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65 of 70 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A true WW1 classic (already)
Firstly, a word about what this book isn't - it is not intended to be narrative, year by year account of WW1. Many such books already exist, I found Huw Strachan's very good.
What this book does offer is a reappraisal of WW1, comparing the realities of the Great War with the tired stereotypes and myths that are served up regularly (and unquestioningly) in WW1 films,...
Published on 28 Jan 2005 by oldhasbeen

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13 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars mixed bag.
This is a series of essays dealing with various aspects of the First World War mostly through the lens of the British Army. Some are more convincing than others.

The first essay is an attempt to justify Britain's entry into the war. Whilst a number of the arguments make sense none of them are truly compelling. Yes, protecting the balance of power in Europe...
Published on 31 Jan 2010 by Danny of Arabia


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65 of 70 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A true WW1 classic (already), 28 Jan 2005
By 
oldhasbeen (England) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Forgotten Victory: The First World War: Myths and Realities (Paperback)
Firstly, a word about what this book isn't - it is not intended to be narrative, year by year account of WW1. Many such books already exist, I found Huw Strachan's very good.
What this book does offer is a reappraisal of WW1, comparing the realities of the Great War with the tired stereotypes and myths that are served up regularly (and unquestioningly) in WW1 films, books and documentaries. Dr Sheffied does not flinch from asking the hard questions, and some readers will be shocked, or possibly angered, by some of his findings. But you don't have to agree with every word of it to find this an outstanding contribution to war history.
Apart from being an outstanding historian, the author is also an excellent writer who retains the reader's attention with stylist prose and wit. Unlike some other "revisionist" authors, he also writes with great compassion for those caught up in the war and resists the trap of rubbishing anyone who has written anything contrary to his thesis, except in cases where it is truly deserved (Alan Clark's dreadful "The Donkeys" being a case in point.)
In short, I wholly recommend this book to anyone with even a passing interest in the Great War.
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65 of 70 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent reappraisal of the British Army., 7 Oct 2003
By 
Matt M. (North-West England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Forgotten Victory: The First World War: Myths and Realities (Paperback)
So often thought of in the ideal of poets such as Owen and Sassoon, Gary Sheffield argues that this was hardly the typical view of the British soldier in the Great War. The old line of the British Army being an archaic institution of incompetant officers and disillusioned soldiers is refuted as a myth of post-war pacifist literature. In reality, the BEF experienced the greatest learning curve of all the armies in the war, and profited most from the hotbed of technological innovations and ideas (the tank, air reconaissance and the "creeping barrage"). The evetual reality of this great learning curve was the most impressive and coherant victory in the histoy of the British Army.
As well as the course of the war, Sheffield also seeks to re-examine the causes, with much emphasis placed on the post-Bismarck attitude of Wilhelmine Germany.
Whilst the author does not seek to deny the mistakes that were made, and the tragedies the befell the frontline soldiers, he argues that the "lions led by donkeys" mentality is one that has obscured our perceptions of the Great War even to this day.
The subject of possibly the most controversy, Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, is also reappraised in a single chapter depicting the relationship between Haig and the men under his command, which by 1918, could be described as very coherant. Sheffield does not attempt to lionise Haig, but his excellent revision allows for a far more objective look into a very complex character.
An essential read for all who express an interest in the British Army, and the Great War.
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43 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The real Great War, 4 Oct 2002
By 
HPCecil (London, UK United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Forgotten Victory: The First World War: Myths and Realities (Paperback)
The First World War had such vast and tragic implications that as Samuel Hynes has said, its reality has been almost impossible for subsequent generations to grasp and has been replaced by myth. First this was a myth of hallowed victory, achieved by a noble army of martyrs, as evoked in the sombre verses of Sir John Arkwright's 'O Valiant Hearts.' Then, after a few years' interval, this was supplanted by an ever more popular myth, still dominant today, of fatuous leadership, semi-mutinous troops, and repetitive, futile, suicidal attacks. This myth drew its emotional force from works like the haunting poetry of Wilfred Owen.

Gary Sheffield's book tells how battles were fought, how decisions were made and how the nature of the war, so apparently unchanging, gradually altered. It gets away from myths and confronts reality, including all that was dreadful and badly managed; but in doing so it also demonstrates that the British High Command could and did learn by its mistakes and develop new tactics, and that the British troops , despite the fearful battering they took, preserved their unit morale. By the summer of 1918, the British Expeditionary Force had become a highly-trained, professional organisation of immense strength - no 'Joe Soap's Army'. The victories it gained during the 'hundred days', when it pushed back the still redoubtable German army, rank as the greatest by a British force in their country's history.
There is still a popular tendency today, outside historical circles, to mistrust revisionism of this kind as 'pro-war' and to prefer, as being supposedly more humane, depictions of the conflict based on the 'futile war' myth, such as Alan Bleasdale's 'Monocled Mutineer' and Joan Littlewood's 'O What a Lovely War'. On his part, for all his refusal to accept their over-simplifications, and his credentials as a military expert, Gary Sheffield is not one to deny credit where it is due: provided it is taken with a massive pinch of historical salt, classic entertainment of the Bleasdale-Littlewood variety can be enjoyed for the first-rate drama that it is, both satirical and tragic. For me, Gary Sheffield's book, which is, incidentally, a very good read, supplies that pinch of hard reality, and should also be required at all schools and universities where the First World War - an enduringly popular topic - is studied.
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113 of 125 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars essential revisionist reading about the First World War, 26 Dec 2002
By 
Dr. Sn Cottam "Steve the medic" (Preston, England) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Forgotten Victory: The First World War: Myths and Realities (Paperback)
Not another book about the First World War. After all, we all know everything about that conflict. Brave working class lads shivered and suffered in muddy trenches, sacrificed in futile "over the top" attacks urged on by toffish officers, themselves under orders from a callous and bungling general staff safely esconsced in villas far from the front line, the whole directed by uncaring politicians (whether imperialistic British or strutting Prussian aristocrats) lustful for power and glory. In short, a total and utter waste of which nothing good can be said.
Well...not nearly correct according to this ambitious but stunningly sucessful revisionist account of the First World War, written by one of the able group of younger military and political historians who are beginning to look through the fog obscuring the realities of the First World War. Gary Sheffield argues that our perception of the First World War is distorted; firstly - by an (entirely understandable) emotional reaction to the massive casualty figures involving so many young men, secondly - by the subsequent portrayal in the arts and literature by the war poets, O What A Lovely War, Blackadder and many others. Sheffield argues that, for all their literary merit, the war poets (mostly officers, all very atypical soldiers) are about as relevant to what really happened as Shakespeare's plays are to English history.
Looking beyond these popular perceptions, Gary Sheffield demolishes the myths of 80 years, with devastating logic and well chosen illustrative examples. German militarism had been rising since the reunification of Germany, by the 1900s it had reached a dangerous pitch and in the hands of the frankly unbalanced Kaiser and his military clique posed a severe danger, not only to Britain and France but the stability of the world. If Britain had not gone to war in 1914 (and under treaty we were obliged to defend our allies France and Belgium), it would have happened later, perhaps when we were less prepared. The German attack on France and Belgium was a purely aggressive bid for European domination and had to be resisted. The German Army's behavior in Belgium was as atrocious (but on a smaller scale) as that in the Second World War.
Britain started war in 1914 as ill-prepared for the fury of modern industrialised warfare as all the other involved armies were, but by 1917/8 had climbed a steep learning curve, involving new technology (especially tanks and aircraft), new strategies, new training, better use of men and materials. Far from being hide-bound stuffed uniforms, British officers and generals took on the new complexities and challenges of war and gained stunning victories in the last year of the war, as complete and well accomplished as the British Army has ever achieved before or since. For example, nearly a year to the day after the tragedy of the first day of the Somme, a new approach (with exploding mines, night attack and an artillery "creeping barrage") enabled the New Zealanders to take Messines Ridge successfully with minimal casualties.
Even Field Marshal Douglas Haig is rehabilitated as a capable and determined warrior, far from the butcher and bungler he has been portrayed as (although in an aside Sheffield does admit to Haig's somewhat unusual personality, and remarks that "he might not be an ideal dinner guest").
In a postscript, Sheffield debunks the belief that the harsh conditions set down at Versailles "caused" the rise of Nazism and the Second World War.
While nowhere glorifying the war nor excusing the frequent incompetance and poor generalship, and fully acknowledging the massive tragedy of the First World War, Gary Sheffield makes a compelling case that the conflict was far from futile. The First World War needs to be rescued from simplistic perceptions fed by the media, and needs to regain its rightful place in history as a victory that Britain and its allies can be proud of.
This is the best book I have read on the First World War for years - Sheffield writes well and clearly and this is essential reading for anyone with any interest in the First World War.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Readable and challenging, 12 Dec 2009
By 
Paradigmshift (Bournemouth, England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Forgotten Victory: The First World War: Myths and Realities (Paperback)
The subject matter of this book will inevitably cause friction, disagreement and sides being taken (a bit like the real thing). It helps when there are people that can explain some of it in a form that is moderately straightforward to digest and understand...regardless of whether you subscribe to a particular viewpoint or not.

Gary Sheffield's work is both well researched and readable, and for that reason I'd recommend this book to a very broad range of people, from the casually interested, to the serious history student.

My advice: buy it, read it...and think about it.

The Somme: A New History (Cassell Military Paperbacks)

Douglas Haig: War Diaries and Letters 1914-1918: The Diaries of Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A long overdue assessment of the British army's 1918 victory, 2 Dec 2001
By A Customer
This is an excellent book as we would expect from the Professor of the history of land warfare at the Joint Services Staff College. It strips away the handwringing myths of the 'Oh What a Lovely War' and 'Blackadder' schools of popular history and looks dispassionately at "Britain's Forgotten Victory". We forget that the " four armies " of 1914 -18, the Regulars, the TA, the Kitchener Volunteers and the Conscripts finally came together after four years of a new kind of warfare [for which no army in the world was prepared in 1914] and drove the Germans back for a hundred days without stopping. This book is long overdue and a powerful corrective to the "socially aware" kind of liberal history that has been allowed to dominate the agenda for far too long. An important addition to any serious bookshelf.
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39 of 46 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A challenge to the myths, 5 Jan 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: Forgotten Victory: The First World War: Myths and Realities (Paperback)
This is not an easy book to read but it is one that needs to be since it challenges our perceptions of The First World War.
The author argues that it was a necessary, not futile war, which had to be fought to curb German Militarism. It asks what would have happened to places that the Germans had overrun – such as most of Belgium – had there been an early compromise peace.
He argues that the Generals made mistakes but were not the crass, blundering butchers of popular belief – and specifically addresses such things as Blackadder goes Forth and expressions which have come into our language – such as a good man to have next to you in the trenches.
He argues that many of our perceptions of the war are based on war poets and English teachers – rather than the man in the trench doing his duty or historical facts.
He also explodes the widely believed – even today – Nazi myth that the German Army was not defeated but was betrayed by the politicians.
The arguments are well put, logical and easy to follow. I say it is hard to read however in that a statement on one page that the Grimsby Chums had light casualties of 110 men is not just 110 men who may not be coming back – it’s 110 families, parents, siblings, wives, lovers, children also affected. How much leeway can we allow for the “learning curve” which the BEF and its commanders had to undergo when men’s lives are being ruined or ended?
I came away with the impression that they did enough to win - but win well, or with ease, they did not. Therefore by the standards of Sun Tzu, they were failures. But looked at over four years, by the end they were running an efficient military machine, which with increasing numbers of American troops coming into the fray would have driven onto Berlin – had Germany not capitulated.
Ninety years after it started our views on The Great War are still coloured by our emotions and horror at the mud, the blood, the gas, the graveyards, the death of innocence and the “squander” of a nation’s youth. The author deserves credit for attempting to take this emotional baggage out of the equation. Perhaps in another ninety years time our successors will be able to do so.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Food for thought, 25 Feb 2012
By 
This review is from: Forgotten Victory: The First World War: Myths and Realities (Paperback)
This is a series of essays on controversies surrounding the First World War. It is well written and balanced and gives plenty of food for thought.
I thought the essays on the origins of the War and the aftermath show great historical perspective. It is shown that Britain did not have much alternative but to go in. Sheffield is also good on the American perspective and appreciates Wilson's contribution. The author is also good at demolishing some myths that have developed from the war being viewed through literary eyes.
It is more difficult to justify the British generals but with some reservations he finds that they got there in the end. The Somme with some reservations was in the end a victory for British troops albeit at a price.
The big point that is made well is that the BEF faced the full might of the German army in March 1918and though they buckled they did not break. They then counterattacked and defeated the German army. This could not be done if the army had been badly led. The courage of the ordinary soldier would not have been enough. Compare the fate of the Russian army in the same war.
The books helps demonstrate how these successes came about. One conclusion is that you cannot have war without casualty
The book is not a chronicle of events, one needs say Keegan's book for that.
Strongly recommended.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent reappraisal of the British Army., 7 Oct 2003
By 
Matt M. (North-West England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Forgotten Victory: The First World War: Myths and Realities (Paperback)
So often thought of in the ideal of poets such as Wilfred Owen and Seigfried Sassoon, Gary Sheffield's excellent work argues that this attitude was hardly typical of the British soldier in the Great War. Far from being an inept mass army of "lions led by donkeys", the British Army experienced possibly the greatest learning curve in it's long, long history. The results of this learning curve were the overwhelming victory on the Western Front in the "Hundred Days" campaign, with the BEF reaching it's peak in professionalism and coherance. Sheffield points out that our perceptions of the Great War are distorted by the writings of such poets as Owen and Sassoon, and the pacifist literature that followed the conclusion of the war.
Whilst the author does not attempt to deny mistakes where they were made, he concisely demolishes the myth of the "lions led by donkeys" ideal, epitomised in his reappraisal of Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig. Not seeking to lionise him, Sheffield argues that he is a figure who deserves serious attention as the man who commanded a victorious British Army - presenting Haig in a far more concise, objective light.
A thoroughly recommended read for anyone interested in the British Army or the Great War in general.
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26 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A refreshing change, 5 July 2001
By 
David Ashton (Crawley,, West Sussex United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This book is a refreshing change from the earlier pacifist guilt trips. It is a lot more like what my grandad told me about WW1.
Britain can be proud of its role in WW1. What a shame that the Treaty of Versailles allowed the Nazis to sell the line that their militarists had not been truly defeated.
The book is properly researched and very very clear. World War 1 was not a sad political accident. It was an attempt at military domination that was well and truly stopped.
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Forgotten Victory: The First World War: Myths and Realities
Forgotten Victory: The First World War: Myths and Realities by Gary Sheffield (Paperback - 5 Jun 2002)
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