Top positive review
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A complete education.
on 28 August 2014
Now that the 100th anniversary of the start of WW1 has passed, we are inundated with all manner of books about various aspects of that conflict - some of which are refreshingly new. Of these, I found this particular work to be exceptional. Even if we are not fully acquainted with specific details, most people seem to know something about WW1 - most notably the Western Front, trench warfare and the emergence of the tank. It would appear that few, however, know anything at all about the Eastern Front - with some, perhaps, confusing the subject with the Far East.
In this first-rate work by an author not previously known to me, we learn a great deal about the bitter fighting between the three mighty empires of Germany, Austro-Hungary and Russia. It is a work where names previously unknown slowly become as familiar as any others from this period in history. How ironic, for example, to learn that a failure of cooperatioin between Russia’s senior commander’s Rennenkampf and Samsonov led to the defeat at Tannenberg. It brought to mind ‘the war between the Allied generals of WW2’ - but I digress.
This is a thick book of 470 pages packed with narrative and information supported by 17 maps appearing when relevant to the text. There are also two sections of glossy b&w historic photographs from the period (32 images altogether) showing leading personalities and war scenes. The book itself, however, commences with 5 pages of ‘Dramatis Personae’ in which the names and positions held by the leading players are all listed in alphabetical order by country. Very useful!
Commencing with one of the most educational ‘Introductions’ I have read in a long time, the chapter headings are repeated in order to indicate the contents - as follows; (1) The German War Machine, (2) The Russian Steamroller, (3) Austria-Hungary - the other Sick Man of Europe, (4) Over the Brink, (5) The First Battles (Stallopönen and Gumbinnen), (6) Crisis of Command, (7) Tannenberg, (8) The Illusion of Victory (Galicia August 1914), (9) The Battle for the Masurian Lakes, (10) The Reality of Defeat (Galicia September 1914), (11) A Bloody Sideshow (the Serbian Front), (12) Mud and Blood - Autumn in Poland, (13) Łódź, (14) The First Christmas and (15) Disappointments and Illusions. The work then concludes with an Appendix of place names, Notes, Bibliography and Index.
The layout is carefully designed to explain what needs to be explained and then take the reader through the events in the order in which they occurred. Although I do regard myself as ‘well read’ on military matters in general, I found the book all the more fascinating because the subject of the Eastern Front was new to me and, therefore, all the more welcome. Overall, it is a complete education into the subject and led to a number of personal ‘enlightements.’ As a shipwreck historian, I am more conversant with the warships of the period although I did not previously know that, for example, the well-documented German battlecruiser SMS Moltke was named after the German general of that name who features in this work and I mention this snippet only to underline the value I am able to place on such an informative work. Of more relevance, perhaps, is the fact that I did not previously regard the former Austro-Hungarian Empire as quite the military force it was at the outbreak of WW1 and will, therefore, now look upon elements of that history with renewed interest.
If the work were to be improved there are instances where it gets bogged down with trivia and occasionally loses the natural flow of the read. There were a few instances where I found myself referring back in order to confirm who was fighting who - and which commander was being described. Nevertheless, those were neither painful nor too frequent and not worthy of downgrading the book from a well-deserved 5 Star rating.
British army major (retired)