World War One

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Sample Questions

Which was more responsible for extending the war beyond the end of 1914: the First Battle of Ypres or Belgian resistance to the Schlieffen Plan?

Answer A

Both the Belgian Resistance and the First Battle of Ypres extended the war.

Firstly, as the Belgians resisted instead of simply letting the Germans through Belgium into France, Britain had more reasons to declare war on Germany, as the Germans are now invading a neutral country that is actively resisting Germany. Without the Belgian resistance, Btitain would have less of a reason to become allies in the war and declare war on Germany. The British Expeditionary Force's joining on the allies' side prevented a quick German win with the Schlieffen Plan, and thus extended the war.

Secondly, the Belgian resistance slowed Germany down, allowing the French and the BEF to prepare for the Battle of the Marne. The Schlieffen plan's precise calculations are based on the assumption that there would be no or minimal Belgian resistance, while in fact Belgians resisted with all they had. This significantly slowed the Germans down by approximately four weeks, which causes the failure of the Schlieffen Plan. Importantly, this gave time for France and Britain to prepare its army to defend Paris and for the Battle of the Marne, one of the most decisive battles in WW1. Without the Belgian resistance, France would be largely unprepared, and Germany would have likely got a quick win. Looking through history, France likes to surrender once Paris is captured, as seen at the end of the Napoleonic Wars and when Germany captured Paris in the Second World War. (This is in contrast to how, for example, Russia continued defending in the Napoleonic Wars even after the French captured Moscow, and ultimately pushed back in winter.) France would have likely surrendered in World War One, if Germany were to capture Paris, ending the war soon.

However, the First Battle of Ypres also contributed substantially to the lengthening of the war.

Thirdly, the First Battle of Ypres was the first battle in World War One that saw large-scale use of trench warfare. Trenches are extremely easy to defend, especially with new and improved technology such as machine guns and improved artillery (both excellent for defense but bad for attack), but trenches are by definition immobile. This leads to stalemates. Attacks would be having an infantry climb up to No Man's Land, run across, carrying rifles (early machine guns are generally too heavy to carry while running), while the enemies would take the lives of whole units with rapid-fire machine guns. World War One was full of stalemates that proved to be deadly---the allies had approximately 120,000 casualties while Germany had slightly fewer. The First Battle of Ypres set WW1 off to be a war of stalemate and attrition by demonstrating that trenches were indeed easy to defend, leading future battles to adopt trenches and thus produce stalemates and extend the war.

Fourthly, the British Expeditionary Force suffered about 100,000 casualties in the First Battle of Ypres. Although Britain had a strong navy, it only has the BEF, a small but well-trained professional army, for ground forces. As the BEF was a small army to begin with, the First Battle of Ypres essentially wiped them out, forcing Britain to introduce conscription and thus soldiers with very limited experience where some may even be against being in the war in the first place. From the aftermath this could be seen as an successful act of attrition against the BEF (although that was not the original purpose of the Battle of the Ypres on the German side), rendering Britain much weaker than it used to be. If the First Battle of Ypres didn't do so, Britain may have had the capability to capture Germany faster with well-coordinated offensives by trained soldiers, but the Ypres renders that impossible.

I believe that my second argument, on how the Belgian resistance slowed Germany down, gave time for the French army and the BEF to prepare for the Battle of the Marne, likely preventing the Germans from capturing Paris causing French surrender and thus the end of WW1 with a German victory, most significantly extended World War One beyond the end of 1914. Comparatively, trench warfare may have developed anyway without the First Battle of Ypres as demonstrated by small-scale use of trenches in the Battle of the Marne, and the First Battle of the Ypres' effect on the BEF is less significant in the length of the war than the slowing down of Germany which prevented it from likely capturing Paris and winning the war fast. In conclusion, the Belgian resistance giving the allies time to prepare is the most impactful on extending the war past the end of 1914, though other factors are also relevant.