Surrender of Soldiers in World War I

Alan Kramer

in How Fighting Ends

Published in print July 2012 | ISBN: 9780199693627
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191741258 | DOI:
Surrender of Soldiers in World War I

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This chapter discusses the surrender of ordinary soldiers in the British, German, and Italian armies. Distinguishing between desertion, forced surrender, and unforced surrender, it questions also whether the killing of captives was routine. Mass unforced surrenders indicated a breakdown of cohesion, and could be turning points in the war. Although the Italian supreme command was obsessed with allegedly high rates of desertion and surrender, an analysis of Caporetto from both sides warns against glib assumptions about Italian surrender. A spike in unforced surrenders of German men in autumn 1917, and rising numbers in 1918, indicated declining morale and cohesion. The Allied and German commanders drew different conclusions from the mass surrenders, with fateful results. Mass surrender could, but did not necessarily, indicate the irreversible disintegration of the cohesion of an army.

Keywords: desertion; killing of captives; morale; cohesion; caporetto; intelligence; somme; Yser; Verdun; German Spring Offensive

Chapter.  8654 words. 

Subjects: International Relations

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