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LESSON 1

COMBINED ARMS, 1900-1918

INTRODUCTION

 

TASK DESCRIPTION:

Upon completion of this lesson, you will be able to identify basic terms and concepts of combined arms warfare. You will also be able to describe the technological changes which occurred prior to and during World War I, as well as the effects of military doctrine.

TASKS: Demonstrate an understanding of the evolution of combined arms warfare from the beginning of the 20th Century through the end of World War I.
CONDITIONS: You are given information on the technology, practice, and doctrine of combined arms through 1918.
STANDARDS:

Demonstrate understanding of the task by correctly answering 70% of the questions in a multiple-choice test.

REFERENCES:

House, Captain Jonathan M., Toward Combined Arms Warfare: A Survey of 20th-Century Tactics, Doctrine, and Organizational, Combat Studies Institute, Research Study No. 2, US Government Printing Office, Washington D.C., August 1984.

 

LESSON 1

COMBINED ARMS, 1900-1918

OVERVIEW

In this lesson you will first be introduced to basic terms and concepts of combined arms warfare. The instruction will include both explanations and examples. Secondly, this lesson will teach you about technological changes which occurred prior to World War I, and how military doctrine in 1914 did not adequately deal with the effect of these changes. Explanations and historical examples will be used to illustrate and clarify the subject matter. Thirdly, this lesson will focus on efforts to restore maneuver warfare after the trench stalemate developed in Europe.

LEARNING EVENT 1

PROLOGUE TO 1914

Combined Arms

Combined arms refers to the cooperation or combination between the branches (infantry, artillery, cavalry). The concept of combined arms has existed for centuries, but the nature of the combination and the organizational level at which it occurred have varied greatly. The concern of commanders has gone from coordinating the separate actions of separate arms, to gaining cooperation between them. Finally, the focus has moved to combining their actions to maximize the effect of their various properties. Some form of use of combined arms is essential for survival on the battlefield.

The term "combined arms" often means different things to different people. Often times, the term is left undefined and vague. There are three related elements that help define "combined arms." Those three related elements include the following:

  • The concept.

  • Organization.

  • Tactics and operations.

Each element, and how it relates to combined arms, is described in detail below.

The Concept. The combined arms concept is the basic idea that different arms and weapons systems must be used together to maximize the survival and combat effectiveness of each. For example, the strengths of one system must be used to compensate for the weaknesses of others. The arms and weapons included in this concept vary greatly between armies and over time. Today, however, the list of combined arms would include the following:

  • Infantry (mechanized, motorized, airborne, air assault, light, and special or unconventional operations forces).

  • Armor.

  • Cavalry/reconnaissance.

  • Artillery.

  • Antitank forces.

  • Air defense.

  • Combat engineers.

  • Attack helicopters.

  • Some form of close air support.

Under certain circumstances this list may also include electronic warfare and, when authorized, nuclear and chemical fires. All combat support and combat service support elements are equally important if the force is to fight in a coordinated and sustained manner. Here, we will only briefly discuss the logistical aspects of combined arms.

Organization. Combined arms organization at whatever level (such as company, battalion, brigade/regiment), brings different arms and weapons systems together for combat. This may include both fixed, peacetime tables of organization, and ad hoc or task-organized combinations of elements in wartime.

Tactics and Operations. Combined arms, tactics and operations are the actual roles performed. Also included are the techniques applied by these different arms and weapons in supporting each other once they have been organized into integrated teams. This area is of most concern to professional soldiers. Yet, within this area, historical records and tactical manuals often neglect important details. Combined arms tactics and techniques at the level of battalion or lower are the most difficult aspects to examine historically. This is because combined arms tactics at battalion or lower are most subject to frequent changes in technology.

At this time, we cannot possibly consider the complexities these three elements bring to recent military history. However, we will be able to trace some recurring themes or problems in the recent conduct of combined arms warfare in the following armies:

  • British.

  • French.

  • German.

  • Soviet.

  • United States.

  • Israeli Defense Force (IDF) (since 1948).

We will identify general trends in the development of tactical and organizational concepts for integrating the different arms and weapons systems. We will consider division level and below. The trends in terms of proportions of different arms and levels at which those arms were integrated can be illustrated with a limited number of line and block charts. These trends should provide a historical framework and background of organization and employment of combined arms today. Before we go on to specific historical developments, we need to define various elements of tactical warfare and combined arms procedures.

Elements of Tactical Warfare

At the abstract level, tactical warfare may be considered a combination of three elements. Those three elements include:

  • Mobility/Communications.

  • Protection.

  • Offensive power/Destructive firepower.

Each will be defined below.

Mobility. Mobility is the ability to maneuver and to concentrate or disperse forces over terrain. Mobility is not absolute. It must be measured relative to:

  • The difficulty of the terrain.

  • The mobility of other friendly or enemy forces.

For a combined arms team, the least mobile element may determine the mobility of the entire force. Mobility is important to the application of the principles of mass, maneuver, and offensive.

Protection. Protection means security against enemy surprise attack. Operational security provides a measure of protection against surprise. Protection also allows offensive maneuver or defense on the battlefield. Battlefield protection may be accomplished by the following:

  • Using terrain defilade.

  • Using defensive fortifications.

  • Employing artificial means such as armor.

Offensive Power. Offensive power, or firepower, is usually necessary in order to impose one's will on the enemy. Firepower can overcome his protection.

The above three elements have interacted continuously throughout military history. The past century has been characterized by a vast increase in weapons power. This increase can only be overcome with great difficulty by a carefully designed combination of protective measures, mobility and offensive firepower. The most obvious example of this is the defensive system of World War I. That particular combination of firepower had to be countered by close coordination of infantry (when moving forward), fire support (offensive power), and armor (which theoretically combines all three elements). In World War I, defensive fortifications were by far the most important protective element. While this explanation of World War I is simplistic, the three basic elements of mobility, protection, and offensive power are present in most tactical equations.

Combined Arms Procedures

Now we will look at the three elements (mobility, protection, and offensive power) at a more practical level. These three elements are combined two different ways. First, they are combined technically in the design and employment of individual weapons. Secondly, they are combined tactically in the combination of different weapons and arms. The concept and practice of combined arms is divided into two procedures, they are:

  • Supplementary, or reinforcing combined arms.

  • Complementary combined arms.

Each of these procedures is discussed in detail below.

Supplementary Combined Arms. This type of combined arms means increasing the effect of one weapons system or arm with other weapons and arms having similar effects. For example, the effects of mortars and artillery may reinforce or supplement each other in an integrated fire plan. Engineers may enhance the protection of armored vehicles by digging-in those vehicles with engineer equipment.

Complementary Combined Arms. By contrast, this type of combined arms has different effects or characteristics. Therefore, together they pose a more complicated threat, a dilemma for the enemy. For example, the defender should place a minefield so that it halts an enemy force at a point where observed artillery or antitank fires can attack that enemy as he clears the minefield. The defender has thus integrated the different weapon to provide a much greater effect than any one by itself could achieve. The resulting dilemma forces the enemy to accept casualties while clearing the mines or to seek a passage elsewhere.

Now, we will shift gears and focus on technological changes prior to 1914. We will examine their effects on the battlefield.

Technological Changes

During the period of 1827-1897, two waves of technological change revolutionized the battlefield. We will cover each wave of technological change separately.

The First Wave. The most important innovation of the first wave of technological change was the introduction of the rifle. The muzzle-loading rifle replaced the smoothbore musket. Rifling and an improved seal between bullet and bore increased the velocity and accuracy of small arms fire. Their effective range was nearly 500 meters. During the American Civil War of 1861-1865, dense infantry formations in daylight provided lucrative targets for defenders armed with rifles. Both sides learned to spread out into skirmish lines when attacking. Defenders, for their part, had to dig in to reduce their own vulnerability to the attackers' rifle fire.

The muzzle-loading rifles used by most soldiers during the Civil War were already obsolete. This resulted from the Prussian Army's development of the breech-loading rifle. Unlike muzzle-loaders, breech-loaders could be reloaded in a prone position. This allowed infantry to remain under cover while firing repeatedly. Soon, fixed metallic-cased ammunition made loading even faster. By the time of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870-1871, most armies had adopted breech-loading artillery as well as rifles.

The first wave of technological change also included the introduction of the railroad and the telegraph. These inventions greatly increased the speed of communication, mobilization, and troop movement at the strategic and operational levels. However, at the tactical level, troops still maneuvered on foot or on horseback.

The Second Wave. The second wave of technological change came in the 1880s and 1890s. It included introduction of the following:

  • Smokeless gunpowder.

  • Magazine-fed repeating rifles.

  • Recoiling and quick-firing artillery.

  • Improved artillery fuzes.

  • Machineguns.

  • Internal combustion engines.

The above elements appeared in rapid succession. With the exception of the engine, these developments all increased the volume, range, and accuracy of fire. This placed the soldier in the open at a disadvantage compared to the soldier in prepared positions. General staffs were created to mobilize and deploy enormous armies using these new weapons. Although radiotelegraphs existed in the armies of 1914, the radio had not yet improved to a level where staffs could follow and direct events on the battlefield.

The overall effect of these two waves was to make cooperation and coordination between different units and arms absolutely essential. Without total coordination in the attack, the likely result for the attackers was defeat by defensive firepower.

Problems with Prewar Doctrine

Prior to 1914, most armies shared similar doctrine. The basic doctrine before WWI laid the primary emphasis of all armies on meeting engagements and hasty attacks. Thus, prewar training often neglected the defense. Looking back on the tactics employed, it is evident that there were a number of problems with prewar doctrine. First, the attacker assumed that he would have local numerical superiority over the defender. The problem here is the fact that the numbers of troops fielded in 1914 were very similar. This scenario also assumed that the enemy and friendly forces were operating in a vacuum, moving to contact against each other with their flanks open for envelopment. However, in practice the density of forces along the French, German, and Belgian frontiers in 1914 was great. Anyone seeking to maneuver to the flank was likely to encounter another unit, either friendly or enemy.

The most significant problem with prewar doctrine was that many professional soldiers considered their subordinates incapable of executing the tactics required. The kind of battle envisioned seemed to depend on two things: high morale and firm control. Officers in the French, Austrian, and Russian armies emphasized the psychological advantage of the attacker. Most professionals recognized that discipline and control would be extremely difficult to maintain under direct fire. The problem was compounded by the fact that most European units had a large number of reservists and poorly trained draftees. For example, a French first-line infantry company had a wartime authorized strength of 225 enlisted personnel. Fully 65% of those men were reservists or first year conscripts. Most reservists and conscripts lacked training and discipline necessary to conduct dispersed fire-and-movement tactics under heavy enemy fire. Professional soldiers argued that these troops would never stand up and advance if they were allowed to take cover. This belief led French, Russian, Austrian, and other officers to attack standing up in relatively dense formations. The officers recognized the risk they were taking, but felt that there was no other way to achieve the necessary rapid victory with untrained personnel.

Integration and Coordination of Arms. Pre-1914 armies organized combat arms into divisions and corps that bore a superficial resemblance to those of today. One major difference, however, was the absence of vehicles and electronics. By the end of the Napoleonic Wars, European armies had accepted the division as a wartime unit for combining infantry and artillery. Most cavalry was concentrated into separate brigades, divisions, or even corps. By 1914, most armies agreed on the basic organization of an infantry division. They had the following characteristics:

  • Most divisions contained 12 battalions of infantry, each with two machineguns either assigned or in direct support.

  • Battalions were usually grouped into two brigades of two regiments each, (British regimental headquarters no longer had a tactical command function and remained in garrison).

  • Division cavalry detachments were generally small because most functions of screening and reconnaissance were assigned to separate cavalry brigades or divisions.

The armies differed most in proportion and caliber of artillery included in the infantry divisions. The variations in structure created confusion and disagreement over the role of artillery and the importance of combined arms.

Next, we will consider cavalry, infantry, and artillery. In order to understand the doctrinal interrelationships of the different arms before World War I, some consideration of each arm is in order. First, we will look at cavalry.

Cavalry. The role of cavalry underwent changes due to increases in firepower. In the days before automobiles, cavalry had the greatest mobility of any of the combat arms. Traditionally, cavalry had three missions, they were:

  • Reconnaissance and security before the battle.

  • Shock action on the battlefield.

  • Pursuit after the battle.

The increases in firepower during the late 1800s led many tacticians to suggest that shock action was no longer a feasible role except under rare circumstances. They argued that cavalry should be re-equipped as dragoons or mounted infantry. This would enable the mounted arm to continue its reconnaissance or security mission. At the same time, it could function as a highly mobile infantry that dismounted to fight after making contact with the enemy. Cavalry operated in this fashion during the American Civil War, the Boer War (1899-1902), and the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905). By 1914, the British and German armies had equipped their cavalry with machineguns and trained them to fight dismounted when necessary.

Infantry. With respect to infantry, a rifle battalion before 1914 consisted of four companies of rifle-armed infantry plus two heavy machineguns. Such battalions did not have the grenades, mortars, and similar short-range, indirect-fire weapons that we today associate with "infantry." Armies somewhat neglected these weapons because of the specialized training they required. They also neglected the heavy machinegun and mortar because the pieces were too heavy to keep pace with advancing infantry. The firepower of breech-loading, magazine-fed rifle and machineguns had greatly outstripped the mobility and survivability of foot-mobile infantry. The only immediate remedy was to entrench. Attacking infantry was expected to forego protection in order to maximize its own firepower and mobility.

Artillery. Artillery was slow to adopt the new tactic of indirect fire. The traditional artillery tactic, perfected by Napoleon, was to concentrate the guns in a direct-fire role. They placed themselves between, or a few hundred meters behind the infantry units they were supporting. This tradition of direct-fire support meant that by 1914 all armies had standardized relatively light, highly maneuverable field guns with flat trajectories. The armies continued to employ this weaponry even after advances in technology had made accurate indirect firepower possible. Artillerymen knew about indirect-fire techniques but rarely practiced them because they seemed complicated and unnecessary.

The Boer War provided a glimpse into the future with trench systems and the skillful use of indirect-fire artillery. The German Army and the British Royal Artillery were impressed with the necessity for indirect fire, if only to protect the gun crews from enemy counterbattery fire.

However, the rest of the British Army believed in close direct-fire. The Germans (1909) increased their indirect-fire capability by converting one battalion in each division to 105-mm howitzers and by adding a battalion of 150-mm howitzers to each corps artillery. By 1914, Germany had 3,500 medium and heavy pieces. This included many howitzers and large siege mortars. France had only 300 modern guns larger than 75-mm.

Basically, World War I armies were unprepared for high-explosive artillery. They were not prepared for the devastating effects of massed, large caliber artillery fire on the battlefield. The experiments of Alfred Nobel and others gave all armies high explosive rounds that were much more destructive than the artillery shells of the nineteenth century.

Thus, at the outbreak of World War I, cavalry and artillery in most armies had not fully adjusted to the new technology. Infantry commanders doubted their ability to execute the relatively sophisticated fire-and-movement tactics of the day. Most significantly, none of the combat arms had trained for close cooperation with the others. This was an oversight that proved disastrous in 1914. The most obvious example of this was seen in the standard method of describing the size of an army in the field. Instead of counting combined arms divisions, or even single arm regiments, most officers described forces in terms of the numbers of rifles, sabers, and guns. These were the separate weapons of the three principal arms.

Summary

Combined arms refers to the cooperation or combination between the branches (infantry, artillery, cavalry). Some form of combined arms integration is essential for survival on the battlefield. There are three related elements that help define combined arms: concept, organization, and tactics and operations. The elements of tactical warfare are a combination of mobility, protection, and offensive power. These three elements are present in most tactical equations. The concept and practice of combined arms is divided into two procedures: supplementary, or reinforcing, and complementary.

Between 1827-1870, two waves of technological change in the 19th century revolutionized the battlefield. During the first wave of change, the most important innovation was the introduction of rifled, breech-loading firearms. The first wave of technological change also included the introduction of the railroad and telegraph. The second wave of technological change came in the 1880s and 1890s. It included introduction of:

  • Smokeless gunpowder.

  • Magazine-fed repeating rifles.

  • Recoiling and quick-fire artillery.

  • Improved artillery fuzes.

  • Machineguns.

  • Internal combustion engines.

The overall effect of these two waves was to create cooperation and coordination between different units and arms.

Prior to 1914, most armies shared similar doctrine. There were a number of problems with prewar doctrine. The most significant problem was that many professional soldiers considered their subordinates incapable of executing the tactics required. In order to understand the doctrinal interrelationship of the different arms before World War I, some consideration of each arm (cavalry, infantry, artillery) is in order. The role of cavalry underwent changes due to increases in firepower. With respect to infantry, a rifle battalion before 1914 consisted of four companies of rifle-armed infantry plus two heavy machineguns. Artillery was slow to develop the new tactic of indirect fire. Basically, World War I armies were unprepared for high-explosive artillery. Thus, at the outbreak of World War I, cavalry and artillery in most armies had not fully adjusted to the new technology. Infantry commanders doubted their ability to execute the relatively sophisticated fire-and-movement tactics of the time. This was the situation leading into 1914.

 


Learning Event 1 Practical Exercise

 

LEARNING EVENT 2

WORLD WAR I

Technological Innovations

Like all major wars, World War I accelerated the development of new technology. Changes were evident in artillery and communications. New weapons appeared as the result of effort to solve the penetration problem. Artillery tactics are a major facet to consider when studying World War I. Next we will look at artillery techniques.

Artillery Techniques. In 1914, infantry attacks failed and trench warfare became the reality of combat (see Figure 1). Efforts to penetrate trench defenses relied most heavily on massed artillery fire. The British and the French rapidly gave up the idea of combining infantry maneuver with artillery fire. Instead, they concentrated on achieving overwhelming destruction in the preparatory fires. Many tactical commanders saw the new techniques as: "The artillery conquers; the infantry occupies." Artillery conquest was not easy. Everyone had expected a short war. Thus, few armies had sufficient supplies of ammunition and heavy artillery.

Techniques of Precision Indirect Fire. Adding to the problem mentioned above was the fact that most gunners had little experience in precision indirect fire. Many of the procedures that are common to artillerymen today were developed between 1914-1917. Those procedures include the following:

  • Establishing forward observer techniques.

  • Measuring and compensating for the effects of weather and worn barrels.

  • Using ammunition from the same production lot to ensure that successful volleys fell in the same general area.

The first French regulation describing such procedures was not published until November 1915. The British Royal Artillery needed new maps of the entire area of Northeastern France before it could establish a grid system. The grid system served to aid in surveying battery locations and adjusting indirect fire. The newly developed air services of the belligerents had to provide aircraft for photographic mapping. They also had to provide aircraft and balloons for adjusting indirect fire. Improved radiotelegraphs allowed aerial observers to talk to the artillery fire controllers. These developments did not reach perfection until near the end of the war.

Coordinating Artillery with Infantry. Apart from the technical problems of indirect fire, there was the even greater problem of coordinating the infantry and artillery in an attack. The first deliberate attacks conducted by the British and French during late 1914 and early 1915 were particularly difficult to control. The reason being that both artillerymen and commanders lacked experience in indirect fire. The easiest procedure seemed to be the establishment of a series of phase lines. This concept placed artillery fire on the far side of a phase line while all infantry remained on the friendly side. Once the commander directed artillery fires to shift forward past a new phase line, the troops could advance in relative safety.

Such phase lines encouraged commanders to ignore the terrain contours to their front and the possibilities for maneuver. There were no effective communications procedures that would allow the leading infantry units to talk to their supporting artillery.

Beginning with the battle of the Somme in July 1916, artillery was to provide a rolling barrage of shrapnel. It could advance at a steady rate of speed. The use of shrapnel instead of high explosives made it safer for the infantry to advance close behind the artillery barrage (about 100 meters). It was safer because the explosive effect of shrapnel was focused forward along the line of flight. However, shrapnel had almost no effect against well-prepared positions. The best it could do was force the defender to stay undercover during the assault. There was also no way for the infantry to adjust the rate at which the rolling barrage moved forward. The rigid forward movement of artillery fire often outran the heavy laden infantryman struggling across the shell pocketed battlefield. This allowed the defender time to leave his shelter and engage the attacker after the barrage had passed over a trench.

This problem with infantry-artillery coordination was only one aspect of the greater problems of command, control, and communications that plagued a World War I commander. The large scope of offensives and the scarcity of trained staff officers at junior headquarters meant that most operations were planned at the level of field army or higher. Given the crude nature of artillery procedures in the early stage of war, artillery planning and control were also centralized at a high level. This created a problem since the method of communication was extremely slow.

Aerial Reconnaissance. World War I was the first war to introduce significant air action. Military aviation developed at a tremendous rate during the war. However, it was still in its infancy in 1918. The publicity went to fighter pilots. Their primary mission was to achieve local air superiority. This allowed the primitive aircraft of the time to conduct their more basic functions of reconnaissance and artillery fire adjustment. Not until 1917 did the British and Germans officially recognize the possibility of ground attack by fighters in the forward area. Both sides considered the main effect of such an attack to be demoralization rather than destruction. By 1918, the first bombers with significant payloads appeared. In most cases reconnaissance, not bombardment, was the critical contribution of air power.

Gas Shells. The first attempt to break the trench defense was gas warfare. Although the French had experimented with various noxious gases on a small scale at the end of 1914, it was the Germans who first conducted major gas attacks. The first German test of gas took place in January 1915, at Lodz on the Russian front. Much of the chemical, however, failed to vaporize because of low temperatures. The first use on the Western Front was on 22 April 1915 at the Ypres salient. A surprise attack routed French colonial troops on a five-mile front, but the Germans were not prepared to exploit their success. They had no significant reserves available to advance before the French sealed the breach. Thereafter, each side found that primitive gas masks and uncertain weather conditions made the existing nonpersistent and early persistent agents difficult to successfully employ. When the British first used gas at Loos on 25 September 1915, the wind conditions were extremely calm. Thus, the gas moved too slowly or in the wrong direction along most of the front. The British troops advanced into their own gas, suffering more casualties than their opponents. The Germans, for their part, had problems with chemical warfare on the Western Front. The prevailing winds came from the west, often blowing gases back in their faces. Gas warfare became only an adjunct. It was useful to degrade enemy effectiveness but not to achieve a penetration by itself. By 1917-18, the most common use of gas was to mix chemical and high explosive artillery shells during a preparatory fire. This was done in hopes of forcing the enemy out of his deep shelters where the gas settled.

Increases in Mobility of Firepower. Among the technological innovations of the times were improvements in the mobile firepower. This developed through equipment such as light automatic rifles, grenades, rifle grenade launchers, and tanks.

As early as 1915, the French began to issue new weapons to the infantry. These new weapons were the automatic rifle and the rifle grenade launcher. These, in addition to ordinary hand grenades, gave the French infantry mobile automatic firepower and short-range (up to 150 meters) indirect-fire capability. In 1916, France reorganized the infantry company to consist of a headquarters including communications and pioneer (combat engineer) personnel, plus four platoons of two sections each. Within these twelve-men sections hand grenadiers, rifle grenadiers, and riflemen were organized around the automatic rifleman as the base of fire. Three of these infantry companies, plus a company of eight heavy machineguns and a 37-mm gun in the headquarters, made up an infantry battalion that modern infantrymen can recognize as such. Other armies adopted similar armament and organizations. However, the Germans delayed until 1917. The German preoccupation with accurate fire by heavy machineguns made them reluctant to accept the relatively inaccurate light machineguns and automatic rifles. In desperation, frontline German infantry began to use captured French automatic rifles.

Thus, this reorganization of the French infantry around the automatic rifleman illustrates the improvements in the mobility of firepower. Another tactic that aided in the increase of firepower mobility was the use of the tank.

Tanks. The tank was originally designed as a special weapon to solve an unusual tactical situation, the stalemate of the trenches. Basically, the tank was intended to bring the firepower of artillery and machineguns across the swamp of No Man's Land. At the same time it would provide more protection than a purely infantry unit could carry. The sole purpose of this weapon was to assist the infantry in creating a penetration so that the cavalry could exploit the German rear. This purpose must be remembered in order to understand the shortcomings of early tanks. British, and especially French, heavy tanks had slow speeds, poor mechanical reliability, and great vulnerability to direct-fire artillery.

The French, British, and (with French equipment) Americans organized light tank units in 1918. The British "Whippet" tank was faster (7.5 miles per hour versus four miles per hour) than most heavy tanks. Light tanks were much easier to redeploy in secret from one sector to another, because they could be loaded onto trucks instead of moved by rail. Thus, technological innovations of the times increased the mobility and effectiveness of tanks. Not only did tanks increase in mobility, but trucks improved greatly in operational mobility by 1916.

Trucks: Improved Operational Mobility. The military motor vehicle developed from a few primitive cars in 1914, to thousands of large trucks by 1916. Although not a tactical weapon, the truck allowed the rapid movement of troops and supplies between widely separated points. As such, it increased operational mobility as significantly as had the railroad in previous generations. This made it possible to mass suddenly and conduct a surprise attack at an unexpected point, or to move reserves to blunt a penetration. Trucks were also essential for stockpiling the ammunition and materiel needed for major offensives.

Innovations in Tactics and Doctrine

During World War I, many changes in each army's tactics and doctrine took place. Here we will discuss the flexible defense of the German Army. We will also consider offensive tactics of German infiltration and Allenby's Second Armageddon.

Germany: Flexible Defense. While the British, French, and the Americans sought to solve the mystery of penetration, the Germans perfected their defenses against such a penetration. The evolution of German defensive doctrine was a system of flexible defense-in-depth. This not only hindered attack, but enhanced the capabilities of the German infantry.

Forward Trenches. At the beginning of the war, senior commanders on both sides emphasized a rigid defense of forward trenches. As the cost of taking ground increased, it seemed treasonous to voluntarily surrender land to an enemy attack. Many commanders believed that creating defenses-in-depth and allowing units to withdraw under pressure would encourage cowardice. Troops expecting a retreat may defend their positions only half-heartedly. German leaders gradually realized that massing their forces in the forward trenches was suicidal. The artillery bombardment before a French or British attack eliminated many of the defenders in those trenches. Thus increasing the possibility of enemy penetration.

Lines of Defense. As a solution to the failure of massing their forces in the forward trenches, Germany developed defensive lines. By 1917, the Germans had developed a system that included up to five successive lines. They were set up one behind the other in critical sectors. The first two or three lines were sited on reverse slopes wherever the terrain permitted. This complicated the task of adjusting allied fire on those trenches. It also meant that the attacking British and French infantry were out of sight and therefore out of communication with their own forces when they reached the German defenses. At the same time, if a German trench on the reverse slope were captured, it would be fully exposed to fire and counterattack from the German rear positions. The rearward trenches were beyond the range of enemy light and medium artillery. This made them more difficult to reduce.

Tactics. The tactics of the German defensive system emphasizes three principles. The three principles include:

  • Flexibility.

  • Decentralized control.

  • Counterattack.

Such tactics did not evolve overnight. Many German commanders bitterly opposed the flexibility and decentralized control of the elastic defense. Nevertheless, the combination of flexibility, decentralized control, and counterattack at every echelon made the German defensive system almost invincible. We will discuss each of the above three principles in depth.

Flexibility. In terms of flexibility, the forward German trenches most exposed to bombardment contained few troops. They contained perhaps one battalion out of every four in the first two trenches. In contrast, the French put two thirds of every regiment in these forward lines. They had orders to hold at all costs. By 1916, the Germans had gone even further and had decided that their lines were useful shelters only during quiet periods. Once a bombardment began, the rearward German troops moved deep into bunkers. The forward outposts moved out of the trenches, taking cover in the nearby shellholes. The British and French artillery bombarded the deserted trenches until their barrage passed and their infantry began to advance. At that point, the Germans would come out of the shelters and open fire from the shellholes or from the remains of the trenches.

Decentralized Control. The second aspect of the German system was decentralized control. Squad and platoon leaders had considerable independence. They might defend or delay anywhere forward of the third, or main, defense line. The forward or "Front Battalion Commander" frequently directed the entire defense of a regimental sector. In the mature system of 1917-1918, this battalion commander had the authority to commit the remaining two or three battalions of his regiment in a counterattack at the moment he judged most appropriate. This exaggerated the difference in decision cycles. While the British and French attackers had to seek orders and reinforcements from their corps or army commander located miles to the rear, the defending German battalion commander could direct a regimental counterattack on the spot.

Counterattack. The above statement also pertains to the third element of the German defensive tactics. That is, counterattacks at every echelon to retake lost ground before the attacker could consolidate. In those areas that seemed most vulnerable to attack, a second echelon division was located behind every one or two front divisions. This second echelon was ready for counterattack if needed. Whenever a major offensive began, the German defenders sought to contain the flanks of the penetration by blocking positions. Counterattacks would then eliminate the resulting salient.

Infiltration and Penetration Offensive Tactics. While the Germans gradually perfected their system of defense, they also evolved infiltration and penetration offensive tactics. The organic firepower of foot-mobile infantry was dramatically increased during WW I by the development of trench mortars, grenade launchers, and light machineguns. Infiltration tactics emerged to take advantage of this firepower. First, we will look at the German infiltration offense.

German Infiltration Offense. The German infiltration tactics of 1918 can be summarized under four headings:

  • Bruckmuller artillery preparation.

  • Combined arms assault or storm battalion.

  • Infiltrating or bypassing centers of resistance.

  • Attack to disorganize the enemy rear.

Each will be described in detail below.

Bruckmuller Artillery Preparation. Col. George Bruckmuller developed German artillery techniques to a fine art. The essence of his technique was a carefully orchestrated short, but intense bombardment designed to isolate, demoralize, and disorganize enemy defenders. Before each of the great offensives, Bruckmuller and his assistants held classes for junior leaders of both artillery and infantry. They would explain what would take place. The result was not only understanding and cooperation, but a much greater confidence among the infantry. Next, Bruckmuller allocated different weapons against different specific targets. For example, each trench mortar was given only 25-30 meters of enemy front to engage. Each artillery battery was assigned to suppress a specific enemy battery or to attack 100 to 150 meters of enemy positions. Bruckmuller avoided area targets, concentrating on such key points as:

  • Artillery observation posts.

  • Command posts.

  • Radio and telephone centers.

  • Rearward troops concentrations.

  • Bridges.

  • Major approach routes.

He carefully pinpointed all these targets on aerial photographs. The result was to cut enemy communications and isolate forward units. The effect was increased by surprise. Using the survey techniques developed in all armies during 1916-17, Bruckmuller was able to position and range his batteries in secret from points immediately behind the forward infantry trenches.

At the start of the German offensive on 21 March 1918, Bruckmuller began his bombardment with 10 minutes of gas shells to force the British to mask. This was followed by four hours and twenty-five minutes of mixed gas and high explosives. The preparatory fires shifted back and forth, so that the British did not know when the artillery was actually lifting for the infantry advance. Meanwhile, automatic rifle teams moved as close as possible to the British positions during the bombardment. When the Germans did advance, they moved behind a rolling barrage, further enhanced by intense fog. The combination of surprise, brevity, intensity, and carefully selected targets was unique.

The Combined Arms Assault or Storm Battalion. The combined arms assault or storm battalion was a union of all the weapons available after years of trench warfare, weapons which could be focused by a battalion commander. A typical assault battalion task force consisted of:

  • 3-4 infantry companies.

  • 1 trench mortar company.

  • 1 accompanying artillery battery or half-battery of 77-mm guns.

  • 1 flamethrower section.

  • 1 signal detachment.

  • 1 pioneer (combat engineer) section.

The regimental commander might attach additional machinegun units and bicyclists. The accompanying artillery pieces did not participate in the artillery preparation. They waited behind the infantry, ready to move immediately. One of the principal tasks of the pioneers was to assist in the movement of the guns across obstacles and shellholes. Upon encountering a center of resistance, the infantry provided suppressive fire. The guns, mortars, and flamethrowers attempted to eliminate that resistance. Despite a specially constructed low carriage on some 77-mm guns, the result was a very high casualty rate among the exposed crews. However, the disorganized state of British defenses made such situations relatively rare.

Infiltrating or Bypassing Centers of Resistance. The essence of the German tactics was for the first echelon of assault units to bypass centers of resistance, seeking to penetrate into the enemy positions in columns or squad groups, down defiles or between outposts. Some skirmishers had to precede these dispersed columns, but skirmish lines and linear tactics were avoided. The local commander had authority to continue the advance through gaps in enemy defenses without regard for events on his flanks. A second echelon, again equipped with light artillery and pioneers, was responsible for eliminating bypassed enemy positions. This system of decentralized "soft-spot" advances was second nature to the Germans because of their flexible defensive experience. At the battle of Caporetto in 1917, the young Erwin Rommel used such tactics to bypass forward defenses and capture an Italian infantry regiment with only a few German companies.

Attacks to Disorganize the Enemy Rear. The final aspect of the German infiltration tactics was the effort to disorganize the enemy rear. The artillery preparation began by destroying communications and command centers. The infiltrating infantry also attacked such centers, as well as artillery positions. The British defenders who opposed the first German offensive of 1918 lost all organization and retreated thirty-eight kilometers in four days. Col. J.F.C. Fuller, one of the foremost British tank tacticians, observed that the British seemed to collapse and retreat from the rear forward. Major British headquarters learned of multiple German attacks on forward units just before losing contact with some of those units. The higher British commanders then ordered their remaining forces to withdraw in order to restore a conventional linear front.

The German spring offensives ultimately failed for a variety of reasons. First, due to lack of mobility to exploit initial successes. Second, lack of clear strategic objectives. As a result, the German Chief of Staff dissipated his forces in a series of attacks that achieved tactical success but no operational or strategic decision. Thus, the German offensive of 1918 used tactics and organization that could be described as blitzkrieg without tanks, disorganizing and demoralizing rather than systematically destroying the defender.

The German spring offensives of 1918 were the most obvious example of mobility returning to the battlefield. All armies in 1918 were better able to attack than they had been in the preceding three years. Beginning on 15 July 1918, the British, French, and Americans launched a sustained series of attacks that combined all the Allied innovations made during the war. Infantry units used renewed mobility and firepower. They also used tanks to precede them and suppress the enemy strongpoints. Airpower provided limited ground-attack capability plus reconnaissance before and during the battle. This air reconnaissance focused on antitank threats to the advancing forces. Artillery had become much more sophisticated and effective than in 1914. Most Important, the different weapons and arms had learned to cooperate closely, at least in carefully planned set-piece operations. Commanders could no longer rely on one or even two arms. They had to coordinate every available means to overcome the stalemate of the trenches.

Despite all of this, the 1918 offensives in France never achieved a decisive result on the battlefield. The Germans were defeated more by sustained attrition and demoralization than by any decisive penetration and exploitation. One of the few cases in which a 1918 army penetrated a prepared defense and then exploited with conclusive results occurred in Palestine. Here, the British defeated Germany's ally, Turkey. This victory is known as the second battle of Armageddon. We will discuss this battle next.

Allenby and the Second Armageddon. The British commander, Sir Edmund Allenby, had steadily advanced from Egypt through Palestine. He advanced against a Turkish army with a German commander, Liman Von Sanders, and a few German units. The Turkish government had diverted its resources elsewhere, so in 1918 the British outnumbered the Turks two to one. Allenby further increased his advantage by a detailed deception plan that convinced the Turks that the British would attack at the eastern end of the front, in the Jordan valley. The actual attack was then conducted in the west, near the sea coast.

Allenby used all available elements, beginning with irregular troops in the enemy rear areas. On 17 September 1918, two days before the planned offensive, the famous T. E. Lawrence and Prince Feisal of Arabia conducted a wave of attacks on Turkish rail lines. This was done in order to divert attention and isolate the battlefront. The Royal Air Force also harassed Turkish lines of communications for days. At 0430 on 19 September, the British infantry began to move forward behind a 15-minute artillery barrage. This short preparation achieved surprise and avoided tearing up the ground. Moreover, the long delays in assembling troops and supplies prior to the offensive had enabled the British and Commonwealth infantry to train to high standards of flexibility. Unlike the campaigns in France, exploitation forces did not have to wait for authority to engage. Instead, one Australian and two British cavalry divisions began the battle closed up tightly behind the assaulting infantry. Their exploitation objectives were already designated. Because of this decentralized control, the 4th Cavalry Division completed its passage of lines. They began the exploitation within four hours of the initial assault.

The primary objectives of the campaign were the railroad junctions at El Afule and Beisan, 40 miles behind the front. A secondary objective was Nazareth, the German-Turkish headquarters. Seizure of these points would cut off the forward Turkish units from their supplies, commanders, and route of retreat. The key was to move cavalry through the passes of the Mount Carmel heights so rapidly that the Turks could not reach to block the passes. This was accomplished on the evening of the first day. The next morning, a brigade of the 4th Cavalry Division encountered a reinforced Turkish infantry battalion marching forward in a belated effort to block the pass at Musmus. A combination of armored car machinegun fire and horse cavalry lances captured this battalion before it ever deployed. Twenty-five hours after the offensive began, another British cavalry brigade surrounded the brigade occupying Nazareth. The brigade had been isolated and harassed by air attacks. Although the German commander escaped in the confusion, the British captured all the documents in the enemy headquarters. The Turkish 7th and 8th Armies, surrendered en masse, and only the November armistice ended the British pursuit.

The significance of the Second Armageddon was threefold.

  • First, it represented a rare example of making the transition from penetration to exploitation and pursuit before the defender could react. The key to this success was the fact that the exploitation force did not wait for permission from higher headquarters. It was committed on the decision of division commanders and in execution of a previously arranged plan.

  • Second, Allenby used all his weapons and units in a flexible and integrated manner that was matched in World War I only by the Germans.

  • Third, the Second Armageddon influenced an entire generation of British cavalry officers, who considered it the model of a mobile, deep battle. After the frustrations of the trench stalemate in France, the exploitation in Palestine seemed a dream come true. When these cavalry officers became armor commanders, they stressed the need for mobile, lightly armored vehicles. As a result, one-half of the British armored force in 1939 was equipped with inadequate guns and armor and was not prepared to cooperate with the other combat arms.

  • Organization of Infantry Divisions. The organization of the divisions differed greatly between the US and European armies. The main reason for this difference was manpower. The US division was larger than divisions in the other armies. Because of this difference, the divisions were organized into differing structures. The US was organized into a "square" division structure while the Europeans were organized into a "triangular" division structure.

    The European Divisions. The organization of a square division structure calls for four brigades of four regiments each. Both the French and the Germans found that the square division structure was unsuited to their positional warfare. Given the broad frontages involved in this type of war, no European power had enough manpower and units to deploy divisions with two regiments in the first line and two in the second. However, if three regiments were in the first line and the fourth regiment served as a general reserve, one of the two infantry brigade commanders was superfluous. So, the Germans left one brigade commander in control of all infantry. By 1916, both the French and the Germans had reduced the number of infantry regiments in a division from four to three. Thus, creating a triangular division structure (see Figure 2). The British had entered the war with a three-brigade structure. However, they eventually followed suit by reducing the brigade from four infantry battalions to three when manpower shortages became acute. This type of organization had the added advantage of increasing the proportion of artillery and other branches to infantry. Thus, a 1914 French infantry division consisted of 87% infantry, 10% artillery, and 3% support elements. The 1918 version had a proportion of 65% infantry, 27% artillery, and 8% support.

    The US Division. The United States Army not only insisted on a four-regiment structure, but actually increased the size of rifle companies during 1917. Thus, the US division rested on square division structure (see Figure 3). The US division varied in size from 23,000 to over 28,000 men. They were considered gigantic compared to the European divisions who were down to 8,000 men or fewer. In fact, the French and British commanders who controlled American divisions refused to use them according to their design. Instead, they pushed them into line with three regiments forward and the fourth either in second echelon or in corps reserve. In one instance, the 42nd US Infantry Division assumed the defense of a sector previously occupied by an entire French corps of three divisions. In principle, however, the American design was intended to provide for offensive and defensive operations despite the high casualties of trench warfare. The apparent intent was that an American brigade commander, with one regiment in contact and the second behind it, could leapfrog his regiments to sustain an offensive almost indefinitely. Thus, the decision-cycle time necessary to relieve exhausted assault troops would be cut. Unlike all higher commanders on the Allied side, this colonel or brigadier general had only a few aides and was free to command from forward locations. The only reserve available to the division commander was the two-battalion combat engineer regiment. This was frequently pressed into service as infantry.

    Weapons and Artillery. The rapid development of weapons and tactics during World War I significantly changed tactical organizations. The number of automatic weapons in an infantry division rose from a norm of twenty-four heavy machine guns in 1914 to the following totals in 1918:

    • Germany, 144 automatic rifles and 54-108 machine guns.

    • France, 216 automatic rifles and 72-108 machine guns.

    • Britain, 192 automatic rifles and 64 machine guns.

    • Italy, 288 automatic rifles and 72 machine guns.

    • United States, 768 automatic rifles and 260 machine guns.

    Artillery developed almost as dramatically, although most of the additional guns were concentrated in non divisional units. Their numbers varied depending on the mission of the division being supported. Though the Americans differed with their allies about many details, all participants came away from World War I with certain impressions in common. Some of the general feelings about World War I include:

    • The tremendous problems of logistics and manpower.

    • The necessity for detailed planning and coordination.

    • The difficulty of advancing, even when all arms worked closely together.

    Under carefully planned and controlled circumstances, the Allies had been able to combine all weapons systems to maximize the effects of each. Of all the belligerent systems for achieving this combination, the Germans proved to be most willing to adapt to new weapons and tactics.

    Summary

    World War I accelerated the development of new technology. Changes were evident in artillery and communications. New weapons appeared as the result of the penetration problem. In 1914, infantry attacks failed and trench warfare became the reality. The most obvious means of creating a penetration was with massed artillery fire. Two problems existed in 1914:

    1. Everyone had expected a short war. Thus, few armies had sufficient supplies of ammunition and heavy artillery.

    2. Most gunners had little experience in precision indirect fire.

    Due to these problems, many of the procedures common to artillerymen today were developed between 1914-1917. Those procedures include:

    • Establishing forward observer techniques for close coordination of indirect fire.

    • Measuring and compensating for the effects of weather and worn barrels.

    • Using ammunition from the same production lot to ensure that successful volleys fell in the same general area.

    Another problem that existed was the problem of coordinating infantry and artillery in an attack. During late 1914 and early 1915, attacks by the British and French were difficult to control because commanders and artillerymen lacked experience in indirect fire and reliable communications. Thus, the development of phase lines.

    World War I was the first war to introduce significant air action. Military aviation developed at a tremendous rate, but it was still in its infancy in 1918. Gas warfare was also first introduced during World War I. It was used in the first attempt to break the trench defense. Also among the technological innovations of the times were improvements in the mobility of firepower. This was developed with equipment such as light automatic rifles, grenades, rifle grenade launchers, and tanks. The introduction of trucks improved operational mobility.

    During World War I, many changes in the army's tactics and doctrine took place. German defensive doctrine evolved into a system of flexible defense-in-depth. This not only hindered attack, but developed the capabilities of the German infantry. The tactics of the German defensive system emphasized three principles: flexibility, decentralized control, and counterattack. While the Germans gradually perfected their system of defense, they also developed infiltration and penetration offensive tactics. The German infiltration tactics of 1918 included:

    • Bruckmuller artillery preparation.

    • Combined arms assault or storm battalion.

    • Infiltrating or bypassing centers of resistance.

    • Attacks to disorganize the enemy rear.

    By 1918, the organization of infantry divisions differed greatly between the US and European armies. The main reason for this difference was due to available manpower. The US division contained far more men than the divisions of the other combatants. Because of the difference, the divisions were organized into differing structures. The US was organized into a "square" division structure while the Europeans were organized into a "triangular" division structure. Though the Americans differed with their allies about many details, all participants came away from World War I with certain impressions in common. Some of the general feelings about World War I include:

    • The tremendous problems of logistics and manpower.

    • The necessity for detailed planning and coordination.

    • The difficulty of advancing, even when all arms worked closely together.

     


    Learning Event 2 Practical Exercise