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Why did a stalemate develop on the Western Front?

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Introduction

Why did a stalemate develop on the Western Front? In mid-September 1914 German troops dug into the high ground over looking the river Aisne, in northern France. After heavy losses in vain attempts to take the German line, the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) was forced into a deadlock; they could not get to the enemy. This was the beginning of the Western Front. What followed was 'The race to the sea' as the BEF, the French, and the German Armies tried to outflank each other, northward, until they reached the English Channel. All three armies left complex trench systems behind them and as they became grounded, a 'war of movement' became a 'war of position'. Trenches stretched from Switzerland all the way to the Channel. Sir John French, Commander of the BEF, stated in a letter to King George V, "the spade will be as great a necessity as the rifle". ...read more.

Middle

Early in the war the machine gun became widely available and soon both sides had a vast number of these deadly weapons which were used to great effect. Long lines of advancing infantry could be mowed down at an alarming rate. Both sides used this new weapon to successfully defend themselves, but in doing so they simply perpetuated the deadlock. As with machine guns, the Allies and the Germans matched each other in terms of troop numbers, rifles and military technology. This was an important factor in the development of the stalemate. Artillery became the backbone of any infantry assault on the enemy lines. Short-barrelled howitzer guns could now accurately pound enemy trenches, or stop infantry charges. The weaponry turned no-man's land into a crater-filled bog which hampered movement and communication. At Neuve Chapelle in 1916, for example, the artillery showed its devastating power when 340 British guns obliterated the German line in a few hours. ...read more.

Conclusion

They were fortified with sandbags and protected by barbed wire which trapped oncoming infantry, and exposed them to gunfire. Even the term 'digging in' carries a connotation of permanence. Soldiers were expecting to fight for a long period of time, and therefore this contributed to the stalemate. Not only physical factors were important in the development of a deadlock, there was a psychological side to the conflict as well. A large number of unwritten arrangements came into being. Many men saw that they were in permanent positions that would rarely move. They therefore concentrated on making life for themselves as bearable as possible rather than committing themselves to almost certain death. An example of this can be seen in the reluctance of all armies to fire shells at mealtimes. This etiquette was also demonstrated in the Christmas truces in 1914 up and down the Western Front. All these factors combined to create a stalemate on the Western Front which was only to be lifted in 1917-18. Luke la Hausse, 4 Alpha ...read more.

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