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5.0 out of 5 stars
Another excellent book by Jack Sheldon, 17 Aug 2009
The fourth book in Jack Sheldon's series of studies on the experiences of German soldiers in the Great War maintains the high standards that characterise the other three. The German Army at Cambrai is, in a sense, his most challenging work, in so far as it deals with a relatively short, sharp battle that is chiefly remembered for the first mass use of tanks.
It is surprising to learn that the German line at Cambrai was not optimally sited. We might have supposed that, as a result of the Alberich movement, the Germans would have picked the ground as they retired from the Somme with an eye to maximising their advantage, but here it was the British who enjoyed better observation.
Cambrai was "The Flanders Sanatorium", a quiet sector, but there was still patrolling and prisoner snatching. Of particular interest is the narrative of Reserve Leutnant Vocke, 5th Company Reserve Infantry Regiment 19, which Sheldon describes as "...one of the most honest and evocative accounts of a prisoner snatch ever to appear in print..."
A hallmark of Sheldonian scholarship is the combination of meticulous archival research with commentary by Sheldon which makes us question our perceptions of the German army in the Great War. We are reminded that, despite its awe inspiring reputation, Germany's Great General Staff could also be "...a hotbed of back biting, scheming and political manoeuvring."
It is the accounts of the soldiers themselves that make the biggest impact, and Cambrai, with its dramatic tank onslaught, its predicted artillery fire and the lethal use of gas, the attacks by aircraft and the sudden appearance of cavalry, makes a dramatic narrative.
The German riposte was astonishing : 130,000 men and 508 guns were deployed in a furious counter attack that achieved startling results, although Sheldon reminds us that it did not become the Cannae that the German High Command had hoped for.
Throughout the book Sheldon lets the soldiers' accounts dominate the narrative, but when he adds his own commentary it is effective, balanced and thought provoking.
This is a superb book.