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67 of 88 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Appalling - Full of myths and nonsense debunked for 20 years, 30 Nov. 2009
This review is from: The Donkeys (Paperback)
Professor Michael Howard summed this book up as "a worthless history", Dr John Bourne; the University of Birmingham justly cites it as "preserving historical writing about the Great War in its ridiculously protracted adolescence". This is generous. Clark is an agenda driven politician with an appalling grasp of the First World War.
Firstly, Clark lied about the title. The German General he claimed attached this phrase to the British Army had not said that at all. Clark admitted this before his death.
The British Army was a Colonial police force in 1914, with a core of highly trained men. By 1918 it was the most sophisticated Army in the World. British Generals began a learning curve in 1914 which reached its peak in 1918. Most of them had never commanded above Division level before. They were learning on the job. The Battles of Loos, Neuve Chappelle, the Somme and Ypres were a part of this learning process. The British Armies had not operated in such masses since Napoleon. They did not have the experience of the French or Germans. But within four years had matched and surpassed them in terms of tactics and technical quality.

The inconvenient truth for Clark is - the Allies won and the British played a vital part. He dismisses this as a result of numbers, and blockade. In fact it was three massive attrition damage done to the German Army on the Western Front that forced Germany to seek an armistice. It was the losses at the Somme, which force the German economy to move to total war in order to stave off defeat that was the driving force for the collapse.

There is much more: But Clark's 'work' is not scholarly or academic it just plays on casualties and the "six inches of ground won". Claiming Chateaux Generals threw away thousands of lives "doing the same thing" - utter nonsense.

For those who want to become academics - try reading Gary Sheffield's Forgotten victory.
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Showing 1-10 of 13 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 17 Dec 2012, 23:10:50 GMT
djmr100 says:
!someone hadn't done their homework! I don't think it can ever rank as a serious scholastic work as it perpetuates many long debunked myths which should have been long allowed to fade away as old soldiers are alleged to!

In reply to an earlier post on 7 Jan 2013, 20:25:24 GMT
Have these myths actually been debunked in the national consciousness? Shocking that it is still in print, probably means there is still an appetite for such myths.

Posted on 1 Mar 2014, 21:46:11 GMT
You mean because Gary Sheffield is pro-Army and pro Britain's particpation in the Great War?
There has indeed been a lot of revisionist historiography from British historians in the last twenty years.
For my stomarch, far too many are Military Historians - as opposed to Historians, and/or have connections
(such as teaching at Sandhurst) to the Armed Forces. I know since at least the accession of Tony Blair we
have lived through a gung ho period in this country's history, nonetheless I would prefer one Niall Ferguson
to an avalnache of either military men or their supporters. We may need to have an Army and it may need to
be used but it is very unwise to allow them or their supporters to decide whether a war should have been fought,
or should be fought.

In reply to an earlier post on 2 Mar 2014, 11:08:32 GMT
Well that is not a good start. It is apparent you don't know Gary Sheffield.

It is a nonsensical premise - to call someone "pro-army", that is akin to saying "pro-war", and smearing them as a war-monger. Sheffield's arguments argue simply that a) it was a necessary war, ne, vital war b) the British Army was the most sophisticated by the end of it c) considering where it started it was a remarkable transformation and d) the Lions Led by Donkeys clique are ignorant and dangerous proponents of pacifism who distort history in the pursuit of their own agenda.

And your support for Niall Ferguson speaks volumes for your understanding of the Great War. The man argues for a German victory and Britain's non-participation. I've never heard such dangerous rubbish. And I feel you have been caught up in a spider's web. He is deliberately controversial to sell books and generate followers. I suggest you think long and hard about that.

I'm also aghast that you don't think military strategists should govern military strategy. That is an incredible thing to say. Relying on the populace, an ignorant beast (I'm including ALL civilians plus politicians), is a recipe for disaster. I'm thankful that you do not dictate policy.

In reply to an earlier post on 2 Mar 2014, 11:11:18 GMT
That was not the point I was making. People treat this as an academic piece. I'm reminding them not to.

In reply to an earlier post on 18 Mar 2014, 09:10:53 GMT
Chris Green says:
RAF
you have written the perfect summary of this terrible work. you are right though that the myth persists, it is amazing that people thought we might be able to defeat the German army, the best army in the world, without suffering and inflicting massive casualties. Avoidance of mass casualties is a very good reason not to go to war. but it is not always the best guiding principle when in a war

In reply to an earlier post on 18 Mar 2014, 13:25:55 GMT
djmr100 says:
High time that the Donkeys was recognised for what it is, I'll conceived and I'll thought out. Fergusons view on British Neutrality don't even bear thinking about, war was unpleasant but inevitable with Europe on a collision course. Of course in 1914 the British army was small but highly trained, commanded by cavalrymen with horse drawn light artillery but mobility was stymied by the geology of tha area, the machine gun and particularly the barbed war forcing all sides to revert to medieval siege warfare albeit with technologically advanced weaponry. However by 1918 the British army had reached a peak of professionalism and ability which has never been surpassed, I would suggest reading Andrew Wiest's excellent 'Haig, The Evolution of a Commander' which shows FM Haig in a much more sympathetic light and goes a long way to debunking the B,ask adder approach to the First World War. RAF is quite right to regard the Donkeys not as an academic piece but rather as a potboiler full of inaccuracies, generalisations and downright terminological inexactitudes.,

Posted on 8 Oct 2014, 22:21:10 BST
C. Mackenzie says:
I've no doubt that Clarkes book is too simple and general to be an accurate reflection. However it would be a mistake of equal proportions to presume the generals weren't incompetent at certain points of the war.

As in most things there were good commanders and bad commanders, and further more the good commanders made some bad decisions that cost thousands of lives and the bad commanders made some good ones that saved thousands of men. In war unlike most civilian life mistakes are magnified by the fact that it costs the lives of people.

I fully accept that the British Army had been a small police force prior to 1914, and I also accept it took time to learn the lessons and come up with solutions.
What I think is unforgivable is people that think this started at the Somme debacle. We had been fighting for two years up to that offensive and the lessons that had been learned up to that battle such as attacking at dawn and in small rushes were ignored. This technically isn't all the generals fault because of the huge losses to the regular forces but it is worth remembering that even by 1916 Rawlinson had concluded that artillery was the key and Haig agreed with him, but then massively increased the scope which negated the effect of the bombardment. Before the 1st July attack reports came back from the scouting parties reporting that the German wire hadn't been destroyed and yet the reports was dismissed as cowardice. Even on the 14th July when during a night attack a hole in the line was breached you still had the cavalry officer Haig calling up the mounted troops for a ride to the gap no doubt believing that the enemy would run rather than face a cavalry charge (something he had expressed before the war).

All of these are certainly signs of incompetence, but equally Haig was keen to use tanks which helped speed the war and in 1918 had learned to shift attacks after they ran out of steam. There is also no doubt that the British Army played a decisive role in smashing the German Army under Haigs leadership.

As for Clark's conclusions about the numbers and blockade, again I would agree it is too simplistic. But I think you are doing the same thing by dismissing them and claiming German losses at the Somme was the primary factor. This is really very narrow considering the Germans lost almost as many men at Verdun in the same year and their main Ally: Austria-Hungary had been all but eliminated militarily by the Brusilov Offensive. Personally I would argue they all contributed, as did Germany having to fight on two fronts for most of the war and the arrival of over a million US troops by 1918. All were factors that determined the outcome of the war. Germany was beaten on land and at sea and it's population was starving and close to revolting by 1918. That's why it sought the armistice.

In reply to an earlier post on 10 Oct 2014, 21:21:32 BST
Last edited by the author on 10 Oct 2014, 21:26:21 BST
You had me in a reasonable state of agreement up until the last paragraph.

Haig was still looking for the breakthrough in 1916, which is why he sort out a greater penetration depth on the Somme (up to 2,000 yards).
The German General Staff would strive for the same type of operational manoeuvre up until the end of the war. At least Haig learned this in 1916. Third Ypres did not witness much of these lessons being corrected, but the situation was complicated by logistics and the weather. The question is: were these Cavalry forces used? The answer is no, only in very local actions and in tiny numbers. I must also take you up on the point about the two years prior to the Somme. Commanding an army group is a world away from managing and leading an entire Army. Haig had limited experience at the operational level, never mind strategy. He had never commanded anything higher than a Corps before. He was elevated from division to commander-in-chief in just over a year. The point is he learned. His counterparts in the German (and American) Army did not.

I don't claim. It is so. The German Army suffered catastrophic losses, decimating their reserves of pre-war soldiers. It was also a primary factory in shifting the German economy to a full-war footing, which exacerbated the effects of the blockade. And I didn't dismiss the blockade, I am not that foolish. In fact, I didn't give it much attention in the very short review so please don't comment on my views on it until you know what I think, in detail. It had its place, but as you allude to, it was portrayed by Clark as the driving factor in victory and I was emphasising that point.

Your suppositions about the Russian Front and Verdun are ill-considered and clumsily thoughtout. The German Army DID NOT lose anywhere near as many men at Verdun than the Somme. There is, according to German sources, a 200-250,000-man difference in KIA rates. Austria-Hungary had certainly not been eliminated at that time, at all. It is a rather pointless assertion to say "it all helped to overwhelm Germany" - of course it did. That is beyond question. The point is where did German land power lose the opportunity for an outright victory? And the answer was in 1916 at the Somme.

In reply to an earlier post on 11 Oct 2014, 00:27:19 BST
C. Mackenzie says:
I think you are being too simplistic again. German losses at the Somme were severe but as you well know these weren't all caused by the British Army as the French fought there too and inflicted heavy losses on the Germans (and actually captured their objectives on 1st July!). Verdun was the major German offensive operation of 1916 and it bled the Germans almost as much as the French. The losses on the Somme following Verdun were catastrophic but it was the result of BOTH battles in 1916 that decimated the German Army and in terms of numbers it was the French (at Verdun and the Somme) who killed more Germans in 1916 than the British. Austria Hungary was all but wiped out militarily by the Brusilov offensive which required more German units to be sent east further weakening them. I would certainly agree 1916 was a disastrous for the Germans but it was because of their heavy losses at Verdun and the Somme and their failure to smash the Royal Navy at Jutland that were all equally disastrous. You want to pick out one but I'm disagreeing with that as I think it was a combination of all of them.

Saying Haig learned is certainly valid, but there is an argument he didn't learn quick enough and more importantly units like the excellent Canadian Corps learnt to use fire and move section attacks that meant they could cope better when the generals plans started to fall apart. In short it was the army that learnt and by getting better made Haig's job easier.

Haig was certainly promoted quickly (his role in getting Sir John French removed is not his finest moment) and commanded the largest British Army in history which was a massive step and it explains some of his mistakes. Late 1918 when the Allies were advancing he was at his finest, switching attacks to keep the Germans off guard, and rolling them up back time and time again. 1917 saw him at his worst where he continued the Third Battle Of Ypres long after the weather made the attacks impossible and a breakthrough just wasn't likely. As a historian I think it's right to praise him for his successes and criticise him for his mistakes. I think if you do one without the other you risk demonising him unfairly as an incompetent butcher or sycophantically praising him as a strategic genius, neither of which I think are an accurate portrayal of him.

I think your remark about my comments about "the Russian front and Verdun being ill-considered and clumsily thought out" really must be based on your own ignorance of them. The war on two fronts hampered the German Army throughout the war and potentially cost them an opportunity for outright victory in 1914 as they were forced to pull forces away from the Western attack to reinforce East Prussia. The Germans also had a chance for outright victory in 1918 with their offensives, two years after the Somme where with the collapse of the Russians they were able to deploy units back to the Western Front. These largely fell apart because the soldiers stopped to loot Allied food supplies another result of the naval blockade.

I think what we are really disagreeing with is the significance of the Somme to the final German defeat. You think it was the turning point, I think there were many turning points throughout the war of which the Somme was one, and it certainly contributed to the Allied victory, but there were other battles both before and after the Somme that were far more decisive.
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