In searching for a book about First World War beyond the usually recommended and focusing on the actual tactics and strategies on the battlefield instead of various political and social events that other books seem to promote, it was my hope that Peter Hart’s The Great War: A Combat History of the First World War would fill that need. Upon finishing The Great War I can say that the book not only met my expectations, but put to shame some other books that frankly put blame on individuals for the conduct on the war by ignoring the facts.
Hart emphasizes the importance of the Western Front throughout the book as being the main theater of the entire war. Although Hart gives a good amount of pages and thorough telling of the events in the Naval War, the Eastern Front, and several side-show theaters like the Italian, Mesopotamia, and Palestine; he gives the developments in all those other theaters on how they affected the Western Front through various means. The tactical and strategic battle of wits between commanders on both sides on all fronts are given excellent explanations by Hart and are shown to be the reason the war lasted so long and the casualties were so high.
Hart argues that it was the British were responsible for the victorious outcome of the Allied cause, but only after taking over as the main coalition partner from the French in 1916 and with assistance from the Americans whose presence on the battlefield forced the Germans’ hand into a failed offensive push in 1918. Throughout the book, Hart shows the three-year progression of collective British thinking about how to fight the war, not only learning from their successes and failures but those of the French and Germans. At the end of the book even Hart admits that if the war had continued into 1919 while entering German territory, the Americans would have surpassed the British as the main combatant given their fresher force.
Sprinkled throughout the book, Hart incorporated first-hand accounts of soldiers from all sides about how combat was like during the war. It is eye-opening look at a sometimes misunderstood war for any reader. Although generally good, Hart seems to just putting quotes back-to-back numerous times in the book which upsets the flow of the overall work. Occasional grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes do crop up as well though they are few and far between so as not to takeaway from the overall work.
For anyone wanting to understand the First World War on a tactical and strategic level, Peter Hart’s The Great War is a fantastic read and will give the reader a better understanding of this shamefully misunderstood period in history that affects us even today.