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4.6 out of 5 stars
German Army at Cambrai
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on 12 December 2013
I'm a big fan of Jack Sheldons . His books have vastly increased my knowledge of WW1. They are unbiased , free from politics and spin , and often actually enhance the many good existing historical works, written from the British and French perspective. However it has to be said that the nature of his field of expertise , which by necessity involves relating troop dispositions and movements in pedantic detail , mean some can be harder going than others .

Not so with Cambrai . I actually found this one moved along fairly swiftly , and having finished it now believe Cambrai to be one of the most fascinating battles of WW1 if thats the right word to use about an event were so many men lost their lives . 1917 was a crucial year in that the allies senior and numerically superior partner , France was reorganoizing after its mutinees and had all but stopped fighting giving the Germans time to recoup . The pressure had to be maintained and it fell to the smaller British Army to do so . Having suffered severe losses themselves the logic was to use their latest weapon in numbers to supplement numbers and reduce further losses . The first battle where massed tank formations were used against the Germans . The weapon itself was not highly rated by the Germans who had , after the initial first encounter , conducted a study and found that their merits were outweighed by poor mechanical performance resulting in dispreportionate losses . On the face of it they were right , but they had never encounted them in these kind of numbers before , and with the allies vast superiority in material wealth ,even allowing for mechanical breakdown they're were still plenty left to push home the advantage .

And it almost worked and the initial success was outstanding but a mix of bad weather and bad decisions on the allied side resulted in the Germans regaining all the ground lost plus some . There is much mention of the Germans bemoaning a lack of anti tank rifle ammo as well as at times a shortage of the weapon itself . I was not over familiar with the weapon but had the chance to view 2 of them in museums in Ypre shortly after finishing the book . Having done so I can fully understand how some users ended up with broken coller bones , as well as appreciating further the appalling aftermath described by a traumatised German, who had been detailed to remove and bury the bodies of a british tank crew when a round from the weapon had pierced , and ricocheted around their tank interior .

A similar sense of horror is described by a German officer describing the aftermath of bourlon wood . The british had pushed the Germans from it , but as the advantage was slowly lost the High Command with the usual obsession with ground , refused to abandon the position until it was too late , which was by now a finger like protrusion in the restored German line , and being saturated from 3 sides by gas shells .

I think the greatest irony of all is that when Basil Lidell Heart , a far sighted British officer wrote his theory after WW1 of the developement and benefits of massed armour attacks in future wars , he was rubbished by the dinesours in the M.O.D. who hve always tended to fight their wars based on the the last , and were proberbly influenced by the failure at Cambrai .
Not so Heinz Guderian , the man the Germans called the father of tank warfare tactic,s . To his lasting credit , he actually acknowledges his insperation came from reading Lidell Heart's book . A great opportunity lost recounted by a great historian . Buy it .
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on 3 September 2009
For a battle to be seen from both sides then this book does it with spades. With a date time running through this book and the other titles by the author research on the Great War is excellent. In my own case there are battle reports that I can put along side my own research. Great book. Confirms that warfare of any kind is a bad way to spend your time.
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on 18 October 2014
I religiously buy every book Jack Sheldon puts out and this book has to be one of his best. Read the accompanying blurb, then buy it. Highly recommended.
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on 28 December 2014
Sorry - can't review - book was a present for a relative
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on 26 August 2009
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.
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on 23 August 2009
Another superb book by Jack Sheldon. It covers the prelude to the battle through the main British attack on 20th November 1917, the subsidiary actions to expand the break-in and capture Bourlon Wood, the German counter-attack, the final small-scale operations to improve the German positions, and the after-action reviews by the German High Command. The detailed anecdotal accounts cover experiences of German infantry, machine gunners, pioneers, artillery gunners, and even airmen.

Of particular interest is the information about the defence of Flesquieres, which prevented the British from fully exploiting the first day of the battle. The coverage of the German counter-attack is also extemely interesting. The effects of the southern counter-attack on the British are well known in the English literature. The German forces penetrated deep into the British lines, threatening to cut off the British in the newly captured salient. Sheldon has provided the German perspective: how the attack was planned, the feelings of expectation, the execution, the mixed outcomes, and the effects of the British counter-attacks. In addition, Sheldon has also covered the less well known German attack on the northern flank, which failed in the face of the vigorous British defence.

The tactical coverage would have been fascinating in its own right. Sheldon has lifted the quality of his book still further, however, by examining the German commanders. He reviews how the various command levels interpreted the limited evidence before the attack, the reactions to the British success, and the planning of the counter-attacks whilst co-ordinating the hard-pressed defensive battle. Most interesting of all, Sheldon has highlighted the lessons learned, and how these lessons predicted issues that arose during the German Spring offensives in 1918. He also describes the longer term effects of the surprise British attack.

The quality of Sheldon's translations is excellent. The individual accounts are well chosen. The translation style brings these accounts to life, conveying the emotions as well as the technical details. Sheldon provides clear, concise contextual information and supplementary interpretations. As a result, the book is very compelling, as well as easy to read.

Highly recommended!
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on 7 November 2009
This is an extremely interesting book for anyone who wants to know what was happening on the German side during the Battle of Cambrai. Once again basing his story on detailed personal accounts by Germans soldiers at all levels, Jack Sheldon makes clear not only the chaos and confusion caused by the offensive but the astonishing effort made by all ranks and arms, including the frequently overlooked logistics corps, to mount the counter offensive in such a short time. His extracts from the private papers of the top commanders bring into sharp relief the problems that they were wrestling with, their rivalries and the interplay between them - indeed, the likes and dislikes that emerge from the extracts made me wonder sometimes how the Germans managed to continue the war for so long.

My only problems were with the maps and the use of long German titles, which for me break up the smooth flow of the text. I wish the maps could have been interspersed throughout the book rather than placed in a single section at the end. I also wish they could show some colour and an indication of north. But those are minor quibbles and all in all it's a very valuable addition to the bookshelf
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on 17 August 2009
The fourth book in Jack Sheldon's series of studies on the experiences of German soldiers in the Great War maintains the high standards that characterise the other three. The German Army at Cambrai is, in a sense, his most challenging work, in so far as it deals with a relatively short, sharp battle that is chiefly remembered for the first mass use of tanks.

It is surprising to learn that the German line at Cambrai was not optimally sited. We might have supposed that, as a result of the Alberich movement, the Germans would have picked the ground as they retired from the Somme with an eye to maximising their advantage, but here it was the British who enjoyed better observation.

Cambrai was "The Flanders Sanatorium", a quiet sector, but there was still patrolling and prisoner snatching. Of particular interest is the narrative of Reserve Leutnant Vocke, 5th Company Reserve Infantry Regiment 19, which Sheldon describes as "...one of the most honest and evocative accounts of a prisoner snatch ever to appear in print..."

A hallmark of Sheldonian scholarship is the combination of meticulous archival research with commentary by Sheldon which makes us question our perceptions of the German army in the Great War. We are reminded that, despite its awe inspiring reputation, Germany's Great General Staff could also be "...a hotbed of back biting, scheming and political manoeuvring."

It is the accounts of the soldiers themselves that make the biggest impact, and Cambrai, with its dramatic tank onslaught, its predicted artillery fire and the lethal use of gas, the attacks by aircraft and the sudden appearance of cavalry, makes a dramatic narrative.

The German riposte was astonishing : 130,000 men and 508 guns were deployed in a furious counter attack that achieved startling results, although Sheldon reminds us that it did not become the Cannae that the German High Command had hoped for.

Throughout the book Sheldon lets the soldiers' accounts dominate the narrative, but when he adds his own commentary it is effective, balanced and thought provoking.

This is a superb book.
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on 2 October 2009
The other reviewers have covered many of the standout parts of this book, some of which will be familiar to readers of Jack Sheldon's previous work. The depth of research; the eye for a telling ancedote; the grasp of military tactics and so on. But I found the most interesting areas to be the discussion on the workings of the German General staff and the effects the British tempo of operations was begining to have on limiting German options.

The best volume so far I believe.
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on 25 June 2016
Superb book!! Well written and researched.
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