Today is the 100th anniversary of the launch of the German Spring Offensive, a campaign that tore holes in Allied lines and helped break the stalemate on the Western Front. The Germans failed, but in many ways established the rules for conducting large scale offensive operations for the rest of the twentieth century, and beyond. Dr. Spencer Jones has a nice brief discussion of the strategic situation here; here’s a longer discussion of how German tactics evolved.
World War I historiography has developed enormously over the past two decades, in ways that should really transform how we understand the war, and especially the evolution of tactical decision-making on both the Western and Eastern Fronts. Unfortunately, not a lot of this has made its way into the popular perception of the war, which still relies too much on technological determinism (focusing on the tank and the airplane as transformative, rather than on doctrinal innovation) and an archaic “lions led by donkeys” interpretation of military leadership during the period. Long story short, the military organizations of World War I (particularly France, Britain, Germany, and even Russia) were extremely open to innovation, and evolved very quickly in response to the the concrete problems they faced along the front. That this did not lead to breakthrough and victory tells us more about the difficult nature of the strategic situation than it does about how the armies approached solving problems. The armies of 1918 did not look or fight like the armies of 1914; they had all transformed themselves technological and doctrinally, in efforts to crack the extremely well-trained, competent, and well-resourced armies on the other side of the front.