The Great War: The Combat History of the First World War

The Great War: A Combat History of the First World WarThe Great War: A Combat History of the First World War by Peter Hart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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.

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The Guns of August

The Guns of AugustThe Guns of August by Barbara W. Tuchman
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

While the ultimate outcome of The Great War was not decided in it’s first month, the nature of the contest was as Barbara Tuchman so masterfully illustrates in “The Guns of August”.

From the outset Tuchman shows that all the belligerents made crucial mistakes that slowly mounted resulting the Allied victory at the Marne then to total stalemate for four bloody years.  The first 30 days of combat on the Western Front when the entire continent and possibly the world thought it would be a short war, after over 40 years of continental peace, changed everything and everyone it touched along with those it didn’t.

In almost 450 pages of text, Tuchman gives an overview of how the war plans that both sides would use in that first month were developed and then showed the history of what happened when they were applied.  She filled each page with dense material but with no frivolous words to get in the way.  Although in a few places she must, along with the reader guess at what a particular individual commander was thinking at a particular moment she supports her conclusion with the overall situation he faced at the time.  Tuchman quoted individuals in their native tongue, however for some one like myself who didn’t now any French or German it meant nothing and I had to figure out what was implied by what Tuchman wrote before and afterwards.  If leaving unexplained a quote in foreign language is the worst critique I can assess a book, then I’m literally grabbing at straws.

“The Guns of August” was an instant classic upon publication and for any student of history it is a must read.  With the 100-year anniversary of The Great War’s beginning fast approaching, now is an excellent time to do so.

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The World Wars Episode 2

The World Wars
Episode 2: “A Rising Threat”
HISTORY

The Good: The paths to power of Hitler, Roosevelt, and Churchill were well done besides the fact they stumbled on chronology for Churchill. The various battle scenes were another great part of this episode like the previous one. The opening scene of the Stock Market crash and then the ‘Night of the Long Knives’ were very well done.

The Bad: The various chronology errors and double backs, which went hand-in-hand with asserting that political or military decisions were based on leader’s opinions of their opposites in enemy nations (save for Churchill’s warnings about Hitler). Asserting the Emperor Hirohito was more politically involved then he likely was.

The Ugly: The repeat of awful retelling of the Communist takeover at the beginning of the Stalin segment. Patton is completely ignored this entire episode even though he is one of the characters featured in the title sequence.

No Opinion: The path and motivations behind the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor seemed off, especially their economic/military strategy in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. However I’m not too sure if it’s part of the chronology errors listed above or just wrong history.

Grade: B+

The World Wars Episode 1

The World Wars
Episode 1: “Trial by Fire”
HISTORY

The Good: The bio portions on Hitler and Churchill were the standouts for the entire episode. The battle scenes for the Western Front were very excellent for the most part, including the opening scene which I thought was a brilliant move. I liked the decision to view both World Wars as one single event because let’s face it, they were.

The Bad: Uber-America in WWI. Apparently British and French commanders didn’t learn anything between 1914-17 before the Americans entered the battlefield in 1918. Also the US invented the tank apparently (I thought it was the British) and how to use it in combination with infantry to push the Germans back…I could have sworn the British did it first, at Amiens.

The Ugly: Stalin would have loved how the program made him Lenin’s right hand man in the October Revolution even though they completely messed up how the Czar fell and the Communists rose…10 months apart. BTW, Stalin was down in Georgia (the country not the state) during the events in Petrograd (aka St. Petersburg).

No Opinion: FDR is mentioned a few times, but since he was Assistant Secretary of the Navy at the time he really didn’t do much. The sections on Mussolini were very interesting, I would have put them under “The Good” however I don’t know if they are historically accurate.

Grade: B-