Book Review: 1918 – Winning the War, Losing the War.
Edited by Dr Matthias Strohn
Publisher: Osprey www.ospreypublishing.com
ISBN: 978-1-4728-2933-7. Hardback, 304 pages. RRP £25
Inspired by his work with the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst and The Centre for Historical Analysis and Conflict Research (the British Army’s Think Tank), the resourceful Dr Matthias Strohn has curated and edited an important and thought-provoking collection of essays about 1918 written by ten of the world’s leading historians. Indeed the contributions to this book are acutely aimed at each theatre of conflict during the last year of the First World War, a conflict which Dr Strohn believes cast a long, long shadow over Europe for decades to come.
While most of the focus is on the Western Front and the defining results of decisions made by military leaders on both sides, the efforts of those men fighting on the land, in the air and on the seas along the Eastern Fronts, Africa and the Middle East are also examined in depth.
In a foreword of hearty recommendation General Sir Nicholas Carter KCB CBE DSO ADC, Gen Chief of General Staff writes: “Thankfully a generation of dedicated scholarship has freed us from a tendency to dismiss the First World War as pointless and wasteful. This book has helped lead us to a deeper understanding of this war and how it was fought, without diminishing in any way the honour of respectful remembrance we hear towards its combatants.”
Each chapter offers a new insight into the last and bloody year of the war which had already seen the Germans briefly gain a foothold on victory following its defeat of the Russian army in 1917. But with the arrival of new technology, including tanks (the Battle of Cambrai in 1917) and the ‘doughboys’ of the American Expeditionary Forces to assist in the Allies’ campaigns, the enemy war machine began to fall apart.
In his chapter about the French Army, Dr David Murphy paints a comprehensive picture of strategy and weaponry, and Dr Jonathan Boff discusses General Haig’s plea for even more men to help fulfil his ambitions for victory. In 1917 alone, the British Army suffered 800,000 casualties, yet still Haig insisted on sending tired men back to the front. By 1918 Prime Minister Lloyd George saw futility in the wastage and forged a new line-up of military commanders to break through the German lines with what he perceived as more efficiency. Haig had asked for 650,000 men for the front but received just 100,000.
Thanks to incisive analysis from Dr James S Corum, we learn more about the RAF’s strategic developments in the air, including the creation of additional squadrons. There are some superb descriptions of the aircraft that went into battle against the German Geschwer (fighter squadrons) in 1918.
In a chapter discussing the Great War at sea, Professor Dr Michael Epkenhans gives a fascinating account of the Battle of Jutland, the success of German and Austrian submarines in the North Sea and other important naval conflicts that led to the end of four long years of death and destruction on November 11, 1918.
One hundred years on, Dr Matthias Strohn asks what can we learn from 1918. “In looking back at the war and all its lessons we must not overlook the most important lesson – all wars produce new methods and fresh problems. The last war was full of surprises – the next one is likely to be no less prolific in unexpected developments. Hence we must study the past in the light of the probabilities of the future, which is what really matters. No matter how prophetic we may be, the next war will take a shape far different to our peace-time conceptions.”
Reviewed by Melody Foreman