on 31 January 2011
The best thing about books on the first war is that the majority of them are free of slanted post war politics and unpolluted by politicaly correct over writing and this is no exception .I have a dozen or more excellant volumes written from the British side of the barricade but only 1 prior to my purchasing this one from the German prospective and boy did I strike gold ! Having already read some of the British accounts of the opening moves around Y`Pres reading this was like fitting two pieces of jig-saw together to give an even fuller account of the battle . I`ve already ordered the rest in the series .The book documents the opening skirmish`s around YPres in the early stages of the war which at the time was very much mobile warfare featuring a great deal of cavalry actions as each side attempted to outflank the other and the beginning of trench warfare .It also sheds light on the role the royal navy played in finishing off the Schlieffen plan already diluted by being obliged to draw off resources to fend off the russian invasion of prussia . I bought this in order to improve my knowledge of the conflict which is more or less basic . I suspect the book is aimed at the more serious students of WW1 and I confess I found myself at times out of my depth forever having to scroll back through its pages to refer to maps and even drag out some contained within other books but don`t be put off by this if like me you`re not an expert on the subject . The great thing achieved by the author is that the regimental diary entries are regulary punctuated with a plethora of eye witness accounts taken from letters written at the time of the actions which gives you a real feel of what was happening .It so happens that my best friend is an expert on the first world war having completed his doctorate on the subject and travelled throughout Europe in the course of his studies and has nothing but praise for this book and its author . So if you`re a first world war brainiac like him or just an amateur like me hoping to learn a little more this one caters for us all and is a must have .
on 21 January 2011
No-one understands the day-to-day trials and tribulations of the German soldier on the Western Front in the Great War better than Jack Sheldon.
The German Army at Ypres 1914 adds to an already-impressive body of work and, for the first time in English, brings this key battle in the Race to the Sea to life 'from the other side of the hill'.
It's packed with extremely vivid first-hand accounts throughout (I doubt if any have seen the light of day in English before), plus useful maps which help you to follow the progress of the men cited.
What really got me, however, was the poem cited on the very last page; the sentiments within are not a million miles away from those expressed by British soldier-poets.
Should be on the bookshelf of anyone interested in either the opening moves of the Great War or the German Army in WW1.
This is the latest in a sequence of books by Jack Sheldon, examining the German army and its operations on the Western Front. As a body of work they have established Jack as a reliable authority and have justifiably developed a reputation as absorbing and insightful works, bringing balance and perhaps some surprises to British readers.
"The German Army at Ypres 1914" is in some ways a slightly misleading title, for the scope of this volume covers a good deal more than the intensive conflict between the BEF and the Germans in front of Ypres from 20 October to 22 November 1914. The "advance to contact" and early skirmishes as both sides sought to move around and outflank the other in the series of events that made up the so-called "Race to the Sea" take us from the area of Ploegsteert and the Messines ridge all the way up to the Yser line and Disksmuide. As such, this is as much about the Belgian and French engagement with the enemy as it is about the BEF, presenting us with the single most coherent view of the developing battle in Flanders that I have ever read.
The author draws heavily upon published regimental histories, with a leavening of some first-hand accounts and primary documents. As such there is a danger that the source material is a little varnished and likely to have been presented in an optimistic light, but Jack is wise enough to cut through the regimental bull and bravado, to pull out the key facts and ensure that what we have is a reliable telling of the tale.
First Ypres became the subject of mythology on both sides: of British pride in the expertise of their regular soldiers and of defence against overwhelming odds and a highly trained and professional enemy; for Germany, the abiding memory was of patriotic but untrained students advancing arm in arm to their deaths. All these and more come under scrutiny and the truths begin to emerge. The key fact is that the German assault proved in the end to be a complete failure, for all manner of reasons of training, command deficiencies, tactics and morale. The near-breakthrough and defeat of the BEF was not, perhaps, as close a run thing as the British official historian would have us believe. In the end , the battle fizzled out, both sides exhausted. This view from the other side of the wire makes for a fascinating comparison with British reports and I recommend this work highly to anyone interested in Ypres or this early phase of the war.
I understand it was for reasons of space (and at 364 pages this is already a pretty hefty volume) that there is relatively little coverage of the actions south of the Menin Road after the initial skirmishing (a pity in some ways as the actions of 6-7 November in the Zillebeke area were as critical as any in this battle).
Sorry to say but one aspect of production does, for me at any rate, detract - and that is Pen & Sword's continued use of a very upright and narrow typeface. I can only guess that it is some weird attempt to make this book look and feel more German. Well, it hurts my eyes and is not necessary. But let me not overstate this and end by saying that the "The German Army at Ypres 1914" is a terrific piece of military history.
on 3 May 2011
I believe this fifth volume of Jack Sheldon's German Army series is quite the best so far. His style has matured and is now well established and easily recognized. He paints a vivid picture without the use of superlatives, he illustrates his subject by reference to eye witness accounts (almost all of which are previously unpublished) and his narrative holds the reader's attention throughout. "The German Army at Ypres 1914" is a timely and most important addition to the vast amount of existing literature - much of which is not original but merely regurgitations of previous works. It makes an invaluable contribution to modern military history, debunking many misconceptions that have evolved in the erstwhile absence of evidence "from the other side".
Jack Sheldon strips away much of the hyperbole and untruths associated especially with British versions of the events of 1914, and teases out detail in order to present as factual an account as is possible. In this volume, he gets to work immediately on the problems of lack of preparation, inadequate training and deficiencies in equipment which foretell of the disasters yet to come. This dispels the notion held hitherto of the professionalism of German planning and staff work and the Army's ability as a fighting machine. Once into the text the descriptive passages on the difficulties of communication, the loss of officer and NCO junior commanders, order and counter order and accounts of infantry tactical manoeuvre are all described with great fluency by eye-witnesses. In particular, the descriptions of night attacks at regimental level (probably the most difficult exercise of all) show how the German Fourth Army was poorly prepared at this stage of the war.
Many of the individual statements on which Sheldon bases his narrative were written by young soldiers - many of them "Kriegsfreiwillige". These were invariably well read and articulate young men who have left us accounts that are (as far as I am aware) unmatched by any available from contemporary British records. Indeed, the British volunteers were still being recruited at this stage of the war, and, even thereafter, their written stories are not as numerous as those of their enemy. This is the only area were I would dare to challenge Jack Sheldon's account. He suggests (as does the foreword) that the "Kindermord bei Ypern" myth is not based upon reality. But that is the nature of a myth! In any event, it was more than a myth - it was a sad reality! It was, truly, a massacre of the innocents; after all - as far as I am aware - up to 20% of the German casualties sustained during the Yser campaign were Kriegsfreiwillige, most of them students or young men with professional backgrounds. They were full of self confidence, they were certain that they were fighting for a just cause and would be home in time for Christmas. In their naivety the idea of being slaughtered en masse did not occur to them. Poorly prepared, they really were innocent, and they died in their thousands.
The narrative is underpinned by an impressive collection of footnotes that provide not only textual supporting evidence but, also, additional interesting background information. These footnotes provide a wealth of material that shows the depth of research, and indeed, the impressive knowledge that Jack Sheldon has of his subject and German culture. Together with his intimate knowledge (and obvious personal experience) of infantry battle craft and tactics at battalion level this presents a fascinating history of the events in Flanders in the autumn of 1914. I'll bet that there are now many well-respected World War One authors and historians who will be red pencilling their own works!
on 16 March 2014
THE German Army at Ypres 1914 is one of six books which the acclaimed historian Jack Sheldon has written on the Germany army during the First World War.
A large portion of German regimental diaries and Great War archives from the period were destroyed during an RAF air raid on Potsdam in 1945.
But Sheldon has literally trawled through a plethora of largely unused and unseen documents in the Kriegsarchiv in Munich, plus scores of personal accounts, both published and unpublished to create this masterly work on fighting to the east of Ypres in 1914.
German hopes of a swift victory in 1914 were dashed when its forces were halted along the banks of the River Marne in September.
As a result, the new German Chief of the General Staff Erich Von Falkenhayn committed largely untrained volunteers and reservists in an all-or-nothing attack at Ypres which was Germany's last hope of gaining a decisive victory in the west in 1914.
Until now, most books in English have largely focused on the men of the British Expeditionary Force's ability to fire 15 aimed rounds a minute into the German troops, who would often advance shoulder-to-shoulder.
The so-called 'mad-minute' musketry of the BEF has taken on a mythical status, with some historians quick to put the ultimate failure of the German attacks down to the quality of British soldiering.
But Sheldon's work highlights that the Germans were repulsed at Ypres in 1914 by Belgian and French forces as well, and so in that sense it was an Allied effort, not just a British one.
The study of German sources also makes clear the startling deficiencies in command and control which beset the German - and indeed all armies - at this stage of the war.
Communications between forward troops, artillery and command posts were quick to break down, as was morale when rudimentary tactics failed.
All in all, this is a masterly and authoritative work which really opens the reader's eyes to how operations were carried out by the Germans, and what life was like 'on the other side of the hill'.
It should be read by all serious scholars of the Great War and I can't recommend this book highly enough.
on 26 February 2011
This is another "must have" book for anyone interested in learning about the Great War.
This is not only because it completes a quintet by Jack Sheldon, who has truly broken new ground in our perceptions of the conflict. The book stands on its own merits. If you read it, it will really make you appreciate the German dimension to what has been commemorated as the last stand of the Old Contemptibles of the B.E.F. in those desperate battles in Flanders in the autumn of 1914. More than that, you will understand how important the contribution of the Belgian and French soldiers was, too.
Some of the folklore of the battle is exposed as exaggeration or wishful thinking.
The preponderance of German sacrifice at Ypres was not born by university students who were cut down by long range volleys of musketry from British soldiers, who, it was thought, "..were firing a machine gun from behind every tree...". These battles were fought in claustrophobic farmlots and woodlands, in a patchwork of hedgerows and hamlets, where fire was delivered suddenly and at close quarters.
The narrative of the battle, sector by sector and day by day, is concise and disciplined, and based on first rate archival research.
There are anecdotes enough to keep the humanity of the thing to the fore. The photographs are very striking and evocative. One in particular tells us so much about the German experience of Ypres 1914 : twelve German officers from a Bavarian Reserve Infantry regiment stand for a photograph before the fighting. In a single battle, eight of the twelve were killed and two of them wounded. Thus the fate of soldiers improperly trained, poorly equipped and imprudently deployed into one of the hardest fought battles of the war.
Jack Sheldon has given us another masterpiece.
Phil Andrade, a Life Member of the Western Front Association
on 20 February 2014
While a viewpoint from the 'other' side is a welcome addittion to a fuller picture of the conflict, I have found, ironically enough that the lack of information on what the British and French were attempting to do, or of what formations the Germans were facing to be a significant drawback in the earlier stages of the book. Having the Kindle version, I am finding the maps of low quality. I suppose in general, with access to both sides of the fence I was expecting a greater clarity in presenting an overall understanding of events.
on 17 September 2011
This book is the fifth I have by Jack Sheldon and my expectations were met fully. A very detailed and revealing account of the German Army in the first months of the war, which destroys some myths. They were not as well prepared as our proffessional, but small, army was.
The german soldier and officer alike speak with admiration for the skill at arms displayed by the British "tommy", an eye opener! and a very good read.
on 31 January 2015
This has given me a greater depth of understanding of the strategic, operational and realities of events that has so often been expressed in a mere sentence as a RACE TO THE SEA.... thanks to this book I feel I've gain a depth ....a extra layer of understanding to the whole importance of YPRES ....... highly recommend.
on 15 July 2014
Very detailed description of the first battle of Ypres from the German perspective but so detailed that it becomes monotonous as a "good read". Endless numbers of men being shoved into an endless series of advances towards a prepared enemy in lousy winter conditions - and few coming back.