Senior military commanders dictated the course of a battle.
The commanders of the time stifled initiative and orders were expected to be
obeyed to the letter. This led to the mentality that existed on all sides - send
men over the trenches in huge numbers to fight the
enemy. Some commanders, such as Russia's Samsonov,
failed to adapt to a modern mode of fighting. Haig,
though he used the tank at the Somme,
was deeply suspicious of it as a means of fighting. For the French commanders,
fighting élan was enough to win the day - hence the slaughter at Verdun.
However, it may well be that these commanders were also not guilty of
incompetence ("lions led by donkeys") but victims of the rapid
industrialisation that took place in the world which resulted in modern and far
more deadly weapons. Many of the commanders who led their armies in World
War One were from a traditional cavalry background and brought the mentality
of a cavalry commander into a war that saw, for the first real time, the mass
use of the machine gun and hundreds of artillery guns on one battlefield.