on 28 December 2000
Edward Spears gives in his book Liaison 1914 an outstanding account of the dramatic retreat during the first 40 days of worldwar 1. As a british liaison officer, attached to the french fifth army, he was well placed to give a eyewitness report. Spears is a well talented writer and ably pictures the chaos, the suffering and the conflicting information experienced by the left wing of the allied armies. Although the book gives a clear picture on the general course of events, his personal experiences in particular make his book a unique document of this episode. For instance his visit, as a subaltern, to Lanzerac, the commanding general of the fifth army, to plea for help to the endangered BEF is moving (pg 199). Together with The Guns of August this book, no doubt, is the best ever written about the first month of worldwar 1.
on 20 November 2013
Had it not been for Brigadier General Spears, at that time, a young British liaison officer attached to the French fifth army on the French-Belgium frontier, it is likely that the Allied forces might have suffered an early precipitate defeat in August 1914 and that the war would have certainly been lost by Christmas.
Spears liaison role was therefore critical at the time of the gravest crisis in 100 years of European history
For reasons best known to the German General Staff they launched an onslaught involving 1,485,000 men against defenceless Luxembourg and Belgium in flagrant breach of Belgium neutrality and committed not only acts of mass destruction, but war crimes. Whilst the French forces were never lacking courage their adherence to the Plan was fatal and hundreds of thousands of French soldiers died as a result of very brave and gallant forward assaults against German machine gun and heavy artillery emplacements. As a Marshal of France once said of the gallant charge of the British Light Brigade at Balaclava: C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre: c'est de la folie ("It is magnificent, but it is not war: it is madness").
In hindsight it is easy to criticise the French General Staff for holding to a strategic plan just as the German General staff held to the famous Schliffen Plan. The German plan involved an overwhelming thrust by the right wing of the German armies into Belgium and through North Western France enveloping the French armies which the Germans envisaged would be held on the frontier. For a while in August 1914 they succeeded as it threatened to envelop the French fourth and fifth armies and the British expeditionary force at Mons. The French fifth army appears to have been in a position in late August to attack the German fifth army of Von Kluck, but its commander General Lanzerac, who had earlier in the campaign shown promise, hesitated. Incredibly it seems he also failed to warn the commander of the British expeditionary force, Sir John French, of the impending danger from the German onslaught. Fortunately, the BEF was saved by its intelligence section and the discipline as well as professionalism shown by its officers and men. Spears also played his part in warning the BEF. This unfortunate episode had grave effects on Anglo-French co-operation to the extent that Sir John French felt he could not trust will rely upon the French fifth army to support his right flank. This is why he was forced to retreat. It was only through the efforts of General Joffre, the brave French Commander in Chief, and the foresight of Lord Kitchener who went to Paris to ensure that the cabinet's intentions were carried out by Sir John French that trust was restored. As a result of Lanzerac's failure to attack the Germans and support the BEF Joffre removed him from command on the eve of the Allied counter attack on the Marne. Lanzerac's successor General Esperey more than restored the credibility of the French army in the eyes of their Allies and certainly insofar as Spears was concerned.
The tale that Spears tells is credible, well informed, authoritative and definitive in terms of military tactics, strategy and understanding of the enormous disaster that was unfolding in Europe. This tragedy of human history was unparalleled in history of Europe which few at the time realised. One of the few was Lord Kitchener who foresaw that an army of millions not thousands would be required.
on 24 November 2000
Spears started WW1 as a Lieut and ended it as a General. This book is his eye witness account of what he did in the war.
He was picked from obscurity to liaisse between the British & French armies. Rapidly he moved from transalating to decesion taking. He attended may meetings that shaped the war, but also observed many of the more mundane goings on.
The book is long but exceptionally readable. A rare work of detail which reads as easily as a novel.