British Grand Strategy in 1914



Historians seeking the origins of what would become a full-scale ‘continental commitment’ in 1916 have dissected pre-war British strategic planning in search of the decisions which led to the deployment of the BEF to France. Perhaps the most often cited precursor to the ultimate decision to send British troops to the Continent occurred three years before the outbreak of War, during the Agadir Crisis of 1911. The summer of that year witnessed Europe edge towards the brink of war, as Franco-German tensions over Morocco reached fever pitch. During the tense days of mid-August, the British government convened a meeting of senior ministers and service chiefs to discuss the military and naval options available in the event of war.

At this meeting the military representatives presented an altogether more coherent series of propositions than their naval counterparts. In the morning session, Brigadier General Henry Wilson unfurled a series…

View original post 1,201 more words


Does new technology render strategic theory irrelevant?



The impact of technology upon warfare is a complex topic, but one which retains perennial relevance to militaries the world over. Can new weapons fundamentally alter the conduct of war, or do certain immutable ‘principles’ remain unchanged over time? These questions cut to the heart of history’s value to the military professional. After all, if technological innovation invalidates pre-existing strategic paradigms, then how can the work of strategists and thinkers from antiquity help to inform solutions to the challenges faced in the modern world? Listeners to BBC Radio 4’s Today program last week would have heard the former First Sea Lord, Admiral Lord West, advocate ‘a close blockade of the Libyian coastline’ as the most effective means of curtailing the activities of human traffickers in the Mediterranean. Lord West alluded to one of the enduring ‘principals’ of naval warfare; namely that it will always be easier…

View original post 777 more words

Digital First World War Resources: Online Archival Sources



For many years I envied the research sources available to my colleagues writing about contemporary defence and strategic issues. The ability to research a project from the comfort of their favorite desk, be this at home or in the office, seemed so much more appealing than exhausting and sometime fruitless searching through dusty old files in far-flung foreign archives. Particularly as I grew older and less enamored of living out of a suitcase, the ability to pick up the phone to interview a source or to download almost all the documents needed for a project seemed a much more alluring way of writing. Now don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy the time during my doctoral research in the Bundesarchiv/Militärarchiv in Freiburg and the National Archives in Washington, DC, and even the Public Record Office in Kew. (I am also showing my age and origins…

View original post 1,458 more words

From the Archives: Building a Case: Overcoming the Often Fragmented Nature of Surviving Records



“Circumstantial evidence is a very tricky thing. It may seem to point very straight to one thing, but if you shift your own point of view a little, you may find it pointing in an equally uncompromising manner to something entirely different.”

– A. Conan Doyle, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Assessing the validity, provenance and implications of original documents is a key requirement for the majority of historians. The discovery of ‘new’, forgotten or generally overlooked material is often very exciting to researchers. However, the value of such ‘finds’ can only truly be realised by situating them within a broader body of primary evidence. Doing so reduces the danger of mis-interpretation to which Arthur Conan Doyle refers in the above quoted passage. This post will examine how this can be achieved with reference to the ‘discovery’, contextualization and interpretation of an important series of war…

View original post 1,530 more words

The Turning Point of the First World War, 1915


In a recent post, Dr Nick Lloyd described 1915 as the ‘forgotten year‘ of the First World War. To correct this, in occasional posts throughout 2015 members of the First World War Research Group based in the Defence Studies Department will examine unknown or forgotten aspects of the war during 1915.


In December 1914, British government was faced with difficult choice. The bloody battles of the summer and autumn of 1914 had all but consumed the original establishment of the British Expeditionary Force. These losses had more than been compensated for by the ‘rush to the colors’, which provided the manpower for a much expanded army, but the question of how best to deploy this new force remained unanswered. Despite growing pressure from her French ally, Britain had yet to adopt a ‘continental’ strategy. Rather, the government of Herbert Asquith attempted to adhere to…

View original post 1,375 more words

Lessons Learned from Gallipoli




Both at the time and since, the natural reaction to the Allied failure to capture the Gallipoli Peninsular has been to interrogate the records in search of lessons to be learned. The numerous shortcomings in planning and execution evident in the operation have provided ample opportunity for those searching for ways to improve future amphibious assaults. Comments made by US observers present during the campaign, which my colleague Dr. Robert T. Foley’s discussed in this recent post, were representative of the consensus that ‘the Dardanelles Campaign as a whole…stands out as one of the most disastrous failures with which British forces have ever been involved.’ The shortcomings witnessed by the US representatives went on to inform the writing of Marine Corps’ doctrine in the 1930s as that service adopted a more maritime role. The British, too, sought to use the lessons of Gallipoli to improve…

View original post 1,362 more words

Walking to work: me and my treadmill desk

Helen Kara

me at treadmill desk picI guess by now pretty much everyone knows that it’s not a great idea to spend the majority of your time sitting down. But when you’re a researcher and a writer, that’s exactly what you do, at your desk, often all day every day. Now and again you get to go out and sit down in your car, or on a train, till you get to a meeting where you sit down and talk to people. Not a great improvement, as I’m sure you’ll agree.

A couple of years I heard about standing desks, and was interested, though unsure I’d be able to stand for hours at a time. I asked around on Twitter and found some people who liked them and said I’d get used to it. But I still wasn’t sure. Then I found out about sit-stand desks, which let you swap between sitting and standing. That sounded…

View original post 631 more words