From my study of Land warfare from 1792 through to 1919, it can be judged, with fair certainty that the hypothesis, ‘Generals win battles, resources win wars’, is correct. However it needs deeper study to precisely define ‘how far’ this hypothesis is accurate; do Generals by the end of ‘the Great War’ have any influence on the outcome the war? Or was the side with the greater resources and attrition ‘bound’ to win? Are the battles of the First World War won purely on attrition, or did Generals still have a part to play by 1919?
This essay intends to argue that throughout the period 1792-1919 that Generals influence both on the outcome of battles and wars decreases substantially, whereas the nation’s resources, and how they efficiently used them, became increasingly important to the nations final victory. However what it will not argue is that Generals become redundant in the role of winning either battles or wars. If we look, briefly, at the middle Ages, the military leader was decisive in both the battle and war’s outcome. Although discrepancies in armies, due to the resources of the King or noble affected the battles outcome, it certainly was not critical.
If one takes Henry VI at Agincourt for example, he overcomes great disadvantages in resources to win, by inspirational leadership, against poor leadership (with the help of the English longbow) a famous victory in the field of battle which vital in the war with France. It can be argued that by the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century that Napoleon’s role in the ‘Napoleonic Wars’ was equally decisive. His military genius enabled France to win great victories in battles against the odds (Austerlitz and Jena for example), and therefore allowed France to dominate the Napoleonic Wars from 1800-1814.
However it must be pointed out that his defeats against the Fourth coalition at Leipzig and against Wellington at Waterloo were because the allies had superior resources. By the twentieth century and the First World War, resources had become the definitive factor in warfare, both in singular battles and in the course of the war itself. Though the ability of leadership was still required in battle, and the lack of a great military strategist in the Great War contributed to the bloodshed, it was the ability of these industrialised nations to use their huge resources that determined the path of war.
It can be argued, for example, that after the Americans declared war in April 1917 the allies’ victory was (eventually) inevitable because of the huge resources America controlled. If one takes a look at the major wars between 1792-1919 in chronological order, one can see how, with the odd exception, the use of resources in each of the wars became increasingly important, and the importance of generals in battles decreased. In the Napoleonic Wars, Napoleon himself was obviously decisive factor. A genius in the art of warfare, there are many examples of him defeating opponents with supposedly better resources.
One has only to look at the victories he made at Ulm, Austerlitz and Jena to realise that he was perhaps the greatest military leader every to have lived. It was his offensive tactics, his work rate and his capacity to read the topography of a battlefield; along with his ability to win battles in which he was the underdog, which contributed to his perception as a ‘Genius’. Though some modern historians have questioned this ability, most-including many of his contemporaries-believed it Napoleon’s ability that caused France to be the power it became in the first half of the nineteenth-century.
Theirs (a major supporter) saw Napoleon as “the greatest human being since Caesar and Charlemagne”. Even Clausewitz, who disliked Napoleon intensely, felt that it was Napoleon’s leadership that enabled France to become a major central power. Having established that Napoleon’s military genius that was responsible for the majority of the victories in the battles and the wars, it must be suggested that he recognised the need for the resources of a country to be turned towards warfare. We can see this in a number of guises. His continual advancement of technology of warfare is one of the ways this can be shown.
He, for example, places a great deal of emphasises on artillery before any other leader of his time (this is partly due to his upbringing in the artillery), increasing their number in a battle and the weight of each shot doubled from four pounds to eight. He was also the first to use “mass armies”, his levee en masse ensured that, at any time, he had mobilised a large pool of soldiers to use. In his failed offensive against Russia, for example, he raised 600,000 men, small compared to the numbers mobilised in the First World War, but huge in comparison to previous wars.
Most importantly, also, was the fact that Napoleon used the nations he annexed basically to fund his resources for war. He greatly penalised those he defeated in reparations, and those he conquered he taxed heavily. He also recruited for his army from these conquered countries. This indicates his knowledge that resources, especially at that time human resources, were invaluable to his continued domination of Europe. A final point to make about the Napoleonic Wars, and one which seems to prove in this case our hypothesis correct, was the manner in which Napoleon was defeated.
The major reason he was defeated was because the allies finally ‘allied’ and brought their combined manpower and resources together. At the aptly names ‘Battle of the Nations’ at Leipzig, Napoleon lost for a number of reasons; his opponents ability had increased, his ‘air’ of invincibility, after Russia, was gone, but primarily because the allies used their superior resources. If one takes a radical view (one I don’t conform with) one could see this as the ultimate endorsement for the hypothesis, arguably the greatest ever military strategist was finally beaten by lack of resources.
Two wars fought on opposing sides of the globe in the middle of the nineteenth century, though differing entirely in their make up, gave more credence to the idea that resources where becoming increasing important in the ‘theatre of war’. These were the Franco-Austrian war and the American Civil War. The Franco-Austrian war of 1859 followed, in the main, the scenario of the Napoleonic Wars; two decisive battles that allowed a French victory. The similarities to the Napoleonic Wars could be attributed, to an extent, to his popularity around the mid-nineteenth century and the fact that his nephew Napoleon III was on throne.
The major differences however were the size of the armies involved, the amount and quality of resources that each side could call on, and the resulting high causality count. According to Browning, the French won the first major battle at Magenta, “mainly thanks to their superior artillery, rifled guns and effective deployment of reserves”. They met next at the battle of Solferino, which is a battle that indicates how far, at least human resources, had come in the four decades since Napoleons demise.
Both France and Austria had over 120,000 men each, making the battle the largest since Leipzig and over twice the size of Waterloo. However, as a result of the length of the battle (14 hours), and the improved material of warfare (e. g. rifled guns), casualty rates were far higher than Napoleonic warfare. Some 40,000 men on both sides were killed or injured, thus showing the destructive effect of improved weaponry and the increasing importance to have more or more effective resources. A similar conclusion, on a broad scale, can be reached after analysis of the American Civil War.
It was though, on the surface, the complete antithesis of the Franco-Prussian war; A Civil war-fought half the world apart, a four-year war that concentrated more on attrition (not to the extent of WWI) than Napoleonic decisive battles, but one were skilful Generals proved that they could still influence the outcome of battles. However the conclusion must be that in the end the superior resources of the North were finally victorious. Browning writes about the American Civil War, “The fundamental social and economic differences between the North and the South lead some to conclude that the victory of the North was inevitable.
While it might be true that the North was bound to win eventually, it was not inevitable that it would win in 1865. ” The complexities of the War are far too deep to be anything but touched upon in this analysis, but in broad terms the North being the industrially dominant side, whereas the South’s support was based more around the land and militants. Furthermore there were different aims in the war which increased the south’s chance of ‘victory’; the north’s aim was to defeat entirely the South, whereas in order to succeed the South only had to defend, to try and enforce the North to end its offensive.
In a contradiction to the popular belief of an easy and quick northern victory, it was the South that began the war the strongest, thanks in a large part to some inspirational military leadership from Robert E Lee and Stonewall Jackson, both whom made important contributions to Southern victories at Bull Run, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. They proved that even against better resources, good military leaders could inspire victory in battle. As the war progressed, the North’s advantages in resources began to tell.
The South was relying on foreign supplies for the majority of their resources. As the Northern naval blockade, the Anaconda strategy, became increasingly effective, so did their advantage in resources. Although the resulting Northern victory can be attributed to a number of reasons; they also had some talented Generals that helped them to victory, such as Grant and Sherman and made good use of new technologies of the railway and the telegraph. However it must be concluded that it was the North’s superior resources that, in the end, enabled their victory.
The next major warfare involved the central powers of Europe and has become known as the ‘Unification Wars’, which resulted in Prussia becoming the major power in Europe. The main two wars being the Austro-Prussian war of 1866 and the Franco-Prussian of 1870. They were in many ways an anomaly in the progression of the importance of resources in battle; many see them as almost a throwback to the Napoleonic style. This is mainly because of two factors; their dependence, unlike the ‘trench warfare’ of the American Civil war of decisive battles and sieges, and also because of the fact that another brilliant military leader had emerged.
This was the Prussian Minister of War, Moltke, and although maybe not on a par with Napoleon, he certainly proved critical to the Prussian successes. The decisive battle in the Austro-Prussian took place on the 3 July 1866 at Koniggratz. In many ways Moltke leadership was reminiscent of Napoleon’s. Starting with a heavily out-numbered army, it used the classic Napoleonic strategy of ‘movement to the rear’. Moltke ability became evident in his timing of introducing his ‘second army’ or his reserves, their arrival being the turning point of the battle.
The resulting victory must, in a large part, be attributed to the ability of Moltke rather than any major resource advantage that any one side held. The war continued for another three weeks, but the Prussians always held the advantage after Koniggratz. This battle and indeed the war proved that Generals still had a place in deciding the outcome of both battles and wars, and in this case it was the leadership of Moltke that was the major difference between two sides with comparable resources.
The Franco-Prussian War seems to support directly the hypothesis that this question debate’s. According to Browning “judging on past glories most expected France to win”, but in reality it was Prussia that was better equipped to win. Browning also suggests that “the war was really two related conflicts, beginning as a conventional war between professional armies. Within a few weeks the French army had been soundly beaten. This led to the second war, the second war, the focal point being the siege of Paris, in effect was a war of nations.
In simplified terms it can be argued that it was the superior leadership of the Prussian’s that led to the quick, decisive victory in the ‘first war’. Whereas it was the Prussian’s superior use of breech-loading artillery that enabled their victory in the Siege of Paris and thus their final victory in the war. In the ‘first’ or ‘professional’ war the Prussian’s prospered at the key battle of Sedan despite the French infantry having superior firepower. Once again it relied heavily on Moltke’s inspirational leadership.
He successfully managed, in an almost perfect military manoeuvre, to envelop the French in the town of Sedan and exclaimed (truthfully) “We have them in a mousetrap”. The French were then defeated almost entirely with the Prussian Artillery. However it was a ‘war’ won by the ability of Moltke and his general Staff, and gave credence to the suggestion that it was leadership, rather than resources that win wars. In the ‘second’ or ‘national’ war, it was almost the complete antithesis in terms of the reason for victory.
The Siege of Paris was enabled by the advancements in breech-loading artillery that the Prussian’s had developed. It was these resources that allowed Bismarck and Moltke to bombard Paris from over 50 miles away. Initially the Parisian’s were very resilient, and had set up their own Government and armed forces (after the resignation of Napoleon III). However after just under a month, when it became apparent that the Prussian lines were impenetrable, and food resources had all but run out, the Parisians and France had to agree to the Prussian peace terms.
It was a perfect example of how resources, and indeed the lack of them could win or lose wars. For almost 40 years there were no major wars between the European powers, however during this time industrialisation took a grip, and many of the countries were spending more and more on military resources due to the ensuing arms race. As Helmut von Moltke prophesised as early as 1890 the next war will be “a people’s war… and if this war breaks out then its duration and its end will be unforeseeable. ”
The First World War was unlike any that had previously, were not only armies where mobilised for warfare, but whole countries economies geared towards warfare. It was a war where casualty rates where (and still are) incomprehensible, and were civilians for the first line became the front line. It was ‘Total War’. Total war relied on a huge output of resources, both in terms of men and in terms of armaments. The historical arguments about the First World War are endless, but two main theories are firmly set in popular belief; firstly that it was a war of attrition, and secondly that the adage “lions led by donkeys” is true.
Although much debated, and much exaggerated, both of these popular beliefs are, in the main, true. From 1915-1917 a form of static warfare took place on both the Western and Eastern fronts, with either side entrenched deep in defensive positions. This static warfare presumed that one side would finally break, because a lack of resources, while the other side was the victor. Eventually this was the outcome, Germany being defeated ultimately because when the Americans joined the war on the side of the allies, it gave them a huge access to new resources that German could not compete with.