Medical concerns & military thinking : how medical considerations influenced military planning and combat action in the British, French, and German armies during the First World War

  • Sam Klein

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


Medical Concerns & Military Thinking investigates in how far and in which ways medical considerations influenced operational planning and combat action in the First World War. The study focuses on the Western Front and centres on the three main forces that were active on this theatre: the British Army, the French Armée de terre, and the German Heer. The dissertation follows on a two-step process. First, it investigates whether medical features did have an influence on decision making processes of combatant officers. It then inquires in how far battlefield reality allowed for these decisions to be implemented. The study shows that combatant officers did consider medical factors in several aspects of their work. In order to reduce wastage, officers had to take medical aspects of the war seriously; Otherwise, they risked that their formations might become inoperable due to high casualty rates. Medical factors were, however, not always compatible with military considerations. In such cases, officers had to weigh medical and military factors in order to decide which considerations should be given precedence in a specific situation. The study shows that defensive and offensive aspects were sometimes compromised in an effort to reduce wastage in the long run.

The dissertation follows a chronological structure and lays special emphasis on the year 1916 and the Battles of Verdun and the Somme.

While the dissertation embodies a wide range of primary sources, it is primarily based on operation plans, battle reports, and meeting minutes of the three Armies that are currently held at The National Archives, London (GBR), the Service Historique de la Défense, Paris (FRA), and the Bundesarchiv—Abteilung Militärarchiv, Freiburg im Breisgau (GER).
Date of Award28 Jul 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorPhillips Payson O'Brien (Supervisor) & Hew Strachan (Supervisor)


  • Military history
  • Medical history
  • First World War
  • Strategic studies
  • Combat tactics

Access Status

  • Full text embargoed until
  • 1st June 2025

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