As planned the French put there Plan 17 into action which lasted 10-28th August. The French charged straight into Germany and came up against Armies 6 and 7. In 12 days the French lost 211,000 men, including 10% of all their officers. The French lost a lot of men because of the nature of modern weapons such as the machine gun and artillery which I have explained about in a later section. This battle was also the first example of massive attack = massive failure and the defenders had the advantage. Schlieffen intended armies 6 and 7 to make a controlled withdrawal into Germany to lure France further away from Paris so they when they recognized they had to defend it they would have an extremely long way to travel and may be to late. Moltke on the other hand didn’t like this and so told Prince Rupprecht who was in charge of the 2 armies to counterattack which were the tactics at the time. People thought you could only win a war by being on the offensive but this was proved wrong throughout the war.
The next opposition the German armies 1 and 2 came up against was the B.E.F. (British Expeditionary Force) at the Battle of Mons on the 23rd August. Moltke hadn’t really planet for the B.E.F. because they were so small and if they did join the war you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. He was wrong about this though. At Mons the British lay in a line across the Germans route and fired at the Germans with there .303 Short Magazine Lee-Enfield rifles and with a maximum range of 2,500 yards and in the hands of a well trained soldier he could fire 15 aimed shots with it in a minute. At first the Germans thought they were under machine gun attack but they pushed the British back. The British were treating it as a holding operation. At this battle the B.E.F. suffered 1600 casualties while the Germans suffered 5000 which showed that a well trained army even though it was small was still effective.
The B.E.F. retreated to Le Cateau were they performed another holding operation against the Germans. The aim of these was to slow the Germans down which they did. Plus slowing down was a factor of the stalemate.
Also at this time Moltke’s health began to breakdown because of the failing plan and this affected his judgement. He was not a good commander. He didn’t go to the fronts to check the situation himself he just let the 5 commanders do there job. Even then there weren’t enough wireless transmitters and receivers to keep in touch with all the armies effectively. It also didn’t help that his Headquarters were so far back from the front. On the 13th September Moltke was sacked and replaced with General von Falkenhayen.
The long arc proved to long for the 1st and 2nd armies. The logistics couldn’t keep up with the fast marching men and so on the 27th August the 1st Army decided to leave Paris. This was a big mistake as it made there flank extremely vulnerable which was extremely unwise. As a result the troops that had been gathering in Paris attacked the 1st armies flank. This made the Germans retreat to the R. Marne on the 8th September where they recovered. This is where trench building started because it was really the only protection against artillery. The trenches weren’t continuous at first and so you could still get behind enemy lines in the dark and through wooded areas. Now each of the armies tried to out outflank each other and this was called “Race to the Sea”. They built trenches as they went. The aim was to get Ypres as this was the last city before the sea. The British got there first and managed to hold it against the Germans even though the Germans never gave up trying to take it and there was a never ending artillery barrage on it.
By the end of 1914 the B.E.F. was in tatters. 1 British Battalion usually consisted of around 1000 men. By the end of 1914 which was roughly 5 months of fighting a battalion roughly consisted of 1 Officer and 30 men.
So now you can see how the stalemate occurred now that both sides had built trenches and dug in. All this proves my initial reasons in the first part of this essay.
Weapons proved an extremely important part in creating the stalemate. The modern weapons that I am referring to are for example the machine gun. The Germans used the Maxim gun; the British used the Vickers which was water cooled and the more portable Lewis gun licensed from America. They could fire roughly 450 – 600 rounds per minute. They could just cut down troops easily as they came. The Lewis gun however was unreliable and prone to jamming with its circular magazine on top.
Modern artillery was also very powerful. The invention of the recoilless gun and the rifling of the barrel made the guns more accurate, quick firing and gave them a greater range. There were two types of gun: the howitzer and the field gun. The difference between them is that the field gun fired roughly level and straight at the troops and so didn’t have a great range and needed to be nearer the front. While on the other hand the howitzer fired at an angled trajectory and so had a longer range and could hit trenches and blockhouses. These guns could fire many types of shells including gas shells, shrapnel shells and high explosive shells. Shrapnel shells exploded above the advancing troops and usually used against attackers on the surface while High Explosive shells were used against trenches because they blasted earth away.
The Royal Artillery’s guns included the 18-pounder field gun, with a range of 6,525 yards and a 4.5-inch howitzer, with a range of 7,300 yards. They also had a 60-pounder heavy gun, with a range of 12,300 yards. Both countries had even bigger guns than these but they were usually siege howitzers and were usually mounted on railway carts. The Germans for example used these against Liege and these guns bore were 17 inches in diameter.
Another new weapon if you could call it one was barbed wire. The troops were not used to this and it was very troublesome to get through while under fire.
Here's what a teacher thought of this essay
The author clearly has a very detailed knowledge of the early stages of the war on the Western Front and of the key weapons that were used. However, not all of this information is useful in explaining why the trenches developed; the essay would be greatly improved if the author had linked back to the question more. 3 out of 5 stars.