Background of a stalemate: a study of the development of tactics and weapons prior to World War I
Arnold, Joseph Coleman
Master of Arts
Why, in World War I, did the western front stagnate into trench warfare after six weeks of mobile fighting? One explanation has been that the leaders were blind to the increased power of the defense brought about by the machine gran, smokeless powder, magazine rifle, and quick-firing artillery. Perhaps hindsight has made it too easy to condemn the actions of World War I generals and say: "The result could have been no other» the American Civil War, the Russo-Turkish War, the Boer War, and the Russo-Japanese War abound with examples of the increased power of the defense. The generals who ordered the attacks against the walls of steel in August 1914 must have been either blind or crazy." Were the generals of August 1914 blind? Were they crazy? The answer lies in the evolution of tactics and weaponry and the expanding gap between the two. This thesis traces this interreaction between weaponry and tactics from the discovery of gunpowder to the First World War. No attempt is made to enter the realm of strategy, except where it might better explain a tactical point. Because only three major powers were involved in the opening moves on the western front, tactical concepts of other countries are discussed only if they impinge on those of Germany, France, or Britain. Likewise, only those wars that involve a European power, and, therefore, were sources of European lessons learned are included. The American Civil War, for example, is not discussed because its tactical lessons were generally ignored by the European community. The battle examples are those that received the most attention by tactical theorists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. And, since the theorist's principal dilemma was the infantry attack, this receives the most attention. When the tactical developments of pre-World War I are examined, it becomes clear that the condemnation of the generals as blind or crazy is too simple. One cannot, however, wholly exonerate their actions. Even though weaponry had been altering the ground rules of war at an unprecedented rate, more effective attack methods could have been developed. In spite of the difficulties, the problem of the attack might have been solved by a commander of genius. But, there was no tactical genius in command on the western front. There were only the products of a system of tactics that had been developed on the parade grounds of Europe.