The First World War: The War to End all Wars, Peter Simkins, Geoffrey Jukes and Michael Hickey

The First World War: The War to End all Wars, Peter Simkins, Geoffrey Jukes and Michael Hickey

Many older histories of the First World War tend to portray the fighting on the Western Front as a series of pointless frontal assaults commanded by generals who refused to learn from their experiences. Here we get a much more accurate view of the fighting - at each stage of the war new tactics and weapons were being introduced, and although they didn't have much impact until 1918 each change was significant at the time. Here the authors trace the competition between the defensive and the offensive, with the nature of the trenches changing to cope with new forms of attack. The original thin lines of continuous trenches expanded into vast bands of fortifications with multiple defensive lines and at least on the German side more emphasis on strong points than on a continuous single line. The attackers introduced new weapons - gas, better aircraft, increasingly powerful and well directed artillery, storm troops, and most famously the tank, and in 1918 the famous stalemate came to a clear end.

The authors are also good on the way in which the battles on the Russian, British and French fronts were linked, with each country mounting at least one offensive to help lift pressure from on of their allies (most famous on the British side was the Third battle of Ypres, launched to divert German attention from the mutinous French armies, but the fighting on the Somme gained extra importance because of the German attack on Verdun). There was no Allied high command until the crisis of 1918, but the Allies did produce general plans and agree to coordinate their attacks in earlier years (even if these plans rarely actually paid off). On the Central Powers side there tended to be more crisis management, with German armies rushing to save their Austrian allies on both the Eastern and Italian Fronts, often with impressive results.

This is very much a history of the land battles. The submarine war gets a passing mention, the Royal Flying Corps a handful of mentions and Jutland isn't even in the index! The main focus is on the military developments, but there are several interesting potted biographies of civilians to remind us of the wider impact of the war. Overall this is an excellent single volume history of the land battles of the First World War. 

1 - The Western Front 1914-1916
2 - The Western Front 1917-1918
3 - The Eastern Front 1914-1918
4 - The Mediterranean Front 1914-1923

Author: Peter Simkins, Geoffrey Jukes and Michael Hickey
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 364
Publisher: Osprey
Year: 2013 edition of 2003 original

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