The First World War

The War to End All Wars

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By Peter Simkins, Geoffrey Jukes and Michael Hickey

Available from Osprey Publishing

(Currently Out of Print)

This is a one-volume history of the First World War. The book is divided into four chapters plus a Chronology of WWI and a Conclusion chapter including the aftermath of the war.

The Chronology covers some thirteen pages beginning in 1908 with the Austro-Hungarian acquisition of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the 1912-13 Balkan Wars. It continues through the four years of the war citing the major events on the three fronts and concluding in 1923 when British forces were finally withdrawn from Constantinople. This war led to the destruction of three Empires, the Austro-Hungarian, the Ottoman and the Russian. The Treaty of Versailles led to the formation of various independent states such as Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, split Germany in half with the imposition of the Polish Corridor, but did little to dampen the feeling of nationalism in the Balkans and the Near East.

The first two chapters deal with the war on the Western Front. From the “tinkering” with the Schleffin Plan to the disdain which Moltke the Younger was held by the commanding generals to the same disdain that existed between those generals. Major actions are covered in depth giving casualty figures showing the disregard commanding generals had for the troops under their command. It shows how the leaders on both sides disregarded the advances in artillery, the machine gun and the magazine fed rifle.

Chapter One covers the Western Front from 1914 to 1916. Both sides had issues with supply, the Allies problem was the inadequacy of their manufacturing of ammunition and artillery pieces. The German problem was the French destruction of the railroad system causing them to revert to horse-drawn supply, slowing down the replenishment of the frontline troops. Demands from the Eastern Front for reinforcements forced Moltke’s hand to divert troops from his West Front Corps to the Russian Front, this eventually led to his replacement by Falkenhaym. Since the German forces had been thinned out, they had fought themselves to a standstill. This condition led to the beginning of the trench war of attrition.

The second chapter continues the Western Front from the beginning of 1917 until the Armistice in November 1918. Outlined here was the increased British use of heavy artillery and the introduction of the tank. In 1917, the Germans began to use small groups of specially trained assault troops, the “Storm Troopers”. Tactics had begun to change from the head-on assaults across “no-man’s land” to more of the use of small unit attacks, instead of the massed formation attacks. A higher incidence of the use of aircraft to attack enemy formations and artillery positions was begun. All finally culminating in the end of the war in November 1918.

The third chapter covers the Eastern Front from 1914 to 1918. The initial successes of the Russian Imperial Army against the Germans forced the commanding general von Prittwitz to frantically call for additional troops as the Russians had invaded East Prussia.

The Eastern Front was designed to be a holding action until such time as Paris was captured and the Allies surrendered. Although additional corps were sent east, Prittwitz had out-lived his usefulness and was replaced with von Hindenburg as Commander-in-Chief and Ludendorff as his Chief-of-Staff. This change led to the great Russian defeat at the Battle of Tananberg.

The combination of Hindenburg and Ludendorff gave the Russians more than they could handle. They also had to divert troops to hold-up the Austro-Hungarian front and eventually the Italian Front. The unrest in the Russian homeland caused this front to stagnate and eventually to disintegrate to the point that troops could be diverted to the Western Front to enable Hindenberg and Ludendorff to execute the final battles of the Western Front campaign.

Chapter Four covers the Mediterranean Front and the destruction of the Serbian Army. The major campaign on this front was the British invasion of Gallipoli and the efforts to knock the Ottoman Empire, “The Sick Old Man of Europe”, out of the war, thereby weakening the Central Powers.

The chapter on the Conclusions to be drawn from the war and the aftermath that directly led to the Rise of Adolf Hitler and the Second World War gives great insight into the events of the ‘20’s and ‘30’s.

I recommend this book to all students of the First World War and to most whose interest is directed to the Second World War and its causes. The in-depth narrative gives those who want to know more about this war than just the major battles and the casualty figures, sections of each chapter are devoted to profiles of individual soldiers and civilians and their experiences during the day-to-day living during this time.