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Military History World War I: The Western Front
by
Annika Mombauer

Introduction

The war that raged along the Western Front from 1914 to 1918 is among the most studied and controversial events in European history. The Western Front is synonymous with trench warfare and the static war that replaced the relatively brief period of a war of movement in August and September 1914. The war of movement that resulted from the implementation of Germany’s so-called Schlieffen Plan quickly became bogged down, and by the end of 1914 troops had been digging themselves into the ground and would stay there, with relatively little adjustment to the front line, until the end of the war. Popular mythology equates the Western Front with the futility and pity of war, and with pointless suffering. For many it is epitomized by images of the Somme. While scholarship has long denounced the popular images of “mud and blood” and challenged the once prevalent idea that British troops had been “lions led by donkeys” with concepts such as the (admittedly Anglocentric) “learning curve,” historians continue to study the Western Front, and its popular appeal remains unchanged. Many major battles still need serious scholarly attention, and the efforts of the French and German armies remain poorly understood, compared to the more thoroughly studied British. Tactical evolution, the development of operations-level planning, generalship, military effectiveness, and the integration of new technology (among other topics) are the central themes around which the debates continue. In addition, the interest in the experience of war and in its cultural history has led to new ways of studying the Western Front, focusing, for example, on civilian experiences of the war. No doubt the centenary of the war’s outbreak will add further publications to an already seemingly inexhaustible list as historians continue to debate the nature of the war on the Western Front.

General Overviews

General histories of World War I abound despite the inherent difficulty in synthesizing truly monumental amounts of data into relatively concise accounts. Strachan 2001 is the only volume completed so far of the author’s planned three-volume study, which is set to become the most comprehensive account of the war. Beckett 2007 attempts to deal with the sheer weight of material by abandoning a chronological narrative for a thematic approach that allows the author to analyze key areas of the war such as the effects of economics, science and technology, and training, among many other important topics. Stevenson 2004 is impressive in its ability to review the entire war and accurately portray so many key events. Neiberg 2005 provides essays on a number of topics, including the Western Front, and Neiberg 2008 is especially helpful for its close focus on the Western Front. Boemeke, et al. 1999 (cited under Germany and the Central Powers) and Chickering and Förster 2000 focus on the experience of war and the question of the war’s unique nature by asking whether it was the first “total war,” and by examining the nature of “total war” in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Hirschfeld, et al. 2003 is a German-language encyclopedia of the war that is a useful starting point for anyone interested in overviews of the multitude of approaches historians have adopted in studying World War I. The work provides expert overviews of all relevant areas of research in major introductory essays on the main combatants, on society at war, the course of the war and major battles, the end of the war, and its historiography, as well as offering encyclopedic entries on events, people, and concepts. The Western Front is well covered in this impressive volume. More recently, Sondhaus 2011 is an exhaustive and informative account of the war, with documents and bibliographical information, which will be a useful starting point for those trying to familiarize themselves with the events of 1914–1918. For a more popular approach, Hew Strachan’s television series The First World War, produced in 2003 by the UK television station Channel 4, is an excellent starting point, based on his authoritative account of the war. A more popular book accompanied the series, Strachan 2003, which is aimed at a more general audience.

  • Beckett, Ian F. W. The Great War, 1914–1918. 2d ed. Harlow, UK: Pearson/Longman, 2007.

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    Beckett provides an excellent survey of the Great War. Detailed, knowledgeable, and very well referenced, with an excellent bibliography, maps, and chronology, it contains much on the Western Front.

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  • Chickering, Roger, and Stig Förster, eds. Great War, Total War: Combat and Mobilization on the Western Front, 1914–1918. Washington, DC: German Historical Institute, 2000.

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    The essays in this collection ask whether the Great War was a “total” war. The authors do not arrive at a consensus view, but the volume contains much of interest to historians of the Western Front. Twenty-five chapters cover, inter alia, logistics, technology, chemical weapons, military doctrine, strategy, noncombatants, and war aims.

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  • Hirschfeld, Gerhard, Gerd Krumeich, and Irina Renz, eds. Enzyklopädie Erster Weltkrieg. Paderborn, Germany: Schöningh, 2003.

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    Overviews of all relevant areas of research in essays on the main combatants, society at war, the course of the war and major battles, the end of the war, and its historiography, and encyclopedic entries on events, people, and concepts. Unfortunately not yet available in English.

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  • Neiberg, Michael, ed. World War I. International Library of Essays in Military History. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2005.

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    This collection brings together a number of essays by leading scholars, a number of which address the once dominant images of World War I as a futile contest fought by innocent soldiers and wasteful generals, which have given way to more sophisticated scholarly analyses. This volume presents some of the most innovative work of this new generation of research on the War to End All Wars. Taking a global and comparative perspective, these essays place the War in a wide context. Chapters focus, for example, on the French Army at Verdun, attrition, German atrocities, the Somme, and gas warfare.

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  • Neiberg, Michael S. The Western Front, 1914–1916: From the Schlieffen Plan to Verdun and the Somme. London: Amber, 2008.

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    Part of a six-volume history of the battles and campaigns on land, at sea, and in the air, Neiberg’s account provides a detailed guide to the conflict on the Western Front, from the opening shots to the end of the Somme offensive in late 1916. Includes maps and photographs.

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  • Sondhaus, Lawrence. World War I: The Global Revolution. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

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    Aimed at general readers and students, Sondhaus provides an impressive array of sources to support his informed global history of the war, with up-to-date syntheses of the latest publications on the subject.

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  • Stevenson, David. Cataclysm: The First World War as Political Tragedy. New York: Basic Books, 2004.

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    A magisterial overview that examines the war’s outbreak, escalation, outcome, and legacy. Contains an extensive bibliography and a number of useful maps.

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  • Strachan, Hew. The First World War. Vol. 1, To Arms. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

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    In the first of three planned volumes, Strachan examines the causes of the war and its opening battles on land and sea, and includes the economic history of the war, the war in Africa, and the expansion of the war outside Europe.

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  • Strachan, Hew. The First World War: A New Illustrated History. London: Simon & Schuster, 2003.

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    Written with a general audience in mind, to accompany the critically acclaimed television series The First World War. The book is richly illustrated and contains a lot of material on the Western Front, but also on all other aspects of the war.

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Germany and the Central Powers

Chickering 2004 represents one of the few truly general histories of the German war effort in World War I to be written in English. Chickering touches on a wide range of relevant topics, from industrial mobilization to religion. For the central powers, Herwig 1997 examines the war from Germany and Austria-Hungary’s perspective and is indispensable for anyone studying the war from the perspective of the Dual Alliance partners. Boemeke, et al. 1999 contextualizes the war in relation to the lessons Germans learned from preceding wars, and Hirschfeld, et al. 2003 (cited under General Overviews), while not approaching the war with a specific focus on Germany, nonetheless does so from the perspective of a German perspective. To this list should be added those studies that focus on a particular battle from the German point of view, for example, Herwig 2009 (cited under 1914 Battles of Marne and Ypres) and Hirschfeld, et al. 2009 (cited under Experience of War).

  • Boemeke, Manfred F., Roger Chickering, and Stig Förster, eds. Anticipating Total War: The German and American Experiences, 1871–1914. Washington, DC: German Historical Institute, 1999.

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    The essays in this collection ask whether the experience of warfare between 1871 and 1914 led influential American and German observers to understand the type of warfare that emerged in 1914, and they largely conclude that they did not.

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  • Chickering, Roger. Imperial Germany and the Great War, 1914–1918. 2d ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

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    Chickering’s book, along with Holger Herwig’s study of Germany and Austria-Hungary during the war (Herwig 1997), represents a cornerstone for English-language histories of Germany’s war effort. He covers the war’s origins, nature, and end of the war and focuses on the home front as well as battlefront. Originally published in 1998.

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  • Herwig, Holger H. The First World War: Germany and Austria-Hungary, 1914–1918. London: Edward Arnold, 1997.

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    Herwig’s excellent account explains the paradox between the Central Powers’ reputation for military efficiency and the reality of suffering from inadequate resources and lack of skill in managing these. Herwig also shows to what extent Germany’s effort was hampered by having to sustain her less capable ally, Austria-Hungary.

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France and Britain

Most general English-language accounts of the war will focus on the British experience. In addition, Bourne 1989, while relatively short, remains central to any real understanding of the British role in World War I. Doughty 2005 is one of the best general accounts of the French Army in World War I to be written in English. The book focuses primarily on high-level strategic concerns and is essential for any student of the French Army. In French, Palat 1917–1929 is by far the most detailed general history of the war yet, excluding the French official history. A further account of the French military operations in the years 1914–1918 is also provided by Clayton 2003 and Goya 2004 (the latter is not in English). Philpott 1996 and Greenhalgh 2005 examine coalition warfare of Britain and France during the war, while Stevenson 1982 focuses on French war aims in the years 1914–1919 in a volume that remains a standard work. Greenhalgh 2011 (cited under France) provides an account of French military policy by focusing on the role of General Foch.

  • Bourne, J. M. Britain and the Great War, 1914–1918. London: Edward Arnold, 1989.

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    Despite its age, this remains an important text on Britain in the Great War. Bourne covers all of the major components of Britain’s war effort in light of the main historiographical debates.

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  • Clayton, Anthony. Paths of Glory: The French Army, 1914–1918. London: Cassell Military, 2003.

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    Clayton’s account includes chapters on developments in manpower, weaponry, and morale, as well as addressing the main battles. It is not based on archival research and has no footnotes. Includes useful appendices on the organization of the French Army at different times.

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  • Doughty, Robert A. Pyrrhic Victory: French Strategy and Operations in the Great War. Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 2005.

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    Doughty’s is one of the best English-language accounts to focus exclusively on the French Army in World War I. Broad in scope, it offers details and portrayals of high-level decision making in the French Army. Essential not only for a reliable narrative of the war but also for understanding the unique problems and pressures the French Army faced from 1914 to 1918.

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  • Goya, Michel. La chair et l’acier: L’armée française et l’invention de la guerre moderne (1914–1918) Paris: Editions Tallandier, 2004.

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    Goya focuses on the successful evolution of French tactics from initial disasters to successfully coping with battlefield conditions. Unfortunately, the book is not available in English translation.

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  • Greenhalgh, Elizabeth. Victory through Coalition: Britain and France during the First World War. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511497032Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Greenhalgh’s research details the political and military relations between the two Entente powers and their collaboration in waging an industrialized war. She argues that victory was finally achieved because the coalition ultimately proved effective.

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  • Palat, Barthélemy-Edmond. La grande guerre sur le front occidental. 14 vols. Paris: Chapelot, 1917–1929.

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    Despite its age, and the fact that publication began before the war had even ended, Palat’s fourteen-volume opus remains essential reading. It is very detailed and largely accurate in its depiction of the many battles the French Army engaged in over the course of the war. Also contains very useful maps that are crucial when dealing with some of the more obscure French campaigns.

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  • Philpott, William James. Anglo-French Relations and Strategy on the Western Front, 1914–18. New York: St Martin’s, 1996.

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    Philpott highlights relations between the two allies and joint operations on the Western Front, and explains why the Allies did not win until 1918.

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  • Stevenson, D. French War Aims against Germany, 1914–1919. Oxford: Clarendon, 1982.

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    Stevenson’s study is still the standard work on the subject and was an early exception to the then more usual Anglocentric approach of British military historians.

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Online Reference Resources

There are many websites that offer much of interest to historians of the Western Front. Much useful material is provided on First World War.com, a multimedia history site for World War I, including sources, maps, timelines, audiovisual sources, photographs, and images. Also of use is A Guide to World War I Battlefields and History of First World War, which contains much information about the Western Front. Both websites are very useful starting points for anyone trying to familiarize themselves with aspects of the war. A selection of primary-source documents can be accessed at The World War I Document Archive. To visualize the battles on the Western Front, some excellent dynamic maps can be found at The Western Front: A World War One Summary, which show the movement of the front from 1914 to 1918.

Journals

A number of journals are of particular importance for historians of World War I, and of particular use for aspects of the history of the Western Front. This section is by no means an exhaustive list. The Journal of Military History (until 1988 published as Military Affairs) is published by the American Military History Society and is an essential publication, as is War in History, published in the United Kingdom. The British Journal of Strategic Studies is also important, and in Germany, Militärgeschichtliche Zeitschrift by the Militärgeschichtliches Forschungsamt in Potsdam is another publication in which relevant articles can be located. In France, the Revue Historique des Armées, published by the Historical Service of the French Army (Service Historique de la Defense), is the leading military history journal. Due to limitations of space, journal articles have generally not been included in this bibliography, although there are occasional exceptions if a topic is not covered particularly well in books or collections.

  • Journal of Military History.

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    Until 1988 published under the title Military Affairs, the Journal of Military History, the quarterly journal of the American Society for Military History, has published scholarly articles on the military history of all eras and geographical areas since 1937. The journal is fully refereed. It publishes articles, book reviews, a list of recent articles dealing with military history published by other journals, an annual list of doctoral dissertations in military history, and an annual index.

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  • Journal of Strategic Studies.

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    The Journal of Strategic Studies was first published in 1978 and is aimed at practitioners and academics alike. Its approach is multidisciplinary and articles are peer-reviewed. Also features special issues and special sections in six issues published per year.

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  • Militärgeschichtliche Zeitschrift.

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    The Militärgeschichtliche Zeitschrift (MGZ) replaces the journal Militärgeschichtlichen Mitteilungen (MGM), which was first published in 1967. It aims to cover a broad spectrum of modern military history, emphasizing the relationship between the military, culture, and society from different perspectives. It is published biannually by the Militärgeschichtliches Forschungsamt in Potsdam, Germany.

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  • Revue Historique des Armées.

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    Revue historique des armées is published by the Historical Service of the French Army (Service Historique de la Defense, or SHD) and is France’s leading military history journal. Founded in 1945, it is published four times a year.

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  • War in History.

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    War in History is a quarterly peer-reviewed journal that publishes articles on all aspects of war: economic, social, political, and military, including the study of naval forces, maritime power, and air forces, as well as more narrowly defined military matters, with focuses in specific periods. Over the last ten years or so, it has published numerous articles concerned with the debate on the nature of the Schlieffen Plan.

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Official Histories

Despite understandable and justified concerns about the objectivity of the official histories of the war written by the major combatants, they remain an essential component of any research on World War I for their sheer comprehensiveness and often unsurpassed access to primary sources. The French official history (Chatinières, et al. 1922–1937) excels in its breadth (it even covers British battles with some competency), depth, and quality. It contains a huge number of important maps, as well as extensive annexes of selected primary-source documents to support the texts themselves. The British official history (Edmonds 1922–1925), while not nearly as exhaustive as the French, remains an important starting place, but the reader needs to exercise caution and consult Green 2003 to realize that Edmonds’s account offers many misrepresentations of events (such as the account of the battle of Passchendaele). Green 2003 does a great job of investigating the process by which Edmonds 1922–1925 was written, thus highlighting its shortcomings and providing insight into why it came to be in the form that it did. The German official history, Der Weltkrieg (Reichsarchiv 1925–1956), and the translation of some of its volumes (Humphries and Maker 2010), also run to fourteen volumes, plus two additional volumes of annexes and documents. In its coverage it is skewed toward 1914, which takes up 40 percent of the volumes. These volumes also contain many maps and annex volumes of primary sources, many of which were later destroyed in the original in the files of the Reichsarchiv in Potsdam and have only survived in this published version. Some of the volumes of the German official history are now being translated into English, and they are essential background reading for a serious study of the German war effort. The limitations of the German official history are highlighted in the work of Markus Pöhlmann (Pöhlmann 2002), who has investigated in detail how the volumes of Der Weltkrieg were created, and he shows the extent to which official military history was a product of the writings of former military officers, rather than historians, who denied access to the sources to those not willing to present German military history in the desired glorifying light.

  • Chatinières, Janet, et al., eds. Les Armées Françaises dans la Grande Guerre. 11 vols. Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1922–1937.

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    The French official history consists of eleven volumes. It also includes invaluable documents reproduced in the many volumes of annexes, including ministerial letters, statements of doctrine from the high command, intelligence assessments, and reports from small units.

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  • Edmonds, James E. Military Operations, France and Belgium. 2 vols. London: Macmillan, 1922–1925.

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    Important for its great breadth, the voluminous British official history has not aged particularly well. The basic chronology is good, however, and is the reason that the British official history retains some importance, but as Green 2003 points out, there are many shortcomings that mean the official history needs to be read alongside more recent accounts of the war.

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  • Green, Andrew. Writing the Great War: Sir James Edmonds and the Official Histories, 1915–1948. London: Frank Cass, 2003.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203500859Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    While not an official history in and of itself, Green’s is a key text to understanding the British official history (Edmonds 1922–1925). Its discussion of precisely how the official history was written, including the sending of drafts to a remarkable number of British officers to ensure that Edmonds had portrayed their actions and intentions accurately, is invaluable.

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  • Humphries, Mark Osborne, and John Maker, eds. Germany’s Western Front: Translations from the German Official History of the Great War. Waterloo, Canada: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2010.

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    This is the first of several volumes of translations of the German official history series Der Weltkrieg (Reichsarchiv 1925–1956). Currently only covers 1915, with two volumes on 1914 planned. Essential for anyone studying the war from the German angle who does not have the necessary language skills to tackle the multivolume German official history.

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  • Pöhlmann, Markus. Kriegsgeschichte und Geschichtspolitik: Der Erste Weltkrieg; Die amtliche deutsche Militärgeschichtsschreibung, 1914–1956. Paderborn, Germany: Schöningh, 2002.

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    Pöhlmann’s extensive study is an investigation of the creation of the official military history.

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  • Reichsarchiv. Der Weltkrieg, 1914 bis 1918. 14 vols.; 2 additional vols. Berlin: E. S. Mittler, 1925–1956.

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    Germany’s official military history, which provides an interesting perspective on the war from the point of view of the Central Powers, but which is marred by its apologist agenda.

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Prewar Military Planning

While the majority of publications on Europe in the years leading up to World War I focus on political, social, or economic history or, more recently, on the cultural history of the prewar and war years, there is still a need to understand the military planning (on both the strategic and tactical levels) before the outbreak of war if we are to evaluate the events of 1914–1918 properly. Kennedy 1979, despite its age, is an excellent source for a broad overview of prewar military plans in Europe, although the volume focuses quite heavily on Britain and Germany to the detriment of other nations. Hamilton and Herwig 2010 provides a more recent assessment of the war plans of the major belligerent powers in an edited volume of essays. Brose 2001 points to the importance of the Franco-Prussian War for German military planning, and Bucholz 1991 focuses on the war planning of the elder Moltke and Schlieffen for useful context. Mombauer 2001 highlights the important role played by the younger Moltke not only in planning and instigating the war that broke out in August 1914 but also in the changes that he made to Germany’s infamous war plan, the so-called Schlieffen Plan. Ehlert, et al. 2006 is an important collection that resulted from an international conference on the debate on the nature of the Schlieffen Plan, whose existence had been called into question by Terence Zuber. Porch 1981 focuses on the history of the French Army and war planning after the Franco-Prussian war, and Prete 2009 provides important detail on the cooperation between France and Britain in the early months of the war, while Doughty 2003 provides important detail on Plan XVII and Joffre’s war planning. Williamson 1969, despite its age, is an indispensable starting point for anyone seeking to understand the military aspects of the Entente Cordiale.

  • Brose, Eric Dorn. The Kaiser’s Army: The Politics of Military Technology in Germany during the Machine Age, 1870–1918. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

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    Brose convincingly argues for the influence of the Franco-Prussian war on German military thought leading up to World War I and addresses the often exaggerated perception of Germany military effectiveness in 1914.

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  • Bucholz, Arden. Moltke, Schlieffen, and Prussian War Planning. New York: Berg, 1991.

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    Bucholz assesses the roles of the elder Moltke, Waldersee, and Schlieffen in prewar war planning and provides long-term context to the development of the Schlieffen Plan.

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  • Doughty, Robert A. “French Strategy in 1914: Joffre’s Own.” Journal of Military History 67.2 (April 2003): 427–454.

    DOI: 10.1353/jmh.2003.0112Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Doughty provides a detailed look at French prewar planning, with particular focus on Plan XVII.

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  • Ehlert, Hans, Michael Epkenhans, and Gerhard G. Groß, eds. Der Schlieffenplan: Analysen und Dokumente. Paderborn, Germany: Schöningh, 2006.

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    Ehlert and colleagues’ collection, resulting from an international conference, includes contributions by a number of military historians assessing the claim by Terence Zuber that “there was no Schlieffen Plan,” concluding that there was. Particularly useful in that it places the developments of Germany’s military plan against the military plans of the other belligerent powers. An English edition is planned, but as yet is not completed.

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  • Hamilton, Richard F., and Holger H. Herwig, eds. War Planning, 1914. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

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    A collection of essays by experts on the war planning of Austria-Hungary, Germany, Russia, France, Britain, and Italy, with a useful introductory essay on war planning in the prewar period.

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  • Kennedy, Paul M., ed. The War Plans of the Great Powers, 1880–1914. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1979.

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    Kennedy’s collection brings together many well-known historians who examine the prewar military planning of the major belligerent nations comparatively. Although now a bit dated, it is still essential reading. Hamilton and Herwig 2010 attempts a similar project, but on a smaller scale.

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  • Mombauer, Annika. Helmuth von Moltke and the Origins of the First World War. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

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    Examines Germany’s military planning under the direction of Chief of the Prussian General Staff Moltke and the transition from Schlieffen’s war plan to Moltke’s, and argues for the partial responsibility of both Moltke and his war plan for the outbreak of war. Also looks at the first weeks of fighting, including the battle of the Marne.

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  • Porch, Douglas. The March to the Marne: The French Army, 1871–1914. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1981.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511562723Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores the history of the French Army since the Revolution, including a chapter on the French colonial experience, and highlights French civil-military relations before the Dreyfus affair and the debates on tactics and armaments of the prewar years.

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  • Prete, Roy A. Strategy and Command: The Anglo-French Coalition on the Western Front, 1914. Montreal: McGill Queen’s University Press, 2009.

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    First volume of a planned trilogy that examines both sides of the Anglo-French alliance in the first months of the war. Provides detail on prewar military cooperation and planning by the Entente partners, as well as a detailed account of their coalition in the opening months of the war.

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  • Williamson, Samuel R., Jr. The Politics of Grand Strategy: Britain and France Prepare for War, 1904–1914. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1969.

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    Williamson’s account of Anglo-French military conversations and Entente military and naval arrangements is, despite its age, indispensable for understanding the background to French and British war planning.

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Experience of War

The history of World War I no longer focuses exclusively on battles and grand strategy. The experiences of “ordinary” soldiers have long taken center stage as historians have tried to understand the smells, sights, and sounds of the Western Front. But the history of the war also takes account of civilian war experiences. With regard to the Western Front, these focus in particular on the atrocities committed by German troops in Belgium, Luxembourg, and France. Horne and Kramer 2001 provides the definitive account of atrocities committed on the Western Front in an account that makes for harrowing reading. In edited collections on the history of the war, the experience of war has become a common feature, and students and researchers of this aspect of the history of the Western Front will find much value, for example, in Chickering and Förster 2000 and Liddle, et al. 2000–2001. Becker 1985 is an important account of the French war experience, more recently supplemented by Smith, et al. 2003, a book that focuses on combatant and civilian war experiences. Winter 1978 and, more recently, Holmes 2004 offer popular accounts of the experience of British soldiers on the Western Front and are based on rich primary sources. For an account of war experience based on German and French sources, see, for example, Hirschfeld, et al. 2009 (cited under 1916 Battle of the Somme). Although the experience we tend to associate with the Western Front is that of a combatant, possibly killed, very likely injured, in fact it was far more usual for soldiers to end up in captivity. Numbers of soldiers taken prisoner far outweighed those of killed soldiers. Germany alone took 2.4 million prisoners, Austria-Hungary a further 1.2 to 1.9 million. The experience of being captured and kept in appalling conditions, as well as the difficult homecoming of POWs, is impressively relayed in Jones 2011, the first comparative study on the subject. Wartime experiences were also relayed and relived in memoir literature, which is too numerous to mention in detail. Examples from Germany include Ernst Jünger’s Storm of Steel from 1929 and Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, also from 1929. For British memoirs, see, for example, Siegfried Sassoon’s so-called Sherston trilogy, three volumes of autobiographical accounts published between 1928 and 1936, and Richard Aldington’s Death of a Hero, from 1929. Such memoir literature had a huge impact on creating a mythical view of World War I, and of the Western Front in particular, as Todman 2005 and Fussell 1975 (among many other works) have shown, and readers interested in this aspect of the history of the Western Front should turn to Todman 2005 for further references for memoirs and autobiographical accounts, for the literature of the war poets, and for the debate on myth and memory.

  • Becker, Jean-Jacques. The Great War and the French People. Translated by Arnold Pomerans. Leamington Spa, UK: Berg, 1985.

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    An English translation of Becker’s influential study, in which he argues that there was a qualitative difference between the experiences of France and every other country engaged in the war and that France suffered more than Germany or Britain. Originally published in French in 1983; reprinted in 1993.

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  • Chickering, Roger, and Stig Förster, eds. Great War, Total War: Combat and Mobilization on the Western Front, 1914–1918. Washington, DC: German Historical Institute, 2000.

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    This collection of essays focuses on the question of how “total” World War I was, and covers a series of important issues related to the experience of war, for example, in the chapters by Eckart, Horne and Kramer, Offer, Geinitz, Bessel, and Quataert.

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  • Fussell, Paul. The Great War and Modern Memory. New York: Oxford University Press, 1975.

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    Fussell’s iconic study of the myths and memory of the war dissects a number of unique products of the experience of the Western Front. His evidence is primarily drawn from the writings of a narrow pool of subalterns including Sassoon, Graves, Blunden, and Owen. Some have argued that this slim selection of writers only further reemphasized the common view of the Great War as tragedy.

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  • Holmes, Richard. Tommy: The British Soldier on the Western Front, 1914–1918. London: HarperCollins, 2004.

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    Based on large numbers of letters, diaries, and memoirs, Holmes attempts to offer a different version of the experience of the Western Front to that based on the myths conjured up by the war poets.

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  • Horne, John, and Alan Kramer. German Atrocities, 1914: A History of Denial. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001.

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    Horne and Kramer’s impressive account, based on extensive archival research, gives an authoritative account of the killing of civilians by Germans on the Western Front. They convincingly refute the franc-tireur thesis but show that German troops nonetheless believed in their existence. A groundbreaking study and the first port of call for anyone interested in this sad chapter of the history of the Western Front.

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  • Jones, Heather. Violence against Prisoners of War in the First World War: Britain, France and Germany, 1914–1920. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

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    Jones provides a comparative examination of violence against World War I prisoners. Her book reveals how increasing numbers of captives were retained in Western Front working units to labor directly for the British, French, and German armies. With huge numbers of soldiers taken captive during the conflict, the experience of wartime captivity impacted on the home front as much as the battle front.

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  • Liddle, Peter, John Bourne, and Ian Whitehead. The Great World War, 1914–1945. 2 vols. London: HarperCollins, 2000–2001.

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    This collection examines key subjects with a comparative approach to the history of both wars and includes essays on the experience of occupation in Belgium and northern France.

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  • Smith, Leonard V., Stéphane Audoin-Rouzeau, and Annette Becker. France and the Great War, 1914–1918. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

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    The first truly comprehensive work of synthesis in English of France during World War I that combines the civilian and combatant experiences, written by three of the leading scholars in the field.

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  • Todman, Dan. The Great War: Myth and Memory. London: Hambledon & London, 2005.

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    Todman explores various elements of the myth of the war in thematically organized chapters, arguing that many of them are inaccurate distortions that do not hold up to historical scrutiny.

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  • Winter, Denis. Death’s Men: Soldiers of the Great War. London: Allen Lane, 1978.

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    Drawing on memoirs and firsthand accounts of British soldiers, Winter provides an account of the experience of war on the Western Front, divided into various thematic chapters, ranging from training, traveling to France, trench life, battle, attitudes to the enemy, and the like.

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Generals and Military Leaders

Accounts that focus on the role and biography of individual military leaders are too numerous to mention and include many autobiographical and near-contemporary books and pamphlets. Only a few recent publications have been included in this selection of works on Germany, France, and Britain; readers will find further references to memoirs and autobiographical accounts by military leaders in the bibliographies of those works.

Germany

The role of the younger Moltke in the events leading up to the outbreak of war and in the first week of the conflict is critically analyzed in Mombauer 2001. For Falkenhayn, Moltke’s successor, Afflerbach 1994 (in German) and Foley 2005 are essential reading. Hindenburg and Ludendorff are more readily associated with the Eastern Front but were of course in charge of German military affairs on all fronts from 1916. A good starting point is provided by Asprey 1991.

  • Afflerbach, Holger. Falkenhayn: Politisches Denken und Handeln im Kaiserreich. Munich: Oldenbourg, 1994.

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    A political and military biography of the man who was Germany’s chief of the General Staff from 1914 to 1916. Based on judicious primary-source research, this is the most in-depth account we have of Falkenhayn’s life and career and his role as a military decision maker.

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  • Asprey, Robert B. The German High Command at War: Hindenburg and Ludendorff Conduct World War I. New York: William Morrow, 1991.

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    Asprey provides a dual biography of the two iconic military leaders, whose success on the Eastern Front brought them such public recognition that Hindenburg was more popular than the Kaiser during the war. Once in charge of German military affairs, they had to shift their attention to the Eastern Front, where they attempted, and ultimately failed, to achieve victory.

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  • Foley, Robert T. German Strategy and the Path to Verdun: Erich von Falkenhayn and the Development of Attrition, 1870–1916. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

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    Foley’s well-researched account places Verdun in the context of German strategy overall and focuses on Falkenhayn’s arrival at a strategy of attrition aimed at a negotiated moderate peace with the enemies.

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  • Mombauer, Annika. Helmuth von Moltke and the Origins of the First World War. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

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    A biography of the chief of staff’s military career, including a discussion of the German war plan developed by Schlieffen and adjusted by Moltke, and of the first weeks of fighting under his leadership, including the battle of the Marne.

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France

Foch has been the subject of two relatively recent studies, Greenhalgh 2011 and Neiberg 2003. Both authors stress the important role he played as supreme Allied commander in leading the Allies to victory. On Pétain, a French account, if now dated, is provided by Pedroncini 1974. Doughty 2005 (cited under France and Britain) uses the same primary sources for the author’s chapter on Pétain and is a very good starting point. General accounts of the French role in the war (Clayton 2003 and Greenhalgh 2005, cited under France and Britain) will provide further details on the roles and characters of French generals and military leaders.

  • Greenhalgh, Elizabeth. Foch in Command: The Forging of a Wartime General, 1914–1919. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

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    Greenhalgh’s is the first English-language study that places at center stage the French general whose contribution to the Allied war effort and ultimate victory has traditionally been underplayed in British accounts.

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  • Neiberg, Michael S. Foch: Supreme Allied Commander in the Great War. Military Profiles. Washington, DC: Brassey’s, 2003.

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    Neiberg’s study of Ferdinand Foch depicts him as the prototype of the 20th-century general. He came to understand better than any other general of World War I how technology and modern alliance systems had changed the nature of warfare. Neiberg shows how in his role as Allied commander in chief in 1918, Foch welded together the disparate war efforts of France, Great Britain, the United States, Italy, and Belgium, enabling the Allied troops to launch an attack in the summer of 1918.

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  • Pedroncini, Guy. Pétain Général en Chef, 1917–1918. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1974.

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    Pedroncini’s study of the French Army’s third and final commander in chief provides great detail but was written before the French Army documents had been catalogued, so that his references are difficult to follow up.

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Britain

Not surprisingly, most English-language accounts have focused on British military leaders, among them Kitchener, Haig, and Rawlinson, and have debated their alleged and actual failings. Haig in particular has been a hugely controversial figure, with much criticism aimed at him for his apparent callousness in light of mass casualties and willingness to engage in futile battles (e.g., Passchendaele). In addition to Haig’s republished diaries (Sheffield and Bourne 2005), Harris 2008 provides a recent study of the general’s failings and achievements. Cassar 2004 provides a useful synthesis of publications on Kitchener, while Prior and Wilson 1991 focuses on the controversial role of Henry Rawlinson on the Western Front. For a useful account of the role of officers in the early months of the war, see Gardner 2003, which provides insights into the ideas and values of British officers in the early months of the war and highlights the impact of rivalries among senior officers on the operations of the army.

  • Cassar, George H. Kitchener’s War: British Strategy from 1914 to 1916. Washington, DC: Brassey’s, 2004.

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    Cassar’s second book on Kitchener (the first was published in 1977) concentrates on Kitchener’s response to the challenges posed by the various theaters of war. A valuable reexamination of the topic and useful synthesis of existing scholarship.

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  • Gardner, Nikolas. Trial by Fire: Command and the British Expeditionary Force in 1914. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2003.

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    Gardner’s account on command during World War I is based on official unit war diaries, personal papers, and memoirs of numerous officers. It sheds light on the retreat from Mons in August 1914, the advance to the River Aisne in September, and the first battle of Ypres in October and November. In addition, Gardner analyzes the initial stages of the “learning curve” experienced by British officers.

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  • Harris, J. P. Douglas Haig and the First World War. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

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    Harris takes a fresh look at the much maligned general, providing a more nuanced account of his failings and achievements.

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  • Prior, Robin, and Trevor Wilson. Command on the Western Front: The Military Career of Sir Henry Rawlinson, 1914–18. Oxford: Blackwell, 1991.

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    A good study on the managerial problems facing commanders on the Western Front with special reference to issues of artillery, operational command, and technology.

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  • Sheffield, Gary, and John Bourne, eds. Douglas Haig: War Diaries and Letters, 1914–1918. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2005.

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    A careful edition of the diaries of the much maligned British general, with a detailed and useful introduction.

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1914 Battles of Marne and Ypres

The opening battles of the war have attracted much interest, first from contemporaries and later from historians. In particular, the “miracle” of the Marne warranted much discussion by contemporaries, and a seemingly endless number of accounts were published in the interwar years, many of them written by former military leaders. The bibliography Herwig 2009 will be useful for tracking down suitable references to this early literature, as will Mombauer 2006. One of the first authoritative accounts of the battle of the Marne, and until recently unrivalled in English, was Tyng 2007 (originally published in 1935), but more recent studies are relatively scarce. More recently, Herwig 2009 is a study of the battle that evaluates the event from all sides and is firmly based on archival sources, and for the first time takes full account of the German perspective. Mombauer 2006 examines the myths and reality of the battle from a German perspective. Beckett 2004 is a good account of the first battle of Ypres, focusing on the British experience.

  • Beckett, Ian F. W. Ypres: The First Battle, 1914. Harlow, UK: Pearson/Education, 2004.

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    Beckett’s account appeals to a popular as well as academic audience. He highlights the soldiers’ experience of the battle, largely from a British perspective. The German and French experiences have not been included to the same degree.

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  • Herwig, Holger H. The Marne, 1914: The Opening of World War I and the Battle That Changed the World. New York: Random House, 2009.

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    Herwig’s is the first scholarly account of the battle in decades. Based on judicious archival research, the book describes the battle from all sides and puts into context with background information on the Schlieffen Plan and battle of the Frontiers.

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  • Mombauer, Annika. “The Battle of the Marne: Myths and Reality of Germany’s ‘Fateful Battle.’” Historian 68.4 (Winter 2006): 747–769.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-6563.2006.00166.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Mombauer’s account evaluates contemporary accounts of the battle and traces the origins of the mythical event at which Germany allegedly lost the war because the retreat in September 1914 spelled the end of the Schlieffen Plan.

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  • Tyng, Sewell. The Campaign of the Marne. Yardley, PA: Westholme, 2007.

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    Despite its age, Tyng’s book is still a standard account of the battle, and until Herwig’s volume (Herwig 2009) the major English-language publication on the topic. Tyng places the battle in its wider context and has included appendices with a number of useful French, German, and British documents. Originally published in 1935 by Longmans, Green.

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1915 Battles

The year 1915 saw the first deployment of Canadian troops, and Dancocks 1988 provides a good account of Canada’s entry into the war. Greenfield 2007 also provides insight into the first experience of the Western Front by Canadian troops in the second battle of Ypres. Whereas Cook 2007 and Cook 2008 use soldiers’ testimony to argue in favor of the so-called learning curve, Iarocci 2008 provides an account of the experience of the 1st Canadian Division at war in which the author argues against the interpretation that Canadian troops arrived untrained and inexperienced and had to go through such a “learning curve” in order to achieve later successes. Hancock 2005 is a good starting point for the battle of Aubers Ridge, and Lloyd 2006 focuses on the actions of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) at the battle of Loos.

  • Cook, Tim. At the Sharp End: Canadians Fighting the Great War, 1914–1916. Toronto: Viking Canada, 2007.

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    Cook’s prize-winning account focuses on the recruitment and training of the Canadian contingent on the Western Front and its first year of combat experience during which, he argues, the Canadians went from a group of ill-disciplined colonial troops to a battle-tested national fighting force. He uses soldiers’ testimonies to investigate the “learning curve” of the frontline infantry.

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  • Cook, Tim. Shock Troops: Canadians Fighting the Great War, 1917–1918. Toronto: Viking Canada, 2008.

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    In this follow-up to Cook 2007, Cook completes his two-volume account of Canada’s infantry during World War I. Cook charts the evolution of the Canadian Corps from an idealistic and immature lot of adventurous men and boys into a cohesive, experienced, and intelligent fighting force capable of working together and ending the war’s stalemate. Based on firsthand accounts; both volumes won prestigious prizes.

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  • Dancocks, Daniel George. Welcome to Flanders Fields: The First Canadian Battle of the Great War, Ypres, 1915. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1988.

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    Dancocks’s readable account of Canada’s entry into World War I has been called a Canadian classic, although more recent publications would doubtless be a better starting point.

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  • Greenfield, Nathan. Baptism of Fire: The Second Battle of Ypres and the Forging of Canada, April 1915. Toronto: HarperCollins, 2007.

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    Greenfield’s study of the second battle of Ypres, in which experienced German soldiers encountered the inexperienced 1st Canadian Division, includes moving eyewitness accounts of the first use of poison gas on the battlefield and a description of the successful stand made by the Canadian forces.

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  • Hancock, Edward. The Battle of Aubers Ridge. Barnsley, UK: Pen & Sword, 2005.

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    Hancock’s account tells the dramatic story of the action on 9 May 1915, when the battalions of the British 1st Division, 7th Division, and the Indian Army attacked Aubers Ridge. Places and points of interest are highlighted, making this a good choice for anyone planning a battlefield tour.

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  • Iarocci, Andrew. Shoestring Soldiers: The 1st Canadian Division at War, 1914–1915. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008.

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    Iarocci refutes the view that the Canadian Corps’s later successes stemmed from a learning process during 1915–1916, arguing that the learning-curve interpretation obscured the training and skills that the 1st Canadian Division brought to the field in 1915. Iarocci contends that Canadian soldiers entered the trenches as an effective combat organization with a degree of training and experience as Imperial Army veterans.

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  • Lloyd, Nick. Loos 1915. Stroud, UK: Tempus, 2006.

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    Lloyd’s was one of the first detailed studies of the battle of Loos, which saw the first use of British poison gas and included for the first time volunteer divisions. Based on meticulous documentary research, it filled an important gap in the literature on the BEF on the Western Front.

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1916 Battle of Verdun

The year 1916 saw two iconic battles on the Western Front: Verdun and the Somme. Of the two, Verdun rates more highly in the national consciousness of Germany and France. In German, Münch 2006 provides an account of the battle of Verdun from below and a useful focus on the many myths around this iconic battle, while in English, Ousby 2002 portrays the battle within a wider historical context. Both authors use eyewitness accounts and base their accounts on diverse primary sources.

  • Münch, Matti. Verdun: Mythos und Alltag einer Schlacht. Munich: Martin Meidenbauer Verlag, 2006.

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    Münch attempts to combine military history “from below” with an investigation of the mythos around the battle of Verdun, using a diverse collection of primary sources. The attempt to write a complete history of the battle does not quite come off, but he offers interesting insights into the myth of the event in particular.

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  • Ousby, Ian. The Road to Verdun: France, Nationalism and the First World War. London: Jonathan Cape, 2002.

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    Ousby’s book provides a wide historical framework for the battle, placing the events of World War I in the context of France’s humiliating defeat by the Prussians in 1870–1871. Using eyewitness accounts, Ousby paints an impressive picture of the gruesome battle.

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1916 Battle of the Somme

The battle of the Somme still impresses with the vast scale of casualties suffered by all participants: 400,000 British casualties, 200,000 French, and 600,000 German. The battle holds particular fascination for the British, who suffered immense losses on 1 July 1916, and the sheer scale of the numbers of casualties sustained during the battle has continued to fascinate general readers and historians alike. Duffy 2006 and Hirschfeld, et al. 2009 provide the German perspective, while Middlebrook 1971 and Sheffield 2003 are particularly useful for the British point of view. The historiographical debate on the battle, and on the decisions made by British military leaders, is most usefully explored by Philpott 2009 (which also focuses on the French role in the battle) and Prior and Wilson 2005—the former in defense of Haig’s leadership, the latter in denial of the so-called learning curve that would eventually lead Britain to victory.

  • Duffy, Christopher. Through German Eyes: The British and the Somme, 1916. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2006.

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    Duffy’s detailed account looks not just at the operational level but also at the use of different types of weapons. Its particular strength lies in its focus on how the Germans viewed the British Army based on the records of the interrogation reports of British prisoners of war.

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  • Hirschfeld, Gerhard, Gerd Krumeich, and Irina Renz, eds. Scorched Earth: The Germans on the Somme, 1914–1918. Translated by Geoffrey Brooks. Barnsley, UK: Pen & Sword, 2009.

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    This English translation of a 2006 German collection places the battle in its longer-term context. It includes a series of extracts from German and French primary-source accounts of the war, and seven essays on different aspects of the battle by leading historians.

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  • Middlebrook, Martin. The First Day on the Somme, 1 July 1916. London: Allen Lane, 1971.

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    Focuses on soldiers’ experiences on 1 July 1916 and offers a moving account (similar to the work of Lyn McDonald), using veterans’ words and contemporary sources. Includes appendices, inter alia, of the order of battle and casualty figures. Reprinted in 2001 (London: Penguin).

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  • Philpott, William. Bloody Victory: The Sacrifice on the Somme and the Making of the Twentieth Century. London: Little, Brown, 2009.

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    Philpott’s revisionist study does not approach the battle only from the more usual Anglocentric angle in English-language accounts but focuses on France whose role has often been unjustly marginalized by British historians. Philpott argues for the importance of the battle of the Somme, as it ushered in the war of attrition, while rehabilitating Haig as the man responsible for British victory.

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  • Prior, Robin, and Trevor Wilson. The Somme. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2005.

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    The authors’ account of this iconic battle is extremely critical of Haig’s leadership, and they dismiss the notion of the “learning curve” that other authors have marshaled in defense of British leadership.

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  • Sheffield, Gary. The Somme. London: Cassell Military, 2003.

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    Written for a general audience, Sheffield argues somewhat controversially in this book that although the offensive by the British and French armies against German positions in July 1916 was indeed tragic and bloody, as popular mythology would have it, it was neither a defeat nor futile but rather an important step toward eventual victory.

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1917 Mutinies and Passchendaele

Nearly half of all French infantry divisions were involved in the French Army mutinies of 1917, following the disastrous second battle of the Aisne. The mutinies were kept secret at the time, but Pedroncini 1983 is an excellent starting point for looking at the causes of the mutinies as well as the reactions to them by French generals. Rolland 2005 is a useful addition, based on archival sources from the French military archive. At the same time, Allied troops under British command attacked the German Army at Passchendaele in Flanders. The offensive was partly devised to divert German troops away from the battle of the Aisne, where the French were weakened by the mutinies. Prior and Wilson 1996 provides an excellent account of the battle of Passchendaele, which lasted from July to November. Passchendaele was also the blackest day of the war for New Zealand’s troops (and not, in fact, Gallipoli, which is more readily associated with the suffering of ANZAC troops). Harper 2008 is a useful starting point for exploring the role of ANZAC troops on the Western Front. In addition, an excellent account of one of the most horrific and iconic places on the Western Front, Ypres, is provided by Winston Groom (Groom 2002), who uses eyewitness accounts to bring to life the horrors of the Western Front as epitomized by Ypres in Flanders.

  • Groom, Winston. A Storm in Flanders: The Ypres Salient, 1914–1918; Tragedy and Triumph on the Western Front. New York: Atlantic Monthly, 2002.

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    Groom provides a gripping history of the four-year battle for Ypres in Belgian Flanders. Based on firsthand accounts by contemporaries, Groom’s Ypres comes alive as a place of horror and heroism, and of new tactics and technologies, including poison gas, tanks, mines, air strikes, and the misery of trench warfare.

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  • Harper, Glyn. Dark Journey. Auckland, New Zealand: HarperCollins, 2008.

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    This book includes revised accounts of Harper’s books on the massacre at Passchendaele (2000), the Spring Offensive (2003), and new material on the third major battle of the Somme, at Bapaume, during which several Victoria Crosses were awarded to New Zealand troops. It also provides in-depth analysis of the New Zealand war contribution, with startling revelations about the true scale of casualties, consistently underreported in the past.

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  • Pedroncini, Guy. Les Mutineries de 1917. 2d ed. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1983.

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    Pedroncini’s work still remains an important secondary source on the mutinies. Pedroncini does well to cover not only the many causes of the mutinies (of which he prefers to single out wider dissatisfaction with the conduct of the war as opposed to more ephemeral complaints about food and leave, etc.) but also Pétain’s response.

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  • Prior, Robin, and Trevor Wilson. Passchendaele: The Untold Story. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1996.

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    Prior and Wilson analyze the battle that has created the greatest controversy in the history of the British Army in the war. They focus on all aspects of the battle, but particularly on high policy, and are highly critical of the civilian and military decision makers, particularly Lloyd George and Haig. Reprinted in 2002.

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  • Rolland, Denis. La grève des tranchées: Les mutineries de 1917. Paris: Imago, 2005.

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    Based heavily on archival materials from the archives at Vincennes, Rolland’s work represents an important addition to Pedroncini 1983. Topics explored include the psychological reasons behind the mutinies as well as (profitably) the many different types of mutinies that took place. An important scholarly addition that, sadly, remains to be translated into English.

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1918 Battles, Germany’s Defeat, and the End of the War

The battles of 1918 finally sealed the fate of the German Army, and the role of the US army in this has been the subject of many studies. Paschall 1989 and Trask 1993 analyze the role of the American Expeditionary Force in defeating the German Army. Bruce 2003 provides an excellent starting point for the study of the relationship between France and the United States in the decisive battles of 1918, while the role of Canadian troops in the events of 1918 is the topic of Schreiber 1997. The Spring Offensives of 1918 saw Germany’s last attempt to decide the war in her favor. Middlebrook 1978 is an account of the offensives based on eyewitness accounts and is probably more suitable for a general audience than Zabecki 2006, which provides much operational detail and uses German primary sources. Stevenson 2011 analyzes the German defeat in 1918 by looking at all campaigns from Operation Michael onward, and covers a wide variety of reasons for Germany’s defeat, and Stephenson 2009 offers another account of Germany’s final battles and the revolution that led to her defeat. Neiberg 2008 provides more than an account of the second battle of the Marne with a focus on the French role in the events that led to the armistice.

  • Bruce, Robert B. A Fraternity of Arms: America and France in the Great War. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2003.

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    Bruce offers a detailed account of operations in which French and American forces took part, and this is the first book-length study of the subject. His focus on France has led him to downplay the role that Britain played in the relationship with America.

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  • Middlebrook, Martin. The Kaiser’s Battle: 21 March 1918, the First Day of the German Spring Offensive. London: Allen Lane, 1978.

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    Middlebrook describes British and German tactics, and the events of this day’s offensive using eyewitness accounts and contemporary documents. The volume includes, inter alia, orders of battle and useful maps. Reprinted in 1983 (Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin).

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  • Neiberg, Michael S. The Second Battle of the Marne. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2008.

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    Neiberg focuses on the logistical problems faced by the German and French armies as a way of understanding the battle. A useful account of the end of the war, and on the French Army in particular.

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  • Paschall, Rod. The Defeat of Imperial Germany, 1917–1918. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1989.

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    Paschall’s account is diminished by the lack of reference to archival sources and by limited reference to secondary works, leaving his claims about the final campaigns largely unsupported. Paschall is best when he talks about the role of the American Expeditionary Corps in the defeat of Germany. Reprinted in 1994 (New York: Da Capo).

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  • Schreiber, Shane B. Shock Army of the British Empire: The Canadian Corps in the Last 100 Days of the Great War. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997.

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    Schreiber has written an operational history of the Canadian Corps in the battles of the final one hundred days of the war, beginning with the battle of Amiens, 8 August 1918, and culminating in the retaking of Mons on 11 November 1918. A rare attempt to put the Canadian forces at center stage.

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  • Stephenson, Scott. The Final Battle: Soldiers of the Western Front and the German Revolution of 1918. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

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    An investigation into the conduct of German soldiers faced with defeat in 1918. Includes powerful descriptions of the German retreat following 11 November and an analysis of the soldiers’ councils.

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  • Stevenson, David. With Our Backs to the Wall: Victory and Defeat in 1918. London: Allen Lane, 2011.

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    Stevenson analyzes the reasons for Allied success and the collapse of Germany and her allies, and traces the roots of Germany’s collapse to “Operation Michael.” Using painstaking original research, he focuses on food supply, finance, strategy, technology, logistics, and morale.

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  • Trask, David F. The AEF and Coalition Warmaking, 1917–1918. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1993.

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    Trask is critical of Pershing and comes out in favor of Woodrow Wilson in this concise assessment of the role of US forces in America’s first coalition war.

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  • Zabecki, David T. The German 1918 Offensives: A Case Study in the Operational Level of War. London: Routledge, 2006.

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    Zabecki offers a very detailed account of the planning and execution of the German offensives on the Western Front in 1918. His focus on operational detail means that this book may be difficult for general readers. Its value lies particularly in being based on previously neglected German primary sources.

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Command, Logistics, Tactics, and Strategy

Many of the texts listed in France and Britain and Germany and the Central Powers under General Overviews will contain much of interest on the questions of command, logistics, tactics, and strategy, but the works listed in this section provide more detail than most and focus on more purely military topics. They have been divided geographically, with British accounts being the most numerous.

British

For British military history, the question of command, leadership, and tactics in World War I has been a key topic for historians, and a number of important publications address these issues, among them Simkins 1988, Griffith 1994, and Sheffield 1999. Sheffield 2001 is of particular importance for the debate about the British Army’s alleged “learning curve.” Tactics and strategy, and warfare in general, are the subject of Terraine 1982, Travers 1987, and Travers 1992. Logistics were vital in the war effort, though often ignored in general histories of the war. Brown 1998 provides an overview of the development of logistics on the Western Front, while the essays in Dockrill and French 1996 highlight the often neglected topic of intelligence. The frequently unaddressed role of artillery is explored by Graham and Bidwell 1982, which traces the development of British Army weapons from 1904 to 1945.

  • Brown, Ian Malcolm. British Logistics on the Western Front, 1914–1919. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1998.

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    A crucially important look at a perennially ignored subject, Brown’s work tracks the evolution of British logistics from prewar atrophy to late-war excellence. Especially important is the discussion of railway control and the introduction of civilian experts into the British logistical system.

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  • Dockrill, Michael, and David French, eds. Strategy and Intelligence: British Policy during the First World War. London: Hambledon, 1996.

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    An edited collection of essays whose contribution to the often neglected study of intelligence is crucial. The work also contains useful information on Anglo-Irish relations, and other matters of strategic importance.

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  • Graham, Dominick, and Shelford Bidwell. Fire Power: British Army Weapons and Theories of War, 1904–1945. London: Allen & Unwin, 1982.

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    Somewhat dated, and not focused on World War I alone, Graham and Bidwell’s book provides an excellent account of the crucial role that artillery played in the both world wars. The authors describe the development of this neglected, inadequate, and class-ridden weapon through the battles of World War I, in which artillery eventually helped win the war, to its role in World War II. Reprinted in 2004 (Barnsley, UK: Pen & Sword).

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  • Griffith, Paddy. Battle Tactics of the Western Front: The British Army’s Art of Attack, 1916–18. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1994.

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    This very detailed study looks at the evolution of British tactics in the second half of World War I. Crucial for anyone seeking to study tactical matters in the war.

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  • Sheffield, Gary. Forgotten Victory: The First World War; Myths and Realities. London: Headline, 2001.

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    Despite an intentional popular bent, Sheffield’s book remains the cornerstone for the British “learning curve” debate. This should be the starting point for any serious study of the British Army’s military operations in World War I.

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  • Sheffield, G. D. Leadership in the Trenches: Officer-Man Relations, Morale and Discipline in the British Army in the Era of the First World War. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 1999.

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    This is an important work of social history for those interested not only in the Great War but also in wider issues of British society in the Edwardian era. Sheffield’s account establishes the prewar cultural relationship between the upper and lower classes and discusses how this continued into the trenches and how it shaped leadership in the British Army.

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  • Simkins, Peter. Kitchener’s Army: The Raising of the New Armies, 1914–16. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1988.

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    An important examination of Kitchener’s armies both from a political/organizational perspective as well as from a soldier’s perspective. Simkins’s book is valuable not only for understanding the Great War but also for understanding British society in the early 1900s.

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  • Terraine, John. White Heat: The New Warfare, 1914–18. London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1982.

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    While slightly aging, Terraine’s look at the evolution of modern warfare in World War I remains relevant. The book is firmly British-focused and not all of it has survived the scrutiny of a further three decades of historical research.

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  • Travers, Tim. The Killing Ground: The British Army, the Western Front and the Emergence of Modern Warfare, 1900–1918. London: Allen & Unwin, 1987.

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    Taking a slightly more longue durée approach, Travers’s work looks at the British Army from the Boer War through the end of World War I. Travers adopts a distinctly negative view of the command of the British Army during the World War. Haig and Gough are portrayed as out of touch and not quite up to the task of leading a modern, industrial war effort, with the Somme held up as proof of this interpretation.

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  • Travers, Tim. How the War Was Won: Command and Technology in the British Army on the Western Front, 1917–1918. London: Routledge, 1992.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203417416Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In some ways a companion piece to Travers 1987, this work examines the workings of the upper echelons of the British Army during the last two years of the war. At appropriate moments, the French efforts and Anglo-French relations are also discussed, resulting in a more rounded view of the war than the title might suggest.

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French

The sources cited in France and Britain will provide something of interest on this topic. However, book-length studies specifically focusing on tactical developments and on the industrial mobilization in France can be found in Goya 2004 and Porte 2005, respectively.

  • Goya, Michel. La chair et l’acier: L’armée française et l’invention de la guerre moderne, 1914–1918. Paris: Tallandier, 2004.

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    The foremost work on the tactical and organizational evolution of the French Army in World War I. This thorough and authoritative account is based on archival sources from Vincennes and would add significantly to wider debates on World War I if it were to be translated into English.

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  • Porte, Rémy. La mobilisation industrielle: “Premier front” de la grande guerre? Paris: Belin, 2005.

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    A thorough study of the industrial mobilization of France for war. This book is of paramount importance for any historian of the French Army as it allows one to track industrial and labor developments (when large orders were placed and with whom) alongside battlefield events for a more holistic understanding of France’s war.

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German

The sources cited in Germany and the Central Powers will provide some detail on tactics and strategy, but for monographs on the topic, see Foley 2005, which examines the development of Falkenhayn’s famous strategy of attrition, and Gudmundsson 1989, which highlights the evolution of storm-troop tactics in the German Army. Brose 2001 is a useful addition to these accounts, and Chickering and Förster 2000 includes valuable chapters on Germany.

  • Brose, Eric Dorn. The Kaiser’s Army: The Politics of Military Technology in Germany during the Machine Age, 1870–1918. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

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    Brose convincingly argues for the influence of the Franco-Prussian war on German military thought leading up to World War I and addresses the often exaggerated perception of Germany military effectiveness in 1914.

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  • Chickering, Roger, and Stig Förster, eds. Great War, Total War: Combat and Mobilization on the Western Front, 1914–1918. Washington, DC: German Historical Institute, 2000.

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    This collection of essays edited by Chickering and Förster focuses on the question of how “total” World War I was, but it also covers a series of important issues related to technology and logistics, especially in the chapters by Dennis Showalter and Martin Van Creveld. The scope of the work is large, and the contributing authors are mostly well-known experts in the field.

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  • Foley, Robert T. German Strategy and the Path to Verdun: Erich von Falkenhayn and the Development of Attrition, 1870–1916. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

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    Foley’s well-researched account places Verdun in the context of German strategy overall and focuses on Falkenhayn’s arrival at a strategy of attrition aimed at a negotiated moderate peace with the enemies. This evolution is profitably placed in the context of the wider debates within the German Army high command in the years leading up to World War I.

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  • Gudmundsson, Bruce I. Stormtroop Tactics: Innovation in the German Army, 1914–1918. New York: Praeger: 1989.

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    Although not a recent study, Gudmundsson’s work remains the best discussion on the evolution of storm-troop tactics in the German Army

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Technology and Logistics

World War I was a conflict defined by the technology of its time. Rapid-firing artillery, machine guns, gas, tanks, airplanes, and countless other technological innovations of the late 19th and early 20th centuries combined to give warfare on the Western Front its unique structure, rhythm, and tempo. The scope of the war created new and often unforeseen logistical complications that also fundamentally affected the nature of the conflict, as well as its outcome. An awareness of the technology and logistics on which armies on the Western Front relied is essential for understanding military operations.

Aircraft

There is still a great deal of work to be done on airpower in World War I, especially for the French and German armies. For the British, Cooper 1986 remains a key text for understanding the evolution of airpower in the British Army. Greenhous 1975, while far less wide in its scope, looks primarily at the evolution of aircraft into a true fighting arm, as opposed to a mere tool for reconnaissance and ineffectual raiding.

  • Cooper, Malcolm. The Birth of Independent Air Power: British Air Policy in the First World War. London: Allen & Unwin, 1986.

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    Cooper’s detailed and important work looks at the evolution of air power and the eventual creation of an independent air force (the RAF).

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  • Greenhous, Brereton. “Evolution of a Close Ground-Support Role for Aircraft in World War I.” Military Affairs 39.1 (February 1975): 22–28.

    DOI: 10.2307/1986719Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Greenhous’s concise article remains, despite its age, very important for its lucid discussion of how combat aircraft evolved from a largely underutilized tool for direct ground support to an increasingly important one, more in line with how aircraft has been used on the battlefield during and since World War II.

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Artillery and Machine Guns

It is estimated (although there are no precise figures) that some two-thirds of all combat wounds sustained in World War I were a result of some form of artillery. It was without a doubt the single most important weapon of the war, and understanding its uses and limitations is essential for any student of the period. The machine gun, while not nearly as important in real terms, has had a much stronger cultural impact than the artillery of World War I and was an integral component of trench warfare. Bruce 2008 gives a beginner’s guide to machine guns in World War I in a thoroughly illustrated book. For artillery, Gudmundsson 1993 provides the most complete study of artillery in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with a strong focus on World War I. Gascouin 1920, despite its age, is a crucial source of information on the evolution of French artillery and artillery methods during the war. Zabecki 1994 is much more focused, dealing only with later artillery techniques, but is still important for its focus on developments such as the hurricane bombardment. Grotelueschen 2001, despite its specific focus on the late-coming Americans, tells an important story about adaptation to trench warfare and the lacunae of logistics and artillery planning.

  • Bruce, Robert. Machine Guns of World War I. Rev. ed. Ramsbury, UK: Crowood, 2008.

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    Bruce’s account is largely aimed at a general readership, but it is nonetheless an important resource for students of the Great War. The book includes ample illustrations and photographs through which readers are able to understand the use and limitations of automatic weapons in World War I. Originally published in 1997 (London: Windrow & Greene).

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  • Gascouin, Émile. L’evolution de l’artillerie pendant la guerre. Paris: Flammarion, 1920.

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    Despite its age, this book remains one of the best works dedicated to the evolution of French artillery in World War I. It covers most of the key technological and procedural advances that occurred in the French artillery from 1914 to 1918 and provides a good chronology of these developments.

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  • Grotelueschen, Mark E. Doctrine under Trial: American Artillery Employment in World War I. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2001.

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    A key text for those seeking to understand the American performance in World War I, Grotelueschen’s book also provides a good case study for the evolution of modern artillery more generally. The author covers the evolution of American artillery and offers interesting parallels to the development of artillery in the other belligerent nations over the course of the war.

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  • Gudmundsson, Bruce I. On Artillery. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1993.

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    An essential text on artillery in World War I, this book discusses artillery developments in the French and German armies from the Franco-Prussian War onwards. While the book is not, strictly speaking, a book on World War I (it follows the development of artillery well beyond 1918), it does spend a significant amount of time looking at artillery for the period 1914–1918.

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  • Zabecki, David T. Steel Wind: Colonel Georg Bruchmüller and the Birth of Modern Artillery. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1994.

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    Zabecki provides an excellent account of German artillery developments in World War I.

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Gas

The use of poison gas continues to interest (and frequently disgust) modern students of the Great War. It was an important tool in the arsenal of armies fighting on the Western Front and, while it has received some scholarly attention, it could probably benefit from a more modern evaluation. Haber 1986 is probably the best text on gas. It is in many ways authoritative yet is beginning to age and could use the support of new scholarly work. Cook 1999, the most recent work listed in this subsection, does a good job of looking at gas through the lens of the experience of the Canadians on the Western Front. While this approach does not preclude the work from covering many of the important facets of the evolution of chemical warfare, it does not extend its analysis to the way other belligerents utilized gas. Trumpener 1975 was written before historians had complete access to the archival material concerning the use of poison gas on the Western Front. It is a convenient starting point but could benefit from a serious update and expansion.

  • Cook, Tim. No Place to Run: The Canadian Corps and Gas Warfare in the First World War. Vancouver: UBC Press, 1999.

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    Despite Cook’s Canadian focus, this remains one of the more important works on gas in World War I. Significant attention is paid to the reactions of Canadian soldiers to gas, but without sacrificing the book’s wider, dispassionate study of gas in the war, which, Cook argues, became a central weapon in combat on the Western Front.

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  • Haber, L. F. The Poisonous Cloud: Chemical Warfare in the First World War. Oxford: Clarendon, 1986.

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    Written by the son of Fritz Haber, the German scientist behind the development of the chlorine gas used at second Ypres on 22 April 1915, this is a very scholarly, well-written work. Gas is dealt with from military, political, and industrial perspectives. Significant space is devoted to a chronology of the evolution of poison gas and preventative measures.

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  • Trumpener, Ulrich. “The Road to Ypres: The Beginnings of Gas Warfare in World War I.” Journal of Modern History 47.3 (September 1975): 460–480.

    DOI: 10.1086/241340Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Trumpener covers early French and German uses of chemical weapons (including tear gas and poison gas shells). While dated and hampered by the lack of complete archival access that we enjoy today, there is still much value in this article.

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Tanks

Slow and lumbering, these steel beasts have remained a fixture in the popular memory of the two world wars. Unfortunately, they still have not received sufficient scholarly attention. The development and use of French and German tanks are badly in need of research, and there is room for a larger, substantial study of armor in the Great War. Childs 1999 is a good account of the development of tanks on the Allied side. While the text does not really focus on the doctrinal evolution of tanks, its account of the political arguments over who would actually control the tanks (in terms of production and command) is worthwhile.

  • Childs, David J. A Peripheral Weapon? The Production and Employment of British Tanks in the First World War. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1999.

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    Childs’s account is particularly good on the bureaucratic battles surrounding the tanks in France and Britain, although he also offers insights into the battlefield uses of the tank.

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LAST MODIFIED: 02/06/2012

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199791279-0068

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