• ‘A matter of persistence’: Lessons learnt by the British Expeditionary Force and its operational development following The Battle of Festubert, 15-25 May 1915

      Badsey, Stephen; Woods, Michael; Faculty of Social Sciences (University of Wolverhampton, 2021-11)
      This thesis assesses the learning process of the British Expeditionary Force by its participation in The Battle of Festubert 15 – 25 May 1915.The study of this battle offers an important insight in the development of the BEF during this period, despite it being neglected in much of the historiography concerning the British Army in the First World War. It focuses on how well the BEF’s First Army, commanded by General Haig, was organised and equipped upon entering the battle. It draws upon First Army’s experience of two previous battles, one in March 1915 and another only six days before commencing offensive action again, to determine what knowledge had been gained and used in developing their battle tactics. Its central argument is that there was very much to learn from this previous action and great effort was made to modify the tactics at Festubert, particularly from the obvious failure on 9 May. The thesis relies on primary source material created by the units at the time, such as army and divisional records and battalion war diaries. It also examines some secondary literature and personal memoirs of key political figures and those that took part, to examine the effect of both coalition and national strategy and the pressure that placed on the shoulders of the BEF’s commander Sir John French as Festubert was taking place. This thesis argues that this pressure interfered with the ability of General Haig to fully realise the lessons of combat gained at Festubert, as he was pushed soon afterwards to launch in an even larger attack in the Battle of Loos (25 September – 8 October 1915), using tactics that contradicted what had just been learnt at Festubert. It will argue that some of the contribution to the learning process by key figures, such as Sir William Robertson and Major General Richard Haking has been missed in the historiography. This thesis asserts that despite not achieving any type of significant breakthrough at Festubert, the experience served the BEF well in that it supported the French Army as it fought in the Second Battle of Artois and it trialled new methods which would be further developed as the war progressed. Unfortunately for the BEF, by the time of the next Anglo-French offensive, the Battle of the Somme, German countermeasures had largely negated some of the lessons of Festubert and this has played a part its lack of examination in modern studies of the BEF’s operational development.