2013 King Hall Day 1 Session 1


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2013 King Hall Conference Proceedings

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2013 King Hall Day 1 Session 1

  1. 1. World War I: A Maritime War? Norman Friedman May 2013
  2. 2. Remembering World War I • A memorial to great courage and horrific loss • A warning to future generations • A war carrying strategic and tactical lessons which remain valid
  3. 3. Lessons? • • • • Is 2013 an eerie reminder of 1913? Are we the British Empire of 2013? Is China Wilhelmine Germany? We really don’t want to relive 1914, do we?
  4. 4. Why Maritime? • War between a maritime alliance and a land power • The shape of the war was set by the maritime character of one of the adversaries • The character of one adversary was set by its maritime nature • How much of this was obvious at the time?
  5. 5. Seapower and War • Access to world resources, particularly Empire resources – the sea unites • Naval role: defend access (sea control) • Access to the periphery of the enemy, perhaps forcing him to spread forces thin (not so successful) • Financial support by maintaining trade access (Gallipoli and Russia) • Denying the enemy a quick victory
  6. 6. “Germany lost World War I because she failed to break British seapower. All the successes of the German army on the Continent were negatived by the course of the war at sea. Every means of pressure used by the Allies, which led to the collapse of Central Powers in 1918, was only a consequence of British seapower. Moreover the last decisive battle, which was fought on the Continent, was only made possible by the exercise of seapower…” – VADM Eberhard Weichold, KM (CinC Mediterranean 1942-44)
  7. 7. Maritime Aspects for the Empire • Prewar strategists did not make the meaning of maritime war clear (Mahan may have come closest, but he was too subtle in his phrasing) • Governments did not think strategically, and the British in particular did not apply strategic arguments to history, e.g Napoleonic and Crimean Wars • Interservice issues clouded prewar arguments • Deterrence (economic) may have clouded judgement of the likelihood of war
  8. 8. Some Questions • Why was this the big crisis? • Why did it take so long for the British to realize that it was? • Why did the British give France an openended guarantee? Was that like the ‘blank check’? • Why did the Germans keep going after the United States?
  9. 9. Why 1914? • Was it extroverted civil war in Germany? • Was it France and Russia seeing an opportunity? • Was it a mechanical march to war, a kind of cancer in the European system?
  10. 10. What was the point of the war? • For Germany: internal victory (extroverted civil war) • For the British: continued acceptable order – defensive aims • For France and Russia: possible improvement of their positions – war as opportunity • For Austria-Hungary: perceived survival?
  11. 11. Two Roles of Government • National well-being = prosperity, social issues, security • National glory = individual exists for the greater good of the state All countries are governed by a mix of these two themes, but in each case one of them is predominant
  12. 12. A Maritime Power • Trade-oriented in peacetime • Global access in wartime (unless the enemy can cut sea routes) • Relative immunity to invasion = disaster • Need for coalition to fight a land war
  13. 13. The British Empire, 1914 • Dominions (independent but associated) • Colonies • An Informal Empire (commercial and political association without formal ties) The United States was part of the Informal Empire, even though many Americans disliked the British and preferred Germany
  14. 14. Maritime = Choice “He who controls the sea can take as much or as little of the war as he likes” If you are safe from invasion, you can conduct high-risk/high payoff operations Gallipoli is a case in point
  15. 15. A Land Power • Above all, instant vulnerability to land attack • Mobilization as protection • War planning is about the outbreak of war • Limited interest in end-games, more in survival through offensive action
  16. 16. Deterrence 1914 • Britain as creditor nation • German economy and society depend on trade, hence credit • If credit is cut off… • But what happens to the City?
  17. 17. Analogies? • Napoleonic Wars as World War 0 • World War II (lose France but don’t lose the war) • Cold War (was the Central Front all that central?) Why did Britain emerge stronger after the Napoleonic Wars but much weaker after World War I?
  18. 18. What Did Maritime Power Offer? • No quick victory for Germany – war of attrition, with the balance of resources against her • The maritime alliance could recover from disaster (e.g., Russian Revolution); the land power could not • Note the suddenness of the German collapse in 1918
  19. 19. The British after the Somme • • • • • Pessimism: no land victory likely War may end in a draw, as in 1801 War will inevitably resume Need to gain leverage for the next round Emphasis on Middle East, Caucasus
  20. 20. The Germans After the Somme and Verdun • • • • • • Land victory unlikely in the West Must break the Allies Britain the fulcrum because she is paymaster America the arsenal and part paymaster Must break the United States Zimmermann telegram and unrestricted U-boat warfare • Break Russia to gain resources to win before the odds change decisively against Germany
  21. 21. Effect of German Decisions • United States enters the war: blockade finally effective • Russia broken, but civil war denies Germans resources • March 1918 offensive becomes final throw, not just one among many
  22. 22. Could It Have Been Different? • Deterrence did not work – a lesson for us? • Not in duration and hellishness – once it started, it used up what was available • But WHO was wiped out could have been changed – the British really did have choices • So why did they not understand that? • Who were the donkeys leading the lions?