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  • Some World War I Book Recommendations

    Posted by Lexington Green on August 26th, 2014 (All posts by )

    A friend asked for recommendations for books about World War I. I responded with the following list. I have read all of the books on the list. There are many books I have heard of and I am sure are good, but I only put ones I have read myself on the list.

    Please list any favorites I have missed in the comments.

    [Jonathan adds: Please also let us know if any of the book links don’t work or if we have overlooked a link to a public-domain edition of any of these books.]

    Memoirs:

    Ernst Junger, Storm of Steel — essential

    Also by Junger, Copse 125 — a good addendum, depicting the German Army in the closing months of the war.

    Erwin Rommel, Infantry Attacks — pure nuts and bolts infantry fighting, zero philosophizing

    Frederick Manning, The Middle Parts of Fortune (also @ Project Gutenberg) — the enlisted man’s view

    Robert Graves, Good-Bye to All That — classic, on every short list

    Siegfried Sassoon, Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man, Memoirs of an Infantry Officer — very solid, not quite so literary as Graves

    Sidney Rogerson, Twelve Days on the Somme: A Memoir of the Trenches November 1916

    also by Rogerson, The Last of the Ebb: The Battle of the Aisne 1918 — both down to earth depictions

    Herbert Hoover, the first volume of his memoirs has a section on the outbreak of World War I and his involvement in getting food into occupied Belgium. An unusual, informative and fascinating perspective. The book can be had for pennies (free here, or on Amazon).

    The novel by Joseph Roth, The Radetzky March is very good on Austria Hungary up to the outbreak of the war. It is a great favorite of mine.

    I recently mentioned this to a friend:

    I just read The Phoenix Land: The Memoirs of Count Miklos Banffy. He was a senior guy in Hungary before, during and after World War I — including being foreign minister after the war. He was starving in Holland trying to make money painting portraits when they asked him to come back into the new government. He was holding no cards at all in the negotiations. It is painful reading. Hungary was, as he said, small, weak, defeated and despised.

    Banffy is worth reading. He is a good companion as an author and he has a unique perspective on events.

    Similarly, for the era, perhaps my favorite book, period, is The World of Yesterday by Stefan Zweig, which covers the period before, during and after the war. I wrote about it here. Note that the discussion in the comments to the Zweig post is unusually good, and focuses on World War I.

    Military History:

    TRENCH WARFARE 1850-1950, Anthony Saunders — puts the Western Front in perspective and shows the dynamic response to horrendous conditions

    Battle Tactics of the Western Front: The British Army`s Art of Attack, 1916-18, Paddy Griffith — helped to destroy the myth of British incompetence in WWI

    The Great War on the Western Front: A Short History, Paddy Griffith — good overview of the military dimension of the campaign

    Fire Power: The British Army Weapons & Theories of War 1904-1945, Shelford Bidwell and Dominick Graham — very good on how the war was actually fought

    The Killing Ground: The British Army, the Western Front & Emergence of Modern Warfare 1900-1918, Tim Travers — good on how the British Army learned how to fight a modern war

    On Artillery, Bruce Gudmundsson — very good on World War I, a short clearly written book

    Stormtroop Tactics: Innovation in the German Army, 1914-1918, Bruce I. Gudmundsson — this is a good book though it perhaps understates the innovation on the Allied side

    Quest for Decisive Victory: From Stalemate to Blitzkrieg in Europe, 1899-1940, Robert Citino — a superb book that places WWI in context

    The German Way of War: From the Thirty Years’ War to the Third Reich, also by Robert Citino, is good on how the Germans wanted to fight and why they couldn’t do it in WWI

    Douglas Haig and the First World War, J. P. Harris — a fair treatment of the controversial commander, it shows in particular the constraints he faced, but does not excuse Third Ypres / Passchendaele

    If Germany Attacks: The Battle in Depth in the West by Graeme Chamley Wynne — This book contains a good description of the defense in depth developed by the Germans late in the war

    Sepoys in the Trenches: The Indian Corps on the Western Front 1914-15, Major Gordon Corrigan — very good book about the almost forgotten contribution of the Indian Army in the opening months of the war, including much amazing heroism

    Pyrrhic Victory: French Strategy and Operations in the Great War, Robert A. Doughty — The French tend to get short-changed in American recollections of the war. The French were to Germany in World War I what the Russians were to Germany in World War II, the people who absorbed most of the blows, lost the most people, and ground the Germans down. France was Germany’s attrition punching bag.

    They Fought for the Sky: The Dramatic Story of the First War in the Air, Quentin Reynolds — A childhood favorite, which held up well when I re-read it a few years ago

    General History

    World War One: A Short History, Norman Stone — idiosyncratic, short, a good read. The bibliography is full of stuff I want to read.

    The First World War: A Very Short Introduction, Michael Howard — possibly the best short overview

    A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East, David Fromkin — a very good book, well written, a page-turner

    Norman Stone, The Eastern Front 1914-1917, still the only general book on the subject, Stone is an engaging writer

    I found John Keegan’s one volume history to be disappointing. He is always an engaging writer, and the book has much good in it. Unfortunately he was not current on the trends in thinking about the war and repeated old myths about the British performance in the war.

    Germany and England (or free here), J.A. Cramb (1913) is excellent for understanding the German mindset before the war, a war they wanted to fight.

    Britain and the Origins of the First World War: Second Edition by Zara S. Steiner — a superb book about the run-up to the war

    Over Here: The First World War and American Society, David M. Kennedy — a good book, Prof. Mearsheimer assigned this one in college

    The Empire Project: The Rise and Fall of the British World-System, 1830-1970, John Darwin — this is a superb book, and World War I is fitted into a much larger picture

    The First World War: An Agrarian Interpretation, Avner Offer — This is an eye opening and unusual book, which explains the impact of blockade on Germany and the nearly fatal u-boat offense against Britain

    Gordon Corrigan, Mud, Blood and Poppycock: This Will Overturn Everything You Thought You Knew about Britain and The First World War — the title is hyperbolic, and the tone is polemical, but Corrigan provides a strongly revisionist account which helps clear away some of the myths

    Addendum:

    Some time ago, I had a post entitled “So, How Would You Teach a Course on World War I?” which may be of interest in this regard.

     

    34 Responses to “Some World War I Book Recommendations”

    1. TimL Says:

      Erich Maria Remarque, “All Quiet on the Western Front”

      A classic on the life of the soldier.

    2. dearieme Says:

      What do you think of
      http://www.amazon.co.uk/Dreadnought-Britain-Germany-Coming-Great/dp/0099524023
      ?

    3. Sgt. Mom Says:

      I’d put up “Still Quiet on the Western Front” by Gene Smith – a kind of travelog of the Western front from south to north, fifty years later. There were extracts published in American Heritage Magazine. The book is beautifully, lyrically written, with many pairs of photographs from the war juxtaposed with the same scene 50 years later.
      Now, of course, we’re looking at 100 years later.
      http://www.amazon.com/Still-quiet-Western-Front-fifty/dp/B0007DZTPQ/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1409082103&sr=1-1&keywords=still+quiet+on+the+western+front

    4. David Foster Says:

      Erich Maria Remarque’s “The Road Back,” which is sort of a sequel to “All Quiet,” is outstanding and has been sadly neglected. I reviewed it here.

      Also, a nonfiction book: “The Great War and Modern Memory,” by Paul Fussell.

      Both these books are essential reading for anyone wanting to understand the impact of the war on society and even on language.

    5. Lexington Green Says:

      Believe it or not, I have never read All Quiet on the Western Front. The movie, with Richard Thomas and Ernest Borgnine was very good, as I recall.

      I bought The Road Back, based on David’s post, but have not read it yet.

      I have not read Dreadnought, though it is supposed to be good.

      Fussell’s Great War and Modern Memory is a deserved classic, though he is wrong about the British war effort, repeating the standard myths about stupid, callous officers sending men out to die pointlessly. The British Army won the war, and it learned its trade and improved ceaselessly throughout the war. The men who actually fought the war knew they’d won. It took about a decade before the revisionist picture of a futile war that accomplished nothing took hold. That picture is and was wrong.

    6. Whitehall Says:

      Winston Churchill’s “The World Crisis” has it points although his egocentricity shines through.

    7. Lexington Green Says:

      Arthur Balfour said The World Crisis was “”Winston’s brilliant autobiography, disguised as a history of the universe.” “

    8. Whitehall Says:

      One insight I had on trench warfare, which may or may not be supported by real scholars, is that the stasis of the trenches was due to railroads.

      An attack could gain the first or even the second line of defensive trenches but the rail lines behind the lines could transfer reinforcements to the defense faster than the offense could reinforce and supply its spearhead across no-man’s land. The differential in logistics speed between offense and defense made a huge difference in the mature form of the war, at least on the Western Front.

    9. Mike K Says:

      Another interesting book on WWI is Tolkien and the Great War , a book about his early life and the way he and his friends served in the war. A sort of worm’s eye view of the war.

    10. Lexington Green Says:

      Whitehall, that is correct and it was understood at the time.

    11. Taco Says:

      The Guns of August.

      http://smile.amazon.com/Guns-August-Outbreak-Tuchmans-Nonfiction-ebook/dp/B002TXZS8A/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1409100445&sr=1-1&keywords=the+guns+of+august

    12. David Foster Says:

      Per Whitehall’s comment: the extensive railroad networks supplying the trenches encompassed not only standard-gauge trackage, but also light narrow-gauge lines that could be laid much more quickly. Still, I doubt that they could be laid quickly enough to be useful in supporting a major advance before supply constraints began to pinch.

      Also, the terrain was churned up so heavily by artillery fire as to make it difficult to bring artillery forward rapidly in support of an advance.

    13. Lexington Green Says:

      David, that makes the British achievement in the 100 days campaign even more amazing. Once they unhinged the Germans, how did they keep moving and keep the Germans moving? How did they supply an army on the move? I need to read more about that campaign.

    14. dearieme Says:

      “Once they unhinged the Germans, how did they keep moving ..”: indeed. And how did they deal with the flocks of Germans surrendering? They not only had to guard them but to feed them.

    15. David Graeme Says:

      For a famously personalized account of one part of the war, it is hard to beat T.E. Lawrence and The Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Whether it is true, true only in parts, or sheer fantasy, it is a remarkable piece of writing from end to end. I worked in the desert of eastern Jordan in 1974-1976, in the wastelands north of the Azraq oasis where Lawrence spent the winter of 1917-1918, and old men in the region boasted they has ridden with el-Aruns when they were boys.

    16. Funktacular Says:

      Only one book on the French!? Sacre bleu! To avoid further embarrassment, at least add Louis Barthas’ “Poilu”

    17. Jay Manifold Says:

      Various recommendations, including film, may be found at https://theworldwar.org/greatwargreatread, whose audience is perhaps more statistically ordinary than the CB readership.

      I have read the Tuchman, Moorehead’s GALLIPOLI (the Weir film is among my very favorites), and a few general histories, including Keegan’s and Strachan’s.

    18. Jim Miller Says:

      When I read any history on any American war before Vietnam, I often dig up my old copy of the West Point Atlas, so I can follow the text on the map. (They have been reorganized since I bought my two-volume set, long ago, but they are available.)

      And while I am mentioning atlases, let me recommend McEvedy’s little Penguin atlases, for the times when you want a quick overview of something. His “Recent History” has just six main maps on WW I (and four smaller maps showing details in France), but it is often enough to answer a quick question.

      For instance, here’s part of what he says about the Allied offensives in 1918:

      “In July 1918 the last of Ludendorff’s grand assaults petered out and the initiative passed to the Allies. Their local counter-attacks were so successful that they quickly developed them into a general offensive. If this never quite matched the pace Ludendorff had set in March, it was better sustained and so in the long run more effective.”

      So, they never outran their supplies because they weren’t advancing quickly enough. This step-by-step offensive also allowed them to recover and repair equipment so it could be re-used. (Take a look at the battle of Amiens for an example of how common the breakdowns were with, for example, tanks.)

      Finally, it’s been a while since I read him, but I recall being fascinated, but not always convinced, by some of the arguments that Liddell Hart made in “The Real War”. It has also been some time since I read Cyril Fall’s “The Great War”, but I recall it as a good, one-volume treatment.

      Of course, to really answer your friend’s question, you would have to know more about what they wanted to learn.

      (Keegan’s illustrated WW I history has great selection of pictures.)

    19. Kirk Parker Says:

      Let me second the recommendations of Dreadnaught and The Eastern Front.

      And for the (should-have-been) Fiction section, along with All Quiet… you really should add August 1914. Yeah it’s fiction, but the historical footnotes are fascinating (if not impartial.)

    20. phwest Says:

      Dreadnaught (Robert Massie) is great background on how the Naval race pushed Britain into the Entente. For even deeper background, read “Railroads and Rifles” (Dennis Showalter) which is a study of how technological change in weapons (rifles and rifled cannon) and logistics (rail) shaped the wars of German unification. There are parallels to WWI in terms of the need for new tactics, but in the 1860s there were a lot of different answers tried, and most of them proved to be wrong. It is interesting how professional minds can acknowledge a problem (defensive firepower) but still come up with (in retrospec) obviously flawed answers.

      To me, the key difference in WWI was actually sheer numbers. Population growth in Europe was so dramatic that for the first time continuous lines were actually possible. Rail made it possible to feed and supply the masses – but rail was a big deal in the Franco-Prussian war but the armies were still small enough that maneuver was possible.

    21. dearieme Says:

      “the wars of German unification”: looking back at my history lessons in school, I particularly enjoyed our classes on Bismarck’s nationalist wars. (We were told to read up on Garibaldi on our own: “Keep an eye on Count Cavour” was the advice.)

      Really, we should have rounded out the nationalist wars of that period with a study of the American Civil War, if I understand correctly that that was when the decisive steps were taken to convert a federation of states into a centralised empire.

    22. Jim Miller Says:

      Dearieme – If you are interested in the American Civil War, I would suggest you begin by reading Lincoln’s Second Inaugural.

      (It’s short.)

      The last paragraph, coming near the end of a bitter war, is, to my mind, astonishing:

      “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

    23. Mike K Says:

      The Bruce Catton books are 30 years old but still a good place to start.

    24. Grurray Says:

      Great list. I’ll be bookmarking this page.

      For a small slice of the Hundred Days Offensive see The Lost Battalion:

      http://www.amazon.com/Blood-Argonne-Battalion-Campaigns-Commanders/dp/0806136960/ref=pd_sim_b_5?ie=UTF8&refRID=06RTQGVJ0ERCW1M2QWDV

      and the made-for-TV movie, which was a cut above the usual cable programming fare.

      The book is a straight forward and grim account of the 77th Division pinned down and surrounded by the Germans for about a week. They were gradually cut down and chewed to pieces by the enemy and, adding insult to injury, friendly fire, but it was ultimately uplifting for their refusal to surrender. The sort of story that Americans always like to tell and believe about themselves-
      underdogs with a steadfast refusal to concede defeat in the face of overwhelming odds prevailing through sheer will and faith.

    25. Richard Says:

      Mark Thompson’s “The White War” is an excellent illumination of the Italian Front.

    26. Trent Telenko Says:

      I found this via Facebook —

      Trench Warfare 1850–1950
      https://www.facebook.com/pages/Trench-Warfare-18501950/112057838805180

      This is the first book to put the trench warfare of the First World War into a context of trench warfare before and after the Great War.

      ==========

      Notes about war on the Western Front
      May 19, 2010 at 8:59am
      Introduction – guns and high explosive

      1. The First World War was the first war between the European powers since the Franco-Prussian War of 1870.

      2. It was an artillery war but did not start that way (cult of the offensive)

      3. Nearly 60 per cent of casualties on the Western Front were from high explosive shells, while less than 40 per cent were caused by small arms, including machine guns, and just over 2 per cent were caused by grenades.

      4. The number of British guns increased from

      • 410 in August 1914

      • to 1,493 in the Fourth Army (15 divisions) at the start of the Somme in July 1916

      • to 6,406 in the BEF as a whole at the end of the war (a 15-fold increase over 1914).

      • There was an increase in the ratio of guns to 1000 infantrymen, in the BEF, from 6.3 in 1914 to 13 in 1918; in the French army it was 4 to 13 and in the German army it was 6 to 11.5

      • At the end of the war, the French army had about two and half times as many guns as the British as did the Germans, about 15,500 each.

      • At the same time, the BEF increased from 400,000 in 5 infantry and 1 cavalry divisions to about 3.5 million in 61 infantry and 3 cavalry divisions.

      • In 1918, the Royal Artillery contained more personnel than the entire BEF of 1914 (some 520,00)

      5. One of the most numerous British guns was the 18-pounder.

      6. This gun fired about 100 million shells during the war, mostly from 1916 onwards.

      7. The French equivalent, the 75 mm (the famous soixante-quinze), had a rate of fire of 15 rounds a minute, as fast as a well-trained British infantryman could aim, load and shoot his rifle. However, this was an ideal unlikely to have been achieved very often as a battery of half a dozen guns would have required a prodigious quantity of shells to sustain fire for any length of time. For the British this was not possible until 1916.

      8. Guns ranged in size from the 18-pounder to 15-inch railway guns. German 380mm (15-inch) railway guns had a range of 20 miles (used at Verdun).

      9. The number of heavy-calibre howitzers increased from 1915. The ideal ratio of heavy guns to field guns was 1 : 2.

      10. In 1914 six heavy batteries but 440 in 1918.

      11. Logistics, supply, was a major concern and an effective system had to be devised. This was tied into who was in overall control of the guns, battalion to corps so that an overall fire plan could be devised. But also tied into manufacture. For the British in 1915, it was a serious problem known as the shell scandal which brought about a change of government and led to the creation of the Ministry of Munitions which set up national shell factories (that is, it had them built from scratch). The French had similar ammunition problems.

      What was the Western Front? 1 Its importance

      1. And how did it arise? How important was it to the war as a whole?

      2. Both the initial phases and the final phases of the war were played out on the Western Front because the main body of the German Army was engaged in the West at those times (faced in 1914 by the British, French and Belgian armies, to which were added the US and Portuguese armies by 1918).

      3. The Austro-Hungarian army should not be overlooked but this did not play a significant role on the Western Front.

      4. There were other theatres of war: Eastern Front (ended by the Russian Revolution in 1917), East Africa, Italian Front (from May 1915), the Balkans, Gallipoli (February 1915 to January 1916), Palestine, Mesopotamia;

      5. then there was the war at sea and the air war. The air war had an important impact on the land war. By 1917, it had become a vital element as it provided reconnaissance and eyes for the guns, as well as ground support.

      6. Aerial photography was essential in the development of the ground war because accurate maps could be produced from the photographs. The increasingly important function of aerial reconnaissance led to the rise of the fighter, an aircraft designed specifically to shoot down other aircraft.

      What was the Western Front? 2 How it came about

      1. War broke out in August 1914 and ended on 11 November 1918.

      2. From September/October 1914 to about March–July 1918, trench warfare was the dominant mode of operations.

      3. Why was this? Talk about the elements which led to the formation of a static warfare

      • the Schlieffen Plan (sweep through Belgium down northern France to come south of Paris, according to a strict timetable)

      • the French Plan 17 (to attack into Alsace and Lorraine – which had been ceded to Germany after the Franco-Prussian War); thus attack rather than defence.

      • the effect of modern weapons combined with old tactics (massed infantry and artillery positioned in the front line

      • firing on visible targets, ie direct fire to support the infantry).

      4. Discuss why digging in was necessary on the battlefield

      • the invention and adoption of smokeless propellants and high explosives in the late 19th century

      • the development of recoil/recuperator systems and quick-firing guns (rapid-action breech mechanisms) eg the French 75

      • magazine rifles with ranges in excess of a mile (mention the Boers engaging and hitting targets at 1000 yards and the use of trenches in S Africa in 1899–1902).

      5. Stress the temporary nature of the trenches and that static warfare was not the intention.

      The nature of trench warfare

      1. Mention the trenches of the ACW and the Russo-Japanese War.

      2. Barbed wire, originally invented in the USA in the 1860s for demarking land boundaries, increased from a few strands in no-man’s-land to several belts of 20 or 30 yards wide, set out to funnel attacking infantry into killing zones for machine guns.

      3. Talk about the composition of a trench system

      • fire, support, command, reserve and communication trenches

      • Zigzagged with traverses to minimize effects of high explosive

      • Defence in depth from early 1915 in response to British attack at Neuve Chappelle.

      • There were two or three lines of defences, which could stretch up to 15 miles in depth.

      • Mention dugouts (deep enough to provide protection from all but the biggest calibre shells – a problem on the Somme)

      • revetments (to prevent the walls collapsing in the wet)

      • concrete (used increasingly from 1916 to build pillboxes which houses machine guns or, by 1918, field guns).

      4. Defences developed so that front-line fire trenches give way to independent but mutually supporting strongpoints with support lines of trenches further back with more strongpoints, up to a depth of 15 miles

      5. the evolution of battle zones

      6. The effectiveness of this system was demonstrated during the French Nivelle offensive in April/May 1917 on Chemin des Dames (the high casualties contributed to the French army mutinies later that year). The system was even more effective at Third Ypres July–November 1917. Widespread use of concrete, as embodied by the Hindenburg Line.

      7. The importance of counter-attacks to retake ground lost (especially by the Germans). At Cambrai, German counter-attacks took back most of the ground won.

      8. Tactics from 1917 for taking concrete pillboxes included coordination of hand and rifle grenadiers and Lewis gunners to get the occupants once they left the shelter.

      9. The nature of trench warfare when major offensives not being undertaken.

      10. Time in the line

      • regular shelling and mortaring

      • repairs

      • raids, which developed into battles in miniature with preparatory artillery bombardments

      • rockets and flares for calling down defensive artillery shoots.

      So how were such defences to be overcome?

      1. The British and the French spent 1915 and 1916 trying to solve this conundrum. Talk about how the old-style tactics of frontal assaults favoured the defender.

      2. New tactics centred on artillery

      • at the start of the war, artillery was up with the infantry and fired over open sights. Artillery was an adjunct to the infantry which was expected to engage the enemy at 1200–1500 yards, closing to 800–1000 yards for the main battle; the decisive range was considered to be 400–500 yards, the battle going to whichever side could develop the most accurate and rapid rifle fire. The guns were very vulnerable under circumstances. The opening battles showed that this was no longer viable.

      • 1914, direct fire up with the infantry; 1915 first steps towards indirect fire; 1916–17 massive firepower to destroy; 1917–18 predicted fire to neutralize

      • hurricane bombardments (first used by Germans at Soissons January 1915 and by British at Neuve Chapelle in March 1915 but misleading lessons learned leading to longer barrages to destroy rather than neutralize the enemy). At Neuve Chapelle the bombardment lasted 35 minutes and took the Germans by surprise but in May at the battle of Festubert, the bombardment lasted 48 hours duration and the attack failed. This attributed to its short duration so that by the time of the opening of the Somme offensive the bombardment last a week.

      • It was realized that a barrage should prevent the enemy infantry from manning the parapet but this was interpreted as a need to destroy him rather than neutralize him which led to ever bigger barrages.

      • Straight barrage in parallel lines and lifted at fixed intervals (typical of 1914)

      • Lifting barrage, first used at Loos in September 1915. It moved in parallel lines from trench line to trench line, rather at arbitrary intervals – barrages on target for a limited time before lifting to new targets, jumping forwards faster than the infantry so that they got out of touch because of imperfect communications and lack of expertise.

      • Next was the piled up barrage (a variation on the straight barrage by lifting at irregular intervals along the line until it reaches the enemy trenches (1916)

      • creeping barrages (forwards and backwards) 1917, parallel lines of fire but shaped to correspond with outline of the enemy trenches

      • Indirect fire, rather than registering prior to bombardment, shooting by the map which required accurate maps – importance of aerial photography. The British successfully used predicted fire at Cambrai in November 1917 with more than a thousand guns. Tanks (476) and infantry breached 6 miles of front to a depth of 5 miles but 279 were out of action at the end of the first day, mostly through mechanical failure. Cambrai was the first time that a full fire plan was tried. Such a system is still the basis of modern artillery operations. (HQs, communications, logistics, artillery, defenses, wire, reserves to seal off the battlefield.

      • Counter-battery fire developed during 1916 and 1917 and more or less perfected by 1918 made possible by use of accurate maps.

      • Sound ranging and flash spotting (using trigonometry to pinpoint enemy guns – carried out by the Field Survey Companies of the RE) 1916 onwards

      • FOOs – Forward Observation Officers (some in aircraft, raising the question of communication with the ground)

      • the development of scientific shooting, using calibrated guns, calculating fall of shot according to atmospheric conditions, barrel wear (which affected muzzle velocity), angle of fire, all of which required shells to be made to a consistent standard so that they fell where predicted.

      New infantry tactics

      1. At the same time as artillery tactics are being developed, so-called stormtroop tactics also developed.

      2. First proposed by French captain (Laffargue in 1915), developed by the British, French and Germans during 1917.

      3. British used such tactics at Arras and Messines in spring 1917

      4. 2,226 guns at Messines. Messines also saw the firing of 19 mines, each containing on average 21 tonnes of explosives, although one contained about 40 tonnes.

      How and why the nature of the armies changed

      1. the differences between the armies of 1918 and 1914

      • composition, tactical, arms

      • the growth of the British army (civilians in uniform, conscription from 1916)

      Inventions and weapons of trench warfare

      1. The significance of inventions to trench warfare

      2. hand and rifle grenades (75 million Mills grenades produced) the significance of hand grenades which required less time to acquire proficiency than musketry

      3. mortars (especially the Stokes) the Stokes had a range of about 400 yards but this was later extended and could fire 30 rounds a minute and put 10–15 rounds in the air before the first one landed. Each round was equivalent of a 75 mm shell. In September 1916, 8 Stokes fired 750 rounds in 15 minutes at High Wood and he battery was credited with forcing the surrender of the German position attacked. But the Stokes not was in widespread use until mid-1916.

      4. tanks. The tank developed by the British and the French as a means of breaking the trench deadlock but they were all underpowered, underarmed, unreliable and could not be resupplied easily after the start of an offensive. The Germans quickly devised anti-tank rifles, used artillery in an anti-tank role and devised contact mines.

      5. fuzes (instantaneous fuze essential for destroying wire)

      6. gas (first used by Germans at Ypres April 1915) but most efficiently used by the British with the Livens projector.

      7. the periscope – for observation and to dominate – essential

      8. The importance of novel munitions to trench warfare (refer back to ACW and R-J War)

      • Technical developments leading to tactical changes eg the Stokes’ rate of fire

      • Rifle grenades and mortars for attacking strongoints and machine gun positions,
      especially concrete pillboxes in cooperation with Lewis guns, ie infantry support weapons (combat teams)

      9. There were also huge advances in aircraft technology in terms of range, speed, robust construction, and the hydraulic interrupter gear, aerial bombs.

      10. these led to developments in lenses for photography and the science of photo interpretation

      Conclusion – The nature of trench warfare and the evolution of battle

      1. trying for the breakthrough which was not achieved until 1918 (although break-in was not uncommon, as at Cambrai)

      2. cooperation of artillery, aircraft, infantry and tanks (3D warfare)

      3. Deep battle

      4. artillery fire plans did not exist in 1914 but by 1918 had become very sophisticated in order to hit many key targets at once to cause maximum dislocation rather than destruction or attrition. It was also synchronised with air operations.

      5. command and control of battle, improved staff work, the problems of communication (telephone, wireless, runners) eg at Loos when reinforcements could not be brought up quickly (Sept/Oct 1915) and during the Somme battles when changes to fire plans could not be made because there was no way to make contact with those behind the lines.

      6. At Waterloo, Wellington could command from the front and move about the battlefield to see what was happening and issue direct orders accordingly. This was never possible on the Western Front. Battlefields were to too big and armies too vast; command had to be conducted from a position behind the lines where nothing could be seen and communications were hours out of date. Nevertheless, generals still tried to see for themselves and command as closely to the front as possible

      7. between 1914 and 1918, 58 British generals were killed on the Western Front.

    27. Anonymous Says:

      I suggest the book “The Myth of The Great War”
      as a useful tour on how the US got sucked into the mess

    28. Charlie Says:

      A Rifleman Went To War, by Herbert McBride.
      The Emma Gees, by Herbert McBride.
      McBride was a machine gunner (Emma Gee).

    29. Veritas Says:

      Great column and books but I wish you’d have included a few on the causes of the war. Most of the most “hyped” ignore the archives and interesting facts such as:
      -why are the French archieves regarding the discussions leading up to the war still sealed?
      -what was the french cabinet doing in st peterberg prior to Russia’s declaration of war on Austria
      -why is there little discussion of joint french-English defense planning going as far back to 1906?
      -why aren’t the Austrian demands on Serbia prior to the outbreak of war examined-they are more than reasonable especially when viewed from today’s perspectives
      -why is the role of anarchism and terrorism as factors in the ar ignored

      -Finally how the war destroyed the world as we know it and laid the foundations for today’s mess.

    30. Charlie Says:

      Not a book, but interesting on its own :

      http://www.vox.com/a/world-war-i-maps

    31. Mike K Says:

      Veritas, I read a book recently on the early stages of the war and it seems the French ambassador to Russia was a bit of an enabler or even an instigator. It might have been Max Hasting’s book. France may have wanted a “second front” a bit too much.

    32. David Foster Says:

      Veritas…”why are the French archieves regarding the discussions leading up to the war still sealed?”….that is interesting, if indeed the case. Do you have a link?

    33. hreb Says:

      Veritas, consider the book “Let France Explain” by Frederick Bausman 1922

    34. William Steinman Says:

      Seconding McBride’s “A Rifleman Went to War”. Guy was an American officer who resigned his commission, then joined the Canadian Army as a Private. Ended up a machine-gunner and sniper.

      On another note, the first chapter of “Aftermath: The Remnants of War” is called “A Forbidden Forest”. Deals with the French deminers who travel around France, collecting up unexploded munitions that sometimes date to the Napoleonic wars. Most of their efforts are concentrated on The Red Zone – an area of earth that endured nonstop shelling and flamethrower attacks for pretty much the whole war. It’s dead grey. You can see it from space. Nobody goes there, not even the deminers – they work it from the edges. You get a good grasp of what the war was like based on what is found in the thick woods around Verdun. When the war was over, everyone pretty much just went home and left everything there. It was so thick with unexploded artillery and grenades, the French just walled it off.. it is exactly as it was in 1918, the day the war ended. Unexploded ordinance, bones, trash, barbed wire.

      The rest of the book deals with other battles in other wars… the Germans in Russia in 1941, Vietnam, the Middle East… but that first chapter is by far the best. 16 million acres of land in France were and are just closed off.. the same as they were 100 years ago…