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WW 1 Part 5


"The nation must be taught to bear losses. No amount of skill on the part of the higher commanders, no training, however good, on the part of the officers and men, no superiority of arms and ammunition, however great, will enable victories to be won without the sacrifice of men's lives. The nation must be prepared to see heavy casualty lists."
Written by Lieutenat General Douglas Haig commander in chief  B.E.F. in June 1916.

This is an often used quote implying that the terrible human carnage of WWI could be put down to the failings of the British high command. And granted some terrible command decisions were made resulting in great loss of life, Gallipoli probably being the single worst example where allied losses reached 252,000 in that flawed campaign.
But you must also consider that WW I was the first truly "modern" war, in the opening stages of the war British, German, Belgium and French Cavalry all made mounted cavalry charges with lances and sabres drawn! In scenes more appropriate to The Charge Of Light Brigade 60 years before, in fact military doctrine and tactics had moved on little since that time. Early in the war some French reservists even entered battle dressed blue tunics and red trousers reminiscent of uniforms of previous centuries.
While at the same time both sides were arming with the tools of modern warfare new and accurate heavy and light artillery, machine guns which were to wreak havoc over the next 4 years, aircraft initially used for reconnaissance and to direct fire but quickly used to bomb and strafe enemy positions, tanks although slow and cumbersome made their debut and possibly the most hideous of all gas, which was used by both sides in various different forms and killed thousands causing permanent damage to many who survived the initial attacks.
Meanwhile back at home the new modern factories of the twentieth century were turned over to war manufacturing and were able to produce these weapons in quantities never seen before. The advent of  rail and motorised transport made it possible to supply these weapons directly to the frount lines within weeks, if not days.
In previous wars, battles carried on until such times as one side ran out of men, ammunition or stores but for the first 3 years of WW I a murderous stalemate was reached. Instead of a fast sweeping campaign across the plains of Europe the war bogged down into bloody trench warfare. With both sides having similar tactics and weaponry. Small advances were made by massive use of weaponry and sheer manpower resulting in huge casualties. But these casualties and weaponry would rapidly be replaced by both sides and in later counter attacks and the ground gained would be lost again.
Over those 3 years despite the horrendous losses lessons began to be learned and a new understanding of how to wage a "modern" war developed and with the influx of fresh American troops by the beginning of 1918 the tide had begun to turn and this was to become the allies year of victory.       

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