Quotations: command, strategy and warfare

These World War I quotations about command, strategy and methods of warfare have been compiled by Alpha History authors. They feature statements from contemporary figures, political leaders, military commanders, service personnel, anti-war campaigners and historians of World War I. We will update this page with new quotes from time to time. If you would like to suggest a quotation, please contact us.

“In western Europe, the military machine, with its thousands of wheels, costing millions to maintain, cannot stand still for long. One cannot fight a war for one or two years, from position to position, in 12 day long battles until both combatants are completely exhausted and weakened and forced to sue for peace. We must attempt to defeat our enemies quickly and decisively.”
Count von Schlieffen, German strategist, 1905

“In the eyes of many later German commanders, the failure [of the Schlieffen Plan] was not a reflection of an overly ambitious campaign objective or the prevailing battlefield conditions – it was the result of excessive caution and a failure to press the attack on Paris, with every possible means, in the hope of clinching the decisive success. The lesson seemed justified by the first campaigns of World War Two and formed a new cult of the offensive.”
David Stahel, historian

“The war was decided in the first 20¬†days of fighting. All that happened afterwards consisted in battles which, however formidable and devastating, were but desperate and vain appeals against the decision of Fate.”
Winston Churchill

“Lions led by donkeys.”
Unknown German officer, describing British troops

“The [Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5] showed over and over again that the bayonet was in no sense an obsolete weapon, and that fire alone could not always suffice to move from position a determined and well-disciplined enemy… The assault is of even more importance than the attainment of fire mastery which follows. It is the supreme moment of the fight. Upon it, the final issue depends.”
Edward Altham, British major general

“The bayonet isn’t as important as it used to be. It’s more usual now to go into the attack with hand-grenades and your entrenching tool. The sharpened spade is a lighter and more versatile weapon… not only can you get a man under the chin, but more to the point, you can strike a blow with a lot more force behind it. That’s especially true if you can bring it down diagonally between the neck and the shoulder, because then you can split down as far as the chest. When you put a bayonet in, it can stick, and you have to give the other man a hefty kick in the guts to get it out.”
Erich Maria Remarque, German soldier and writer

“War essentially the triumph, not of a chassepot [French rifle] over a needle gun, not of a line of men entrenched behind wire entanglements… but of one will over a weaker will.”
Sir Ian Hamilton, British general

“So long as the opposing forces are at the outset approximately equal in numbers and moral and there are no flanks to turn, a long struggle for supremacy is inevitable.”
General Sir Douglas Haig, British commander

“The strain on France has almost reached breaking point, though it is certainly borne with the most remarkable devotion. If we succeed in opening the eyes of her people to the fact that in a military sense they have nothing more to hope for, that breaking point would be reached, and England’s best sword knocked out of her hand.”
Erich von Falkenhayn, German general, 1915

“The training of the [British] infantry was clearly behind that of the German. The superficially trained British were particularly clumsy in the movement of large masses… The strong, usually young and well armed British soldier followed his officers blindly, and the officers, active and personally brave, went ahead of their men into battle with great courage. But owing to insufficient training, they were not skilful in action.”
German army report on the Battle of the Somme, 1916

“We are puzzling our heads as to how best make use of them [tanks] and have not yet come to a decision. They are not going to take the British Army straight to Berlin, as some people image, but if properly used and skilfully handled by the detachments who work them, they may be very useful in taking trenches and strong points. Some people are rather too optimistic as to what these weapons will accomplish.”
Henry Rawlinson, British general, 1916

“Within their close corporation, there were rivalries, intrigues, perjuries and treacheries, like those of a medieval court… They worked late into the night – that is to say, they went back to their offices after dining at the mess… and kept their lights burning, and smoked more cigarettes, and rang each other up on the telephone with futile questions.”
Philip Gibbs, British war correspondent, on the general staff

“I believe that the war is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it. I believe that this war, upon which I entered as a war of defence and liberation, has now become a war of aggression and conquest.”
Siegfried Sassoon, British soldier and poet


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