Collision of Empires: The War on the Eastern Front in 1914 Hardcover – 20 Jun 2014
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Insightful, drawn from numerous sources woven together into anarrativethat is easy to follow even if one knows little about this theater of the war...The centennial of World WarI is under way, andauthors aroundthe globe are writing many new books about the way. This book certainly ranks among the best of them. Military Heritage Painstaking research and firsthand accounts propel the author's narrative of events that took place during the first year of the war a century ago. Buttar's splendid hardcover book puts an exclamation point on the reality that their collision in combat resulted in the downfalls of all three empires. Toy Soldier & Model Figure Based in archival research, this book will appeal to readers interested in World War I and especially the first months of battles on the Eastern Front. Library Journal ...a timely retelling of the early weeks of the war on the Eastern Front. WWI Historical Association, www.ww1ha.org (October 6, 2014)"
Drawing on first-hand accounts and detailed archival research, this is a dramatic retelling of the the tumultuous events of the first year of the war, with the battles of Tannenberg and the Masurian Lakes in East Prussia, followed by the Russo-Austrian clashes in Galicia and the failed German advance towards Warsaw.See all Product description
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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)
Churchill wrote a book about the Eastern Front, it was entitled: 'The Unknown War'. It was an apt title for while many can name three battles on the Western Front I doubt if many can name more than one, if that, in the East. There is still no official Soviet history of the army's performance in the war. German accounts are heavily biased, a bias that was transferred to that over-rated writer Liddell Hart.
The popular image of the war is a massive convulsion that transformed parts of France and Belgium into water filled trenches, where thousands were killed by gas, snipers or shells. This image is, of course, true as far as it goes but it fails to convey the full picture. Trench warfare has always been a somewhat dubious motif for the war because in the East another very bloody war raged on a vast scale. Static warfare did take place but the vastly different landscape allowed for the use of cavalry and the finding and use of flanks. The ratio of troops to space was also totally different. Some areas were vast swamps, dense forests while others were flat and open. The enormous Pripet Marshes forced the Russians to operate as two independent commands. The Carpathian mountains formed a formidable barrier in the south. The different topography forced armies to use different tactics whereas on the Western Front the tactics remained uniform until 1918.
It is worth noting that deaths were a higher percentage of German casualties in the east than in the west.
The author explains how the Eastern Front armies were very different to those on the Western Front. They did not operate in very similar ways as did those in Flanders. The Russian army, for example, was riddled with factions while that of the Austro-Hungarian Empire was to a great extent the creation of one man's vision.
There were other important differences that impinged on operations, for example the weather. This played an important role as it did in the Second World War. No armies on the Western Front had to suffer the intense winters that their counterparts did in the East.
Much more could have been made of another major difference in the Eastern Theatre, namely the strong anti war movement in Russia. This was deliberately fostered by the bolsheviks and to a degree financed by them. This seriously hampered the war effort.
Lloyd George believed that if Russia had been given adequate help she could have hastened Germany's defeat. His arguments are not convincing. In any case her allies had serious resource problems to contend with at home. It was not shell shortages that led to Russia's defeats at Golovin and elsewhere it was incompetence and disorganisation. Also, by 1917, Russian superiority on her front was almost comparable with the Western Power's superiority in France in 1918. By 1916, Russia was producing 4,500,000 shells a month compared with Germany's 7 million and an Austro-Hungarian output of 1 million.
It was not material problems that caused battles to be lost, it was bungling and bickering plus a belief in fortresses. It was administrative weaknesses not economic ones that caused disaster after disaster.
An interesting account that ends in 1915. The author spends far too long discussing matters like the assassination and the German General Staff when more detail on the different tactics, administrative problems and command and control problems would have been of far greater interest. At least we are spared being told wrongly that the Archduke's car could not reverse because it had no reverse gear. It had, and it can be clearly seen on the car to this day. Most of the otherwise best accounts of the assassination make this silly error, the authors have obviously never been near Sarajevo!
The maps and bibliography are sound. The latter includes some relatively new archival evidence.
Read in conjunction with Irving Root's: 'Battles East', this account will help to remind readers that, as in WW2, the Eastern Front played a key role in the outcome of the Great War.
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