Seeking Victory on the Western Front: The British Army and Chemical Warfare in World War I

By Albert Palazzo | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I
Confronting the Western Front

The conditions are not at present normal. . . they may become normal some day - Sir William Robertson

The conditions of modern, industrial war presented enormous obstacles to commanders in charge of operations on the western front. The stalemate of the trenches, the continuous and therefore unflankable line stretching from Switzerland to the English Channel, and the attacker's frustration at not being able to achieve a quick and war-winning decisive victory were all symptoms of the scale and complexity of conflict that no commander had ever faced. However, the most significant impediment that leaders had to overcome to achieve victory was the defender's use of firepower to dominate the battlefield and thereby prevent the attacker from achieving a favorable decision. It was the defender's ability to interdict no man's land with a barrier of bullets and shells that made the attacker's task so difficult. One can therefore express the conduct of the campaign on the western front, the litany of failed or inconclusive attacks, and the great toll of dead and wounded in their most simple form: the quest for the means by which to reestablish the potential of the attack and thus to restore decisiveness to battle.

Although the problem of the superiority of defensive firepower was an extremely complex one, its existence did not come as a total surprise to the combatants. One of the more important factors in the Anglo- Boer War was the greatly increased killing power of modern rifles, machine guns, and quick-firing artillery. Commenting on the war in South Africa, Col. C. E. Callwell noted that it was not the mode of Boer fighting--mounted infantry--that was significant. 1 Rather, the lessons lay in the weapons the Boers employed and their increased firepower. The events of the Russo-Japanese War added to the growing debate within the British army over the efficiency of modern weapons but, unfortunately, the lessons derived from that conflict served more to obscure rather than illuminate the best future course of action. In Manchuria, Japanese successes appeared to many British observers to be as much a result of boldness and determination as of superior firepower. However, while the ensuing analysis over the effectiveness of

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Seeking Victory on the Western Front: The British Army and Chemical Warfare in World War I
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations viii
  • Tables ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Gas Abbreviations xiii
  • Introduction 1
  • Chapter I - Confronting the Western Front 6
  • Chapter 2 - Introduction and Reaction 41
  • Chapter 3 - Experimentation 78
  • Chapter 4 - Institutionalization 111
  • Chapter 5 - March to Victory 154
  • Conclusion 190
  • Notes 201
  • Index 233
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