Attrition: Fighting the First World War Hardcover – 14 Aug 2014
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A refreshingly balanced view . . . the great strength of Philpott's book is its magisterial overview of the whole war . . . a fine contribution to our growing understanding of the conflict (Peter Parker Daily Telegraph)
A highly readable account . . . a great book for those who want to look behind the propaganda (Sunday Herald)
Philpott's achievement is to present a view of The Great War as an attritional conflict in a very readable fashion. 'Attrition' is an accessible work for the general reader rather than a denesley argued mongraph...
Attrition stands on its own merits, as an important contribution to an active and lively scholarly debate
William Philpott's boldly argued and engaging book is a timely rejoinder to simplistic views(Times Literary Supplement)
'The great strength of Philpott's book is its magisterial overview of the whole war... a fine contribution to our growing understanding of the conflict.' (Peter Parker Daily Telegraph)
A first-class overview of the whole war, and a useful addition to anyone's library (Military History)
'William Philpott, Professor of the History of Warfare at King's College London, is an eminent academic who has written extensively on conflict and has the knowledge to enable readers to view the First World War in a fresh context. His new book, Attrition, is a highly readable account of the run-up to the conflict... a great book for those who want to look behind the propaganda and read detailed accounts of all aspects of the so-called Great War.' (Steve Briggs Sunday Herald)
'deftly combines narrative with analysis... William Philpott's boldly argued and engaging book is a timely rejoinder to simplistic views, and an implicit rebuttal of the notion that it was uniquely dreadful.' (Gary Sheffield Times Literary Supplement)
The magnum opus of the First World War, from the outstanding historian at the King's College Department of War Studies.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
I have to say that the act of reading this book was also, to some extent, an act of attrition. The writing at times is rather clumsy and wooden and there are far too many spelling and typographical errors. This is an expensive book, and the lack of effective proof-reading is just not acceptable for a leading publisher.
In this valuable study, William Philpott – Professor of the History of Warfare at King’s College London and author of an acclaimed study of the Battle of the Somme – reconsiders the whole concept and its central importance in the waging of the war, as well as persuasively arguing that a knowledge of the nature of attritional strategy is the surest way for the reader to make sense out of the chaotic fighting of 1914-18.
Philpott quotes the French military theorist Commandant Colin, who got to the heart of the problem in a prophetic comment of 1911: ‘When armies of the same value, commanded by good generals, are facing each other, it is numbers – the material element – which is the deciding factor.’ Germany’s military leaders knew the Materialschlacht would decide the outcome of the war (hence their despondent private musings on the subject) but they still clung to the hope that the German Army’s superior operational skill might somehow tip the balance in their favour. They were proved wrong.Read more ›
One of the myths that's still routinely spouted is the idea that the German Army was a far better and flexible military organization; they were certainly better led at the tactical level but their two major offensives prior to 1918 were just as bloody as anything tried by the Allies eg the Kindermorden bei Ypern and Verdun, the infiltration tactics and rolling barrages used in 1918 were copied from tactics used in Brusilov's 1917 offensive on the Eastern Front etc. Nothing wrong with that - learning from the success of others is still a good idea - but Philpott does a good job of making the point that Falkenhayn's assault on Verdun was a disastrous strategic decision because it played to the Allied advantage in numbers.
I think he goes too far the other way - Passchendaele should have been stopped long before it actually was and seriously impacted British Army morale - but his ideas are a useful corrective. The real tragedy of the Great War was that after the Marne, Germany could not win - a fact that was openly acknowledged by Crown Prince Wilhelm and Falkenhayn among others - but it could raise the price of defeat.Read more ›
There is very little wrong with this book and it can be recommended for the general reader. As a military history it is one of the best to have emerged this year, far,far superior to Paxman's, and even better than Hastings which to be fair dealt only with the first year of the war. It is, however, not in the same class as Margaret MacMillan's brilliant book published earlier this year. Hers is not however a military text.
Unfortunately, there is very little that is new in this book. Attrition is as old as fighting; after all siege warfare was essentially attrition. Examples can be found in, for example, the thirty years war, the American Civil War, the Russo--Japanese war, and countless other conflicts. The French word usure means wearing out, it is another word for attrition. Joffre used the word usure in 1916 when trying to persuade Haig to attack in order to wear out the Germans before the main offensive. It was already clear that the lack of flanks, unlike the Eastern front which hardly gets a mention, meant attrition was the only tactic that was feasible.
Delbruck was the first to define attrition. He argued its essence was the exhaustion of the enemy's will to fight. The term has since aquired many different meanings. It has frequently been viewed as a defeatist strategy involving a bloody slogging match. In fact many attempts to achieve a decisive victory have resulted in protracted wars of attrition.Read more ›
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