Why was defence better that attack on the Western Front 1915 - 17?

This essay examines why defence was preferred to attack on the Western Front.

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Why was defence better that attack on the Western Front 1915 17?
After the first year of the war, the allied forces decided to go on the defensive, rather
than the offensive. Both sides stopped attacking each other because they knew that they could
not break the stalemate. The techniques and weapons used were better suited to defence than
to attack. Throughout the trench warfare, it was much easier to defend a position than to attack
In this war, the cavalry was eventually phased out. Prior to the war, the cavalry was
thought to be the decisive weapon in the winning of the war however, this was not to be the
case. Once the trenches were dug, the cavalry became too vulnerable to gun fire. The cavalry
would lose countless men and horses, so it was better to withdraw them. Although the practice
of the cavalry was not used anymore, the horses and mules remained vital for transporting
supplies and equipment.
In a state of stalemate, the infantry would not be of any assistance. They were trained
for the attack. As both sides were defending, an attack, especially on foot, would be extremely
risky. The plan of attack had been to follow the cavalry and then to take charge of the captured
positions. However this was not the case since the cavalry had been taken out of the equation.
For most of the war, the artillery was the most effective part of the army. They often
pounded the enemy's trenches with hundred of shells. The artillery alone caused more casualties
than any other weapon, but still they could not break enemy lines. Their most useful weapons
were their guns during the start of the war their guns were not very accurate. If attacking, they
usually fired from well behind their own lines. This often meant that they bombarded their own
forward trenches before they got their range right. Although these guns were good for attack,
they were even better for defence. These guns were far more accurate and faster than their old
ones. With these traits they could kill far more people without leaving their own trench.
If the opposition was to get past the constant gun fire, he would face another problem,
barbed wire. Placing barbed wire in front of trenches was highly effective as the barbed wire,
which spanned the whole length of the trench, was hard to cut and easily got tangled with
clothes. The enemy often tried to bombard a certain area of the barbed wire to try and cut the
wire in order to let soldiers through. Many historians now believe that this was a bad idea as it
took away the element of surprise.
A newly developed weapon at this time was the tank. It was armour plated tractor with
which moved at six kilometres per hour and was armed with cannons and machine guns.
Although this could rip through defences, it was highly ineffective. They were very slow, not
very manoeuvrable and very unreliable ­ more than half of them broke down before they got to
German trenches. These problems further discouraged the armies to move forward. Instead of
attack these tanks were used for defence. They could be used to fire bullets at on coming
opposition as well as being good shields from attack.
Defence in the First World War was a crucial discipline. Both sides knew that there
would be no point in attacking as they would fail. The defences on both sides were
exceptionally strong and did not let the opposition through.


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