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Western Front on 1914 Approaches for the Entente

Christopher "Mike" White

"After the fighting deadlocked on the Western Front by the end of 1914, what strategic courses of action should the countries of the Entente and Germany have adopted?"

Once the fighting deadlocked on the Western Front on 1914 the Entente, specifically the British should have opened another front while the Germans should have conducted submarine warfare to draw the Grand Fleet into a favorable battle at the same time and host to their choosing. Both actions are secondary businesses and illustrate the way the warnings of Clausewitz to open secondary functions only when they present exceptional rewards still hold true.

In the case of the British and the second front in the Dardanelles, the chance relative to the principal operation and reaching its strategic objective of providing relief for Russia and protecting against it leaving the war was low. Additionally, it presented a primary way to attack the enemy's alliances as suggested by Sun Tzu. 1 Finally there was a distinct probability of the Entente having the ability to draw undecided nations in to the war on the side, nations who already had grounds to fight both Ottomans and Austria Hungary.

In the truth of the Germany, submarine warfare is a useful tool in the attrition of the British Grand Fleet given the Strategy utilized by the Admiralty for a number of reasons. First, submarine attrition of the Grand Fleet would create the conditions for a more favorable battle for the German High Seas Fleet avoiding the blockade and subsequent starvation of the German population. Second, the Submarine was a great threat to the British Grand Fleet which was the centerpiece of British control of the seas. Finally, as the use of German submarines could have the result of forcing the Grand Fleet into action favoring the Germans, it could not have the unwanted consequence of fabricating a potential enemy of the United States.

With the existing stalemate, neither France nor Britain could afford to own Russia, whose forces currently tied down German troops in the east who otherwise would join the Western Front, leave the war. To break the stalemate and provide relief because of their ally, Britain suggested the opening of another front. In On War, Clausewitz states that secondary businesses only be undertaken when they "look exceptionally rewarding. "2. In cases like this, the plan was a landing in the Dardanelles, the narrow strait separating the Mediterranean from the Black Sea which Constantinople is located. The immediate objective of the procedure was showing support and commitment to the alliance with the added benefit for renewing the patriotic spirit of the Russian soldiers providing them with greater scope in the fighting. 3 Control of the straits would give a much-needed link between Russia and her allies. This new link would allow Britain and France usage of wheat while simultaneously providing ways to give Russia essential weapons from the more industrially developed allies.

Both coastlines were littered with forts and artillery positions while the waters were lined with mines. The best guns of battleships would quickly neutralize the enemy cannons, and the armada would include minesweepers to clear just how. The battleships would confront Constantinople, shell it if required and then accept the Ottoman surrender. A big fleet was raised consisting of 82 ships including 18 battleships both British and French.

The lack of control by the Ottomans would pose an existential threat to the Empire. The Entente control of the straits would threaten control of Constantinople that was the Capital of the Empire as well as its principal industrial center for the war effort. This threat would endanger the Ottoman forces from all sides and improve the value of any possible gains in the war and possibly drive those to peace reliving the Suez. 4 Any victory against the Ottoman Empire would noticeably raise the morale at home increasing national resolve and the effectiveness of the war effort.

A final reward from the campaign could be the possible influence of these powers in the region which hadn't yet entered the war. The taking of the straits and removal of the Ottoman Empire from the war would embolden those nations. Taking the Straits would provide the chance for the campaign to draw in Greece, Bulgaria, Rumania, and Montenegro; who all had reasons to fight both the Ottoman and Austria-Hungary, in to the war privately of the Entente. The new allies would give a boost both in troop and equipment strength as well as a boost in the morale of the civilian populations. With these nations in the Entente and usage of the Black Sea there would be another potential avenue of attack on Austria-Hungary, another German Ally further attacking German alliances.

This combination of rewards from what should be considered a simple amphibious landing performed by the greatest Naval power of the age should produce a positive outcome. The Royal Navy with the Royal Army and along with the French would quickly defeat the already beleaguered Ottoman forces swinging the pendulum of momentum in the war to favor the Entente producing a breaking of the stalemate on the Western Front.

When war broke out in 1914, the British Navy was the most significant and most powerful on earth. The German High Seas Fleet, while formidable, stood little chance against it numerically. 5 The German High Seas Fleet prepared for Der Tag, a decisive fleet on fleet engagement that would decide the fate of the High Seas Fleet and may Destroy the Grand Fleet eliminating British rule of the seas and effectively taking them out of the war. Along with the Grand Fleet blockade of the Northern Sea and the English Channel keeping the High Seas Fleet in port really the only kind of ship that may leave and perform any kind of operation was the U-boat.

The U-boat threat had already caused the Admiralty to station the capital ships of the Grand Fleet far away from the German coast to ensure their safety. In case the German commanders could go out and use their boats to attack the Grand Fleet at anchor or while unsuspecting at their posts far from the German homeland, then they might have eliminated lots of the capital ships of the Grand Fleet.

The concern with such an attack was what drove the Admiralty to station the valuable dreadnoughts as a long way away as Loch Ewe, out of selection of the enemy U-boats but creating an opportunity for the High Seas Fleet to disrupt the cross-channel type of communication had they recognized it. 6 This fear displayed by the Admiralty shows how the U-boats had already started to direct the movements of the Grand Fleet even before that they had caused any British ship casualties.

This ability to build openings, like the opportunity of the cross-channel line of communication disruption, could have been vital to stopping the distant blockade of the German coast. The consequence of the blockade was a decrease in the common German citizens' diet to 1100 calories each day, producing a significant decline in the will of the visitors to continue the fight. 7 If we consider the effectiveness of a nation as something of force and will to fight, the blockade was a detractor which could have been mitigated but instead sizably reduced that strength.

It had recently been proven in 1914 that the German U-boat threat to the Grand Fleet was possible when the cruisers HMS Cressy, Hogue and Aboukir were all sunk by a single U-boat. 8 This prompted the Royal Navy to admit that the North Sea had not been occupied by the Grand Fleet but by submarines and commenced to erode their willingness to simply accept the primacy of the administrative centre ship championed by Mahan. The British Admiralty knew of the dangerous nature of the U-boat, as explained by Admiral Wilson submarines were "underhanded, unfair, and damned unEnglish!"9

If German U-boats had been used offensively up against the Grand Fleet, then your action of admiral Beatty and his battle-cruisers into Heligoland Bight for light forces which were under fire from a German force would have resulted in losses to the Grand Fleet vice the High Seas Fleet. The entire battle of Jutland might have been more even or, could have started with a German numerical advantage. In the end the theory was that even a fleet action cannot force Britain to surrender because a win cannot be attained by Germany but it would have been possible with proper submarine employment.

Finally, if Germany had opted with attacking military targets rather than merchant shipping they would have had a lower threat of bringing america into the war as an enemy. The United States was a significant commercial power during WWI supplying the Entente and profiting from its trade. The United States had 1. 2 million A great deal of shipping on the high seas moving between its ports and the ones in Europe and Asia. 10 While that is clearly a lot of merchant traffic it was dwarfed by the British ability of 12. 4 million tons. The United States did supply the Entente nevertheless the amount of shipping under US flag in comparison to English was small. When the Germans didn't act from the neutral USA, the probability of them entering the war was small given their explained neutrality and desire to remain from the war that was enveloping Europe and instead would have remained neutral.

It can be argued that as the Dardanelles was a great idea it was poorly executed. The poor execution had the contrary aftereffect of what it will have had and for that reason was the wrong plan of action even given the possible positive rewards. The procedure would fail because of insufficient real strategic guidance, failure to obviously articulate what objectives were and exactly how important they were and incomplete commitment of forces and resources to perform an effective operation.

The War Council was seeking an instant, cheap victory. They expected a campaign of sharp gains with minimal resources, in fact, Churchill believed a Navy-only procedure would suffice to force the strait. 11 The War Council had fallen into the trap of assuming away the risks based simply on the fact that the British were an Empire that was a Great Power and a racist feeling of superiority over the Turks who have been no match. 12 This overconfidence led to them placing the look responsibilities after the operational commander with no actual strategic guidance. There were mistakes in any way levels of leadership from the War Council to tactical commanders with little if any experience and a lack of initiative ready to stop fighting at any inconvenience. The consequence of this insufficient guidance was an incomplete commitment of forces and resources throughout the campaign.

Without plainly articulating the actual objectives were the operational commanders were at a distinct disadvantage. The operational commander takes the strategic objective of the civilian leadership and turns that into his operational idea to have the ability to attain those objectives. Without clear objectives in this case they were unable to translate the unknown strategic objective into an idea that could be adapted for changes during the unfolding of the battle. As Clausewitz states "The Strategist must therefore define an shoot for the entire operational side of the war that will be in accordance with its purpose. "13

Additionally, the incomplete commitment of resources and forces create another problem, not only was it impossible to create a coherent plan but it would also be impossible to adapt that plan due to lack of either resources or troops. Initially there is a mentioned need of 150, 000 troops to achieve the operation, but due to the prevailing considered Naval bombardment being sufficient and the Western Front reduced the final range of troops to not even half that needed. 14

The summation of insufficient guidance, insufficient commitment and lack of experienced leaders led inevitably to the failure of the procedure and lack of realization of desired outcomes.

It can even be argued that the unrestricted submarine warfare was the only viable option for the German Navy to attempt to carefully turn the tide of the war. Since 1914, the war was at a stalemate and not going well for Germany on the Western Front. The Battle of Jutland proved that the High Seas Fleet was not strong enough to defeat the Grand Fleet with the result that any attempt by the High Seas Fleet to attack British merchant traffic would not work as the Grand Fleet would prevent it. This brought about the idea that any attacks on Britain's shipping supply would have to be achieved by submarines. The desired effect is always to break the backbone of British energy and enterprise by depriving her of imported goods. 15 The result was Germany choosing an insurance plan of wholesale unrestricted attack. Unrestricted submarine warfare would deprive Britain of needed supplies for industry and by extension break the will of France and Italy who had been being kept afloat by the British and diminish the will of the visitors to fight by depriving them of necessities of course, if done swiftly would avoid the United States from entering the war on the side of the British.

By German estimation, there is an option of 10. 75 million a great deal of shipping available to Great Britain. The Grain harvest for the entire year have been bad world-wide and the supply ships to Britain would need to take longer routes making them more vunerable to German attacks. A monthly destruction of 600, 000 tons of shipping would deprive Britain of needed grains forcing rationing and scare Denmark and Holland from trading and in total reducing British sea traffic by 40%. 16 The reduced amount of shipping and needed supplies would force rationing, reducing the will to fight and deprive industry of recycleables reducing the ability to fight while additionally reducing British exports to France and Italy.

If the campaign were announced and commenced rapidly, then there would be virtually no time for negotiations between Britain and neutrals, scaring the neutrals and possibly keeping them out of the war. 17 The United States would again have to choose against neutrality, and even if they did decide against neutrality, their shipping capacity could have a small impact and take some time to increase to a level that would affect the war.

In the case of the Dardanelles, it is straightforward to look back with the benefit of hindsight and say that the Dardanelles were a poorly executed operation. However, with British Naval superiority supported by the French and a sizeable ground force, there is absolutely no reason that the campaign must have failed. The correct course of action was to open another front and the Dardanelles were a good choice due to location being good for relieving the Russian allies, relieving the Suez, establishing a clear line to commence functions against Austria-Hungary, and most importantly bring in undecided nations in the region into the war on the side of the Entente increasing combat capability. Slight alterations to base strategy were needed but the importance of opening another front to break the stalemate on the Western Front was essential to get rid of the war and lower the expense of victory to a more acceptable level.

In the situation of Germany's unrestricted submarine warfare campaign, they would have been better off sticking to purely military targets to decrease Grand Fleet strength in comparison to High Seas Fleet strength. The submarine force was a danger to the British, plus they acknowledged the facial skin by the stationing and distant blockade they thought we would implement. Bringing British combat capacity to their level and selecting the place and time of engagement was the only way they might have had the opportunity to accomplish victory. If they chose unrestricted submarine warfare, they might have had to own realistic estimates of the shipping capabilities of the British and of the damage that the submarines would be able to inflict onto it. Most importantly, they would have to deal with the angry USA which had end up being the dominant industrial power and would be able to build and deploy ships almost as fast as the submarines could sink them effectively removing any advantage that they might have achieved.

Both choices available were secondary operations or fronts, and secondary procedures or fronts must have a particular and direct effect on the enemy. If the effect on the enemy is not direct and obvious, then it was a poor choice for the positioning or even to even start the operation. While the ultimate objective is often victory, it generally does not mean that the effect must be considered a direct combat success, only that the effect on the enemy has positive impact on your war aims. Secondary procedures and fronts must be aimed as directly as you possibly can at the enemy, or they will waste essential resources for little if any gain in the pursuit of the primary object, winning the war. For instance, the Gallipoli campaign, in seeking a route to Russia for supply and relief would have been a direct influence on the Germany through the Ottoman Empire. In cases like this, the 'whale' of Britain, not having an army of sufficient size to meet the 'elephant' of Germany head-on, the effect being a stalemate, sought a second theater where it could use its naval forces.

In Germany's case, their selection of secondary procedure increased risk by expanding the scope of the war and drawing in a fresh enemy. As the negative aspect and the opportunity of bringing neutral parties in to the war as enemies was evident to the German leadrship, the reaction of the United States was poorly estimated by them. Alone their employment of the U-boat fleet didn't impact the German military, which makes it a minimal risk but high reward to the war effort on the Western Front. Unfortunately, for the campaign to really have the desired effect, US shipping needed to be targeted as well which would dramatically increase overall risk. The lesson here is that you should analyze the potential risks of a secondary front or operation as the worst case, so you don't put most of your objective in danger.

1 Sun Tzu. The Art of War. Translated by Samuel B. Griffith. Oxford: Oxford University Press, (1980), III 5.

2 Carl von Clausewitz. On War: Edited and translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret. Princeton. Princeton University Press, (1976), 618.

3 Ibid. , 186.

4 Kevin McCranie. The War at Sea. (presentation, Strategy and War Course, Naval War College, Newport, RI, 14 December 2016).

5 Paul M Kennedy. The Rise and Fall of British Naval Mastery. New York. Humanity Books, (1976), 242.

6 Ibid. 245

7 Kevin McCranie. The War at Sea. (presentation, Strategy and War Course, Naval War College, Newport, RI, 14 December 2016).

8 Paul M Kennedy. The Rise and Fall of British Naval Mastery. NY. Humanity Books, (1976), 245


9 Ibid. 248

10 Kevin McCranie. The War at Sea. (presentation, Strategy and War Course, Naval War College, Newport, RI, 14 December 2016). ), 147.

1 Elliot A. Cohen and John Gooch. Military Misfortunes: The Anatomy of Failure in War. NY. Free Press, (1990), 134.

12 Ibid. 134.

3 Carl von Clausewitz. On War: Edited and translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret. Princeton. Princeton University Press, (1976), 177.

4 Elliot A. Cohen and John Gooch. Military Misfortunes: The Anatomy of Failure in War. NY. Free Press, (1990), 136.

5 Admiral von Holtzendorf. German History in Documents and Images. Selected Readings. Naval War College, Newport, RI, (2016), 2.

6 Ibid. 3.

7 Ibid. 4.

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