War of movement to war of attrition

British expections of the war:

  • Expected a short, swift and mobile war. 
  • Participants jockied for advance in order to reach the most favourable negotiating positons. 
  • However- war turned into a tota war during which technolgy, stratgy and political control changed. Causing a revolution in military affairs. 

The German Schlieffen plan:

  • To defeat the French in six weeks, by tying them down along the border Alsace Lorraine, while the main force attacked through Belguim and to Paris, avoiding the strongest French defenses in the East. 
  • Hoped Russia would be slow to mobilise than France so wouldnt have to fight on two fronts, but Russia attacked in three weeks- but defeated at battle of Tanningburg. 
  • The BEF took up a defensive position in Mons- Belgium.
  • France planned a Napolionic surge into Germany from Alsace Lorraine. 
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War of movement to war of attrition

Why did the Schieffen plan fail:

  • Germans moved too quick- plan required the 1st Army to move 15 miles a day for the first 3 weeks, so troops pushed further than railway supplies could move, causing problems- men hungry, ill, low moral. 
  • German high command lost radio contact with army, as new wireless and field telephone tech not understood and used effectivly. So Germans had little knowledge of BEF movements for over a week after they landed in France. 
  • Little areial reconnaisse, reliance on calvary patrols, carrier pidgions and visual signals for messaging- limited communication for all sides. 
  • French underestimated German strength and attacked at Ardennes, due to new firepower lost 250,000 by 29th of Aug. 2 X size of BEF. 
  • 22nd Aug, BEF defend Mons, Germans break through, British dig defensive positions, British retreat. 
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War of movement to war of attrition

The 'race to the sea':

  • Germans move away from Paris in Sept,and Allies counter attack at the Battle of the Marne. 
  • After Marne, armies aimed to outfank each other in the 'race to the sea' battles. 
  • Germans used trains to shift reserves along their lines, tried to push GB out of Belgium in Oct at the First Battle of Ypres, after 4 weeks Allies still held Ypres. 
  • Race to the sea led to both sides reaching the coast at Belgium- halting any possibility of movement around the opposing side- stalemate. 
  • Winter- both sides dig defensivly- begin trench warfare (attrition). 

Issues with beginning trench warfare:

  • Commanders on both sides believed the winner of the war of attrition would be the side who held out longest with the most men. 
  • Commanders stuck to old practices and drills to train men joining up. 
  • To overcome new moden firepower GB genral Smith-Dorrien believed in individual initiative and intelligence, than out of date drills used in past wars. However trench warfare allowed little room for this. 
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War of movement to war of attrition

Trench Systems:

  • Required constant construction and reconstruction- taking time, lots of labour, barber wire, timber, sandbags. 
  • Composed of fire trenches to shoot from, with communication trenches crossing them. Trenches contained many corners so enemies couldn't fire the whole length.
  • Men rotated between front line for 1-2 weeks then retreated to reserve roles, creating a constant flow of men. 
  • Struggled to use motor vehicals to reach front lines, which got stuck in mud. 
  • Movements done at night, paticularly past 1915 when movements monitored by reonecence planes. 
  • Between major offensives, officers led trench raids to the enemy to prepare for the next offensive. 
  • Soldiers lived in squalid conditions with rats, mud, lice, 'trench foot', unsypathetic to shell shock. Fratenising with the enemy (eg Christmas 1914) condemmed by commander but reported in letters home. 
  • Sappers (ex miners) dug tunnels to undermine enemy trenches. 
  • Communication was very difficult, some buried telephone wires, mostly relied on runners. 
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War of movement to war of attrition

  • By Jan 1915 it was understood that the war of movement was over. 

Adaptions to the army:

  • soldiers issued metal helmets. 
  • soldiers wear khaki or gray.
  • calvary no longer used on the western front- horses too large targets, barbed wire.


  • In 1914 rifles could fire 15 rounds a minute, at a range of 800 yrds by a skilled user. 
  • trench war meant soldiers no longer stood in line to fire volleys, now they shot from cover and officers had little control over riflemen after giving the fire order. 
  • the infantry also used grenades and knifes, officers had revolvers. 
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War of movement to war of attrition


  • German presence on French land was humiliating so they remained on the attack, using fire and move tactics. Where one group of men moved foward under covering fire from supporting groups. Needed high training, led to narrow front attacks. 
  • British prefered wave and flow where infantry left trenches in mile wide waves. Once the front line met the first German trench they would hold it whilst the second line pushed through to the next trench. This advance was steady. 

Machine guns:

  • concealed in pillboxes in pairs of four to eight. 
  • machine gun teams did not need to be skilled- only fed ammunition into the gun and spray bullets in a wide arc. 
  • One machine gun worth 50+ rifles against infantry crossing no mans land. 
  • Lewis machine gun could be carried by a man so could be moved to attack or defend. 
  • Vickers gun needed three gunners. 
  • rifles: machine guns = 12: 1 in 1914, by 1917 was 2:1 
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War of movement to war of attrition

Poison gas:

  • first used by the Germans in April 1915 at Ypres- used 6000 canisters of Chlorine gas. The gas made the French retreat however wihout gas masks the Germans themselves were unable to take the advantage. 
  • June 1915 gas masks issued to allies. 
  • GB use gas for the first time at the Battle of Loos. 
  • Phosphene gas, used by both sides was 6 times more toxic than chlorine and caused 80% of gas casulties. 
  • July 1917 Germans use mustard gas- blindness, lung, skin damage.
  • Gas masks improved to respiritor masks with canister filters. 
  • Gas caused fewer deaths- 8000 to GB- more humane. 
  • Less effective when shock element wore off. 
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War of movement to war of attrition

  • Mortars were small artillery weapons throwing small bombs at a trench. In 1915 GB got the Stokes trench mortar firing 25 bombs a minute over 800 yards. 


  • Sir John French believed in the power of high explosives. 
  • artillery was needed to destroy trenches and machine guns in order to open the way for advance. 
  • accuracy improved over time and due to the development of flash spotting and arial reconnicence, relaying key positons to gunners to hit. 
  • artillery lay a barage of shells ahead of an infantry advance, however may fall short and kill own. Difficulties shown at the battle of the Somme, where many shells didn't explode. 
  • British Fuse 106 caused shells to explode sideways so they wouldnt become buried in mud, and would be able to create a smokescreen. Not widely available until 1917. 
  • reports of a shell shortage, but was sorted in 1917 when the fuse arrived in quantity and troops  saw improvements in artillery support. 
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War of movement to war of attrition

The Tank: 

  • Impact lay in numbers
  • Battle of Cambria Nov 1917- 380 tanks used, crossed 3 German lines, however regained in 2 weeks.
  • By 1918 10 000 tanks on Western Front. 
  • Large phycological effect on Germans. 
  • Carried artillery guns without the need for horses. 
  • Caterpiller tracks crawled over obsticals- inc trenches.
  • Battle of Amiens Aug 1918- advanced 9 miles a day. 
  • The tanks helped to end the static war by allowing the allies to finally advance a more significant distance. Partly due to German exhaustion, as well as better fighting and co-ordination. 
  • Eventually caused the Germans to abandon the Hindenburg line and withdraw. 
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Influence of reporting- policy and public opinion

Public mood:

  • War began with patritic optimism. 
  • 1914 anti governmental groups suspended protests and supported the war, meaning that any public opposition came from anti war pacifists and socialists. 
  • Emmeline Pankhurst called on the gov to allow women equal staus in munitions factories to help with the war effort. 
  • Women took on nursing roles on the Western Front. 
  • Haigs reputation remained strong within the public despite heavy losses. 

Government control and censorship:

  • no opinion polls, so judged puplic mood from reaction to news from the front. 
  • let newspapers censor themselves but controlled the direct reporting from corespondants at the front. 
  • soldiers letters were read by army censors and edited at the front. some small papers published these (under less scrutiny than national papers). 
  • Somme battle recorded and official film screened at 2000 cinemas. 
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Influence of reporting- policy and public opinion

Changing attitudes toward the war:

  • Sept 1914 war office began publishing war reports- 'eyewitness', but were too technical for most readers. 
  • Colonel Swinton (wrote 'eyewitness') tried to tell as much of the truth so people were not unjustly optimistic, while preventing pessimision. 
  • reports created confusion over whether Neuve Chappelle was a victory or a fail. 


  • Charles Masterman headed the war propaganda bureau- focus on war aims and social reform. 
  • Sometimes aimed at foreign countries- esp America. Posters anti- German. 
  • Most was relativly simple, but disguised parts of the truth. 
  • reported alledged German atrocities, Timeas and Daily Mail particularly anti-german. 
  • Royal family renamed Windsor rather than Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. 
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Influence of reporting- policy and public opinion

Restrictions on direct reportage:

  • critisms of one sided accounts by the war office, so governments allowed correspondants to the front. These were under the control of the Press Officers and Brigader General Charteris. 
  • correspondants only able to tour the rear of the front, huried away when guns opened fire. 
  • Any despatched were sent to censors who deleted sensitive material, coveyed by phone to the war office in London, then sent to papers. 
  • Charles a Court Repington used contacts at the War Office to gain access to the front and broke news of the shells scandal- helped ease the government to ease restrictions on press as it did better to keep them on side by allowing direct reporting.
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Influence of reporting- policy and public opinion

  • Germany's harsh peace treaty on Russia in 1918 stiffened the British resolve to keep fighting. 

Controlling war imagary:

  • cameras (eg box brownie) was small enough to carry, so soldiers took photos. However some eg Xmas 1914 did not live up to the steriotypes they had built of the enemy- by March 1915 banned. 
  • Daily Mirror offered £1000 for best shot, and Daily Sketch published an untouched photo of the second battle of Ypres. 
  • No official photographers in the BEF so magazines used heroic drawings. 
  • First offical photographer- Ernest Brooks 1916, later 16 camera men- censored by war office. Showed positive side of army in action, but some were fake and used training areas. 
  • official artists taken to the front by BEF at instigation of Masterman- first artist Muirhead Bone 1916. 
  • bureau tried to control what painted, but largely failed, paintings more realistic than idealised images in magazines. 
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Influence of reporting- policy and public opinion

Trench humor:

  • Gov had no control over humor- which was often black. 
  • Music hall songs made light of the dangers of war. 
  • Soldiers produced a newspaper in 1916, producing the cartoon character 'old Bill' a grumpy infantryman drawn by a soldier Bruce Bairnsfather- very sucessful. 


  • 1915- Masterman commissioned John to produce an official war history in a monthly magazine, which did not criticise army- very popular. 
  • Sir Arthur Conan Doyal resurected Sherlock Holmes for a wartime story. 
  • Memoirs shape future generations view of the conflict. 
  • Many war poets published work following the war. 
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Significance of Haig's major offensives

  • After the Battle of Loos Sept 1915, Haig replaced French as BEF CinC until the end of the war.
  • Critised for being the leader of some of the most bloody battles during the war- Somme, Passchendaele and Hundred days, as well as being unimaginative and unsympathetic towards suffering of his men. 
  • However he can be praised for his keeness on new technologies, learning from past mistakes, command of the BEF during the ultimately sucessful Hundred Days offense. 
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Significance of Haig's major offensives

The Somme, 1916:

  • Battle planned to take place in order to relieve pressure on the French at Verdun, by launching the joint French and British offensive. 
  • In the 7 days before attack artillery fired 1.5million shells - but 1:3 had been duds so more Germans than expected had survived the initial attack. 
  • Haig expected 40,000 casulties over first 3 days, but by end of first day (1st of July) 58,000 casulties (20,000 dead). 
  • At the end of the battle in November BEF had gained 6 miles of land- with 420,000 casulties. 
  • Believed battle had shaken Germans by showing the allies willingness to fight. 
  • Soldiers emerged from battle hardened and experianced in new 'fire and move' tactics. 
  • After the battle continued to use a mix of attrition and offensive attacks to maintain fighting spirit and limit passitivity. 
  • 1916 German resource strain beginning to show. 
  • The failure to breakthrough dented popular morale. 
  • Public shocked by the scale of casulties (esp in areas of Pals Battalions). 
  • People asked questions about the competance of leadership and conduct of war. 
  • Realism crept into public views. 
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Significance of Haig's major offensives

Passchendaele , 1917:

  • Haig believed the offensive would suceed due to:Started with the textbook capture of Messines Bridge by co-ordinating mines, infantry and artillery. 
    • Allied superiority in armaments- German industrial capacity down by 60%. 
    • USA had just entered the war. 
    • Planned ambitious French offensive for the spring. 
    • German forces were believed to be close to exhaustion. 
  • Used the creeping barrage extensivly. 
  • Used 'bite and hold' tactics, showing the army was effective in breaking through. 
  • Made progressive gains pushing German lines back by 4 miles. 
  • Unseasonally wet autumn weather caused fighting to flaunder, but Haig went ahead with attack. 
  • 260,000 casulties, Passchendaele ridge not sustained. Heavy loss for limited gain. 
  • Lloyd George began to distrust Haig's optimism and loss conflidence in him- if Haig had also felt this way their would have been issues with distrust. 
  • Public still regarded Haig as the man to win the war so PM could not remove him. 
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Significance of Haig's major offensives

The tank:

  • Haig was excited to use the tank, and urged the government to use them as early as possible. 
  • Colonel Swinston mastermind of the project wanted to wait and build up numbers. 
  • As part of the battle of the Somme the tank was first used at Flers. 49 used but only three gained further than a mile. 
  • Gov angry at loosing strategic suprise. 
  • Battle of Cambrai- BEF used 400+ tanks and achieved tactical suprise. 
  • Artillery left undisturbed strips in no mans land for the tansk to travel on. Planes discuised noise. 
  • 5 miles of advance in forst two days
  • German moral hit. 
  • However GB lost gains as it was difficult to move infantry reserves to support the tanks and the germans quickly developed anti- tank defenses. 
  • Had a very important impact on re starting the war of movement. 
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Significance of Haig's major offensives

The Hundred Day Offensive, 1918 

  • decisive allied attack of the war.
  • German Spring Offensive had been their attempt to win before the US could fully mobilise in Europe. However the offense overstretched German logistics, manpower and demoralisation. 
  • August 1918 BEF launches counter attack at Ameins- 500 tanks, well trained tactics, co-ordination between aircraft, engineers and infantry. Pushed Germans back. 
  • All equipment lost duriing the German Spring Offensive was replaced. 10,700 new artillery pieces. 
  • 65,000 tonnes of gas shells stockpiled.
  • 95% of German guns identified for counter fire (flash spotting, sound ranging, arial reconissence). 
  • Infantry battalions- 30 Lewis machine guns, rifle grenades and trained to use them. 
  • Canadians and Austrailians used as shock troops. Infiltration rather than frontal attacks 
  • Attacked where German lines were weakest, and called off when German defences became too strong, then strike again in a different weak spot. 
  • End of October Germans suied for peace. Armistice on the 11th of November 1918. 
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Influence of reporting- policy and public opinion

Managing the media:

  • Lloyd George appreciated the power of good press, propaganda used posters, film, photos
  • 1917 Times stopped publishing demoralising casulty lists. 
  • Haig became more willing to explain plans. 
  • Initial optimism replaced by sorrow, especially after losses at the Somme, but will to win was strong to justify sacrifice. 
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Significance of Haig's major offensives

Problems facing Haig after replacing French:

  • French was criticised for being indecisive, and resigned after the failure of the Battle of Loos. Had often argued and disagreed with Haig- this antipathy created problems. 
  • Haig believed in attacking. Largely a volunteer army so not as well trained as would like, so Haig used continuous detailed orders in order to maintain textbook attacks. 
  • French trapped in long struggle at Verdun in 1916 so difficult for GB to plan attacks alongside French. 
  • 56 infantry divisions in June 1916 after conscription began, compared to only 4 in 1914. 
  • Haig was ambitions, but some of his generals were more cautious and favoured 'bite and hold' with limited gains. 
  • Only two of his corps commanders had previously commanded a division, let alone corps. 
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