How the War Was Won: Command and Technology in the British Army on the Western Front, 1917-1918

How the War Was Won: Command and Technology in the British Army on the Western Front, 1917-1918

How the War Was Won: Command and Technology in the British Army on the Western Front, 1917-1918

How the War Was Won: Command and Technology in the British Army on the Western Front, 1917-1918

Synopsis

This important and sometimes controversial book explains what part the British Expeditionary Force played in bringing the First World War to an end. Travers focuses on the themes of command and technology, drawing on a wide range of sources.

Excerpt

At the beginning of 1918, the prospects for the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and its allies did not look promising. Russia had given up the war, the French army had suffered a serious mutiny and a considerable decline in morale in 1917, the Italian front had experienced a major setback at Caporetto in October 1917, while BEF morale was at a dangerously low level following the losses of the Passchendaele offensive. This was reinforced by the shock of the German counter-attack after the Cambrai tank and artillery offensive in late 1917, when the German army was supposed to be in dire straits. Soon to come, in March 1918, was the German spring offensive and the precipitous retreat of the British Army’s Fifth and Third Armies, with the loss of 40 square miles of territory. Yet in three or four short months, the tide turned and the BEF and allies went on to victory in 1918.

How did this happen? What changed in 1918 to enable victory to come about? There are a number of explanations, which, however, are not mutually exclusive. For example, did new ideas make a difference? Did new tactics and strategy affect the outcome? Did new weapons and technology shift the balance, particularly tanks and aeroplanes? Or was success the result of using old technology, but much more of it? Was 1918 really a victory of attrition for the BEF, so that manpower was the key? Perhaps a revitalized GHQ leadership was crucial, with Douglas Haig now coming into his own? Maybe the whole BEF had simply become more efficient, with army, corps and divisional commanders all improving? Possibly the arrival of the Americans was decisive? Or did the Germans really defeat themselves through serious strategic mistakes and a subsequent loss of morale? Therefore, was the German offensive of March 1918 really the turning point of the war?

Strangely enough, these questions have not been properly answered, and in most cases not even posed by those books that concern themselves with 1918. In fact, interpretations of what happened to the BEF on the Western Front in 1918 really fall into three categories. They are, first, the external or exogenous explanations, which attribute victory to German

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