Many in Europe believed that the war which broke out in Europe in August 1914 would be over by Christmas. This view was not, on the whole, born out of any complacency, rather out of the assumption that contemporary military organisation and weaponry would prove to be so powerful and so expensive that no nation would be able to maintain a war effort for more than a matter of months. In fact, most of the nations which became involved in the conflict proved to have enormous reserves of industrial potential, available manpower and political commitment to the fight. The strength of defensive weaponry soon bogged down the military effort, on the Western Front at least, to a stalemated battle of attrition. Once it became clear, after repeated attempts to achieve a military breakthrough, that the war would ultimately be decided not so much by the generals but by the ability of the combatant nations to pour continuing supplies of materiel and manpower into the battle, then the home fronts were to become at least as important as the battle fronts in the war effort. In the last resort, victory was to go to the side which was best able to organise its industrial production and to maintain political stability at home in so doing. Czarist Russia was to crack as a political system in 1917, and Germany and Austria-Hungary were to follow suit in 1918. Britain and France ended up on the winning side not, finally, because their generals were better, but because they were able to maintain their war efforts (though only just in France’s case) until the entry of the Americans into the war tipped the balance of attrition firmly in favour of the Allies.
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