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

By Albert Palazzo | Go to book overview
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Conclusion

Ample and generous provision must be made for the continuous study of chemical warfare both as regards offence and defence during peace, in order to ensure the future safety of the fighting forces of the Empire. - Holland Report, July 1919

After four years of carnage, peace once again returned to the fields of northern France and Belgium. While peasants would soon resume their traditional cycle of planting and harvesting, the course of the war had forever changed the nature of battle. The combatants had entered the struggle with an understanding of the dangers of modern weapons, but they had not clearly or fully thought through nor prepared for the implications of these weapons. Warfare in 1914, however, had been on the brink of a major change that previous conflicts, such as the Boer War and the American Civil War, had suggested but which would not become truly apparent until viewed from the perspective of a colossal struggle such as the Great War. If operations during the opening stages of the war had a flavor of the Napoleonic era, by 1918 they much more closely resembled the experiences of World War II. This transformation was revolutionary in effect, and it continues to underpin to this day the operational art of contemporary armies. But its achievement was incremental, a product of a lengthy process of problem identification and solution implementation. World War I is often identified as a great technological or industrial war, and while these descriptions are true it was also, and more important, an intellectual war. In preparing for the conflict, the German strategist Gen. Alfred von Schlieffen had dismissed the British army with contempt as being irrelevant and unworthy of consideration in his plans. It was ironic, therefore, that it was the British army which emerged at the forefront of this revolution and which came most fully to grips with the nature of modern war. 1

Victory in the Great War was neither easily nor cheaply obtained. The prolonged nature of the conflict was a result of the numerous difficult problems that defined warfare on the western front. As outlined earlier, the most significant of these problems was the enormous fire- power capability of modern weapons which for most of the war gave

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