Research Notes – The Great War (4) Total War

I’m researching The Great War for my current work in progress: a historical novel set during that time. To write the period accurately, I’ve been reading and studying the war and the surrounding events. I hope you find these bits of information as interesting as I do. ~ Meg

“Wisdom is an arrow seldom used in the quiver of government.” -Historian Barbara Tuchman

The First World War was a ‘total’ war in the sense that the civilian populations and the entire economies of the warring nations were fully mobilized to support the effort. No longer was the conflict limited to fighting between professional armies. Rather, an entire generation of young men was conscripted to join the decimated troops on the frontline. It was a war of attrition, slow and deadly. The armies dug in and slaughtered each other with little ground gained, or goals achieved. The Battle of the Somme in 1916 is an example.

The battle, an offensive staged by a combined British and French force, began in July and lasted five months.  On the first day alone, the British lost 57,000 men. When all was said and done, the British and French had advanced about 6 miles (9.7 km) on the Somme, on a front of 16 miles (26 km) at a cost of 419,654 British and 202,567 French casualties, against 465,181 German casualties. Lloyd George called it, “the most gigantic, tenacious, grim, futile and bloody fights ever waged in the history of the war.”

And so it was, until it was supplanted by an even more horrific battle the following year. In July of 1917, the assault began on the village of Passchendale, in the Ypres Salient. General Douglas Haig, commander of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), was confident he could take the village in a matter of hours by simultaneously attacking German positions. But the reality of the situation was that rains had turned Flanders into a muddy mire and thousands of men were quickly bogged down. They became sitting ducks for the German guns and died from a combination of wounds and the diseases that festered in the muck they were forced to fight and live in. At the end, Canadian forces eventually prevailed, but at the cost of a quarter million British soldiers. And for what? No German communication lines had been cut and the army’s morale was in tatters.

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Featured images via wiki commons.

33 thoughts on “Research Notes – The Great War (4) Total War

  1. Again, the ego of a few leads to the ruin of the many. Will we never learn? Jesus. Those numbers are astronomical. I actually had a patient who was a WWI vet. He lied about his age to enlist but the Armistice was signed while he was en route to Europe. He never had to fight, and if he had, he likely would’ve never lived to see 20, much less the age of 107 when he passed. So much life wasted, and for nothing. 6 fucking miles!?! For nothing…but ego. 😠

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, exactly. There were never any real gains of territory during the whole war, once the initial invasion took place. With trench warfare, it was a matter of gain/loss of ground over and over again. A horror, really.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. And after all these years, the situation has not changed. In fact it has become worse. Now we are on to nuclear and bio wars and countries take pride in showing off their capabilities and weaponry. The purpose of writing history is to learn from it but sadly, it has not happened. While we glorify yhe war martyrs, we do not find a way to diffuse egoistic situations and avoid wars based on that. Poor soldiers have to fight no matter what, only to restore egos of somr country heads!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s exactly right. The idea of civilized discourse has been replaced with insults and posturing. No one listens and everyone shouts at each other. While the people they are supposed to lead and care for suffer!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. When you think about the number of men killed and what was achieved it’s horrifying to think of what it must have been like actually in those battles. It’s a mark on human civilisation that this even had to happen.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re so right, Simon. This war introduced the world to modern warfare and the concept of conscripting the population for its effort. No more professional armies with dedicated soldiers – now the entire population was involved. The world never truly recovered.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It didn’t recover. What this did meanwas women were granted the vote and lter in WWII it was realised that women could actually do jobs (it was a shock to them I think).
        But why it had to cost so much to get there is unfathomable.
        Hope you’re well 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yes, a real shift in paradigm… from the basic level of society (family) straight to the top (the end of dynastic rulership) but at a terrible cost in human life and suffering.

        Doing pretty well, Simon. A little busy and stressed but who isn’t, right? How are you doing?

        Liked by 1 person

    1. The photos of the war ravaged land are incredible- complete devastation. It’s a wonder the earth ever recovered from it. My research is probably more extensive than I need for the book, but I’m so fascinated by it. 🧐

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Meg I’m thrilled to have found your blog. I am researching The Great War, and specifically France right now, also trying to build an understanding of the time and place for my first ever historical fiction novel – mine is based on a family member and a collection of letters and I am deep in this rabbit hole with you. Thanks for your pieces! Looking forward to the book!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow! It sounds like we are on the same path! That is part of the premise of my story as well. Solving a family mystery through the pages of a scrapbook, letters and a diary. Uh oh… I hope we aren’t writing the same novel! LOL! Nice to meet you!

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