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To what extent did victory or defeat in war in the period 1792-1918 depend on the quality of generalship

Between 1792 and 1918 there were many battles fought whose outcome relied on a variety of factors of differing importance. The quality of generalship was one of those factors, however no individual factor solely decided the outcome of wars. The quality of generalships importance on the outcome of wars was indeed significant in the Napoleonic period and the German Wars of Unification as both Napoleon and the Prussian General Staff showed, however in WW1 its importance declined, as despite poor French and British generalship the allies were still victorious. More important than the quality of generalship to the outcome of wars over the whole period was tactics.Despite drastic changes in tactics it remained consistently the most important factor in the whole period in deciding the outcome of wars. Another factor that was of less magnitude than tactics but still more important than the quality of generalship in deciding the outcome of wars was quality and numbers of soldiers. Throughout this period numbers of soldiers were consistently crucial, with the quality of soldiers becoming of increasing importance over the period as power was delegated more. Overall, to some extent victory or defeat in war did depend on generalship in both the Napoleonic period and the German wars of Unification, however in World War 1 its importance was of less significance.The area of warfare that to the largest extent victory or defeat in war in the period 1792-1918 depended on was tactics. Despite changing radically over this period tactics was consistently the most important factor in the outcome of wars from 1792-1918. During the Napoleonic period the use of envelopment to encircle the enemy was crucial to determining victory in war. Envelopment relied on fitness and commitment from soldiers as marching long distances at fast paces was common and so could also be seen to link in with growing quality of soldiers. The greatest example of envelopment being used to determine the outcome of a battle was at Ulm in 1805, which has been recognised as a victory achieved as much by marching as by fighting.This is because the French marched 500 miles from North East France to the Rhine and then the Danube to envelop the Austrians at Ulm, leading to an Austrian surrender as they were surrounded and could not unite with the Russians. The importance of Napoleon’s generalship in relation to tactics should not be undermined as he used different tactics for different battles making predicting the course of attack difficult for the enemy. Despite evolving to supporting the defender due to increased technology, tactics were equally important during the German Wars of Unification.One example that highlights the importance of tactics over numbers of soldiers and weapons was at Konnigratz in 1866 where the Prussians used battlefield concentration, converging multiple units at the same location to trap the Austrians, despite the fact the Austrians outnumbered the Prussians 240,000 to 130,000 and also had superior weapons. However, this victory once again also links in with the quality of generalship to some extent as the Austrian general Benedek had dithered, failing to capitalise on the numerical advantage of his army. The rate of change between the German Wars of Unification and WW1 in relation to tactics was larger than that of Napoleonic wars to German Wars of Unification due to the new strategy of trench warfare which was a key turning point in the nature of warfare, however despite this, tactics maintained their importance in defining the outcome of war. One tactic in WW1 that led to huge casualties and thus failure in battle was advancing en masse towards enemy trenches after artillery bombardment.The importance of this tactic in relation to failure was particularly prevalent at the battle of the Somme where most of the British infantry advanced en masse in open line towards enemy trenches that had not been destroyed and were subsequently cut down by German machine guns and artillery leading to 20,000 deaths. In contrast to advancing en masse the use of infantry advancing in small groups had a much more effective impact on the outcome of battles in WW1 as was shown by the German stormtroopers who used this tactic to break through Allied lines during the Battle of Caporetto in 1917. This therefore shows that tactics was the most important factor in determining the outcome of wars in this period.The area of warfare that to the second largest extent determined victory or defeat from 1792-1918 was quality and numbers of soldiers. The impact of numbers of soldiers on the outcome of war showed continuities throughout the whole period particularly as countries moved toward total war and needed to harness increasing numbers. The impact of numbers of soldiers was never more obvious than in Napoleonic warfare. The levee en masse which was ordered in 1793 conscripted all men aged 18-25, and in doing so recruited over 1 million.The large army allowed Napoleon to conduct his plans for European domination and the advantage of numbers was obvious in battles such as Valmy where the French won as they outnumbered the Prussians by 2000 and Jena Auerstadt where the French won as they outnumbered the Prussians by 8000. The impact of numbers of soldiers on the outcome of war was also equally important in WW1 when the key turning point came in the war with the influx of American troops, who despite lacking quality, allowed the allies to push for victory. The importance of numbers of troops can be compounded by the fact that Ludendorff attempted to launch his final offensive before the Americans were present in Europe because he knew with increased numbers on the allies side it would be difficult for the Germans to be victorious. The importance of quality of soldiers in determining the outcome of battles increased over this period.The huge numbers in Napoleonic warfare outweighed the need for soldiers of high quality and thus many soldiers were often just ordered to bayonet charge the enemy. However in the German Wars of Unification there was a key turning point as the education of soldiers by the Prussians allowed for ‘thinking soldiers’ who could be flexible in battle, this allowed power to be delegated and in doing so increased the likelihood of victory. Despite mass conscription from most nations involved, the increased quality of soldier was evident in WW1. This was shown through highly trained and disciplined German storm troopers who were utilised effectively for penetrating enemy lines, significantly increasing the chance of victory as was shown at Caporetto in 1917. This therefore shows that quality and numbers of soldiers were the second most important factor in determining the outcome of wars in this period.Despite being of less importance than tactics, and quality and numbers of soldiers, generalship still had a significant impact on the outcome of war in the period 1792-1914. The importance of generalship varied over this period with it initially being very important, however as whole countries moved towards total war the importance of the individual general declined. The importance of one single general on the outcome of war can not be exemplified better than Napoleon. Napoleon’s ability to take risks and improvise was unrivalled in his period and led to numerous victories. One key example of the impact of Napoleon on the outcome of a battle was at Austerlitz where Napoleon constantly manouevred his troops so that he took on each section of the Russians and Austrians separately and nullifying the advantage of greater numbers as the Russians and Austrians had 86,000 to the French’s 67,000. The ingenious principle was always to try to have superior numbers at a given place.This was aided by poor communication between the Russians and Austrians which allowed Napoleon to pick them off. Generalship maintained its importance in the German Wars of Unification, however rather than being solely reliant on one man, there was a key turning point in that power was delegated, this was largely made possible by the increased education, and thus quality, of soldiers. It was the work of the Prussian General staff which was one of the main factors responsible for the unification of all the independent German states. One of the crucial changes the General Staff enforced that contributed to victory was to state that newly developed rifled artillery would no longer be placed in the rear of the order of march for employment behind the infantry; instead, a significant detachment would travel with the advanced guard of the leading corp, and the remainder would march with the front of the main body, providing immediate artillery coverage of the advanced guard on contact and of the main body during subsequent deployment on the field.This change led to definitive victories such as Spicheren in 1870 where despite the French having the technological advantage of the Chassepot, the superior organisation of the Prussian artillery led to victory. However, the importance of quality of generalship decreased in WW1 as is shown by the fact that the Allies were victorious despite possessing far less able generals than the Germans. This can be exemplified by the battle of the Somme in 1916, where Haig failed to realise that German trenches had not been destroyed by Allied bombardment and continued to send British infantry to advance en masse only to be confronted by German fire, leading to 60,000 casualties. This therefore shows that initially quality of generalship was important on the outcome of war, however this importance declined in WW1.Overall to a significant extent generalship did influence the outcome of wars in both Napoleonic warfare and the Wars of German Unification, however in WW1 it had less impact. The area of warfare that to the largest extent decided the outcome of wars from 1792 to 1914 was tactics, and this was consistently the case throughout the period despite changes in tactics, notably the key turning point being the introduction of trench warfare. Quality and numbers of soldiers were also consistently important in dictating the outcome of wars during this period, with the importance of quality increasing as more and more countries conscripted untrained soldiers.

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