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Detecting the need for change: How the British Army adapted to warfare on the Western Front and in the Southern Cameroons

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 November 2020

Michael A. Hunzeker*
Affiliation:
Schar School of Policy and Government, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia, United States
Kristen A. Harkness
Affiliation:
School of International Relations, University of St Andrews, Scotland, United Kingdom
*
*Corresponding author. Email: mhunzeke@gmu.edu

Abstract

This article addresses a gap in the literature on military adaptation by focusing on the first step in the adaptive process: detecting failure. We argue that institutionalised feedback loops are a critical mechanism for facilitating detection. Feedback loops are most effective when they filter information and distribute lessons learned to senior tactical commanders. In turn, effective filtration depends on incorporating frontline soldiers and specialists into intelligence cells while creating a protected space for dissent. We evaluate our theory against both irregular and conventional wars fought by the British Army: the counterinsurgency campaign in the Southern Cameroons (1960–1) as well as the evolution of British assault tactics on the Western Front of the First World War (1914–18).

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the British International Studies Association

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31 See, for example, TNA WO 208/4385/57A, ‘Annex A to Perintrep 9/61: 1 King's Own Border Group Intelligence Review: Southern Cameroons’, 16–28 May 1961; TNA WO 208/4386/63A, ‘Perintrep 2/61’, 17 June–1 July 1961; TNA WO 208/4386/69A, ‘Perintrep 4/61’, 16 July–4 August 1961; TNA WO 208/4386/74A, ‘MILO Report No. 17’, 12–26 August 1961.

32 TNA WO 208/4385/61A, ‘1 King's Own General Report (1 August 1960–3 May 1960)’, 10 July 1961; TNA WO 208/4385/41A, ‘Memorandum from Director of Military Intelligence to Lt. Col. W. A. Robinson’, 17 April 1961.

33 The first British Special Branch units were formed in the late nineteenth century in response to the Irish Republican Brotherhood. They evolved to play a major role in colonial policing across the British Empire.

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37 Especially illustrative of the accumulation of this type of knowledge is TNA WO 208/4386/63A, ‘Perintrep 2/61’, 17 June–1 July 1961.

38 TNA WO 208/4385/47A, ‘Report of Raid on Camp of 1st Mobile BN ALNK on Apr. 7’, 16 April 1961; TNA WO 208/4385/67A, ‘Despatch No: Personal 13 from Commissioner SC to Iain Maclood, MP’, 19 July 1961; TNA WO 208/4386/69A, ‘Perintrep 4/61’, 16 July–4 August 1961.

39 TNA WO 208/4385/47A, ‘Report of Raid on Camp of 1st Mobile BN ALNK on April 7’, 16 April 1961; TNA WO 208/4385/67A, ‘Despatch No: Personal 13 from Commissioner SC to Iain Maclood, MP’, 19 July 1961.

40 TNA WO 208/4385/48A, ‘Perintrep 6/61’, 1–15 April 1961.

41 TNA WO 208/4385/61A, ‘1 King's Own General Report (1 August 1960–3 May 1960)’, 10 July 1961.

42 TNA WO 208/438/ 9A, ‘MILO Report No. 4’, 20 January 1961.

43 TNA WO 208/4385/57A, ‘Annex A to Perintrep 9/61: 1 King's Own Border Group Intelligence Review: Southern Cameroons’, 16–28 May 1961; TNA WO 208/4385/61A, ‘1 King's Own General Report (1 August 1960–3 May 1960)’, 10 July 1961; TNA WO 208/4386/53A, ‘Perintrep 9/61’, 16–28 May 1961.

44 TNA WO 208/4385/67A, ‘Despatch No: Personal 13 from Commissioner SC to Iain Maclood, MP’, 19 July 1961; TNA WO 208/4386/69A, ‘Perintrep 4/61’, 16 July–4 August 1961; TNA WO 208/4386/75A, ‘MILO Report No. 18’, 27 August–10 September 1961.

45 TNA WO 208/4385/67A, ‘Despatch No: Personal 13 from Commissioner SC to Iain Maclood, MP’, 19 July 1961.

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61 Foley, ‘Dumb donkeys or cunning foxes?’, p. 286.

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65 In contrast, planning to mobilise a mass army for continental warfare was the German General Staff's raison d'etre.

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69 Robbins, British Generalship on the Western Front, pp. 20–6.

70 Ibid., p. 20.

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76 Robbins, British Generalship on the Western Front, pp. 94–5. According to Beach, before Training Branch, ‘the production of doctrine seems to have been just another task for the busy operations staff at GHQ. It would appear that they assigned a writer or simply convened committees on an ad hoc basis whenever a doctrinal need was identified’. See Beach, Jim, ‘Issued by the General Staff: Doctrine writing at British GHQ, 1917–1918’, War in History, 19:4 (2012), pp. 464–91CrossRefGoogle Scholar (p. 490).

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81 Joint Services Command and Staff College Archives, Shrivenham (hereafter JSCSCA) Z357, General Staff, ‘SS 158, Notes on Recent Operations on the Front of First, Third, Fourth and Fifth Armies’, 2–3 May 1917.

82 JSCSCA Z394, General Staff, ‘SS 143, The Organization of an Infantry Battalion and the Normal Formation for the Attack’, April 1917.

83 Griffith, Battle Tactics, p. 77.

84 JSCSCA Z854, General Staff, ‘SS 143, Instructions for the Training of Platoons for Offensive Action’, February 1917, p. 3.

85 JSCSCA Z389, General Staff, ‘SS 600, The Organization of an Infantry Battalion and the Normal Formation for the Attack’, April 1917, p. 3.

86 JSCSCA Z854, General Staff, ‘SS 143’, p. 6.

87 See, for example, Bailey, Jonathan B. A., ‘The First World War and the birth of modern warfare’, in Knox, MacGregor and Murray, Williamson (eds), The Dynamics of Military Revolution: 1300–2050 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), pp. 132–53Google Scholar; Biddle, Military Power, pp. 28–51; Goya, Michel, Flesh and Steel during the Great War: The Transformation of the French Army and the Invention of Modern Warfare, trans. Uffindell, Andrew (Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military, 2018), p. 240Google Scholar; Michael A. Hunzeker, Dying to Learn: Wartime Lessons from the Western Front (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, forthcoming 2021); Murray, Military Adaptation in War, pp. 74–118.

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