The Battle for Resources in The Great War

Manpower

The Austro-Hungarian Empire had sustained heavy casualties throughout the first months of the war and November 1914 made this clear in several places. From 16 November the Austrians came under attack by the Russian army near Krakow, the capital of Austrian Poland. The Austrians emerged victorious but at a cost of 30,000 men. Elsewhere in Poland a sizable Austrian force remained under siege at Przemyśl having failed to achieve a conclusive victory in their offensive across the San River.

Most damaging for Austrian manpower however was the failure in November of Potiorek’s second campaign into Serbia. He had made progress against the Serbs on 24 November but due to poor conditions and fatigue the Austrians were not able to capitalize on their victory. The  Serbians pulled back once more to defenses on the Kolubara River. When the Austrians tried to cross the junction of the Kolubara and Sava Rivers the Serbians launched an attack and inflicted 50% casualties. With the rest of the Austrian forces held up at Przemyśl and Krakow the invading army was unable to recover from this blow and the invasion came to a halt.

Oil

Oil was essential for much of the modern machinery used in the war, therefore access to it was a worry for all the countries involved. This was particularly true of the British who, fearing that the Ottoman’s would cut off their access to Oil from the Persian gulf, had taken the Fao Fortress in present day Iraq on 8 November. Adopting a policy of ‘forward defense’ the British and Indian army at Fao continued their invasion by taking the port of Basra on 21 November.

Coal, Iron and Steel

On the western front it was the battle for essential industrial raw materials which demanded the most attention. By the end of 1914 Germans held 2/3 of France’s iron, 1/4 of their steel  and a full 1/2 of the country’s coal.

Horses

The role of animals in the Great War was considerable and perhaps no animal was as important as the horse. On the western front alone there were around 2 million horses. Motor vehicles were still new technology in the great war so horses were depended on for many hard transportation jobs. Among British horses mortality stood at 39% as there was a lack of experienced riders and grooms. Consequently the ability to not only acquire horses but to keep them alive once they arrive could be key to an army’s success.

To this end the British veterinary corps grew to 38,000 men in the course of the war. Not only was access to horses important but the kind of horse could make all the difference too. The French and British took to importing horses from Dakota as they were found to have greater stamina and to be less susceptible to disease than European farm horses.

Alex is a history student at King's College London focusing on Europe and the Near East in the Middle Ages. He currently works writing and editing content for madefromhistory.