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Learning to Fight

Book description

Learning, innovation and adaptation are not concepts that we necessarily associate with the British army of the First World War. Yet the need to learn from mistakes, to exploit new opportunities and to adapt to complex situations are enduring and timeless. This revealing work is the first institutional examination of the army's process for learning during the First World War. Drawing on organisational learning and management theories, Aimée Fox critiques existing approaches to military learning in wartime. Focused around a series of case studies, the book ranges across multiple operational theatres and positions the army within a broader context in terms of its relationships with allies and civilians to reveal that learning was more complex and thoroughgoing than initially thought. It grapples with the army's failings and shortcomings, explores its successes and acknowledges the inherent difficulties of learning in a desperate and lethally competitive environment.


‘Sheds new light on the extent to which the British army in the First World War was a learning organisation. Essential reading for anyone involved or interested in the transformation of today`s armed forces to meet new circumstances and future threats.'

Lieutenant General Sir John Kiszely - author of Anatomy of a Campaign: The British Fiasco in Norway, 1940

'Adapting to changing complex environments, rather than seeking to control them, will be fundamental.' So said UK Defence’s Future Force Concept in 2017. Dr Fox’s timely, well researched, thought provoking and thoroughly readable book helps remind us that the future imperative for Armed Forces to be able to learn, adapt and change, both tactically and institutionally, quicker than an adversary are far from being just twenty-first century concerns. One hundred years ago the same imperative existed. This book helps unpack how the British Army of the First World War went about turning words - innovation, adaptability, agility and learning - into deeds, both tactically and institutionally. As we commemorate the end of the First World War in 2018, Dr Fox’s book is a timely reminder that history has an important role in helping us with our Future Force design and its ethos.'

Major General ‘Mitch’ Mitchell - Director, UK Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre

'Aimée Fox’s analyses of innovation in the First World War advance our understanding of that critical time period, but she goes much further, offering critical lessons for today’s military leaders as well. Learning to Fight is that rare book that can speak equally well to both the past and the present.'

Michael S. Neiberg - author of Path to War: How the First World War Created Modern America

'Adaptation is predicated upon learning from what was once 'entirely unknown'. Learning to Fight offers a deep dive into how the British Army and its colonial partners measured up to that task in the first World War … This is the latest contribution to a deepening pool of scholarship into military change, and the book offers a unique framework for the study of wartime adaptation … this is a well-executed book that dissipates mythology and discovers insights about the British military of a century ago … Learning to Fight will appeal to students of World War I, and is recommended for scholars interested in military sociology, military learning, and combat effectiveness.'

Frank Hoffman Source: The Strategy Bridge

'… a superb contribution to the literature of military innovation … This book is highly recommended for those interested in military innovation in general and in the institutional adaption of the British Army in the First World War in particular.'

Benjamin Tuck Source: Defense & Security Analysis

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Pre-Federation and Commonwealth Records


Australian Imperial Force unit war diaries, 1914–1918

AWM 25

Written records, 1914–1918 war

AWM 27

Classified files

AWM 252

Records arranged according to AWM Library subject classification, 1914–1918

AWM 255

Written records, 1914–1918 war, second series

CAB 18

Committee of Imperial Defence: Miscellaneous Reports and Papers, 1875–191

CAB 24

War Cabinet and Cabinet: Memoranda, 1915–1939

CAB 25

Supreme War Council: Papers and Minutes, 1917–1919

CAB 37

Cabinet Office: Copies of Cabinet Papers, 1880–1916

CAB 45

Official War Histories Correspondence and Papers


National Physical Laboratory: Registered Files

FO 371

General Correspondence from 1906 to 1966

MT 23

Admiralty, Transport Department: Correspondence and Papers


Records of the Central Registry


Munitions Council: Historical Records Branch


Ministry of National Service: Records

RAIL 1014

Great Western Railway Collection

WO 27

Adjutant-General and Army Council: Inspection Returns, 1750–1914

WO 32

Registered Files (General Series)

WO 33

Reports, Memoranda, and Papers (O and A Series)

WO 95

First World War and Army of Occupation War Diaries

WO 106

Directorate of Military Operations and Military Intelligence: Correspondence and Papers

WO 107

Quartermaster-General's Department: Correspondence and Papers

WO 114

Adjutant-General's Department: Strength Returns of the Army

WO 123

Army Circulars, Memoranda, Orders, and Regulations, 1711–1992

WO 142

Ministry of Munitions, Trench Warfare, and Chemical Warfare Departments: Reports and Papers

WO 158

Military Headquarters: Correspondence and Papers, First World War

WO 161

Miscellaneous Unregistered Papers, First World War

WO 162

Adjutant-General's Department: Papers

WO 163

War Office Council, later War Office Consultative Council, Army Council, Army Board and Their Various Committees: Minutes and Papers, 1806–1980

WO 181

Directorate of Military Survey and Predecessors: Papers

WO 256

Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, Western Front: Diaries

WO 279

Confidential Print

WO 293

Army Council: Instructions


Minutes of Proceedings of Institution of Civil Engineers


Railway Gazette International: Periodicals

MD 2818

Memorandum on Army Training during the Individual Training Period, 1912–1913

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  • Papers of Brigadier-General H. O. Mance, PRO 30/66/9

  • Papers of Captain N. E. Drury, 7607-69

  • Papers of Captain R. S. Hawker, 1988-09-86

  • Papers of Sir G. Macauley, 8008-72

  • Papers of Colonel R. Macleod, 8112-9

  • Papers of Lord Rawlinson, 5201-22-18

  • Papers of Royal Munster Fusiliers, 7603-69-1

  • Papers of Lieutenant-Colonel A. Weston Jarvis, 1999-03-43

  • Papers of General Sir C. B. B. White, MS 5172

  • Papers of General Sir J. Monash, MS 1884

  • Papers of Colonel H. M. Farmar

  • Papers of Lieutenant-General Sir H. C. C. Uniacke, MD 1160

  • Papers of General Sir W. Gillman, MD 1161

  • Papers of Major-General Sir H. H. Tudor, MD 1167

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