4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Thorough Exploration of WWI and the Evolution of the Tactics of Modern Warfare,
This review is from: The Great War: 1914-1918 (Hardcover)
I enjoyed Peter Hart's The Great War and would recommend it to anyone interested in military history. Hart provides an exception account though it does have some shortcommings. Hart gives a concise picture of the prelude to World War I. He explains the political situation in countries soon to be locked in global war. This introduction will allow those with little to no background in European history to be prepared to understand what lies ahead.
Hart examines the war plans of the major powers and explains why quick mobilization and attack were crucial. He discusses interactions between the various powers which showed that the Great War was not just an accident, but more like a volcanic eruption, building up and awaiting a point of release. As interesting as I found Hart's work, I would still recommend Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August. Tuchman examines the prelude and beginning of the war in immense depth that will allow the reader to understand what is behind the statements presented by Hart.
Hart's narrative is embedded with excerpts from memoirs from first hand participants. The compelling selections provide an emotional experience that can be missed by simply retelling events. You get a glimpse of the chaotic struggle of modern warfare. However, with the amount of this content of this nature used by Hart, other details are skipped or shortened to compensate. For instance, Hart does not mention the brutal reprisals perpetrated by the Germans on the Belgian populous and he ignores the battles in the African colonies.
Hart dismisses the accepted belief that British performance at Mons was impressive. He makes a concerted effort to show that they suffered much more than inflicted. He presents many statistics and details that support his case. But his analysis is at odds with Barbara Tuchman and John Keegan's The First World War.
After relating the "Race for the Sea" which brought a close to chance to maneuver. Hart then transfers to the Eastern front. He describes the events in enough detail for one to understand what happened. However, I think Keegan provides more depth here. Hart also does not share many firsthand accounts on the Eastern front. It seems Hart's research on the Eastern Front is somewhat limited. While in my opinion, Hart provides a balanced perspective, the content of the entire book is dominated by the British experience.
Hart then discusses the naval buildup before the war. He examines the British and German naval strategies. Hart writes of several of the clashes between British and German ships. Hart provides a more thorough description of later encounters like the battle of Jutland. Hart also provides much insight to the role of the air forces during WWI. He discusses the uses of scout planes to direct artillery fire and struggle for power between German and British air forces.
Hart continues the story of the war in 1915 through 1918 taking turns from one front to the other. Hart is extremely critical of the British Prime Minister Lloyd George and the theatres of war that the Allies engaged in outside the Western Front. He discusses the failed effort at Gallipoli and stagnant position in Salonika. He also examines the British efforts against Turkey in Mesopotamia and Palestine. Hart explores these non-Western front battles in sufficient detail and examination. However, he follows these in their entirety in individual sections which makes understanding their relative impact and influence more difficult. While Keegan (except at Galipoli) does not go into the detail that Hart does in these campaigns, Keegan does explore them year to year together so the overall picture is more understandable.
Hart covers the final years on the Western front in more detail than Keegan. Hart explains the progression of tactics and weapons on both sides. This back and forth struggle for supremacy is one of the most noteworthy praises to the book. Hart is highly complementary towards the British General Haig. He associates much of the improvement in offensive tactics to Haig. Keegan condemns the offensives on the Western front by the Allies as wasteful destruction of their armies, while Hart portrays them as a necessary evil that are the only avenue to ultimate victory. While Hart presents a well prepared case, I still think the generals of the Western front from both sides were primarily misguided by their belief that their next great offensive would break the will of their enemy. In truth these great offensives caused more damage to the morale of their own troops than the defenders. France nearly capitulated after their own failed offensive in 1917 at Chemin des Dames. Russia fell apart altogether. I believe this shows a hubris in these generals that they would not have persisted with if they were closer to the combat. I would also point out that Germany had to expend significant resources to buttress her ally Austria-Hungary. Maybe if the Triple Entente had properly supported their new allies from the beginning then they would have been more successful in diverting German resources and reducing their own staggering casualties. Again despite my criticisms of some of Hart's positions, his book will be great addition to your reading list.