Saturday, 28 March 2015

Western Front early 2015

At the start of 1915, the fortified Western Front stretched 350 miles from the Swiss alps to the Channel. The German fleet was trapped in its harbours, and the British could neither lure it out, nor go behind it to alleviate behind the front. Thus, for the first time in recent military history, there was no scope for a turning movement. Frontal assault was known to be costly, and very likely to be fruitless – hence the stalemate. (Nevertheless, full frontal attacks were pursued by the French and British throughout 1915, 1916 and 1917 at horrific cost). Until the Battle of Neuve Chapelle in march, described alter, there were only skirmishes and small tactical actions along the whole front.
From some British leaders’ viewpoint (Churchill and Lloyd George especially), the Western front was at an impasse – attackers would fare worse than defenders – and France was completely pre-occupied by the invasion of her soil. Russia was under pressure, and communication was poor; the Fleet was now in control of the high seas, and the likely theatre for realistic progress was the near East/Eastern Mediterranean. They pressurized Asquith, promoting the near East as a new theatre of war. Like the German ‘east or west’ debate, there were those on the British side – Kitchener, Grey, French – plus the authority of Joffre in France, who shared Falkenhayn’s military view that only decisive victory on the Western front could break the deadlock. 

Falkenhay's Plan (from Churchill: The Great War  Vol II)

Falkenhayn was still smarting from losing his personal argument with Hindenburg re East/west strategy, and resolved to create another reserve army that he could employ on the Western Front. He planned to take battalions from various quieter points of the front, add in some reserves and create the new 11th Army, to be placed under control of two of his rising stars, Colonels von Seeckt and Krafft.

Hans von Seeckt (1866-1936)
A brilliant strategist, he later became
influential in strategy for
Hitler's Wehrmacht

Over a period of two months he planned to build this army, and chose the area of the front from Arras to the Somme for a full frontal attack to pierce the Allied line. The right flank of the British line at La Bassee would come under early pressure, and the aim was to push it back towards Boulogne and Calais, wrapping up the British, French and Belgian forces to the north. The tenth French army of Maud’huy would be pushed south and west, creating a wide gap through to the Pas de Calais.
This plan did not materialise – the British struck first at Neuve Chapelle in early March, and in fact his new 11th Army was also destined to move to the Eastern Front, not serve in the West 

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