Fifty years ago the dreadful slaughter of Verdun and the Somme revealed to the still unsuspecting nations of Europe that the applied science of the machine gun, barbed wire and heavy artillery had changed the nature of warfare. Later on, when writers as different as Winston Churchill, Field-Marshall Lord French, Herbert Read and William Faulkner attempted to explain the general sense of stupefaction at the unprecedented massacres of the First World War, they pointed to a catastrophic gap between what had been expected and what came to pass. According to Winston Churchill, “for a year after the war had begun hardly anyone understood how terrific, how almost inexhaustible were the resources in force, in substance, in virtue, behind every one of the combatants” The military explanation came from the Commander-in-Chief of the British forces: “No previous experience, no conclusion I had been able to draw from campaigns in which I had taken part, or from a close study of the new conditions in which the war of today is waged, had led me to anticipate a war of positions. All my thoughts, all my prospective plans, all my possible alternatives of action, were concentrated upon a war of movement and manoeuvre.”.
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