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The Great War

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Ian Dunn
565033.  Sat Jun 06, 2009 4:29 am Reply with quote

A topic about all things about World War One.

I thought I would start one because today is Henry Allingham's 113th birthday. Allingham is one of just two surviving WWI veterans still alive and is the oldest man in British history.

Allingham originally served in the Navy, joining up in 1915. He then transferred to the RAF in 1918. Amongst his many records, he is the last survivor of the Battle of Jutland, the last surviving member of the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) and the last surviving founding member of the RAF.

Allingham has awarded an honorary doctorate in engineering at the Southampton Solent University, been made a freeman of Brighton and Hove, is the country's oldest scout, is an an honorary member of the Royal Naval Association and has two Legion d'Honneurs.

BBC News, covering his 113th birthday

565049.  Sat Jun 06, 2009 5:27 am Reply with quote

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Last edited by markvent on Fri Jan 29, 2010 12:27 pm; edited 1 time in total

Sadurian Mike
565265.  Sat Jun 06, 2009 1:52 pm Reply with quote

*rubs hands together*

The oft-quoted raging against the generals of WWI not caring about the lives of their men because they kept throwing them at prepared defences is largely a myth.

WWI occurred at a time when warfare had drastically changed. War is a constant struggle between offence and defence and one or the other will always get the upper hand in a conflict. With the introduction of machine-guns and barbed wire, together with improvements to artillery and its ammunition, the turn of the century saw defence in the ascendency.

Assaulting trench lines with infantry was done because it was the only way they knew how to attack on the Western Front. There were no tanks and the armoured cars of the time could not negotiate the churned up mass of the battlefield. The troops were, for the most part, new recruits and so were unlikely to be effective in attacking in small independent groups. The trench-lines did not have ends to outflank, and amphibious landings were not yet at the stage where large enough numbers of men could be landed to stage a coastal invasion behind the lines.

The only way to go forward was, therefore, a massive artillery bombardment to suppress the defenders followed by a steady advance to ensure that units stayed together and did not end up arriving piecemeal (or simply going to ground and not moving). History shows us the consequences of these tactics, but it is monstrously unfair to accuse the contemporary generals of negligence; indeed most were desperate to try new weapons or tactics that would reduce casualties.

Sadurian Mike
565275.  Sat Jun 06, 2009 2:01 pm Reply with quote

During the Battle of the Somme, the artillery bombardment famously did not break the German barbed wire or destroy their dugouts. Nobody has really questioned this until recently. Research, however, has shown that the problem is almost certainly down to the ammunition used.

The use of field artillery (artillery you take onto the battlefield as opposed to the heavy stuff that sits behind the lines) has always been to break up enemy formations and bombard enemy artillery. The best ammunition for the job is shrapnel, a shell that explodes and sends fragments of steel out in a large area. In WWI, the artillery ammunition was primarily shrapnel for this very reason.

Once the trench warfare started, however, shrapnel became less effective because a soldier in a trench or bunker is well-protected from flying projectiles. What is needed is high explosive to literally blow the surrounding trench apart, and the same is true for destroying barbed wire and other defensive preparations.

Unfortunately, the huge increase in artillery that WWI saw (they even dismounted naval guns from ships to use on the Western Front) saw a significant shortage of ammunition because making it was a skilled job and Britain was using unskilled labour out of necessity. The high explosive ammunition produced was nowhere near the amount needed, much of it was substandard because of poor quality control and manufacturing skill, and the ammunition reserves were primarily shrapnel.

When the Somme bombardment happened, therefore, a high proportion of shells either failed to explode or were simply inappropriate to the task they had been assign. The result was that the German defenders were able to emerge from their bunkers and fire at the waves of men getting held up by the unbroken barbed wire.

Sadurian Mike
565306.  Sat Jun 06, 2009 2:52 pm Reply with quote

The first use of gas in WWI occurred in August 1914, when French troops fired rifle grenades containing xylyl bromide (an irritant tear gas) at advancing German troops.

The effects were negligible and its use then has been subsequently interpreted as an act of desperation by an increasingly frantic French High Command who were seeing seemingly unstoppable waves of invading German troops.

In a reciprocal gesture, the German used gas shells against the French in October 1914 at Neuve Chapelle. The shells were filled with a gas that caused uncontrollable sneezing!

The first use of "poison" gas (i.e. gas whose effects were intended to be fatal rather than just incapacitating) was by the Germans in April 1915 at the Second Battle of Ypres. They released a cloud of Chlorine gas from cylinders (contemporary gas shells were an inefficient and hazardous method of delivery), which drifted towards the French and Algerians. The cloud was mistaken for a smokescreen and the troops were ordered to take up positions to fight the supposed following infantry. Unfortunately, this meant they were then in a position for the heavy gas to do most damage (it had a tendency to sink into trenches and bunkers) and the result was that the units affected understandably broke and ran. The Germans, however, were just as surprised by the effects as had been the French, and they failed to exploit the situation beyond taking the first few few trench lines.

565358.  Sat Jun 06, 2009 4:55 pm Reply with quote

I recently discovered that my great uncle died in France in 1916. He was a Private in the Liverpool Pals (17th Regt). I know I'm biased but I found this interesting and [url][url]

Sadurian Mike
565460.  Sat Jun 06, 2009 8:42 pm Reply with quote

The Battle of Jutland has been mentioned and is worth looking at in a bit more detail.

QI facts about the battle are;

1. It was the largest naval battle in history.
2. It was only the second major clash between modern (steel) battleships, and the last. The first was in 1905 at the pivotal Battle of Tsushima (between Russia and Japan).
3. Both sides claimed victory.
4. It could be argued that it stemmed directly from one of the causes of WWI, and its consequences led directly to the end of WWI (more later about that).

The battle was fought in the North Sea and began on the afternoon of the 31st May, and ended in the early hours of the 1st June 1916. It was fought between the Royal Navy and the Imperial German Navy.

Germany had recognised that if she was to expand and protect her territories overseas she would need a large navy. At that time, British naval policy was that she required a navy larger than the next two biggest rivals combined and she had also completed the first dreadnought battleship (called "HMS Dreadnought") which made all other battleships obsolete. Germany's decision to rapid expand her navy therefore brought about a naval arms race.

HMS Dreadnought

During WWI, Germany knew that she could not hope to match the Royal Navy in a straight stand-up fight so instead planned to set out a "tripwire" of submarines and use a battlecruiser squadron (battlecruisers were a sort of fast and light battleship) to lure Admiral Beatty's own battlecruisers away from Britain and into the path of the German High Seas Fleet (Germany's main naval formation and the one with all the heavy ships).

Unfortunately for the Germans, the British had an inkling that Germany was itching to use its new fleet in a decisive engagement and Admiral Jellicoe and the Grand Fleet (the main British home fleet) set out to join Beatty's battlecruisers. Beatty, meanwhile, had raced to where the Germans would be coming out from (north of the Kiel canal area) and had already encountered the German battlecruisers, long before they were expecting to fight. In the process, the British battlecruisers had completely thrown awry the plans for a submarine tripwire because they had already passed through the line where the slow submarines were going to wait.

The Germans partially succeeding in their plans, however, as the German battlecruisers lured Beatty's battlecruisers into the path of the German High Seas Fleet and the German heavy ships destroyed two of the ten British battlecruisers before the latter managed to extricate themselves. The High Seas Fleet gave chase and suddenly found itself being attacked by the British Grand Fleet that had been steaming to meet Beatty.

Both sides pounded each other and the Germans tried to escape, but Jellicoe and the Grand Fleet kept cutting off their escape route. Eventually, in the early hours of the next morning, the Germans managed to creep away and returned to the safety of the German coast.

The result was that the British lost more ships and men than the Germans, but the Germans felt their own losses more deeply because of the smaller size of their fleet. In addition, the High Seas Fleet never again ventured from the coast to threaten British shipping and the British naval blockade of Germany continued to have devastating consequences on that country.

So, to the claim that it stemmed from one of WWI's causes and led to the end of the War. One of the War's causes was Britain's hostility to Germany over the naval arms race. She felt that Germany was being provocative in her aim of building up a large military navy and so joined in the "Triple Entente" with Russia and France, which triggered all three declaring war on Germany in 1914. With Germany having spent all that money on her new fleet, however, both the Kaiser and the German public were outraged that it wasn't being used. Hence the plan to sail out and try to gain a limited victory against the battlecruisers which led to the Battle of Jutland.

The result for Germany after the battle was that she turned to unrestricted raiding instead of fleet actions (a pattern she would repeat in WWII), and this led to US-flagged shipping being sunk. The consequence of this was that the isolationist USA was eventually dragged into the War, and the Allies gained millions of new reinforcements just at a time when fresh German regiments were coming to the Western Front having concluded a peace treaty with the newly Communist Russia. It is not certain that the USA joining was the vital spark that marked the beginning of the end (it is safe to point to the effects of the naval blockade and newly learned tactics of combining infantry, tanks and aircraft as being large factors), but it almost certainly shortened the War by many months.

Ian Dunn
565467.  Sun Jun 07, 2009 2:14 am Reply with quote

Nice research Mike. ^_^

565489.  Sun Jun 07, 2009 3:51 am Reply with quote

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Last edited by markvent on Fri Jan 29, 2010 12:25 pm; edited 1 time in total

565513.  Sun Jun 07, 2009 6:23 am Reply with quote

My Grandad (an ANZAC) survived both Gallipoli and the Somme - and didn't talk about it at all.

The frontline trenches in Gallipoli might be only a few feet apart - and the whole thing was cooked up by none other than Winston Churchill (based on info from Lawrence of Arabia).

At the time, the American president said that if there was another war that he hoped the UK wouldn't be cursed by another incompetent like Churchill (although I can't find a reference at the mo).

565535.  Sun Jun 07, 2009 8:18 am Reply with quote

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Last edited by markvent on Fri Jan 29, 2010 12:24 pm; edited 1 time in total

565564.  Sun Jun 07, 2009 10:09 am Reply with quote

Mine was at Albert and Pozieres near the windmill blockhouse. Some of the first tanks were used there. Didn't realise that the anzacs made it to the western front tho... ya live and learn.

The anzacs seem to be being treated as second class citizens wherever they went (despite a glorious record). And they were only doing it to help out the old country and to show their independence.

EDIT - missed the fifth to last word...

Last edited by Posital on Sun Jun 07, 2009 4:55 pm; edited 1 time in total

Sadurian Mike
565670.  Sun Jun 07, 2009 12:10 pm Reply with quote

markvent wrote:
Sadurian Mike wrote:
*rubs hands together*

The oft-quoted raging against the generals of WWI not caring about the lives of their men because they kept throwing them at prepared defences is largely a myth.

hmmm ... The Battle of Aubers Ridge is worth a look - because it fits precisely with that "stereotype".


Indeed it does, and is a classic example of why the myth grew.

The planning for the attack was a classic example of good intentions; a bombardment to suppress the defences and break the wire followed by an assault by infantry. Neuve Chapelle had shown that it could work and it was natural for an apparently winning formula to be repeated.

Sadly, Haig did not get all the artillery he wanted (and needed) because Ypres was taking a lot of it, and the aforementioned shortage of ammunition meant that the artillery he did get was limited in its expenditure. Instead of a long preparatory bombardment, he was limited to 40 minutes.

Just like at the Somme, however, the wrong ammunition and deficiencies in the ammunition supplied meant that the artillery did not do the job they were expected to. The wire was intact and the defences largely working, the Germans found it easy to site their machine guns again and cut down the advancing troops.

Communication problems (remember that there were no field radios and telephone wire was cut by artillery) meant that Haig had to react to reports that were often out of date and superceded by later events. When reports did get through they were often misleading about casualties and setbacks, and this meant that he did not get the information required for instant changes of plan. Battles in WWI were very much a case of planning in advance and letting it run its course; it was only later that forward communications became a matter of urgency.

Another factor to remember is how the military has to react to events. If an advance breaks through there is often only a short time to commit reserves to exploit that breakthrough before the enemy counterattacks. If you commit reserves too early they get bogged down in the early assault, too late and they find that the situation means they can no longer make any progress.

If you have reports of a limited success or stalemate then you can either reinforce it to try to turn it into a major advance (which happened a few times at Aubers Ridge), or give up on it to concentrate elsewhere, thus making all the effort to get to that stage a waste.

All this assumes accurate and timely reports, of course, something that the British commanders did not enjoy.

Ian Dunn
571454.  Fri Jun 19, 2009 4:25 am Reply with quote

UPDATE: Following the death of Tomoji Tanabe in Japan, Henry Allingham is now reported to be the oldest man alive in the entire world.

Story from the BBC

Sadurian Mike
571456.  Fri Jun 19, 2009 4:27 am Reply with quote

He would be out to celebrate but his dad won't let him.


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