Learn more Download now Shop now Browse your favorite restaurants Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Learn More Shop now Learn more Shop Fire Shop Kindle Learn More Shop now Shop now Learn more

on 21 March 2018
“100 Days to Victory” sounds like another book about the final campaign on the Western Front in 1918, but it isn’t that. Instead, it is a selection of one hundred days from the entire length of the war, to which Saul David attaches particular significance. Do the sums and you can see that he misses out a whole fortnight for each day which he covers.

It sounds like a gimmick and reads that way, too. Why a hundred days and not two hundred, or even a hundred and seventeen? Why didn’t he just write a new history of the war? Well, I think part of the problem is that he has very little to say that is original. If you check his sources, he refers again and again to well-known authors, Mr Ibid being one of his favourites. There is no hint of plagiarism here, but there’s not much sign of original research, either.

So far as there is an individual selling-point at all, it is in the fact that several of Mr David’s relatives fought for King George V in WWI. I think that, if the author really believed their experiences were so compelling as to justify a book, he would have confined himself to those.

As it is, I don’t feel Saul David is much of an expert on the war. One example: the failure of British battlecruiser gunnery, which David treats as being a characteristic of the Grand Fleet in general. It was not, however. The battlecruiser squadron, a separate command under Admiral Beatty, was based at Rosyth, in the Firth of Forth, a place which offered no opportunity in wartime for gunnery practice. The decision to aim for a Nelsonian rate of fire, pitching shells pointlessly into the North Sea, as a supposed alternative to accuracy, and to adopt a suicidally cavalier approach to safety precautions was Beatty’s and was not adopted by the rest of the Grand Fleet, based at Scapa Flow. David doesn’t appear to understand the difference.

What follow are just some of my objections to Saul David's book.

Niš, according to David, is in “central” Serbia. He should consult a map. The Bulgarian capture of Niš was facilitated by its proximity to the Bulgarian border.

David repeats the canard that the Somme offensive was undertaken to relieve the pressure on the French at Verdun. By July, 1916, the French had already stopped the German advance at Verdun. Repeating this sort of tall story is possible for David only because of the contrived format of his book, fastening on certain days, such as the First Day on the Somme, and dealing much more vaguely with events on either side.

14th July, 1916: “At General Rawlinson’s insistence - and much against Haig’s better judgement - the attack began before dawn…”
But Rawlinson was right, so in what way was Haig’s judgement “better”?

If Mata Hari was born in 1876, how was she seventeen in 1895?

Messines: Plumer was unwilling to continue the offensive, until his artillery was redeployed. That’s an eminently sensible strategy, but David avoids expressing any opinion.

The introduction to 1918 encapsulates why this book is an absolute disaster. It’s hard to know where to start. David throws in a pretty inaccurate account of the Battle of Cambrai, which happened in 1917, as he acknowledges, but it doesn’t fit his daft straitjacket, so he doesn’t count it as one of his “hundred days” (which is just as well, since it was fought over two days). He still manages to get in a glaring error: the German counter-attack did not recover the territory lost to the first British assault, but conquered a similarly sized area adjacent.

How about these gems?

“The Americans’ immediate contribution was primarily maritime, financial and diplomatic.”

Yeah, well that would be three things, actually. Which one is “primary”?

“With Russia out of the war, the Central Powers were at last free from a war on two fronts.”

Oh, really? So the Italian front just evaporated?

“…new German “stormtrooper” tactics that used a thin skirmishing line, backed up by squads with mortars, flamethrowers and machine-guns.”

All those weapons were in the German armoury from the early days of the war. Surely David knows the difference between a “machine-gun” and a “sub-machine-gun”, which was an innovation of the time (apparently not, since he later refers to “light machine-guns”, which also are not the same as sub-machine-guns)? Incidentally, “Stosstruppen” translates as “shock troops”, not “stormtroopers”.

I do generally like Saul David's other work, but I can't understand what possessed him to attempt a single-volume history of the First World War, without bothering to do the massive amount of necessary research. Rather a lot of the time, even his secondary sources (the only ones he tends to use very much) are themselves relying on secondary sources, hence the ubiquity of Mr Ibid.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 25 August 2014
I bought this book having attended a lecture from the author which was clear and interesting as anyone familiar with his TV work would expect. He was also charming and polite afterwards with all the people queuing up buy copies of his books.
And the book is consistent with those impressions - clear, slightly provotive but steering clear of outright controversy, highly accessible but unable to avoid the feeling that it has been rushed.
My immediate impression was a comparison to those "100 best" compilations on TV from which you cannot quite manage to tear yourself away, thinking at each stage of the countdown that this will be the last one you watch. So it is compelling and an easy read but relies heavily on a limited number of references and, indeed, very heavily on recent secondary sources. No-one could say this is breaking new ground in this controversial historiography of this pivotal conflict; instead it attempts to communicate in compact synopses the views of other historians. The grapes of Gary Sheffield and others have been distilled for the casual drinker without the curiosty of the experienced drinker. On balance I lean to the views of this wing of historians as they revise the traditional views the British and, I think, Commonwealth public have viewed the war for decades and I think David's more balanced position often more convincing than that adopted by others, such as Sheffield, even though I regularly refer back to his "Lost Victories" book for reference.
The accounts of his family are very welcome particularly when they relate to important dates such as the Second Battle of Ypres. Having said that, I think his excellent explanation of the Turkish treatment of the Armenians concluded rather abruptly - fault of editing surely, rather than avoidance of a controversial conclusion.
Of course you constantly wonder about the choice of dates. I personally would not have picked 3 for the disastrous Mesopotania campaign but picked far more for 1918, surely the key year - so far more than 2 from August to the Armistice in Northern France.
A tally shows
1914 - 19
1915 - 21
1918 - 18
1917 - 22
1918 - 18
So could we conclude that 1917 and 1915 were the most important years? I am not sure, but thought-provoking nevertheless.
You will also notice that this table only adds to 98, because he repeats 1st July 1916 from 3 perspectives.
And, yes, as other reviewers write the book has been compiled from a British and Empire perspective but I think he provides enough variety and width. I would only suggest that I would have added one date from a Central Power persective: related to the economic and blockade perspective - surely the key "theatre" they lost.
I would also add a date demonstrating the fact that the British learnt and applied lessons from their early heavy set-backs. That is surely key to the arguments of the revisionists and I think they (and I include David in this camp) would benefit from paying more attention to this aspect.
It is worth pointing out that he inserts some dates of events that are more eye-catching than strategically important - Mata Hari, Edith Cavell and a PoW breakout are examples.

And to the point it was rushed - the only primary sources are family members, from compilations and the excellent Testament of Youth. Good choices, but surely not the results of hours of work. I would have added more cross-references between dates, for example the early references to Hitler's war time experiences did not reappears. Also there are some silly errors would should have been corrected including:
29th August 1914 - "defend East Prussia against the Prussians"
29th April 1916 - first footnote is "ibid" so from a book about the Easter uprising?

Finally David's style raises the question of heroes and villians, certainly on the Allied side. Amongest the latter Wilson appears naive and manipulated, French distrusting, Asquith out of his depth, the commanders at Gallipoli, and the worst of the lot - Nivelle. Heroes - British junior officers, the unsung brave Russians who took Erzerum, Brusilov, British tank crews and of course Commonwealth soliders.
0Comment| One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 26 January 2014
This book had, as the author tells us in his 'epilogue', a curious origin. He proposed writing a day by day account of the events between the Sarajevo murder and the outbreak of war, but his publisher wanted him to cover the whole war. The result is an account of 100 days, not consecutive but spread out over the four years of the war. Some of the days extend beyone a single one, and in virtually every case something is said of the aftermath. The result is a book that does indeed cover the whole war, but in short sections easy for the reader, and with a great wealth of telling detail. The author is particularly good at narrating complex military action.

The publisher asked for an account 'from the perspective of all the belligerents', but this is not provided. The book is heavily British-based. The Russian and Italian fronts are treated adequately, but we hear very little of the war from the French and German perspectives. As cause or effect of this, the writer's bibliography includes not a single book that is not in English.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 25 September 2013
This book is different from any book about WW1,(or WW2),that I have read, (and I have read many). It is not a timeline of the battles fought; of the strategies and tactics deployed; of the new machinery developed to kill the enemy in this new form of warfare. It is, rather, a collection of "bite-sized" chunks covering all aspects of the whole conflict. It is the kind of book one can dip into at any time. It contains much material which I did not know. It must be of interest to those who already have knowledge of the War. It will be a fine introduction to the War to those people who know only a little, and who are perhaps wanting to learn more about the conflict which changed the world one hundred years ago. Having read this book, they can better understand the people who lived through it, both combatant and non-combatant, and then read further. The book should be in every school library.
0Comment| 8 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 26 May 2014
The author admits he only set out to do from the Sarajevo assassination of the Archduke to the outbreak of WW1 but was 'encouraged' to go the whole hog. His advisers were right and he has made a very good fist of it. The broad selection ranges brilliantly, from the first British soldier shot for desertion (he probably had PTSD), the battle of Jutland, Mata Hari, key battles including some I had never hear of on the Russian front, the Red Baron, the German navy shelling British ports. It is almost all there. The one that I had to go back and check was the lack of discussion of Cambrai, the first time that tanks were ever used properly in warfare, I would have thought warranted inclusion. That apart, superb stuff.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 17 September 2013
A panoramic book on The Great War, told with insight and style. 100 Days to Victory encompasses the military history of the First World War, as well as other subjects (including the Home Front, diplomatic failings, espionage etc). The author constantly returns the drama and suffering of the soldiers on the front however and it is a credit to David's writing that he provides both narrative and argument in each of his well crafted chapters.
Some may find the book too Anglo-centric and not all the chapters are as strong as each other but for the most part readers, whether experts of the conflict or those coming to it for the first time, should find 100 Days to Victory to be both enjoyable and enlightening.
0Comment| 13 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 8 October 2013
I just finished reading 100 Days to Victory and I really enjoyed it. Saul David picks 100 days over the course of the first world war which led to the ultimate victory for the Entente in 1918. He uses his own personal family history - telling the stories of his great uncles who fought in the war, which I found really moving. He also uses the diaries of Vera Brittain to tell the story from a female perspective and to describe the feelings of those left behind at the home front. As well as going into a lot of detail about the battles and military strategies on the Western Front, David looks at the breakdown of the Russian monarchy, the action in Gallipoli, and the input of various regiments imported in from the British Empire, which I found really interesting. He writes in an accessible style, capturing the emotional side of the war without compromising on historical accuracy or objective narration. There are a lot of books on WW1 out at the moment but this is one that shouldn't be missed.
0Comment| 15 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 2 January 2014
This was a brilliant read, and the other 4/5 star reviews cover why, but there was a desperate need for a map of the continent plus the Middle East. It would also have been better to group all the maps together in one place, as the same regions are referred to disparately throughout the text, and it is hard to keep finding the necessary map buried half way through the book. Nevertheless, this is a common problem and the book overall was excellent and highly readable.
0Comment| 2 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 18 September 2013
A concise yet also elegantly written book on First World War. Was given book as present and found myself turning pages straightaway. Book covers a host of aspects and angles of war, dealing with the grand narrative of the campaign and also the more intimate, minor stories away from trenches. There are plenty of testimonies from commanders and frontline soldiers alike. There are also some excellent mini essays prefacing each year in terms of where all the major players stood at the time. It's doubtful that every reader will be interested in every facet - or day - of book but most people will be engaged by a majority of what the author has to say. David writes with a judicious eye in regards to the military history of the war, but just as importantly the book possesses a sense of sympathy and humanity.
0Comment| 11 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 19 December 2014
A little difficult to read initially as the grammar was poor resulting in it not being clear (to this reader at least) to which person in the previous paragraph the current paragraph was referring to. Either my skills got better or the writing improved as this problem was not an issue after the first few chapters. An interesting read.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse

Sponsored Links

  (What is this?)