12 November 2005
Three military campaigns, all sorts of similarities, but does it all add up to anything?

I am currently reading a book on the Battle of the Atlantic.  Before that it was one on the Bomber War.  And before that, and for several years now, I’ve been reading up on the Western Front.  It struck me how similar these campaigns were. For instance they:

  • had no great decisive engagements - it was not possible to lose the campaign in an afternoon
  • went on for a long time - the whole length of the war, in fact
  • had appalling casualty rates
  • had few really well-known characters.  Sure everyone has heard of Haig and Dönitz but try asking yourself what they actually did?  An exception can probably be made for Bomber Harris
  • were all battles of attrition
  • were won by the side that got lots of little things right - technical and tactical.  On the Western Front it was creeping barrages, predicted barrages, air superiority and secrecy.  In the air it was things like Gee, H2S and the Mustang.  In the Atlantic it was hedgehog, Leigh Light, convoys.  All boring (but essential) stuff.
  • (for a long period) seemed to be even-steven and then - all of a sudden - one side started to carry all before it.
  • were (and are) controversial.  I guess this is probably because they drew people into the firing line who had never previously been so drawn. 

Whether this means anything, and whether someone has pointed this out before, I don’t know.  Maybe these are the defining characteristics of industrialised warfare.  Maybe, the Cold War was the ultimate refinement of this.  But who can say?

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