World War One, The
The War Strategy,
World War I, the first of the great coalition wars of
the 20th century, was an important landmark in the story
of the evolution of modern strategy. Never was the
phenomenon of cultural lag as applied to warfare more
clearly demonstrated. Beginning in the accepted mold of
strategic planning popular since 1870, it soon ran head
on into countertrends that were altering the very bases
of strategic action and that strategic thinking in the
intervening years had not yet fully grasped. Despite the
experiences in the South African and Russo-Japanese wars
with the machine gun as a defensive weapon of tremendous
firepower, French and German military leaders at the
outbreak of the war continued to put their faith in the
offensive. In fact, they were convinced that new weapons
and methods of control, the radio and telephone,
actually improved the offensive capabilities of their
mass armies. The universal underestimation of the effect
of modern firearms on the defense had important
repercussions on strategy both during and after the war.
first moves in the war began in 1914 as French and
German strategists had planned. In seven days the
Germans concentrated more than three million men on the
eastern and western fronts from mobilization points. In
approximately the same time the French assembled 1.2
million men on the western front. Both sides made heavy
use of railroad lines to speed assembly of great masses
of troops. Both sides were determined to attack. Out of
the movements of mass armies came the first battles on
the frontiers. As Schlieffen had planned, the Germans
catapulted into Belgium, but the enveloping wing was not
as strong as Schlieffen, who had died the previous year,
had wished. It was compressed into a smaller corridor by
the political decision not to violate Dutch neutrality.
The anticipated six-week campaign of annihilation
against France envisaged by Schlieffen could not be
executed. The French attack also soon hit a snag.
Although the French army's right wing reached the Rhine,
its center was endangered by a German pincer movement.
Only a hasty retreat and a counteroffensive at the Marne
River saved Paris. "Pinwheel strategy"--each side
attacking and driving the enemy back--had stalled badly.
Meanwhile, on the eastern front, the German prewar
strategy of holding until France had been quickly
defeated was compromised by the desire of the Austrian
ally to push against the Russians, partners of the
French. The German victory at Tannenberg counterbalanced
the Austrian defeat at Lemberg (Lvov). The eastern front
the close of 1914 the war had become a stalemate on both
the eastern and western fronts. The conflict had
resolved itself into trench warfare from Switzerland to
the English Channel. Machine guns and artillery took
over the battlefield. The conflict had settled down into
a war of position, and strategic mobility was lost.
World War I became a classic case of arrested strategy.
first phase of the war was over by the end of 1914.
Prewar plans had failed; the war of movement, of mass
offensives, had ceased. The big question thenceforth was
how to dig the war out of the trenches. In answering
that question important elements of grand strategy came
into play. The heavy demands upon industry for munitions
of war multiplied, and technology was called upon for
new means--the tank and poison gas--of breaking the
stalemate. Britain's naval blockade to starve Germany
took on added significance. The German countermeasures
helped bring the United States into the war in 1917. The
United States was not prepared for war, however, and the
buildup of its forces across the Atlantic was slow. The
Germans, seeking in 1918 to forestall the full impact of
U.S. might, put their resources into a great offensive
that came close to succeeding. When the Americans
finally arrived in force, they played a valuable part in
military strategy in reducing the salients within the
Allied lines. Eventually the German allies were
defeated; the German armies reached a point of
exhaustion and the homeland a stage of semi-starvation.
Germany asked for an armistice.