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Not an accidental war...
on 4 January 2009
If you think that the European powers stumbled into the Great War by accident; that the generals were numbskulls who learned nothing from the slaughter on the Somme or at Verdun; or that the sudden collapse of Germany in 1918 owed little to British and French efforts, then read this book and think again.
This is a superb history of World War One, clearly written and comprehensive in its scope. Stevenson is clear that the origins of the war were not accidental. Politicians on both sides had choices and they chose war or the threat of war as preferable to the alternatives. In particular Austria-Hungary and Germany wanted a war in the Balkans and were willing to risk its escalation into a general European war.
This isn't a purely military history, although there are enough military details to understand why in the central years of the war defence usually prevailed over attack and neither side was able to achieve a decisive breakthrough on the Western Front. Stephenson shows how military tactics evolved on both sides and while the new weapons of tanks, gas and aircraft played a part, the decisive innovations were in the co-ordination of artillery with infantry.
Stevenson shows how the Allies were able to mobilise their greater economic resources and enforce the blockade of Germany and translate these into a military superiority that was able to absorb the Ludendorff offensives in early 1918 and then break the German resistance in Flanders. In this, the repeated willingness of Germany to risk all on further military initiatives brought about its own defeat. The decision to adopt unrestricted submarine warfare in 1917 brought the USA into the war. The 1918 offensives broke the German army while ultimately failing to break the Allies.
This is an impressive book that changed my views on the origins and conduct of the war.