Saturday, April 9, 2011

Keegan - The First World War

Keegan, John. The First World War. New York: A.A. Knopf, 1999.

The First World War was a complete debacle. The Allies pursued a nightmare strategy of larger and larger annual offenses against the western front.

Western Offenses
1914 - Schlieffan Plan (through Belgium) and French Plan 17 (right into Alsace-Lorrain). Germans almost succeed, but the farther the armies go the harder it is to coordinate. The Battle of the Marnes is won by the Allies, and the race to the sea/battle of the frontiers leads to entrenchment (Germans dig in permanently to shift troops to the East)
1915 - Ypres: an attempted pincer movement with the British going from the north and the French from the South.
1916 - Verdun: The Germans hoped to draw the French into a war of attrition using massive artillery bombardment and attacks on the Verdun fortress, which the French would have to pour troops in to hold. The cost proved too high for the Germans, and thereafter they sought to defend on the West and attack on the East to drive the Russians out of the war.
The Somme: Rather than the attempts at encirclement of 14, 15, 17 and (successfully) 18, Douglas Haig sought a direct assault using a mass of troops following a creeping barrage. Let's just say it didn't work and move on.
1917 - Nivelle Offensive: Nivelle was an artillery expert, and thought a more expertly targeted barrage could lead to a breakout from Rheims to Roye (Champagne, supported by a British offensive at Arras and Vimy Ridge). Ugh.
1918 - After the Russian Revolution and chaos in the east allowed the Germans to bring their troops back to

Other Key Debacles (and some successes!)
Gallipoli - Ill-fated naval/marine battle designed to open a supply line to Russia and draw Austro-Hungarian forces away from the East.
Isonzo - Italy, led by a commander who led with fear, pursued a dozen utterly hopeless offensives against the well-defended Austro-Hungarians.
Brusilov Offensive - 1916, Russian general managed to beat back the Germans through new tactics that would be adapted by Germany in WWII
Jutland - Key naval battle: "the inmate escaped from jail, inflicted casualties, but then went back to prison"

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