Written in Blood: The Battles for Fortress Przemysl in WWI

Written in Blood: The Battles for Fortress Przemysl in WWIWritten in Blood: The Battles for Fortress Przemyśl in WW1 by Graydon A. Tunstall
ISBN: 0253021979
Published by Indiana University Press on August 16, 2016
Genres: Battles & Campaigns
Pages: 408

Winner of the 2016 Tomlinson Prize Award

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.”

With Their Bare Hands: General Pershing, the 79th Division, and the Battle for Montfaucon

With Their Bare Hands: General Pershing, the 79th Division, and the Battle for MontfauconWith Their Bare Hands: General Pershing, the 79th Division, and the Battle for Montfaucon by Gene Fax
ISBN: 1472819233
Published by Osprey Publishing (UK) on February 21, 2017
Genres: Battles & Campaigns
Pages: 496

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.

Reviewed by Dana Lombardy, publisher of WWOI

Dennis Showalter: “A masterful study.”

Verdun: The Lost History of the Most Important Battle of World War I, 1914-1918

Verdun: The Lost History of the Most Important Battle of World War I, 1914-1918Verdun: The Lost History of the Most Important Battle of World War I by John Mosier
ISBN: 0451414632
Published by Dutton Caliber on October 7, 2014
Genres: Battles & Campaigns
Pages: 400

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.”

Verdun: The Left Bank

Verdun: The Left BankVerdun: The Left Bank by Christina Holstein
ISBN: 9781473880375
Published by Pen and Sword on February 29, 2016
Genres: Battles & Campaigns
Pages: 190

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….”

Well researched and a nicely done short history.

Reviewed by Dana Lombardy, publisher of WWOI

Verdun: The Longest Battle of the Great War

Verdun: The Longest Battle of the Great WarVerdun: The Longest Battle of the Great War by Paul Jankowski
ISBN: 0190619716
Published by Oxford University Press on October 1, 2016
Genres: Battles & Campaigns
Pages: 336

Winner of the 2014 Tomlinson Prize Award

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.

Reviewed by Dana Lombardy, publisher of WWOI

Los Angeles Review of Books: “Brilliant.”

The Somme: The Epic Battle in the Soldiers’ own Words and Photographs

The Somme: The Epic Battle in the Soldiers’ own Words and PhotographsThe Somme: The Epic Battle in the Soldiers' Own Words and Photographs by Richard Van Emden
ISBN: 1473885175
Published by Pen & Sword Books on August 5, 2016
Genres: Battles & Campaigns
Pages: 355

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.”

Reviewed by Dana Lombardy, publisher of WWOI

The 1916 Battle of the Somme: Reconsidered

The 1916 Battle of the Somme: ReconsideredThe 1916 Battle of the Somme Reconsidered by Peter H. Liddle
ISBN: 178340051X
Published by Pen & Sword Books on August 5, 2016
Genres: Battles & Campaigns

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.

Reviewed by Dana Lombardy, publisher of WWOI

A Companion to the Meuse-Argonne Campaign

A Companion to the Meuse-Argonne CampaignA Companion to the Meuse-Argonne Campaign by Edward G. Lengel
ISBN: 1444350943
Published by Wiley-Blackwell on May 5, 2014
Genres: Battles & Campaigns
Pages: 552

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.

Reviewed by Dana Lombardy, publisher of WWOI

Images of War: Rare Photographs From Wartime Archives

Images of War: Rare Photographs From Wartime ArchivesThe British on the Somme 1916: Rare Photographs from Wartime Archives by Philip Gibbs
ISBN: 1473837812
Published by Pen and Sword Military on April 3, 2017
Genres: Battles & Campaigns
Pages: 128

 

Images of War: Rare Photographs From Wartime ArchivesFrench Army at Verdun by Ian Sumner
ISBN: 1473856159
Published by Pen and Sword Military on April 30, 2016
Pages: 121

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.

Reviewed by Dana Lombardy, publisher of WWOI

Forty-Seven Days: How Pershing’s Warriors Came of Age to Defeat the German Army in World War I

Forty-Seven Days: How Pershing’s Warriors Came of Age to Defeat the German Army in World War IForty-Seven Days: How Pershing's Warriors Came of Age to Defeat the German Army in World War I by Mitchell A. Yockelson
ISBN: 0451466950
Published by NAL on March 1, 2016
Genres: Battles & Campaigns
Pages: 432

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.]

Blood on the Snow: The Carpathian Winter War of 1915

Blood on the Snow: The Carpathian Winter War of 1915Blood on the Snow: The Carpathian Winter War of 1915 by Graydon A. Tunstall
ISBN: 0700618589
Published by University Press of Kansas on May 11, 2010
Genres: Battles & Campaigns
Pages: 258

Winner of the 2010 Tomlinson Prize Award

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

Betrayal at Little Gibraltar: A German Fortress, a Treacherous American General, and the Battle to End World War IBetrayal 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 by Scribner 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….”

Knoxville News Sentinel: “Well-written, … lavishly illustrated … gripping … compelling….”