10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Gets better and better,
This review is from: The German Army at Cambrai (Hardcover)
Jack Sheldon's quest to plug our tremendous gaps when it comes to knowledge of the 'other side of the hill' in the Great War moves to Cambrai and especially the 'first tank battle' in the autumn of 1917. It is a battle which has captivated English historians almost since the guns fell silent - and invariably it's been seen through English eyes, until now.
As with the author's previous works the author mixes first-hand accounts from the men with accounts from generals - and not just the same old quotations from Ludendorff and Hindenburg - with what contemporary documents survived WW2. The result of a rare blend of erudition and readability; one is often saken for the other in military history.
For me, it's the first-hand accounts which are a gem. The author's picked out some vivid - brutally vivid - account. The chapter on the fighting for Bourlon Wood is both enthralling and, at times, harrowing; the stories of Gefreiter Skorna, struggling to deal with the "black monsters" and Leutnant Neuendorf who found the situation "ticklish" (!) yet "one hundred times better than Flanders" are particularly good. Neuendorf's description of combined tank and aircraft is a presage of Blitzkrieg a generation later.
In the final chapter, the author shows that the Germans were severely shaken by the battle. The command was unnerved by the surprise nature of the attack. They sought to fundamentally re-organise the forces on the Western Front which, as Crown Prince Rupprecht conceded, was not up to the demands of mobile warfare. Yet German commanders had mixed feelings about the tank which has come to define this battle. General von Marwitz was appalled by the fate of crews killed in knocked-out tanks and felt that the armour of 1917 was not up to the tasks demanded of it. "I cannot help it - I do not regard these things in their current form as battleworthy." Perhaps, he mused, "they can be improved..."
Coupled with Bryn Hammond's recent book on the same battle, The German Army at Cambrai provides the definitive account from the defenders' viewpoint - and a seminal work on WW1, both for the lay reader and the serious military historian.