WORLD WAR 1
1. WAR ON THE WESTERN FRONT
1.1 The reasons for stalemate on the Western Front
Failure of the Von Schliefen Plan
Failed to encircle Paris (met with strong resistance from the allied powers at the battle of the Marne)
Germans forced to retreat to the river Aisne – but had no plans for a defensive role, so tried to capture the allies Channel Ports (cut off allies’ resources).
This became known = “Race to the Sea”.
This race stretched the front line of entrenched troops across Belgium and France
Trench Systems developed
A ‘war of movement’ had ended: neither side was able to make a decisive gain in land due to the comprehensive, defensive system of trenches.
Neither side was able to break the defenses of the other = stalemate!
Failed to take into account the railways through Belgium and France, which the French had used to their advantage = transport soldiers faster.
Invasion of Belgian Neutrality = Britain became involved – unanticipated allied power.
Russia had mobilized quicker than anticipated, which mean that Germany had to redirect its troops from invasion of France = weakening forces.
Austria-Hungary was more intent on invading Serbia – did not provide expected support to Germany.
Modifications made by Von Moltke & Ludendorff
Abandoned the advance through Holland, which meant that a ‘bottleneck’ was created as German forces tried to advance through Belgium (Liege) = slowed German advance
Weakened the vital right flank, and redistributed it into (Alsace and Lorraine)
The plan originally depended on ‘speed and strength’, so that the Germans could have “Paris for lunch, St. Petersburg for dinner” (Kaiser Wilhelm 2).
But, changing the distribution of the soldiers from the right flank meant that no decisive moves were made by the Germans in the north.
War of movement / Nature of trench warfare
Most important factor contributed to the stalemate: both the allies and central powers had developed such a comprehensive system of trenches designed for defense = neither side could make a decisive move without getting gunned down.
The advantage was always with the defender – i.e. Somme
No new tactics / strategies
Generals Joffre and Haig had failed to learn from their mistakes by adopting new strategies.
Persisted with frontal attacks – kept getting annihilated by defences
1.2 Overview of Strategies and Tactics to break the stalemate including key battles: Verdun, the Somme, Passchendale
1. Frontal Attacks
Artillery Bombardment: destroy barbed wire, machinery, front-line defenses
Infantry Advance: take over front line trenches, “creeping barrage” – too slow (35kg backpacks).
Advantage always lay with the defender. One the soldiers were on ‘no-mans land’, easily targeted by enemies defenses i.e. Somme, machine gun.
This is why stalemate persisted so long; neither side was able to make gains.
2. Introduction of new technology
Designed to break deadlock, drive enemy away from trenches
Backfired – wind pressure
Chlorine / Mustard gas – burn skin / respiratory systems
“It was not gas, but the fear of gas” (Harber, 1917)
Designed to break dominance over no-mans land
Psychological support to soldiers / shield / mobile artillery
Unable to make a punch-line
Mechanical failures, caught in the churned up mud in no-mans land.
Flame Throwers / Mortars
Flamethrowers dangerous and difficult to control
Mortars – not enough damage due to strong defenses
3. Attrition mobilize all resources to wear down opponent
Deplete enemies resources i.e. Verdun, Passchendale
It was a war that Germany could not win: British blockade had blocked their supplies, Allie industrial production was up due to easy trade and accessibility to resources (US, colonies). Germany was isolated for a war between two fronts. No trading occurred.
In the end, it is attrition that had made the allies victorious in 1918: Germany was on the verge of economical