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Gallipoli by Alan Moorehead

Hamish Hamilton, 1956, 382 p, including ii p Bibliography and x p Index.

 Gallipoli cover

This book has been languishing on my tbr pile for decades. Quite why I left it so long I’m not sure but I’m glad now I picked it up. The author was clearly well versed in his subject. It is lucidly written and mercifully free of the alphanumeric soup of formation designations which tends to bedevil works of military history. This one focuses more on the personalities central to the story of Turkey’s involvement in the Great War – the Young Turks, Mustafa Kemal, Lord Kitchener, Winston Churchill, and the various commanders – as well as the details of the many military engagements which marked the Dardanelles enterprise.

The idea out of which the landings on Gallipoli arose came from Lt-Col Hankey, Secretary of the War Council, as an attempt to evade the impasse on the Western Front, where the Allies were neither advancing nor killing more Germans than British soldiers were being killed, by a flanking move through Turkey and the Balkans. Moorehead outlines the political manœvrings between Kitchener and Churchill (First Lord of the Admiralty) on the for side and Lord Fisher (First Sea Lord) with various others against. The issue would lead in the end to the break-up of Churchill and Fisher’s hitherto close friendship.

The aim of the operations was first, using obsolete battleships (whose loss could be borne) to force a passage of The Narrows, a pinch point between the Dardanelles and the Sea of Marmara, and then, on to Constantinople in the hope of prising Turkey out of the war. The initial solely naval effort to do so having foundered on an undetected minefield, plans were made for an amphibious landing (actually two) to take the Gallipoli peninsula and protect the flank of a further naval expedition though the Narrows. This amphibious landing was the biggest in history up to that point. It was planned in three weeks. (Compare Operation Overlord in 1944, which took nearly two years to prepare.)

Turkey had recently suffered a series of military humiliations in the Balkan wars of the early Twentieth Century, leading to the Young Turks seizing control of the government. Their hold was precarious though, and another defeat might have brought their downfall. The withdrawal of the Royal Navy, seen as all-powerful, and its French counterpart after their initial setbacks led to an upsurge in Turkish confidence and, Moorehead goes on to say, acted as a trigger for Turkish resentment to find for itself a target in its minority (and Christian) Armenian population upon whom the government thereupon instituted a policy of genocide – murder, rape (Moorehead uses the words “molest women” the first time he deals with this but the more accurate term later) and forced migration amounting to a death march. The strong implication is that without the Allied ships’ withdrawal the persecution of the Armenians would not have occurred.

The Great War in general was a catalogue of lost opportunities or doomed attempts to follow up early success. Moorehead says that over Gallipoli in particular hung a peculiar lethargy, a miasma of indecision. The one exception to this was Mustafa Kemal, who would come to be known later as Kemal Ataturk and who twice, in the hills above Anzac during the first landings and again near Suvla Bay for the later one, managed to be by happenstance in the correct spot to appreciate the danger for the Turks inherent in the situation and to forestall Allied progress. (Some idea of his desperation and borderline fanaticism is that one of his orders at Anzac read, in part, “I don’t order you to attack. I order you to die.”) None of this excuses the failure of General Stopford, commander at Suvla, (with his insistence, the weariness of his men notwithstanding, that no advance could take place without artillery support) to understand there were no Turkish entrenchments there which required such an insurance, nor of overall Commander Ian Hamilton to impress upon Stopford the necessity of quick movement into the hills when briefing him in the first place.

Moorehead is good on the conditions endured by the troops – not least the depredations ensured by the infestations of flies as summer approached, landing on food as soon as it was uncovered so that no mouthful was without its insect accompaniment – and their diverions when no fighting was taking place. With dead bodies and excrement also prevalent it is no surprise that dysentery was soon rampant among the soldiers – even the headquarters staff. British soldiers’ rations were almost entirely of bully beef, whose fat melted in the can, supplemented by plum and apple jam, with no vegetables to vary the diet. By contrast any army officer invited aboard one of the ships – away from the flies, the lice and the smell of death and decay – marvelled at clean linen, glasses, plates, meat, fruit and wine. (Of course, on land there was a decent prospect of surviving a battle; but if a ship went down you most likely drowned.)

As a precursor to Turkey’s entry into the war, and without their say, so the Germans had mined the Dardanelles (obstruction of which was an act of war) so blocking the vast majority of Russia’s exports. Russia’s grain and other exports piled up in the Golden Horn before their ships had to sail back to Russia. When the time was ripe once more to reopen trade the Revolution in that country had removed (the now Soviet) interest in the trade. According to Moorehead (at time of writing in 1956) that pre-war trade through the Dardanelles had never revived in the forty years since.

One of the aspects of the Gallipoli battles I had not realised before was the extent of submarine operations. Several British submarines penetrated into the Sea of Marmara and devastated Turkish shipping there. One submariner even swam ashore to blow up an important railway line. German submarines – easily able to access the Mediterranean through the Straits of Gibraltar as no technology then existed to detect or prevent them – managed to torpedo some Allied warships.

The campaign saw military innovation on a large scale: as well as the experimental use of submarines and aircraft, radio, aerial bombs, land mines and other new devices, it trialled the firing of modern naval guns against shore artillery and the landing of soldiers by small boats on an enemy coast. But the story is mainly of opportunities missed and

Nevetheless it may have continued for much longer (and Moorehead suggests even succeeded in its aims) had not the Australian journalist Keith Murdoch arrived and witnessed the danger and squalor in the dugouts, the sickness, the monotonous food, the general depression. Despite being only a few hours at the front, in collaboration with the only British journalist Kitchener had allowed on the expedition, Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett, he planned to bypass the usual channels and break the agreement not to send reports without submitting them first to the censor at headquarters. His private letter to the Australian Prime Minister reached the eyes of Lloyd George (by now UK Prime Minister) who himself bypassed official channels by circulating it directly to the Dardanelles Committee without first asking Hamilton for his comments. The man sent out to take over from Hmailton and assess the situation for himself, Lt-Gen Charles Monro, already firmly believed that the war could only be won on the Western Front by killing Germans, Turks did not count.

Thus was set in train the process, sanctioned in the end by a visit from Kitchener himself, which led to the withdrawal of troops, at first only from Anzac and Suvla. That this was accomplished without the Turks getting wind of it – at Anzac the opposing lines were in places no more than ten yards apart – and with no loss, with the help of the famous improvised device of the self-firing rifle using dripping water from a can to fill another attached to the trigger or fuses and candles to burn through string and release a weight, in retrospect still seems astonishing.

That left only the beachhead at Cape Helles, upon which the German commander of the Turks, Liman von Sanders, unleashed a delayed attack accompanied by the heaviest artillery bombardment of the campaign on the now depleted British force the day before the final 17,000 troops were to be taken off. The British fire in response, perhaps inspired by desperation, was so devastating that the follow-up Turkish infantry refused to charge – something rarely seen before on the peninsula. This repulse convinced von Sanders that there would be no further British evacuation, but of course there was. Yet again the withdrawal was completed in the utmost secrecy and highly successful. Despite widescale destruction of supplies as the withdrawal took place the booty of food, weapons and ammunition retrieved from Cape Helles by the Turks took two years to clear up.

The hopes of those who advocated withdrawal never came to fruition, none of the troops from Gallipoli (save the Anzacs) were ever sent to the Western Front. Many more than had landed on Gallipoli were posted instead to the Salonika front or drawn into the long desert campaign against Turkey in Sinai and Palestine. Towards the end of 1918 plans were even well advanced to try again to force the Narrows by ship but were pre-empted by the Armistice.

While never neglecting the other side of the argument Moorehead’s position on the Gallipoli campaign is clear throughout the book; that its objective was worthwhile, and achievable, that its success would have shortened the war, given succour to Russia and even prevented the Revolution there and so given history a different direction.

A cruel comment on the whole business is that no special medal was awarded to those who took part.

Pedant’s corner:- “England” or “English” are used extremely often as the descriptive term for the UK or British respectively, which last also of course encompassed Empire/Dominion troops. Otherwise; Novorossik (Novorossiysk,) De Robeck (at the start of a sentence x 2. The man’s surname was de Robeck, the capital ‘D’ is therefore erroneous,) Keyes’ (several times; Keyes’s,) “on the tide” (this was in the Mediterranean. I always understood that the Mediterranean had very little in the way of tides,) “for all the control exercised on then” (on them,) Liman von Sanders’ (von Sanders’s,) thtat (that,) d’Oyly-Hughes’ (d’Oyley-Hughes’s,) commandos (these didn’t exist in units called such until World War 2,) Xerxes’ (Xerxes’s.) “At the the front” (only one ‘the’,) “rising to a crescendo” (a perennial favourite, this; the crescendo is the rise, not its culmination.)

Napoleon’s Last Campaign in Germany – 1813 by F Loraine Petrie

Arms and Armour Press, 1977, 406 p, including Index, plus iii p Introduction by David G Chandler, iv p Author’s Preface, four sheets of Maps and Plans, iv p Contents. First published 1912.

 Napoleon’s Last Campaign in Germany cover

The Author’s Preface notes the Napoleonic Wars as an evolution, the time of change from war as involving only the clash of armies to something which involved whole nations instead.

The main body of the book follows the course of the campaign of 1813 from Napoloeon’s initial invasion to its culmination at Liepzig, the largest engagement of the Napoleonic Wars, with a brief description of the minor battle at Hanau in its aftermath. The essence of the tale is that the Russian adventure in 1812 had severely weakened Napoleon (not least in a deficit of cavalry in comparison with before, but also with many new recruits to be assimilated into his armies) if not his personal reputation as a master of war. His aura was still such that during the armistice in mid-1813 the Allies formed a pact not to engage separately the army of which the Emperor was directly in charge unless and until they had united and had a large superiority in numbers. This stricture did not apply to his Marshals who according to Petrie were very well-versed in tactical matters but a failure to train them in strategical considerations meant they were lacking at crucial junctures.

The decline in Napoleon’s abilities from his glory years is illustrated by contrasting his switherings in this campaign with his decisiveness at Jena seven years earlier. There was a fatal conflict of Napoleon’s priorities as Emperor, and dominator of Germany, compared with his military objectives. Here he tended to try to protect the land he held, specifically the city of Dresden, over his previous focus on destroying his enemies’ armies in the field. Petrie also quotes the man himself as saying experience in war does not count for much, that he thought himself as insightful in his youthful campaigns in Italy as he ever was later. His early battles were of course smaller affairs over which he could exercise a large degree of control. Noitwithstanding the fact that armies in 1813 were much more densely concentrated than in later times, by the time of Liepzig this sort of close oversight was perhaps beyond any one person.

It amused me when at one point Petrie wrote, “These extensive expeditions of considerable bodies of cavalry in the French rear are a peculiarity of this campaign which is the only instance of their employment on a large scale in a European War. Similar raids played a considerable part in the American Civil War of fifty years ago. In this case, as in 1813, the raids were generally carried out in a country the inhabitants of which were often sympathisers with the raiders, to whom they supplied food, forage, and information. Moreover, there were few or none of the modern facilities for sending information to the other side. It seems more than doubtful what success such raids could hope for in these days of telegraphs in Europe. (My emphasis.) Petrie notes a like raid by Petrushenko in the then recent Russo-Japanese War which, “can hardly be deemed a great success, and it was only possible to carry it out at all owing to the route being taken through an area devoid of telegraphs.” The thought of such wires being cut in the furtherance of raiding activities does not seem to have occurred to him. And didn’t the Boers in the also recent South African War in effect also use tactics like this? Of course the presence of technologies such as the telegraph, telephone, and radio, did not negate the opportunity for operations behind the lines in later wars.

The language of the text can be a little precious. Petrie uses unnecessary formulations such as “We left Oudinot, at 11 am,” “We now return to Ney,” etc, and there is the usual alphanumeric soup of divisions and Roman-numeralled corps. The four sheets of maps (seventeen diagrams in total) are more or less useless not only since they require awkward folding out but also because they are affixed to pages towards the end of the book, nowhere near the parts of the text they are meant to illuminate. Their appearance is also too cluttered.

Pedant’s corner:- “This broke down one” (broke down once,) England (The United Kingdom,) “6 per cent. on the then population” (of the then,) throu (through,) Friederichs’ (Friederichs’s,) many ionstances of names ending in s being treated this way – Dolffs’ (Dolffs’s,) Reuss’ (Reuss’s,) even one where the final s is not sounded and the possessive therefore positively demands “s’s” – a missing full stop, “unable note Bulöw’s advance” (unable to note,) Probetheida (Probstheida,) “came to nought” (nought = the number zero, ‘came to naught,’)|Naumburg (elsewhere Naumberg.)

Jackboot by John Laffin

The Story of the German Soldier, Cassell, 1965, 241 p, including xii p Index and iv p Sources, preceded by i p Acknowledgements, ii p Contents, ii p List of Illustrations, iv p quotes describing “What the Germans Think About War” and iv p Introduction.

 Jackboot cover

The subtitle of the book is somewhat misleading, this is not, quite, the story of the German soldier. At least not of the individual. Very few instances of soldierly action are described, it is more the history of the Prussian and German states’ relationship to war as a profession and a duty, a guiding principle; their highest calling.

In his Introduction Laffin says the German is a born soldier, aggression and fortitude in his blood, needing to be trained, yes, but the material is there already, not base clay but refined. He contrasts modern national aptitudes for soldiering; none equals the Australian for dash, élan and initiative, but for dogged persistence and obedience to orders no-one can touch the English and Welsh, for fighting fury the Scots, for thoroughness Americans, fanatical courage the Japanese, the capacity to suffer and still keep fighting, the Russians. He claims none of these are complete soldiers, though, they fight only because it is necessary to do so. But Germans are complete soldiers, for them war is holy. “The complete soldier fully realises that his only logical end is death, that this is a soldier’s only privilege. The German knows this.” In modern times, he says, only Napoleon’s soldiers can be compared with them – and then only when Napoleon commanded them. He states that Prussians and Germans never considered themselves beaten in any conflict up to 1918 (later in the book he says not even then.) They had to admit defeat in 1945, bludgeoned by impossible odds, but even in extremis in December 1944 they launched the Battle of the Bulge, which, Laffin claims, “will for ever remain a magnificent feat of arms.” Despite younger Germans saying, “It will never happen again,” Laffin believes a German “can never evade his destiny: he does not really want to evade it. He is a soldier. A soldier fights.”

For how this came about you have to go back to landlocked Prussia, poor and barren, no cities worth the name, little industry and less culture, and to Frederick William (and his obsession with very tall soldiers) who expanded his army by impressing and enrolling men – many of them foreign – but it was his son Frederick the Great who devoted the resources of the state to it and realised that Prussia, surrounded by larger more populous countries, had to depend on organisation and speed and manœuvre in battle.

By Napoleonic times his lessons had largely been forgotten or outmoded. In 1808 crushing defeat at Jena and Auerstadt led to change, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau instituted a war academy and seven years later their influence bore fruit with Napoleon’s defeat at Liepzig. Their adherent Clausewitz formed his principles of war whose beliefs extend down the years since. An inculcation of military virtues via the school system (extended to the whole of Germay after unification in the wake of the Franco-Prussian war in 1870) laid the foundations for the nature of the German soldier and Kaiser Wilhelm introduced badges and awards for proficiency – a system brought to its greatest peak by the Nazis. Through all these years deference to a military uniform (indeed to uniforms of any stamp) was inbuilt in the German state.

In the context of France invading Germanic territory fourteen times between 1675 and 1813 Laffin quotes General Fuller as saying, ‘Few nations have had so bad a neighbour as Germany has had in France.’ (To which I can only reply, you should try being a Scot, mate.)

A piece of information that surprised me was that in the Nineteenth Century homosexuality was apparently rife in the Prussian army and not hidden, was indeed paraded, by those of that persuasion.

The German War Book stated the employment of “uncivilised and barbarous peoples in European wars” was an unlawful instrument of war, since “these troops had no conception of European-Christian culture, of respect for property and for the honour of women.” A footnote adds that this was a source of great bitterness during the Great War, quoting a Private’s letter to his parents (sensitivity warning; use of the ‘n’ word,) “The French have sunk so low as to use niggers against us. They are heathens and quite revolting and cruel. We fight fiercely against them because we know we can expect no mercy from these savages. You can smell them in the night.” (I’d have thought a smell – if any – would more likely have been produced by day than by night, but there you go. I suspect that any such perception was psychological anyway.)

Twice, re 1918 and 1945, Laffin asserts that the Germans were not beaten but overwhelmed – which, he says, is something different. For 1918 he cites a million troops left in the east to keep the conquered territories subdued and how they might have affected things in the west. (In this regard, the undefeated Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck in Africa does stand out in his four year undefeated campaign of improvisation, holding down 300,000 British and Allied troops with a maximum strength of 20,000 of his own [including bearers,] while managing to inflict 60,000 casualties. After the armistice he for a short time contemplated holding out – much as some Japanese soldiers were to in the wake of 1945 – but in the end decided to honour its terms.) Laffin suggests a suitable counter to this perception might have been that rather than negotiating armistice with the civilian Erzberger, the Allies ought to have forced Hindenburg to the table amd made him surrender his sword; the symbolism of which would have been unmistakable. In 1945 the German soldiers considered themselves brutally crushed, not militarily defeated. Laffin says, “Others,” (I count myself among that number,) “might not be able to see the difference, but this is not important. The Germans know there is a difference.”

The book was published in 1965, only twenty years after the Second World War finished, at which time there were still many Germans who had experienced the upbringing that inculcated such a mindset. Laffin quotes a former soldier telling him that, “‘We are not finished with our jackboots yet,’” and, “‘Germany must triumph. Peace is ignoble.’” It is to be hoped that with the further 55 years since then of peace (however ignoble – yet welcome to those who hope it will never happen again) and of a sustained non-military education system in Germany that that attitude has faded away for good.

Pedant’s corner:- England (at the time covered by this book England no longer existed as a separate state. It was in a United Kingdom with Scotland. Britain, then. A few pages later we have, “The English made him [Count William of Schaumburg-Lippe] Field-Marshal of Portugal, but the role of British mercenary did not suit him.” British is required in both cases, etc, etc,) cameraderie (camaraderie,) sheath (sheathe,) onle (only,) “rend thy Germans” (the Germans.) In the Sources; idealogy (ideology.)

Yet More Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times

A small portion of this shelf houses books on military history which I have read.

John Laffin’s Jackboot I have only just finished (review to come, it still has some of my markers for pages to be looked at again in it.) The others I read some time ago (except Goering Air Leader which I don’t recall reading and is on this shelf for reasons of space.)

The Australians in Nine Wars by Peter Firkins I reviewed here, The Great War Generals on the Western Front by Robin Neillands here, David Fraser’s And We Shall Shock Them, here, The Western Front by John Terraine, here. The others I read pre-blogging.

History Books

Scapa by James Miller

Britain’s Famous Wartime Naval Base

Birlinn, 2000, 191 p.

 Scapa cover

As its subtitle implies this is a short history of the use of Scapa Flow in Orkney as a base for British naval operations. These had marginal beginnings in the Napoleonic Wars but the emergence of Germany as a potential enemy and a threat to North Sea and Atlantic shipping during the run up to the Great War led to proposals for the main British fleet to be stationed there. The outbreak of war saw these brought to fruition and Scapa and Orkney quickly became a home to thousands of men – and in World War 2 many women, who on their nights out were apparently strictly chaperoned. The locals were also in great demand for dances and such. Unlike in the rest of the UK in wartime food was reasonably plentiful on Orkney due to its fertility. Eggs were in good supply and there was never a shortage of mutton!

The book is replete with photographs, with a readily accessible text. The caption to a photo of the men of the Ness Battery in front of a hut mentions the strap designed to hold the hut down during strong winds.

The main incidents are all here; the HMS Vanguard explosion, the loss of HMS Hampshire, the collision of HMS Opal and HMS Narborough, the internment of the German High Seas Fleet in 1918, its Grand Scuttle in 1919, the sinking of HMS Royal Oak, the building of the Churchill Barriers and the Italian Chapel. A quick, easy history of the UK naval presence in Orkney.

Pedant’s corner:- fiand (find – all five instances of this word in this book were spelled in that odd way,) Grand Fleet commander Admiral Sir George Callaghan (is referred to thereafter as Cunningham,) stripped the ships off anything of use (stripped the ships of anything of use.)

The Great War Generals on the Western Front by Robin Neillands

Robinson, 1999, 557 p (including ii p Contents and List of Maps, iv p Acknowledgements and Dedication, 19 p Index, 4 p Select Bibliography,) plus 8 p Photographs.

 The Great War Generals on the Western Front cover

The common perception of British generalship in the Great War – as put forth in many depictions of the conflict from at least Oh, What a Lovely War! through “lions led by donkeys” to Blackadder Goes Fourth and beyond – is of cavalry officers with little knowledge of infantry tactics in charge, of widespread incompetence and callousness, of throwing men rather than competence at the enemy, of safely staying well behind the lines. In this book Neillands sets out the evidence for and against these assertions and as a result comes down in favour of the generals. In many respects for me he was pushing against an open door. It has always struck me that if the British generals were so incompetent and useless how come we didn’t lose the war? Add to that the fact that the British (and Empire) force was the only major Allied combatant (setting aside the short – but still bloody – sojourn of the US Expeditionary forces) that did not suffer a large mutiny or rout and the questions ought to be why, if their leaders were so useless, were British soldiers so steadfast? Why were they so willing to follow orders – and keep doing so?

Despite its all-encompassing sub-title the book is chiefly focused on the British generals on the Western Front, though French and German generals are of course dealt with as necessary. Overall, however, it is more of a complete history of the British sectors of the Western Front rather than a summary of the doings of the generals who directed the efforts there.

Neillands states that it is only British generals that have been subjected to such criticisms as a group. No such opprobrium has been heaped on the French or German generals as a whole despite similar propensities to life squandering, particularly the Germans at Langemarck and the French in Nivelle’s offensive. Plus there’s always Verdun.

For all sides this was a new kind of war (though slightly prefigured by aspects of the American Civil War and the Russo-Japanese War.) None of the European agonists had been subjected to industrial war of this kind before, though in terms of numbers the French and Germans were prepared for it, the latter also in terms of artillery. All expected a war of movement – and a quick resolution. As it was the trench system came about by accident; in the attempts of both sides to outflank each other in the “Race to the Sea.” And throughout defence held the upper hand.

Like all British armies at the start of a war the BEF was inadequate to the coming task in numbers and equipment; lacking in machine guns and especially artillery. Its astonishing proficiency in rifle fire could not make up for this. It would take time – years – to provide enough artillery ammunition, to recruit, to equip and to train not only the soldiers but also the staff officers necessary for the army to function efficiently (and of these the staff officers take much longer to train.) Until that came about the generals, like the soldiers, had to do the best with what they had, and to learn the techniques and tactics required to succeed. Plus they were fighting Germans; dogged professional soldiers who never gave in easily, the best army in the field – certainly until the end of 1916 (when the British perhaps took over the mantle.)

Among other beliefs Neillands describes as myths is that all British troops on the first day of the Battle of the Somme moved forward in line and at walking pace. There was in fact a large variation in tactics, the generals on the ground being largely responsible for their own formations’ procedures. The sentence attributed to Lieutenant-General Kiggell, after Passchendaele, “Good God, did we really send men to fight in that?” has no provenance and is likely to be apocryphal. Neillands finds it incredible that any general faced with all the reports from the front, aerial photos, requisitions etc could have been unaware of the conditions. Quite why Third Ypres was nevertheless persisted with is a question harder to avoid.

Some criticisms are easily dispatched. Much fewer than half of the British generals were originally from cavalry regiments while an average of one general a week was lost to enemy action, hardly indicative of distance from the front. They were not hidebound tactically but learned from earlier reverses. However, in response to British innovations in attack the Germans continually adopted new defensive tactics and provided new problems to solve.

Neillands contends that the difficulties of prosecuting such a war have not been sufficiently acknowledged by the critics. The generals were from the outset instructed by the British Government to co-operate closely with their French allies. This in many respects tied the hands of both British Commanders-in-Chief, Sir John French and Sir Douglas Haig. Sometimes this necessary support, as at Loos, led to attacks the British generals did not favour. At the Somme and Third Ypres the necessity to divert German resources to relieve pressure on the French (from Verdun and the consequences of the French mutiny respectively) more or less demanded action.

The static nature of the trench system, the opportunities it gave the Germans to develop defence in depth (from Second Ypres in 1914 till their spring offensive in 1918 the Germans did not launch a major attack on the British Army anywhere along the line,) was a large factor in preventing a breakthrough. Allenby was not a notable success on the Western Front but in a war of movement in Palestine was able to show his capabilities more readily.

The main problem affecting the war’s conduct, though, was communications; which could not be relied on. Amid the smoke of battle, lines of sight were obscured; wireless technology was neither robust nor portable; telephone lines – even buried metres deep – were prone to severance by shellfire; carrier pigeons inadequate. The problem was never properly solved even by the war’s end.

Nor are any alternative strategies entirely obvious. Short of abandoning the war (so allowing Germany to keep its gains) – a course which the Allied Governments never contemplated – there was little option but to carry on.

Another factor affecting the generals was that Prime Minister Lloyd George never trusted them, Haig in particular. Neillands holds Lloyd George partly responsible for the British being forced to retreat by the German “Michael” offensive of March 1918 as he had held troops back in Britain rather than reinforcing the front. The overwhelming force of their initial attack would have caused problems in any case but even in its unstrengthened form the army, though it retreated, nevertheless did not break; the Germans were held.

In passing Neillands decries the “Pommie bashing” of latter day Australian and Canadian historians who variously claim the British “establishment” was biased against their own commanders and treated colonial troops as cannon fodder. While acknowledging the quality of these troops and the abilities of the Canadian General Currie and the Australian General Monash in particular, he shows most British divisions – and not a few generals – were equally effective.

Some criticisms are harder to defray. Typically there was a failure to exploit initial success quickly (in the case of Cambrai a disbelief in the extent of that success and a lack of preparedness for it) and an all too prevalent tendency to keep bashing away when an attack slowed down, in the belief that the Germans were weakening and “one more push” would prevail.

Yet the final victories – and they were victories, the Hindenburg line was breached, the British Army ended up as far advanced from the trench lines as Mons (where its participation in the war had started) – are not given nearly as much attention as the earlier “failures”. That is an indictment of those who give more weight to the generals’ shortcomings than to the achievements of the men under their direction. It was the war, and its continuation, plus the inability of the technology of attack to overcome that of defence that was the problem.

This is a book that, while not ignoring their faults, attests to the good faith of the British generals of the Great War, men doing their best amidst adverse circumstances.

Pedant’s corner:- “Field Marshal Sir William, Robertson’s father” (no comma,) “Seventy-eight British generals were lost their lives” (no “were”,) “led to the way it in which it was conducted (the way in which,) “over 9, 000,000” (there were frequent occurrences in the text of this extraneous space when a large number was cited and the practice wasn’t consistent,) a missing comma before a quote (x 5,) mache timetables (march timetables?) “we have go back” (have to go back,) “the infantry were mustered” (was mustered,) “Lieutenant-General Sir, Henry Grierson” (no comma,) “including the German and Soviet armies” (Soviet armies? Pre-1917?) ulster (Ulster,) “The force of France were already in trouble” (forces,) “and and” (only one required,) “in orders to denigrate” (in order,) “Readers are invited to look again at the message French sent to Smith-Dorrien again” (only one “again” needed,) “the true state of affairs were brought to the attention” (was brought,) General Franchet d’ Espery (d’Espery, x2,) “gave Haig time assess the situation” (to assess,) “just how grievously the Haig’s command had suffered (no “the”,) “the artillery … were…. their stocks of ammunition” (was…. its stocks,) Bellewaarde (Bellewaerde?) “the BEF were now set upon” (was set upon,) “smoke screen screen” (only one “screen” required,) to cut of the wire (off,) earlier in his book (this book,) any battalions fire plan (battalion’s,) “might wander of their axis” (off,) “that the Rawlinson’s attack” (no “the”,) a missing comma. “This family were not wealthy” (His family was not wealthy,) a missing full stop x 5, XV Corps’ (Corps’s,) with with (only on “with” needed,) “and the defences the Germans were building…… was like nothing seen before” (were like nothing seen before,) “four-battalions-to-a-brigade. Dominion division” (“four-battalions-to-a-brigade Dominion division”,) “the bombardment rose to a crescendo” (a crescendo is the rise, not its climax,) “First Army were …. Third Army were …. Fifth Army were …. (in each case “was”,) “to be launched to on” (no “to”,) “force their forces along the coast, either to withdraw eastwards” (no comma.) “Zero hour for was set” (Zero hour was set for.) “Given his a well-earned reputation” (no “a”,) “three years earlier. Currie had been” (no full stop,) Lieutenant General Sir Kavanagh (Lieutenant General Sir Charles Kavanagh.) “The cavalry were to be commanded” (was to be,) “Tuesday 20, November” (no comma,) Hidenburg Line (Hindenburg, elsewhere correct,) the Middlesex Regoment (Regiment,) General Cardona (Cadorna,) “the main theatre in this war the Western Front” (war was the Western Front,) “that the he had always wanted” (that he had,) “the enemy were preparing an attack” (was,) narrow-gange track (gauge,) “the German armies in west” (in the west,) “for the politicians understand” (politicians to understand,) the United State (States,) “to wait and attack, again in 1919” (no comma.) “This is not the say” (not to say,) Austrain (Austrian.) “The learning curve …. and only starting to rise” (started,) “against the Bolshevik” (Bolsheviks,) “he was named. Presidential Chief of Staff” (no full stop.)

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