Military Mistakes of World War 1 - Part 2

Mistakes of World War 1
  1. Part 1
  2. Part 2


by Joshua Horn
View Part 1

In part one we examined three of the mistakes of World War I, one of the biggest wars in world history. These were the German navy's failure to attack at the beginning of the war, the Allies' frontal attacks and the Allied defeat at the battle of the Dardanelles. Today we will examine three more of the mistakes of World War I, the continued attacks of the Allies, the German U-boat war and the German frontal attacks. All these mistakes, and many more, contributed to create one of the bloodiest wars of human history. World War I changed Europe forever. In Britain alone one third of the male population were casualties. We should learn from these costly mistakes of history so that we will not make similar errors.

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The German Army resisting a French Attack

Perhaps the largest and most costly error of the war was the Allies’ frontal assaults. The Allied generals continued to send their troops forward in bloody charges against German's positions. They lost tens of thousands of men for at the very most a few miles of ground. Virtually every family, village and town across Great Britain and all of Europe had soldiers who were killed. There were 37 million casualties, which is almost the entire population of Canada or Germany today. Most of these huge casualties accomplished almost nothing. Winston Churchill, a member of the British government at the time, said, “All this hard and fruitless fighting would be tolerable if the German losses had been equal to our own.”1 The Allies almost lost the war because their armies’ numbers were greatly weakened through these fruitless assaults.

A ship sinking after being attacked by a U-Boat

The next mistake of World War I was the German's assault on the British navy through the U-Boat war. In 1917 the German navy authorized their submarines to attack merchant ships around Great Britain without first ordering them to surrender. They did this to try to shorten the war by forcing Britain to surrender by cutting off all their supplies which they needed to subsist. They realized that eventually this would bring the neutral nations, such as the United States, into the war because it broke the international law of nations, but they were willing to take the risk to win the war. This German attack broke the law of nations because they sank ships without requesting them to surrender. Several days after the submarine war began, the United States declared war on Germany, but it took months before the United States could get its first troops prepared for battle. At first the submarine war succeeded very well. One month 25% of the British commerce was sunk. Fisher, one of the most famous admirals of the day, said, “Can the Army win the war before the Navy loses it?”2 But finally through various methods the British and American navies were able to stop the U-Boat war. The German navy made a terrible mistake in the submarine war by forcing the United States to join the Allies.

The German Army Attacking

In the beginning of 1918, the German army decided to launch a forward offensive against the Allied positions. This was their final mistake. For years the British had wasted their troops in attacks against the German entrenchments, and now it was the German's turn. The German attacks did drive the Allied positions far back, but they did not rout them. At the end of the attack the Allied lines were still intact, and the Germans had weakened themselves greatly. Winston Churchill said, “[T]he British inflicted upon the Germans losses even greater than those they themselves endured, losses irreparable at this period in the war, losses which broke the supreme German effort for victory at the outset, and rang the knell of doom in the ears of the overwrought German people.”3 After the German attacks stalled, the Allies counter-attacked and drove them back even more quickly than the most optimistic hoped, and ended up causing Germany to surrender and lose the war.

Americans destroying a German bunker

We have just seen three more of the worst mistakes of World War I. These were the Allies' useless attacks, the German navy's submarine attack forcing the United States into the war, and the German army's frontal attacks. These mistakes changed the course of history. For example, the German attack near the end of the war may have seemed like the way to win the war quickly, but it actually caused their defeat. We should study and learn from the mistakes of the men in the past so that we do repeat their mistakes.

1 Churchill, Winston. The World Crisis (London: Odhams Press Limited) vol. 2, p. 833
2 Ibid, p. 1167
3 Ibid, p. 1313


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