Britain And The First World War Essay Sample

Britain And The First World War Pages
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1. War at Sea

As an island the only way the country could be invaded was by sea and so to protect itself Britain needed the best navy by far in the world, especially as it had a rather small army, to act as deterrence. Britain used something known as Dual Standard, which meant that Britains navy had to always be at least twice the size of the next two biggest, in the world, combined together. There were many important roles that the navy had in the war.

The main initial role of the navy was to control ocean areas and maintain free passage for merchant ships carrying cargos of vital war materials and supplies to the Western and other fighting fronts. It was also vital for the transportation of troops and munitions to the front. The navy was used to keep the Channel Ports such as Calais open and easily accessible. This control was mainly achieved through deterrence and the only real navy battle occurred between the two sides (Britain and Germany) at the Battle of Jutland.

The main long-term importance of the war at sea was as part of an economic struggle between the two sides. Britain depended on sea trade for food and raw materials as two thirds of food supplies came from abroad. Theses supply lines, needed protecting by the navy as by 1916 Britain had only six weeks of supplies left.

To make sure Britain didnt starve and could continue fighting strongly on the Western Front an important role of the navy was to protect merchant ships and their valuable supplies so that they could reach the country. The Germans were using U-boats to sink the merchant ships. The navy came up with many ideas to counter the U-boat threat. British merchant ships sailed in convoy, escorted by warships making it harder for the U-boats to attack. Q ships, hydrophones and an effective sea mine were developed and used. Patrols of hunting vessels destroyed the U-boats with depth charges to counter attack the U-boat campaign aircraft were used as spotters and bombers and the navy greatly increased its ship building capacity so as the loss of ships wouldnt be more than production. Due to the navys success over the U-boat menace it meant eventual victory rather than defeat for the allies.

To disrupt the German economy the navy blockaded the German ports, such as Wilhelmshafen, using mines, to prevent ships from entering. This was successful over time as it effectively ‘strangled Germany by preventing any Merchant ships entering with their vital foods and goods.

The navy was used to clear the worlds waters of German shipping. It helped to supply Russia on the Eastern Front with supplies so as they could fight Germany on the Eastern Front. It was also involved with combined operations with the army e.g. Gallipoli Campaign, where it transported troops and munitions.

Clearly the war at sea was a vital aspect for the final outcome of the war. The war could not be won if the Western Front and Home Front were not sufficiently supplied, as it would mean not enough food and munitions, which are vital to win a long war of attrition.

2. War In The Air

At the outbreak of the First World War, flying was in its early years and therefore only played a small role in winning the war. The army and navy both made use of panes and initially had separate airs services making them subsidiaries of the army and the navy. In 1918 the RAF was formed and this took control of all aircraft.

The initial role of planes was to fly above enemy lines and to record their positions and work out any possible strategies of attack in reconnaissance missions. Airships were similarly used on the front for observation.

It became important to stop these observation planes and so fighter aircraft were developed. These had to be protected by their own fighters, so that by 1916/1917, entire squadrons of interceptors led by aces, like the Britain Albert Ball, were battling it out for air supremacy over the trench lines in dogfights.

Aeroplanes were later used to fly over enemy positions and drop small bombs onto supply dumbs, artillery parks or troop concentrations making the enemy weaker and easier to attack.

The air force continuously developed machinery so as to gain air supremacy above the battlefield. It was responsible for finding technological advancements such as shooting machine guns through the propeller blades and forever improving and increasing the number of aeroplanes.

The air force was used to counter the U-boat threat. Aircraft were used to bomb, gun or drop depth charges on recharging U-boats and naval airships escorted convoys.

The war in the air contributed to outcome of the war but wasnt as vital as other factors because it was only a subsidiary of the Army and Navy and only had a supportive role.

3. Importance Of The Home Front

The First World War was a Total War, industrial war and a war of attrition. This meant that the war could only be won over a period of time and as a result the home front played a vital role in achieving success. Asquiths attitude of ‘business as usual was wrong. It would be impossible for Britain to fight if the economy of the country was not geared towards a total war.

Industry could not supply the armys needs of munitions. For example only 12 guns of a required 1792 could be made in a week by one factory. Natural resources were especially important, such as coal, iron and steel as they were needed for weapons and machinery. The Home Front was important, as it was responsible to make sure the army was efficiently supplied.

In Britain the Defence of The Realm Act was introduced in 1914. It increased the production of vital supplies and gave the government the power over railways, mines and trade union strikes. It gave the British government the power to seize factories and make them produce what was required and buy goods it wanted. It also imposed strict code of conducts on the population, such as shorter opening hours for pubs.

Due to Britain importing a lot of its food supplies from abroad by 1917 the first food shortages occurred in Britain after bad harvests and U-boat attacks. The Home Front was responsible to make sure these problems were overcome. In 1917, the government introduced rationing, made more land used for cultivation and people were encouraged to grow their own foods at home or on allotments. Two agriculture acts were introduced allowing the production of vital food supplies, such as corn to increase.

The Home Front was responsible in encouraging men to sign up for the Kitcheners Volunteer Army using propaganda. When the army needed more men the government introduced conscription in 1916. Propaganda campaigns were used and the army rose to 3-4 million as a result.

A problem faced at the Home Front was the lack of labour caused by men going to the front to fight. Factories had few workers and therefore vital supplies, such as munitions and coal dropped. To help supplies to be continuously produced men, who were in key jobs, such as coal miners, were forced to stay.

Women were an important part of the Home Front because they now had to do the tasks of the men who had left. They had to be shown how to do tasks at home but more importantly were encouraged to do important jobs men left behind. Despite some going to work at the Western Front the number of women in employment increased in Britain by 50 percent. Working class women delivered coal and worked as munitionettes in factories making shells and weapons. Middle class women joined the civil service or became teachers and a women police force was formed.

A total war is very expensive and so the Home Front has to be geared to finance it. During the war Britain had to employ several measures to increase finance. Income tax and duties on luxury imports were put up. People were encouraged to buy war bonds from the state. The main way Britain paid for the war was to sell off its many overseas assets such as its railways in America.

It is quite clear that the excellent way in which the Home Front was managed played a crucial part in winning the war for the allies. Britain made sure that it had an advantage with the Sinews of war and geared its economy quickly and efficiently towards war. New war ministries such as Ministries of Agriculture and Munitions were introduced and plans were made to encourage men to join the army. People at home were kept happy. Without the work done at the Home Front the other fronts and especially the Western Front couldnt have been supported.

4. The war at sea and the Home Front are as equally important as the Western Front in deciding the outcome of the war. The Western Front was vital in winning the war, as ultimately this was where the action was and so the British army played a crucial role there.

The British army originally came involved in the war to protect Belgium and supported the allies in defending against the German attacks. At the beginning of the war Britain sent a small expeditionary force (100 000 men) over to France and Belgium to slow down the advance of the Germans, in their sector of The Western Front, and therefore prevent the Schlieffen Plan.

As the war developed though the role of the British army increased as the size of the army increased to 3-4 million men. The army developed many weapons to compete with those of the Germans and had new advancements like the tank. With the aid of the French and the other allies the British army could attack the Germans. The army often faced stalemate due to the trench warfare and it was extremely hard to break through enemy lines using bombardment and thus it became a war of attrition.

The British armys role in Flanders was to take up its sector of the Western Front and to be involved in trench warfare. They had to protect Channel Ports such as Calais as this was vital for munitions and other logistics. They also performed diversionary tactics to give relief to the French such as at the Battle f the Somme.

At artillery level commanders explored the potential of concentrated fire (the barrage). An example of this bombardment tactic when the British attacked at The Battle of the Somme in 1916 where on the first day alone 57 000 men died.

The army was responsible for developing many new weapons such as Trench mortars, flame-throwers, snipers and gas shells. New tactics, such as digging tunnels under enemy lines and then planting explosives there, rolling barrage and skirmish tactics were used. The British pioneered the tank, which could cross no-man’s-land easily.

Clearly the Western Front is important because the war can be easily lost there. As the war was a Total War and a war of attrition it went on for several years and therefore the Home Front and the war at sea are just as vital because they made sure that the Western Front was well supplied with men and munitions. Without the Home Front the army wouldnt have been as big a force as it became because the Home Front created both the volunteer and Conscript army. The Home Front was also responsible to gearing the economy to a war economy and raising the finance to continue fighting effectively. The Navy made sure that Britain kept its supply routes open and well protected. It dealt with the U-boat campaign, which threatened to ruin the economy, and also used the blockades to slowly cripple Germany and weaken it as a force. The air force isnt as important as the other fronts because it is only a subsidiary of the army and navy and played a relatively small role in the total war.

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