World War I Trench Warfare (1): 1914–16 Paperback – Feb 25 2002
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“I've never been disappointed by any of the Osprey Elite Series of books and I certainly wasn't with this one. It rekindled an area of history for me I've always enjoyed... Has this book turned me into a WWI expert? No, it hasn't. Has it increased my knowledge of the era and refreshed an aging mind? Yes. Would I recommend this book to someone else? Without a doubt or second though about it, especially if they have the slightest interest in World War I and wished to increase their knowledge a little more.” ―Dave O'Meara, Historicus Forma (June 2005)
About the Author
Dr Stephen Bull is Curator of Military History and Archaeology at the Museum of Lancashire, and an extramural lecturer for Lancaster University. He has previously worked for the BBC in London, and at the National Army Museum. He is the author of a dozen military historical titles, and has recently been awarded an MBA.
Top Customer Reviews
The volume consists of short sections on the development of "Big Push" tactics; introduction of helmets and body armor; raids; sniping'; new defensive tactics; light machine guns; new offensive tactics (German and British only). The excellent cover plates include British raiders; German assault troops 1917; a Portuguese trench mortar team 1917; British & Australian specialist troops; German equipment; French specialist troops; American infantry 1918; German assault troops 1918; American trench fighters 1918; and a British platoon attack 1918.Read more ›
The volume begins with a 6-page summary of the main armies in 1914, including sections on artillery, cavalry and infantry, enlistment sources and tactics. A 4-page section on infantry weapons in 1914 appends the section on armies. This opening 10-page section is well written and provides a good basis for understanding the military forces available at the start of the war. However, there are some omissions that affect the author's narrative concerning the genesis of trench warfare. First, there is no mention of relative engineer capabilities of the opposing armies, since the author focuses only on the three primary branches. In fact, Germany had a substantial edge in engineering capabilities, beginning with the fact that it assigned an engineer battalion to each of its divisions; British divisions had only two engineer companies and French divisions only one.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The volume begins with a 6-page summary of the main armies in 1914, including sections on artillery, cavalry and infantry, enlistment sources and tactics. A 4-page section on infantry weapons in 1914 appends the section on armies. This opening 10-page section is well written and provides a good basis for understanding the military forces available at the start of the war. However, there are some omissions that affect the author's narrative concerning the genesis of trench warfare. First, there is no mention of relative engineer capabilities of the opposing armies, since the author focuses only on the three primary branches. In fact, Germany had a substantial edge in engineering capabilities, beginning with the fact that it assigned an engineer battalion to each of its divisions; British divisions had only two engineer companies and French divisions only one. Therefore when the time came to dig in, German divisions had 50-200% more engineering capability than their opposite numbers. A second factor relates to pre-war doctrine, which the author only addresses in terms of offensive tactics. Again, Germany had an advantage because it had employed rudimentary trench works in pre-war maneuvers, whereas most other armies had not. Both of these factors helped to give Germany an early edge in trench warfare.
The author provides a short section on the early maneuver phase of the war in 1914, followed by a 10-page section on the first trenches. The section on the transformation to trench warfare is decent but fails to adequately explain the reasons for this shift. The "shell scandals" of 1914-1915 are also covered in this section on the opening days of the war. Unfortunately, the author misses the opportunity to mention a number of issues highly germane to trench warfare, partly because of diversions on side issues like the "shell scandal." The author misses the two critical components that set the stage for trench warfare in the first place: machine guns with mutually supporting and interlocked fields of fire and durable obstacles. While the author provides technical details on machineguns, he fails to note that it was the combination of the two aforementioned factors that changed the tactical equation. Furthermore, barbed wire - one of the critical components of trench warfare - is never addressed. The author should have addressed how it was incorporated in defenses, how it was laid and the difficulties in penetrating wire that defeated infantry assaults. Another related factor of trench warfare is the issue of non-battle casualties, of which there were thousands in the muddy lice-infested trenches; it was the non-battle casualties that necessitated unit rotation even more than combat casualties. The main part of this volume consists of a 19-page section on the new weapons and tactics required by the transformation to trench warfare. In the weapons section, the author details the various grenades, mortars and bomb throwers introduced to deal with the siege conditions at the front. In the tactics section, the author covers the use of these new weapons and ends with a interesting example of trench warfare, "during a period of little more than 48 hours of defensive action 2nd Lancashire Fusiliers threw 8,000 grenades, and lost 93 men killed or died of wounds, 13 men missing, and 274 wounded. During their ten week tour of duty casualties amounted to 50 officers and 2,300 rank and file, or more than double the initial strength of the battalion."
The last 10 pages of this volume consist of an overview of new tactics in 1915 and the 1916 Battle of Verdun. There is little mention of the Battle of the Somme, which presumably will be addressed in the next volume, or of changes in artillery tactics. The section on 1915 tactics is quite good and includes the introduction of poison gas and flamethrowers. Dr Bull succeeds in demonstrating that 1915 was not a static year of mindless trench assaults but rather, a period of experimentation and transformation as both sides sought to find solutions to the indecisiveness of trench warfare. Hurricane bombardments, infiltration and mixed assault groups were all introduced in 1915. Unfortunately, while the author points out that not all attacks were not futile, he fails to highlight some of the battles in 1915 - like the initially successful French assault on Vimy Ridge on May 9, 1915 - where well-prepared attacks succeeded. Indeed, it was the lack of sufficient heavy artillery that greatly inhibited Allied offensive action in 1915.
As usual in an Osprey title, the section of color plates in the center of the volume is excellent. These plates include: French bombers in 1914-1915, British bombers in 1914-1915, British snipers in 1915-1916, a German machine gun team in 1915, British bomb catapults in 1915, mine warfare in 1916, Allied gas masks, a Russian trench garrison in 1914-1915, German trench raiders in 1916 and French mortar troops in 1916. All of these illustrations are excellent. The photographs and diagrams throughout the volume are also quite good.
The volume consists of short sections on the development of "Big Push" tactics; introduction of helmets and body armor; raids; sniping'; new defensive tactics; light machine guns; new offensive tactics (German and British only). The excellent cover plates include British raiders; German assault troops 1917; a Portuguese trench mortar team 1917; British & Australian specialist troops; German equipment; French specialist troops; American infantry 1918; German assault troops 1918; American trench fighters 1918; and a British platoon attack 1918.
Overall, the author does a good job covering the highlights of evolving trench warfare doctrine in 1916-1918 and hammers home the thesis that tactics and doctrine were in a period of trial and error in this period. However, while the author successfully identifies the recognition by both sides that a solution to trench warfare deadlock had to be found, he fails to adequately define their solutions. While the author discusses the German storm trooper units and mentions Colonel Bruchmuller's new artillery tactics, he fails to note the lessons learned in 1917 at Riga and Caporetto. Nor does the author really describe infiltration tactics or the fact that the attacks in the 1918 Kaiserschlacht were a mix of infiltration and standard infantry tactics. As for the British, the author does a much better job (obviously since this is where most of his information concerns) discussing the evolution of new tactics, including tanks and specialist troops. However, deficiencies in British defensive tactics that contributed to the 1918 defeats are not mentioned. Nor are Canadian troops mentioned in this volume, despite the impressive capture of heavily defended Vimy Ridge in April 1917. Although French troops and weapons appear in various illustrations in the volume, they are barely mentioned in the text and there is no mention of the 1917 Nivelle Offensive. Furthermore, the author's failure to mention the development of "methodical battle" tactics by both the French and the Australian general Monash is a major omission. Yet despite the over-focus on the British trench experience, these volumes are still a good summary of the subject, as long as readers do not forget that there were other armies that were fighting and dying in the trenches in 1914-1918.
Dr. Bull keeps the book tight. He makes no judgements about the political situation that leads to the war. He just goes straight to the fightings and the effects of long range rifle fire. Dr. Bull gives a run down on the armies of 1914 and a break down of their command structure. This overview on breakdown just goes from pages three to six. What some readers may not guess is just how thin the command structure becomes in the army units of World War One. The Germans see this problem and address it later. Dr. Bull covers the first genesis of modern infantry tactics. Osprey publications address the World War I Stormtroopers German Stormtrooper 1914-18 (Warrior). It is highly advised that the casual student, when done with the second book in Dr. Bull's series, reads this important follow up.
Dr. Bull writes of the infantry weapons in 1914. There is only scant three pages given to the weapons. The information is correct. Also, one should know that all the sides used a variation of the Maxim machine gun design. The Russians had the most weird example, the M1905 vented steam from the firing jacket and attracted enemy fire. Weirdly, there is little information given on the Austrain-Hungary Army or the Ottoman Army. The latter used mostly German designed equipment. But for some reason it was out of scope of this book.
The scope of this book is trench warefare. The Ottomans and Russians didn't use them like in the West. From the Swiss frontier to the English Channel, for over 200 miles, it was basically a giant seige. Trench warefare had existed in seige warefare for thousands of years, the Romans were masters of the craft. But WWI trench warfare mandated trenches be farther apart and they had to have over head cover. The Germans start to build concrete bunkers for their soldiers but that - once again - is outside of the scope of this book.
Dr. Bull has a fair number of diagrams of the trenches. However, for some reason he does not give an "overhead" of a trench. The result is the reader has to either closely study the pictures or the various diagraqms from the c. WWI era reprinted in the book.
I highly enjoyed the color plates of A to J. Dr. Bull and Adam Hook do a masterful job of giving a reader or modeler a highly detailed color "snap shot" of the soldiers in the early war. The French soldiers in plate A look quite like American Civil War era Union Soldiers, the uniforms of Napoleon were still used as a guide. The British had learned hard lessons in the Boer war and their uniforms were Khaki, the Germans had their dull slate grey.
Dr. Bull has quite a bit of the book devoted to the hand grenade and the early grenade launchers. Many of the early grenades were merely a tin can filled with explosive and ignited with a simple fuse and a blasting cap. Both the more refined "Mill's Bomb", basically a modern hand grenade, and the equally advanced German "Potato Masher" (Stielhandgranate)came out about the same time. What was very surprising is the fact that many of the early black powder grenades were merely cast black powder bombs, they would have been normal for the American Civil War of 1861 to 1865. Dr. Bull does a great job of showing the early grenade launchers of WWI. They were not mortars but merely simple catapults barely able to toss a grenade 150 yeards. Also, Dr. Bull does a great job of documenting a grenade duel between the Allies and the Germans.
This book does not simply end at 1915. World War One is much too fluid for that. Also, Dr. Bull makes it clear that trench warfare, far from being static, was constantly evolving. Indeed, a soldier wounded in late 1915 and not coming back to battle until 1917 would hardly recognize the battlefield, things had evolved that much.
I like Osprey books. Generally, they are tight and packed full of information. They are excellent for preliminary research in any war.