University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Violence and Conflict Graduate Workshop, Faculty of History > 'Lions led by Horses? A Reappraisal of Generalship in the First World War'

'Lions led by Horses? A Reappraisal of Generalship in the First World War'

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The British generals of the First World War are popularly seen as having been incompetent, but this view is not really justified. It is now widely accepted by specialist historians that the revolution in the nature of warfare that manifested itself in 1914 presented military commanders with a set of problems that had never been encountered before, and were largely unexpected. Solving these problems demanded a process of adaptation and learning, both by individuals and organisations, that was really unprecedented in the history of war. But while historians have now given us a good picture of what changes were made in organisational structures, methods, and practises, less work has been done on how these adaptations were made. This paper describes research into this question that uses the methods of social and organisational psychology. On the one hand it uses a broadly ethnographic approach to illuminate the development in thinking of a few major British commanders of the war, using material from their diaries. On the other hand, it shows that the British Army possessed some embryonic “Organisational Learning Mechanisms” (OLMs) that permitted it to collect, evaluate, and disseminate lessons from its operations in order to establish new methods and practises.

This talk is part of the Violence and Conflict Graduate Workshop, Faculty of History series.

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