A superficial read of the contemporaneous documents of the Great War gives the impression that the Allied generals were mainly elderly, cavalry oriented, and conservative 'stick in the mud' types. And, above all, resistant to all new initiatives of weaponry and tactics. A more careful examination reveals that in many cases precisely the opposite was the case. Major (later Major General) Charles Howard Foulkes founder and commander of the British Expeditionary Forces' Special (Gas) Brigade found 'British officers of high rank to be almost too receptive to novel proposals, especially when they were based on anything mysterious or scientific' i.e. beyond the range of normal military experience. The British Expeditionary Force commanders Field Marshal French and Haig are often quoted as being advocates of technology over raw manpower, however inefficient they proved to be at applying this technology in practice.
Consequently, during the Great War, certain individuals of various nationalities, by no means all-military types, did gain a degree of influence over the British senior commanders and the politicians and succeeded in introducing, or influencing, whole new concepts of weaponry, tactics and thinking.
Inventors, tacticians, activists and thinkers:-
- ALLEN, James: As Minister of Defence of the New Zealand Government, in 1916, Allen made the crucial decision, against considerable political and public opposition, to introduce Conscription. This ensured that the New Zealand Division on the Western Front was always at full strength and able to play an exceptionally effective role in the British Expeditionary Force.
- ASHMORE, Edward Bailey. That London and the Eastern Coastal areas of Britain, and the industrial centres that lay within, continued to function relatively unhindered during the Great War was largely due to the energetic air defence created by Ashmore. Brought back from the trenches of the Western Front in 1917 to command the London Air Defence Area (LADA), he established an early warning system and instituted air-raid precautions including a 'black-out' of London and its environs. More direct anti-aircraft measures were also introduced with great success: 17 of the German 'Gotha' heavy bombers were shot down.
- BACON, Reginald Hughes Spencer: In April1915, Bacon was given command of the crucial fleet of ships that formed the Dover Patrol. His job was to deny the German Navy U-boats access to the English Channel and to facilitate the vital flow of men and material of the British Expeditionary Forces across its waters to the Continent to support the prosecution of the War on the Western Front. After a period of great success, during which very few British ships were harried or sunk, unfortunate events conspired to make his intervention less effective and in 1917 the U-boats became more active in the Channel.
In December 1917, War Minister Churchill took Bacon into his Inventions Committee as Controller, where he served with distinction until the end of the War.
- BAKER-CARR, Christopher D'Arcy Bloomfield Saltern. Baker-Carr was a retired army officer who returned to the ranks at the outbreak of war as an army officer's car driver. In a completely new and meteoric career he became a leading proponent of the development, deployment and tactics of the Machine Gun in the British Expeditionary Force establishing a Machine Gun School in France and, subsequently, the British Machine Gun Corps.
- BRABAZON, John Theodore Cuthbert: Brabazon took the first aerial photographs of the Western Front in the Great War in 1914 for the purposes of Military Reconnaissance and Intelligence. These sporadic early attempts at the photographing of enemy occupied territory, defence works and troop movements, eventually led to an almost daily photographic reconnaissance of all enemy occupied territory on the Western Front. This provided the where-with-all for the production of detailed up-to-date maps and briefing documents that played a significant part in the defeat of the German Army on the Western Front.
- BRAGG, William Lawrence: In October 1915, 'Professor' Bragg was a Nobel prize winner for Physics (1915) but well out of his depth in army uniform. Atypically, for the military, he was assigned to highly appropriate scientific work developing the artillery sound-ranging apparatus originally designed by the French Army. It used a series of interconnected telephones, cinematography and electronic circuits to detect and locate with some precision the presence of an enemy artillery battery. Faulty microphones delayed progress until the more reliable British 'Tucker' microphone was produced. Large amounts of information were collected concerning the location of artillery pieces, and the ballistics of their shells closely monitored. The effect of the weather on shell ballistics could be equally well determined; all of this information added to the ever-increasing accuracy of Allied gunnery. Eventually, almost 50 artillery sound ranging units were established on the Western Front, forming and reforming as the German Army reorganised its dispositions.
The work of Bragg's team was one of the major scientific efforts of the Great War.
- BRUTINEL, Raymond: The transformation of the medium/heavy machine gun from a purely defensive role to an aggressively offensive one took place under many hands. But prominent amongst them was the Canadian Army under the leadership of Brigadier Brutinel, Machine Gun Officer of the Canadian Corps on the Western Front.
The principle involved was known as 'barrage fire', whereby large concentrations of machine guns fired random streams of bullets at a specific target areas to produce plunging fire rather like that achieved by howitzers. By mid-1916 Brutinel had refined his barrage technique and proceeded to put it into action; the Battle of Courcellette in September 1916 being a particularly successful early example. However, it was only after its highly successful deployment by the Canadians at Vimy Ridge in April 1917 that the technique attracted the serious attention of other British commanders on the Western Front.
In 1918, Brutinel then developed a motorised force of machine guns that became known as 'Brutinel's Independent Force' with a strength of 80 machine guns. Its introduction into battle came in the Canadian attacks at Amiens in August 1918 and continued for the remaining months of the War.
- CHURCHILL, Winston Leonard Spencer: By no means can WSC be described as the inventor of the military tank, but it was his initiative in creating, and financially supporting, the Admirality Landship Commisssion that led to its eventual successful development.
Churchill was also a leading figure in the development of British War Minister Lloyd George's Ministry of Munitions in early 1915; a post he himself occupied with much energy, success and innovation in the last year of the War.
- FULLER, John Fredrick Charles: A behind-the-lines soldier-tactician of the first order, Fuller was given command of the future Tank Corps in December 1916 and became the principal British military advocate of its deployment on the Western Front. As a prolific writer his influence was widespread. But after the War some commentators found his views to be detrimental rather than positive to the then, and later, proper deployment of the armoured vehicle.
The War ended before Fuller's ambitious 'Plan 1919' for extensive tank warfare could be put to the test.
- FOKKER, Anton Herman Gerard: Indisputably, it was the French Air Ace Roland Garros who first provided his Great War aircraft with a forward firing machine gun firing along the central axis of the aircraft. He used the simple, but dangerous, expedient of firing the stream of bullets directly through the rotating propeller and deflecting any that hit the blades with metal blocks.
But it was the Dutch/German aviation designer/constructor, Anton Fokker, who introduced a mechanical interrupter gear that converted his Fokker aircraft into a stable platform for a synchronised, through-the-propeller, forward firing machine gun(s). This led to the creation of the squadrons of dedicated fighter planes that ruled the skies for the remainder of the War.
When the British emulated the Germans equipment - choosing an hydraulic system - they found to their amazement that prior to the Great War several European patents had already been lodged for forward firing through-the-propeller machine guns using interrupter gear, but that none of these had gone into production.
- FOULKES, Charles Howard: Foulkes was not the instigator of toxic gas warfare - that dubious distinction goes to Fritz Haber, the German industrial chemist, with the mass release of 5,000 cylinders of chlorine gas in the Ypres Sector in April 1915. But Foulkes (who was not a chemist) played an incredible game of catch-up. In less than six months - September 1915 - he launched the first retaliatory toxic gas attack on the German Army at Loos. Although, in the long term. the mass release of toxic gas from cylinders and projectiles did not prove to be as an effective weapon as was first expected, the efforts of Foulkes' Special (Gas) Brigade matched the worst the Germans could do and became one of the more terrifying developments of the War. At the Armistice, even more active and terrifying toxic weapons were under development and production by the British and Americans.
- HARVEY, Robert: As Second-in-Command, Royal Engineers, at BEF HQ, Colonel, later Major General, Harvey had a typically hard row to hoe. Not least of his problems was to handle the administrative complications raised by the maverick engineering consultant Sir John 'Jack' Norton-Griffiths (also see article: 'The far from anonymous Major Sir John 'Jack' Norton-Griffiths'). Never-the-less, in a masterly handling of Norton-Griffiths' energies, enthusiasms and his odd-ball collection of 'clay-kickers' and 'molers', Harvey managed to create the most successful sapping and mining operations on the Western Front, far exceeding the successes of the other belligerent nations.
Harvey's outstanding mining success came with the 'earthquaking' of the German salient on Messines Ridge on the 7th June 1917, when 19 underground mines containing a total of 600 tons of high explosive destroyed the Ridge on the opening day of the Battle of Messines. The explosion was heard by the British Prime Minister in Downing Street, London.
- HEMMING, Henry Harold: Hemming, a Canadian Reconnaissance Officer, realised a new system of locating enemy artillery batteries by the flashes the muzzles emitted when firing shells. The system called was 'Flash-Buzz' or 'Flash Spotting'. It required very accurate and up-to-date maps and highly supportive senior artillery officers. Sadly its true potential was often lost due to deficiencies in one, or both, of these essential criteria.
- HORNE, Henry Sinclair: Military records clearly indicate that the first of what came to be known as a 'rolling' or 'creeping' barrage was used by the Bulgarians in the Siege of Adrianople in March 1913. On the Western Front, it is usually agreed that this concept of covering artillery fire by lifting it in strictly timed stages to match the advance of the troops, whilst causing the enemy to cower in their trenches or dug-outs, was first employed by British 51st Division at Loos in September1915. The commander was Douglas Haig, of British First Army.
In April 1917, Horne again highly successfully used the technique with the Canadian Corps at Vimy Ridge; hence the Canadians are often described as original deployers of the 'creeping' barrage.
In its final form, the 'creeping' barrage could be a wall of several rows of exploding munitions over a mile in depth. Depending on the circumstance, it could include artillery shells, howitzer, mortars and even machine gun fire. Once the barrage had crossed the enemy defence-line it would be halted, providing a protective curtain against any counter-attack. And then, when the allied troops were ready to advance again, it would continue its timed forward progression until the next objective was attained. And so on.
However, Horne was the first to concede that much of his success with the 'creeping barrage' was due to the ideas of Ernest Wright Alexander,VC, who was Brigadier General Royal Artillery XV Corps on the Somme and, later in 1918 Artillery Commander of British First Army.
Amongst other prominent figures who also claimed the 'creeping barrage' as their own were British 4th Army Commander Henry Seymour Rawlinson, and French Army Commander-in-Chief Robert Georges Nivelle.
- JACK, Evan Maclean: As a cartographer, Jack was to play a vital role as Chief of the Topographical (Mapping) Section of the BEF.
Starting from a very small working base indeed, he created, for the time, an extraordinarily productive and efficient map production and reproduction service. It provided up-to-the-minute maps of all the war affected areas of the Western Front. He also established Topographical Sections in each of the five Army HQs, and introduced the use of aerial photographs for Military Intelligence analyses and map making. From the summer of 1915 his unit produced a new standardised series of 1:10,000 scale military maps. In all, over 30 million trench maps, and other kinds of military maps, were provided by Jack's units and represented an essential resource without which the War could not have been successfully prosecuted.
- LAFFARGUE, André Charles Victor: Within weeks of the outbreak of war in August 1914, it became obvious to many of the more thoughtful French army officers that their war-philosophy of a raw combination of artillery and the infantryman in pursuance of L'attaque à outrance (= Always immediately counterattack) or L'audace, encore l'audace, toujours l'audace (= Be daring, again more daring, always daring) would not drive the German Army from occupied France. French casualties were accruing at an enormous rate and had risen to a staggering one million by the end of 1914. Laffargue led one such brave, futile and wasteful élan (= dashing) attack in May 1915, and this convinced him there must be a better way to fight the Germans and achieve the French war objectives.
Subsequently, he wrote a military document in which he proposed that mass assaults using a slavish dependence on artillery support should be replaced by successive waves of infantrymen relying on their own rifle power and portable machine guns and artillery. In this way, the successive waves of infantry could rapidly penetrate and infiltrate the enemy lines so as to threaten the deepest layers of the defence.
Laffargue's article received wide recognition among all the belligerents, including the British, and the idea of infiltration became an established dictum. It was particularly noted by the German Army on the Western Front, as evidenced by the similar Stormtrooper tactics that were developed from 1917 onwards.
- LEWIS, Isaac Newton: The major British machine guns of the Great War were all versions of another country's patents. The water cooled Vickers was a modification of the American inventor Hiram Maxim's heavy Maxim machine gun, as was the Lewis light machine gun a version of the American McLean/Lewis via the Armes Automatiques Lewis company of Liege, Belgium. By serendipity the Belgians manufactured the Lewis as 0.303-in calibre - the standard British Army calibre - and many of its skilled workers were subsequently transported as refugees to the United Kingdom in 1914 to work in the British Small Arms (BSA) Company factory in Birmingham.
This relatively light (28lb + 4.5lb per magazine) air-cooled machine gun was first adopted by the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and remained a standard aerial weapon throughout the war. Even the Germans used them in their Zeppelin Staarken 'Giant' heavy bombers. The British Army quickly followed: the BEF received its first Lewis guns at the end of 1914. Initial production problems kept numbers quite low, but by the time of the First Somme Offensive on the Western Front in July 1916, lower single figure numbers of the Lewis were supplied to all the active service companies i.e. nominally one per platoon.
The initial reception of the Lewis by the British Army was far from enthusiastic - it seemed relatively shoddy when compared with the much liked and reliable Vickers, and its bulky magazine only held 47 rounds against the 250-round belt of the Vickers. But it slowly gained acceptance, firstly as a defensive weapon and increasingly as a highly mobile support, covering and mopping-up weapon. And, it really could be fired from the hip!
- LIVENS, William Howard: Livens was Royal Engineers volunteer of 1914. A former civil engineer, Livens became involved first in a Company of the Special (Gas) Brigade in 1915. In 1916 he created what was to be known as the Z Company. It was devoted to the development of new weapons for the Western Front. The first of these was a counterpart for the German flammenwerfer (flamethrower). It was not a success; it was very heavy and its range was too short to be effective against the more distant of the German trenches. Livens then invented a simple mortar that used empty steel containers and Black Powder to project containers of inflammable oil - the so-called Oil Can Projector - into the German Lines. The system became operational on the Somme in July 1916 and soon barrages of 100+ oilcans were deluging German strong points with oil fires.
Efforts were then directed to the production of a toxic gas delivery system based on the same simple tube mortar. The final product became known as the 'Livens Projector' and became operational in September 1916. Although somewhat inaccurate, batteries of this device permitted the delivery of large volumes of dense toxic gas without the need for the extensive, and vulnerable, backup organisation of the gas cylinder discharge system.
The system of the delivery dense concentrations of toxic gas by the use of Livens' Projector mortars/bombs proved to be highly effective, particularly against deep dugouts and defensive works.
Over 150,000 Livens' Projectors were deployed on the Western Front.
- MILLS, William: At the outbreak of the Great War the British Army had totally inadequate reserves and production facilities for hand-grenades. As the supposed invincibility of the bayonet charge faltered in the environment of trench warfare, ad hoc hand grenade production in and behind the trenches was instigated to fill the gap.
It wasn't until mid-1915 that Mill's and his associates' novel 'pineapple' bomb was approved for large-scale production and the BEF had a hand grenade to match that of the Germans. This grenade was a leap forward in reliability and adaptability being well suited to the cricket ball throwing/bowling skills of the British Empire soldier.
The Mills bomb also proved readily adaptable to conversion to a rifle grenade (using the British, standard, Short Magazine Lee-Enfield 0.303-in rifle). This greatly increased the effective range of the grenade to over three times that of the hand-thrown version.
More 70 million No. 4 Mills bombs in its various formats were supplied to the Western Front in the Great War.
- PLUMER, Herbert Charles Onslow: That Plumer should be the senior British Army General who was called 'Daddy' by his troops is no co-incidence. Throughout his four-year his career on the Western Front, Plumer was generally known for his reluctance to squander his men in futile, unsupported, frontal infantry attacks. He consistently used highly detailed planning, and intense artillery coverage on a narrow front, to minimise his casualties; always being careful not to allow his infantry to out-pace the protection of the advancing artillery.
A later, regretful, and costly lapse at Passchendaele in the Third Ypres Offensive in 1917, largely brought about the appalling weather, was counterbalanced by a successful mission to Italy in 1917 and sterling service on the Western Front in 1918.
- RAWLINSON, Henry Seymour: Although definitely one of the BEF senior commander clique, Rawlinson had a refreshing aversion to the overpowering yearning of Haig & Co. for the 'Breakthrough of the enemy lines and the onward sweep to the Channel and victory' school of thought. Rawlinson's philosophy of 'Bite and Hold' - limited advances on limited fronts - never got the opportunities it deserved in 1916 and 1917: he too readily acquiesced to Haig's subversion his well made plans in search of the elusive 'Breakthrough'. The First Battle of the Somme in July 1916 was the most critical lapse; as the successful multi 'Bite and Hold' attacks of late 1918 were to show. Matched with his strong support for the 'creeping barrage', Rawlinson could have well demonstrated the kernel of a war winning formula, had he been allowed the opportunity to develop his 'Bite and Hold'tactics in 1916.
- SOPWITH, Thomas Octave Murdoch: Of the 40-odd British aircraft construction companies that were active during the Great War, one marque stands out above all the others; the Sopwith Aviation Company led by 'Tommy' Sopwith. Particularly noted for its fighter aircraft - of which many commentators consider the Sopwith Camel (1,200 victories) to be the outstanding aircraft of the Great War - the Sopwith Aviation Company designed and produced over 16,000 warplanes for the British and Allies.
- STOKES, Frederick Wilfred Scott: Of the two British trench mortar inventors named Stokes, (the other was Captain Stanley Frederick Stokes, Royal Engineers) FWSS was indubitably the more successful. Despite many initial set-backs, he succeeded in making 'Mr. Stokes' drain-pipe' the basis for the huge production of the smooth bore, single shot, trench mortars that transformed the retaliatory power of the British infantryman in the trenches. From January 1916, the Stokes Mortar became standard issue on the Western Front.
It, and other mortar types, gave the infantryman unprecedented fire-power entirely independent of the artillery bureaucracy: it was claimed the Stokes had such a rapid rate of fire, that a single Stokes Mortar could be have 15 mortar bombs in the air at the same time.
By 1917, the Stokes 4-in mortar also became a standard weapon for the application of toxic gas.
Over 10,000 3-in and 1,000 4-in Stokes trench mortars and 15 million rounds of Stokes mortar ammunition were supplied to the Western Front.
It is self evident that the Great War was an enormous generator of inventiveness and thought; whole new disciplines were created within the 51 months of its duration and old disciplines transformed. Unfortunately, it was all achieved at an enormous cost in human lives and treasure, and still the fundamental problems of the nations of the World, and Europe in particular, were still unresolved.