The Introduction of New German Defensive Tactics in 1916-1917

  • Tony Cowan, Dr Independent Scholar, UK


Responding to the crisis posed by the battle of the Somme, in late 1916 the German army introduced new defensive tactics. It has been suggested that formal, top-down doctrine was a less important driver of this change than the bottom-up system of after-action reports, and that once initial resistance was overcome the new tactics were successfully adopted throughout the army. This article draws on little-studied archival material to reveal how doctrine evolved by stages in a complex combination of action, after-action reports, personalities and the high command’s desire to impose greater top-down control. Throughout this period, doctrine remained key to tactical change, but its implementation was patchier than the German army’s reputation suggests.