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Saturday, April 05, 2014

The End of the War to End All Wars.

Poilus and Yanks sharing a trench. 
We got along just fine back then.

This year marks the centenary of the beginning of Europe's first suicide attempt, the Great or World War. The World War would get a modifier in 1939.

The Western Front during the First World War was an endless horror of slaughter, mud, madness and misery, broken only by glimpses of chivalry during the Christmas truces or the war in the air.

It is unrelentingly grim to read about--there are few brilliant maneuvers, fewer brilliant (or even competent) leaders or decisions. Mostly, it is simply just a bleak, hellish gauntlet of futile trench warfare punctuated by earth-shaking barrages, the endless chatter of machine gun fire and the grisly thump and hiss of poison gas shells.

Such was the war in France and Belgium from late 1914 through the spring of 1918.

I wish it were an exaggeration. Massive attacks would go "over the top" after days-long artillery barrages ceased...only to be cut down by deafened-but-effective machine gunners who carpeted the lunar landscape with the dead as the survivors struggled through the mud and wire. A week-long assault at the Somme, Verdun or Chemin des Dames would be considered successful if it gained a few miles. 

At the cost of hundreds of thousands of casualties.

At Verdun, the goal of the Germans was simply to bleed the French Army to death, but the Kaiser's army was nearly as damaged at the end of it as their foes. 

In the spring of 1917, the French nearly broke after another futile assault at the Aisne, with a significant part of the army mutinying and refusing to fight. Somehow, the Germans never learned of this, and the French managed to patch together their crippled army.

But in early 1918, the stalemate was broken, and decisively.

What changed? First, America declared war in April 1917, giving the beleaguered British and French hope for reinforcements and victory. But it would take time for an utterly-unprepared America to marshal, equip and ship enough American troops across the Atlantic to make a difference. With the collapse and surrender of Russia in February 1918, it became a race against time, as the Germans used their forces in the East to gain a numerical advantage in the West and attack before enough Yanks could arrive.

The German offensive, called the Kaiserschlacht (or "Emperor's Battle") nearly worked, with the French (with some well-timed American reinforcements) once again just able to stop the Germans short of Paris in late April 1918. The Germans would batter away until July, but the chance for military victory had passed. 

In August 1918, the Allies, now reinforced with one million American troops able to take over a large section of the Front, and another 250,000 more Yanks arriving each month, began to strike back. This time, it worked, and the French, British and green Americans began to break through with fewer losses.

That's where British historian Nick Lloyd's excellent Hundred Days begins. A fair warning--Lloyd's account presumes an understanding of the brief narrative I set forth above. It is not a book to start with if one wants to understand the First World War or even the Western Front. The major players (Foch, Haig, Petain, Pershing) are introduced briefly and with the assumption that the reader knows who they are. The same goes for the great poet Wilfred Owen. Less well-known figures are given more background, including, most touchingly, Lloyd's great-uncle, who died in combat in September 1918.

[If you want a solid general narrative, the American Heritage History provides a good overview. It was a surprise gift from my late grandfather, treasured to this day, so I'm rather biased on that account.]

What turned the tide? In three words: Shells, Tanks and Yanks. Specifically, commanders who knew how to handle them.

Lloyd is careful to give credit to officers who deserve it, and three generals in particular are held up for admiration. Two are virtually unknown, and one acquired a darker notoriety after the war.

The first two were commanders of the Canadian and Australian contingents, Generals Arthur Currie and John Monash. Both were clever and resourceful commanders who did not spend their small nations' manpower like water. They couldn't, even if they had been inclined to. 

Instead, they were masters of the new tactics: the walking barrage and gleeful users of the tank, the now-ubiquitous weapon of land warfare that made its debut in 1916. 

The "walking" barrage would be timed to "walk" just ahead of the infantry attackers, who would go over the top before it stopped. The Germans would not have the chance to man their defensive positions as effectively, having to keep their heads down while the barrage crept over them. Against this, there was no countermeasure. It also invariably resulted in some "friendly" fire casualties, but not as much as one might think.

The British Mark V tank, "male" version. 
"Male" ones had cannons, "female" machine guns. 
I dunno--ask the Brits.

The French Renault FT-17 tank. 
Patton's first tank command was a brigade of FT-17s.

Second, the tank. Ironically in light of WW2 developments, the Germans built very few tanks during the First World War, and the ones they built were overmatched by the British and French models. Of course, when you consider that the Germans stood on the defensive for most of the war, the lack of a breakthrough weapon makes sense.

However, the World War One tank was not the speedy model of the second, and it had an insoluble problem: mechanically, it was as reliable as a rain dance. Most were not lost to enemy fire (despite being very vulnerable to artillery), but to breakdowns. It was typical that an attack that began with 150 would end up with less than ten still functioning by the fourth day.

However, it was well worth the trouble because the tank was the death of the machine gun nests that had butchered Tommies and poilus for the previous three years.

Finally, the Yanks. By August 1918, not only had our troops been pouring into France, but they had been trained by the British and French in the methods of trench warfare. Fortunately, the lessons were taken to heart, but that did not mean the casualties would be light. To the contrary: in terms of casualty rates in combat, the First World War was our bloodiest war, and the Meuse Argonne campaign our bloodiest battle. Lloyd points out a particularly hideous fact about American casualties: over 25% were the result of poison gas. 

But the mere presence of the building wave of Yanks was enough to rejuvenate the British and French. In fact, when asked when the French Army would resume the offensive after the Mutiny, the most revered French general of the war replied: "I am waiting for the tanks and the Americans."

Which brings me to the man who uttered that sentence, the third figure mentioned above, and frankly, the hero of the Hundred Days:

Henri Phillipe Petain, Marshal of France. 

The man who became notorious as the leader of the Vichy French puppet of Nazi Germany was not so stained in 1918. In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that he saved France in 1916 and 1917: first by stopping the Germans at Verdun, and second by keeping the French Army from disintegrating after the Mutiny. 

Petain was a tragic rarity during the early years of the war--he was very careful with the lives of the soldiers under his command. His motto was "Firepower kills," and he made sure his men had it and the Germans were on the receiving end of it. So when the tottering French nation had to rebuild her army's morale, she naturally went to Petain, who did so in a nearly miraculous fashion. He restored discipline, but heard out the complaints and addressed them swiftly. He was also very, very sparing in his use of the firing squad: of the more than 500 soldiers sentenced to death for their roles in the mutiny, fewer than 50 were executed. So it is easy to see why the beaten French rallied so readily to the Marshal in June 1940--he was a genuine hero and patriot who had come through brilliantly before.

In 1918, he took to the walking barrages and tanks like a duck to water, and he methodically planned France's counter-offensives. Which, starting in August, began to shake the German forces to pieces. The battle of Amiens was a shattering defeat for the Germans, which their second in command called "the black day of the German Army." For the first time, the Germans surrendered in droves and the Allies broke through with (comparatively) light losses. This was followed by comparable success for the British at Ypres and the Americans at Saint Mihiel. The blows were coordinated and hit the Germans at different parts of the line, not permitting them to shift forces around to support those under attack. The end result was that by November the German Army was near collapse on the front and the Reich was facing revolution at home, making an Armistice necessary.

Lloyd narrates this effectively and with a journalistic prose style that keeps the account flowing. He also offers details from the German side, with the most effectively drawn figure being Erich Ludendorff, the second-in-command referred to above. Despite his humble title of "Quartermaster" of the German Army, Ludendorff was in reality the most powerful man in Imperial Germany from 1916-18, one even the Kaiser dared not cross. [As an aside, Ludendorff would have a positively surreal post-war career, going from advocacy of an Orwellian "total war" state, a mentor of Hitler and Norse pagan to being, as of his death in 1936 a convinced pacifist, proto-New-Age spiritualist and reviler of Hitler who prophesied that the Fuhrer would lead Germany to its destruction.]

In any event, Lloyd's book is, with the caveat noted above, an exceptionally valuable account of events that have vanished from the collective memory of Americans in particular but the West in general. With the centennial of the Great War upon us, we would do well to remember it.


  1. Thank you. It's going on the hot acquisition list.

    And one of my treasures is the American Heritage History as well.

  2. Glad to see someone outside of Canada finally mentioned Currie. Not that a lot of people remember him here either.

    I have often referred to the First World War as the Incomprehensible War. One can wrap their heads around most of the Second, but it is impossible to do so with the First. And the more you learn about it, the less sense it makes. It is with something of a sense of disbelief that one reads that Haig, the Commander of the British Forces, (which, sadly, included Canada) stated that it was his expert opinion that a machine gun was no match for a horse, or that Kiggle, who was on his staff, upon seeing the battlefield of Passchendaele after the battle had ended broke down crying saying: "My God, did we order men to fight in that?"

    I'm sorry I didn't respond to you about my Grandfather's letters in the previous post. But for what it is worth, here goes: For the most part, he makes little mention of the war. He prefers to talk about matters at home, and in one letter tells his sister that he thinks it's the limit that no one has gone to visit his wife. But the war does creep in. In the Passchendaele letter he says "this place is the limit for mud". In the Amiens letter he mentions he took some prisoners, and in the Drocourt Quaent letter he says "we really spilled the beans on Fritz." He also mentions how everybody was grabbing souvenirs from the prisoners in one of the letters. This is in keeping with known history: the Canadians were notorious souvenir hunters. He himself took a few souvenirs from the prisoners he mentioned. In fact we think, though we can't be certain, that it was for capturing some prisoners that he received the Military Medal (which is also in my possession now). I have a photograph from his return from the war, where my aunts and uncles are posing and looking ridiculous in German gear, including a Pickelhaub- one of those spiked helmets the officers wore. At least one of the people he caught was of some rank. I have printed the letters along with many of my own musings on the war on my own blog. I'll look them up and send a link when I have the chance, if you wish.

  3. I looked up the letters. They are in these posts. My posts are sometimes prolix. Sorry.

    I unfortunately never met my Grandfather. I would have liked to have heard from his lips his own stories, but he was remarkably silent about what he saw in the war, as were many other vets of the First. We can only guess how he won his medal. He told his sons they handed it out with the rations. One of my uncles overheard Grandfather talking to one of his brothers about the medal. He said he ran into a numch of Germans, and they were more surprised than he was, so he took them prisoner. I think they may be the prisoners he mentions in the letter from Amiens.

    I did know his brother in law, my great uncle Red, although by the time I knew him he should have been called uncle white. He too seldom spoke of the war, although one of my cousins got him to just start talking about Passchendaele when he'd had a few more beers than he should. His tongue was a little loose, so he began to speak.

    "Well, you were thirsty," he began. "And there would be a big puddle in front of your position. There would be a body or two in it, or a dead horse, but you were thristy. So you took your water bottle..."

    At that point his wife interupted. "Oh Red," she said. "Don't talk about that here." He fell silent, and never spoke another word of the war within out earshot.

  4. The commanders in WWI have gotten, in many cases, an unfairly bad reputation. On the Western Front they were faced with a problem that simply -didn't have- any realy solutions.

    And the Kaiser's Germany has gotten an unfairly good reputation by contrast with Hitler's. It wasn't -that- bad, but it was bad enough. Essentially the War Guilt clause of the Treaty of Versailles was right; Germany and Austria started the war, they drove its radicalization, and their war aims (particularly Germany's) amounted to grabbing everyone else by the throat and squeezing until their eyes popped out.

    If you want to see a vindictive peace treaty, take a look at the ones Germany imposed on Russia (Brest-Litovsk) and Rumania (Bucharest). They're mind-boggling acts of naked plunder.

  5. Bear: that "Lions and Donkeys" stuff is actually largely mythical.

    Kiggle never said that.

    British generals were perfectly well aware of conditions at the front, which they visited regularly. 74 British generals were killed in action during the war; an officer had to be a lieutenant-colonel or above before he was less likely to be killed than an infantry private.

    And Haig was an enthusiast for new technology; he (and Kitchener) demanded as many machine-guns as British industry could produce, he ordered more tanks as soon as he saw them, and he made full use of aircraft and was always calling for more.

    Lloyd George simply lied about this in his writings, which shouldn't surprise anyone who knew anything about Lloyd George. For example, he said that he forced the military to accept more machine guns, when actually -he himself- at the Treasury had denied them the increased number and reserve pool of the weapons they demanded.

    Liddle Hart, another influential writer in the interwar period, also did a lot of spinning and fibbing.

    My grandfather was gassed at Passchendaele in 1917, by the way, and died of it 20 years later.

  6. Germany invaded France right at the start of the war; other nations had mobilization plans, but Germany had a -war- plan. And only one war plan at that. As soon as Russia started to mobilize, they planned to attack France and defeat her before the slower-moving Russians could intervene in strength.

    Essentially, the Entente powers had only two choices: to surrender, which meant unlimited humiliation, subjugation and plunder, or to fight until Germany gave up.

    And Germany was both very strong, and very determined. They weren't going to give up until they were completely broken.

    That being so, there wasn't really any alternative to fighting pretty much the war that happened.

    The technological and geographic facts made anything but a war of attrition very unlikely. The only real plausible alternative is the German offensive succeeding in 1914.

  7. Furthermore, there's much less difference between WWI and WWII than is commonly thought.

    Allied casualty rates per 100 men engaged/per day of intensive combat were almost identical on the Western Front and in Western Europe after D-Day.

    The main difference was that in WWII the Russians did most of the fighting, killing and dying, whereas in WWI it was the other way 'round.

    There was no easy or cheap way to beat Germany; they were simply too strong and too motivated for anything of the sort.

  8. Kitchener (who was almost alone in predicting that the war would last at least 3 years) said of an early British offensive that casualties would be very heavy, but "we make war as we must, not as we would".

    He'd wanted the British army to build itself up and only engage on a large scale in 1917, but that just wasn't on.

    Because it was obvious by early 1916 that Russia was reeling, and France crumbling under the blows of the German hammer at Verdun. Towards the end there, French reinforcements took to bleating like sheep as they marched into the cauldron.

    The Russian army effectively collapsed as a fighting force towards the end of 1916, and France was exhausted after the failure of the Nievelle offensive in 1917.

    The Somme and Passchendaele had to be pushed on to their bloody conclusions because otherwise the remaining Entente powers would break.

    Haig and the other British commanders knew their armies weren't ready to fight in 1916, but they had no choice.

    They knew that they probably couldn't break the German lines in 1917, either, but they were even more desperate; the Russians -had- collapsed and the French were on their last legs and their army was in a state of mutiny.

    Germany very nearly won the war; if they hadn't been complete idiots strategically and diplomatically, they probably would have.

    Eg., the U-boat war (and the crowning idiocy of the Zimmerman Telegraph) brought the US into the war just -one month- before the British ran completely out of credit.

    The bankers (on the advice of the US Treasury) were refusing to make more loans, and without loans there would be no cargoes of food and raw materials.

    Then the US entered the war and provided the means to keep the British going.

    Even so, the last German offensive might well have succeeded if it had been more focused. As usual, the Germans were much better at tactics than at the higher levels of war.

  9. To clarify the above: Lloyd George had denied the military the extra machine guns they asked for, and the machine gun reserve to replace losses, -before the war-.

    The Imperial General Staff had requested a doubling of the number of machine guns in 1909, and an amount equivalent to that kept back to provide for losses and expansion.

    Lloyd George, at that time in charge of the Treasury, refused it on the grounds of excessive costs.

    Penny-wise, pound-foolish. As the poet said:

    "And the fool's bandaged finger
    Goes wobbling back to the fire."

  10. Mr. Stirling,

    SAbout the Kiggle saying: All I can say is that every book and documentary I have read on Passchendaele has him saying it. I trusted and still trust my sources, although I admit it may be possible that they have all drawn from the same poisoned source.

    Haig may have loved new technology, but for much of the war he was massing calvary troops to launch breakthrough cavalry charges.

    As for your claim that there was no good solution, I find that unlikely as there were competent generals- especially Currie- who did find good solutions and did find ways to gain ground, take objectives, and to keep the cost in life as low as possible. On the other hand, Haig personally commanded the single largest disaster in British history, the battle of the Somme, and then, did exactly the same things that failed a year later at Passchendaele.

    Passchendaele begins with a battle of Messines ridge, which wasn't much of a battle at all. The british spent fourteen months tunnelling under the ground so they could plant a series of giant mines under the German lines. Then, in the Spring of '17, they blew the Germans sky high. (Incidentally, three of the mines are still in the ground, waiting to go off.) The British then rushed forward and took over the German positions, and then did nothing else. High command debated what to do with this new situation, and two weeks later had a plan of action. It didn't seemt o occur to them that this new situation was over within an hour.

  11. Continued.

    Just before Passchendaele there was a battle fought and won by the Canadians called Vimy Ridge. Dale has mentioned the use of the Walking Barrage as one of the reasons for the Canadian success, but there was more than just that. At Vimy, the artillery commander, Andy McNaughton, foloowed up on orders by Currie to start using the Candian Artillery to take out the German Artillery. Currie himself wrote that there seemed to be some kind of freemasonry going on between the artillery commanders of the various nations- they fired at everything but each other. McNaughton put to work a group of Engineering students from McGill university (whose offer to help had earlier been turned down by the British) on the problem of finding ways of spotting and ranging German guns that were out of sight. He also had a very carefully planned barage but followed it up with other measures to make sure the Germans did not rebuild and replace what the guns destroyed.

    For the infantry Currie insisted that every man know the objective of the entire unit. The British would only tell the officer and perhaps the sergeant. Currie (and his commander for that battle, Byng) preferred the use of Leap frog attacks, as opposed to the British wave attacks. He had troops coming up behind the forward troops whose job it was to stop Germans from popping up out of their trenches after the first troops had passed, and shooting them in the back. When the Germans did pop up, they found themselves staring down the barrels of Canadian guns. Currie and the staff used and developed these and dozens of other methods of attack from lessons learned at Verdun and the Somme. Vimy was a stunning success as a result.

    The British saw the Canadian success at Vimy, and adapted none of the tactics. The plan was to sweep through the German lines surrounding the Ypres salient, swing north and destroy the German submarine ports. The objective of the first day was a small town called Passchendaele. They started Passchendaele with a one week barrage like at Somme, which, unlike the Canadain barrage at Vimy, failed to do much damage to the German positions, but succeeded in destroying the centuries old drainage system, just in time for the wettest summer on record. The battlefield was a swamp.

  12. Throughout the summer of 1917 Haig sent in more and more troops into the salient, but the breakthrough never occurred. He sent the Canadians to attack Lens and HIll 70 to the south to try and draw off some German divisions. It worked. The Canadians captured both, and the Germans sent twelve divisions into the area to stop a Canadian breakthrough. Meanwhile, conditions in the Ypres salient grew worse. The Australians made some gains, but were taking heavy caualties. Haig called upon the Candians to take over and capture the objective of the first day of the battle. Currie objected, stating that it would cost fifteen thousand casualities, and it wasn't worth one drop of blood. Haig ordered him to make the attack or be relieved. Currie reluctantly obeyed. He threw out Haigs plan for the attack, surveyed the battlefield himself, and came up with his own plans. It worked, and it took almost exactly fifteen thousand casualties.

    When being ordered to take Passchendaele, Currie asked why the village was so important. Haig told Currie he would tell him later. It was after the war that Currie finally got his answer from Haig: It was for morale. The troops were close to revolting, and a victory would help. Currie turned from him in disgust and didn't believe a word of it. In the opinion of Currie and his staff, Haig needed to be able to claim some kind of victory, or he would have been sacked.

    You can choose who to believe- Haig or Currie. I go with Currie. 15,000 Canadians, 250,000 British forces casualties in total, were a price for Haig to keep his job.

    You may try and defend their reputation, but from where I stand Haig and his staff were incompetent to a degree that was only matched by the German staff, who failed to defeat this gang of incompetent morons. Haig commanded the biggest, and then one of the biggest military disasters in British history. To say there were no good solutions is an insult to Currie and the few other generals who did find good solutions and tactics to win victories and get away from the grey slaughter that was the Western Front.

  13. Haig may have loved new technology, but for much of the war he was massing calvary troops to launch breakthrough cavalry charges.

    -- when the war started, the British had one cavalry division on the Western Front; at the end, they had two. Meanwhile the infantry had gone from four divisions to over sixty, and the artillery had expanded even more.

    One of the big problems in the 100 Days was that there wasn't -enough- cavalry, which in open warfare conditions was still quite useful.

    "As for your claim that there was no good solution, I find that unlikely as there were competent generals"

    -- alas, there were competent generals -on both sides-.

    The stasis of the Western Front was dynamic; tactic, counter-tactic, counter-counter tactic.

    The British attacks got better; so did the German defenses, and defending is easier than attacking. The Germans were fast learners.

    "especially Currie- who did find good solutions and did find ways to gain ground"

    -- But there was no way to break THROUGH. The basic dynamic of the Western Front was that the defender could reinforce faster than the attacker, and the defender could maintain control and communication with his troops and the attacker could not.

    Limited "nibbling" attacks weren't going to win the war. Haig, understandably, wanted to do that.

    "Haig personally commanded the single largest disaster in British history, the battle of the Somme, and then, did exactly the same things that failed a year later at Passchendaele."

    -- nope. In both the Somme and Passchendaele, the Germans lost about as many troops as the British did overall, despite the British being on the attack.

    Look, the Britsh -had to attack-, and attack on a large enough scale to draw the Germans away from Verdun.

    There wasn't enough artillery, a lot of the shells were duds, coordination was poor -- all the inevitable consequences of massive growth, lack of trained reserves and over-rapid industrial mobilization.

    But they had to attack anyway, or the war would be lost.

    >Then, in the Spring of '17, they blew the Germans sky high.

    -- yeah, the set-piece attacks at the beginning went well.

    But the British -couldn't stop there-. They couldn't spend 6 months, or even 3, getting another attack of that sort put together.

    They HAD TO ATTACK. Keep this continually in mind.

    >It didn't seemt o occur to them that this new situation was over within an hour.

    -- sigh. Look, when you launched your troops forward in WWI, you lost control of them the minute they went over the top.

    Communications were by telephone, invariably cut by shellfire, by runners, who usually got killed, and by things like homing pigeons.

    But the defenders could fall back on -intact lines of communication-, deeply buried telephone lines, intact roads and rail links, presited artillery.

    "Just before Passchendaele there was a battle fought and won by the Canadians called Vimy Ridge."

    -- dude, I am -deeply familiar- with that. i have studied literally -hundreds- of books on WWI.

    >Dale has mentioned the use of the Walking Barrage as one of the reasons for the Canadian success

    -- this tactic had been under development by ALL PARTIES since 1915!

    It involved -really complex- calculations and was extremely difficult to coordinate because there was NO RADIO, practically speaking. Fire had to be preplanned.

    >Andy McNaughton, foloowed up on orders by Currie to start using the Candian Artillery to take out the German Artillery.

    -- are you seriously under the impression that counter-battery fire was some sort of arcane mystery?

    Look, you need to read stuff like Griffith's BATTLE TACTICS OF THE WESTERN FRONT, and some overall works like Strachan's FIRST WORLD WAR.

  14. Answering a few of your points:

    "-- nope. In both the Somme and Passchendaele, the Germans lost about as many troops as the British did overall, despite the British being on the attack."

    Depends on your definition of disaster. Haig planned Somme as a breakthrough, and went nowhere to the cost of half a million casualties. The opening day of the Somme alone was the worst day in British military history. The Germans lost about an equal amount, it is true. Passchendaele was again an equal loss- about 250,000 casualties each- which was, again supposed to be a breakthrough battle that went nowhere. My main point about Passchendaele is that Haig ordered the attack to continue long after it was clear no breakthrough was going to happen, and there were those from the time who thought he was desperate to save his own skin.

    At any rate, a battle planned as a breakthrough which fails is no success. An attrition battle where both sides lose the same numbers does not seem to me to be a victory. 500,000 and 250,000 casualties for no real advantage is, in my opinion, a disaster.

    "-- this tactic had been under development by ALL PARTIES since 1915!"

    I didn't claim that the Candians invented the walking barrage, only that they used it. In planning the attack at Vimy, Byng, who was in command of the Canadian Corps at the time, ordered Currie to go to the Somme and Verdun and see what worked and what didn't. One of the things Currie picked up as an effective tactic was the walking barrage. The Canadians were drilled incessently in its use in the weks leading up to Vimy. Byng even warned the troops in his final orders that this was to work like a railroad schedule, you will do everything on schedule, or be wiped out.

    I am aware of how complicated the atctic was. At Passchendaele the walking barrage became deadly to the Canadians, as the ground was so sodden the guns slipped as they fired, and the gunners lost their aim and their marks, and fired into their own troops.

    "-- are you seriously under the impression that counter-battery fire was some sort of arcane mystery?"

    I didn't claim that. I quoted Currie. His study of Somme and Verdun lead him to believe that counter battery fire had hitherto been ineffective. He then worked with McNaughton to develop and improve counter battery techniques. They put their improved methods to work at Vimy and they were successful.

    Your suggestion that I read these works is well aimed. I too have read many books on the First World War. Some were overall works, most were focused on this battle or that one, and many were the personal reminiscences of soldiers. The p[ersonal reminiscences may have coloured my views somewhat. They are often filled with a sense of hopelessness and despair, and a belief that their lives are being thrown away by a high command to no purpose whatsoever.