An inter-disciplinary study of learning in the 32nd division on the Western Front, 1916-1918

by Stuart Bruce Mitchell

Institution: University of Birmingham
Department: Department of History
Year: 2015
Keywords: D501 World War I; DA Great Britain; U Military Science (General)
Record ID: 1403616
Full text PDF: http://etheses.bham.ac.uk/5283/


The idea of a learning process has become broadly accepted among military historians of the First World War, but explanations for how and why this occurred remain limited. This thesis uses a number of different disciplines alongside more orthodox historical analysis of what the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) did at the divisional level to learn the lessons from combat in an uncompromising operational environment. At the beginning of 1916 the BEF was predominantly a citizen army lacking experience. This marked a low-point in the BEF's fighting capabilities. This thesis charts the development from 1916 to the Armistice in 1918 using the British 32nd Division as a case study. The division participated in a number of major operations including the Battle of the Somme, the German withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line, the Battles of Nieuport, Passchendaele, Amiens and the Hundred Days. They experienced both success and failure ensuring they are a representative case from which to draw broader conclusions. This thesis argues that the BEF's learning process developed as structural improvement occurred, battle experience was gained and leadership improved.