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" Bloody Victory: The Sacrifice on the Somme..."

Discussions on all aspects of the First World War not covered in the other sections.
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Re: " Bloody Victory: The Sacrifice on the Somme..."

Postby The_Enigma on 24 Apr 2010 22:31

Military operations, France and Belgium V. II by Captain Wilfrid? I should be able to access a copy in a week or so.
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Re: " Bloody Victory: The Sacrifice on the Somme..."

Postby Attrition on 25 Apr 2010 10:27

No, it's the appendix volume which is separate. I've been looking through 1916II this weekend but the information is general so a relationship betwen tactics and supply can't be demonstrated.

Thanks though.
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Re: " Bloody Victory: The Sacrifice on the Somme..."

Postby Michate on 04 May 2010 16:56

I do find it rather odd that what seem to be similar practices by the British and Germans get judged differently.


The Germans are normally (and quite rightly IMHO) criticised for trying too much to get back lost territory by counterattacking.

It also crosses my mind that it is unsurprising that the British had hgher losses than the Germans, when they had more troops in the area to become casualties.


That is not how it works. Losses of the friendly force are normally modelled as a function of the strength (read: firepower) of the enemy force, with modifications for terrain, attack/defense and so on factored in. With competent command, larger strength of a force shows itself in additional depth/reserves rather than simply in higher force density (all this within certain boundaries, of course). So the Brits with their solid superiority in especially artillery strength should have been able to inflict tendentially larger losses on the Germans.
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Re: " Bloody Victory: The Sacrifice on the Somme..."

Postby The_Enigma on 04 May 2010 17:18

From what i have seen glimpses of - arty was the main weapon that caused casualties.

The real intresting thing is that the Somme is very much comparable with the fighting of 1914 in terms of casualties - 4/5 months and similar levels.* The high casualties for 1914 i have read are attributed to the mobile nature of the majority of the fighting and not to entreched attritional warfare.

It begs the question of what was the tactical battles like in 1914 and how different were they in 1916?

*854,000 Frenchmen, 85,000 Britons, and 677,000 Germans casualties in 1914, the Somme roughly 600,000 on the German and Entente sides. Was the Somme a cakewalk? ;p
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Re: " Bloody Victory: The Sacrifice on the Somme..."

Postby Attrition on 04 May 2010 18:15

~~~~~That is not how it works. Losses of the friendly force are normally modelled as a function of the strength (read: firepower) of the enemy force, with modifications for terrain, attack/defense and so on factored in. With competent command, larger strength of a force shows itself in additional depth/reserves rather than simply in higher force density (all this within certain boundaries, of course). So the Brits with their solid superiority in especially artillery strength should have been able to inflict tendentially larger losses on the Germans.~~~~~

I wouldn't put too much store in mechanistic predictions like that, particularly when I wasn't referring to density but quantity per se. Considering the invulnerability of much of the Germans' defensive works to all but the heaviest artillery, the Entente artillery superiority is more of a 'superiority'. Note also that German artllery had a much simpler task. This makes the British successes on the Somme all the more notable.

German counterattacks weren't mindless so the question we could be asking is 'what was the greater evil?' Note that rather than stopping this practice after Falky got the push, the Germans made increasingly elaborate counterattacks the foundation of their defensive method.
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Re: " Bloody Victory: The Sacrifice on the Somme..."

Postby Michate on 05 May 2010 08:30

I wouldn't put too much store in mechanistic predictions like that, particularly when I wasn't referring to density but quantity per se. Considering the invulnerability of much of the Germans' defensive works to all but the heaviest artillery, the Entente artillery superiority is more of a 'superiority'. Note also that German artllery had a much simpler task. This makes the British successes on the Somme all the more notable.


All predictions are necessarily mechanistic, but my way of predicting is more in line with accepted theory (e.g. Lanchester equations) than simply regarding friendly losses as a function of friendly strength.

Your way of factoring in artillery versus defensive works is IMHO not accounting sufficiently for that the main contribution of artillery is not in destroying such defensive works, but in suppressing them, which of course necessitates good synchronisation between different artillery and infantry - essentially a qualitative factor. But it is certainly correct that prepared defenses work as a force multiplier. The exact balance of these effects (arty superiority vs. advantage gained by defensive works) depends of course very much on the specific values for a large number of variables (exact numbers of guns andnof shots of each type, exact number and distribution of defensive works). It cannot be solved by mere generalisations but requires some serious numbers crunching.

I am not convinced the task of the German artillery was simpler. On the one hand troops attacking are out in the open and thus more vulnerable to shell effects. So if the British were more on the attack than the Germans, they were more vulnerable to this.
On the other hand the defending artillery faces some control challenges that the attacking artillery does not, namely determining the precise location and, more important, time, of the attack in order to make its fire effective. Note that at least in the case of the German artillery the reality of position warfare violated some crucial assumptions for its defensive use, namely that during the approach phase of an enemy attack it would have enough time to adjust its fire and then fire for effect while the enemy is . As the first lines of both sides infantry positions were often located quite close to each other once trench warfare had set in, this assumption was no longer valid. This reduced effective time for artillery fire considerably, all the more, as (again good staff work on the attacking side assumed) strong preparatory fire of the attacking side can shield the beginning of its attack from observation by the defending side, at least to some degree, by blinding observation posts or by destroying communications.
(I have read a good deal of WW2 German artillery accounts. In nearly all instances of large enemy attacks the wire communications between forward observers and either command points or battery positions were destroyed immediately by enemy preparatory fire and fire control depended largely on radio communications between observers, commanders and battery positions. In WW1 however, exactly this radio communication was missing).
The attacking artillery can draw precise schedules that synchronize its actions with those of the infantry. Normally these schedules cannot precisely anticipate the flow of events and thus are somewhat off in later stages of the attack, but with some good staff work they should work at least during the initial stages, and as long as the troops were relatively close to the own position, was was probable for many of the engagements during the Somme attack, which was after all fought in a rather restricted area.
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Re: " Bloody Victory: The Sacrifice on the Somme..."

Postby Attrition on 05 May 2010 10:11

Suppression was a consequence of the failure of destructive bombardment and the high proportion of field artillery in the British army. Again, I didn't make a facile judgement that more men equals more men available to become casualties but on reflection I wish I had. The relative abundance of men available to the British allowed attacks to continue when the other armies of 1916 were having to grapple with their much greater losses since 1914.

~~~~~Note that at least in the case of the German artillery the reality of position warfare violated some crucial assumptions for its defensive use, namely that during the approach phase of an enemy attack it would have enough time to adjust its fire and then fire for effect while the enemy is .~~~~~

I think that this is a very interesting point. Bear in mind that the Germans held the commanding ground for much of the battle and had been there since 1914. A quick accurate bombardment would be much easier to achieve where the ground was observable and had been for two years. Loss of verbal contact with the front line wouldn't be as bad an obstacle when the artillery's task was simply to fire on command rather than on an impromptu target, a visual signal would do. Good timing would obviously do much to stop an infantry attack but a standing barrage is what isolated advanced troops from reinforcement and supply. Perhaps this is one of the reasons for the Germans' perceived need to counter-attack British (and French) advances?

Clearly when the German army was driven from its defences on the high ground, the cost of holding the rest was bound to increase. Perhaps that's why recreating the sort of terrain the German army held on the Somme (at the start) began in September on the shorter front covered by the Hindenburg line? Note also that in 1917 the Entente managed to do the same thing (force the Germans off commanding ground) much more efficiently. I'd really like to see the contemporary German point of view on such matters but for some strange reason they didn't write in English. 'Landrecies to Cambrai: Case Studies of German Offensive and Defensive Operations on the Western Front 1914-17 (Helion Studies in Military History No 3) by Duncan Rogers' looks promising but they didn't manage the April publication they'd promised.

I haven't a clue about 'Lanchester equations' but then again I have a somewhat jaundiced opinion about some of the 'theory' that is taught to contemporary officers these days, it smacks of a long con. :)
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Re: " Bloody Victory: The Sacrifice on the Somme..."

Postby Attrition on 29 Dec 2011 12:55

Terry Duncan wrote:
I note that you stress process rather than product; I find this as depressing as it is predictable.


So show the British Empire was hastening the demise of its subjects? All people die at some point, you need to show the British were accelerating the process.


~~~~~Implicit in its argument is the belief that Britain's imperial experience ranks more closely with the exploits of Genghiz Khan or Attila the Hun than with those of Alexander the Great.... It is suggested here that the rulers of the British empire will one day be perceived to rank with the dictators of the C20th as the authors of crimes against humanity on an infamous scale.~~~~~ Gott, R. Britain's Empire, p. 5. (2011).

Hmmmm, this is the first time since reading Mazower's Dark Continent that I've stumbled on someone who thinks the same and has got into print....
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Re: " Bloody Victory: The Sacrifice on the Somme..."

Postby Terry Duncan on 29 Dec 2011 19:19

Britain's imperial experience ranks more closely with the exploits of Genghiz Khan or Attila the Hun than with those of Alexander the Great....


I am not too sure I could tell much difference between Genghis, Attila or Alexander really?

It is suggested here that the rulers of the British empire will one day be perceived to rank with the dictators of the C20th as the authors of crimes against humanity on an infamous scale.


If we are talking of the short span usually associated with the dictators excesses in the 20thC, Stalin's first purge - Pol Pot's regime, then I am aware of no comparable period of British history. If we add up the total deaths from 300 years of empire and ascribe all deaths as down to the occupational power, the Britain may well exceed the others, though it would hardly appear a fair comparison.
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Re: " Bloody Victory: The Sacrifice on the Somme..."

Postby Attrition on 30 Dec 2011 01:22

A long time compared to the C20th's technology of barbarism seems a fair swap. Its the moral equivalency that's the point. Has there been an empire that left the colonials equal to or better off than the metropolitan hegemons?
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Re: " Bloody Victory: The Sacrifice on the Somme..."

Postby Terry Duncan on 30 Dec 2011 22:50

Has there been an empire that left the colonials equal to or better off than the metropolitan hegemons?


To be fair we really have no way of knowing for sure. I would say the answer was yes in many cases, and no in others. Some aspects of life were improved greatly by various empires - Monty Python's 'What have the Romans ever done for us' discussion in the Life of Brian springs to mind - and advances made by the empires did spread to more people than would have been the case in a comparable space of time. There were also costs to the colonised areas, though the one most often cited - slavery - existed even without empires. I think all that can be said is that empires changed things forever to a point that it is impossible to know now what would have happened without them.
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Re: " Bloody Victory: The Sacrifice on the Somme..."

Postby Attrition on 30 Dec 2011 23:01

Come off it, colonialism is organised looting, hence the locals resisting it and the imperials slaughtering them. Who paid for the ndustrial revolution in Britain, local moneybags or African slaves? There may be a few Vietnamese poeple better off because of American Caesar but you can't say that about the economy or the million or so people made dead in the dirty war. If you could then you might find that you can't use such excuses over some other empires - Germany in Poland perhaps or Japan in China and America in Iraq.
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Re: " Bloody Victory: The Sacrifice on the Somme..."

Postby Terry Duncan on 30 Dec 2011 23:19

Come off it, colonialism is organised looting, hence the locals resisting it and the imperials slaughtering them.


To a degree yes. But nations are simply small scale empires where the thugs with the largest armies say god appointed them king, or where the rich people use their money to buy their way into government, and they then exploit the poor in their own lands. The answer to who pays, is always the poor no matter who rules them. If you look at many colonised areas, the previous ruling elite continued to fill that role and continued to exploit their own poor. Empires didnt exist to benefit everyone, but then again nor do nations. It could all be called a giant protection racket with only the scale differing really.
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Re: " Bloody Victory: The Sacrifice on the Somme..."

Postby Attrition on 30 Dec 2011 23:48

Not necessarily, there have been times and places (most of human history as it happens) where there haven't been states or ruling classes. Exploitation isn't natural - if it was there would be no need for class war against us poor. As you may have noticed, Britain has become much more like an empire again, since Liarbour repudiated its egalitarian pose in the late 60s. Of course it only has one colony, where repression is worse now than at any time since about 1815-1820 (excluding Ireland of course; that's the place that had to export food to England lest the English plebs revolt. What's 800,000 dead papists compared to that?).

Britain's rulers aren't really the owners any more, (like locals on the west African coast or Bengal or the colonists in Palestine) they act as proxies for the absentee landlords of the newer empire, laundering the money for the bank thieves.
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