The transformation of the British expeditionary force on the western front 1914-1918, via a process of learning - lessons, doctrine, and training

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The Western Front presented challenges in terms of firepower, mechanisation and lethality that were beyond the doctrine of the day. Success for the BEF on the Western Front was derived from technology, leadership,national economic power, tactics, alliances, and a raft of other factors. The leadership of the BEF had to harness all the attributes of their Army so that it could fight to the best of its ability. That fighting capability was articulated in its doctrine, which then formed the basis for the training of the forces. The process started with the capturing of lessons, their selection and codification into doctrine, followed by their dissemination through the school’s system. In this way, the BEF transformed through its formal process of learning and allowed the BEF to deliver more combat power, more of the time; which ultimately unhinged the enemy.At the heart of the process of learning was the creation of new doctrine. The BEF accelerated its production with the initiation of the Inspectorate of Training in Spring 1917, moving from informal to formal means of doctrine creation and training. Born of the failure on the Somme and difficulties in the Third Ypres offensive,the motivation was right to formalise BEF transformation. Doctrine did not win the War, but it was well placed to be part of the foundation of victory.The potential zenith of BEF doctrine may have been SS 198, Tactical Instructions for the Offensive of 1918.Although it was never published, it did codify a new way of warfare, of higher integration and cooperation,that might have been the combined arms warfare next seen in the Second World War.Hence, this thesis proposes that the lessons process, that drove doctrinal evolution and a comprehensive training system, was at the heart of BEF transformation. In doing so it enabled better leadership, the integration of better technology, and a transformed fighting force, that would ultimately be victorious in November 1918.
Date of Award1 Sept 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorHelen McCartney (Supervisor)

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