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Were WWI General idiots?

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote lirelou Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16 Mar 2014 at 19:30
Toyomotor:

In re your:  "Some of the decisions made by the British High Command, for example, were murderous. The Gallipoli Campaign was one of them, but to them the loss of a few thousand "Colonials-Australian and New Zealanders" didn't matter. This attitude prevailed until WWII."

While that view has long been popular, Les Carlyon would argue that it is not sustained by the facts, and that Australian officers too were in the decision making chain at Gallipoli. (Gallipoli, Les Carlyon (Pan MacMillan Australia, 2002), 600 pages.

As for this: "The upper class officers who had purchased their commissions looked down upon those who had earned them through battlefield experience and intelligence. They were very reluctant to heed the advice they were given, after all, they were the aristocracy!"

While I have seen one totally worthless British officer, the others I have been exposed to, all of whom came from at least the Upper Middle Class, and some perhaps from the landed class (two from Ireland) were far better. I was quite impressed with the British officers I met and served with, and I am by no means an Anglophile. Of course, In realize you are speaking of WWI, but all of those I knew also had ancestors in WWI.

I believe that the limitations of terrain and force structure on the Western Front had far more to do with the tactics adopted. BTW, while no direct ancestors of mine fought in WWI, my grandfather had two cousins killed with the Aussies, and one in an Irish unit of the Poms.



 


Edited by lirelou - 16 Mar 2014 at 19:31
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote toyomotor Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17 Mar 2014 at 00:12
lirelou:
The fact that you have encountered British Officers who were very competent is not relevant to this thread.
 
We're talking about WWI, and don't forget that the "colonials" came under British control.
 
The Gallipoli Campaign was ill conceived from the start, the chosen landing place untenable. There were other options available but they were ignored.
 
No doubt there were some very capable British Officers serving during WWI, but we're talking about Generals, most of whom would have had some experience in warfare, but they hadn't learned from the past.
 
To ignore the fact that the "Colonials" were sacrificed in some cases is to ignore history.
 
As a side note, it was still happening during WWII. Churchill wanted to leave the Australians in North Africa, while our own shores were being threatened by Japan.  A determined Australian Prime Minister brought our troops home to fight in New Guinea, and just in time.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote lirelou Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17 Mar 2014 at 12:46
Dear Toyomotor, What is relevant to this thread is that Carlyon, who's done far more research than you or I, disagrees with the long established legend that colonials were willingly sacrificed.  And he catalogues the myriad mistakes and blunders made during the campaign. His book is not a whitewash. Suggest you borrow it from your local library and give it a look-see. 

As for the experience of WWI generals, I don't see how their experience in Colonial warfare would have prepared them for war on either the western or eastern fronts, though it certainly came in handy in the East African theatre
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote toyomotor Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17 Mar 2014 at 16:50
"As for the experience of WWI generals, I don't see how their experience in Colonial warfare would have prepared them for war on either the western or eastern fronts, though it certainly came in handy in the East African theatre."
 
No argument with that.
 
I'll try and get a copy of the book, thanks.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote caldrail Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19 Mar 2014 at 11:19
Originally posted by hugoestr hugoestr wrote:

That is my understanding. Yet in a book that I have been reading recently, it said that they weren't because they kept thinking about what to do. And i don't deny that, but for a long time they kept butchering people.

So does that absolved them?
This is a common theme and one I get a little tired of. No disreepect intended - it's just that people focus on the few large scale offensives and the consequent casualty rate ensuing as typical of what was going on all the time.
 
Firstly, nobody expected the machinegun to drag the war in the west to a complete standstill (the war in the east remained fluid). Once that happened, nobody had any definitive means of overwhelming defenses other than with the assets they had to hand - troops, artillery, gas, and so forth. A whole genre of tunnel warfare evolved as armies sought ways of breaching defenses. Aircraft were very vulnerable to ground fire and only toward the very end were a few designs put into service that had any protection for the pilot, so ground attack was not an easy option. Tanks eventually came to the front which began to change the balance, but these machines were initially difficult to use, unreliable, and did not quite meet the hopes of general staff.
 
Can we absolve generals for the death rate? Firstly, war is war, and we cannot blame generals for the impact of technology and industry on the casualty rate. Secondly, they were, as older men often are, traditionally minded and slow to adapt to new ideas, never mind that nbew ideas were not really solving the problems. Thirdly, they had no choice but to maintain a hostile posture for political reasons - to be seen to be doing nothing was as bad as causing too much - damned if they did afterward, damned if they didn't during the event. Fourth - no-one expected the war to drag on as long as it did.
 
The generals of the 1st World War were no more guilty of military idiocy than any other period. Whether you find that a cause for blame is a matter of personal conviction.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote toyomotor Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19 Mar 2014 at 11:58
Perhaps the word "idiocy" is too strong.
 
Inexperienced? Yes, some of them.
 
Dithering? Yes.
 
Prioritise the interests of the Mother Land over the best interests of the colonies? Yes.
 
Inspirational? No.
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Kevinmeath Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19 Mar 2014 at 21:55
NO British officer who served in WWI purchased his commission, that practice had been discontinued long before.

Even when it was inplace you could not purchase above the regimental level.

Of the major combatant nations whose army (as a whole) was commanded by a General who had joined as a private soldier?

There are so many myths about WWI -- I really recommend @Mud ,Blood and Poppycock' by Gordon Corrigan.

For instance one Australian Myth is no Aussie soldiers were sentenced to Death in the war --False Australian Court Martials sentenced many Australian soldiers to death but the Australian Governor General (a Brit) always commuted them.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Kevinmeath Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19 Mar 2014 at 22:16
If British Generals were such fools why was the British casualty rate at the very least no higher than any other nations?

How did they defeat the ever so professional Germans?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote toyomotor Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20 Mar 2014 at 01:23
Originally posted by Kevinmeath Kevinmeath wrote:

NO British officer who served in WWI purchased his commission, that practice had been discontinued long before.

For instance one Australian Myth is no Aussie soldiers were sentenced to Death in the war --False Australian Court Martials sentenced many Australian soldiers to death but the Australian Governor General (a Brit) always commuted them.
 
1. How many of them had purchased their commissions and then were promoted above their capabilities?
 
2. Yes, 129 Australian troops were condemned to death, fewer than other countries, and their sentences were commuted.
 
I've already suggested that idiots is perhaps too strong a word to use, but the word incompetent springs to mind as a replacement for some of them.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Kevinmeath Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21 Mar 2014 at 00:22
Originally posted by toyomotor toyomotor wrote:

Originally posted by Kevinmeath Kevinmeath wrote:

NO British officer who served in WWI purchased his commission, that practice had been discontinued long before.

For instance one Australian Myth is no Aussie soldiers were sentenced to Death in the war --False Australian Court Martials sentenced many Australian soldiers to death but the Australian Governor General (a Brit) always commuted them.

 




1. How many of them had purchased their commissions and then were promoted above their capabilities?



 

2. Yes, 129 Australian troops were condemned to death, fewer than other countries, and their sentences were commuted.

 

I've already suggested that idiots is perhaps too strong a word to use, but the word incompetent springs to mind as a replacement for some of them.



]]


Well NONE of them purchased their commissions because that practice was stopped before they joined the army and any way never operated beyond regimental level.

Australians wanted to execute 129 Australians but the Brit Governor said no , but the AIF disciplinary record was awful, is that fewer than other countries considering the numbers?

Why did the incompetent British generals defeat the Germans?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote AnchoriticSybarite Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17 May 2017 at 07:10
Not really a good excuse. All major participants in WWI had observers with Union or Confederate forces in the Civil War where they certainly observed the effects of modern weaponry. Furthermore there were even better examples closer to home in the Austro-Prussian and War of 1870 which should have been object lessons. The French mitrailleuse was essentially a modern machine gun.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote AnchoriticSybarite Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17 May 2017 at 08:41
When war broke out in 1914 ALL belligerents used essentially the same fighting formations which had been in place since Waterloo. The British line having been proven by Wellington at Waterloo to be better than the French column everybody adopted it as their basic formation.

The French army had conceived the idiotic strategy that battles could be won by elan or sang froid. Rush the enemy and overwhelm them. The result was mass murder of their own troops. They persisted until their forces were so reduced that even the newest private knew they couldn't successfully attack. Finally having held the Germans at bay at Verdun, the poor poilous proceeded to strike against their superiors stupidity. They would not lay down their arms but they would ONLY fight defensively against German attacks.

France produced their famous .75 artillery piece. Without a doubt the finest field piece ever produced for any war prior to 1914. Once trench warfare began they were essentially big paperweights as they were unable to deliver plunging fire against German trenches. For years they fought under this basic lack of artillery capable of being used against German trenches.

The Italian army--what more do you have to say than 12 battles of Isonzo. Insanity times 12.

When the BEF appeared in France in 1914 it was considered by EVERY army in the world to be the sine qua non. Leadershp, equipment, personnel were superior in every way. Barbara Tuchman in here famous "Guns of August" quotes German officers captured at Mons to dumbfounded to learn that what they had thought to be massed machine gun fire was in fact aimed volley musketry.

So how did they perform? They stumbled around France and fnally found the enemy, who though tired from a months hard fighting against the French were slowed by less than a full day. Then having delivered such a hard blow against the Germans, they proceeded to turn tail and run for the sea and even though they had to travel a much shorter distance they only barely made to safety.

Well how did they perform elsewhere. In Iraq disaster. In Egypt repeated failure. It took Allenby from 1914 when the campaign to take Palestine until 1918 to figure out that a flank attack might work to get around defensive trenches. WOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Africa--Littow-Vorbeck need I say more.

Returning to Europe the British had a working prototype of a tank as early as 1916. Yet is was not until they had almost achieved total defeat in 1918 that they finally deployed them successfully in the 100 days offensive.

Even then it is Liddel-Hart's theory in which I heartily concur that tanks did not so much win the war in 1918 as much as a failure of nereve by the vaunted German General Staff. Liddel-Hart believed that the retreating German troops could have been rallied in nothing else for a defense at the Rhine. Given the technology available at the time it would have been an impregnable line, allowing them to revisit the Russian front take the Ukraine and negate the effect of the British blockade.

Where was the great Adm. Nelson of WWI for the Brits. Two great strategic ideas came out of WWI--tanks(already mentioned) and Gallipoli. Had the vaunted British navy simply stormed through the Dardanelles and Bosphorus blasting the dilapidated Turkish forts on their way, opening a supply route to Russia at least and at best knocking Turkey out of the war. Even failing in the original suggested strategy, had the amphibious landings at Gallipoli been conducted with even minimal competence a like result could have occurred.

If French strategy could be condensed as butting your head against a concrete wall until the wall gives; the best that can be said about British strategy was when confronted by probable German victory find another ally to enter the war and take the pressure of yourself--Italy followed by the US and finally the Salonika front of 1918.

What did the Germans ever do to deserve such allies as Austro-Hungary in WWI and Italy in WWII. Time after time they had to switch resources from the Western front to bail out the hapless A-H's.

Surprising the Russians show up much better than you would think. Following the disaster at Tannenburg which resulted more from army politics than failure of men or leadership, the Russians made a remarkable recovery. Brusilov is mentioned as well he should be for his brillians offensive stroke. But his offensive was mainly against A-H forces. When the Germans rushed in they plugged the gap and rolled back all of its gains.

Also to be remembered is that the trench warfare of the Western Front was not the same animal as the one in the East. The distances involved and the terrain involved obviated that. Strongpoints could be bypassed maneuver was not a prohibited word.

The German Army has to be considered the finest force in WWI. Or at least the least stupid. When the war began they operated in line just as they had since Blucher at Waterloo. Amazingy within months they had managed to make the transition from traditional linear tactics to combined arm/small unit tactics which we still use today. As early as September 1914 vonMudra in the Argonne gobbling up territory even though the defenders had resorted to trench warfare. Stormtrooper units of 1918 were their eventual descendents.

Until the final 100 days offensive where Brits, French and Americans were able to make huge advances, gobbling up vast amounts of real estate, the difference between German attacks and those of ALL other countries was that the German advances were measured in miles those of the others in feet and inches. It was not until 1918 when the American army made it's appearance that the dirty little secret came out. German advances had been more successful than either the Brits of the French could admit even privately to their political masters. When the US army debouched they could no longer use the doctored maps showing more gains on their part than had actually been made. Had not the Allies almost immediately made the enormous gains that they did, it is conceivable that most of the Brit and French General staffs could have been winnowed out, but that their could have been a hue and cry among the politicians for a negotiated peace.

Finally the US Army. I hesitate to go further at the risk of being labled chauvinistic. But let me say this. When the American Army entered combat in WWI, there were no veteran troops to leaven the pot. The US had not seen serious combat since 1865. Yet within days of landing in France, totally untried US troops met and stopped cold veteran German troops (I know they were not the best of the best, but come on how could any German troops as late as 1918 not be veterans). Following that even though Pershing refused to allow his troops to come under Allied command (to give them the benefit of veteran leadsership) every single advance they made was successful. Culminating in the Meuse-Argonne offensive which they were given as punishment, one of the most heavily fortified regions under German control, one that no one else wanted to tackle, they proved the Brit and French experts wrong and once they started were not seriously checked until the final Armistice.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote caldrail Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12 Jun 2017 at 11:05
Quote Of course he didn't have any knowledge whatsoever. This was the first war where you had multiple field armies and army corps with literally millions of men serving in them.
Strictly speaking, multiple field armies were nothing new. That had happened as far back as the ancient world. The scale was different of course, but army organisation was pyramidical and capable of organising that scale of effort because activity was delegated to a lower scale where it was manageable. Please note the British Army was well aware of the difficulties involved - they open an administration school at Draycott Foliat in Wiltshire (closed in the twenties and nothing remains visible at the site0 to assist the development of efficient army management.
 
Were Generals idiots? No more that they ever were. As previous poster have noted, they were trying to find ways to cope with a very different type of war than they had trained for and envisaged. 'Going Over The Top' is now infamous as a wasteful and callous strategy - but it has always existed as a tactic, and still does. Iran used men in this way to attack Iraqi positions in the 1980's, advancing through minefields hoping sheer weight of numbers would prevail. On a smaller scale, this sort of thing is never going to go away. Whilst the British Army debated dispensing with the bayonet as a cost saving measure arguing that the nature of warfare had changed so much as to make them irrelevant, the experience of Afghanistan proves that a bayonet charge is just as potent in war as any charge by troops with hand to hand weaponry - because it depends as much on psychology as actual fighting.
 
The armies of WW1 ground to a halt in 1914 when the machinegun asserted it's dominance of the battlefield. Things were less static in the east however. Note that as organised German resistance began to ebb in 1918, the war was returning to its initial fluid condition and much closer to the expectations of the Generals. The Americans in particular benefitted from this because being new to the theatre, and wishing to go home having achieved something, they were much more belligerent in the final days than other nations.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote AnchoriticSybarite Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 07 Nov 2017 at 09:09
First let me recommend if you are not already familiar with his name John Mosier who has an entirely new take on the strategy/tactics of WWI.

His take is that all sides entered WWI with basically the same tactics and strategy. Essentially that of Wellington at Waterloo. Linear tactics in close order formations. The Brits, French, Russians, Austrians never essentially wavered in this mindset. The Germans on the other hand made the transition from linear to small arm tactics we still use today.

Their basic problem was that whenever they were about to overwhelm any one given opponent--Brits, French, Russians, Italians, they had to stop and divert resources to stop success on another front. Their greatest failure, Verdun was an instance of their abandoning their successful formula and resorting to brute force.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote toyomotor Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 07 Nov 2017 at 10:58
By the time of the Boer War and WW1, many generals in the armies of Britain, France and Germany, for example, were the sons of influental people who had "purchased" their comissions as say Subaltans or Captains in favoured regiments, and had been promoted from there.

Having risen to the rank of Colonel or even General, they lacked the military training and experience for such lofty positions. Some, you could say were papmpered idiots, but the most were simply incompetant.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote AnchoriticSybarite Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 08 Nov 2017 at 13:33
Toyomotor

I am familiar with the British tradition of purchasing commissions. I think that the practice had fallen by the wayside decades earlier. Their Sandhurst was every bit as much a professional military academy as West Point or Saint Cyr. Hopefully someone more familiar can chime in and verify this.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote toyomotor Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 08 Nov 2017 at 23:30
Originally posted by AnchoriticSybarite AnchoriticSybarite wrote:

Toyomotor

I am familiar with the British tradition of purchasing commissions. I think that the practice had fallen by the wayside decades earlier. Their Sandhurst was every bit as much a professional military academy as West Point or Saint Cyr. Hopefully someone more familiar can chime in and verify this.

If you look at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Military_Academy_Sandhurst  you'll find that Infantry Officers weren't trained at Sandhurst until WW2. Prior to that it was a "specialised" training centre for the Artillery, Royal Signals and so on.

Quote https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Purchase_of_commissions_in_the_British_Army

The purchase of officer commissions in the British Army was the practice of paying money to be made an officer in the British Army. One could pay money, and automatically be made an officer. Utilizing this practice, one did not have to wait to be promoted because of merit or seniority. This practice was common throughout most of the history of the British Army. Formally, the commission purchase price was a cash bond for good behaviour, forfeited to the Army's cashiers (accountants) in the event of cowardice, desertion or gross misbehaviour.

The practice started in 1683 during the reign of Charles II and continued until abolished on 1 November 1871, as part of the Cardwell Reforms.


Men commissioned in the late 1860's were still around during the Boer War and WW1.



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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote franciscosan Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09 Nov 2017 at 01:03
It seems to me that "purchase of officer commissions" is an inadequate explanation of why the Rear Echelon in WWI were so 'out of touch.'  As far as I know, there was a broad failure of the military in WWI, using tactics that were not adequate for machine guns, mechanized warfare, etc.  I am not sure it was just limited to the British.  And purchase of officer commissions (by the British) were not limited to WWI.

It seems to me that the officers were not equipt to respond to the modernization of warfare.  A charge had worked in the past, not enough foresaw that machine-guns would be devastating on such a tactic.  Ironically, it was probably because they were experienced in such "tried and true" tactics, that the ordered men into the meat grinder.  If they were less experienced maybe they would have thought more about it, before ordering men forward.  Of course, the charge was not over, but had to be adapted into, for example the blitzkrieg.  Concentrating an attack at one place with the intention of punching through, and getting behind the frontlines.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote AnchoriticSybarite Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09 Nov 2017 at 05:35
Toyomotor

Thanks for the information. But I think you prove my point. Last commissions purchased in 1870. Probable age at purchase 20 or slightly older. Age at start of the war 64 or older. By this time an officer with a purchased commission would have been a rarity indeed.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote toyomotor Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09 Nov 2017 at 07:19
Originally posted by AnchoriticSybarite AnchoriticSybarite wrote:

Toyomotor

Thanks for the information. But I think you prove my point. Last commissions purchased in 1870. Probable age at purchase 20 or slightly older. Age at start of the war 64 or older. By this time an officer with a purchased commission would have been a rarity indeed.

At the time, Generals were not in the 35-45 age group. But arguing the point with you would achieve nothing.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote franciscosan Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09 Nov 2017 at 23:38
I am not sure what either of you are saying, when does WWI start for the British, when is the Boer War?  It does seem to me that purchased commissions would be rare in, say, 1914?  Whether commissions were initially purchased, it would seem to me that British Generals would have had a lot of experience over time.  I don't know what is the expected mortality age was in those days.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote toyomotor Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10 Nov 2017 at 00:17
Originally posted by franciscosan franciscosan wrote:

I am not sure what either of you are saying, when does WWI start for the British, when is the Boer War?  It does seem to me that purchased commissions would be rare in, say, 1914?  Whether commissions were initially purchased, it would seem to me that British Generals would have had a lot of experience over time.  I don't know what is the expected mortality age was in those days.

1. WW1 started in 1914;

2.
Quote  http://www.boer-war.com/
There were two Boer wars, one ran from 16 December 1880 - 23 March 1881 and the second from 9 October 1899 - 31 May 1902 both between the British and the settlers of Dutch origin (called Boere, Afrikaners or Voortrekkers) who lived in South Africa. These wars put an end to the two independent republics that they had founded.

3. Purchase of Military Commissions was abolished on 1 November 1871.

4.
Quote Whether commissions were initially purchased, it would seem to me that British Generals would have had a lot of experience over time
Not necessarily. Some may have served in South Africa or in India, but these weren't "modern" wars, and in some cases, their belief in British superiority had no basis.

5. By the time of WW1, some British officers could have been around 60yrs of age, which wasn't considered old for such a position in those days.

Let's face it. Military tactics had moved on from full on cavalry charges and linear confrontation to "Trench Warfare", which, in retrospect, wasn't a good methodology either. I'm a bit surprised that US forces hadn't learned something from the Indian Wars, such as hit and run, ambush, concealment etc.





Edited by toyomotor - 10 Nov 2017 at 00:22
Once you eliminate the impossible,
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote AnchoriticSybarite Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10 Nov 2017 at 18:14
Short survey: Kitchner, French, Munro, Rawlinson, Haig, Smith-Dorrien, Plummer, Allenby, Byng, Gough--none purchased their commissions; all college/university educated; most some or all educated at British military academies. Stuart-Wortley and Pilcher who were publicly relieved of command and blamed for the disaster at the Somme for NOT GETTING MORE!!!!! OF THEIR MEN KILLED also fit the previous pattern. Rawlinson who was the real architect of the Somme disaster could not be blamed because neither the BEF commanders or their political masters really comprehended the scope of the disaster at the time nor could they allow the public to understand how badly things had gone.

While I suppose their probably were still holdovers with purchased commissions, there are two things that I would think important to understand. They probably were not in positions which would give them the scope to radically affect the outcome of any campaign or battle. Secondly the generation of officers who would have still been in the field at the beginning of WWI were not the same caliber as those of the previous 2-3 centuries. In the 16, 17 and 1800's you had 10, 12, 14 and up boys technically in command of units--purchased at the time just so they'd have a position waiting.

That said I think the whole purchased commission argument is a red herring obscuring the real problem.

In 1914 every military in the world considered the British Army to be the cream of the crop--Germany, France, Russia, the US, everybody. It had the most recent actual combat experience (Boer War). It should have had an institutional memory to guide in this latest war. Barbara Tuchman in her great "Guns of August" recounts the story of how in its first meeting with the advancing Germans the BEF sent them reeling with their massed volley fire. Fire which a captured German officer was incredulous because he had been told that the British Army did not have machine guns.

It has always seemed to me that Ms. Tuchman missed the point. The BEF floundered around NE France until the bumped into the Germans by accident. Then having delivered such a severe trouncing, they proceeded to turn tail and race pall mall to the sea barely reaching it ahead of the Germans who had to travel 2 miles to their one. Seems to me that Strategy 101, oops make that Remedial Strategy for beginners and brain dead amateurs would teach that having checked your opponents advance, then would be the time to strike at his exposed flank and hopefully begin rolling up the entire enemy force.

Let me return to the concept of institutional memory. In 1914 the British Army should have had a wealth of such memory. It had been in almost constant conflict since the early 1700's. Marlboro made the British Army a force to be reckoned with on the Continent combining strategy, logistics, planning and tactics to turn the tide of the war.

Yet this same British Army which displayed such mastery of the art of war was thoroughly embarrassed just a decade later when a scruffy bunch of rebels ousted them from America. And if that wasn't enough, the British Army for all practical purposes disappeared during the French Revolution and the rise of Napoleon. It wasn't until Wellington appeared that the British Army became anything but an ornamental decoration. Like his ancestor he too combined strategy, logistics (especially logistics) and battlefield tactics to succeed.

Yet this cutting edge force he created when sent to America to deal with the upstart Americans without the Grand Duke were humiliated at New Orleans by a bunch of amateurs. Again a few decades later in the Crimea, the British Army which had practically invented the modern science of logistics could have been mistaken for a gaggle of rank amateurs because they could not get food and medicine to their troops.

Throughout the 19th Century the British Army faced a series of challenges to its authority, in the Sudan, modern Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt/Sudan, China, multiple expeditions in Africa, and finally the Boers. They were always successful but in almost every instance an army which should have a plethora of institutional memory to draw from faced an initial defeat/disaster which they had to reverse usually through brute force.

Should it be any surprise that when WWI popped up with British involvement that you would expect anything less than disaster. The British army began the war with a force that not only would Wellington have been comfortable leading but Marlboro as well. The same linear tactics that had served them for so well were still in play. The unfortunate thing was that no military genius appeared to lead them out of the wilderness. Think about it the game winner, the new mystical magical weapon--the tank was available in 1916. In Palestine it took the British the entire war to figure out a flank attack would get them into Palestine not frontal attacks against entrenched troops.

On the other hand the Germans entered the war practicing the same linear tactics as the British. Yet in less than 6 months they realized the insanity of frontal attacks against machine guns. Before 1914 ended they had already developed the tactics that are still used today. Small units combined with stormtroopers.


Edited by AnchoriticSybarite - 10 Nov 2017 at 18:21
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote toyomotor Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10 Nov 2017 at 23:44
 AnchoriticSybarite

Thanks for your post, and I can't disagree with what you've written. As for "Institutional Memory", I guess it was lost, or at least diminished in the short time between the Boer War and WW1, but, they were two different forms of war.

In South Africa, the Boers basically fought a guerilla war, with small bands harrying the more cumbersome British formations. This, I contend, is what the British should have remembered, instead of digging in for a disasterous Trench War.

In Palestine, The Australian Light Horse Brigade, essentially mounted Infantry, took on the Turks at Beersheba in a Sebastopol like charge, and won.

The British did in fact catch on between the wars, but that's not what this post is about. How many lives could have been saved, if not for the generals?


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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote franciscosan Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12 Nov 2017 at 02:18
How many lives could have been saved if what???  I think AncoriticSybarite puts things well in context.

I think that all sides engaged in trench warfare, and so to blame the British of being short sided, is a matter of having 20/20 hindsight, and selective hindsight at that.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote AnchoriticSybarite Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12 Nov 2017 at 09:39
Originally posted by franciscosan franciscosan wrote:

How many lives could have been saved if what???  I think AncoriticSybarite puts things well in context.

I think that all sides engaged in trench warfare, and so to blame the British of being short sided, is a matter of having 20/20 hindsight, and selective hindsight at that.


No one is blaming the generals for "trench warfare". Trench warfare is not some great magical mystical enterprise. Before 1914 was over the Germans had solved the problem of overcoming trenches. Von Mudra in the Argonne demonstrated that you don't need tanks to penetrate trenches. And in the next year, the Germans developed the concept of storm troopers to overcome the trench problem. Their problem was the multiple front threats that they faced. They could never concentrate on one problem long enough to solve it.

On the other hand neither the French or the Brits were ever able to overcome the trench problem until the advent of the tank. And even there they had them in 1916 and yet could not figure out what to do with them for 2 years!!!!!!!!!!!!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote toyomotor Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12 Nov 2017 at 11:37
To answer the OP succinctly, no, I don't believe that they were idiots. Some  were shown in both World Wars to be lacking in leadership skills and tactical experience.

Their Battle Plans were often unworkable, but there were the few, like Montgomery, who was described a vicious mongrel, and who possessed both the leadership and tactical skills to carry the war foreward, after three other generals had been fired for incompetence in the North Africa Campaign, Monty was brought in to clean up the mess.

Before Monty, the British War Leaders were considered somewhat soft, lacking the mongrel ability to see what needed to be done, developing appropriate plans and seeing them through.

He took on the well experienced Desert Fox, Erwin Rommel and using the 8th Army, and Australians in the campaign, succeded in vanquishing the Africa Corps,
from Tobruk and Al Elamein.




Edited by toyomotor - 12 Nov 2017 at 12:05
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote franciscosan Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12 Nov 2017 at 21:48
toyomotor, I think you are switching wars.  Of course, they say that one always fights the last war (the operational mindset of the war is always formed by that the last war fought), now you are fighting the next war. <grin>
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote toyomotor Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12 Nov 2017 at 22:02
Originally posted by franciscosan franciscosan wrote:

toyomotor, I think you are switching wars.  Of course, they say that one always fights the last war (the operational mindset of the war is always formed by that the last war fought), now you are fighting the next war. <grin>

Yes, sorry. My aim was to show that incompetance occurred in both World Wars. But you're quite right I was off topic.

Shall I delete my WW2 references?  Wacko


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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote franciscosan Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12 Nov 2017 at 23:59
I don't see a need to delete.  I just didn't know what you were doing.
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