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r j askew (London + St.Albans, UK) - See all my reviews
Every now and again I need to read history. I feel it anchors my life in some deep way. I am interested in most history, but being British I am particularly interested in British history as it is my history, literally. WW1 fascinates many British people for all sorts of reasons, some deeply profound.
That said, I’m no expert in the subject.
But I do know enough to enjoy a specialist read such as Anthony Saunder’s authoritative RAIDING ON THE WESTERN FRONT.
I learnt a lot from this excellently researched and intelligently presented insight into a neglected aspect of the conflict. The outcome has the feel of a PhD thesis. It is convincing. I believe it and the conclusions to be drawn from it.

I found myself reading in two ways at once. My head was engaged on the analytical level because the book could have been written by a senior staff officer tasked with assessing the evolution of raiding, the principles at play behind it, and the effectiveness of the various armies in its practice.

At the same time, I read the book with my guts, with a keen curiosity as to how it must have felt to be charging along behind a barrage with a view to getting into the Hun trench before its defenders could get out of their dugouts. My imagination was at times entirely engaged.
There were also some surprising little insights, for example, that the need for closely co-ordinated action led to the popularisation of cheap wrist watches.
The books mastery of detail fed my imagination. For example, the destruction of the enemy’s wire was a key consideration in most of the raids described. Often this had to be done by hand, sometimes by just two men before the raid kicked off.
Saunders’ words brilliant evoked for me the critical ‘snip and ping’ moment when the wire was cut by hand with a pinging noise, one of the two man party holding the wire to prevent it also making a noise as it sprang apart. And then to think that the cutters might have to do this hundreds of times only a few yards from an enemy trench. I felt like I was there.
What really surprised me was that there may not have been anyone in the trench because of the practice of thinning the front line to minimise casualties from bombardments, a tactic which shows how the conflict evolved. I got a strong impression of it being as much a cat and mouse game requiring great deftness and cunning, in sharp contrast to the more populist view of it being a stupid slugging match. The raid was an art form involving great skill to pull it off successfully.
Above all though, was the notion that these mini wars were a breeding ground for new tactics. Infantry men evolved from being mere riflemen into all-arms experts. New notions of defence in depth also evolved and raiding clearly led to the development of storming parties and the new tactics which were used to shocking effect by the Germans in their Spring Offensive of 1918 and then by the allies in The 100 Day Offensive which destroyed German resistance and won the war.
Raids were going on all the time. They kept troops alert. Local domination was all to many of the troops engaged. Studying raids reminds us of how intensely personal it all was for those involved.
And they volunteered. Why we wonder? What motivated them? And always, how must it have felt? What must it have been like to practise the raid and then to be their doing it? How did the young officers feel? What did the tough sergeants think?
And the kit. How would the new grenades work? The new ideas of camouflage. They also had to worry about the moon. Too much light. Not enough light.
Another aspect revealed by RAIDING ON THE WESTERN FRONT is the analysis of the time. The raids were closely assessed, statistics emerged. So to, the planning for each raid could run into many pages of orders with carefully laid plans for scores of guns of various calibres to fire thousands of shells in carefully choreographed patterns.
And all so that thirty men could crawl across no-man’s-land, lay up, roll over the wire, bomb their way into a trench, jump in, bayonet any resistors and then scramble back out – hopefully with a couple of prisoners, possibly dragging a captured machine gun. All in about twenty minutes.
The raiders might even linger outside their own trenches to avoid the retaliatory shelling.
Yes, when you look with a careful eye – as Anthony Saunders does – there is a lot more to be gleaned from The Great War, tactically, strategically, from the general staff's 'SS107 Notes On Minor Enterprises' to the perspective of Tommy Atkins crawling around between the trenches.
Some of the language deployed in RAIDING ON THE WESTERN FRONT was finely rifled. For example, by 1917-18 the ‘enthusiastic extemporised enterprise was no longer even considered.’ Presumably, this meant that a raid could no longer be triggered because someone in the opposing trench had a habit of whistling in an annoying way. That said, some raids ‘retained an almost primordial texture’ as late as December 1917.
Oh yes, what a war it was! Can you imagine the tough old sergeant, himself wounded, who goes back to lug a wounded mate from an enemy trench only to discover half-way across no-man’s-land that he’s carrying a dead German.
I give RAIDING five stars because I was impressed by the works sheer authoritativeness and because it learnt from it and my imagination was stirred by it. I would and probably will read more of the author's works on the war at some future point when my need to read history grips me again.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Read, 22 Aug. 2012
Robin Mellor "July Japer" (South Wales) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Raiding on the Western Front (Hardcover)
As far as I'm aware this is the only book totally dedicated to trench raiding during WWI. The book is full of grammatical errors and the author has a tendency to repeat himself. Despite these shortcomings, the book is very interesting and the descriptions of the trench raids are well written. The author clearly shows how raiding developed during the war and how tactics developed during raids went on to be employed on a larger scale by the various nations. If you have an interest in WWI then this book is well worth a read.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Things Have not Changed for Years, 28 Jan. 2014
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This Book i found to be a very interesting read of how things that happened then and still happens to this Day and always will to gather Information on numbers formations and equipment
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Raiding on the Western Front
Raiding on the Western Front by Anthony Saunders (Hardcover - 19 April 2012)
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