At the heart of this book is a study of the nature of the German army and its senior officers, and how that impacted on the army's ability to adapt to the circumstances it faced during the First World War. This was an army that had planned for a short war in the west, and then had to come up with new plans after the initial German advance was stopped at the Marne. Showalter examines the nature of the German army, the experience and character of its senior officers, and how the army and its officers attempted to cope with the new circumstances of 1915-18.
One of the most interesting aspects of this book is that it gives us an almost entirely German perspective on events. In many cases this was very different to our familiar story of the war. Perhaps the best example of this is the battle of the Somme of 1916. In British accounts this was a battle that began with a disaster, and ended as at best a costly draw, and at worst a pointless bloodletting that made almost no progress. The German view was very different - there the battle was seen as stretching the army almost to breaking point, and many senior commanders argued that the army wouldn't be able to stand up to another attack on the same scale. As a direct result of the battle the Germans decided to withdraw from the Somme front to the Hindenburg Line, abandoning a large area of conquered territory. Again, the Third battle of Ypres appears in a different light, with the later 'bite and hold' attacks forcing the Germans repeatedly change their defensive plans, after the British learnt to take advantage of their predictable counterattacks.
If there is a flaw with this book, it is that the author gives the impression that a German defeat was inevitable, because of problems with the nature of the German army. One can't help thing that hindsight plays a part in this - the Germans were victorious on just about every front apart from the Western Front, and came close to success there in 1914 and the spring of 1918. Who knows what might have happened if the troops wasted at Verdun had instead been used to knock Russia out of the war a year early, or if the Allied response in 1918 had been only a little less effective?
Other than that this is an excellent study of the German army at war during the First World War, which helps explain how an army with almost no recent military experience (not having fought a major war since the 1870s), became seen as the most effective individual army of the First World War, capable of conducting a war on two fronts, and facing the main military efforts of France and Britain.
1 - Portents and Preliminaries
2 - Autumn of Decision
3 - Reevaluating
4 - Verdun and the Somme: End of an Army
5 - Reconfiguration
6 - Climax and Denouement
Author: Dennis Showalter