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5.0 out of 5 stars Superb Study of a Neglected Subject, 7 May 2014
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This review is from: Early Trench Tactics in the French Army: The Second Battle of Artois, May-June 1915 (Routledge Studies in First World War History) (Hardcover)
I have just read this excellent new study of the development of tactics by the French Army in early 1915. Much to the surprise of many English-speaking readers, this study highlights the leading role played by the French in response to the new conditions imposed by trench warfare. Rather than simply aping German practises, as many believe, the author highlights how the French led in the:

- development of concentrated use of heavy artillery, guided by aerial reconnaissance, to prepare for, not just support, attacks by the infantry;

- artillery fire plans to be put together with, not in parallel to, the plans for the infantry attack, with the infantry helping to prioritise targets;

- the use of rolling or creeping barrages to suppress enemy opposition whilst the infantry made their way across no man’s land (with General Barbot even calculating the minimum safe distance for his men to keep behind the advancing wall of shells);

- the adoption of infiltration tactics by lightly-armed troops known as nettoyeurs, bypassing strong points, penetrating deeper into the enemy lines, significantly in advance of the Germans (who were given credit probably for no better reason than having a more dramatic expression for the tactic – storm troops);

- ensuring that troops following up the first waves did not neglect to ‘mop-up’ any opposition bypassed by the leading waves.

Though the French were able to make use of these tactics to achieve the deepest penetration of trench lines anywhere on the Western Front in 1915, not everything worked. Readers more familiar with the British experience on the Somme will recognise the problems that followed many a break-in to a trench line:

- protecting flanks, avoiding having men cut off from their own supporting positions in an isolated salient, particularly if some units make significantly better progress than their neighbours;

- the challenge maintaining communications with leading units once the offensive has begun;

- organising relief/reinforcement so as to avoid mixing up units, blocking communication trenches, delaying everything;

- how to bring forward artillery to allow it to cover the new, advanced line;

- the problems of maintaining an adequate supply of ammunition, as well as quality control – up to 50% were duds;

- how to build in flexibility within enormously complicated plans to allow for these to be adapted in light of changed circumstances; and

- how to disseminate and inculcate lessons learned uniformly across the army at all levels.

A real eye-opener and an extremely welcome addition to the knowledge of the development of trench warfare on the Western Front during 1914-1918. And a timely antidote to the often perverse insistence that everything progressive in that war was somehow the preserve of the German Army (or the British for that matter).
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Review Details

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Reviewer

J. Grundy
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   

Location: Hucknall, Nottinghamshire

Top Reviewer Ranking: 54,012