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.
|Douglas Haig||Ferdiand Foch||Paul von Hindenburg|
|David Beatty||Joseph Joffre||Erich Luderndorff|
|John Jellicoe||Philippe Petain||Erich von Falkenhayn|