Early 20th Century Warfare

Discussion in 'Arts and Letters' started by SimplyXY, Dec 5, 2017.

  1. SimplyXY

    SimplyXY

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    I'm currently reading a fairly good WW1 history - The World Unmade and I've previously read quite a few memoirs of WW1. I've also read a fair bit about the Polish-Soviet war which is essentially the same technology and tactics.
    There are also a lot of ebook versions of memoirs from the period http://manybooks.net/categories/WAR

    I'm interested in sharing ideas and interpretations of why things happened in a certain way then, and how the big pictures fitted together. I don't want to clog up the pre-industrial or modern warfare threads either.

    So far, there are a few trends that are definitely noticeable.
    • Absolutely massive numbers. The British army was small by European standards and had 4 million men by 1918. It would be impossible to create such numbers of soldiers so quickly in the modern world.
    • Total dominance of artillery. Responsible for nearly 60% of casualties, and it's massive power and slow movement dictated tactics.
    • Poor communication and reconnaissance. Armies started using radio and aerial photography, but the systems were slow, inaccurate or cumbersome. Whole armies appeared that the enemy had no idea about.
    • Chaos. The Austro-Hungarians, Turks and Russians were utterly disorganised.
    • Movement. Massive use of railways to move troops made nodal points absolutely vital. Armies could only function away from rail heads for a handful of days.
    • Breakthroughs. Armies could break through lines, but couldn't exploit it well due to their speed, the massive amount of space an exploiting force needed to deploy, poor communications and problems with artillery support.
    • Tactics. The more I read, the more I think that the tactics weren't so much bad as warfare had practically outgrown tactics. This was the era of war by railway timetable and everything had to be planned in advance. It's no wonder tactics were poor when armies were immense, slow moving, hard to supply and hard to control.
     
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  2. Chiron

    Chiron

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    Two things.

    First, the Italian-Austrian front involved fighting in, and for, the Dolomites. The Austrians called it the Gebirgskrieg, and there were some hair-raising events that happened there. Unfortunately, this front is often ignored for the slaughter of places like Ypes and Verdun.

    Second, uhlans were manly as fuck. This picture of one is practically an avatar, waiting to be taken by a Hall member:
    [​IMG]
     
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  3. PsihoKekec

    PsihoKekec

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    There was massive aerial development during the war. At the start the airplanes were little more than curiosity and were competing with airships. At the end of the war we had specialised fighter, recon/light bomber and strategic bomber aircraft, while airships were reduced to curiosity.

    Artillery began mostly as direct fire field guns, but very quickly switched to indirect fire, contributing to spread of the telephone.

    Submarine matured as a weapon and battleships reached their zenith.
     
  4. Alberich

    Alberich

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    Period saw some really remarkable feats of arms; the one that springs to mind first is the Battle of the St. Quentin Canal, where British troops in IX Corps made an attack the original planner thought was impossible and suicidal. Rather than attacking over the top of the tunnel the Canal runs through, they attacked straight across the gap.

    [​IMG]

    This was the strongest part of the Hindenburg Line, and the Germans believed it was impregnable. After scaling the 50 foot cutting, the British stormed the successive lines of German positions, and in a matter of days, had punched a 17 km gap straight through the strongest German positions on the Western Front. Meanwhile, the Americans were struggling with the much easier task of attacking across the top of the tunnel to the north.

    The Hundred Days are really criminally underrated. I remember in my 20th Century Europe course as an undergrad, the professor explicitly disavowed the stab in the back myth, but totally glossed over the final military campaigns to focus on the political roiling on the German homefront. The Germans were getting beat like a red headed step child all along the front; the high command all knew the war was lost, and they could no longer hold back the victorious Allies.
     
  5. PsihoKekec

    PsihoKekec

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    It was a fine feat of combined arms and proof of methodic battle.
     
  6. Alberich

    Alberich

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    WWI is really interesting, in that you see warfare transformed from top to bottom. Small unit tactics, large scale tactics, operations, strategy; in many ways, warfare in 1918 looks more like 1991 than 1914. It's part of the reason the 'lions led by donkeys' narrative is so bankrupt imo.
     
  7. OP
    OP
    SimplyXY

    SimplyXY

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    You're right.
    I've read a revisionist book, 'The Forgotten Victory' that looked at the development of British techniques and tactics through the war. Well worth a read to see where the squad tactics of modern warfare came from.
    The operational level is really interesting as when you read about 1914/15 you get the impression that generals had little to no control of an army that could barely move out of its own footprint. Reconnaissance was terrible - dodgy communications and huge distances meant that no good intelligence was available to generals in a timely manner.
    Some things were better, earlier, than people realised too. For example, the British had an awful lot of cavalry but they were actually pretty effective. This was because they'd learnt to fight as mounted infantry during the Boer war. There was even a successful cavalry charge during the battle of the Somme (1916) by the Deccan Horse
    [​IMG]

    The British were still using cavalry during the 100 days to harry German forces and to try to exploit breakthroughs. There was simply nothing else available to do the job. The British cavalry's flexible, dragoon like, training gave them a real advantage and meant they were the only Western power to use cavalry throughout the war in a mounted role.
    Outside of the Western front, where the force to space ratios were much lower, cavalry was more important.
    [​IMG] It saw quite a bit of use in the middle East, with things like TE Lawrence's Rolls Royce giving a taste of things to come too.

    The Eastern front saw more cavalry, including an absolute butt load of cossacks. They continued to be used throughout the war and into the Polish-Soviet and Russian civil wars.
    [​IMG]
    Austrian uhlans charging across Galicia (the Polish/Ukranian one, not the Spanish one)
    The Soviet Konarmiya (lit. Horse-Army) was a massive organisation that built a fearsome reputation before being beaten in the "Last Great Cavalry Battle" at Komarów in 1920. One of the soldiers was Isaac Babel (superskype name) who wrote about his experiences in 'The Red Cavalry', it's not a bad read but it does definitely give the impression that the Russians fought the Poles and the Skypes lost.

    [​IMG]
    Mounted Rapists, Soviet Konarmiya 1920

    Cavalry basically died after this as a force as it took too much effort to breed, train and supply and motorised vehicles were starting to be able to do the job better. Sure, cavalry was dead as a shock force in WW1 - but that had been true since the 1850s in most situations. Think of things that were pyrrhic successes or brutal slaughter like the charge of the Light Brigade, Von Bredow's death ride, the charge of Marguerite at Sedan and so on.

    Of course, there are still some places on the planet that are so shitty cavalry can still be useful.
    [​IMG]
    https://www.defensemedianetwork.com/stories/operation-enduring-freedom-the-first-49-days-4/
     
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  8. Alberich

    Alberich

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    Just to put a number on it, the British cavalry alone took an astonishing ~20-25% of all prisoners captured during the Hundred Days, and that's when they're only responsible for something like a third of the overall frontage.

    I am disappointed Mackensen got sidelined after the invasion of Romania, though, since he was arguably one of the most successful field commanders of the war.
     
  9. Racist Graffiti

    Racist Graffiti

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    Tomorrow I'll likely finish the final 4 hrs of Hardcore History Blueprint for Armageddon. Fuckin crazy town.
     
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  10. PsihoKekec

    PsihoKekec

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    Cavalry still played role in WWII Eastern front, as explotation and raiding force, since both sides were deficient in motorisation and there was plenty of terrain that was not suitable for motor vehicles of that time.

    Hindenburg and Ludendorff were vary of his popularity and integrity, they preferred yes men.
     
  11. CHAD

    CHAD

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    @PsihoKekec do you know a ton about the Russo Jap war
     
  12. PsihoKekec

    PsihoKekec

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    Not much, I'm bit short on avaible literature about the conflict.
     
  13. OP
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    SimplyXY

    SimplyXY

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    I've never come across a lot about that one either, aside from background information about WW1 or the 1917 revolutions. Lack of English speakers is a bit of a negative, the same reason there's not a lot of commonly seen info about the Balkan wars of 1912/1913 or the Russo Turkish war of the 1870s.
    A chunk of my reading about these subjects has always come from a wargaming background, and the only context I've seen much about the Russo Japanese war is a naval one.
     
  14. Motivationman

    Motivationman Moderator

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    The Japanese Admiral who won the Battle of Tsushima that pretty much clinched the war was educated in Britain and spoke English. I read somewhere that he wrote his memoirs in English but I haven't been able to find them.
     
  15. Alberich

    Alberich

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    Admiral Togo apparently considered himself the reincarnation of Horatio Nelson. Tsushima is definitely right up there with Trafalgar in terms of decisive battleship victories.
     
  16. PsihoKekec

    PsihoKekec

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    He even copied Nelson's pre-Trafalgar signal to the fleet. It was the time when Japan's infatuation with the West still held strong, before the conservative backlash. Russian POWs were treated well, unlike American/Commonwealth POWs in WWII.
     

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