Armies in 1914: 13–15 March 2014

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Armies in 1914: 13–15 March 2014

This public conference organised by the Department of War Studies, King’s College London history of war research group, in collaboration with the National Army Museum and the British Commission for Military History, will take place between 13 and 15 March 2014. The full conference programme can be found below. It is an event in King’s College London’s First World War centenary programme.

Registration is through the King’s College London estore at

The Conference will comprise three separate events, which can be signed up for individually. The BCMH’s Richard Holmes Memorial Lecture and reception, to be given by Professor Gary Sheffield of the University of Wolverhampton on the subject ‘A Once in a Century Opportunity? Reflections on the Centenary of the First World War’ will take place on the evening of Thursday 13th March in the Nash lecture theatre, King’s College London.

A study day showcasing recent research on Armies in 1914 will be held at King’s College London on Friday 14th March, with a keynote lecture by Professor Hew Strachan, Chichele Professor of the History of War at Oxford University.

A public day on the Armies that went to war in 1914 will be hosted by the National Army Museum on Saturday 15th March. The public day at the NAM is free, but you should register for attendance. It is also possible to attend the study day free of charge but registration is essential.

On Friday 14th March, tea & Coffee breaks and a sandwich lunch, and an evening drinks reception, are available if booked by Wednesday 7 March. Refunds will not be available after that date.

Armies in 1914: Study Day Programme, 14 March 2014, King’s College London (draft)

09.45: Welcome and Introduction, Great Hall, Strand Campus

Major-General (retd) Mungo Melvin and Professor William Philpott

Panel 1: 10:00-11.30 - Getting the BEF Ready for War

Dr Spencer Jones (University of Wolverhampton)

Learning from the School of Hard Knocks: Colonial Experience and the British Expeditionary Force 1914’

Historians have consistently described the British Expeditionary Force of 1914 as a “colonial army” or even a “colonial police force.” Over time, the meaning of this phrase has become obscured to such an extent that it is frequently used as a shorthand criticism, with the insinuation that a colonial army must inevitably be poorly prepared for continental warfare. This paper challenges this negative perception by demonstrating that the colonial background of the British Expeditionary Force was actually a source of strength. A large proportion of officers possessed colonial combat experience and the army had worked hard to integrate lessons of past wars into its tactics and training. Furthermore, although an imperial deployment remained a possibility, the army devoted most of its intellectual energy to considering the challenges of modern warfare rather than so called ‘small wars’. Thus, although a colonial army by virtue of its background, the BEF itself was a true expeditionary force capable of fighting a variety of different campaigns. This paper explores its capabilities and shows how its colonial experience was of considerable value in 1914.

Mr Andrew Duncan (University of Birmingham)

Preparation for War: Sandhurst and Woolwich in the decade before 1914

This paper addresses the training of officer cadets at Sandhurst and Woolwich between 1904, when reformed syllabuses were introduced, and the outbreak of war. Drawing on correspondence and examination papers in the Sandhurst archive, the textbooks of the time, and the personal papers of cadets, it argues that the teaching at RMC and RMA was practical, non-prescriptive, and equipped cadets to make intelligent decisions on the battlefield. Tactical teaching, in particular, was appropriate for modern warfare and emphasized initiative, field-craft, and the central importance of firepower. Topographical and engineering lessons were closely connected with tactical teaching, and cadets were well-aware of the close interrelationship between the three subjects.

Maj.-Gen (retd) John Drewienkiewicz (BCMH)

GFR Henderson and the Professional Education of the British Army

From 1886 to 1899 GFR Henderson was a powerful influence on the future senior leaders of the British Army, through his four books on the Franco-Prussian War and the American Civil War, and through his teaching at the Staff College. While both wars were analysed, his accounts of the Franco Prussian War were somewhat prosaic, whereas his American Civil War writing was more vivid and described a rich cast of colourful characters. This enthusiasm for the ACW provided the British Army’s Establishment with the intellectual basis for its conclusion that the future lay in a small, well trained regular force backed up by a mass of Militia and Volunteers whose enthusiasm could compensate for any lack of training. Moreover, by confining his studies to actions at Corps Level and below, Henderson defined the level at which he felt the British Army would operate. This contributed to the state of the 1914 Army as a pool of well trained and well equipped battalions with little higher doctrine, organisation or training.

Morning coffee 11.30-12.00

Panel 2: 12.00-13.30 Taking the BEF to War

Mr Charles Messenger (BCMH)

... By the 12th day...’: How the Expeditionary Force was prepared for crossing to France in 1914

This paper shows how the so-called ‘WF Plan’ for deploying a British ground force to France, in the event of hostilities in Europe, developed during the decade prior to the outbreak of war and how it worked in practice. The challenge was to have the force in its concentration area close to the Belgian border by the 12th day of mobilisation, but the need for secrecy meant that only a few War Office staff officers could provide the focus for the planning, with, for much of the time, not even their clerks being in the know. It represents a triumph for British staff work.

Dr Paul Harris (King’s College London)

The Staff of the British Army in 1914

The work of the staff and their development during the war has largely been overshadowed by the debate over the quality of generalship. This paper examines the staff of the British army during the first year of the war. It considers the challenges posed by rapid expansion and structural change. The period was marked by turmoil as new officers were introduced into the staff system and opportunities were created for those with experience. The paper traces the careers of the officers that formed the general staff at the start of hostilities, providing insights into the influences they brought to bear. It examines how the staff demonstrated considerable flexibility and overcame enormous challenges to produce a creditable performance.

Mr Michael Orr (BCMH)

The Impact of War on the West Lancashire Division, TF

By 1914 the West Lancashire Division was one of the best established Territorial Divisions but it was one of the last first-line formations to see front line service (as 55th Division, in February 1916).  Its history in 1914 sheds light on the British Army’s handling of its reserve forces before and after mobilization and the problems experienced in recruiting and training Territorial units for active service. The paper will assess the effectiveness of Britain’s pre-war planning and the employment of its military assets in wartime, as reflected in the experience of this formation.

13.30-14.30: Lunch

Panel 3: 14.30-16.00 – Other Armies

Dr Jonathan Boff (University of Birmingham)

Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria and German High Command, 1914

This paper will explore the sometimes fraught relationship between Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria and the Oberste Heeresleitung in 1914. It will discuss some cases of friction between the two and argue that tensions arose as a result of four factors: personality clashes; contingent policy differences; pre-war Prusso-Bavarian relations; and a confused command structure within the Germany army which is itself symptomatic of wider problems of government in Wilhelmine Germany.

Dr Brian Hall (University of Salford)

Nerves of an Army: The Communications Experiences of the British and German Armies, August-November 1914

Although the historiography has developed considerably in recent years, the role and contribution of communications to military operations during the First World War has failed to attract serious scholarly attention. What little has been written on the subject has been limited in terms of its detail, focus and use of sources. This is a significant oversight, since the absence of suitable, mobile ‘real-time’ communications severely limited the ability of military commanders to exercise efficient command and control over their troops in the heat of battle. In an effort to shed some light on this neglected issue, this paper will examine the role and contribution of communications to the conduct of the fighting on the Western Front between August and November 1914, chiefly by comparing and contrasting the British and German communications experiences. It demonstrates that, in the short-term, with its reliance upon telegraph, telephone and wireless, the German Army may very well have been more successful in modernising its communications system before 1914, yet this did not prove entirely advantageous. By contrast, although it tended to favour the more traditional and personalised forms of communication, the British Army had the advantage of possessing a communications system that was much more suited to the style of warfare that initially transpired. However, in the long-term, once both armies began to settle into the routine of trench warfare in the autumn and winter of 1914, it was the Germans who held the upper hand.

Dr Tim Gale (BCMH)

Petain, Mangin and Estienne - French Fifth Army in 1914

16.00-16.30: Afternoon tea

16.30-17.30: Keynote lecture

Professor Sir Hew Strachan (Chichele Professor of the History of War, Oxford University)

Military operations and national policies, 1914-18

17.30-19.00 Drinks reception

Armies in 1914: Public Day Programme, 15 March 2014, National Army Museum

Britain’s Armies in 1914 (10.30-12.30hrs)

The Regular Army = Brig (retd) Allan Mallinson

The Territorial Army = Professor Ian Beckett (Kent)

The Indian Army = Maj. (retd) Gordon Corrigan (BCMH)

Raising the New Army = Mr David Bownes (NAM)

Lunch (12.30-13.30)

Britain’s Allies in 1914 (13.30-15.30 hrs)

The French Army = Professor William Philpott (King’s College London)

The Belgian Army = Mr Mario Draper (University of Kent)

The Russian Army = Mr Nik Cornish

Tea (15.30-15.45)

Britain’s Enemies in 1914 (15-15-16.45)

The German Army = Dr Robert Foley (King’s College London)

The Austro-Hungarian Army = Professor Alan Sked (London School of Economics)

Keynote (16.45-17.30)

Major-Gen (retd) Mungo Melvin (President, BCMH)

Military Historians and the Centenary of the First World War

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