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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, 26 Dec. 2013
This review is from: Stemming the Tide. Officers and Leadership in the British Expeditionary Force 1914 (Wolverhampton Military) (Hardcover)
Having received this book from Santa I have so far only read about a third of it, but I have no hesitation is suggesting it should find a place on the shelves of anyone interested in the Great War, in 1914 particularly, and in the development of the British Officer Corps in the period leading up to 1914. In conjunction with other recent works, the authors of this collection of essays have gone a long way to correcting the Lions and Donkeys school so readily trotted out by the school that holds the German Army as a sine qua non.

The essay on Bulfin (GOC 2nd Brigade) is a model of succinct description and well-researched study; that on Allenby (Cavalry Division) is a useful counter-point to those who claim the British Cavalry "failed". The chapter dealing with the Company Commanders in the BEF is also a first-rate study of a class of men dedicated (in the whole) to professional development and creation of what we would now call, sadly, "best practice"

If I had a quibble it would be a minor one: I would have liked to see more coverage of the cavalry arm - tactical development (particularly the "Mounted Infantry" debate and the use of the arme blanche) and the strides in musketry and horsemastership made in the immediate pre-war years - which is perhaps a little neglected here. However, much of this is covered in other recent works, so I suspect I'm being picky.

All that I have read so far leads me to say, without hesitation, that this book is a must-have for all those with the interests outlined at the beginning of this review. Helios are to be congratulated for producing such a work at a very reasonable and affordable price.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent scholarship..., 1 Dec. 2014
By 
Peter Hart (East Finchley) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Stemming the Tide. Officers and Leadership in the British Expeditionary Force 1914 (Wolverhampton Military) (Hardcover)
Stemming the Tide: Officers and Leadership in the British Expeditionary Force, 1914
Edited by Spencer Jones
Wolverhampton Military Studies No. 1 (Series Editor Stephen Badsey)
375pp. £29.95 Helion & Co Ltd, 2013

This book is a collection of essays that is very much as it is described on the cover. Gathered within its pages are the distilled knowledge of a number of well-known academics and promising ingénues of what might loosely be called the Birmingham/Wolverhampton School. It offers a series of biographical sketches on senior command (French, Murray, Wilson, Robertson, Haig, Grierson, Smith-Dorrien Allenby, and Capper), some reflections on selected middle-ranking officers (Bulfin, FitzClarence and Henderson) and general musings on battalion commanders, company commanders and the role of motorcycle despatch riders in facilitating command and control. Overall the pre-war experience of the key officers is coupled with an assessment of their performance in action.

The essays on the senior figures are fascinating. Above all they are refreshing because the authors do not feel the need to 'attack' their subject, but adopt a broadly sympathetic approach, examining the problems they faced and the background to the decisions taken. This is so much more constructive than the negative-minded bile which always seems to move discussion backwards rather than forwards. We need appraisal and understanding of the likes of French and Wilson, not a kneejerk reaction.

I would particularly single out the work of Brian Curragh on the enigma that was Sir Henry Wilson and John Spencer on Sir William Robertson. Wilson can be like a red rag to a bull, but I was recently reading his acerbic diaries at the IWM and he is a truly fascinating - and in some ways talented - character. Fearsomely bright, his key role in making the arrangement for the mobilisation and despatch of the BEF should not be under-rated. Curragh also examines his attempt to inculcate a school of thought into the British Army. To his credit, Curragh concedes the impact that Wilson's personal and political opinions had on the dysfunctional mess that was GHQ, as for instance with his feud with the Intelligence Officer Colonel George Macdonogh and intrigues against the admittedly hapless Murray. Robertson was a tower of strength, blessed with awesome administrative skills and a clear brain uncluttered by 'political' machinations. His later career as CIGS normally attracts the eye, but here he is at the sharp end in 1914, taking decisions, able to adapt `on the hoof' to maintain supplies to the BEF even amidst the chaos of the `Great Retreat'. There are also delightful illustrations of what seems to be a formidable temper when bothered with trivia! Gary Sheffield provides an excellent cool review of Haig's performance in 1914, dispelling many of the more libellous claims made by the fevered `donkey' bashers.

My only concern with the book is that it does not really address what I consider to be the endemic weakness of the BEF: the initial inability to function in action at much above battalion level. At both Mons and Le Cateau, the II Corps fought as a disparate collection of battalions, not even as brigades, but more as isolated units, reacting to situation as they developed, rather than co-operating together in concert to try to retain control of the battlefield situation. Staff functions were very often poorly enacted and the initial failure to retain and deploy an effective reserve was also evident. The Royal Artillery was hampered in taking up good gun positions during both skirmishes, but this was exacerbated by their lack of training in the vital battlefield skills of target acquisition, indirect fire and liaison with the infantry. These disabilities by infantry and artillery alike probably originated in the lack of opportunity for realistic large-scale exercises back in Britain, coupled with the inevitable lack of operational experience in fighting a European Army. In effect, the BEF had a shortfall in tactical skills and used the innate professionalism and individual prowess of officers and men to fight their way out of trouble. The selection of the subjects for the articles omits any 'artillery' generals and I would think that both John Headlam and Henry Horne should have been included for reasons of balance. Yet this - of course - is all part of the debate; part of the raison d'être of the book. These things are not decided, not set in stone, nor will they be until much more serious research work is carried out by people like these assembled contributors. Contrary to the bleating of the laughable 'War and Society' school of `thought', it is in operational and logistical history that most work still needs to be carried out on the Great War.

Beautifully presented, I was delighted with this book, cool, yet thought-provoking and priced competitively by the publishers Helion & Co. unlike most academic books which are prohibitively expensive. I look forward to future works from the Wolverhampton Military Studies.

Peter Hart
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Valuable addition to works on 1914, 25 Mar. 2014
This review is from: Stemming the Tide. Officers and Leadership in the British Expeditionary Force 1914 (Wolverhampton Military) (Hardcover)
This is valuable work for those who want to gain a better understanding of the BEF in 1914. This book did not just inform me but also left me with lots of ideas about areas which I would like to carry out further research on. All the contributions were excellent but the ones which stood out for me was the one by Simon Robbins along with the piece on FitzClarence. The latter piece gave me a far better understanding of 1st Ypres than I've had in the past. The pieces at the end on the Company Commanders and Despatch Riders were gems. Finally, it was a joy to get a book with decent maps!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great content, if a little disjointed, 23 Feb. 2014
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This review is from: Stemming the Tide. Officers and Leadership in the British Expeditionary Force 1914 (Wolverhampton Military) (Hardcover)
This is a series of essays written by academics on different leaders of 1914. Each one on its own makes interesting, well researched and well presented topics, they feel slightly disjointed to me- each authors style is slightly different and one or two a bit "dry" and academic in style. That said the information is spot on and pretty readable. What is good is that you can choose a personality, dip in, read the chapter then put it down again in an hour or so. Good quality binding too.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stemming the Tide: Officers and Leadership in the British Expeditionary Force, 1914 SUPERB!!!!, 22 Feb. 2015
Stemming the Tide: Officers and Leadership in the British Expeditionary Force, 1914
Edited by Spencer Jones
Wolverhampton Military Studies No. 1 (Series Editor Stephen Badsey)
375pp. £18.00 Helion & Co Ltd, 2013

This was my favourite First World War book of 2014. Contained with the pages of this volume are fascinating insights into the forgotten heroes who helped to hold back the rampant German Imperial Army. The aim of the book is to expand the debate via biographical essays on key commanders and this it does with aplomb. Some of the finest British historians in the field contribute to this important addition to First World War historiography: Professors Stephen Badsey, John Bourne and Gary Sheffield and Drs Spencer Jones, and Michael LoCicero, and a range of up and coming scholars.

Sir John French is often overlooked and/or much maligned for his failings - he didn't help himself with his dreadful tome 1914. Stephen Badsey reminds us that Sir John was one of the finest cavalry officers of all time. That he enhanced his reputation during service in the Boer War, after which he was highly respected. For many Sir John abrogated his command. In his essay Badsey partly rehabilitates him.

Henry Wilson is a fascinating character. Sadly there is only one good book on him, The Political Soldier. Brian Curragh's admirable essay highlights Wilson's important contribution to overhauling Britain's military preparedness for continental warfare. However, Wilson was controversial he was, in my view, wrong about Lord Kitchener considering him a "fool" and also wrong about the creation of the New Kitchener Armies. Wilson's murder by the IRA in 1922 deprived us of Wilson's own musings on whether he was an enigma or not.

Much has been written about Douglas Haig, a lot of it rubbish. I disagree that in Wilson's view that Haig had "no imagination and very little brains". Haig's work in preparing the Indian Army for continental warfare showed acumen and perception. Gary Sheffield strives to put across a balanced view of Haig but at times comes across as too protective. For a more critical view JP Harris' work is a useful counterpoint.

A definitive study of Smith-Dorrien, the most important general of 1914, remains to be written. Jones' and Corvi's essay shows how Smith-Dorrien's tactical awareness combined with his physical and mental toughness helped II Corps to a crucial victory at Le Cateau. Indeed it is clear that without Smith-Dorrien's skills of leadership and ability to command in the field II Corps would have been destroyed.

Michael LoCicero's outstanding essay on Brigadier-General Edward Bulfin brings Bulfin's personal bravery and cool headed leadership whilst under fire to the attention of students of the First World War. Bulfin until now was a rather obscure figure - but his leadership did but to ensure that the Germans did not break through during 1st Ypres. As LoCicero makes abundantly clear, the BEF only survived the onslaught of the mighty German army during 1914 by the action, courage and skills of commanders like Bulfin. A man of immense personal courage and steadfastness Bulfin was severely wounded and forced to relinquish command - the BEF being much the poorer for it. This `tower of strength' deserves much more attention.

Another obscure figure in this excellent section is Spencer Jones' work on Charles FitzClarence VC. A scientific and practical solder with few equals FitzClarence was the man on the spot whose leadership during the battle for Gheluvelt `turned the tide' and `saved Calais'. The counterattack by the 2nd Worcesters has passed into legend. Jones' essay helps us understand the man in command who even the Germans dipped their swords in respectful salute.

My hardback edition has great quality paper, images, excellent maps and printing. Many thanks to Helion & Co. for competitively pricing this essential volume. I am very much looking forward to the 1915 collected edition.

Nigel Atter
February 2015
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 20 July 2014
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S. Peaple "bookworm" (uk) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Stemming the Tide. Officers and Leadership in the British Expeditionary Force 1914 (Wolverhampton Military) (Hardcover)
Great book - very thought provoking
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