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Battle Tactics of the Western Front: The British Army`s Art of Attack, 1916-18

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Historians have portrayed British participation in World War I as a series of tragic debacles, with lines of men mown down by machine guns, with untried new military technology, and incompetent generals who threw their troops into improvised and unsuccessful attacks. In this book a renowned military historian studies the evolution of British infantry tactics during the war Historians have portrayed British participation in World War I as a series of tragic debacles, with lines of men mown down by machine guns, with untried new military technology, and incompetent generals who threw their troops into improvised and unsuccessful attacks. In this book a renowned military historian studies the evolution of British infantry tactics during the war and challenges this interpretation, showing that while the British army's plans and technologies failed persistently during the improvised first half of the war, the army gradually improved its technique, technology, and, eventually, its' self-assurance. By the time of its successful sustained offensive in the fall of 1918, says Paddy Griffith, the British army was demonstrating a battlefield skill and mobility that would rarely be surpassed even during World War II. Evaluating the great gap that exists between theory and practice, between textbook and bullet-swept mudfield, Griffith argues that many battles were carefully planned to exploit advanced tactics and to avoid casualties, but that breakthrough was simply impossible under the conditions of the time. According to Griffith, the British were already masters of "storm troop tactics" by the end of 1916, and in several important respects were further ahead than the Germans would be even in 1918. In fields such as the timing and orchestration of all-arms assaults, predicted artillery fire, "Commando-style" trench raiding, the use of light machine guns, or the barrage fire of heavy machine guns, the British led the world. Although British generals were not military geniuses, says Griffith, they should at least be credited for effectively inventing much of the twentieth-century's art of war.


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Historians have portrayed British participation in World War I as a series of tragic debacles, with lines of men mown down by machine guns, with untried new military technology, and incompetent generals who threw their troops into improvised and unsuccessful attacks. In this book a renowned military historian studies the evolution of British infantry tactics during the war Historians have portrayed British participation in World War I as a series of tragic debacles, with lines of men mown down by machine guns, with untried new military technology, and incompetent generals who threw their troops into improvised and unsuccessful attacks. In this book a renowned military historian studies the evolution of British infantry tactics during the war and challenges this interpretation, showing that while the British army's plans and technologies failed persistently during the improvised first half of the war, the army gradually improved its technique, technology, and, eventually, its' self-assurance. By the time of its successful sustained offensive in the fall of 1918, says Paddy Griffith, the British army was demonstrating a battlefield skill and mobility that would rarely be surpassed even during World War II. Evaluating the great gap that exists between theory and practice, between textbook and bullet-swept mudfield, Griffith argues that many battles were carefully planned to exploit advanced tactics and to avoid casualties, but that breakthrough was simply impossible under the conditions of the time. According to Griffith, the British were already masters of "storm troop tactics" by the end of 1916, and in several important respects were further ahead than the Germans would be even in 1918. In fields such as the timing and orchestration of all-arms assaults, predicted artillery fire, "Commando-style" trench raiding, the use of light machine guns, or the barrage fire of heavy machine guns, the British led the world. Although British generals were not military geniuses, says Griffith, they should at least be credited for effectively inventing much of the twentieth-century's art of war.

30 review for Battle Tactics of the Western Front: The British Army`s Art of Attack, 1916-18

  1. 4 out of 5

    Nicholas

    The overall thesis of this book is that while the British (And commonwealth) Army started out WWI on the western front ill-equipped for the new nature of warfare, that by 1916 a combination of new technical and tactical innovations had developed the British Army into an effective fighting force within the harsh realities of trench warfare. Griffith takes a broad view of the subject looking at the development and employment of new weapons, obstacle breaching methods, different movement and format The overall thesis of this book is that while the British (And commonwealth) Army started out WWI on the western front ill-equipped for the new nature of warfare, that by 1916 a combination of new technical and tactical innovations had developed the British Army into an effective fighting force within the harsh realities of trench warfare. Griffith takes a broad view of the subject looking at the development and employment of new weapons, obstacle breaching methods, different movement and formations, as well as combined arms coordination. There is also good discussion about the perception of the principle of concentration of force. I especially like the multitude examples of bottom up innovations that collectively had huge impacts.

  2. 5 out of 5

    bluentity

    This book is essentially a well-written and well-argued defense of the British Army's combat record on the Western Front during World War One. As the title suggests, it is not exhaustive nor definitive: it focuses on the British Army, on the Western Front, on the tactical level. However, the author's lucidity, knowledge, and extensive bibliography make "Battle Tactics" a suitable introduction even for someone with only a passing familiarity with the Great War. For those who are more familiar, it This book is essentially a well-written and well-argued defense of the British Army's combat record on the Western Front during World War One. As the title suggests, it is not exhaustive nor definitive: it focuses on the British Army, on the Western Front, on the tactical level. However, the author's lucidity, knowledge, and extensive bibliography make "Battle Tactics" a suitable introduction even for someone with only a passing familiarity with the Great War. For those who are more familiar, it will offer some refreshing counterarguments against the "lions led by donkeys" canards directed at the Allies. The popular conception of World War One is, essentially, the Somme, or perhaps Verdun. Human-wave attacks on entrenched positions cut down by withering artillery and machine gun fire, with some gas thrown in for good measure. Meanwhile, generals and their staffs sat around in chateaus drinking red wine and cavorting with French girls, pausing only to telephone their regiments to go over the top. The problem: the Somme was in 1916, only about halfway through the war. In the words of Young Jeezy: and then what? Griffith wants to tell you all about it. Griffith describes in considerable detail just how hard the British officer corps worked at all levels of command, often at astounding personal risk, to develop the tactics needed to break the Western stalemate. He compares their efforts favorably to the Germans, whom he portrays as often one step behind their Allied counterparts in this regard. He also covers technical innovations--including of course the tanks but also many lesser-known improvements to artillery, aviation, optics, etc--and how they resulted from the tireless dedication of British civil servants, industrialists, and private citizens. Again he compares this favorably to oft-lauded German equivalents. He also explicates the institutional changes in the army. For instance, the Somme represented the debut of a new volunteer (rather than professional) army which was rapidly improved by dedicated officers who then used it to win the war. It need hardly be said that Griffith is fighting an uphill battle against nearly a century of contrary belief. Most modern people essentially base their morose view of the Great War British on Blackadder Goes Forth and a host of literary figures they probably couldn't name. Griffith doesn't address most of them by name either--preferring to address their criticisms rather than their persons--but he does single out B.H. Liddell Hart for a good drubbing throughout the book. You can always consult the footnotes to find out who, exactly, Griffith is arguing against, but for practically any modern reader the views being challenged will be their own. The book's scope is purposely limited in time and space, so you won't see too much analysis of e.g. what it meant to the British Empire (as opposed to the Western Front) to have the ancient imperial army basically wiped out between 1914-1916, or the strategic effects of Russian offensives. Unfortunately the narrow tactical focus sometimes just doesn't do the subject justice. Griffith glosses over the tremendous human cost of the fighting, and the book's focus can create a false impression of the importance of tactical versus strategic considerations in the outcome of the war. The author's criticisms of the Germans are often too one-sided, for instance eliding their demonstrated superior ability to disseminate and coordinate adjustments to tactical doctrine throughout their forces. The author does acknowledge most of these objections, however, and there has been plenty written about these subjects elsewhere, often readily cited for the interested reader. Overall, I recommend "Battle Tactics" for anyone interested in World War One. Military buffs with an interest in tactics will find it particularly appealing, and it is a good starting point for someone who wants to increase their knowledge about WWI beyond their schoolbooks.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Megan ♡

    An insightful look into the military tactics of Britain during the later years of the first world war. Read it partly for preparation for my exam but mostly out of interest.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Chuck

    Interesting and well written book by the master of popular books on the military tactics of many historical periods. Mr Griffith has again selected a period considered by many to be a sterile time when millions of young men went to their deaths as automatons, mindlessly walking into pre-sited machine guns, planned artillery concentrations and impassible barbed wire entanglements. All of which was sited in the man-made quagmire of No-Mans Land. The book outlines the history and evolution of most o Interesting and well written book by the master of popular books on the military tactics of many historical periods. Mr Griffith has again selected a period considered by many to be a sterile time when millions of young men went to their deaths as automatons, mindlessly walking into pre-sited machine guns, planned artillery concentrations and impassible barbed wire entanglements. All of which was sited in the man-made quagmire of No-Mans Land. The book outlines the history and evolution of most of the major arms of the British Army. It gives the reader a better understanding of how the organization responded to the new demands placed upon it by the War. While the book cannot, in 200 pages, cover everything; The bibliography with the author's many observations will serve as a goldmine for those interested in pursuing the subject further. A bit of an iconoclast and neo-revisionist, he shows that, in the British Army at least, there was a constant struggle to understand and learn from the experiences of previous battles. He demonstrates that the British Army was able to figure out how to repeatedly and successfully carry out attacks against German trenches. he also argues that the Germans were technologically, tactically, and doctrinally lagging behind the British by 1916-1917. My major criticism of the book is more towards what he doesn't say. This is regarding the weaknesses, even of the successful British tactics. Capturing a slice of devastated French countryside 2 miles deep by 6 miles wide at a cost of 100,000 ruined lives is not a very good way to maintain a society. Particularly when a successful result of this type provides no additional resolution beyond the opportunity to repeat it over and over again. A second, smaller criticism is that the book could have benefited from a significant expansion of the glossary provided. Many of the terms he used were unfamiliar, to my 21st century American ears. Many seemed period dependent, and others British dependent. Non-native English speakers are likely to be even more lost. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in better understanding World War 1.

  5. 5 out of 5

    AskHistorians

    One of the more provocative and influential texts in the "learning curve" movement, which maintains that the British army experienced a sharp uptick in the quality of its tactics thanks to the lessons learned on the Somme. Griffith is a somewhat irascible figure well known in the table-top war-gaming world, but this remains an essential work. One of the more provocative and influential texts in the "learning curve" movement, which maintains that the British army experienced a sharp uptick in the quality of its tactics thanks to the lessons learned on the Somme. Griffith is a somewhat irascible figure well known in the table-top war-gaming world, but this remains an essential work.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Shawn Robison

  7. 4 out of 5

    John

  8. 4 out of 5

    Adam

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jean-louis

  10. 4 out of 5

    Robert Williams

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ross

  12. 4 out of 5

    Alexander Giles

  13. 5 out of 5

    James Dickerson

  14. 4 out of 5

    James O'Hara

  15. 5 out of 5

    David Mcgill

  16. 5 out of 5

    James

  17. 4 out of 5

    Norbert

  18. 5 out of 5

    Alice Stears

  19. 4 out of 5

    Patrick

  20. 4 out of 5

    Eric Henderson

  21. 5 out of 5

    Michael Dorosh

  22. 5 out of 5

    Eric Bond

  23. 4 out of 5

    Isaac

  24. 4 out of 5

    Kenny

  25. 4 out of 5

    Michael

  26. 4 out of 5

    Joseph Barlow

  27. 5 out of 5

    Gil Hahn

  28. 4 out of 5

    Tjn

  29. 5 out of 5

    Mediha Kiremitci

  30. 5 out of 5

    Brad

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