I must admit I’d rather been putting off reading this book, in the expectation that it would be a rather depressing account of the serious of costly but largely futile battles fought by the BEF in 1915. I was thus pleasantly surprised to discover that it is actually a collection of varied and interesting articles looking at a wide range of topics relating to 1915. This does of course include those battles, although not as narratives, but instead analysing what happened and why, what had been learnt from earlier battles, and what was learnt from the battle in question. Other articles look at the overall problems faced by an army that was expanding at an unprecedented rate, causing problems at just about every level – the shell shortage is well known, but the lack of experienced men to act as NCOs, trainers, staff officers and even unit commanders was just as serious.
The first half of the articles look at the wider picture – the overall problems of the BEF, the munitions crisis, the problems of command etc. The second half looks at some of the main British battles – Second Ypres, Festubert and Loos as well as less familiar battles. This overall arrangement works well, as by the time we reach the accounts of the battles, we are familiar with the problems behind the scenes, which gives us a better understanding of the problems faced at the front.
This is an excellent collection of articles that help with our understanding of a year that is over overshadowed by the more famous battles of 1914, and the much larger struggles of 1916 onwards, but that played a major role in turning the BEF from a small largely colonial army into a major European force.
1 – ‘To make war as we must, and not as we should like’ – The British Army and the Problem of the Western Front, 1915, Spencer Jones
2 – The Supply of Munitions to the Army, 1915, John Mason Sneddon
3 – Friends Disunited: Johnnie French, Wully Robertson and ‘K of K’ in 1915, John Spencer
4 – Henry Horne as Divisional Commander, Simon Robbins
5 – The BEF Takes Off: The Royal Flying Corps, 1915, Peter Hart
6 – British-Indian Army Cavalry: From Mobilisation to the Western Front 1915, Graham Winton
7 – Douglas Haig and the Planning of the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, Patrick Watt
8 – Inescapable Realities: Canadian Command, Spring 1915, Kenneth Radley
9 – Death of a Battalion: The 5th King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment at the Second Battle of Ypres, Tom Williams
10 – The Battle of Festubert, Robert Williams
11 – ‘Seven Days in Hell’: The 1/7th Battalion’s King’s Liverpool Regiment at the Battle of Festubert, May 1915, Adrian Gregson
12 – ‘A Coda to the Second Battle of Ypres’: International Trench, 6-10 July 1915, Michael LoCicero
13 – ‘A Great Victory All But Gained’: The Battle of Loos, 1915, Brian Curragh
14 – 8th Division and the Action at Bois Grenier, 25 September 1915, Alun Thomas
15 – Gas, Grenades and Grievences: The Attack on the Hohenzollern Redoubt by 46th (North Midland) Division, 13 October 1915, Michael Woods
Editor: Spencer Jones