International Affairs
13 March 2014 , Volume 90, Number 2


Robert T Foley


The idea that the armies of the First World War were incapable of learning is one of the most enduring myths of the conflict. This image of ‘lions led by donkeys’ has proved difficult to modify, despite the sizeable scholarly literature on the tactical, technological and organizational adaptation and innovation undergone by all armies during the war.

By examining the British and German armies as learning organizations during the war, this article contributes to the growing literature on wartime adaptation and innovation, as well as the wider literature on organizational learning in wartime. It demonstrates how the organizational cultures of these two armies shaped the way in which they learned, predisposing the British army towards radical, often technological, solutions to the tactical and operational challenges of the First World War battlefield, while inclining the German army towards incremental and tactical solutions to the same problems.