Friday, April 24, 2009

The First World War .

The First World War .
Andre Willers .
25 Apr 2009

Can you win WWI quickly ?
I thought it would be a doddle , even using just technology of the time .
Just send in the tanks .

The sad truth seems to be that humans had painted themselves into a corner where only a war of attrition could give victory . Something like MAD(Mutual Assured Destruction) .

Discussion :
1.Send in the tanks .
The artillery would have massacred them . You could have sent in columns of Abrahams tanks , and they would not have gotten further than 20 km .
Both sides had heavy artillery , wheel-to-wheel for kilometers in depth and very mobile .
Thousands per kilometer . Literally . Across the whole front . And every meter of it was ranged .
Any column of armour (of any era) would simply have been blown away by massed plunging heavy artillery .

I once read a colonel's attempt to explain why they did what they did . He said that is was essentially an artillery duel , and they used infantry to pin and spot the opposing artillery positions . If the opponents tried to move their artillery to avoid counter-battery fire , the infantry would gain . So they were pinned or lost ground in the critical hour or so it took to move a battery of heavy artillery .
Tanks made no difference . They just got destroyed faster , because the infantry spotters hated them . Which is why they were dispersed . A column of tanks would have made a really juicy target for the artillery .

So how did the Germans win in WWII ?
Dive-bombers . The humble Stuka .
The pilot was the spotter and the cannonier in one . Closely followed by a column of armour , co-ordinated by tactical doctrine and radio .
The dive-bombers were pin-point enough to blow a hole in the opposing artillery , long enough that the column of armour can bypass the artillery killing zone . This was Blitzkrieg .

This would not have worked in WWI , because there was no line (like the Maginot Line) . There was just kilometer on kilometer of mobile heavy artillery .

There would have been needed thousands of dive-bombers to take out thousands of artillery pieces . Which is exactly what the Americans did in WWII with the Mustangs and air superiority . Even then , it was a slog .

Can we use this in WWI ?
Alas , no . The spotter planes of the time could not give accurate co-ordinates to the counter-artillery , simply because they did not know where they were . This was a problem not solved until GPS , though some inaccurate attempts were made in WWII using Radio Beams .
The weapon (bomb) had to be in the plane with the trusty old mark one eyeball .
And WWI planes simply did not have the capability of dive-bombing with any accuracy to take out an embedded heavy artillery piece .

So , tanks and aircraft are out .

2. Hovercraft .
The technology for this existed since steam turbines were invented . (Circa 1890's) Hovercraft also has the characteristic that they become more efficient , the larger they are . A warcraft of a million tons could easily have been constructed in the early 1900's . A weapons platform of multiple layers of steel armour and reinforced concrete , with a runway for aircraft on top and heavy embedded artillery could easily and quickly have been constructed . Just stick a number of battleships on top for firepower . .

Heavy artillery could still blow it to smithereens , but the key is speed .

This would have been a strategic weapon . Punch through the defences and head straight for Berlin .As long as they had surprise , the war would have been over .
If not , the Germans would cobbled up their own . Can you see million-ton behemoths battling it out over the European plains (ideal country for really large hovercraft) ?

Modular hovercraft .
Because the structure does not have to be mechanically strong (the air pressure acts on every square centimeter independently of the neighbouring cm^2 ) , any number can be linked up . A thousand one thousand ton units can be linked up to give a platform of a million tons . This has not been done in our timeline , mainly because of historical and economical reasons . Nobody in Europe wants to see million ton heavily armoured tank-carriers and aircraft carriers careening across their plains at speeds of hundreds of km/hr ..

But we might see them in the Arctic Oil Wars .

3. Attack through the Baltic (St Petersburg)
I still have difficulty in understanding why they did not inveigle the German Navy into attacking them by opening up a front in St Petersburg . Why bother with Gallipoli ? Churchill was obsessed with his mistakes during the Goebbens affair .
The Battle of Jutland gave them a scare , but what would Nelson have said ?
They were either cowards , or the strategic objective was always to let Germany bleed France and Russia .

By threatening aid to Russia via St Petersburg , the English would have been on the strategical offensive and tactical defensive . They could have annihilated the German fleet in detail . Instead , they sat at Scapa Flow .

This was actually the war-plan during the Crimean War . An attack on Kronstadt (the fortress outside St Petersburg) was in final stages before it was cancelled . So , the strategic concept of pincering European powers was well-known .

So , you can win WWI quickly without any extra technology . Mine the German harbour approaches heavily and send continuous feints . They have to respond . Bleed them , then blow them out of the water when they seem weak enough . The English were inside their command loop .

This wouldn't have worked in WWII because of aircraft and RF positioning

4. Nuclear weapons on the front .
Unless the weapons took out an appreciable chunk of the heavy-artillery belt , nothing would have changed . The troops were hardened to chemical explosives in the kiloton range (the scale of barrages) and chemical attacks .This included the critical element , the gunners in the heavy artillery . Their casualty rate exceeded that of troopies on the front , but nobody spares a thought for them because a vague resentment and blame still lingers . Without them , the War would have been over by Christmas . Never mind the machine guns .

And so it goes .


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