The general image of the fighting on the Western Front is of a series of unimaginative frontal assaults, repeating the same failed tactics time after time. The picture we see here is quite different. Although most of the attacks discussed in this book failed horribly, that wasn't due to a lack of effort. Both sides introduced new weapons – poison gas is the most famous, but this period also saw the introduction of the Mills grenade and the Stokes mortar on the British side and the flame thrower on the German. The idea of British generals being callous and too willing to carry out attacks is also undermined here, with the generals repeatedly saying that they wouldn't be ready for a major attack until 1916, but political and French pressure forcing them to launch attacks.
Sadly there are clear areas where no real improvements took place, most importantly in communications. The inability of senior officers to keep track of what was going on in an attack is a constant theme, with fleeting chances of a breakthrough missed and the limited successes that were achieved often lost because nobody could get the news back to the British lines.
The combat descriptions are a bit dry, although this isn't really the author's fault. This was a period of fairly similar failed attacks on the German lines, which have to be narrated at regimental or brigade level, so you get a fairly repetitive series of accounts of futile assaults, many of which reached the German lines, before eventually being forced to retreat. There are also a series of accounts of German attacks on the British lines, but these produce the same result – initial successes that can't be exploited. The same is often true of more detailed accounts of Western Front battles, but the wider scope of this book means that we move on before getting bogged down in too much detail.
The book finishes with a set of well thought out conclusions, examining the performance of the BEF in 1915 and the first half of 1916. I found myself agreeing with most (if not all) of their conclusions. Overall this is a good account of this grim period.
1 - A Long Winter - November 1914 to February 1915
2 - Carry Them Off Their Legs - Neuve Chapelle Begins, 10 March 1915
3 - A Mere Waste of Life - Neuve Chapelle Continues, 11 to 13 March
4 - A Cloud of Green Vapour - The German Gas Attack, 22 to 24 April
5 - Hang On At All Costs - Ypres Salient, 25 April to 3 May
6 - The Whole Countryside is Yellow - Ypres Salient, 4 to 25 May
7 - Anything for an Inch of Cover - Battle for Aubers Ridge, 9 May
8 - Come On We Are Ready For You - Battle of Festubert, 15 to 25 May
9 - We Must Do Our Utmost - Givenchy, Hooge and Planning for Loos
10 - The Biggest Balls Up Ever Known - I Corps at Loos, 25 September
11 - They Died With Faces to the Enemy - IV Corps at Loos, 25 September
12 - A Field of Corpses - XI Corps, 26 September
13 - They All Seemed to Melt Away - Loos, 27 September to 13 October
14 - Don't Be Downhearted - November 1915 to March 1916
15 - Smiling Over the Parapet - April and May 1916
16 - Inconclusive Sideshows - June and July 1916
Author: Andrew Rawson
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military