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Post Info TOPIC: Lessons of the Prusso-Danish War


Major

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Lessons of the Prusso-Danish War
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Since it seems that we are not restricted to modelling matters but are able to consider purely historical themes, I wonder if anyone has read about the Prusso-Danish War and the Battle of Duppel which foreshadowed the trench stalemate of 1914-18?


There are wildly fluctuating references on the Net to the date of this battle, from 1862 to 68, but it took place in 1864. The Prussians deployed advanced Krupp artillery and it was a predictably one-sided war, but the attack on Duppel was ominously costly for the Prussians.


The story goes that 6,000 poorly equipped Danish troops resisted a force of 18,000 Prussians for two months. They had constructed a line of trenches and redoubts across an isthmus, and the force of the Prussian shelling was absorbed by the Danish earthworks. This was a novelty in European warfare, and the thoroughly conventional Prussians continued with the assault in the traditional fashion. Eventually the position fell because a Prussian officer noted that the positions were unmanned at predictable times and organised a successful rush attack.


The problem was that the Prussians failed to see the advantage given to defenders by earthwork defences and drew the conclusion that this was simply a case of the normal methods of warfare taking rather longer than usual. Even though something similar had been done by Wellington at Torres Vedras in the Peninsular War, no 19th century army realised that this would be the shape of warfare to come.


The very interesting part is something that I read a while ago. I can't find the notes I made, but I think it might have been in a book about fortifications by Ian Hogg.


When the stalemate on the Western Front had set in, artillery bombardments lasted for weeks, and yet casualties were enormous, a Prussian officer who had served at Duppel 50 years earlier (possibly even the one who carried out the successful assault) lobbied the German High Command to use Duppel as a blueprint for attacks on Allied lines. His advice was not heeded and it took much time and many lives for the belligerents to work it out for themselves.


I'd be very interested to hear if anyone else has come across references to this officer.



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Legend

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If we are looking at precursors of trench warfare a la Western Front we should not forget the last year of the American Civil War with the Union army under Grant attempting to break the Petersburg trench lines blocking their advance on the Confederate capital of Richmond. Grant waged a war of attrition much in the vein of some WW1 strategies. He was prepared to accept very heavy casualties. The Battle of Cold Harbour represents an example of WW1 over the top type assaults on a defensive position. Union soldiers had their names pinned to the backs of their jackets to facilitate identification of their bodies afterwards. Some early machine guns were used in the Confederate defences including the Vandenburg volley gun (see my drawing attached).

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Lieutenant

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Hi all:
Not being a knowledgable person on the 1864 conflict, I am a Dane and as such the battle of Dybbol stands as one of my county's most glorious defeats in a long line of defeats. The day of the battle is still commemorated in Denmark.


Surely many of the features present in the battle of Dybbol bears a strong likeness of WWI. The heavy bombardment of earthworks, the Danish practice of keeping only few soldiers in the line (a sort of active/passive zone system), the use of upturned harrows and barricades functioning as the barbed wire in WWI, the German saps closing in on the Danish lines and the scenes of utter destruction in the post-battle photographs - all elements of the Great War


As I have very little insight on the 1864 conflict I have supplied a link on the Dybbøl Battle:


http://www.milhist.dk/1864/dybbol/dybbol.html


More on the 1864 war in general:


http://www.milhist.dk/start/uk_oversigt_1864.htm


A site with info in German:


http://www.1864.dk/tysk-lo1864.htm


German post-battle photographs - only Danish captions:


http://hjem.get2net.dk/JR/1864/64foto.html


I hope this will be of interest to some.


Regards


Claus, Denmark



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Field Marshal

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the much more recent balkan wars and the russo-japanese war should have tought the leading nations fo europe in the importance of trench warfare, both conflicts showed how fortified lines could repell 19th century style attacks and how heavy artillery would be king of battle in such situations

many nations had obersvers in both conflicts only adding to their folly of not learning the lessons of new warfare


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Major

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Thanks for the feedback on this, gents.


In the words of A.J. Smithers, the Great Powers heard reports of the new warfare but dismissed them. They regarded the American Civil War as a "local tribal conflict" and did not think such behaviour would occur in a war between "civilised" armies. The same view was taken of other, similarly portentous conflicts, at least among the top brass.


Of course, one of the observers sent to the Balkans was Col. Estienne's ADC, and it was his reports of the dominance of machine guns, artillery, and barbed wire which first turned Estienne's thoughts to the question of armoured, cross-country vehicles. Similar conditions obtained in the Russo-Japanese War and in the little-known Russo-Turkish War of 1877/8, in which latter an estimated 75,000 troops were killed in action.


I still live in hope of someone finding that reference to the Prussian veteran of Duppel.


Something we haven't discussed is whether The Great War would have taken the same form if it had occured ten years earlier or ten years later . . . .



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Legend

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JamesH wrote:


 Something we haven't discussed is whether The Great War would have taken the same form if it had occured ten years earlier or ten years later . . . .

Interesting, one of my whiling away the time activities in the days when my work sent me to some of the less attractive parts of the World and I'd be stuck in a hotel room with a laptop and no Internet access was to invent an alternative history World based on Napoleon III's son not being killed in the Zulu War but instead returning to France to found another Bonepartic empire and proceeding to cut Germany down to size. Without going into detail this eventually resulted in a World War in 1930 with a revived French Empire under Napoleon V allied with Imperial Russia and Italy against Britain and what was left of Germany which had been absorbed into the Austro Hungarian Empire under Karl I (the Triple Monarchy complete with three headed eagle). I created a complete set of fleets (including Australian, Canadian and Indian together with Free Dutch and Dutch East Indies) I never got round to land forces. In my scenario submarine warfare had been banned by international treaty and without the pressure of a war aircraft technology had just about reached 1916 levels in our terms so sea plane carriers rather than flat tops. France had resorted to a Guerre de Corse so lots of commerce raiders and specialised warships to combat them. etc etc. I still have a guide to the fleets in Powerpoint. (Its amazing what a repressive ME environment will do to you!

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Field Marshal

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I had a theory
of Italy joining in the war on the side of the central powers, tempted by gaining land from France
this new front would have crippled frances chances and allowed the Austrians to concentrate on the russian front, while germany might have very well won the war, or if they had not anounced unristricted warfare, and the US stayed out of the war Germany might have been lucky to get a ceasefire and a stalemate deal in 1919
just ideas

I lvoe the Nopolean IV/V conspiracy

or alexender III living o be the star during the war, he died at 47 in 1894
and he migth have styed with Austira and Germany in an alliance! that would have changed thigns dramaticly, or maybe russia would fare better with a stronger leader who could have put down the bolshevick revolution


-- Edited by eugene at 23:29, 2005-12-21

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Legend

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Getting back to 'lessons learned (or not) from wars', I think much of the talk on 'lessons missed' is pedicated on the assumption that World War One was a massive botch-job, and that the generals had other plausible options.


But is that true? I thought I'd throw in a few very general, possibly even trite, observations, so don't be going and expecting detailed examinations of specific campaigns or whatever...


I think, first of all, that it's very easy to say with the benefit of a century of hindsight that they should have done this or that; for example, 'why didn't they listen to Burstyn/de Mole/pick whichever mechanical prodigy you favour'?


But against machine-guns and quick-firing and heavy artillery, and before mechanical transport had really developed, I can't see many tactical options, to start with anyway, but for massively bloody assaults. After all, the choice is simple: either attack, in which case you will incur huge losses; or sit around year after year hoping your enemy will eventually get bored and go home, which is politically and militarily unacceptable, as well as being very unlikely. Famously, Ivan Bloch predicted in 1898 that the next great European war on land would be one of trenches, and that the spade would be as important, if not more so, than the rifle, because he saw how offensive power had increased exponentially. But was he able to see how to circumvent the trench? No. His only real solution to the horror that a future war would bring was not to have the war in the first place. And it's not true to say that all the generals believed the war would be 'over by Christmas', as the saying goes. Right from the off, Kitchener predicted a war of at least three years length, and demanded conscription.


I think a big part of the view of the Great War being so uniquely awful and why it has such a central role in Britain is because it was one of the few times when Britain had to use her main forces against the main forces of a sophisticated enemy, and we weren't used to that. It's pretty obvious that in that situation, you will incur massive losses, whatever you do. World War Two saw Britain incur a quarter of the losses she suffered in the Great War. Why? Because to start with, pretty early on our expeditionary force was chased from mainland Europe and didn't return for another four years! You don't suffer heavy losses when you're not near the enemy... For most of the war, we bombed the Germans from a distance (yes, the RAF suffered awful losses, but still only a tiny fraction of the Great War total, more akin to a single battle), or fought with fairly minor forces of theirs in North Africa or other peripheral theatres. Now, the one army that did have to fight the Germans toe-to-toe for a long time in a (perhaps the) major European theatre was the Soviet Army - and guess what, they suffered appallingly (by the way, I don't downplay how awful it must have been to be stuck in a trench etc., but all wars are awful for the individuals concerned, whether you're in a trench in Flanders, an Egyptian desert, or a Vietnamese jungle).


Another factor to be borne in mind is what the objectives of a given war are. The scale of war aims varies. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, wars often had quite limited aims, and really were an extension of diplomacy. Whereas when you get to the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, political ideology enters the scene. When a country is faced by an enemy which doesn't merely want, say, a group of islands miles away, but wants, or even simply seems to want, to destroy your political system by exporting a revolutionary ideology or whatever, you will fight with everything you've got, not simply to resist but ultimately to destroy your enemy.


The German Wars of Unification, on the other hand, saw a return to earlier concepts of limited wars for specific political aims, Bismarck playing a prominent role. However, the American Civil War, as noted, was very bloody, but not just because new technology allowed it to be so; it was bloody because it was a civil war and those are usually the bloodiest of the lot (our civil war in the 1640s, with much cruder weapons, was unbelievably bloody).


The Great War, which seems on the face of it to have been over nothing in particular, was really about a shift in the international balance of power. It was, in that sense, no less 'legitimate' than the Second World War, which is always held up as the prime example of a Just War (because, don't forget, we didn't know just how awful the Nazis were at first; it only acquired the patina of a moral crusade later, and especially since ending). People (well, British people) have often asked 'why did Britain go to war?' Well, to prevent German hegemony, exactly as in 1939. If it had been the French trying to dominate Europe, we'd have fought them (as we had a century earlier) because Britain's main diplomatic aim regarding Europe was always two-fold: don't get involved on the continent; but equally don't let anyone become too powerful (which might mean getting involved after all).


Now, I've not gone into minute detail about particular battles or campaigns, or counterfactuals like 'what if Kaiser Bill wasn't barmy?' because I wanted simply to air some general points about other factors to be considered.



-- Edited by Roger Todd at 02:07, 2005-12-22

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Major

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Blimey. This is turning into The Open University. Sorry.


But while we're on the subject . . .


It was fashionable for many years to depict The War as entirely futile and merely a result of the Treaties and general paranoia amongst the Great Powers. A recent reassessment claims that it was necessary because Germany did have specific war aims, which included the seizure of French & Belgian territory and natural resources over and above Alsace & Lorraine. It's claimed that there is evidence to support this.


What I was more interested in is whether the available technology would have led to a different type of war in, for the sake of argument, 1904 or 1924.


The tragedy of 14-18 was that it occurred just when things were in a particular state of balance. Perhaps ten years earlier it might have been more like the Franco-Prussian War - as Roger says, a limited and decisive one - or ten years later a war in which AFVs and air power might have made it a war of much greater movement. When you consider that for 3 1/2 years troops and materiel could be amassed in almost complete safety anywhere apart from a strip about 15 miles wide, the Western Front was bound to happen. If more advanced aircraft had made that impossible and AFVs had been faster and more reliable, how would things have turned out then?


But one "What if . . ?" simply leads to another.


My original reason for raising this was purely the tactical question of this Prussian's idea of a short bombardment followed by an assault, why it got lost, and how it might have affected things if he had been heeded. Maybe someone will stumble across it.


Thanks to all concerned (especially Claus, whose self-deprecation is of the highest standard).


James H



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Field Marshal

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I might be wrong here
but it is taught in the US, that britian's chief priority was naval dominance, that the army was mercenary in seventeenth and eightenth century, and volunteer later on, little conscription
before in middle ages wars were more dynastic with family lines and kings, almost like personal war fare in Italy
from the thirty years war and on it became more national, with more patriotism and secular goals, (funny that thirty years war started as a religous war)
then the limmited objective war fare, emploed by French, Dutch, British not to risk large conficts which could spell disaster

then after the french revolution, i think is the beginning of true idiological warfare, the pure desire to force others into your beliefs and conquest in broad and ambitious goals, after all the continental system of Nopolean was ultimatly having in mind complete control of eu by Fr. its from this that the policy of balance of power came about trully, its been seen before but now in a new light to keep one nation away from dominating the others, so the pacts and alliances began to from, coaltions, ext. and that led to modern day fighting, war is constantly evolving its showing its awful face in many different ways, with the same outcome, destruction and death



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Legend

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JamesH, perhaps short bombardment might have worked had they tried it earlier, and I don’t know nearly enough about the Duppel siege to say anything authoritative. But a couple of points strike me about the information you gave. Duppel sounds like a relatively small operation, that is, a limited siege of a point defence (a fortress), and I presume the isthmus was narrow. It also seems to me from what you wrote that a great part of the Prussians’ success was not so much the use of short bombardment as in the fact that they noticed that the Danes followed a rigid schedule in manning their defences, and that the Danes actually allowed their defences to be unmanned at predictable times! That simply sounds like shoddy organisation on the part of the Danes, and so a very contingent factor.


I think this sounds very different from the Great War situation where you basically have a defensive line across a whole continent, from Switzerland to the sea. Whilst it is true on one level to say that conditions on the Western Front were those of a siege, there was a crucial difference. Most times, when an attacker breaches the defences of a fortress, that’s it for the defenders, the game is up because there’s nowhere for reinforcements to come from (and although often a fortress is only part of a chain, so that the attacker still has to move on to the next, Duppel sounds like a crucial, single fortress). But on the Western Front, a breach here or there could in theory be plugged by shifting forces from elsewhere, or by retreating, as the allies did in the face of the German offensives of 1918, and letting the attacker enter the defenders’ territory too deeply, leading to overstretched supply lines and creating a dangerously thin salient which could then be crushed from the flanks. You can’t do that in a fortress.


Add to that the huge leap in the capabilities of rifles and, of course, the development of the machine-gun, plus barbed wire (part of the reason for the massive artillery barrages of the Great War was to clear the wire), and you have a recipe for a very different set of conditions in 1914 than in 1864. The debate always seems to come back to the same starting point: ‘Could the massive casualties of the Great War have been avoided?’ To which I will only say: probably not, but in any case it's the wrong question, because it assumes that there was something uniquely deadly about the Great War battles, which I believe to be a flawed premise. Nobody asks, with the same tinge of horror and regret, if the vastly greater casualties of the Second World War could have been avoided or reduced.


Now, if the war had been fought ten years earlier or later, would technology have made a difference? Could there have been a Franco-Prussian War style lightning victory with an 'early' war? I don't believe so, because by 1904 much of the weaponry was already in place to produce the sort of conditions that occurred in 1914. We can see that in the war of attrition that the Japanese and Russians fought in 1904-05. What about a 1924 war? That's a very tricky question, because it's difficult to say how military forces would have developed without the Great War of 1914-18. Would tanks have appeared? Would aeroplanes be anything like as developed? What about the submarine, or the airship? It seems to me that the Great War stimulated the development of those technologies, which without it would have developed far more slowly (with the possible exception of the airship, which I suspect would have been better off without the War for two reasons: it's vulnerability wouldn't have been shown up so starkly; and the aeroplane wouldn't have developed so rapidly to become a dangerous rival).


Of course, I could be wrong, and I'm happy for anyone to argue otherwise.



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Hero

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If I may interject, there are issues often overlooked, or not explored.  The first being the rapid, all but unbelievable recovery of  France after the Franco-Prussian War. The Republicans were able to pay off war reparations, and simultaneously, rebuild their army ,and finance the construction of a modern navy by 1894!


Secondly, from 1871 German diplomacy(Bismark) was styled to both isolate France from potential allies( he had no ellusions about their burning hostility, but also knew they would not dare to tackle Germany alone and would seek alliances to aide them.), and concentrate on the new Reich economic growth in Europe proper.   His departure changed all that. Most of you likely know what happened of the next few years.


Thirdly, regarding "lessons" ignored from the recent Russo-Japanese war; this is not entirely true.   Though they shared the same uniforms and equipment, each German Korps was individually responsible for training in combat tactics.   Dispite the mountains of period English propaganda to the contrary, the usual contact with the enemy was made with open order tactics.  Admittedly there were some Korps commanders who had failed to adapt, but most did recognise the value of their staff's work.



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Major

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Roger - I think what this Prussian meant was more akin to the "bite and hold" policy as advocated by, I think, Rawlinson, rather than a breakthrough tactic. The position at Duppel wasn't a particularly narrow one, but the ability of the earthworks to absorb shelling still baffled the Prussians. Now that I've read up a bit more, it seems that the position wasn't unmanned but lightly held at certain times, and the successful tactic seems to have been a short barrage followed by infantry assault.


 


If only I could find that passage I read  . . .



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