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

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Introduction

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. ...read more.

Middle

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. ...read more.

Conclusion

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. ...read more.

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