To what extent had generalship changed completely between 1792 and 1918? -1 reply

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Meadow

You might very well think that

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21st February 2004

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#1 11 years ago

I know what you're thinking. This sounds an awful lot like an essay title. Well, it is one, but one I find fascinating. Napoleon through to operation michael, setting the stage for WWII. Figures like moltke, Ney and the infamous Cardigan. And of course Grant and Lee.

So, any thoughts from anyone on this? I'll post mine when I get home.




[130pz.]Kading

I take what n0e says way too seriously

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9th April 2005

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#2 11 years ago

well, you forgot sherman, he put into practice the idea of "Total War" in which you target the production facilities rather than just the armies in his famous (or infamous) March to the Sea. what you also have to remember about grant was that it wasnt so much that he was a good strategist or tactician, he just kept pressing foreward where those before him had fallen back to regroup. also, he could drink any confederate general under the table 10 times over! UNION FOREVER!!! as for WWI, i see it as it changed the way generals viewed the value of the individual soldier. at the start, you see them throwing away lives like candy. wheras later in the war, you see a higher premium on specialized assault troops that were better trained than your average grunt. (the americans learned this lesson quickly the hard way when we entered the war including the highest single day losses the Marine Corps had suffered in its entire history put together up to that point [Belleu Wood FTW!!! USA!! USA!!]) enough of my rambling




luftwaffe.be

The Internet ends at GF

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#3 11 years ago

Afther the battle of Waterloo, western nations where convinced that a entire war could be desided by the outcome of on single battle. That idea pressisted from 1815 till 1918, and wars where bassed upon that principle. However, afther wellington blucher and napoleon, warfare once again became more convention, in that sense that the armies fell back to the "by the book" methode, wich resulted in less bold generals then the men of this eara. You have to realise that the statute of general changed during 1792 and 1800. Before 1800, the title of general was usualy a post wich was bought, or given to nobles who gave their nation certain advatages. Obviously, this resulted in generals who never have set a foot on the battlefield. one tipical example of this is Austria : before it's militairy reform of the napoleonic era, it had 4000 generals. Afther they filterd out the incapabable, they had 3 left.




Meadow

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#4 11 years ago

Thanks for the responses, guys - I'm reading up on Sherman at the moment, he is indeed a pivotal figure.

A guy - fantastic fact about Austria's generals! I'm looking at the incompetence of purchased Generals, particularly Cardigan, but let's not forget that a certain Arthur Wellesley purchased his original commission...

My focus in the essay is to explore the slow shift between 'charismatic leadership' and 'systems generalship' - the 'come see how a Marshall of France dies' cries of men like Ney vs the 'Chateau generalship' ideas of Schlieffen, Haig and to an extent von Moltke - the idea that a war could be won through meticulous planning. The former two made the mistake of thinking it required nothing else, but the latter, in my opinion, struck a perfect balance between the two.




Von Mudra

Lo, I am Mudra, za emo soldat!

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#5 11 years ago

Don't forget political appointees like Neville and Sarrail, who ended up being absolute failures. Political appointment to generalship would be different then the old style of purchasing it, as it had less to do with money and more to do with connections, political mindset, and the ability to play people. However, most generals thus appointed turned out to be pretty damn poor quality, like Dietl, and many of the Soviet and SS generals in WW2, along with the French and British in WW1. Some however did turn out alright, the Crown Prince being one example, getting command of the german 5th Army in WW1, and leading it incredibly well.

As for evolution, you see in the 1800s generals leading almost exclusivly from the front, as they had to be there to get a sense of the battle. The US Civil War saw hundreds of generals dying in battle, often not only leading, but taking part in the fighting. This ended in WW1/WW2, though in rare cases it did happen, with some german generals right into WW2 fighting, and sometimes dying, at the front with their troops.

However, for the most part, one saw the push to the generals staying in safety with the advent of better communications such as the telegraph, radio, and aireal photography.




jumjum

Write heavy; write hard.

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11th April 2005

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#6 11 years ago

What a great Off Top thread, Mead! Truly worthy. Well done! (I'm so proud of him. They grow up so fast.)

'[130pz.Kading;4617435']...as for WWI, i see it as it changed the way generals viewed the value of the individual soldier. at the start, you see them throwing away lives like candy. wheras later in the war, you see a higher premium on specialized assault troops that were better trained than your average grunt. (the americans learned this lesson quickly the hard way when we entered the war including the highest single day losses the Marine Corps had suffered in its entire history put together up to that point...

Great point (and about Sherman as well, with a distinction). In the past virtually all 18th and most 19th century military leaders considered their troops literally cannon fodder and thought not a whit about casualties except as it adversely their ability to carry on operations. This is partly a reflection of the hard realities of life at the time, when more children died than survived to adulthood. Early death in high numbers (although usually due to disease or famine) was the usual state of things.

But a calloused attitude toward casualties was also due to the fact that few soldiers had any training other than drill and care of their uniform. Since tactics of the day required the movement of large, massed bodies of men, an individual soldier was tactically worth nothing. Thus the loss of the average soldier had a negligible effect on a general's ability to fight. (A little more later about how the training/education level of troops may have impacted casualties rates.)

Unfortunately for literally millions of slaughtered combatants, this attitude extended throughout World War I. The combatants which had been fighting since 1914 were the greatest military butchers of their own men in history. I am of the school that holds British Expeditionary Force commander Sir Douglas Haig in contempt as an unimaginative strategist and a wastrel of his men's lives. The lack of feeling and sympathy he showed for his troops is shocking today, and even in his private diaries there is little evidence he thought about the lives of his men at all. But in the West, compared to the the French commanders and to a somewhat lesser degree the German generals*, Haig was a relatively thoughtful commander. (I agree with kading that US leaders got smarter quicker, but they still took casualties unacceptable to a developed nation today.) The Germans would make repeated assaults and often achieved their objectives after taking shocking casualties which would have discouraged even the British form further attacks.

It was the French who were real butchers of their own men. French casualties were higher proportionally IIRC than any other country. (See Wiki chart here: World War I casualties - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia) This was partly because of French military doctrine and tradition which held the infantry attack, preferably by bayonet charge, as the most effective and glorious military exploit possible. In a war marked by its cruelty, French generals were perhaps more cruel with the use of their own troops than nay other generals in the West. The French generals occasionally ordered certain units to make repeated futile attacks which resulted in horrific casualties as a way of disciplining units for having been insufficiently aggressive or for having broken and run in an earlier engagement. It was such aggressive, wasteful and futile attacks which caused a widespread mutiny in the French Army in 1917, in which many divisions simply refused orders to conduct attacks. This resulted in a severe crisis in which French offensive operations virtually ceased until reorganizations could be made, which included some concession on the part of too-aggressive commanders, and the execution or imprisonment of a few thousand of what the high command called "troublemakers in the ranks".

The tremendously high Russian casualties in the East, are higher than any country except Germany. However, Russia's casualties are not that much higher than France's. But with Russia's much greater population, French casualties are proportionately much higher.

IMO as much as anything the cause of indifference to casualties at the time was a result of the ingrained class distinctions between the officer corps and the rank and file of all armies. France had just gone through a brutal cleansing of aristocracy from its society, and for 20 years or so its army was for the most part a meritocracy. But with the defeat of Napoleon, France rejoined the other European nations in making its officer corps a bastion of aristocracy.

Aristocrat officers of the 18th and 19th century had been raised and educated to think of themselves as superior beings, and they held common persons as little higher than animals. This was their world view, and it was natural that they would have little concern over the death of brutes such as their soldiers.

* At least the German generals seemed to have some concern about the strength and security of their men's defenses and living conditions. The German trenches throughout the war were far superior to the British efforts, with deeper and better constructed trench complexes. Machine gun nests were permanent, and often made of thick concrete and reinforcing rods, and were virtually impregnable. But it was in the underground bunkers and troop quarters where the Germans excelled: most German bunkers were built of iron and concrete and were as much as 60 feet - 60 feet - underground. (Reports say the Saxons and Bavarians were somewhat slipshod in their trench construction, and overall generally less military than the beautifully trained and disciplined Prussians.) The German trench defenses had excellent underground tunnel sustems for quick cimmunication and movment form point to point.

The British never dug in nearly as deeply as the Germans, and their trenches only occasionally were as deep and strong as those of "the Huns". But the French defenses were far, far worse. Trenches hardly more than chest depth; no sump or drainage system to handle all the water; bunkers made from wood, mostly above ground.




[130pz.]Kading

I take what n0e says way too seriously

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#7 11 years ago

Let us not forget the factor of uniforms. Particularly the French field uniform at the beginning, and, to a barely lesser extent, the end of the war. Whereas most of the other major powers in the First World war had adopted uniforms of shades of brown, green and grey, the French remained stubborn in their clinging to athetically pleasing attire. This uniform is the COMBAT uniform worn into combat by French infantry in 1914 at the outset of the war. Note the red cover and trousers. These uniforms were disgusting from a camoflauge perspective. These uniforms were designed so dignitaries and aristocratic generals could sit in podiums high above the parade grounds and marvel at the glory and splendor of the soldiers under their command. fr-uniform.jpg After a year or so of taking horrible losses, those in charge decided that better camoflauge was needed: Horizon Blue. The theory behind this uniform, is that the soldier would blend into the sky behind him...insanity. senegalese.jpg




Von Mudra

Lo, I am Mudra, za emo soldat!

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#8 11 years ago

Amazingly enough, horizon blue works. Not so much against the sky, but when you've got a misty, maybe a little foggy day, it can be impossible to spot.




It's Happy Fun Ball!

aka Killed in First Minute

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#9 11 years ago

Well if you are going to discuss the evolving attitudes to casualties, you can pretty much draw a straight line between their aversion to casualties, and the value the generals attached to soldiers. However if you are going to study generalship from 1792 to 1918 there is one person that dominates the landscape, Napoleon. His main genius was maneuver and forcing a decisive battle on his terms. All generals during this period aped him. You should not have much difficulty showing his influence in all major figures. The biggest change in this period came after the Franco-Prussian war. The Germans obtained a decisive victory through rapid mobilization and planning by their general staff. After 1870, individual generals were overshadowed by a general staff and a war planning office. Although maneuver and forcing a decisive battle on your terms was still the main goal, this was no longer done by the individual initiative of the field commanders. It was now to be achieved through rapid mobilization and execution of a grand plan. (IE the infamous Schlieffen Plan) The final shift came at the end of this period, during WWI. By 1915-16 it became clear that they had a new form of war on their hands, total war. A commitment of the entire nation to protracted war. In France, the power of the generals was curtailed by the politicians. Specifically, Clemenceau, who famously quipped, "War is too important to leave to Generals." Essentially what he meant was that total war did not just involve soldiers and battles. It involved the entire nation and it's future. France, a democracy at the time, responded to this crisis by subordinating generals to its politicians. Faced with the same situation however, Germany, devolved to a military dictatorship. Democracy never had firm roots there, and military matters were technically under the purview of the monarch. Faced with total war, a power struggle erupted between the Chancellor, Bethmann Hollweg, and the Generals, Hindenburg and Ludendorff. By mid 1917 Hindenburg and Ludendorff had gained the upper hand and were able to dictate policy to the Kaiser. Anyhoo, hope that gives you some ideas. Unless your paper is over 10,000 words, I would not recommend trying to cover all those points. But I hope it helps.




Meadow

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#10 11 years ago

In the end I bashed out 3000 words and left it at that - I had to steer clear of strategy and tactics as that'll be a separate essay with different themes but all this has been excellent and helpful reading. If people like I can send them a link to a PDF of what I put together, or I can post some extracts on here to add to the discussion.




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