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1918 - A Forgotten Victory,
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This review is from: 1918: A Very British Victory (Hardcover)
There is a perverse aspect to the British character that, whilst firmly believing everything British to be the best, at the same time positively revels in its failures. The ultimate example of this trait is the even more bizarre ability to turn what was the greatest achievement in British military history, the victories over the German army in 1918, into some kind of defeat. For too many, including very many historians, the history of the Great War seems to stop in March/April 1918 amidst much reverent expressions of admiration for German stormtroop tactics, clearly so superior to anything the staid old British could come up with (sic). The truth, though, is that the old fashioned stick-in-the-mud British did actually develop the all arms battle that so eluded the Germans - until 1940 anyway - and this is made brilliantly clear in Peter Hart's latest book.
Peter Hart once again displays his skill at telling the story from all angles, from the higher levels of command to the private soldier. The perspective gained by this approach helps explain what happened and why but, all importantly, what this meant for those quite literally in the firing line. And this is where, I feel, Peter Hart's work is unmatched by any other historian of the period writing today (and there are some very, very good ones too!).
What comes across time and again is how this book is rooted in a deep respect for those who went through experiences that most of us, fortunately, will never have to. That respect does not wallow in tales of 'mud, blood and endless poetry'; those that get trapped in that particular quagmire do no justice to the men of 1918. These were no passive victims blindly following a bunch of red-faced, stupid generals but first class, professional soldiers who achieved in 1918 what had been learned at such cost by the British army through the Somme, Messines, Third Ypres and Cambrai. But, as anyone reading this book will be left in no doubt about, war is hardly ever glorious, honourable or noble. And lessons learned or no, the cost was never cheap.
Time and again, after elegantly outlining the reasons for tactical and strategic success or failure, Peter Hart brings the reader back to the price paid by the ordinary soldier. You're never allowed to become an arm chair strategist pondering the events of 1918 in the abstract. What took place happened to real people and the author's clear passion to keep their memory fresh shines through each and every page.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It should be read alongside the author's earlier book about the 1918 air war, "Aces Falling", to get an even more complete appreciation of the events of 1918. My own grandfather was a young 1918 recruit who served in the final advance to victory. I can think of no higher tribute to him and his generation than this superb book. Outstanding!
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 4 May 2009 18:15:54 BDT
Ian Cooper says:
Great review. I'm looking forward to getting this book, as although I've read many books on WW1, none of them cover the final advances in any great detail. My grandfather, like yours, took part in those attacks - he was on the Lys and in the final advance in Flanders. I'm looking forward to reading this book, which might give me a bit more perspective on that.
In reply to an earlier post on 16 May 2009 20:00:32 BDT
J. Grundy says:
Hope you've got hold of the book and enjoyed it as much as I did. I think it is Peter Hart's finest and that is saying something (and, no, I'm not on commission to say so!).
In reply to an earlier post on 6 Oct 2009 20:26:59 BDT
Yes my great unlce did. Never met him but having read his letters from the front to my grandad i have come to know him and traced his steps in the final 100 days.
My concern from what ir ed in the first review though is that this book seems to be saying we were great in victory and that we shouldn't reflect on the negativity as some books seem to. I canot see anything to celebrate myself. The series of errors of judgement and tactics by the generals and Haig were a constant feature of the war. The Germans tactics were far better-capture the high ground and wait for the British troops to attack from a serious disadvantage. One only has to consider Jul 1st 1916. This was a complete disaster and disgrace for those generals who made the decisions to cause such loss of life. The Germans only lost the war because they faced so many allies of Britain by the end-all the Commonwealth troops and the Americans proved the final straw. Also the Germans inevitably ran out of resources-both in terms of food supplies and weaponary. Tactically they were well ahead. They nearly won the war in 1918 when they made a last concerted effort to break out and occupy Paris. This very nearly worked and only failed because of the weight of sheer numbers and because their troops couldn't deal witht he manpower of the allies and their supplies were running out. It is true to say that unless the British were supported by the colonies they would have been defeated most probably.
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