The First World War was fought on a vast scale and raised unprecedented challenges for the leaders of the combatant nations.
The political leaders were responsible for the decision to go to war, and for deciding what war aims to pursue. The horrific casualties sustained early in the war meant that none of them could consider accepting a peace without victory. They were forced to oversee ever-increasing social and industrial mobilisation to support the war, and to mortgage the financial future of their countries to pay for it.
In Britain and France democratic control was maintained over the war. In Britain, in contrast to his predecessor Herbert Henry Asquith, Prime Minister David Lloyd George directed Britain’s war effort through a relatively small War Cabinet. He also drafted in experts from the world of commerce and industry when necessary. Meanwhile in the Central Powers the Army increasingly dominated, extending its powers into the civil domain.
Military leaders were faced with the problem of overcoming the power of modern weaponry, which drove their armies to seek the shelter of entrenchments. By 1918 they had developed suitable tactics and were plentifully equipped. Nevertheless, the nature of industrial warfare meant that, whether in attack or defence, victory or defeat, they had to justify a heavy loss of life.