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The First World War (2): The Western Front 1914-1916 (Essential Histories) Paperback – 25 Jan 2002

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Product details

  • Paperback: 96 pages
  • Publisher: Osprey Publishing (25 Jan. 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1841763470
  • ISBN-13: 978-1841763477
  • Product Dimensions: 17 x 0.5 x 24.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 521,026 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description


‘Teachers or A-level students looking for details of military campaigns will certainly find these books detailed and authoritative.’ -- Times Educational Supplement

‘[Essential Histories are] accessible and well illustrated.’ -- Daily Express

‘[Essential Histories are] clear and concise.’ -- History Today

‘[Essential Histories] make the perfect starting point for readers of any age.’ -- Daily Mail --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Peter Simkins worked at the Imperial War Museum for over 35 years and was its Senior Historian from 1976 until his retirement in 1999. Awarded the MBE that year for his services to the Museum, he is currently Honorary Professor in Modern History at the University of Birmingham, a Vice-President of the Western Front Association and a Fellow of the Royal Historial Society. Peter Simkins is the author of numerous publications on the Great War, including the book Kitchener's Army (1988), which was awarded the Templar Medal by the Society for Army Historical Research,

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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Great introductory books and an easy read
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x8db10774) out of 5 stars 5 reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8db19e7c) out of 5 stars The Unabashed English View of the War - Part One 31 May 2004
By R. A Forczyk - Published on
Format: Paperback
Peter Simkins, a former senior historian at the Imperial War Museum, provides an excellent summary of the First World War on the Western Front in Osprey's two volume Essential Histories series. Simkins brings his vast knowledge of the subject to bear and delivers a tight narrative that hits all the highlights of the war on this front; overall, this is an excellent summary. Unfortunately, Simkins also brings an unabashed over-emphasis on the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in France - at the expense of the French and Americans. British mistakes tend to get glossed over in this account and the role of Britain in the Allied victory borders on exaggeration. Simkins is also unwilling to swerve in the slightest from conventional wisdom on this subject and accepts unequivocal German war guilt at face value (views on this subject are highly controversial and have evolved over time, but Simkins eschews both controversy and historiographical evolution). While Simkins' two volumes offer an excellent summary of the First World War on the Western Front, readers should be aware that this is the "official" BEF version of events, with much less balance from other participants.
The author's opening section on "the road to war" is excellent and carefully weaves together the wide diversity of factors that led to the outbreak of the First World War. While the author's assessment that "the primacy of Germany's responsibility for war in 1914" is obvious based upon its preparations of an offensive war plan, the guilt of other actors (such as Russian cultivation of Serb ultra-nationalism that led to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand) is alluded to but not exposed. The section on opposing armies, while brief, is also excellent. The author includes ten maps to support his narrative: European alliances 1914-1916; the rival war plans; the battle of the frontiers; the First Battle of Ypres; the Battle of Neuve Chapelle; the Battle of Loos; the Western Front 1914-1918; the Battle of Verdun; the Somme Offensive 1 July 1916; and the final phase of the Somme offensive. The author's English bias is evident in the maps, with five of ten maps focusing on British battles but only one on a French battle; even the map on the 1914 Battle of the Frontiers fails to depict the doomed French offensive in Lorraine. Given the importance of the Battle of the Marne, a map should also have been included on that subject over a relatively minor battle like Neuve Chapelle (which was important in English eyes, but otherwise no more significant than the many failed French offensives in 1915).
The author's narrative of the fighting in 1914-1916 is clear, concise and often insightful. While Simkins notes the standard criticisms of the German Schlieffen Plan - logistical weakness and Moltke's weakening of the critical right wing - he also notes that the Germans failed to adequately address Belgian resistance: "what really harmed their plan was the need to detach some five corps from their right wing to invest Naumur, Maubeuge and Antwerp." As Simkins sees it, the Germans put inadequate forces into their main effort, then diverted too many forces from that weakened effort on secondary tasks, then loss their nerve due to a puny Allied counterattack on the Marne. Simkins also views the German decision to revert to the defense on the Western Front in November 1914 - instead of finishing off the depleted BEF - as "a huge mistake." Aside from ignoring the exhaustion of Germany's own troops at that point, Simkins exaggerates the value of the BEF remnants in the fall of 1914, which were perhaps 5% of Allied troops on the front. In fact, the original BEF was essentially destroyed by this point and the Germans had no ability to destroy the dozens of new divisions being raised in England, Canada and Australia. After detailing the various offensives of 1915, Simkins concludes the narrative section with accounts of the two great set-piece battles, Verdun and the Somme. The discussion of the Somme is adequate, but fails to convey the "mission creep" in the German plan that caused a deliberate attritional battle to transform into a major bloodletting for both sides. On the other hand, Simkins' discussion of the Somme follows the standard British line, that while losses were high, the offensive succeeded in "gutting" the German army of pre-war regulars and thereby contributed to victory later. In reality, the Somme was an expensive failure that "gutted" the BEF far more than the Germans and it was the combination of having to fight both Verdun and the Somme in 1916 that really strained the Germans. The only real omission in this volume is the lack of any real detail on the air war (e.g. the "Fokker scourge").
The final sections in this volume are paeans to British sensibilities about the First World War. The section, "Portrait of a Soldier" details the experiences of a 19-year old British private who served only six months in the period of this volume. Certainly highlighting one of the "Old Contemptibles" of 1914 or one of the New Army "Pals Battalion" members would have been more representative of the British war effort in this period. This section is followed by "Portrait of a Civilian" which - surprise, surprise - covers a British female auxiliary. Obviously, no attempt was made to balance this volume with French or British perspectives. The section on home fronts does provide three paragraphs each on Germany and France, but this is relatively an afterthought. Overall, this volume is an excellent summary of the first two years of the war on the Western Front, albeit for an Anglo-centric perspective.
HASH(0x8db399a8) out of 5 stars A Nice Clear Look at this Part of the War 11 Mar. 2013
By Mike Dillemuth - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The author, Peter Simkins does an excellent job of examining the first 2 ½ years of the war. This book covers a lot of ground and moves along in a clear, concise manner. Osprey books in this series always examine a war from different angles. The author still follows this format, but is able to focus 58 pages, or about 2/3 of the book, solely on the fighting.

Despite the large amount of information, the author successfully covers all the main battles with just the right amount of detail. Each major event is nicely segregated with its own sub heading (e.g.: the Battle of the Mons, Winter of 1914-1915, the Second Battle of Ypes, etc.). This "Fighting" chapter is written in chronological order and the reader should have little difficulty in following the progress of the war.

The book has numerous black and white photos that bring clarity to the text. The reader will get a good appreciation for the conditions in the trenches and the types of weapons used. The book also has ten 2D tactical maps. Although the maps lack detail, they still provide a good, high level view of certain engagements.

The chapter on "Portrait of a Civilian" is uniquely interesting. It focuses on a British woman named Winnifred Adair Roberts. This chapter not only gives a view of the British home front but also a perspective on how women were viewed in society at that time. To some degree, World War I helped emancipate British women in much the same way as World War II did for American women.

Bottom Line: this book is well written and easy to read. The author did a great job of compressing a great deal of information into the limited space available in these books. The information is presented in a clear format that is easy to follow. The reader will certainly get a better understanding of the first half of this war.
HASH(0x8db12cc0) out of 5 stars The series title Essential History aptly describes the tight focus of the book - essentials of western front 1914 - 1916 9 Dec. 2013
By Stephen P. Ford - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have been very pleased with and impressed with the quality of Osprey publications. The Essential History series is focused on militarily significant periods of history. The First World War (2): The Western Front 1914-1916 is the 2nd in a 4-part series on WWI. This volume is focused on the Western Front and provides information on the road to war, opposing armies, war on the western front 1914 - 1916, the home fronts 1914-1916 with portraits of a British soldier and a British civilian with recommendations for further reading.
HASH(0x8dec3af8) out of 5 stars A Review of the Second of a Four Volume 6 Nov. 2015
By Brian Wayne Wells - Published on
Format: Paperback
This is an excellent book on the Western Front of the First World War. Of course, historians have often complained that nearly all the writing on the First World War is about the Western Front which has created a dearth of writing on the other theaters of the same war. Nonetheless, this particular book is the second in a four-part series of books each of which deals with a separate theater of war in the First World War and as an Osprey publication contains a chronology of events and a number of color maps which are extremely helpful in the study of the western front.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8e20f504) out of 5 stars Simple Introduction... 24 April 2011
By HMS Warspite - Published on
Format: Paperback
2002's "The Western Front 1914-1916" is one of several entries in the First World War series of Osprey's Essential Histories. Veteran British historian Peter Simkins provides a concise introduction to the Western Front, which became the decisive theater of the war.

In rapid fashion, Simkins sketches the road to war, the opposing armies and their respective war plans, and how those war plans played out in the opening weeks of the war. The narrative then settles into the prolonged stalemate of of trench warfare, including the massive bloodlettings at the Siege of Verdun and the extended Battle of the Somme. Simkins closes with two featurettes, one on a British private soldier and another on a woman's auxilliary member, before forecasting the epic 1917-1918 struggle on the Western Front.

Simkins' narrative is supported by the usual excellent Osprey selection of photographs, maps, and graphics. Presenting two intense years of military and political developments in under 100 pages inevitably leads to simplification. Although Simkins surveys a complicated story fairly well, there is no attempt to wrestle with controversy or alternative points of view. "The Western Front 1914-1916" is a decent introduction for the general reader and highly recommended to that audience.
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