Without becoming too teleological about it, one might suggest that 1916 was one of the most significant years of the twentieth century. It was certainly the year in which the Great War changed in its character, size, and intensity. By and large, the war took on an increasingly mechanized, even automated aspect, above all in the Western Front armies, where the “automaton-like” steel helmet replaced soft caps during the last months of 1915 and early 1916. The great Western Front battles of 1916 were larger in size and scope than previous struggles, partly because commanders were pressured to “break through,” but partly, as will be seen, because a whole new conception of war by “attrition,” or “wearing out,” came to influence the thinking of European leaders. Huge battles also took place on other fronts, expending both lives and wealth, making plain in particular the enormous costs of high-explosive artillery preparation.
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