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Military Thought and its Transformation in the Newly Independent States of Europe in 1918-1940
For the armies that fought in World War I, trench warfare became a problem, with neither side able to achieve any significant success for a long period of time. Such a stalemate consumed huge amounts of human and military resources. Societies had to cope with unprecedented human losses and economic problems caused by the resources absorbed by the war. Rebellions and revolutions broke out in many countries.
The roots of the problem can be traced back to the development of science, technology and heavy industry in the second half of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Weapons of much greater destructive power were introduced. The transition of the continental European countries to universal conscription and the resulting large manpower reserves allowed the shattered units to be re-formed over and over again, and new contingents were sent to the front.
Military thinking, however, was of the 19th century. The signs of the problems that were to come – a protracted front, difficulties in commanding a mass army, too slow advance of the manoeuvre, multiplied firepower, etc. – had already become apparent in the Second Boer War, the Russo-Japanese War and the Balkan Wars. However, military planning and the updating of regulations and rules mostly failed to take these experiences into account.
The search for solutions began during World War I. Manpower and firepower were concentrated in the decisive section of the operation. Mortars, assault rifles, submachine guns and machine guns, chemical weapons, tanks and aircrafts were introduced. Artillery was developed, as well as small arms and escorting weapons, anti-tank and anti-aircraft defences were created, new means of communication were introduced, and so on. However, military theory did not support the use of modern weapons and equipment on the battlefield. The art of war needed a way out of the deadlock.
As the weapons fell silent, the revision of the principles of warfare and the development of military technology gained momentum. Many of the technological innovations of the 1920s were hopelessly outdated already by the second half of the 1930s. Mechanisation and motorisation became decisive in the ground forces, and the fleets of the big countries acquired aircraft carriers. Advances in military technology and the desire to avoid at all costs the stalemate of trench warfare of World War I forced the major powers to develop modern warfare theory. Many theoretical approaches emerged, some of which are still influencing warfare in the 21st century. New concepts and doctrines were created: mobile warfare, systematic warfare and deep-operation theory. The concepts of earlier military classics were reinterpreted and adapted to modern warfare.
The losers in World War I were the continental European empires of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russia and Middle Eastern Ottoman Empire. On their ruins, Romania, Bulgaria and Greece strengthened and Albania consolidated its statehood. Serbia and Montenegro merged with the former Austro-Hungarian possessions in Balkans to form Yugoslavia. Second Polish Republic, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Czechoslovakia were born. Austria and Hungary lost a large part of their territory and population. Along with statehood, the new countries had to build up their armies. It mostly began on the battlefields of the wars of liberation and independence, that were the continuation of the World War I.
The inter-war respite was short. In the 1930s, the majority of democracies in the new and reconstructed countries collapsed one after the other and authoritarian rulers came to power. The totalitarian Soviet Union and Germany rapidly increased their military power, and the Eastern European peripheral states, squeezed between them, had to be ready to repel invasion from either direction.
One of the outcomes of the Paris Peace Conference, which ended the Great War, was the creation of the League of Nations which was supposed to prevent the outbreak of equally destructive wars in the future. In 1928, the Briand-Kellogg Pact condemned war as an instrument of national policy. In 1929, the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners of war and the wounded were adopted. The disarmament conference of the League of Nations, held in 1932–1934, had a direct bearing on the military sphere, where unsuccessful attempts were made to agree on the restriction of offensive arms and the banning of some types of weapons.
How did the new European countries see the future war? On what conceptual basis did they want to build their armed forces? What conclusions were drawn from World War I and more distant military history? How were the military theoretical concepts of the major powers taken into account? How was the military potential of the new and reconstructed countries of Eastern Europe assessed by other countries? These are the questions on which the Annual Baltic Military History Conference 2023 will focus. The conference is jointly organised by the Baltic Defence College, the Estonian War Museum and the Estonian Military Academy.
Presentations on military theoretical thought and its development in the new and reconstructed countries of Eastern Europe in the 1920s and 1930s are welcome, but especially on the following topics:
The conference will be held in English.
Programme and registration information will be published soon.