Top positive review
The best yet
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 .