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Margot Asquith's Great War Diary 1914-1916: The View from Downing Street
Margot Asquith's Great War Diary 1914-1916: The View from Downing Street
by Michael Brock
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.40

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An important primary source with an essential Introduction, 3 Aug. 2014
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For all its flaws and misunderstandings, Margot Asquith's diary remains an important primary source for the period 1914 - 1916, and its accessibility in this published edition is to be welcomed.

The real gem of this book, however, is Michael Brock's wise and erudite 127-page Introduction. This would stand future republication as a stand-alone monograph and would serve as a key text on Great Britain's entry into the Great War and its role therein until Asquith's political fall in 1916.

Taken together, the important primary source of Margot Asquith's diaries, and Brock's Introduction, make this book a must-have for those interested in Britain and the Great War.

Breverton's First World War Curiosities
Breverton's First World War Curiosities
by Terry Breverton
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Dire, 26 Jun. 2014
Obviously written under the maxim that you should never let ignorance of the historiography of the Great War hold you back from trying to cash in on its centenary years with a regurgitation of long-discredited 'lions led by donkeys' garbage.

Haig and Kitchener in Twentieth-Century Britain
Haig and Kitchener in Twentieth-Century Britain
by Stephen Heathorn
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £68.18

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Haig and Kitchener in Twentieth-Century Britain. Remembrance, Representation and Appropriation by Stephen Heathorn, Ashgate, London, April 2013, 268pp, 11 ills, notes & refs, index. £65.00.

This is a timely book as we approach the centenaries of the Great War, a period when various historiographical interpretations will grapple for supremacy. For the central thesis of this intriguing study is that the personal reputations of prominent figures such as Kitchener and Haig became prisms through which differing interpretations of the war itself were reflected. Heathorn, a Canadian academic, has not set out to write a dual biography of Kitchener and Haig. Rather, his purpose is to examine how the material representations of both was shaped and manipulated for official and populist ends by a variety of individuals and groups throughout the twentieth century. Neither is the book an attack or defence of Haig and Kitchener's reputations. Instead it sets out to explore how both men have been depicted since their deaths in various mediums such as film, print and public memorialisation in Britain and the wider world, and to evaluate what this tells us about the evolving nature and meaning of Great War commemoration. Along the way, the author offers some fascinating insights into the on-going historiographical debates surrounding the two men and how, particularly in the case of Haig, the dichotomies -indeed polarities - between much professional historical remembrance and wider cultural remembrance can often appear unbridgeable.

Professor Heathorn is a social and cultural historian rather than a specialist military historian, and this book's purpose is not military history, so there are inevitably points of detail which I would query. However, my overall impression of the book's main purpose and the way this is delivered is a very positive one, and I certainly recommend it as essential reading for anyone interested in Haig and Kitchener and the complex inter-relations between prominent personalities, historiography, and the sometimes peculiar ways in which mass media and public perceptions of the Great War have evolved and changed over nearly a century.

© 2013 George A. Webster

This review was originally published in `Records', the journal of the Douglas Haig Fellowship.

El Alamein: The Battle that Turned the Tide of the Second World War (General Military)
El Alamein: The Battle that Turned the Tide of the Second World War (General Military)
by Bryn Hammond
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars THE DEFINITIVE ACCOUNT OF EL ALAMEIN, 20 Nov. 2012
The Battle of Cambrai in 1917 and El Alamein in 1942 suggest one common theme to those with some knowledge of military affairs: tanks. Tanks, above all, dominate perceptions of these Great and Second World War battles. Bryn Hammond is a recognised authority on tanks and armoured warfare, so it is no surprise that his attention has been drawn to these two battles. His first book, `Cambrai 1917', was published to wide acclaim in 2008. Tellingly, it was subtitled `The Myth of the First Great Tank Battle'. In it, Hammond demonstrated that whilst the British deployment of armour was certainly a key factor in the opening of the Battle of Cambrai, a narrow historiographical focus on that aspect had distorted the wider picture of what was an all-arms battle and a stepping stone in the evolution of the BEF which went on to win the greatest series of victories in the history of the British Army between August and November 1918. Now, in his second book, Hammond has turned his gaze forward by a quarter of a century to the Battle of El Alamein, and shows how the stepping stones to victory laid in the Great War were revisited and evolved as the foundations of victory in the Second World War.

In `El Alamein, The Battle that Turned the Tide of the Second World War', Hammond once again demonstrates that, whilst the role of armour was a key factor at El Alamein, there was much more to the affair than a simplistic clash of landships on a sea of shifting sands. And in exploring this bigger picture, Hammond in the process draws the reader's attention to the fact that the Second World War battle was won in large part by deploying principles first recognised and developed in the harsh school of the Great War.

In contrast to the `steel and fire of tanks and guns', Hammond also gives time and attention to the `most amorphous element of warfare' - morale. Rightly, he points out that "[i]n June 1942, Eighth Army's greatest enemy was the effect on morale of the two previous years of desert warfare." However he is also right to balance this with the observation that, in order to emphasise the impact of Montgomery, contemporary and subsequent accounts could tend to "over-stress the depth of any `morale crisis' in Eighth Army in July 1942." Here again, Hammond draws convincing parallels with his previous work on the Great War, noting the inclination of some in the BEF of 1917 towards extrapolating too much from "the `grousings' and complaints of the ordinary `Tommy'." Sir Douglas Haig had understood that reserving the right to grumble was a natural state of affairs for the British soldier, which was quite separate from the question of morale.

More tangibly, Hammond delivers a brilliant exposition of how, at El Alamein, there are numerous examples of returns to the use of principles of warfare first developed in the Great War. Nowhere is this more apparent than in gunnery techniques and their integration with other arms. Hammond notes how contemporary observers were struck by the similarity of numerous examples of infantry attacks preceded by artillery preparation to what had been developed in the BEF by 1918. Add to this the resumption of techniques such as flash-spotting, sound-ranging, gun-calibration, survey and meteorological observation, and Montgomery's pretence that he had overseen at El Alamein something markedly distinct from the `failed' methods of Great War commanders becomes an ironic undertone to Hammond's retelling of the 1942 battle.

Beyond such parallels, however, Hammond is also excellent in identifying what was new - for example the (relative) reliability and speed of armoured and other mechanised transport and - above all - air supremacy and fire power. Whilst Hammond knowledgeably discusses the relative merits of the tanks which spearheaded movement, he also emphasises the equal importance of anti-tank guns and gunnery. Also examined are the techniques which had to be developed to clear the vast minefields which mushroomed just beneath the desert sands. Leading on from this, Hammond also recognises the peculiarities of the environment in which the Desert War was fought, and the impact of this on both men and the technologies of war.

And it is a concern with the men who fought the Battle (or, more accurately, series of actions) of El Alamein, and who commanded them at lower levels which most informs Hammond's book and brings it vividly to life with their personal accounts, making the book an exciting and often moving reading experience. The characters of Rommel and Montgomery are central only to those elements of the story where their input was indeed central. And Hammond is surely right to eschew the casual use in his text of such colloquialisms as `Monty', `The Auk' and `The Desert Fox' - for as he rightly points out, despite such terms being in use and encouraged by propaganda contemporaneously, "an army commander is no one's `mate'." Neither Rommel nor Montgomery are deified or vilified - Hammond is refreshingly free of the post hoc `blame game' which is the mainspring of too much military `history'. Montgomery's flaws of character are noted where relevant, just as the myth of the `clean war' commonly held to have been fought by Rommel's forces is put into the context of Rommel's knowledge of the Nazi agencies preparing to impose their racial and other policies in the wake of his armies. Quite apart from that, Hammond's account makes explicitly clear that the Desert War, like all war, was essentially a bloody affair with an ethos of kill or be killed at its heart.

This is as scrupulously balanced an account of El Alamein as could be wished for. It deals in the realities of war for the men on the ground and the commanders who led them in furtherance of the requirements of their political masters. The details of the execution of that task makes grim reading at times, yet this is somehow always leavened by examples of the human spirit managing to rise above the horror of war in Hammond's judiciously selected quotes from participants. At the end of it all, Hammond convincingly sums up why fighting and winning El Alamein was worth it for the British. He does an excellent job of contextualising it as a victory gained by Britain and her Imperial and Commonwealth forces before the nature of her role on the world stage changed forever with the advent of American troops landing in North Africa. To borrow one of Hammond's own analogies from his 'Cambrai' book, his 'El Alamein' takes the reader's vision beyond the viewing slit of a tank commander who was there and contextualises the big picture. El Alamein was not, as Hammond points out, the point at which the war was won, nor a victory in the main theatre of the war. It was, however, a necessary victory for the British after their backs-to-the-wall moment of 1940 . Following on the heels of his `Cambrai 1917', this book firmly establishes Hammond in the foremost rank of military historians of the sombre wars of the first half of the 20th century. If you want to understand El Alamein, and buy only one book from the many which have come out on the back of the 70th anniversary of the battle, make it Bryn Hammond's superb reassessment. Highly recommended.

The German Army on the Western Front 1915
The German Army on the Western Front 1915
by Jack Sheldon
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.74

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars THE BEST KEEPS GETTING BETTER, 7 Aug. 2012
Jack Sheldon's on-going series of volumes on the German army in the First World War need no introduction from me. Over the past seven years they have carved out a well-nigh unique niche for themselves as a precious resource for English-speaking students - general and professional - of the Great War. Sheldon's books represent the single most accessible resource for non-German speakers to discover not only how the Germans fought their war, but the manner in which they recorded doing so in numerous regimental histories. Although these German histories are Sheldon's primary source, he supplements these with the fruits of his extensive first hand research in German archives. Add to this his knowledge of what the British were up to on their side of the hill, and you have the key ingredients which have won Sheldon's books the admiration and respect of his peers amongst the top military historians in the English-speaking world.

The order in which Sheldon's `German Army' series has appeared has not slavishly followed the chronology of the war itself. That is part of the charm of anticipating the next in the series - like Forrest Gump's metaphorical box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get. The series started with `The German Army on the Somme 1914 - 1916', for example - the four month battle of the latter year being perhaps the most important battle of the Great War to general British readers today, even if often for all the wrong reasons. `The German Army at Cambrai' in 1917 was added in 2009, and 2010 saw Sheldon revisit 1914 for `The German Army at Ypres.' His latest book, `The German Army on the Western Front 1915', and the sixth in the series, is in my view a particularly important addition to the already essential body of work which his series represents.

It is eminently arguable that 1915 represented the best year of the war for the Germans, and - with the benefit of hindsight - may have represented their last real chance of inflicting a crushing defeat on the Allies on the Western Front. In 1914, the German attempt at a rapid knockout blow in the west failed and the war of movement became stymied until other military technologies caught up with the advances in firepower which had brought this about. In 1916 the attrition at Verdun cost the Germans as dearly as the French without having decisively weakened the latter. And as Verdun was winding down in the summer of 1916 the first of the attritional hammer blows which would continue until the end of 1917 were delivered by the BEF, resuming again in August 1918 after the German's last great effort in the spring of the latter year had failed to achieve its purpose. 1915, however, was different, and Sheldon's new book engrossingly sets out why.

For the past 98 years the British have been pretty much fixated with the idea that the Germans' strategic world fell apart with the failure of the Schlieffen Plan (for want of a better name, I've no desire to play the Zuber game of semantics) to achieve its envelopment of Paris and the French armies with a sweep from the north-east. However, Sheldon's Introduction gives us a masterful overview of the big picture in 1915 from the German perspective, and spells out why the traditional British belief in a homogeneity of strategic thinking amongst the German general staff is simplistic. For many British readers what Sheldon has to say on the dichotomies at play in German grand strategic thinking will come as something of an eye-opener. Traditionally 1915 is seen as the year that saw blue water appear between British strategic thinkers, whose opposing camps were soon labelled `Easterners' and `Westerners'. The British (and French) `Easterner' strategic policy was, of course, put to the test in 1915 with disastrous results in the futile side-shows of Gallipoli and Salonika - the former collapsing entirely by January 1916, whilst the latter dragged on like an unnecessary festering sore until the end of the war. Although they had to continue to fight their cause every step of the way, the events of 1915 largely made the British `Westerner' argument for the primacy of the Western Front unassailable in practical terms. At the same time as the pointless `Easterner' expeditions of 1915, the BEF in France were having to comply with French pressure to earn their keep as Allies by spilling some blood in the cause of ousting the German invaders. Spill British blood Sir John French certainly did - but to no territorial or attritional gain. 1915 was not a happy year for the British, then. What Sheldon sets out with fresh clarity is the fact that the Germans too had their `Easterner' and `Westerner' factions - the German East being Russia rather than the Dardanelles on the edge of Asia Minor. The other difference - and it was a big one - was that the Germans were successful both territorially and attritionally in the East in 1915 - or, as Sheldon pithily puts it, "both the Russians and the Serbs had been put to the sword in no uncertain manner." Meanwhile in the West the Germans easily held their own, largely letting the Allies launch a series of offensives against their line, most of which were batted off due to a mixture of German skill and Allied ineptness (the German Argonne offensives preparatory to a projected assault on the Verdun salient being a notable exception to a German defensive policy in the west in 1915, to which Sheldon devotes a specific chapter) . 1915 was a good year for the Germans, then. But did their success in the East cost them their best chance of making good the failure of 1914 with a decisive victory in the West? Sheldon's overview of the year is persuasive that perhaps it did. He is clear that whilst the less talked about German 'Easterner' - 'Westerner' strategic divide may have resulted in successes in the East rather than the disasters of the Allied ventures of 1915, they were no less futile in war-winning strategic terms. And just as Allied 'Easterner' policies risked compromising success on the decisive Western Front, so he makes clear that the primacy given to 'Easterner' ventures by the Germans in 1915 arguably cost them a never to be seen again shot at a decisive blow in the West while their armies were still very much at the top of their game, with reserves aplenty and a still stable and supportive home front and economy.

Sheldon concludes his overview of 1915 by making the point that the Allied failures in a succession of offensives in the West demonstrated not just a rapid German mastery of the defensive line but the fact that their troops showed "the fighting ability of and resilience of the men of the hour who manned its regiments. That year their performance was superlative." And it is the accounts of these men which lie at the heart of this book. For whilst, as ever, Sheldon is the master of contextualising the material which he has assembled for his book, equally as ever is the meat of the book the fascinating first-hand accounts from the German side describing just how the broad themes succinctly summarised in his Introduction played out for the men at the sharp end of the Imperial German war machine. Sheldon excels in the judicious selection of accounts from the vast German sources which he has trawled in his researches. These accounts he carefully contextualises into an informative and enthralling narrative history which presents the interested reader who has no knowledge of German with unprecedented access to how the Germans who directed and fought the war saw it. The revelations from these sources stud the pages of this book. Unsurprisingly, the bulk refer to the successful resisting of Allied offensive operations. Thus we have Vizefeldwebel Haftman of IR 107 describing the scene as French attackers emerge to the attack from their trenches following their preliminary artillery bombardment of the German lines (of which, interestingly, the Germans had had prior intelligence of at this early stage of the war [February 1915] from French deserters) :

"The first man to climb out of the right hand sap, directly opposite my men, was a French officer, signal flag in hand. Other soldiers followed him rapidly. Apparently they believed that they would only encounter weak resistance. How disappointed they must have been, therefore, to find German bullets whistling past their ears. We did not greet the enemy with rapid fire; rather with well-aimed individual rifle fire. Every shot hit its mark. Not a single man reached our lines, though the distance was only twenty to thirty metres. Enemy corpses piled up in front of the sap and acted as a warning to those who were to follow. Instead they tried to drive us out of the trench by sending over `twittering robins'. "

Just how many painfully bought lessons in conducting an attritional offensive as economically as possible lay ahead of the Allies is evident from the above account from one of the defenders. Intriguing, too, is the introduction provided to German trench slang like `twittering robins', which Sheldon's footnote describes as referring to some form of improvised bomb being used by the French at this stage. Although strategically in the ascendant, however, the German defenders did not always have it their own way tactically, as this vivid account of a British gas and infantry attack from another Vizefeldwebel, Grieske, of Infantry Regiment 178 bears witness:

"From our elevated position we could see the west wind carry the greenish-yellow and black smoke clouds over the trenches of our neighbouring division. From many hundreds of pipes, set about one metre apart, streamed poisonous jets of gas which, after about fifty metres, combined into one great gas cloud. [......] The Tack! Tack! Sound of British machine guns, which became evident at the same time, showed us that the gas attack was being followed up immediately by that of the infantry, with Indian troops in the lead. However this attack was beaten back, leaving the field covered in dead and wounded men. Once again, then, for a third time, we saw clouds over the Indians. The fire of our own artillery slackened somewhat then English and Scottish troops stormed forward. The front line of our neighbouring division was overrun. Would the reserves manage to do their duty? Meanwhile the enemy artillery shifted the impact point of its rain of shot and shell further to the east, over Hill 70 and as far as Lens."

The British reader will be familiar with British accounts of their use of gas at Loos, but here we have a German eyewitness account of being on the receiving end which contradicts many British accounts about the gas being ineffective in reaching these targets - and this just five months after the celebrated first use of gas by the Germans against a French Algerian division near Langemarck. As well as establishing a record of such defining images of the Great War as the perception of gas attacks by both sides in 1915, the minutiae to be gleaned from the quotes Sheldon selects can be equally fascinating. See, for instance, how in the above quote Grieske explicitly differentiates between not only Indian troops amongst the attackers, but English and Scottish. This indicates that the celebrated German use of `Englander' for all British troops was not entirely ubiquitous!

It is tempting to continue dissecting the many fascinating quotes which lie at the heart of this book - but this would rapidly become a reprint rather than a review. I must make the point again, however, that all are beautifully set into context by Sheldon's impressive grasp of the historiography of the war. This he applies in a laudably even-handed manner. Having made the unarguable point that 1915 was the Germans' year, and demonstrating why this was so through their own accounts, Sheldon at certain points reminds us that they were no more infallible all of the time than any other army which has ever gone to war. There was the strategic possibilities of a knock-out blow in the west not pursued which has already been alluded to. On the smaller scale, Sheldon draws our attention to episodes such as the decision to transfer IRs 53 and 158 out of 14th and 8th Divs on the very eve of the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, and send them to Champagne as part of the newly formed 100th Brigade of 50th Div. As Sheldon says, "It is unclear if it was reckoned that greater risks could be taken on those parts of the Western Front where they faced the British, but in the event, the timing could hardly have been worse."

Beyond this, `The German Army on the Western Front 1915' is well served by its photograph section, maps and index. A welcome innovation is an appendix of potted biographies of selected French and German personalities from 1915 who may not be so familiar to general English-language readers.

To sum up, then, this is an important volume in a series by an author who has long established himself as indispensable on the bookshelves of anyone interested in the Western Front. More than that, this is a book which will enthral the reader with any interest in the experience of war in any conflict. But for the English-speaking student of the Great War this book gives a slant on that conflict which, combined with the depth of analysis of an author imbued with a lifetime's involvement in military affairs, simply has no substitute. C S Lewis gave the Pevensie children their wardrobe as a doorway to Narnia, and Lewis Carroll provides the rabbit hole for Alice to tumble into Wonderland. Now English-speaking students of the Great War can count their blessings that they have Jack Sheldon to provide the key to their unlocking of the door to the previously inaccessible world of the German side of a conflict which they have hitherto only known the half of.

Finally, as an addendum to the main review, and as a bibliophile, I'll add a few words on the physical presentation of this book. This is a sturdily made, cloth-bound volume to match the rest of Sheldon's `German Army' series. The stylistic cues which devotees of the series look for are all there. The now trade-mark head of the young stormtrooper on the spine is present and correct. The always impressive Dicke Berta in a colourised wartime photo adorns the front of the dustjacket, whilst the rear sports an interesting colourised photo of a German machine gun position. Pen and Sword's talented dustjacket designer, Jon Wilkinson, has created an attractive corporate image for Sheldon's series of books. Curiously, though, if you prefer the books in their cloth covers with the dustjackets removed, this latest in the series comes in green, breaking ranks with the black of the volumes which precede it.

This review © Copyright 2012 George A. Webster
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 14, 2012 11:23 AM BST

Zombie Myths of Australian Military History
Zombie Myths of Australian Military History
by Craig Stockings
Edition: Paperback
Price: £22.23

5.0 out of 5 stars A STAKE THROUGH THE HEART OF LAZY MYTHOLOGY, 1 May 2012
This is an important volume in which Australian academic specialists in various aspects of Australian military history take a hard look at some of the myths which the rapid evolution of a young nation has created around her military involvements. The book is entitled Zombie Myths of Australian Military History and is edited by Craig Stockings, with ten contributions from historians including Rhys Crawley, Elizabeth Greenhalgh and Craig Wilcox.

Do not let the rather outlandish title put you off - it is explained at some length in the Editor's Introduction - this is an important reappraisal of Australia's military heritage and how and why its very real achievements (and disappointments) have often been mythologised beyond recognition in the popular imagination in Australia and elsewhere. The subject matter ranges from military conflict between the early settlers and the Aboriginies to Australian involvement in the Vietnam War. On the way several shibboleths of Australian military history are deconstructed, including the notorious 'Breaker' Morant case from the Boer War - still much misunderstood by the strident Ocka fraternity who continue to use it as an incongruous stick to beat the Poms (as Facebook users will know from the recent discussions on the Mat McLachlan Battlefields Tour and the Centre for Battlefield Archaeology pages).

Two of the essays in Zombie Myths are devoted to aspects of Australian involvement in the Great War, and the myths which have subsequently grown up around them in Australia. The first is 'The Myths of August at Gallipoli' by Rhys Crawley, and the second is 'Australians Broke the Hindenburg Line' by Elizabeth Greenhalgh. Also worth reading in the context of the Great War is Craig Wilcox's essay 'There is an idea that the Australian is a born soldier....' The purpose of these essays is not to do down the Australian contribution to any of the wars in which her troops have served, but rather to separate the myth which many of the more strident Aussie nationalists have come to mistake for reality.

Whether or not one agrees with all of its conclusions, this book stands as a testiment to the maturity and intellectual rigour of academic research into military history in Australia today - a process which has been led and guided over the past couple of decades by, inter alios, the likes of Peter Pederson, Chris Roberts, Michael Molkentin and Aaron Pegram. Those who aggressively wrap themselves in the Southern Cross flag and loudly declaim 'Australia Forever' to all comers whilst downing a tinnie of Victoria Bitter will not find some of the revelations in this book to their taste - but then they're not likely to have been moved to pick it up in the first place, and like their Lions led by Donkeys brigade equivalents in the UK will be content to endlessly regurgitate their hoary myths.

I recommend Zombie Myths of Australian Military History to anyone interested in the Australian military achievement.

HP Pavilion dv7-6b04ea 17.3 inch Laptop PC (AMD Quad-Core A8-3510MX Processor, RAM 8GB, HDD 2x750 GB, Windows 7 Home Premium)
HP Pavilion dv7-6b04ea 17.3 inch Laptop PC (AMD Quad-Core A8-3510MX Processor, RAM 8GB, HDD 2x750 GB, Windows 7 Home Premium)

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A superb piece of kit, 26 Dec. 2011
This really is a superb piece of kit. Pleasing to look at and touch, with it's robust yet elegant brushed-steel casing. But the heart of it, the performance, is tremendous. Make no mistake, this really is PC performance in a laptop. Fast? You bet. More than adequate memory? Yes indeed. And as for sounds, Hewlett Packard's collaboration with beatsaudio gives this an in-built sound system, with speakers around the casing, which delivers volume and tone comparable to a quality external speaker system. Which is a bonus not only for listening to music but also for playing movies in this machine's blu-ray player. Build quality is fantastic, with none of the apparently transit damage niggles referred to in another review. No problems either with the power cable connection. Highly recommended.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 2, 2012 10:44 PM GMT

by Peter Hart
Edition: Hardcover

17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterful anatomy of futile courage, 2 Feb. 2011
This review is from: Gallipoli (Hardcover)
`Gallipoli' is not the first time that Hart has been drawn to the disastrously conceived campaign of that name. He first put it under the microscope seventeen years ago in `Defeat At Gallipoli' , co-written with Nigel Steel. Since then, he has visited those fatal shores on several occasions leading battlefield tours. He tells us, indeed, that "Gallipoli will always be my primary interest in the Great War. I still love visiting the scenes of this most powerful of human dramas and long may that continue." In other words, here is an author who for the best part of twenty years has worked with and reflected upon the historical evidence for his subject as well as familiarising himself with the physical landscape upon which it was enacted. `Gallipoli' is the fully realised culmination of this investment of time and effort.

Hart sets out the scope of his book in his Preface. His purpose is to give an insight into what it was like to be a soldier at Gallipoli almost a century ago. This he achieves through his skilful selection of largely unpublished accounts from the men themselves. He's been weaving such eyewitness narratives into his books for long enough now to need no particular commendation from me as to how well he does this. But Hart's `Gallipoli' is an important book because of the context into which he places these fascinating first-person accounts. His overarching goal is to expose the futility of the campaign in which these individual experiences took place. This is achieved in two ways. Firstly, throughout the book Hart, himself a convinced `Westerner', looks at the Gallipoli adventure from the gimlet eyed perspective of the professional observers amongst the British High Command on the Western Front - the men who, rightly, remained convinced throughout the war that the only way to decisively win it was to beat the main German field army in the main theatre of the war. Hart never lets the reader forget that that was always going to be the Western Front, not the Dardanelles and that the latter was always a distraction from and a drain upon the former. Secondly, Hart guides us through the key battles of the Gallipoli campaign with a keen eye for the most tactically illuminating and less familiar episodes. In other words there is much that is new in this retelling of an oft-told tale.

Not the least of Hart's achievements in `Gallipoli' is to strike the right balance in according due prominence and recognition to each of the contingents of the truly international forces deployed there. Few military campaigns have spawned such legacies of national sentiment around the globe as Gallipoli. In Turkey and Australia and New Zealand in particular the epic of Gallipoli has become an essential component of the sinews of nationhood and a key element of the unifying myths which are essential to creating a sense of national identity in all countries. Yet whilst giving due recognition to these elements, and building the core of the story he unfolds around the British and ANZAC forces, Hart never loses sight of the important contributions of others. In particular, he makes the telling point that the part played by the French has usually received less than its due in English language accounts and that "it could be argued that they were the most effective fighting force at Gallipoli." Nor does he fall into the trap of portraying an Allied disaster as having more to do with bad luck than the skill and tenacious courage of their enemy. To this end Hart has introduced evidence from Turkish sources to give the reader a conception of the battle from their point of view. As he justly puts it, "they were, after all, the victors in 1915; the story they tell is one of equal heroism and superior military competence." Yet out of this broad picture of the seat of war and the various contingents engaged there, the stoic courage and bloody minded endurance of the losers never fails to impress the reader of the well-chosen and often moving accounts of the appalling situation which they found themselves in. The factual foundation stones of the ANZAC legend are safe in Hart's capable hands.

Peter Hart has an impressive enough back catalogue of Great War histories to his name which speak for themselves - almost literally, more often than not, due to his trademark use of unerringly apt quotations from the participants. Hart's skills, developed over thirty years of interviewing military veterans as the oral historian at the Imperial War Museum, are never less than evident in his selection of these verbatim quotes. Others, of course, have used similar techniques - Lyn MacDonald is one who springs immediately to mind. What takes Hart's work immeasurably beyond such cut and paste works, however, is the insight and authority of his linking narratives which place his eyewitness accounts firmly into their historical context. The wisdom of Hart's contextualisation and conclusions are what have earned him a reputation as a fine military historian. Whilst he is an unashamedly popular narrative historian, Hart's books always fully support his conclusions through their extensive source notes. In his `Gallipoli' we see the maturing of an historian at the top of his game. In this book the authoritative historical analysis and narrative into which the gem stones of the accounts of participants are set is even more extensive than in his previous works, giving Peter Hart's `Gallipoli' an immediate claim to be an essential title for anyone interested in what the author calls this "doomed but fascinating campaign." Recommended.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 20, 2011 3:10 PM GMT

Doctrine and Reform in the British Cavalry 1880-1918 (Birmingham Studies in First World War History)
Doctrine and Reform in the British Cavalry 1880-1918 (Birmingham Studies in First World War History)
by Stephen Badsey
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £42.00

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An essential reference work, 15 Dec. 2010
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There is a passage in Stephen Badsey's important account of the evolution of the role of the British cavalry in the decades leading up to the Great War, and its performance in that conflict, which resonates beyond the confines of his book's subje...ct. Badsey's observation highlights the unique malaise which was allowed to grow, largely unchecked, in the historiography of the Great War for over half a century. It is this:

"Just as warfare itself and the nature of battle changed between Waterloo in 1815 and the Somme in 1916, so within the last generation considerable changes have taken place in understanding how the British Army fought on the Western Front, (including the contributions of the Canadian and Australian forces), and in the wider politics and strategy of the First World War. So much new evidence has emerged that historians are now seeking to understand why the impression of the First World War that prevailed until about 40 years ago (and continues to prevail in much popular culture), could ever have come into existence, when compared to real events of the war."

Badsey is not wrong. To most military historians working on the Great War today, one of the most astonishing aspects to contemplate is how the historiography of that conflict came to be so comprehensively distorted in the national consciousness by the myths and misrepresentations peddled by a comparatively small circle of overly influential individuals working to agendas of their own. Those, like Badsey, who are working today to correct these misconceptions, are often wrongly - and pejoratively - labelled as `revisionists'. The true `revisionists' were those wartime politicians and ambitious would-be military pundits who, in the half century from 1930, turned upside down the story of the Great War which had been recorded in the primary sources, some of which were published through the 1920's in the best of the accounts by the military men who had directed and fought it. Thus the story of how the Great War was fought and won, despite a series of setbacks which had to be overcome through the constant process of learning from dearly bought experience, was established and then lost for most of the twentieth century to an unenquiring mantra of futility and incompetence. Only within the current generation of working historians has that revisionism been turned aside in favour of a return to a view of the Great War and its hard-won achievement which most of those who fought it would recognise. This view has been immeasurably supplemented and nuanced, of course, by the fruits of new research and analysis into sources previously undiscovered or unavailable. Which brings us neatly back to Badsey's `Doctrine and Reform in the British Cavalry 1880 - 1918' and its body of new research which compellingly refutes the calumny that belief in the continued utility of cavalry 1914-18 was evidence of military incompetence.

By ranging his study from 1880 - 1918, Badsey refuses to regard 1914-18 as a vacuum with no relation to what went before. Badsey is not new to the subject - his 1982 Cambridge PhD thesis was titled `Fire and Sword: The British Army and the Arme Blanche Controversy, 1871-1921.' His `Doctrine and Reform in the British Cavalry 1880 - 1918' of 2008 is therefore the culmination of long contemplation of a subject area which he has mastered. In essence, Badsey establishes that there is a discernable gap in the evolution of warfare between the mass armies of the last quarter of the 19th century and the motorised firepower which had been developed for practical use by the end of the first quarter of the 20th century, and how cavalry doctrine evolved and adapted to help bridge that gap alongside the newer technologies then in their infancy.

So - and with the benefit of hindsight - essentially we're looking at approximately a 50-year hiatus prior to the 1920's in which advances in the techologies of mechanisation and wireless communication gradually caught up with those of firepower. The problem for the armies going into the Great War in 1914 was how to rapidly move large bodies of armed men about a battle zone in the face of increased infantry and artillery firepower, but before technology allowed the development of fast, reliable all-terrain APC vehicles. The consequence, of course, was trench warfare. Motorised technology had advanced to the point where, in 1918, a Whippet tank still had a cross-country speed of only about half that of cavalry horses. As Badsey meticulously details, however, the development of cavalry doctrine in the British army in response to the problems this situation posed did not begin in August 1918 - it had been the subject of fierce debate over the previous 40-odd years. Badsey takes the reader through this fascinating doctrinal debate and demonstrates how what emerged from it was a practical doctrine for the cavalry which was never set it stone, but which developed and was modified in the years leading up to and during the Great War. As was convincingly argued, cavalry were still the fastest thing on the battlefield. When deployed in the right circumstances, with their own machine gun support, and in conjunction with developments in artillery usage, combined with their ability to fight as mounted infantry or in a more traditional mounted mode as required, then the cavalry retained until the end unique attributes on the rapidly modernising battlefields of the Great War.

The book then offers case studies which show that the achievements of the British and Empire (particularly the Australian, Canadian and Indian) cavalry throughout the Great War, although controversial, vindicated the retention of the arm - never more clearly than during the `Hundred Days' of August - November 1918. I'd add that, contrary to myth, Haig never regarded the cavalry as the central players on the battlefield. He, rightly, and in the face of much opposition, advocated their continued utility in various roles once the trench deadlock broke and the enemy began to collapse and retreat. As Haig wrote of the lack of cavalry available to the Germans in their great March offensive of 1918:

"Had the German command had at their disposal even two or three well-trained cavalry divisions, a wedge might have been driven between the French and British Armies. Their presence could not have failed to have added greatly to the difficulties of our task."

Nor, while enthusiastically embracing newer technologies, was he seduced into regarding them as independently war-winning tools - and certainly not in the state of development they'd reached by 1918. In his Final Despatch he wrote:

"Despite the enormous development of mechanical invention in every phase of warfare, the place which the infantryman has always held as the main substance and foundation of an army is as secure to-day as in any period of history. The infantryman remains the backbone of defence and the spearhead of attack."

Haig's emphasis of the central role of `boots on the ground' in warfare holds as good today, when in the military adventures of our own time we have seen that despite overwhelming airpower, the deployment of drones and smart missiles, a decision can only be secured (even if only temporarily in some cases!) by the deployment of men on the ground. So much for Haig the `cavalry obsessive.'

Haig, of course, is central to any talk of the survival of the cavalry arm in the BEF. Badsey's book definitively refutes the facile but oft-repeated idea that Sir Douglas Haig's retention of a cavalry capability was based on little more than an outmoded affection for the branch of the service in which he'd begun his military career. Badsey makes the telling point that, "in any consideration of the British cavalry of the First World War, it should never be forgotten that by far the largest cavalry operations in history (using `cavalry' to mean horse soldiers) took place in the Second World War, and that cavalry continued successfully in military service in some parts of the world beyond the end of the twentieth century." Drawing the obvious conclusion from this, Badsey concludes that "To predict in 1918 that cavalry had a future was to be accurate."

As Badsey goes on to detail, Haig had been at the centre of the evolution of modern cavalry doctrine for decades, and his view that cavalry would eventually play a significant role in the need for the rapid mobility of armed men once the enemy began to collapse after years of trench deadlock were borne out by events. Even a determined infantryman such as Rawlinson, who never fully grasped the evolved cavalry doctrine and how and when to use it, grudgingly accepted in his diary for 8th August 1918 that the cavalry "had done splendid work."

Badsey covers in detail the difficulties specific to the cavalry within the wider difficulties of how to fight an all-arms battle that was also mobile. He devotes particular focus to the problems for the cavalry in getting any co-operation from the Tank Corps, citing, for instance, the Cavalry Corps after-action report for August-October 1918, which suggested that a troop of Whippets should be attached permanently to each cavalry squadron (which was capable of operating as rapidly mobile mounted infantry) as a less vulnerable replacement for machine guns carried on pack horses. The report concluded that, "the use of Whippet tanks with the cavalry is in its infancy, and if successful co-operation is to be achieved both must train and practise together." In contrast, as Badsey pithily notes, "The tank Corps report did not even mention the cavalry's existence." Yet the cavalry view was surely correct for its time - a time when the horse was still the only practical way of moving large bodies of armed men rapidly over all terrains.

Statistically, Badsey's book reveals some telling facts - particularly in respect of refuting contemporary political suggestions that the retention of the BEF's cavalry prior to 1918 was an unsustainable drain on resources:

"The cavalry's requirements made up only a small fraction of the Army's demands, which included 5,919,427 tons of oats and hay shipped across the English Channel during the war compared with 5,269,302 tons of ammunition [....]"

Badsey goes on to note that during the war the British army purchased 1,248,323 horses and mules, but only 174,665 of these were riding horses.

Following on from this, Badsey details how, on 23 November 1916, Haig appeared before the War Committee on the question of reducing Britain's cavalry capability. Haig pointed out that the three cavalry divisions consumed about 100 tons of all types of supply per day, which in context was a negligible amount. Indeed, as Badsey points out, one of Haig's problems during the `Hundred Days' was precisely the weakness of the Cavalry Corps. As of 1 March 1918, the strength of the British cavalry arm in all combat theatres was 15, 755 in total - a mere 1.65% of all fighting troops. To put that in context, the RFC's strength on the same date was 31, 092 or 3.24% of all combat troops, whilst the Tank Corps had 10,072 or 1.05%. But Badsey also makes the point that by 1918 the Cavalry Corps, like the rest of the BEF, "had also come to rely heavily on firepower. From late August onwards it included a cyclist battalion, the two Household battalions of motorised machine-gunners, an attached infantry brigade in buses, and a mixed artillery brigade including four 18-pounders and two lorry-towed 4.5-inch howitzers."

In essence, then, Badsey demonstrates that not only was all-arms warfare being practiced by the BEF in 1918, but that within those constituent arms the state of technological development was integrated and co-ordinated with established elements to maximise the, individually less than perfect, effectiveness of both. Badsey notes that in a fluid situation, "Haig tried to keep a balance between using the cavalry in detached divisions and brigades to assist in the repeated short breakthroughs by which the British Army maintained its advance, and trying to preserve the Cavalry Corps in case the Germans did collapse and the advance became a rout."

I have touched upon only a selection of the themes which Badsey's comprehensive text investigates. This is a lucid gem of a book, which clearly lays out the development, reform and practice of cavalry doctrine in a period in military affairs when advances in firepower easily outstripped those in other nascent battlefield technologies. It provides an easy to follow guide to the interdependence of the political and fiscal constraints under which military planners must, perforce, develop their doctrine and reforms in response to changing requirements. For too long, the British cavalry in the Great War has been unfairly judged as having failed to evolve - and, indeed, that it was no more than an expensive and ultimately useless anachronism. Badsey convincing dispels these myths. Yet he is under no illusions as far as the difficulties in shifting perceptions in popular culture are concerned, and his conclusion on this is downbeat:

"The metaphor of an uncomprehending cavalry general ordering his obsolete troopers to charge to their doom has spread beyond military studies, into the general vocabulary of historians and readers of history, as a touchstone of all that is reactionary, foolish and futile. It is probably too well established ever to be removed."

Do not be one of the unenlightened - add this essential title to your Great War library! Highly recommended on several levels.

Haig: Master of the Field
Haig: Master of the Field
by Tavish Davidson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.66

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An indispensible title in the Haig historiography, 9 Dec. 2010
The importance of this key text in the historiography of Haig's role in the Great War cannot be overstated. It was first published in 1953, and is written by the then senior surviving member of DH's inner circle at GHQ, Major General Sir John 'Tavish' Davidson. Tavish Davidson was, successively, DH's Operations Officer and Director of Operations between 1915 - 1919. Davidson's first hand insight is supported by an Introduction by another with intimate knowledge of events at the highest levels during the Great War, Marshal of the Royal Air Force Viscount Trenchard. In his Introduction Trenchard writes, inter alia, that: "I hope the views I express here may help the historians of the future to write accurately about Field Marshal Earl Haig's influence on the world in those difficult days."

Now, for today's historians and interested laymen, Pen & Sword have republished this important text, to which is added a Preface by Douglas Scott, Haig's grandson and a respected military historian. Douglas corresponded with me during the writing of his Preface and was tremendously enthused that Davidson's book was once more going to be in print. Sadly, Douglas died at the start of July and so did not live to see Tavish Davidson's classic work republished.

Pen & Sword are to be commended for producing this republication, though it is to be regretted that they also replicated the original edition's major deficiency - the lack of an index. This is all the more exasperating an omission in the case of such a uniquely insightful work. Better by far that the illustration section, which was not part of the original edition, had been left out in favour of the index which would have made this book so much more user friendly as a reference tool. Make no mistake, however, 'Haig: Master of the Field' remains an absolutely essential title for the library of anyone wishing to fully grasp the British C-in-C and the British Armies in France's role in the dramatic final two years of the Great War.

Tavish Davidson wrote 'Haig: Master of the Field' to counter what he and many of his generation saw as what, by 1953, had developed into unjustified and uninformed criticism of the British Commander-in-Chief and the purpose and achievement of his armies role in the Great War. Much of the more extreme examples of course, had been inspired and co-ordinated by Basil Liddell Hart for his own career-making purposes. In his interesting Foreword, Tavish Davidson notes, inter alia, something of the nature of the encouragement which the genesis of his book had from senior officers of the Great War who knew whereof they spoke:

"Since the issue of the Official History, I have received a number of letters requesting that I should publish such records or notes that I may have on the subject of the war in 1917 and 1918. I quote a typical letter from one who commanded a Corps in Flanders during the period under review. He wrote a letter to me dated 18th February 1949:- 'My reason for writing to you is that you are perhaps one of the few remaining Officers who were on Haig's Staff who knows the whole truth about that period of the fighting. Would it not be wise therefore to let the facts be known rather more widely than by your letter to The Times (14th February 1949) or Edmonds' [the Official Historian] Preface. I think for Haig's reputation something should be done.'

"Feeling that Lord Haig would have been generally satisfied with the Official History, I concluded at first that no comments from me were either necessary or desireable. On seconds thoughts I felt that I was free and in a position to throw some light on certain aspects of the campaigns, and, in doing so, I would have had the approval not only of the Commander-in-Chief but also of the Commanders of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Armies, all of whom, after a speech which I made in the House of Commons on 6th August 1919 and in which I reviewed the events of 1917 and 1918, expressed to me their concurrence with what I had said. Lord Haig wrote to me on the 12th:- 'I was very pleased to see from Hansard how well you spoke out in the House regarding the critical period we went through in 1917. For this I thank you and congratulate you.' This speech was summarised in the notes to pages 127 and 128 in 'Sir Douglas Haig's Despatches.'

General The Honble. Sir Herbert Lawrence, who had served in the 17th Lancers and in the South African War with Lord Haig, and who was his Chief-of-Staff throughout 1918, had consistently advised and urged me to place on record such information as I possessed. He regarded it of importance and, on his death, he left me his papers connected with that period. General Sir Douglas Baird, who was for a long period on Lord Haig's Staff both in India and France and who subsequently commanded an Army in India, as well as Lt-General Sir Bertie Fisher, who was in the 17th Lancers with Lord Haig and was subsequently Colonel of the Regiment - both close friends of his - expressed their views to me that some record as I now propose should be published."

Davidson had sent a pre-publication of his book to Douglas Scott's mother, Victoria, Field Marshal Haig's second daughter. In a letter to her of September 1952, Davidson wrote:

'.....I much appreciate all you say & am deeply grateful to you. I agree with you that the book will not have a wide public & as you rightly say it will be limited to students of history, to military establishments etc., but what I think is important is that it will be treated as a book of reference & help to correct some historical errors and false conceptions. I have tried to show up your father's wonderful qualities under the most abnormal conditions and in critical situations. He will grow in stature as the years go by....'

As Douglas Scott concludes in his Preface to the new edition of Davidson's book:

"Sadly the book did little 'to correct some historical errors and false conceptions'. Most of the 'historians' evidently preferred their errors and misconceptions. They usually list 'Haig: Master of the Field' in their bibliography, but there was little evidence that they actually read what General Davidson said about the unfolding drama of 1917 and 1918.

"Tavish's judgement that my grandfather 'will grow in stature as the years go by' has started to come true. Let us hope that this edition of his fine book will help the process."

'Haig: Master of the Field' is a sober, rational and essential evaluation of Sir Douglas Haig's command and the influences which impinged upon it in 1917-18 by one of the last insiders who 'was there'.
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