An Unpredicted New kind Of Warfare
World war one continued for four years across a vast and stretching from the English Channel to the northern Swiss border. In 1914 the prediction was that the war would be over by Christmas. At the beginning of the war, The Germans thought they could capture France before invading Russia therefore preventing a war on two fronts. But because of the failure of tactics they couldn’t succeed, and this was one of the main reasons the war lasted for such a long period.
It was no longer each side trying to capture the other in the war but stopping the enemies movements in trench warfare and using new technology to soften up enemy, if it didn’t back fire. Defense was now the key to winning the war and was far superior than the offensive. The trenches were hard to capture by advancing troops because of increasing firepower from machine guns. Crossing no-mans land was committing suicide for the troops as machine guns could inflict enormous damage on advancing infantry.
The realization of the advantage of defense resulted in the enhanced rate of advancing technology. This was one of the core reasons for stalemate upon the Western Front because technology was advancing at such a rapid rate and new inventions were being introduced in a hasty manner. Many of the new inventions were not sufficiently tested and many of the ideas were not thoroughly thought through which resulted in unnecessary delays. Aircraft at the start of the war was used primarily for reconnaissance work, spotting enemy trenches and movements before a possible attack.
But this alerted the enemy’s attention and gave them time to prepare resulting in the attacker’s job being more costly and difficult to undertake. Barbed wire was massed produced on an industrial scale by both sides as barbed wire entanglements were unbreakable for troops, stopped cavalry in their tracks, and slowed troops down completely. Attempts were made to destroy barbed wire with shellfire but the barbed wire is just lifted and often ends up in a bigger mess than before. Chlorine gas was first introduced in April 1915 by the German army against the French army.
Chlorine gas destroyed your respiratory organs and you had a long slow death. But poisonous gas was an extremely unreliable method of attack as the direction of the wind may change at any time and return the poison in the direction of the attacker killing your own troops. Also, as with many other weapons that were developed it can only be used once to an advantage, as their element of surprise is lost. Gas masks were quickly distributed to both sides and gas was not such a great fear as it was first thought
Tanks were invented to be the technical solution to the major problem of both barbed wire and machine guns. They had an armour plate to protect troops whilst attacking and caterpillar traction to allow them to cross-hilly and muddy ground. But the first Mark I tank was a weak and variable weapon. It was used at the Somme in 1916 but neither their performance nor numbers could help win the battle. It was not until Cambrai in 1917 that tanks were used on a large scale. They crunched their way over the barbed wire and German trenches creating a huge hole in the German defenses.
A General on horseback commanded his armies in battle up until 1914. After 1914 telephones were working. Battles could be safely won from far away behind a desk. But though this development in communications may seem a great success, but telephones in reality were useless in attack, because the commanders didn’t have a good perspective of the war and didn’t know everything as they would be if they were sitting on horse and overlooking the battle which led to troops often pulling back because of lack of communications and broad view of the battle.
In 1914 neither the French nor the British armies were trained for trench warfare. They had to adapt which took them several years and accounted for several of their failures and delays. French generals felt infantry charges were a necessity to win the war despite the huge advances in technology. And Germen generals thought that with enough ammunition and man power and gradually wearing down the enemy they would win the war. Eventually in 1917 the French army refused to attack any more, only to defend because of the horrific numbers of casualties lost for only a few miles gained.
A term to explain this was the cannon fodder. The battle of Somme in 1916 is a good example for a shocking case of awful miscalculations by the leadership of both sides; Britain lost around 419,000 men for only a strip of land about 25 km long and 6km wide. These huge loses were due to bad planning. The men were untrained and advanced towards the enemy walking and carrying heavy packs on their backs. These “big pushes” which was a belief shared by British Kitchener and Haig were mere execution of side’s troops as they were walking straight into machine gun fire.
The first World War was the first war between two vastly industrialized economies and factories on both sides mass-produced inconceivable amounts of artillery and ammunition. Industry was under an incredible amount of strain and it was not until 1917 that the munitions industry was able to produce adequate quantities of ammunitions. Railways played a major part in the transportation of troops form one area of the western front to the next along with food and other supplies.
Both sides were also both able to keep going because of the huge numbers of men and supplies continuously brought by trains and trucks. Basically both the central powers and allies were never in a drought of resources. At the outbreak of war on the Western Front, the Allies and the Germans were relatively equal in their strengths and weaknesses. Bad leadership held up many of the British and French attacks resulting in unnecessary numbers of casualties. Germany spread its men out over many of the fronts not only in the eastern front, but also in the Western Front.
One argument is that if perhaps they had concentrated on only one front they may have had a chance of success as opposed to spreading out the troops over a large area. The deadlock ended in 1918 when it was broken by eventual collapse of the central powers. It was ultimately attrition that proved the crucial decider but it was a series of events and inventions that had not happened before which gave way to the end result. The submarine campaign was important as it brought America into the war with fresh troops and much needed resources and resulted in a huge blow to the German morale.
In conclusion, there was no one true reason for deadlock on the western front, but that it was due to several problems. Technology advanced too rapidly, generals were not adequately trained for trench warfare. As one quote would say “The great war was fought with 20th century weapons and 19th century tactics”. The war was able to be kept going due to the fact they were both vastly industrialized economies and neither side was able to eliminate the other since and the governments of both sides directed the industries towards mass production of uniforms, ammunitions, ships, explosives etc…