Political support for the war was weak in the Midwest in general and nowhere more so than in Wisconsin. Dubbed “The Traitor State,” its Senator Robert LaFollette became the voice and face of opposition to the war. But many Wisconsin residents served in the 32nd Division, “Les Terribles,” that fought from 30 July to 20 October 1918. It suffered the third highest casualties among American divisions.
I recommend this for anyone with an interest in the effect of the war on America’s warriors and its home front.
An interesting collection of documents and interviews with family members of deceased WW1 veterans. The author’s volunteer work at the National World War I Museum in Kansas City both inspired her and provided access to archives and artifacts to help assemble these two books.
Stories cover 35 categories including New Immigrants, American Nurses, Poison Gas, Veterinary Hospitals, African-American Troops, Engineers and Pioneers, Army of Occupation, After the War, Songs of World War I, and more. Cramer is a good writer who shows sympathy for her subjects.
One example is a letter from Private John Lewis Barkley who wrote to his brother from France about a combat action on 7 October 1918—a rare occurrence considering that censors usually deleted such details. Cramer unites Barkley’s letter and photograph with the U.S. War Department’s official description of his actions that led him to receiving the Medal of Honor.
As reference books, however, these two volumes suffer from a lack of an index and footnotes, making it difficult to cite them for other works. They are still entertaining reads.
The Naval Historical Foundation declared MacAlpine’s book “amazing….” using 12,000 letters plus other documents to tell Schofield’s story. Graduating first in the Naval Academy Class of 1890, by 1915 Schofield commanded the Navy’s first scout cruiser Chester in the Mediterranean, dealing with the Turks during the Armenian troubles.
In 1917 he was on Admiral William Sims’s staff who commanded U.S. naval forces operating from Britain. His performance in anti-submarine measures led Sims to assign him as a naval advisor in the preparations for the Versailles Treaty of 1919.
Part of a two volume history of Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), this covers the innovative but rudimentary sensors and weapons the Allies used to counter German U-boats in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, although the U-boats were never completely defeated in the Great War. In August 1914 Germany had only 30 operational submarines compared to Britain’s 75, France’s 50, and Russia’s 25. Unrestricted U-boat attacks were curtailed in 1915 in response to protests by the USA. Includes short bios on key scientists and naval leaders. Fine overview.
Rose presents both the big picture of the U.S. Navy’s role in the war as well as anecdotes of the individual sailors. It’s expansion after the Spanish-American War left the Navy as America’s best-prepared force in 1917… building destroyers, sub chasers, and mine layers to counter the submarine threat… only three troop ships were lost and then on lightly escorted return trips while empty of their human cargoes. An excellent introduction.
Glen Craney is an award-winning novelist, screenwriter, and journalist. He is a Chaucer Awards First-Place Winner, a two-time indie BRAG Medallion Honoree, and a three-time Foreword Reviews Book-of-the-Year-Award Finalist. Craney’s research for this book included the Daughters of the Texas Republic Library, the UCLA Special Collections Library, and the Raymond H. Fogler Library. Fans of historical fiction should read his books.
Reviewed by Dana Lombardy, publisher of WWOI
Military Writers Society of America: “…a vivid picture of not only men being deprived of their veterans’ rights, but of their human rights as well….[an] admirable book.”
Constitutional lawyer David Stewart writes history books about America’s early republic, but his novels touch on other eras. This is a mystery/spy thriller that takes place in Paris during the 1919 Versailles Treaty negotiations.
Dr. Jamie Fraser, middle-aged American Expeditionary Force medical officer, is assessing his troubled family life back in the States as he decompresses from the horrors of war. An old friend appears to engage his help in freeing an African American soldier wrongfully convicted of cowardice. Fraser is in the perfect position to do so as he has just accidentally become doctor to both Wilson and Clemenceau.
Stewart captures character traits and speech, although sometimes he leans toward caricature. Fortunately, Stewart creates a story with enough tension and plot twists to keep the reader engrossed and characters the reader can cheer on. Also refreshing is a protagonist who is not your typical young dashing hero. This book would make a good introduction to the era of the Great War for any fan of historical fiction and political intrigue.
WW1HA member Kermit Mercer has found a unique way to understand the war with his novel about Verdun based on conversations with World War One poilu (French soldiers).
Mercer lived in the Verdun area while serving with the USAF. He got to know many of the veterans when they were in their early 60s and wrote down their stories in the year after he returned home. His notes were not appropriate for a formal history so he turned them into a gripping novel with insights into the hell that was the war’s longest battle.
This is not summer beach reading. The long-forgotten details about life in the Verdun trenches are surprising and enlightening, like the need to always hold utensils over a candle before eating to avoid dysentery, or how seasoned poilu could tell from the location of shell bursts that an inexperienced German artillery team was at work. In many ways, National Flowers is an excellent supplement to the recently translated memoir Poilu by Caporal Louis Barthas. This is a novel for the serious historian.
Reviewed by Steve Suddaby, past president of WW1HA
This is the story of a Brooklyn man of German descent and his adventures in Belgium in the opening campaign of World War One. It presents an entertaining, almost unbelievable, series of events in compelling detail. Klekowski has written other non-fiction books, including Americans in Occupied Belgium, 1914-1918, and created several TV documentaries, including one on WW1 volunteer ambulance drivers.
The protagonist, Paul Meyer, enlisted in the German Navy at the beginning of the war and survives a crash landing of the Zeppelin on which he was serving as an engineer. His American attitudes clash with many in the German military, but somehow he lurches from event to event learning survival skills and giving the reader a look at the chaos behind the front lines of the German advance on the Western Front.
Unfortunately, the author adds lots of historical detail even when it interrupts the story—what eventually happens to famous historical figures who appear briefly in the book does not advance the story. An appendix or afterword would have been more appropriate. Despite this flaw it’s a good read.
Kirkus Reviews enthused that the Edgar Award-winning best-selling author Robert Goddard’s James Maxted Thrillers are “A sophisticated spy story with serious historical chops.” Publishers Weekly noted that “Characterization and dialogue are topnotch … Readers will look forward to seeing these characters spar again.”
Royal Flying Corps veteran Lieutenant James “Max” Maxted was introduced in the first volume in 2013. His diplomat father Sir Henry is in Paris for the Versailles Treaty and is found dead after a fall from a roof. The French police conclude it’s an accident but Max finds evidence of espionage and government double-crossing.
The second volume finds the young ex-aviator working as a double agent as he tries to learn more about his father’s murder. Working with legendary German spy Fritz Lemmer, who claims responsibility for Max’s father’s death, he makes yet more disturbing discoveries.
In the third and final volume the action shifts from Paris and the signing of the Versailles Treaty to Japan where Max was born. The ending should satisfy fans of Goddard’s work.
One of the things to savor in this series is the slower passage of time and information dissemination one hundred years ago. An attempt to outsmart surveillance with changing trains; the need to obtain and protect photographic negatives; and the rare use of weapons are eloquent reminders of how the world has changed.
The infamous Zimmerman telegram proposed a military alliance between Germany and Mexico if the USA entered the Great War. The secret diplomatic communication sent by the German Foreign Office was intercepted, deciphered, and revealed to the American public by British intelligence and caused a furor in 1917. What was not then publicly known was how extensive German clandestine operations were in Mexico. These included training an embryonic German-Mexican invasion force, dispatching saboteurs to the U.S., planning submarine bases on the western coast of Mexico, and an idea to launch sea raiders from the port of Mazatlán to attack merchant shipping in the Pacific.
Author Mills weaves a lively story of German Consul Fritz Unger, head of the powerful trading house Melchers Sucesores, and his efforts in Mexico that were thwarted by a top American spy who was a trusted member of the German secret service there. A cast of colorful characters provide drama and intrigue that reads more like a novel but is true history.
The Sunken Gold is the story of how 43 tons of England’s gold was sunk off the coast of Ireland en route to the United States and later was mostly recovered by the British. The salvage, which took a number of years, was conducted by a small group of divers working in harsh conditions without benefit of modern technology such as sonar or underwater diving tanks.
On 25 January 1917 the HMS Laurentic was sailing to New York when it struck two mines during a storm and sank off the coast of Ireland. The Admiralty kept the lost cargo secret and immediately started looking for ways to salvage the vessel. The recovery of the gold was assigned to England’s nascent salvage group. Britain had one of the innovative divers of the time, naval officer Guybon Damant, and he was assigned the job.
It was 1919 before the divers could concentrate on the wreck since during the war the diving group was busy looking for intelligence on sunken U-boats to help break the German communication codes to counter U-boat attacks.
Over a seven-year span after the war, the divers brought up 3,186 of the 3,211 gold bars, worth almost $22 million in 1924 (worth more than $300 million in 2018). At that point the British government stopped funding, leaving commercial salvagers an opportunity to find some but not all of the rest of the bars.
Each chapter focuses on either the treasure or Damant, and this repeated shifting back and forth makes it a chore to concentrate on the main story—the treasure. There are two interesting stories here, but the author’s choice of alternating chapters makes the reader work to stay until the end.
The book’s focus on U-Boat Deutschland makes it easy to understand the experimental vessel and keep track of the groups connected with it. Deutschland was one of two subs designed as underwater freighters to avoid the British blockade. The other, the Bremen, was lost at sea on its initial voyage.
Support of the U-Boat was only one of the activities of the Baltimore sabotage group; it also attempted to spread diseases to horses being sent to the Allies.
Deutschland made only two successful trips before it was re-commissioned as a standard submarine after America entered the war.
The Germans and Americans in the U.S. who acquired the trade goods for shipment to Germany were in peril once the U.S. entered the war; most escaped. While some people, civilian and military, toured and inspected the Deutschland while docked in Baltimore, it was not until after the war that interviews with the cell’s surviving participants revealed how extensive and successful the Baltimore group had been.
A well written and unexpectedly interesting case study of an unusual aspect of the war.
A New York Times review provided an irresistible description of this book’s topic: “The Redl Affair had everything: sex, espionage, betrayal, a fall from greatness and a sensational climax in which Redl went to his death like a figure of high tragedy.”
Alfred Redl was an Austro-Hungarian army officer and former head of the Empire’s counterintelligence. In 1913, he was discovered selling military secrets to the Russians and perhaps others. After being confronted, he was allowed to commit suicide and shot himself. Notably, Redl had passed to the Russians the Empire’s mobilization plans, eventually raising the important question of whether his betrayal had been a cause of Austria-Hungary’s poor performance once the war started in 1914.
In the preface, the authors argue convincingly that this is the first “factual” biography of Alfred Redl in English and state clearly that there is much about his case that will never be known for certain. Sadler and Fisch do an excellent job of describing Redl’s life and his situation as a perpetual outsider—a non-aristocrat homosexual of modest means, modest family background, and high intelligence. Combined with the stultifying culture of the twilight years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and its army, they make a convincing case for their explanation of Redl’s motivations for betrayal.
Sadler and Fisch could have done a better job in guiding readers through the difficult thicket of disinformation, cover-ups, yellow journalism, and politically motivated allegations that followed in the wake of the Redl affair. Despite this confusion, the book is a valuable addition to the histories of the Empire, of WW1, and of espionage itself.
Reviewed by Steve Suddaby, past president of the World War One Historical Association and a retired CIA analyst
The author and her family were overrun in Belgium at the outbreak of the war. Instead of completing her medical studies to become a physician, Marthe became a nurse in a hospital run by the Germans. She also fed information to the British who had set up an underground network as they retreated. Marthe proved to be intelligent, fast thinking, reliable and cautious.
An excellent nurse, she was honored with others for their efforts by the King of Württemberg. As the war continued the Germans were able to staff and monitor the occupied areas with troops whose job was to suppress resistance and locate spies. When she was finally captured for her participation in sabotage the Germans wanted to shoot her. However, her former supervisors at the hospital vouched for her work and reminded the review board that it would look awfully bad to be killing heroines with German medals. She escaped the firing squad, spending the remainder of the war in prison.
Well-written, the reader comes to appreciate the stress that accumulates back when communications were much slower than today.
Verdun: Looking at History Directed by Léon Poirier Kino Lorber Home Video, 2016 151 minutes, in B&W with color extras DVD, $21.00
Léon Poirier’s silent classic, Verdun, Visions d’histoire, cast veterans as actors and extras in 1927-28, providing the most realistic view of the battle possible since 1916. Poirier filmed outdoors, unusual for the 1920s, and on the original battlefield using actual explosives. He mixed a documentary-style history of the 10-month battle with stories of fictional French and German soldiers and their families. It’s a seamless weaving together of 1928 film footage with footage shot during the battle, including re-creations with the original participants, like Pétain delivering for the camera his famous declaration, “They Shall Not Pass.”
Poirier did not portray the Germans as subhuman brutes but as fellow victims of the real enemy, War itself. (This was very controversial in 1928 France, sometimes eliciting violent reactions in theaters.) Some of the most emotional scenes use “special effects” extremely well, like the double-exposure sequence of ghost-like French and German mothers retrieving together the souls of their dead sons from the battlefield.
Three supplemental features discuss the creation of the original film, the 2006 restoration of it, and show footage filmed at Verdun in 1916. The only complete print of the film was found in a Moscow archive. It was seized in Berlin by the Soviets at the end of WW2 after the Nazis stole it from France. Fortunately, the entire music score was with that print. This allowed the restoration team at La Cinémathéque de Toulouse to add the piano music that would have been played live in the theater with the film in 1928.
Verdun: Looking at History not only provides an important window into the Battle of Verdun but is also a significant milestone in the history of world cinema. It has French and German intertitles (depending on who is speaking), and optional English subtitles.
Real Stories of Love and Loss: 14 War Stories Directed by Jan Peter BBC America, 2014 430 minutes, in color and B&W Standard Edition DVD, $29.98
14 War Stories deftly presents a human perspective on the First World War that is simultaneously wide-ranging and personal. The title is a pun in that it dramatizes the lives of 14 ordinary people whose lives were upended by the events of the summer of ’14. All of their words are from their diaries and letters; some have been published and others have languished unseen in archives and private collections for a century.
Among the fascinating people you’ll meet are Yves Conger, a young boy from Sedan who lives under German occupation for four years; Marina Yurlova, a Russian Cossack girl who becomes a soldier fighting on the Caucasian Front; and Louis Barthas, a forty-something barrel maker and socialist who survives the war as a French poilu. Even WW1 readers who have read widely will probably know how the lives of only a few of the 14 turned out, creating true suspense.
This is truly an international production. Jan Peter is a German documentary filmmaker who insisted that the 14 storytellers speak in their own languages—seven in all. Curiously, these are rendered into English sometimes in subtitles and sometimes with voiceovers. The dramatized footage was filmed in Alsace, a place that combines German and French history, and in Quebec, where the use of an abandoned quarry made it possible to construct realistic trenches and create actual explosions. The dramatizations are juxtaposed with carefully restored archival footage that creates a realistic feel to the unfolding events.
This documentary consists of eight episodes that follow the lives of the 14 storytellers in roughly chronological order. There is a bonus feature that describes how 14 War Stories was made.
The Women’s Institute is the story of women helping women. The WI is a hybrid of a Canadian organization conceived by Adelaide Hoodless and an urbane British group founded by suffragist, Mrs. Nora Wynford Phillips. Both groups wanted to help women improve themselves and the lives of their families. Mrs. Hoodless was inspired by the death of her young son due to drinking milk improperly stored in the summer.
Initially, rural women were not interested as they felt their sons and husbands would belittle them. Things changed in 1915 as thousands of men went to war and women were forced to take on their work. Secretary of the British Agricultural Organization Society John Nugent Harris heard Mrs. Madge Watt, a Canadian who relocated to England, speak at an agricultural meeting where she proposed that a women’s Institute modeled on the Canadian one be started in Britain. Watt was employed by the Agricultural Society to start branches through out the country. The national association was created in 1918.
Many early members of the national Women’s Institute were active in the suffrage movement. The local groups were focused on improving women’s lives in practical domestic ways. In the public’s mind the WI was linked to the Suffragists.
The WI was not government funded. It was non-political, non-denominational and pacifist. During WW2, the Institute was invaluable in communicating within the civilian population, establishing once again produce markets for the home front population, and troop support.
After WW2 the WI groups were helpful in gathering data about the rural areas for the government and worked hard to lobby for improvements in living conditions, such as electricity and running water. Today the Women’s Institute continues to help ease the isolation of rural areas.
This is a well-researched history of the British Women’s Land Army in WW1 and how it paved the way for the success of the WLA in the Second World War. Unlike the United States that set up agricultural colleges after the American Civil War, Great Britain lacked a unified approach to agriculture until World War One.
The Great War forced Britain to organize the farmers and agricultural community on a national level, and the WLA was in the forefront of this initiative despite male farmers’ reluctance to accept women workers or their advice. One leading recruiter for the WLA wrote: “Farmers had been prejudiced and stupid about women.”
A harvest crisis in 1916 was caused by lower crop yields in both Britain and America, and Russian exports were curtailed by the Ottoman blockade of the Dardanelles. This required food rationing in 1917 as prices rose by 106 percent of July 1914 levels.
In 1918, the WLA helped insure that people would not starve as its members worked the land to feed England. The WLA was disbanded in 1919 leaving the groundwork for the next agricultural crisis.
Dorothy Peel was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1918 by the Ministry of Food to recognize her creation of wartime recipes for householders. Peel’s great granddaughter wrote this book after finding Granny Dot’s cookery book on an attic shelf. Straker assembled more than 150 pages of recipes supported by color photographs and a table of measurement conversions. There is also a table that shows the compulsory ration amounts that helped cooks prepare pre-war recipes using the 1918 authorized quantities.
By 1917, Peel had a reputation for her domestic and culinary writing. The Ministry of Food contacted her to help in their task of insuring successful allocation and use of rations during the war. Using her contacts she insured nutritional content was maintained in her recipes during the rationing.
Peel wrote: “I did think that it was worthwhile to try to do what I was given a chance to do, to find … that those who do make the most mistakes! Still, if one is frightened of failing one is not likely to succeed.”
This reviewer has read a number of histories of the home fronts of Britain, the U.S., and France, and this oral history is by far the most fascinating. Authors van Emden and Humphries conducted about a hundred interviews from the late 1990s until the early 2000s with people who had grown up in Britain during the war. This rich trove of experience forms the core of the book, but the authors supplemented it with letters, diaries, and earlier recorded interviews. The chapters are a harmonious blend of distinct topics and a chronological approach. The oral histories bring alive such diverse topics as the shelling of East Coast cities by the German Navy, hunger and poverty, the poor treatment of people of German descent, the Zeppelin and airplane raids on Britain, the care of the wounded, the experiences of munitions workers, etc. The chapter “It is my painful duty…”, where the interviewees recount how they were notified of the deaths of their fathers or older brothers, is absolutely heart-wrenching to read.
This is a story about the home front from the perspective of children and teenagers, and a story primarily told by women. This reviewer did not find either of these demographic situations to be a weakness of this book. These oral histories are powerful enough to stand on their own, in addition to the fact that the interviewees often also recounted their parents’ perspectives on these events. If you’re going to buy only one book on the British home front, it should be this one.
Reviewed by Steve Suddaby, past president of WW1HA who In the 1990s interviewed about 40 people who had lived through the Zeppelin raids on Hull, England.
This impressive volume is the product of thirty years of cartophilic collecting by the author, in the category of warfare and the Great War specifically. Some cards with WW1 subjects were published after the war, but the vast majority of the cards in the book were published during the war as inserts in packs of cigarettes or as trade cards with biscuits and other non-tobacco products. Most are British-produced cards but some German language sets are included.
Mazansky notes that the tobacco companies were motivated by both patriotism and profit, and almost all cards served a propaganda purpose. Some of the images include well-known photos and illustrations that appeared in newspapers and books, including battle scenes and incidents where a soldier earned the Victoria Cross. The front of the cards shows the image and title with descriptive text on the opposite side.
This is a well-organized book with chapters on monarchs, political and military leaders, war scenes, weapons and equipment, uniforms, army life, the home front, and war humor.
This memoir of a volunteer engineer covers Dilkes’s enlistment, journey to France, and the battles in which he was involved while serving in the 1st Division from May 1917 to September 1919. It is an invaluable source of information on what life was like for an American soldier on the Western Front. It is well written, informative, and, on occasions, even entertaining.
Dilkes’s memoir bears the hallmark of a literary man and is characterized by a refreshing honesty. Dilkes’s joy at the end of the hostilities prompts him to mention AEF commander General Pershing’s admiration for the division: “At this time there is great reason for our jubilee because we knew the feeling our esteemed General John J. Pershing held towards the First Division when on July 17, 1919, at London he delivered a speech from which an extract is here quoted:
‘You will recall that when our First Division entered the battle line and fought the small though brilliant battle—the first as an independent command—at Cantigny, that the success which attended the attack not only set an example for future American divisions to follow, but really had an electrifying effect through the Allied lines and gave new hope to the armies.’”
Dilkes’s memoir is enhanced by the meticulous editing work carried out by his three daughters. The numerous historical context features, under the heading “Living History,” provide valuable background information. Remembering World War One is beautifully illustrated, with maps, pictures of artifacts and photographs. There is an extensive register of notes, a comprehensive glossary of abbreviations, and a useful bibliography of primary and secondary sources, poetry cited, and assorted references. Remembering World War One is unusually detailed, unusually well edited, and, perhaps most importantly of all, very human.
Jane M. Ekstam, professor at Hogskolen i Ostfold, Halden, Norway
Mascots were some of the most beloved members of military units during World War 1. A statue of the German shepherd who served with the Marines in France is on proud display at the Marine Corps University in Quantico, Virginia.
This book for children is the story of Rags, a mangy stray rescued from the streets in Paris by an American Army enlisted man named James Donovan serving in the 1st Division. Rags served with distinction, delivering messages and endearing himself to the unit. He won citations and was wounded.
Near the end of the war, both Rags and his owner were wounded in a gas attack. Rags was treated at an aid station and then smuggled on board the ship returning his owner to the U.S. for treatment. Private Donovan did not recover. Rags continued to serve in the division until his death in 1936. His long life and contributions are included at the end of story enabling the reader to answer the “What happened after that?“ question. The story is an endearing one and the illustrations well done.
An affectionate work about an ancestor by a U.S. Army veteran who found the spot in the Argonne forest where Julius Holthaus’ body was recovered and then wrote a story about him using Holthaus’ diary and extensive research.
The amount of detail is impressive, including notes about the German 76th Reserve Division that fought against the American 77th Division in 1918. Images display some of the German officers as well as scenes of American doughboys during the war, Julius’ mother and aunt at his grave during the Gold Star Mothers pilgrimages in the early 1930s, modern photographs of relatives and friends visiting in France, and the remnants of fortifications and trenches Cremer discovered.
This book really needed an editor. Too many ALL CAPITAL words and exclamation points (!) detract from the narrative. Tables on monthly production rates of artillery pieces are mixed with a table of brass used in military equipment, food prices in 1776 (yes, it says 1776), market reports for 1916, etc., etc. An end-of-book data dump that does nothing to further the story of Holthaus.
Tells the story of eleven Scottish football players and their fans who volunteered for the 16th Royal Scots Battalion in November 1914. Seven months later the battalion lost 80 percent of its 800-plus men during the nearly-five-month-long Battle of the Somme. In May 1918 the battalion was disbanded to provide its 400 soldiers as replacements for other units.
A Bigger Field is not a narrow examination of a famous battle viewed through the lens of one infantry battalion. It reads like a work of fiction but is an excellent short history of the Somme offensive with well-placed photos throughout the text.
Beaujon covers political maneuverings, sneaky journalists, early motion pictures, 1,700 footballs sent to British soldiers held in German prisoner-of-war camps, the war beyond 1916 including the Battle of Arras in April 1917 where the battalion’s operational strength was under 300 officers and men, and postwar myth making and cover ups such as the British Ministry of Information that was disbanded in November 1918 and all its records destroyed.
A series of battles to capture and relieve the besieged Habsburg Fortress of Przemyl during the fall of 1914 and early 1915 was bloodier than Verdun. By the time the fortress finally fell to the Russians on 22 March 1915, the Austro-Hungarian Army had sustained 800,000 casualties; the Russians, over a million.
Control of the fortress changed hands three times during the fall of 1914. In 1915, several Austro-Hungarian armies launched three major offensives to penetrate the Russian encirclement and rescue the 120,000 men trapped in the fortress. Tunstall argues that Przemyl had served its purpose: the besieged garrison kept the Russian army from advancing farther and perhaps causing the collapse of the weakened Habsburg forces.
Reviewed by Dana Lombardy, publisher of WWOI
Dennis Showalter: “A valuable and unique contribution to the history of both WWI and European fortress war. This work will be cited long after ones on more glamorous subjects have been relegated to library shelves, and in my professional judgment, Tunstall is the only scholar who could have done it.”
Gene Fax earned well-deserved praise for this very detailed presentation of the U.S. 79th Division’s famous assault on the heavily fortified German position on Montfaucon at the start of the 1918 Meuse-Argonne offensive.
Although concentrating on this one engagement, Fax uses half the book to explain the background of this seemingly impregnable location, America’s entry into the war, the recruitment and raising of the 79th, a chapter on what was wrong with Army doctrine, another on what was wrong with training (that also notes the first cases of influenza initially not regarded as a serious threat), American troops’ introduction to combat by helping to stop the German 1918 spring offensive, plus a description of the Meuse-Argonne terrain and the German Army. The actual struggle for Montfaucon is told over three action-packed chapters.
Nicely written, filled with anecdotes, this terrific book was a finalist for a Distinguished Writing Award by the Army Historical Foundation. Gene is an Official Partner of the U.S. World War I Commemorative Commission.
John Mosier is controversial, even reviled by some historians. His other works include The Myth of the Great War and The Blitzkrieg Myth, which exemplify his approach.
The review in The Journal of Military History by Robert A. Doughty noted that Mosier “charges military leaders such as Joseph Joffre and Ferdinand Foch with incompetence, ignorance, and, even worse, not caring about casualties.” Donkeys indeed!
Mosier consulted an “impressive” list of memoirs, diaries, and secondary sources published in France during and after the war that were highly critical of the high command. But Doughty also observed that “Mosier did not research in the French archives by saying, ‘We should be extremely wary of official documents.’”
Doughty concluded “this is an interesting, well-written, provocative book, but if there is anything new in the book, it is the author’s inclusion of the nine different battles that occurred in the vicinity of Verdun, not his unearthing of the supposed ‘lost history.’”
Reviewed by Dana Lombardy, publisher of WWOI
The Washington Times: “…one of the more entertainingly contrarian military historians writing today.”
This is the author’s fourth book in Pen and Sword’s Battleground Europe series covering the Battle of Verdun in 1916. Although there is a short 2-page section at the beginning called “Advice to Tourers,” it is not meant to be a battlefield guide. The book includes a plethora of historical and modern black & white photos.
Most of the histories of the 11-month battle focus on the German capture of Fort Douaumont in February in the initial attack, the offensive of 23 June when French commander Pétain considered withdrawing, or the final attempt on Fort Souville that summer. These all took place in the central area of the Right (East) Bank.
There were nine battles in the area of the Left Bank, generally referred to as the battle of the flanks, that included the struggle to reach Fort Vaux. As author Holstein points out “During that period [end of February through May] the flanks were not a sideshow to the battle; they were the battle….”
This new look at arguably the most famous battle on the Western Front earned well-deserved praise. It mixes traditional military history with social and cultural history that considers the soldiers’ experiences, the institutional structures of the military, and the impact of war on national identity.
The review in Army History felt that “the author exposes many of the myths about the battle that have developed over a century of narrative.”
Publishers Weekly noted “Jankowski has written a superb, definitive popular account of Verdun through the eyes of soldiers, military leaders, and citizens of the two nations.”
Philip Jenkins in Books & Culture exclaimed “Jankowski’s revisionist book is a major achievement…The writing throughout is of the highest order… At every stage, Jankowski integrates the military narrative with broader political and cultural dimensions… Jankowski’s book offers a model history of warfare.”
An exceptional history, and the photos and captions are first rate, but the publisher’s decision to not include any maps with Jankowski’s excellent narrative is extremely disappointing.
This is a wonderful book, filled with new or rarely-before-seen sepia-tinted photographs, many from the soldiers’ own private collections. These images are linked to appropriate text such as these observations on the first day by Rifleman Giles Eyre of the 2nd Kings Rifle Corps:
“We are now scrambling over what must have been the British front line trenches, a maze of humps and hillocks, half-filled-in ditches, mounds of faded and burst sandbags, barbed wire clumps sticking out here and there, shell holes, smashed trench boards and a litter of rusty tins, pieces of equipment, broken rifles and goodness knows what else.” Eyre continues: “We strike out into what was once no-man’s-land, … Here all the casualties have not been gathered in yet, and horrible-looking bundles of khaki, once men, still lie in shell holes.”
Van Emden is not trying to write a study of the Somme campaign, but he does form some opinions: “Before the Somme, there was still public optimism that the war could be won with one great masterstroke … idealism did perish on the Somme.”
Twenty-four years prior to the release of this book, historian Peter Liddle’s “classic” The Soldier’s War, 1914-1918 introduced readers to the four-and-a-half month Battle of the Somme. Here “Liddle reconsiders the battle in the light of recent scholarship” although without using even one German source or citing even one German unit in the index.
His narrative of “one of the most significant and controversial episodes in British military history” is “based on the graphic and revealing first-hand testimony of [British] soldiers….” An analogy might be to read the description of a football game (American or British) that presents only one side’s actions, decisions, and feelings.
Liddle’s end chapter “Verdict” claims “that in 1916-17 terms, a British victory was won on the Somme,” and “that the resolve of the soldier of the [BEF] had not been broken by the experience….” Compared to Passchendaele a year later, the Somme could be considered a wildly successful operation.
The book has a very nice British order-of-battle for the beginning of the battle on 1 July 1916, as well as its 12 phases through 18 November.
This impressive work contains essays by 29 historians on a variety of aspects pertaining to the largest and bloodiest battle in U.S. Army history until the Battle of the Bulge in World War Two. As B. H. Allen wrote in the Academia.edu Literature Review of the book, the battle “is barely even mentioned in most general histories of the Great War.”
The 47-day offensive in 1918 involved 1.2 million doughboys who suffered 122,000 casualties, including more than 26,000 dead. Commander of the American Expeditionary Forces John Pershing wrote that 22 American and 4 French divisions engaged and defeated 47 German divisions. Although the German divisions were smaller, they had the advantage of good defensive terrain and a well-established trench system. They also represented 25 percent of Germany’s divisional strength on the Western Front.
Allen noted that why the American accomplishment is ignored “is a controversy whose lines have predominantly been drawn along national borders. British and Canadian historians, with the notable exceptions of Basil Henry Liddell Hart and John Keegan, have largely dismissed the U.S. contribution as ‘above all psychological.’”
Hopefully, this book will help adjust that impression.
The photo albums in the Images of War series each contain up to 250 black and white archival photographs. The Somme photographs are accompanied by text written by Official War Correspondent Sir Philip Gibbs, who was an eyewitness to the events. Some of his captions are questionable. For example, on page 42 there is a photo of a British 6-inch howitzer with the notation “there were too few heavy guns available to the British on 1 July.” This sounds like an official excuse to explain the lack of success. The British Army had 427 heavy guns on 1 July, nearly four times the number available at the Battle of Loos nine months earlier in September 1915. And the claim on page 123 that the Somme was the bloodiest battle of the Great War ignores Verdun and the battle for Przemyl on the Eastern Front.
By comparison, the Verdun book’s captions are longer and much more detailed and interesting. Unfortunately, neither book has an index, making it impossible to relocate interesting images and text.
This is a skillful re-telling of the Meuse-Argonne battle, focusing on the key American leaders and heroes and select events during the 47 days of the offensive. This is followed with an “Aftermath” chapter that contains concise post-WW1 biographies of many of the main characters, including their WW2 experiences. The book is largely told from the point of view of General Pershing using numerous sources, including the general’s diaries.
It is hard to put the book down once started. Yockelson is able to weave his narrative of the entire campaign, without getting bogged down in detail.
However, this reviewer wishes there was more critique, assessment, or analysis of Pershing or of the AEF based on the author’s years of researching WW1 and employment at the National Archives. Was General Pershing the right man for the job? Mark Grotelueschen’s 2007 The AEF Way of War and Alexander Watson’s 2008 Enduring the Great War are such books.
Reviewed by Randy Gaulke
[Kirkus Reviews called Yockelson’s book “An accessible, elucidating study by a knowledgeable expert.” Seven excellent maps explain the staged movement across the front at various times.—Ed.]
This is the first book-length account of the Carpathian campaign of 1915, described by some as the “Stalingrad of the First World War.” It was also the first English-language account of WW1 Eastern Front military operations in more than 30 years.
Tunstall did research in Vienna’s and Budapest’s War Archives, and his narrative incorporates material drawn from eyewitness accounts, personal diaries, army logbooks, and correspondence among members of the high command. He shows that the roots of the Habsburg collapse in Russia in 1916 were established in the winter campaign of 1915. Its accolades and Tomlinson award were well deserved.
Reviewed by Dana Lombardy, publisher of WWOI
The U.S. Army War College Quarterly Parameters: “The book is a detailed case study, based on extensive primary source research, of an attempt to devise a viable strategy to meet drastically-changed, unforeseen conditions with impending crisis….”
New York Military Affairs Symposium, NYMAS Review: “In giving a full account of the winter war, Tunstall has rendered a vital service to our understanding of World War I. This is a must book for experts and novices alike.”
Betrayal at Little Gibraltar: A German Fortress, a Treacherous American General, and the Battle to End World War I by William T. Walker ISBN: 1501117912 Published byScribner on April 11, 2017 Genres:Battles & Campaigns Pages: 464
The attack on the Montfaucon fortified position on 26-27 September 1918 resulted in thousands of casualties to the 79th Division. In With Their Bare Hands there is a one-page explanation of the roots of the controversy. Here an entire book examines this event and lays out a more sinister reason: a deliberate “betrayal” by III Corps commander Robert Lee Bullard and a post-war cover up.
The 79th Division was in the V Corps. The unit on its right, 4th Division, was in Bullard’s III Corps. Walker alleges that Bullard and his chief of staff were the ones that prevented the 4th Division from “turning” to support the 79th assault.
Pershing relieved many other generals during the war. Why was Bullard promoted to command the new American 2nd Army if there were any doubts about his abilities? Readers can decide if Walker uses tabloid “facts” or has discovered an intriguing true story.
Reviewed by Dana Lombardy, publisher of WWOI
Library Journal: “… nicely balanced with the stories of individual participants….”
This book is a companion to the BBC DVD series Walking the Western Front. It includes 150 prints in color and black and white taken during multiple filming trips to the Somme. Historical photos taken 100 years ago are accompanied by shots in the exact same spot today. Many of the modern photos are beautiful, in sharp contrast to the carnage and destruction that occurred in these locations. The captions and narrative accompanying the images is well written and includes interesting historical stories.
The publisher explains that the purpose of this book is to answer “questions asked by visitors to the Somme; where did my ancestor fight?” It uses battle accounts with modern notations on historical trench maps, intended to help the reader locate individual units. The index has an impressive list of military units, but it may not be easy for someone standing on the battlefield today to locate where their ancestor’s unit actually would have been 100 years ago looking at these historical b&w maps.
Ambassador Shurtleff, a retired American Foreign Service officer who served as President of The World War One Historical Association and as a past President of The Western Front Association – U S Branch, passed away on January 22, 2014. This searchable version of Len’s Bookshelf has been created and will be maintained in his honor.