or dead, or dying. Mostly gassed he reckoned. From some push into Houthulst Forest that had gone wrong. No forest of course, just the dissemination and wreckage as if a hurricane had swept back and forth over several weeks reducing the trees to stumps and sticks. Aerial photographs show a pockmarked land with handfuls of snapped matched sticks and on the ground or in the shell holes lice-like bobbles and impressions – dead men litter the landscape like eggs from a careless spider.

This is the view that Flight Lieutenant William Wilson would have had … my grandfather’s younger brother, who at 17 had joined the RFC and in 1917 was flying De Haviland bombers’ over the German lines to try and wreck railway lines.

Haig … and Lloyd George

My first impression was bad, my second impression good, my growing view is not only on the bad, but anger that those who should have pulled Haig from the job, Lloyd George, did not do so. Though Haig and Lloyd George loathed each other they had something in common – they both carried on, in their own way, a merry little dance that was designed primarily to keep themselves in power and their reputations clean. All in power have to be accountable to others in a way that means they can be asked to account for their actions and record and where it is found to be failing they are swiftly replaced.

Why did Britain go to war in 1914? (In 65 words)

Britain went to war in 1914 because a handful of belligerent political leaders in Berlin exploited the murder of the Austro-Hungarian heir Archduke Franz Ferdinand to pursue Germany’s long-held desire to be a world power: their machinations, deviousness, obfuscations and at times ineptitude and delusions, led Britain’s leaders after considerable efforts at mediation, to go to war with Germany, after they had invaded neutral Belgium.

Why did Britain go to war in 1914?

20140314-095129.jpg

Published in 1916 after Edward Morel had resigned from the British Cabinet as he found the decission to go to war untenable. He blames sculdergy at the top, secret agreements tying Britain to Russia via France, and Russian mobilization on 31st July which in turn resulted in Germany acting. Things would have been different had there been a Commons debate rather than the Foreign Office under Lord Grey being so self-determining. The crisis in Morocco in 1912 had been a close call to war too.

Who caused the First World War?

20140311-152357.jpg

If a gas shell in the mud of Paschendaele in late October 1917 represents an absolute truth regarding the First World War, especially if you are perched behind a machine gun in a pill box just a few yards away, then this truth soon shifts as time passes, the gas is released and a morning breeze first backs, then slows, then changes direction moving ever further from the moment if truth. And thus, the politicians and historians play merry with the facts, in the form of official documents, as they are offered, revealed, exposed, disguised and refuted Try pegging where any of them stand on the truth of the causes of the First World War and you’ll have flags planted in every direction with little chance of getting back to the original point. And thus we have revisionists and anti-revisionists and their reasons for writing this way or that. The simple answer is that the problem Europe got itself into in 1914 was a mess. And from the perspective of a hundred years on I look through my timetelescope and want to damn the lot of them; but that was then, and now is now.

Bloody Victory: The Sacrifice on the Somme – William Philpott (my notes)

 

On how to cut a book of some 626 pages to 14 pages of notes. Each a nugget that had I not written them up like this I’d have them in the eBook version – but there is none. It is books such as this that are allowing me to clear the myths and cliché that have gathered about the history of the First World War over the last 100 years.

The next step here will be to seek original sources myself to get my take on it.

Bloody Victory: the sacrifice of the Some. (2009) William Philpott

Page

Note

Detail

4

Churchill’s POV

The World Crisis – one of Britain’s great historical myths. He had little to do with it. The luxury of dissociation. Familiar clichés: the product of a self-absorbed refusal to investigate the bigger picture, unimaginative and callous generals, ill-planned and futile offensive operations, high and unnecessary casualties, atrocious battlefield conditions, technophobe cavalrymen failing to appreciate the potential of new war-winning weapons.

11

Deeper Pockets

Falkenhayn hoisted by his own strategic petard having aimed at wearing France down over Verdun, the German army was worn away on the Somme. Germany realised that the enemy had deeper pockets.

28

26.IX.1914

Fricourt Village marks the far point of the German advance north of the Somme  – the front was ‘stalemating’. Hanotaux. Psychologie de cette guerre 26 augusr 1914, hanotaux, op.cit, p.80

‘Modern war was turning out to be butchery’ The spade and the gun.

29

Military School

steel, weaponry, science and technology. Though a static battlefield a ‘vibrant and dynamic military school, as tactical innovation and technical novelty tripped over each other’. ‘Human lives still lay at the root of strategy’

30

Attrition stared in 1914 and reached its apogee in 1916

The French attack to take the village of Quesnoy-en-Santerre indicative of the ‘scientific’ battles to come.

31

Problem of WW1

Small scale attacks aggregating into attrition dependent on management and resources, rather than hast and inadequate provisions.

39

Kitchener

Kitchener to Repington: the war would be long and its purpose would be to ‘wage war on a great scale’. Mobilise the empire’s resources. A war strategy to best place England when imposing terms of peace. The Times, 15 August 1914 Kitchener to Charles à Court Repington (who appears to have or got the ear of the leading players). He published French’s views on 14 May 1912 which brought down the Asquith government.

THE
FIRST WORLD WAR

1914-1918

PERSONAL EXPERIENCES
LIEUT.-GOL. G. A COURT REPINGTON

Lord K. usurped most of its duties without knowing
how to perform them

http://archive.org/stream/firstworldwar19101repiuoft/firstworldwar19101repiuoft_djvu.txt

On Aug. 3, with the approval of the  editor of the Times, Mr. Geoffrey Robinson, I made the  first proposal in the Press that Lord Kitchener, who was  at home on leave from Egypt, should be appointed War  Minister

I was on the best of terms with Lord K. at the opening of
the war and told him that I would do my best to support
him if he would trust me. We had several talks, and a few
days after he had taken office he sent for me to meet him at
Lady Wantage’s house in Carlton Gardens, when we had a
long talk for a couple of hours about his plans. The purport
of this conversation I published in the Times of Aug. 15,
and as he revised my proof of the article, and approved of it,
it stands as an authoritative account of his views at the
time.

Digitized by the Internet Archive

in 2007 with funding from

Microsoft Corporation

He thought, in these circumstances, that the war would
last very long, and that it was his duty so to prepare our
land forces that by their steadily expanding numbers and
constantly increasing efficiency they should enable us to
play a part worthy of England, and at the peace to impose
terms in consonance with our interests.

He allowed me to hint at the need for
500,000 additional men as a beginning, and thought that
at the moment when other Powers were exhausted, we
should prove to be most capable of continuing the war.
There must, he declared, be no question of peace except on
our own terms, and he proceeded to outline and discuss with
me his plans for the Regulars, the Territorials, and the New
Armies, all of which plans were subsequently carried out.

64-65

Haig in brief

Enormity of the task

Brought personal qualities to bear

Intelligent

Purposeful

Determined

Press cliché and stiff, formal photographs unrepresentative of the man he was?

Born 1861

Clifton College

Brasenose College, Oxford

Sandhurst 1884 and top of his class

Hard-working

Self-disciplined

Aloof

A deep shyness

Ambitious

Self-assured

Diligent

Professional

Reserved

Aloof

Deep Christian Faith

India

Had an interest in European soldiering

Service experience under Kitchener in the Sudan

(Might have Haig looked up to Kitchener the way Kitchener looked up to Gordon?)

A protegé of Sir John French in South Africa

‘in need of a wife’ (Kitchener managed without one)

Very aware of complexities of fighting for an ally on their land.

70

Time, place, method

An attack has three elements: time and place (strategy) and method (operations).

94

Clausewitz on war

Policy to bleed France to death at Verdun

96

Falkenhayn and allies attrition

Falkenhayn may have initiated a war of attrition, but it wasn’t lost on the allies. Kitchener had raised the New Armies with this strategy in mind.

102

Haig had no choice

By the Summer of 1916 wherever Haig attacked the enemy had fortified.

106

The Somme planning in brief

A battle plan that was confusing and a compromise

Haig wanted to micro-manage

Rawlinson’s plan was unsuited to the changing relationship with their French ally or actions of the enemy

108

Kill Germans

Rawlinson ‘bite and hold’; Haig desired mobile warfare.

114

Fayolle on attrition

Not attempting more than his artillery could comfortably support.

118

Attrition   …. on brala Haig

Like Foch and Joffre, Haig and Rawlinson disagreed. Was the operation to be slow, methodical, materiel intensive and attritional, designed to grind down the enemey’s power of resistance until it collapsed? Or was it to be a sudden, powerful, disruptive thrust aimed at doing as much as possible in the first assualt and rapidly exploiting the resulting confusion in the enemy’s defence, as Haig intimated in his reaction to Rawlinson’s first proposal?

120

earns crap in

Few

Haig stretches it too far

Fewer guns per yard that at Neuve Chapelle or Loos

124

Haig got plan for Somme wrong

He strove to get it right.

It was a concomitant of coalition planning as well as military mentality

125

Cue from Joffre

Haig took the cues from Joffre, though these prompts were shifting and contradictory, and further warped by Haig’s military logic.

126

Haig too sanguine, Rawlinson more realistic

At cross purposes with the French.

Like Kitchener, who when asked when he though the war would end had refused to make a prediction merely intimating that it would start in earnest in April 1916.

128

Foch on industrial war

and the long haul

129

Perceptive Chateris

Strategic attrition was a key element of the plan for 1916 from the first conference at Chantilly.

Charteris to his wife. ‘Fighting to wear down the German armies and the German nation’.

132

An intrepid woman

A female journalist managed to secure a pass from a town marshal then spent a week living amongst the 51st Highland Division.

Material intensive

The creation and support of ‘machine-gun armies’ … gas, flame-throwers, grenade-launchers, submachine guns, trench mortars, trench canon, fighter and bomber aircraft, tanks and self-propelled artillery.

134

The world’s greatest trading infrastructure

Four resources: manpower (men and women), industry, distribution of goods, finance …

Kitchener – when the war would end

135

Lloyd George

His biography to date in a paragraph. Former lawyer. MP for Caernarfon Boroughs. Chancellor of the Excheque 1914. Minister of Munitions 1915. Self-important, determined, changeable, scheming, loquacious, argumentative. Pacifist to war-monger and advocate of the ‘fight to the finish’.

137

Premature, duds, blinds

Faulty guns and munitions in June 1916

The machinations of the city to keep the war economy afloat.

140

Kitchener’s prediction

Kitchener correctly predicted in 1914 that the real war would start in 1916.

143

German interception

German interception of telephone calls leading up to 1 July meant they had a good idea of what was going on.

The prosaic nature of the role of the RFC supporting slow moving observation plains and shooting down observation balloons.

145

Grinotage – nibbling

The attritional nature of the battle spelled out in an 82 briefing document issued to French units. Reconnoitre, clear objective, coordinating, cohesion … foresight and practice.

147

the best weapon for each job

A hurricane of projectiles …

The French had: howitzers to destroy trenches, machine-guns, observation posts, light mortars, larger calibre mortars …

150

plans

British assault tactics were more flexible than posterity acknowledged.

151

Learning, engaging

The idea of a ‘pushing forward at a steady pace in successive lines’ is untrue; the Fourth Army used deep formations in four waves with a high degree of flexibility.

151-

152

training

long route marches along tree-lined country roads, rifle and bayonet practice, grenade and machine-gun practice, gas mask training … unlike the French the British had no pre-war training infrastructure. Training built confidence, perhaps over confidence?

177

French Tactics

Foch’s attacking methods … Fayolle’s cautious and precise preparations.

178

30th do well Somme

Got a head start … co-ordination of artillery and infantry.

Friendly fire kills Pickelhaube

Picking up and putting on a pickelhaube as a souvenir a soldier is shot in error by one of his own men.

180

Two tactical problems

Isolated machine-guns and pockets of resistance

182

La Briqueterie

189

The myth of the Somme – Liddell-Hart

For all the blame, when has the organised and effective German defence been considered? ‘The British did not fail by their own endeavours along, but in a gruelling flight with a professional, skilled and determined adversary’.

196

Poor communications

‘The slowness and uncertainty of communications meant that reports were generally out of date, incomplete or incorrect, and therefore difficult to interpret correctly’.

202

Making tea in battle – 60 seconds

Futile or stoical?

203

German first aiders aid Tommies – 60”

Carnage described in detail.

German first aiders bandage Tommies and ‘deliver them carefully to their own people’

206

The growth of the myth of what went wrong

‘Easier to manufacture a myth of heroic sacrifice than to investigate what had gone wrong under the conditions of modern warfare’.

209

The aftermath described

‘No more villages than a dustheap’.

216

Haig’s sanctimonious puffing

Joffre and Haig

218

Before one side cracked

Liddel-Hart et al, according to Philpott, ‘misconstrued the nature of modern industrial battle’.  Foch, as Britain’s ally, maintained pressure ‘in the hope that the rupture at the front would eventually occur’. Such attrition, according to Philpott, had always been a central component of the allied strategy.

227

The start of a process that would grind the life out of the German army

234

Evans’ splenetic tirade

‘The huge gap between the practical outlook of officers responsible for operations in the field and the gung-ho attitude of those who directed them from the safety of higher headquarters’.

‘They want butchers, not brigadiers’. Griffiths in Hughes.

235

False lift copied from French

Major-General Watts gave his commanders on the ground more discretion over the detail of the operation.

236

Hieronymous Bosch (Colin Huges Mametz, 1990)

‘Years of neglect had turned the wood into a formidable barrier, a mile deep. Heavy shelling had … thrown trees and large branches into a barricade. Equipment, ammunition, rolls of barbed wire, tins of food, gas helmets and rifles were lying about everywhere. There were more corpses than men. Limbs and mutilated trunks, here and there a detached head forming splashes of red against the green leaves, and, as an advertisement for the horror of our way of life and death, and our crucifixion of youth, one tree held in its branches a leg, with its torn flesh hanging down over a spray of leaf … a derelict machine gun propping up the head of an immobile figure in uniform, with a belt of ammunition drooping from the breech into a pile of stained red earth’. Griffiths quotes in Hughes.

237

Would pay dividends

‘Grey-clad corpses outnumbered khaki on the battlefield’ wrote Lieutenant Liddell-Hart … a sight that ‘sight, and contrast, deeply influenced my future military thinking’. Liddell Hart ‘memoirs’.

a a crushing military bombardment

tactical surprise – a night attack.

241

How cavalry was really used

Compared to vivid imagery and cliché. This cavalry attack, spearing sixteen Germans – charged and cleared the enemy outposts between High and Delville woods.

The mythology of the Somme

On how it become such a distinct and iconographic event – especially its first day.

249

Five days crawling around

Private Raymond Membrey. Memoir.

253

Hew Strachan on attrition

‘the application or acquisition of material superiority’

Quality of German defence

Nature of the topography giving the German defence a tactical advantage.

263

Haig – to his credit

Had Haig given into French pressure when committing troops before everything was ready on the 1st July 1916? ‘He seemed to be gasping the material basis of industrial battle and was determined not to attack on a large scale until his divisions had adequate artillery support’.

264

British ‘learning curve’ – why such an inappropriate metaphor

‘Such a regular parabola is probably too simplistic a conception to characterise a complex, up and down dynamic’  – it was a developmental process, albeit a jerky and sometimes uncertain one … ‘

1999 Feature futile ‘The Trench’. Jasper Fforde ‘The Fourth Bear’

?

CH8

Home Fires: Civilians and the Somme

295

‘The ordinary vulgar exaggeration of the battlefield’

Haig critical of The Times and Morning Post concentrating on the French. Press disguised the set backs but couldn’t avoid the lists of dead.

The ‘florid tales of daring-do from reporters like William Beech Thomas of the Daily Mail, rang hollow. Brown ‘The Somme’ p.271

296

Massacre of the Accrington Pals

1st July a date of bitter memory …

Equally dreadful for Newfoundland.

299

Newfoundland interpretation

Furnishing the public with a tale of collective bravery and endeavour.

301

On filming ‘the Somme’

306

Vera Britten ‘Testament of Youth’

‘the singularly wasteful and ineffective orgy of slaughter’. p. 276

311

Germany’s film ‘With our heroes on the Somme’

Filmed behind the lines and received a lukewarm reception.

314

Opinions then and now

Juxtaposed death and destruction with purpose, courage and derring-do.

359

Haig wants to push through three lines

Rawlinson wanted to take one line at a time, the French way, while Haig wanted to push through all three despite the third line being out of range of the guns.

363

use of artillery getting more sophisticated

Flers-Courcelette

Tactical lessons from earlier operations being incorporated into planning and preparation.

With more guns and shells the barrage could be twice as concentrated as 1st July.

High-explosive shells to cut wire, gas shells for neutralising of enemy artillery, long range indirection fire and creeping shrapnel barrage.

373

British tactics were becoming more sophisticated

Preliminary bombardment, tank, bombing parties, artillery-spotting aircraft …

377

Better tactics after three months

The fall of Thiepval was crushing for the Germans.

380

German response showing that Joffre’s attrition was working

Germany had to develop new defensive tactics.

Machine guns hidden in shell holes in Noman’s land.

383

Strategic attrition was a chimera

384

Haig’s battle plans misunderstood

By September 21 Joffre was feeling that the British army was no longer a weak partner.

Haig’s plans were operational schemes, not tactical directives.

The commander’s job to think big.

404

A push too far by Haig Oct/Nov – or to prevent German defences digging in?

Despair was setting in for German soldiers.

410

Rawlinson against Haig’s desire to keep on the offensive over winter.

Foch considered fighting on the Somme to be ‘the relief of Verdun of the Eastern Front’.

411

Building a sense of their own material skill

415-416

British improvements in Nov 1916 compared to July

Pushing the line up the slopes north of the Ancre

Consolidating the hold on Redan Ridge

Taking Beaucourt.  And the first snow fell

417

Politicians had little room

The ‘grinding process’ that was required needed more guns that Lloyd George couldn’t deliver until November.

Attrition considered central to defeating Germany.

Constraints of coalition, civil-military relations, public opinion and domestic politics.

425

Snowballing on the Somme

428

Kaiser’s peace offer suggested recognition of allied strength.

429

Success at Verdun thanks to the Somme

According to Fayolle Nivelle’s successes at Verdun were a ‘consequence of the Somme offensive’.

435

Why in Haig’s terms the Somme had worked

Preventing Germany reinforcing the Russian or Italian fronts. Inspiring a counter offence by the French at Verdun. ‘Manpower is our greatest ally’ The Observer, The War Week by Week. Evening Telegram 3 July 1916. In his despatch of 1st August: Verdun had been relived, German troops had been held in the West and worn down considerably.

443

Reduction in fighting capacity of the German Army

According to Chateris the Germans were not of the same calibre as the year before.

444

Understand the Somme July to November 1916

The disciplined, confident, conquering army of November 1916 goes less marked tan the self-sacrifice of 1st July.

449

Entente terms for peace

451

Attrition and blockade

Mandl was depressed at the state of Germany when on leave.

457

Australian ‘peaceful penetration’ Jan 1917

460

3 hour 1200 yards

‘Car Wars’

Germany’s cumbersome ignorance of PR

464

Haig’s dispatch on attrition

473

Return to ‘ no more gignotage’

Meticulous preparation,

501

British trying to mimic the defensive tactics of the Germans

514

Refinement of tactics – Australian trench raids

521

Duval knew how to replace men with machines – he knew how to industrialize war.

1624 light and heavy guns

over 1000 aircraft

A regiment of self-propelled guns

90 Renault FT17 fast tanks

526

Amiens-Mondidier

532

Drawing in and using up yet more of their diminishing reserve divisions.

556

Change

1st August 1932 inauguration of the Thiepval Memorial.

The memory of the war as subtly changing. (The pathos, horror and futility of war).

557

Michael Howard

560

Post Imperial jigsaw puzzle

Poles and Czechs sought to piece together their own states.

561

Europe was in a state of Civil War

Irish Republic, Soviet Union, German, Italy.

569

War behind 1920s, war returns 1930s

Ante-democratic left and right-wing politics.

589

The proper application of overwhelming force

Churchill. Quoted in Terraine p.67

593

How wrong was AJP Taylor and why

Taylor was imposing himself on the history of the battle. Liberal pacifist political convictions.

595

Reshaping memories

Measured satire of Graves

Establishing an image of waste and futility

Remembrance reshaped by changing values and the cascading of memory down generations.

596-7

Understanding the history of the Somme

Memoirists trying to reclaim the memory of their war from the politicians, generals and historians whose salvos of self-justifying political and military memoirs had drowned out the voice of the ordinary soldier.

597

It was attrition and it worked

The anti-Somme tends to hold the field as the politicians’ more eloquent voices than the Generals were heard by the British public.

603

Robin Prior on the scale, scope and complexity of an attritional war

Prior ‘World Crisis’ as history

Other key components of mass mobilization:

relative manpower reserves

industrial capacity

agricultural productivity

resilience of the financial resources

604

Haig stuck to the policy of attrition and beating the enemy in the field that Kitchener formulated.

Blinkered to Lloyd George who wanted to attack against a ‘soft front’.

605

An unfavourable force-to-space ratio’

Too many men in too little space which allowed the accumulation of strategic reserves behind fixed fronts which negated manoeuvre.

Haig and later Churchill provided the men and guns that Haig used to maintain his strategy of attrition.

606

An army learning the business of operational command

Haig was determined and meticulous; perhaps too much so as he interfered with his subordinates … as had Kitchener.

General as professional technicians

To expect acts of Napoleonic genius is to place them in the wrong age.

Communications of the 19th century, weapons of the 20th.

608-09

Why the British Somme casualties?

The French had alternative tactics to British methods.

Haig too busy scoring points at his ally’s expense to learn from their methods in a way his subordinates were prepared to.

The New operational method:

coordinated, interconnected and mutually supporting deep attacks

Whilst the Somme confirmed that war, warfare itself, had change profoundly, it remained the fundamental strategic truth that military victory, if it were achievable, had to be won against the enemy’s main arum in the principal theatre.

Coalition

The real events of the coalition battle, and the actual relationship between Foch and Haig, belie the latter’s self-promotion.

613

Folk memories of WW1 and Blackadder

Tapping into folk memories

Veterans’ memoir’s ‘glimsped from the bottom a trench’

socialist and pacifist collective memory

learned experience …

614

Getting on with the job. Monteith

Soldiers as complicators ()

615

Jay Winter on not conflating history and memoir

Memory cascades down the generations; history is the product of its time.

British strategy becomes stale

616

Paradigm shift

Cultural memory versus historic accuracy

617

The porous boundary between fact and fiction

Western Front Association

Formed in 1980, now with branches in France, Germany and the US.

618

Long dead, very often unknown ancestors

619

Thiepval circuit du souvenir

620

Sepia-tinted pseudo-past. Their mindset and methods, and misunderstanding their milieu and methods.

The distorting lenses of memory and history dulled the perception of victory, the purpose of the Somme, if it was not to defeat the German army, was never adequately redefined.

621

Vs caricature

622

A three empire encounter

624

Those who fought it considered it a success

626

What went right vs. what went wrong.

What Haig and Rawlinson contemplated in 1916 was not impossible.

Undynamic operational methods stymied offensive battle in 1916

The ensuing long, attritional battle was both anticipated and possessed structure and purpose.

Two parts to the Somme: The shock offensive of July and the attritional phases than came afterwards.

Identifying veterans of the First World War: Putting names to faces, and faces to names.

 Fig.1. ‘Poster’ constructed using a combination of ‘Brushes’ (to layer several photos in one) and ‘Studio’ a simple graphics app that provided the overlays and text. Images and screen-grabs cropped and saved into Picasa Web Albums. 

Created for the Open University module H818: The Networked Practitioner – towards a poster to illustrate a conference demonstration of an interactive mobile learning platform aimed at sourcing the involvement of many collaborators to enrich our understanding of this period in history.

The QR code should work, the YouTube video does not – it’s a screengrab. The video clip, under 2 minutes, is there.

In fairness to my grandfather I edited around 8 minutes down to 2 minutes, keeping one story about a young woman who came down from London to meet up and otherwise to compress the kind of circuitous conversation you can have with someone in their nineties.

Fig. 2. Jack Wilson (1896-1992) talks briefly about his few weeks military training at RAF Hastings in May/June 1918. Features several of his photographs from these weeks that he sent home to his mother in Consett, County Durham. (As YouTube doesn’t embed on OU platform, link to YouTube)

 Fig.3. The simplest of SimpleMind mind maps to remind me what the poster still requires and is certainly missing. 

And as a reminder to me there is 2500 words to write too.

CALL TO ACTION

If you or your relatives have old photos from the First World War how about sharing them and let’s see of collectively we can bring these characters back to life by researching then telling them story. If you are seeing family over the holiday try to find out what you have in that battered box in the attic: photos, an ID bracelet, his watch? A pay book, or log book? An Webley Revolver!! A gas-mask. A piklehaube helmet.

I’m always very interested to hear from people with a similar interest in the ‘Great War’ especially when it comes to the Machine Gun Corps and the Royal Flying Corps where my grandfather and great uncle served.

The project above relates to RAF, formerly RFC Hastings. Cadets were sent for military training in batches of 30 or so, six weeks at a time. They got military training, fitness, map reading and meteorology. Time off was spent on the beach, on the pier, in the outdoor pool and cinemas, and in a RAF club in Wellington Square. After this they headed for Clifton College, Bristol (Douglas Haig’s old school) for Morse Code, navigation and mechanics (basics) and machine gun training. Then to Uxbridge for bombs and finally off to an aerodrome for flight training. I don’t even know if they all went off together. I do recognise one other face here, a man who shared a room with my grandfather. They had a valet between them. Some change for my grandfather, the son of domestic servants, finding himself in the Officer’s Mess with schoolboy Etonians and all sorts of others.

 

RAF Crail. Fighter pilot training 1918

Recruits to the Royal Flying Corps took military training, map reading and meteorology at RAF Hastings

 

During the First World War the Royal Flying Corps – renamed the Royal Air Force in April 1918, put recruits through military training in Hastings – this included a fitness regime on the South Downs and swimming in the sea. Jack Wilson transferred from the Machine Gun Corps at the end of 1917 having served some 18 months across the Somme and Ypres Salient. His memoir runs to some three hours though it remains incomplete – who are these people alongside him the the cadet photographs. The picture on the left was taken by the Queen’s Hotel and would appear to include the entire intake with the Commander in the centre. The second picture was taken outside a club then in a building known as Howard House – it is 20 Wellington Square just a five minute walk from the Queen’s. Seen on BBC South East someone thought they recognised their 19 year old father Benjamin Dawson.

Help would be appreciated trying to identify all the characters in these pictures. The National Archive at Kew proved unhelpful. Where are records of those serving in the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force kept?

 

%d bloggers like this: