This coming Friday we welcome one of our favourite speakers Professor Emeritus John Derry. Historian who, I’m sure, will give us an interesting talk on “The Great War: Aftermath” expanding on the enormous implications of the Armistice and the years that followed. As our meeting comes to order, but most importantly when the speaker commences his talk, can I respectfully ask that all members turn off their mobile devices until after Q&A’s have finished. We will hold a very brief AGM to cover the year 2018/2019, and to date, so please be ready to give a show of hands when requested and we will do this as expediently as possible. The meeting will start at 7.45pm prompt so please try and arrive in good time. We don’t wish to delay John Derry’s much anticipated talk.
I repeat the purpose of the WFA and these Branch meetings is firstly ‘remembrance’ and with this the WFA’s intention to ‘educate, or promote education’, about the Great War to whoever shows interest, both young and old, unfortunately the latter seems to be more prominent. The WFA do this through its magazines, website and conferences but most significantly its network of Branches throughout the UK and overseas. We currently have 53 branches throughout the UK. The WFA have just under 6000 members who have all paid a subscription of £29 each to tap into the network and receive the two high quality publications, Bulletin and “Stand To!”. This will be the fifth meeting of our fiscal year and I can report that we now have speakers arranged right through until next May with Peter Hart, Jack Sheldon, Clive Harris and Rob Thompson taking us up to Christmas. As good a list of top military historians as you’ll get anywhere? May I remind you that the 8 November meeting includes our usual brief remembrance ceremony at 7.45pm.
Also the last meeting before Christmas will be on the first Friday (6th) in December, not the usual second so a note in your diary please. Last year various members cried off due to office parties etc therefore a change seems to make sense. The 6th December meeting has always been a special social night with a hot-pot supper/glass of wine after the speaker. This year we intend to change to a buffet supper with wine and soft drinks, and I hope, with Rob Thompson as our guest speaker, we will have a good turnout of members. Ralph Lomas
The Great War: The Aftermath
A great deal of ink has been devoted to analysing the causes of the First World War, but there are good reasons for studying its consequences. The most obvious result of the war was the collapse of the empires: the Russian, the Hapsburg, the Ottoman and the German. The peace settlement at Versailles was supposedly based on the principles of nationalism and liberalism, yet it was notoriously difficult to apply national self-determination in central and eastern Europe and the Balkans and impossible to do so in the middle east. The war had tremendous consequences for Britain and her empire, and its impact in Ireland led to the extinction of the old Irish House Rule party. The war did much for the emergence of the new Labour party as a contender for government and for the emancipation of women. Would communism have become dominant in Russia without the war? Did the war help to bring about Fascism in Italy and Nazism in Germany? Why did the USA fail to join the League of Nations?
Last Month’s Talk
The Branch were treated to an absorbing talk by Mungo Melvin CB OBE who had a long and distinguished career in the Army, a highly qualified Academic and Honorary Vice President WFA, on the continuing military lessons that can be made from the Great War.
In 1932, the Kirke Report reflected on the Army’s performance in the Great War. Looking back on previous wars provides most important lessons. All wars produce new methods and fresh problems. By looking to the past, the probabilities of the future may be considered. However, the future conflict will always be different from peacetime conceptions.
On the centenary of the Great War, the Army formed Operation Reflect to carry out Staff Rides in 2014, 2016 and 2018. The aim was, in a dignified manner, to commemorate and learn enduring lessons that could educate others. These were in the respective years; an overview of the war; the Somme; Operation Michael.
Haig had advocated Staff Rides in 1907. He regarded knowing military history as all important to an officer who should learn from the experience and difficulties that had to be overcome. However, Staff Rides and war games were necessary to reach a conclusion. This would be amplified during the inter war years in TEWT-Tactical exercise without troops. The process and its aims were to teach future leaders the Art of War. A Staff Ride would study a selected campaign by visiting sites to learn lessons and include maximum student involvement. The three phases were Preliminary Study, Field Studies, After Action Review. The aim was to train, educate and honour. This process continues and now involves both the Military and Historians with discussions and summing up. At the start the initial consideration is the terrain- Hadrian’s Wall or the Somme would have different aspects of this.
Consideration is given to line of site, shape, texture, observation, inter-visibility, going, obstacles, routes, reverse slopes, vital ground, and key terrain. The Battlefield would be studied for orientation, direction, distances, description, significance and history. This could be related to today’s Army considering any possible future action by understanding the campaign, the big picture and fine detail.
The aim is to engage, motivate the team and lead by example. Speakers on the subject would include veterans, guides, historians and servicemen. There are many benefits by understanding decisions in battle for future soldiers and it contributes to team building and a stimulus for subsequent development.
As an example the 2018 ride was analysed. Consideration was given to the contrasting army fortunes of Germany, France, Britain and USA on the Western Front 100 years before. The question was how could the Allies get a winning advantage over their peer adversaries with given resources and public support.
The main themes were operation level manoeuvres, innovation, initiative, adaptability, morale, and conflict resolution. The principal aim was to learn individually and collectively, military education and development by informed discussions and analysis.
The main questions were: did surprise bring back operational manoeuvre in 1918? Or were superior forces applied to the decisive point? What lessons could be applied to contemporary situations? Did Foch as Generalissimo affect planning and conduct of the war? What degree of co-operation was there on the battlefield? What significance has this for modern day alliances and co-operation? Did technical or tactical innovation (or both) help break trench deadlock? Can we apply this to current and future challenges? Did decentralised command help operations and tactics in 1918? Do modern communications threaten or help mission control?
How comparable was German and Allied adaptability of the learning process and organisation? Can we apply these lessons today? How was morale and resilience affected by heavy losses on both sides? Does this apply today? If not, how do we prepare troops for long and gruelling conflicts? Did the Allies (including USA) deliver their war aims by the Armistice? Could and should they have gone further? What could we learn today from the interplay of political and military ideals and how would this affect future operations? Reference was made to works such as Cambrai by Charles Messenger and Operation Michael by David Zabecki.
There is an enduring contemporary relevance. The multi-national NATO could still face renewed state based threats. Armies are small today but there would be a need to adapt upwards if required. War is now very technical and there is a shifting balance of world power, requiring a need for constant improvement to compete in a future operational environment
The lessons learned emphasise the importance of command, leadership, morale and resilience with a will to fight. Comradeship and the empowerment of commanders are essential. Both defence and offence are important- defence in depth with reserves-offensive spirit and the ability to counter attack. War is waged by combined arms-infantry, artillery, armour and engineers are all needed. The artillery will cover obstacles with the increasing use of air power.
Like 1918 we are likely to be fighting a peer enemy. Operational design within a strategic context is essential. In 1918 Ludendorff launched huge assaults but lost the strategic plot for tactical gains that were irrelevant in the long run. Compared to this Foch and Haig maintained Allied cohesion
It is essential to learn from one’s own experiences and from others then to apply these lessons. Mistakes will be made, but if honest, try to correct immediately. War is a constant learning process. It is necessary to know what remains to be learned. There are enduring principles of war with tested techniques, tactics and procedures. There is a need to build and train forces in time and expand as needed. There is a political case for sufficient resources and elasticity. Setbacks must be contained and responded to. Innovation is not cheap, nor quick. The former affects all ranks and there must be quick thinking in battle. Avoid too much talk at the expense of enough walk.
A fascinating in depth presentation, highlighting the importance of looking back to go forward. Terry Jackson.
13 September: The Last Battle: Endgame on the Western Front, 1918 by Peter Hart
11 October: The German Defeat and the Myth of the Stab in the Back: The reasons for the rapid collapse and a projection forward into 1919 and beyond by WFA Vice-President Dr Jack Sheldon
8 November: Gallipoli Men in the last 100 days by Clive Harris, Guild of Battlefield Guides. 7.45pm Remembrance ceremony at Drill Hall Memorial
6 December (1st Friday) Demobilisation: Drawing down the BEF 1919/20 by Rob Thompson
Branch Raffle Update
The raffle often seems like a bit of fun. Long may it be so. However, the more serious side to it should not be overlooked. Each month it raises much needed funds for our branch of the WFA and I am grateful to all those who not only buy tickets but also to those who donate books and other prizes. During the past year I have been especially grateful to two people who have made significant donations of excellent quality books. One of those people is Jack Harrington who donated a huge number of books to be raffled as well as a set of volumes which I auctioned and raised £75. A more recent contribution came from Nicholas Campbell who gave us a large part of his late father’s library. Some of these made up last month’s book sale, as well as enhancing our raffle, and to date have raised £50. Please continue to support the raffle and future book sales. Remember, few can escape the witch with the tickets. Joan M. Tomlinson
Venue: The Armoury (TA Centre), Greek Street, Stockport, SK3 8AB. Meeting on the second Friday of every month. 7.20 for 8.00pm.