WWI at Sea

Discussion in 'General Military Arms & History Forum' started by Pistolenschutze, Jul 14, 2008.

  1. Indeed, USMC, most specifically to the Congress of Vienna that followed the Napoleonic Wars and the reshaping of Europe that came from it. The Congress System was originally instituted with the idea of solving problems by meetings and with words instead of by armies and with bullets. In many ways it worked fairly well, at least up until the Crimean War in the 1850s, but in the end, the changes made by the great powers at Vienna resulted in a slow movement toward and intricate system of alliances among the major European powers, Britain, France, Germany (after 1871, Prussia before that), Italy, Austria-Hungary, and Russia. Those alliances ultimately proved their undoing when the series of Balkan crises arose in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

    Every nation seemed to have the entrenched belief that any war would indeed be decided quickly. The entire German strategy was based on the idea of a "quick" and victorious war against France (6 weeks was the projection), then a fast turn on Russia before she could mobilize. It almost worked. Virtually no one realized the havoc modern woulds would wreak, however. Your point about lessons learned from the American Civil War especially is quite apt. That was the first truly "industrialized" war with killing in wholesale lots instead of penny packets. No one listened to the lessons that were there for the taking. Many European nations sent observers to both sides of the conflict, so there is little excuse for not having heeded the lesson.
  2. mrkirker

    mrkirker New Member

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    Again and again, conflicts are initially fought with the successful tactics of the preceding conflict, while the technology of killing advances unabated.

    As usual it was (and is) the lowly rifleman and gunner's mate that paid the heaviest price. :(
  3. Nighthawk

    Nighthawk New Member

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    Amen - but I like reading their posts and yours also.
    not to good on this stuff, but I do enjoy reading about military engagements.
  4. USMC-03

    USMC-03 New Member

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    The Crimean may have been the first conflict to be photographed and saw the first use of many modern weapons; it really was, in my opinion, the last classic shoulder-to-shoulder/volley fire European style war. It was also the last of the romanticized wars; a la Tennyson's Charge of the Light Brigade.

    I have done some limited reading into the Crimean War (though it seems all but forgotten today) and the one thing that always strikes me is how it happened almost as if by accident. All of the major participants acted and reacted in a very casual manner; simply positioning the chess pieces and expecting the other side to back down without serious bloodshed. When the fighting began it earnest, and with relatively heavy casualties, all sides were rather shocked.

    And this is the where the proverbial "European Powder Keg" was born.

    The two main lessons of the War Between the States (it was not by definition a civil war) was that massed formations, especially when used against entrenched defenders, were no longer effective and the importance of mechanized logistics. As you say, there were large numbers of observers from the European powers, but also this was a conflict that was very well recorded and photographed. Even if no reports from observers were available, all sides had access to the vast amount of documentation and media accounts.

    The two conflicts that should have been most closely studied by naval planners prior to 1914 were the Spanish-American War and the Russo-Japanese War. These two wars provided the first examples of modern warships engaging in combat at the fleet level. I have to wonder if the Russian defeat at Tsushima was not heavy on the minds of Jellicoe, Beaty, Hipper and Scheer, thus making the battle of Jutland so indecisive. Had any one of them been more aggressive the North Sea could have seen a considerable amount of steel and many sailors at her bottom.

    And forever after refought by the armchair generals and admirals.
  5. Very, very true, USMC. Lee learned that very hard lesson on the 3rd day at Gettysburg with the virtual destruction of Pickett's Brigade; Burnside learned it on Marye's Heights at Fredericksburg, or should have, and Grant learned it even more bloodily at Cold Harbor. Massed troops frontally assaulting entrenched positions was simply no longer a viable military option. In the face of massed artillery, and still later, machine guns, such actions were literally suicidal. Yet for over three years both sides flung millions of young men repeatedly at such positions, and the butcher's bill doesn't even bear contemplating.

    Both sides knew of, and had carefully studied, the battle at Tsushima Straits in 1905, and I think it was certainly on their minds. The Russian experience was not a pleasant one, to say the least, though one might argue that it was not so much Japanese brilliance that won, but rather the disreputable state of the Russian ships. Yet what really prevented a decision at Jutland, I believe, were the political considerations and restraints placed on both commanders before that engagement. "Whatever you do, don't loose the fleet!" Neither commander was willing to gamble with the possibility of literally loosing the war in an afternoon. Without the Grand Fleet, Britain stood helpless against invasion and bombardment, and conversely, without the High Seas Fleet, Germany would have been subject to total blockade.

    True, especially the War of Northern Aggression. :D;)
  6. USMC-03

    USMC-03 New Member

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    That is exactly correct. Had any of the commanders lost an entire fleet they would have been retired in disgrace at the very least. As it is, they may be soundly criticized and second guessed by Monday morning admirals until times end, but that's far better than being known as the one person who lost the war.

    Here is another interesting picture from that same book showing the military strength of the major antagonists on in Western Europe. By looking at just the numbers it's easy to see there the German confidence in a quick land campaign came from. And also just why "Britannia Rules the Waves" was not just a song.

    Oh, you mean the War of Southern Secession...

    Attached Files:

  7. Jellicoe made it clear from the time he took command of the Grand Fleet in 1914 that discretion would be the watchword under his flag. Kaiser Wilhelm also made it clear from the outset that his fleet commanders were not to risk his ships unless compelled by the most dire of circumstances. He was willing, at least in the first year of the war, to risk his battlecruisers on occasional raids, but after they were almost caught and destroyed after the Scarborough and Yorkshire raid, he forbade even that.

    Numbers alone, however, were deceptive. The British held the edge on paper, that is true, but the Admiralty knew (though it was kept from the public) that Germany's ships were actually more capable than their British counterparts. Germany's best chance for a decisive victory, I think, was in 1914 or perhaps early 1915 before the British ship-building program greatly augmented the Grand Fleet with the new Dreadnought class battleships and battlecruisers that were already on the building ways. Wilhelm was much too timid to risk that.

    Officially, the Civil War is known as "The War of the Rebellion." Down South, it is officially referred to as "The War of Northern Aggression." The latter name is, of course, far more accurate. :D;):p
  8. USMC-03

    USMC-03 New Member

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    Not only that, but Brittan also had to protect the sea lanes to the rest of her global empire and to the United States, thus limiting the number of vessels blockading the High Seas Fleet to an almost equal standing, at least until 1916 to 1917.
  9. Very true, USMC. For example, it was only begrudgingly that the Admiralty was willing temporarily to release battlecruisers from the Grand Fleet to go after von Spee's commerce-raiding cruisers, even though it was evident after the disaster at Coronel that they were the only viable answer to the threat. Another example lies with the commitment of warships from the fleet to the Dardanelles effort.
  10. Well, I finished reading the Massie book, Castles of Steel. I must say, I consider it an excellent history indeed. Massie not only described the naval engagements of World War I, but he gave excellent insight into the lives of the combatants and the politicians behind them, particularly Churchill. After reading this, I am no longer so certain Jellicoe acted too timidly at Jutland. If anyone was to blame for the less-than-spectacular success of the British fleet in that battle, I think that blame must fall mostly on Beatty, though he is the one who received all the kudos from the public. Communication--or lack thereof--was the key factor in the engagement, and Jellicoe was not given the information from either the Admiralty or Beatty's battle cruiser squadron that he needed to trap the German fleet. On such little things the events of history so often turn.
  11. USMC-03

    USMC-03 New Member

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    I've got Castles of Steel on my reading list on your recomendation Pistol. I'll be looking forward to reading the passages on Churchill; he's one of my favorite historical figures.

    So many books, so little time...
  12. I think you will enjoy it, USMC, especially considering your interest in the First World War. Massie goes into several chapters of detail on the Jutland engagement, which I found particularly interesting. Generally, I found his analysis quite apt since he is not biased in his assessment of either side.

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