There are many reasons and factors as to why the Great War was so costly in lives. The first of these was that this was the first imperialised war that the majority of the generals in charge of the armies had encountered. All of the military tactics that the generals had been taught were now seen as being “old fashioned” but generals, such as Field Marshall Haig, were too stubborn to realise this. Men on horseback were used at the start of the war, but they just didn’t stand a chance against weapons such as riffles and machine guns. Also all of the plans and advances used, especially at the start of the war, were all offensive. However as the war grew longer it became increasingly obvious that this was not going to get anyone anywhere, and it also resulted in thousands of deaths, with little or no advance for the offensive armies. In spite of this generals continued to order floods of men to carry on charging towards the enemy lines and they were continuously gunned down by the enemy machine guns.
During the war between 1914 and 1918 it became more and more obvious that it was easier to defend than to attack. The weapons, which were developed, were more defensive. These were weapons such as the machine gun, artillery and barbed wire. Although barbed wire does not seem like a very useful weapon, it proved to be priceless. For example if it was placed in front of your own trenches it was almost impossible for the opposition soldiers to get past them and into the trench. The only way to get through the barbed wire effectively was to cut it, and the opposition weren’t exactly going to just sit and let u do that. Also these weapons were “upgraded”, so to speak, as the war grew older and it became increasingly harder to penetrate enemy lines.
The condition of the trenches was awful. Because they were dug into the ground water seeped up from the ground and therefore filled the trenches, it was impossible for the men in the trenches to wash properly. This poor hygiene led to diseases and the infestation of things such as lice. As a result of this unfortunate life in the trenches the moral of the troops dropped. Supplies also became a rarity especially along the front line and this didn’t help much if the soldiers were supposed to perform to their best when called upon.
The element of surprise was not used to its greatest effect, this was also a cause as to why there were many losses of life. For example during one invasion when the British troops went over the top, they set off a mine so that they would get it all on film! But this blatantly gave away the fact that they were about to attack so the Germans anticipated the attack and they had plenty of time to prepare for the onslaught. The use of new technology, such as the tank, wasn’t used to its potential. It was used very poorly when it was first invented, the tactics were not thought through enough and after it had been used once it had also lost its element of surprise.
There is also a belief that there was a simple disregard for human life. Many generals believed that they would win if they simply outnumbered the opposition and consequently sent thousands of soldiers to their death. It was seen by many as practically being suicide, but the soldiers couldn’t argue or refuse to take orders because they would simply be made to. If they chose not to then they could be court marshalled.
Another major factor in the great loss of life during World War 1 was the efficiency of the weapons. The machine gun had only been developed recently before the outbreak of war, but it had not been seen or used and nobody realised how effective it would be. It turned out to be an invaluable defensive weapon for both the allies and the Germans. It was simply used to just gun down enemy advances before they were close enough to even try and attack. Rifles were also very effective, for example at the very start of the war, at the battle of Marne, when the Germans came under fire from the BEF, they thought that machine guns were being used against them because of the speed and accuracy of the fire. However it was just a simple rifle that was being used, not machine guns. There were other weapons used such as artillery, which could cause great destruction. Bits of shrapnel that flew off in all directions would take a soldier by surprise and cause great pain and injury to them. The doctors and surgeons during the Great War would have to act fast and simply amputate many limbs; some soldiers would have died due to loss of blood.
In conclusion the main reasons for the great losses in life during World War 1 were mostly due to the poor tactics of arrogant and incompetent generals, the fact that it was not realised sooner that defence was the most effective tactic given what weapons were being used and that it seemed that there was a disregard of human life. Although there are other reasons mentioned in this essay I believe them to have been the main three to blame for the great number of losses between the fighting of 1914-1918.