|Reviews by John Lee|
From Pontefract to Picardy by Derek Clayton
Hell at the Front: Combat Voices from the First World War by Tom Donovan
Call to Arms: The British Army 1914-1918 by Charles Messenger
A Tribute to Jill Knight by John Lee
The First World War: The Essential Guide to Sources in the UK National Archives by Ian F. W. Beckett
The Great War and Modern Memory by Paul Fussell
Cromwell's War Machine: The New Model Army 1654-1660 by Keith Roberts
Napoleon's Army by Colonel. H. C. B. Rogers
Bonaparte in Egypt By Chris Herold
Fisher, Churchill and the Dardanelles by Geoffrey Penn
Private Beatson's War: Life, Death and Hope on the Western Front by S. Springer & S. Humphreys
We Hope to get Word Tomorrow: The Garvin Family Letters 1914-1918 by M. Pottle & J. Ledingham
The Dardanelles Disaster: Winston Churchill's Greatest Failure by Dan Van Der Vat
Pyrrhus of Epirus by Jeff Champion
"The Kensington Battalion: Never Lost a Yard of Trench" by G. I. S. Inglis
Gallipoli: The End of the Myth by Robin Prior
Gallipoli 1915 by Tim Travers
The Wandsworth and Battersea Battalions in the Great War by Paul McCue
The Battle for Flanders: German Defeat on the Lys 1918 by Chris Baker
The Siege of Kustrin 1945: Gateway to Berlin by Tony le Tissier
A Waterloo Hero: The Reminiscences of Friedrich Lindau by Bogle and Uffindell
Fire Over the Rock: The Great Siege of Gibraltar 1779-1783 by James Faulkner
Marching with the Tigers: The History of the Royal Leicestershire Regiment 1955-1975 by Michael Goldschmidt
The Great Boer War by Byron Farwell
From Pontefract to Picardy
Reviewed by John Lee for the Centre for First World War Studies, University of Birmingham
There were many hundreds of unit histories published in the 1920s and 30s - most divisions of the British Army were covered, some in substantial two volume sets, some quite briefly, most in a good solid volume. There were some notable exceptions, including the division in which this battalion served (of which more later). Then there were the general regimental histories, covering all battalions in all theatres; necessarily in less detail but still of considerable value. And then, of course, there was the battalion history, usually written by one or more officers who had served and drawing heavily on the battalion's war diary. These can vary enormously in detail and style, but always yield something of value about the nature of the army and the way it adapted to modern industrialised warfare.
Some years later there was a new rush of battalion histories, of the 'Pals' battalions, usually with an unhealthy obsession with the disaster of the 1st July 1916. Some of the later ones got over that hang up and were more useful. The more fortunate writers worked on the units with a highly literate rank and file, none more so than the 'class' battalions of the London Regiment (TF) and we were presented with the pioneering work of Bill Mitchinson on the London Rifle Brigade ("Gentlemen and Officers" IWM 1995) and most recently the magnificent new book by Jill Knight on the Civil Service Rifles (to be reviewed for this journal by Peter Simkins, but let me tell you now it is the best unit history I have ever read).
It is especially useful to get a good solid battalion history for a unit where the divisional history doesn't exist. We thank Derek Clayton for giving us the 9th KOYLIs who served throughout the war in 21st Division. This was a splendid formation that overcame an early disaster, was blessed with a first rate commander, and went on to become a thoroughly reliable division, and one that badly needs a modern history. (I would love to do it but I have pledged myself to the 58th Division -'my boys', the London Territorials!)
The 9th KOYLIs was a classic 'Kitchener' battalion of the New Army, recruited from the industrial West Riding of Yorkshire, with a stiff contingent of Durham miners joining up with large numbers of Yorkshire colliers. As John Bourne reminds us, these are trade unionists in uniform and they start grumbling about their 'rights' from the minute they join up! Their early marching songs say it all: "The more we work the more we may, It makes no difference to our pay". These are men used to doing as they are told in the work place, and you only need to start worrying about them if they stop complaining.
Officer-man relations were of the greatest importance. Clayton reminds us that every single original battalion commander of the 21st Division was a 'dug out', a former regular officer brought out of retirement for war service. Future studies will, no doubt, tell us how long they lasted. The 'temporary gentlemen' that made up the bulk of the officer corps learnt their duty at the same pace as their men. The battalion's first commander was a ferocious martinet, which might have stood them in good stead in the greater scheme of things, but made him detested even by the other officers (they refused to toast him on the eve of the Somme attack). He had that sarcastic tone 'up with which Tommy Atkins will not put'! He was killed on the 1st July 1916 and the battalion passed into the hands of two excellent lieutenant colonels, one of whom won a well-deserved Victoria Cross as he led them to victory in 1918.
What do we want from a 1914-18 unit history?
Derek Clayton scores high on most of these issues. He makes a good use of the war diary for the basic narrative and is fortunate to have a collection of letters from perceptive officers to bring the whole thing alive. It is very interesting to read their remarks on the way they conduct warfare in late 1918, compared to the bludgeoning style of 1916/17. We get many themes familiar from all battalion histories - how unpopular the trench mortar teams are when firing from your bit of trench; how 'live and let live' systems are quite prevalent; the importance of football in the life of the unit; what a blooming nuisance formal parades were, even visits of the King! And a number of useful reminders of important things that are often neglected - how excellent regimental officers went on to staff work at brigade and higher levels; the importance of battlefield salvage work; just how novel were the problems of the later stages of the fighting in 1918 (not just outrunning ammunition supply, but advancing off the edge of your maps, having to care for civilians along the way, etc.)
In this age of the PC we are now blessed with excellent analysis of casualties based on the CD ROM 'Soldiers Who Died'. No unit history is complete now without its bar chart of losses for the whole war. You run your eye along it and intone - battle of Loos, first day of the Somme, first day of Arras, Third Ypres, spring offensives 1918, etc. As a published author myself I know that, however carefully you read those galley proofs, a few errors will creep in. The copy editors should have picked up most of them - don't worry, there are only a few, they are not earth shattering, and you can contact me through the Centre if you want to know what they are.
Instead I want to heartily recommend this unit history to you. It is, to use Peter Simkins' immortal phrase, another 'brick in the wall' to help us understand the experience and evolution of that war-winning machine, the British Expeditionary Force. With a slight tilt of emphasis it could have been an even more useful addition to our understanding of the sadly neglected 21st Division - that the French civilians liberated by it in 1918 automatically assumed to be an elite formation.
Hell at the Front: Combat Voices from the First World War
Reviewed by John lee for the Centre for First World War Studies, University of Birmingham
Tom Donovan is a prince amongst booksellers. His printed catalogues often
find their way onto my permanent library shelves, thanks to the excellence
of his bibliographical and historical notes.
This is a new paperback edition of ‘The Hazy Red Hell’ (Spellmount H/b1999) and is a fine anthology from scarce or out-of-print books, and some never-seen-before items from the author’s own remarkable collection of First World War material. As the sub-title explains, these extracts concentrate on the actual combat experience of British troops on the Western Front from Mons to the final advance to victory. They do not shrink from the grimmer aspects of war and the writing is always powerful. But the pacifist reader – looking for ‘the horrors of war’ from the mouths of its victims - will be disappointed. This is the story of men with a job to do, and they get on and do it. They are sustained throughout by a firm faith in what they were fighting for, by the comradeship engendered by the British regimental system, and by a grim and pretty much unquenchable sense of humour.
The first chapter, '1914:The Contemptible Little Army', shows us the highly trained regulars of the BEF getting a bit of a shock as they go into the first great, industrialised war. Their superb rifle skills take a terrible toll of the enemy, but the unprecedented levels of artillery fire on the battlefield cause grievous losses of irreplaceable professionals.
'1915: The Arrival of Attrition' takes us from Neuve Chappelle to Loos, and sees the Territorial Force and the Kitchener volunteers arriving to shoulder the burden carried by the shrinking Regular units. This was a year of terrible fighting for very little gain. I found myself warming to a young runner of 2nd Black Watch who kept apologising to his corporal for trembling when under fire. The battalion had come in from India and he insisted it was the cold that was getting to him, not his nerves. The war gets more 'frightful', with gas and flamethrowers joining the fray, but it is still machine-gun and artillery fire that does the most damage.
'1916:When the New Army Bled' starts with the fighting at Vimy Ridge in May, when British troops encountered an effective box barrage for the first time - the most graphic description of being under sustained shell fire is provided by a member of the London Regiment. We then read of the particular misery of so-called 'diversionary' attacks, and get several accounts from different phases of the Somme battles, tracing the improvements in artillery techniques, the ongoing problem of battle communications, and the vital importance of good officer leadership. The advent of the tank is seen as a less-than-glorious, but potentially useful, infantry support weapon.
'1917: Year of Arras and Passchendaele' covers a time of grim attritional warfare that puts the German Army under the most enormous pressure. We are reminded of the great successes of 9th April that saw British attackers get into the German gun lines, and discovering the underground wonders of the 'Hindenburg Line' for the first time. There is a real improvement in British infantry tactics, and in co-operation with artillery and tanks. The victory of Messines in June, the routine excitements of working parties and the less routine thrill of trench raids, and the problems of working with Portuguese allies are all covered. Lengthy sections cover Third Ypres and Cambrai. Through success and failure there is an enduring stoicism, sense of duty and pride in comrades.
'1918: Darkest Before Dawn' takes us from the shock of the German spring offensives, and the violent resumption of open warfare (in the wrong direction!), with the collapse of command structure, supply lines and communications. But the Germans run out of steam quite quickly and the French stabilise the line. From 8th August onwards the Allies press the Germans back skilfully and relentlessly. The attackers had learned their lessons well. Standard battle drills could meet all eventualities and absorb quite raw recruits into fast-moving units. Now sergeants were perfectly able to command platoons. Tanks were proving ever more useful, but were never the decisive breakthrough weapon. The last entry, by a Lieutenant Blacker of the Rifle Brigade describes a confident infantry tearing through the Germans on 4th November 1918. How he didn't qualify for a Victoria Cross I shall never know!!
Call to Arms: The British Army 1914-1918
Reviewed by John Lee for the British Commission for Military History.
What a very interesting book this is! As an exercise you should stop what you are doing for ten minutes and try and think what would be involved in turning a small professional army engaged mainly in imperial policing, into a mass citizens' army engaged in a worldwide, industrialized struggle with the greatest military power of the day. Oh, and for good measure your government, and the people it represents, resent paying any and all taxation, especially when 'wasted' on defence.
Where would you begin? How to cope with the flood of volunteers and then, when they dwindle away, how to direct the human resources of the nation to best effect? Where to find the directing brains for all this effort? How to cope with the sudden demand for more of everything on scales that beggar belief and defy all previous predictions? How to cope with the myriad and wholly new demands of a new kind of warfare that seems to spring from the lurid writings of that Mr H. G. Wells?!
Our fellow BCMH member, Charles Messenger, has given us a valuable study of the British Army in the First World War as seen by the Adjutant General's department. He covers most thoroughly everything organised by the 'A' side of the Staff; all matters relating to personnel (and not 'G' side -Operations- or 'Q' side - logistics). He again makes the point elucidated by Ian Malcolm Brown that the 'G' Staff was invariably run quite separately from the 'A and Q' Staffs; something that did not begin and end at Gallipoli!!
Everything relating to recruitment is here, from pre-war regular volunteers to the mobilization of the reserves, the extraordinary doubling and tripling of the Territorial Force and that wholly unforeseen creation of the New Armies. Every aspect of unit organization is discussed. An appendix lists 35 different organizations to which an 'infantryman' might be posted, from Agricultural Companies to Young Soldiers' Battalions. He covers the demand for new specialists to be organized and trained; shows the important role of women in the uniformed services in releasing men for active service; treats fully the enormous problem of the need for labour forces on the Western Front (whose numbers rise from 100,000 in 1917 to 395,000 in Jan. 1919).
There are excellent chapters on officer selection and training, both regimental and staff, and on aspects of discipline, the medical services, welfare and morale of the troops (give them plenty of food, leave and mail - we score well on two out of the three) and on the contentious issue of honours and awards.
Did you know that in April 1917 the Army Postal services
were handling 125,000 parcels a day for the BEF (which total went down
as the canteens increased and improved); that while American and Australian
units had one dentist per 1,000 men, the British 'got by' on 1 per 10,000;
that 25% of the entire medical profession was in uniform by July 1915?
I urge you to add this to your library a.s.a.p. In its whole 574 pages I only noted that Tim Harington should be spelled with one 'r', not two!! And, of course, I have my own reasons for wishing that he hadn't called the infamous Aragon 'Ian Hamilton's headquarters ship'! It was principally the location for the Naval Transport Officers and their sybaritic staff. And what about an appendix that lists 14 pages of acronyms, from AA (Army Act and/or Anti Aircraft) to ZMC (Zion Mule Corps). How useful is that?!
The Civil Service Rifles in the Great War: All Bloody Gentlemen
Reviewed by John Lee for the British Commission for Military History
Those of you that know me well will believe me when I say that I have read over a hundred unit histories relating to the BEF in the Great War, and that in the course of my research work I have partially read at least another hundred. The rest of you will have to take me at my word or check me out in your own time! What I want to say at the start and without equivocation is that Jill Knight has produced the best unit history I have ever read or am ever likely to read.
Jill, while a graduate, is not an academic historian; she is that perfect kind of writer who, in her work as a civil servant, became intrigued by a war memorial to civil servants who died in the war and set about finding out what she could about them. In a genre not famous for its literary elegance, we are doubly blessed by someone who can actually write well and make the story especially riveting.
Now, like the pioneering work of Bill Mitchinson on the London Rifle Brigade, Jill is fortunate to have worked on one of the 'class' battalions of the London Regiment, whose ranks were filled with the most literate and educated men that Edwardian society could offer. While these units were routinely plundered for officer material, there is still a rich vein of personal reminiscences from the other ranks to make these books especially valuable.
In another unit history review I wrote recently for the Centre for First World History, Birmingham University, I said:
What do we want from a 1914-18 unit history?
I had actually just read Jill's book when I devised that list and it will therefore come as no surprise that she scores 100% on every point. In particular I was impressed by the regular assessments made of the state of morale within the battalion, showing how even an excellent unit like the 15th Londons could 'get the blues' after a costly battle or a period of bloody awful weather, but how some rest, reinforcement (by recruits drawn so clearly from the same pool as the originals - not always an option), some entertainment and the restoration of cleanliness and pride in appearance soon gets the unit back in form.
The sub-title comes from an officer's groom who transferred in from the 60th Rifles. He didn't like the new assignment as "This mob's all bloody gentlemen"!
The First Battalion, as part of 47th (2nd London) Division, is followed through all the great battles of the Western front. Jill has an excellent grasp of the evolution of infantry tactics as the war progressed; indeed she does quote some particularly reliable sources in this respect (!!!)
The Second Battalion is equally well covered as it joins the 60th Division and goes from Ireland to France to Salonika to Palestine and back to France.
A word of praise for the publishers, Pen and Sword. The book is physically attractive, with excellent use of maps, illustrations and repro documents. And, as I have welcomed in other reviews, they leave a wide inner margin that is absolutely perfect if, like me, you are an inveterate scribbler of notes.
If you are remotely interested in the BEF and/or the Western front you
must have this book. If you think you are not interested in 'mud crunchers'
but want to know what makes a 'good' regiment good at any stage in history,
then you still must have this book.
PS: The other unit histories referred to above are:
This review was reprinted in the London WFAs journal, Firestep, with the following introduction.
A Tribute to Jill Knight by John Lee
To my lasting regret I never met Jill Knight. It is a sign of the times that we did, however, engage in a good-natured exchange of e-mails. It began out of the blue when she got in touch, really to enquire from my wife Celia if she could tell Jill anything more about Hugh Warrender. He appeared in Celia's biography of Jean, Lady Hamilton as a friend of the family, and we discovered Jill's interest in that Warrender went on to serve with the 15th Battalion, The London Regiment (Civil Service Rifles)..
I next heard from her nearer to publication when she, having learned of my 'proper job' (in the sales department of one of our major publishers), asked if I could give any advice on the marketing of the book, making sure it got reviewed and what have you. I helped as best I could, assuring her that she was with a good publisher who would do a professional job of it, and suggesting some good reviewers.
In particular I promised to review it myself, either for John Bourne's Centre for First World War Studies journal (Pete Simkins beat me to it!), or for the Newsletter of the British Commission for Military History. What I am so pleased about is that, having read the part covering the 1st Battalion on the Western Front, I paused and immediately fired off a congratulatory e-mail to Jill. I told her it was absolutely brilliant, and that reading it had been a pleasure. It was then I employed the phrase used below: "Well done, Jill, well done indeed!". She replied quickly saying I had really 'bucked her up'. I didn't know that she was dying, and that she would soon leave us. I wonder if she realised how much she would be missed.
On 17th March 2005 I joined a good crowd of people for a service of remembrance at the Civil Service Rifles memorial on the Embankment at Somerset House, on the ninetieth anniversary of the day the battalion left for France. Jill could not attend but sent a message of support.
The review for the BCMH Newsletter is reprinted below. I mean every word of it. The book deserves the widest possible readership, and is a model to be followed by all future unit histories.
In 2007 I hope to conduct a new Holt's Tour, entitled: "All Bloody Gentlemen! The Civil Service Rifles on the Western Front". Using Jill's book as a guide, we shall follow in the footsteps of this excellent battalion of the excellent London Regiment. Do join me, and we can give thanks over and over again for the work Jill Knight left behind..
The First World War: The Essential Guide to Sources in the UK National Archives
Reviewed by John Lee for the Centre for First World War Studies, University of Birmingham
The first question I would like to ask Professor Ian Beckett is why the devil didn't he write this book some fifteen years ago when I was starting my serious research work at the PRO. He would have saved me such a lot of time and energy chasing down files and references.
This book is a masterpiece at various levels. The introductory essays and the linking narratives between chapters and sections are a model of cool, rational and authoritative discourse. It occurred to me that if they were extracted and bound up as a pamphlet they would represent the last word in scholarship on all the main issues concerning Britain's role in the First World War. They make this tome of reference a pleasure to read in its own right.
Before I discuss the content by section, there are two further points of a practical nature deserving of praise. The index is quite excellent in its comprehensive attention to detail. The most fleeting reference to a single ship, munitions factory, individual or committee is carefully noted. I tested a couple of sections of text 'to destruction' and could not fault it. Whoever designed the layout of the book had the great good sense to leave two-inch wide inner margins on every page. These will rapidly fill with pencilled notes (in your own copy, of course!) on matters of interest to be followed up and with your own cross-references. We should start a campaign for wider margins for that very purpose!
There are four major sections to the book - the Higher Direction of the War; New Ways of War; The Nation in Arms; War, State and Society. After an essay introducing each of these themes there are anything from four to ten sub-sections that explore their subject by directing the reader to the relevant papers of no less than sixty-one departments and institutions. This thematic approach makes more accessible and manageable the huge series of papers such as Admiralty 1, Air Ministry 1, Home Office 45 and War Office 32, as well as making practical use possible for the first time of some series that do not yet have detailed catalogues (such as Treasury 1 and Ministry of Labour 2).
Whole books have been written discussing whether Great Britain should have engaged in the First World War at all. The introductory essay to The Higher Direction of the War has a paragraph of just seven lines concluding that this was "a necessary war" which is a model of cool, rational and, it has to be said, courageous judgement about Britain's true national interest. The sub-section Cabinet Government and War explains the approach of the governments of the day to directing the war through various increasingly small committees. Within the various references to series of papers there are useful commentaries, such as that on page 6 directing the researcher to CAB23 and explaining what might and might not be found there and why. In the sub-section War, Strategy and International Politics there is a connecting essay linking the comprehensive coverage of all wartime political affairs to the separately treated impact of the two Russian Revolutions of 1917 that had such an alarming (for British ruling circles) effect throughout Europe, the Middle East and Asia. The subsection Dominions and Colonies introduces into its opening essay the use of important statistical information to help us understand the total war effort; a feature that is so useful and interesting that I can see it being much-cribbed in the future! The subsection The Peace Settlements runs to nearly fourteen pages, reminding us that the war ended in a series of armistices, not surrenders, which had to be converted into peace agreements.
New Ways of War is divided into Science and War; The War on Land; The War at Sea; The War in the Air; and Absorbing the Lessons. There are very good short summaries of tactical developments during the war, and the role of science in intelligence gathering. The War at Sea sub-section breaks down in an interesting way, suggesting the relative importance of aspects of the Navy's work in wartime - nine pages on the blockade of Germany and economic warfare, six pages on submarine warfare, six pages on fleet actions, three on air power at sea and one on the German bombardment of British coastal towns.
The treatment of the important series WO95 (the War Diaries) will be the only discordant note in this adulatory review. There is nothing to fault in the basic description of the content of this series but it is such a vital source that future researchers should be told more about it. (This reflects the interests of your reviewer -an historian of military operations - as opposed to the author - more of a 'war and society' man himself). Besides containing the daily diary of events for the relevant unit or formation, WO95 contains a mass of other important documentation. Chief amongst these are the narratives of operations and the after action reports, so important for the analysis of battle and of the learning process that was a constant feature of the war. The files are bursting with detailed maps, operation orders, artillery fire plans, reports on strength, training, and intelligence assessments of the enemy. It is very instructive to follow the development of operational techniques from the early, experimental stages of the war and compare them to the deadly killing machine that was the BEF in the later stages of the struggle.
The Nation in Arms covers the question of recruitment, the recording of war service (this sub-section being vital to a large contingent of PRO users researching the service of individual members of the armed services), and the treatment of casualties, veterans and their dependants, and the commemoration of the fallen. There is, of course, an excellent piece of the whole question of discipline and military justice, and a balanced appraisal of the question of executions.
War, State and Society covers in a very comprehensive way the whole question of mobilising the nation for total, industrialised war, including the growth of government control on society, finance, industry, agriculture and food supply, the role of labour and women, and the social impact of the war on various aspect of national life. We see how companies are compensated for government 'interference' and certain profit levels were guaranteed, to remind us that this was a thoroughly 'capitalist' war. Conversely, while pointing up that Britain had the worst record of any belligerent power for labour militancy, the author also reminds us that this was as nothing compared to the turbulent period 1910-1914 and that over 8,000 arbitration judgements were accepted by the workforce without protest. It is interesting to note, in a sub-section on Aliens and the Enemy Within, how certain events assumed such importance to the government. The documentation relating to the Irish rebellion in 1916, the Casement trial and subsequent troubles runs to five pages and includes papers from eighteen ministries and departments! This is a work of the highest importance, of the greatest practical value to student and researcher alike, from the pen of one of our best historians of this truly decisive period in the history of Great Britain and the world.
Paul Fussell is an American Professor of English. He is not, by any stretch of the imagination, an historian, still less a military historian. In his personal view the First World War was an exercise in futility in which "eight million people were destroyed because two persons, the Archduke Francis Ferdinand and his Consort, were shot". His view of the idyllic nature of British society in the summer of 1914 is as selective as his reading of the war itself. This is loosely based on the only historical work cited, the 'History of the First World War', by that "prince of military critics", Basil Liddell Hart. Liddell Hart would not thank him for the astonishing factual errors he makes in his short narrative of the events of the war, all of which have been pointed out in previous reviews and none of which are corrected in this latest edition.
The book is interesting as literary criticism of some British writing in 1914, and of some of the writing produced by the war. It can be read with pleasure as he describes some of the literary norms of the day - the constant references to pastoral images, birdsong, flowers, dawn and sunset, the intense bonding between men at war (which he insists on calling homoeroticism, but no harm in that), the demonising of the enemy. All this adds to our understanding of the cultural world that produced these writings and for this we are grateful. He is also surely right to point out how the war has impinged on our national consciousness in a way no previous war did. It has certainly invaded our everyday language.
For him the war is the life in the trenches, but only of the frail and helpless infantry in the trenches, and only as portrayed by the writings of a select band of poets. Just as there is no place here for gunners, engineers, tank crews, logistical troops or sailors, nor any combatants from any other theatre of war, neither is there room for war writers who do not fit neatly into his scheme of an "innocent army" made knowing by irony. He does discuss, and is clearly irritated by, David Jones' 'In Parenthesis' because this front line poet equates the experience of the infantry with that of previous wars. But you will search in vain for any discussion of Frederick Manning or Charles Carrington (a.k.a. Charles Edmonds), or any other writer who might imply that the men had a job to do and got on with it, enduring whatever came their way and refusing to quit until they won.
His hostility to the very fact of the war, which explains his lack of concern over historical accuracy, leads to other blind spots. He just doesn't understand the concept of love of country. He certainly doesn't understand the sardonic humour of the rank and file soldiery. Infamously foul-mouthed, they are not being ironic, they are simply taking the p**s!! A little more thought about the lives of the ordinary working-people of Britain in 1914 and what they felt about going to war would have made this a much better book.
When Fussell was described above as an American writer, it was deliberate in that he hails from a country that has never had to fight for its very survival as an independent nation in the way that many European countries have had to do this century (twice) in the face of rampant German militarism. It is simply not good enough for him to dismiss as naive and misguided any writings that smack of firm intent to see the war through until the enemy is defeated. The men of 1914 -18 knew what they were fighting for, and they suspected that the consequences of defeat would have been very much worse than the hardships endured while battling their way to victory.
It is important that you read this book. It is hugely influential, especially amongst students. It is your duty as military historians to understand its arguments and expose the way it reads back certain aspects of post-war disillusion and distorts the experience of the war as history.
Short Reviews by John Lee For BCMH Journal Mars and Clio
Keith Roberts is a man seriously in control of his subject where the English Civil War is concerned. This book has a much wider agenda than the title suggests. He sets the whole of the war and its contending armies in the context of contemporary Dutch, Spanish and German military theory and practice. It is very well illustrated with formation diagrams that help our understanding of the battlefield tactics of the time.
He takes us through the whole experience of the armies on both sides of the Civil War - recruitment, organisation and equipment, training, tactics, professionalism, and military life in general.
The New Model Army itself appears quite late on the scene and promptly settles the first civil war on the fields of Naseby and Langport in 1645. After imposing its will upon London in no uncertain terms, it goes on to win the second and third civil wars before peace at home was secured. It had a brief and turbulent history, and was marked out by its aggressive ethos. It relentlessly sought out battle to settle the issue once and for all. In a wonderfully modern-sounding phrase from its own lips, "Noe other Army could doe the Business".
My only complaint is that there is not enough on the New Model Army itself. I would have liked a lot more on its regiments and its battles. That would, I suppose, have needed a much bigger book and this is such good value at £19.99. An excellent primer on the armies of the 'English Revolution'.
Full marks to Pen & Sword for making available again this timeless
classic study of the basic workings of Napoleon's Army.
There is excellent use of first hand accounts and fine black-and-white illustrations throughout.
Another useful addition to any Napoleonic library courtesy of Pen & Sword's reprint programme.
The Directory accepted Napoleon's grandiose scheme for conquering Egypt
as a preliminary to operations against the British in the East in order
to get him out of France, where he was getting much too big for his boots!
His large plans included the taking along of 150 scientists and artists
to make a deep study of the country. (A lesson for America there, before
she goes invading any more Eastern nation states). This book covers all
aspects of the expedition - military, political and cultural.
Reviewed by John Lee for the Journal of Military History
This book, by a former naval officer, adds to our understanding of the depressingly-inept origins of the British attempt early in 1915 to force the passage of the Dardanelles and put Turkey out of the war. It was the defective mechanism for the higher direction of the war that caused the difficulties which beset the servicemen, naval and military, who had to execute the policy into which their political masters drifted so aimlessly.
In common with many biographies that seek to restore or defend the reputation of an historical figure, in this case Admiral Lord 'Jacky' Fisher, there has to be an arch-villain who has to be vilified at every opportunity, and here the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, is in the firing line. By a careful cross-checking of Churchill's exculpatory writings in "The World Crisis 1911-1918" with Fisher's own memoranda, Penn does make a convincing case that the naval experts did try to warn against attempting to batter a way through the narrow channel of the Dardanelles with ships alone. In his enthusiasm to put the Royal Navy to some decisive active duty, Churchill repeatedly misrepresented these views to the War Council and won the politicians over to the ill-fated attempt. The subsequent Dardanelles Commission of Inquiry wondered aloud why these naval experts, through their principal representative, the First Sea Lord, Fisher himself, had not spoken up in Council more forcefully at the time. In Edwardian Britain such things simply were not done.
The Navy itself is shown to be sadly lacking in a 'General Staff' for war planning, for which Fisher must take some responsibility. When Fisher made elaborate plans for landing British troops on the northern shores of Germany, inside the Baltic, he neglected to mention the scheme to the War Office! If he wanted to use the Army as a 'projectile to be fired by the Navy' it was to be at a time and place entirely and only of his own choosing.
The book is a useful addition to the 'Gallipoli library'; his discussion challenging the alleged Turkish shell shortage in March 1915 was new to me. However this reviewer drew a couple of conclusions probably at odds with the intentions of the author. It would have been to the good if Fisher had resigned in January 1915 as he first threatened to do. Once committed to the fight it would have been better if the Admiralty had been completely behind Churchill and equally determined to 'see it through'. And it does seem as if Maurice Hankey was right when he declared that the Navy had completely lost the spirit of the offensive. That most combative of sailors, Commodore Roger Keyes, comes in for a level of abuse here second only to Churchill himself!
Reviewed by John Lee for the Centre for First World War Studies, University of Birmingham
It is my great pleasure to review another fine battalion history from the Pen and Sword stable. This particular one is all the more interesting for being about one of those unsung Second Line Territorial units that came out in such big numbers in 1917 and did a lot of very hard fighting along the road to final victory in 1918.
The author, Fraser Skirrow, began by researching the members of his family that served in the West Yorkshires and has ended up with an excellent study of the evolution of a unit from its wartime creation, through the difficult introduction to modern war on the Western Front, some splendid battle performances in attack and defence, and the final harsh reminder that the German army was never going to be a pushover even as it crashed to defeat.
They gained confidence after a bout of aggressive patrolling during the German retreat in the spring of 1917. But their first set piece battle was a cruel test - twin failures in the two battles of Bullecourt. When Australians complain that they were 'let down' at First Bullecourt by the failure of the Yorkshire division on their left, they should be reminded that a lot of Yorkshiremen were killed and wounded because an unknown Australian staff officer failed to notify them that a scheduled attack had, in fact, been cancelled. And some very fanciful Australian planning for Second Bullecourt also saw the 2/5th West Yorkshires hung out to dry again. I take nothing away from the Australian contribution to the Allied victory but when it comes to 'whingeing' about other people (especially 'Pomms') they would do well to be a little more modest!
What followed was a classic case of a battalion being taken in hand by a new commander, who inspired a new set of officers, and turned it into a fine fighting outfit. Note how many of these 'new' officers were, in fact, young but veteran Other Rankers, often wounded and decorated, and being commissioned as 'temporary gentlemen'.
Success in a carefully orchestrated battle at Cambrai, and the brilliant defence of Bucquoy during the German spring offensive of 1918 saw this battalion at the peak of its effectiveness. It maintained a terrific reputation for aggressive patrolling and raiding.
Sent south to the Marne to help the French army roll back the last gasp of the German offensives of 1918, they were thrown rather precipitately into a doomed attack at Marfaux where the battalion was shot to pieces by concealed and unsuppressed machine-guns. It was so badly cut up that it was disbanded and its personnel distributed to other Yorkshire regiments, which gives us the doom-laden title of the book.
The author is to be congratulated on the steady analysis of the state of the battalion, its training and morale, and its tactical development. After each major action there is a thoroughly commendable study of the reasons for success or failure. As usual there are plenty of good documentary sources for these territorial units, but he really opened my eyes to the importance of the local press for piecing together the history of these intensely local units.
We must encourage more detailed unit studies like this, where the learning process (we don't call it a learning 'curve' any more!) can be so clearly delineated. The Second Line Territorials deserve more recognition for their contribution to the final victory. Fraser Skirrow has done a fine job for the 2/5th West Yorkshires.
Reviewed by John Lee for 'Mars and Clio', BCMH
James Beatson was born in 1892, a working-class boy who did well at school, thanks to a benevolent uncle, and went into civil engineering for Edinburgh City Council. He volunteered on 19th August 1914, joining the 'Dandy Ninth', the only kilted battalion (TF) of the Royal Scots. He signed for overseas service on 28th August and, in February 1915, went with the 9th Battalion to France to join 81st Brigade, 27th Division. He was in the thick of the terrible fighting at Second Ypres, especially around St Julien. He would serve with the 27th Division until it left for Salonika , whereupon the battalion transferred to 51st (Highland) Division.
He shows that a gas attack of some sort was expected from 16th April
1915, though when first encountered it was dismissed as a sort of low
level effect 'stink bomb'. When he encounters gas later in the war, he
refers to it as 'a whiff of Ypres'.
He copes with being under heavy enemy fire by reciting to himself verses
from a popular song of the day. He hates the Kaiser and all Prussian bullies,
but greatly admires the enemy front line fighters.
The editors have annotated the diary very well and have authenticated it carefully. All in all a useful addition to the literature of trench life in 1915.
Just a couple of small things to look out for. It was not the life expectancy of an infantryman on the Western Front that was reckoned at three weeks. That distinction is usually reserved for new subalterns or RFC pilots. To suggest that the Bazentin Ridge was a physical obstacle to artillery engaged in shelling High Wood makes me wonder if the editors have ever been to the Somme or read much about artillery in 1916! A diary entry dated 1st June 1915 refers to 9th Division being in action 'last September' (ie 1914). This is not possible, so it is either Beatson's error needing a footnote, or a typo that got past the copy editors!!
Reviewed by John Lee for 'Mars and Clio', BCMH
The moving title for this book comes from a letter from father to son on 21st July 1916. Sadly the recipient, Captain Gerard Garvin, was killed in action on 23rd July. He was a 1914 volunteer in 7th South Lancashires, 56th Brigade, 19th (Western) Division. His father was none other than J. L. Garvin, editor of The Observer. Imagine sitting in your dugout reading about your father's dinners with Winston Churchill, David Lloyd George, Jacky Fisher and Arthur Balfour!
The battalion was fairly slow in getting fully uniformed and equipped, but Garvin was incredibly lucky in his choice of parents (!) who responded with alacrity to his very demanding list of 'requirements'. His mother, not always in the best of health, visited seventeen shops to buy him a new service revolver! The battalion was in Belgium by July 1915, though it was September before they took over a trench system on their own account. As a young subaltern, he was helped enormously by an experienced platoon sergeant. (This makes sense of the War Office reluctance to commission too many NCO instructors in the early part of the war).
Gerard worked diligently and was 'a little father' to his men. His parents were naturally relieved when he got a posting to divisional HQ but he was too good a regimental officer and, on his promotion to captain, his CO wanted him back as a company commander. To JL Garvin's credit he never pulled any of his formidable array of strings to swing a cushy job for his boy.
With all due respect to a young officer killed in the line of duty, his letters are a good deal less interesting than those of his father. JL Garvin makes a running commentary on the higher direction of the war, and some useful asides on the early problems of the Lewis gun, on Clausewitz and on Marlborough.
Gerard took a lively interest in training and it would have been useful to those of us keen to see how the BEF developed as a war machine to have more of this relatively rare material. How frustrating to see some pages of notes on training taken at 'officer school' merely produced as facsimile illustrations! We want the whole document. It would have been a perfect Appendix. And I would dearly like to know why the divisional commander had a 'running feud' with this battalion.
The warmth of the letters from home, always headed 'My dear old son', or 'My dearest laddie', 'Dearest lad of mine', 'Dearest beloved son', make the end all the more poignant. Knowing that his battalion was to make their first big attack late on 22nd July 1916, Gerard wrote a 'last letter' on 20th July to be opened in the event of his death, saying goodbye to those he loved.
The editors have done a very good job filling in all the full details of this last attack.
Reviewed by John Lee for 'Mars and Clio', BCMH
The giving of a title to a book is a considered part of the sales strategy surrounding it and sometimes authors have to make concessions to their publishers. I don't know if the naval historian, Dan Van Der Vat, offered this title but it is a bit 'purple' when the content of the book is taken into account. The Royal Navy was defeated at the Dardanelles on 18th March 1915. That is not the same as a 'disaster'. And the sub title led to me to expect some excoriating denunciation of the First Lord of the Admiralty but really he just gets the usual telling off for not listening to his naval staff (who didn't speak up when they should have done) and for his exaggerated claims for the strategy of the campaign and the ability of his ships to deliver on those claims.
Van Der Vat has already given us a study of the escape of the Goeben and Breslau to Constantinople and the story is repeated here (with an interesting account of what happened to these ships after 1915). We then get a competent study of the naval aspects of the campaign and a surprisingly sane and balanced look at the military operations. (I know I get a bit defensive on this issue but Sir Ian Hamilton is treated with a good deal of respect and understanding!)
We are given some new information on the mine-laying operations conducted largely under German supervision and this should make the book useful to the specialist reader. It can certainly be recommended to anyone wanting an introduction to the naval campaign, provided they ignore the florid title and accept the book for what it is.
Reviewed by John Lee for 'Mars and Clio', BCMH
We are all familiar with the concept of a 'Pyrrhic victory', a success
so costly as to be almost counter-productive. How many of us know anything
about of the man who gave us the phrase, Pyrrhus of Epirus (north-west
He steers us through the welter of bloody strife when the Successor lords to Alexander the Great's empire fell upon each other almost before Alexander's body was cold! The royal house of Epirus was joined by marriage to Macedonia. Pyrrhus was in exile by the age of three, and was briefly king around his seventeenth birthday. Driven out by a revolt, he learned his soldiering under the great Successor lords, Antigonus and Demetrius.
Then he waged war against Demetrius, adding greatly to his personal renown. Finally established as king of Epirus, he accepted an invitation from the citizens of Taranto to lead their armies against the Romans. His victories over Rome at Heraclea and Asculum were ruinously expensive and he had to leave Italy.
So off he goes to help the Greeks drive the Carthaginians from Sicily,
all except for the fortress city of Lilybaeum which he was never able
to capture. His behaviour towards his Greek allies lurched towards the
tyrannical and the Greeks threw him out!
He returned to Greece and, being quite broke, waged war on Macedonia. After a string of victories, large parts of the Macedon infantry came over to him. Overruning most of Macedonia, again it was a weakness at sea that prevented complete victory. Storming across Greece and into the Peleponnese, he was fought to a standstill by the Spartans. His son was killed in the fighting and he took such a bloody revenge that the Greeks allowed him to march away unmolested.
He met his death in battle for control of Macedonia, felled by a tile hurled by an Argive mother defending her son from Pyrrhus' personal attack. Falling, stunned, he was grabbed by a Macedon soldier and beheaded. His enemy, Antigonus, mourned his passing. What an extraordinary man! A skilled professional soldier, personally courageous, in the mould of Alexander the Great, and a restless tyrant who just never knew when to stop.
Reviewed by John Lee for 'Mars and Clio', BCMH
The DLI is very well served with battalion histories but, surprisingly,
the regular 2nd Battalion was never written up. John Sheen has filled
that gap, making good use of the local press to provide contemporary letters
and reminiscences to bring the story alive. The book is particularly well
The battalion's war history was curiously checkered. They missed engagement in First and Second Ypres, but were part of the successful counter-attack at Hooge in August 1915. They put in a grim six months holding the Salient from January to July 1916. They were on the Somme in September and October. (A word of complaint here. The narrative got so vague at this point that I had to go to other reference books to work out which engagement was being written about.) In 1917 they missed involvement in Arras, Messines and Third Ypres, but were busy trench raiders. They were at Cambrai that year. They put up a terrific resistance in March 1918, did another long spell in the Salient and were in the advance to victory from Albert to the Sambre between September and November 1918.
Some good appendices round off a useful addition to any library of unit histories. I would love to know more about 18th Brigade's use of 'Cards of Honour' to reward deserving soldiers who didn't make it to the medal lists.
Reviewed by John Lee for 'Mars and Clio', BCMH
Pen and Sword are developing an excellent range of books relating to the war on the Eastern front 1941-1945, and this story of a young, patriotic artillery officer is a fine addition to the list.
Petr Mikhin sat his maths final exam on 22nd June 1941! Next day he was in the army, assigned to the Leningrad Artillery Specialist School, where he completed a three-year training course in four months. It makes a change to hear a new recruit saying nice things about the quality of his new boots and uniform! Meanwhile "The fascists rapid advance unsettled, angered and amazed us". Commissioned in December 1941, after a course as an aerial observer, he was posted to 52nd Rifle Division as 2i/c to a battery of 122mm M30 howitzers. Divisional training continued until July 1942, when they went into the line in the Rzhev sector, west of Moscow.
Mikhin's first brush with death was not at the hands of the Germans but with the NKVD looking to fill their quota! On his first fire mission a new howitzer blew up. Accused of sabotage, he was saved only when he pointed out that it was the second shell fired that exploded, with a faulty fuse as the obvious culprit.
In August 1942 he was joining infantry assaults at Rzhev, an area of ferocious battles overshadowed by those at Stalingrad, where artillery Forward Observation Officers went in with the riflemen. On the 25th Anniversary of the Revolution he was in an OP barely 50 yards from the German lines. When the division went down to Stalingrad in January 1943 it was down to 6,000 men; 50% of its full strength.
By June 1943 he was a battery commander but still went out personally looking for prisoners to interrogate - what the Russians chillingly call 'hunting tongues'. In the pursuit across the Ukraine he was once directing fire from a haystack when the covering infantry broke and fell back. The Germans swept past him and he found himself directing fire on them from behind the German lines! The 26th Anniversary of the Revolution saw him beyond the Dneiper River, beating off German counter-attacks and settling down for a harsh winter. (Yes, Russians do feel the cold!).
His reflections on the German enemy are interesting. He envied them their prosperity and education, but recognised that they despised all Russians and were afraid of them. It hardly needs to be said that he was totally motivated by the thought of vengeance for what Germany had done to his country. He is a loyal Soviet citizen, but has some scathing asides for political officers and party secretaries!
Through 1944 and 1945 he drives the enemy westwards - through Moldavia, Rumania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Hungary and Czechoslovakia. His high rate of mobility is, of course, courtesy of the Dodge trucks supplied in such numbers by the USA under Lend Lease. He was commander of an artillery battalion later in 1944 and gives many good accounts of how veteran troops conduct themselves in the later stages of the war.
At the Battle of Lake Balaton (Hungary) he once again faced court martial for the loss of some guns. This time he leads his men back into the enemy lines to recapture them! He is wounded on 22nd April 1945 fighting near Brno in Czechoslovakia, but is back on duty by 5th May. He notes bitterly that, although the war 'ended' on 8th May, they were still fighting Germans locally until 12th May and the last surrenders weren't until 16th May. After a brief appearance in Moscow for the Victory Parade, the division was on its way to Manchuria when the Japanese surrendered and ended it all.
The book is full of interesting character studies, and tactical observations from a young man who begins as a raw recruit and matures before our eyes into a very efficient and committed gunner officer.
Reviewed by John Lee for 'Mars and Clio', BCMH
I have had the pleasure and great privilege to see this book in manuscript form for some time, have always been a big fan of it and am delighted at the chance to review it in its final form. Geoff Inglis has been working on 22nd Royal Fusiliers (Kensingtons) for more than twenty years; he co-edited Christopher Stone's letters with Gary Sheffield back in 1989. Now he has given us an excellent addition to any library of battalion histories; the work of a conscientious and thoroughly reliable historian.
Once again a London battalion is blessed with a highly literate personnel, a wonderful veterans' magazine ('The Mufti') and an historian who knows how to make good use of this rich material.
Raised in the great recruiting drive of September 1914, 1,100 men signed up in two days, and in another two days a further 1,300 were available to create a second line battalion. Kensington went out of its way to let men who signed up together serve together. The battalion was an intriguing mix of white and blue collar workers, boosted by absorbing an interesting bunch trying to form a 'colonial infantry' battalion that didn't recruit quickly enough.
It went overseas in November 1915, to join 99th Brigade, 2nd Division. We first get the usual descriptions of settling in to army and trench life from this wonderfully literate, and very humorous battalion. It is extraordinary (or perhaps not so extraordinary) how all the early experiences are replicated in almost all battalion histories.
The unit is caught in the ferocious German attack that retook Vimy Ridge in May 1916; is in support for the taking of Delville Wood in July and fights all through August to retain it; at the battle of the Ancre in November 1916 they attack Redan Ridge. Here their 'most famous' soldier, H. H. Monro (the short story writer, 'Saki') died. He had rushed back from a hospital sick bed to be 'in the show' and was killed by a sniper.
They had a torrid time in 1917, being heavily engaged at Miraumont in February, at Oppy Wood in April and May and at Cambrai in November and December. Sadly in February 1918, during the great 'downsizing' of the BEF, the battalion, weak in numbers, was selected for disbandment.
The remarkably active Old Comrade's Association published an excellent journal full of the reminiscences that inform this splendid book. It kept going until 1978. I strongly recommend this, even if you have no particular 'thing' for unit histories of the Great War, as an all round thoroughly good read. Share the experiences of the French-Canadian Destrubé brothers, natural comedians and very good soldiers. Watch them toss up to see who gets a lance-corporal's stripe (it goes to the loser!) and share the sadness of them both being killed in action just as they are about to go for officer training.
Reviewed by John Lee for 'Mars and Clio', BCMH
I have never written a bad-tempered review before, but this is a very bad-tempered book and evokes strong feelings. Robin Prior has every right to feel strongly about a campaign in which many men died for what he believes to have been a complete and utter waste of time and effort. I know that most of the people reading this review will probably agree with him, and any detailed study of the campaign will provide more lessons on how not to conduct combined operations overseas than anything else. But the men of 1915 were given a set of orders and they did their best to carry them out. Their political masters had the vaguest notions of what they were supposed to achieve ('mission creep' doesn't begin to explain it!) and not the slightest interest in ensuring that they had the wherewithal to do it properly. They were looking for a cheap victory at a time when British and allied resources were stretched to the limit. Robin makes several references to the limitations of the British army in 1915 (in terms of doctrine and modern experience). This is incontrovertible and should lead to some better understanding of the difficulties the soldiers faced once they had been put ashore. The army in 1915 regarded the Royal Navy very much as the 'senior service' and I am quite sure that, if the sailors said they could shoot the troops ashore, the army would have believed them.
Nowhere in this savagely critical study is there a single reference to the fact that this was the first attempt at an assault landing in the face of the modern weapons of war with which we are familiar in the whole of recorded history. These men, soldiers and sailors both, had no experience on which to base their plans. Their only guide was a Manual of Combined Naval and Military Operations published in 1913, which dealt entirely with making an unopposed landing on an enemy coast with a view to developing land operations once a base had been secured. We are so familiar with assault landings now, though everything that can go wrong will go wrong in this, the most hazardous operation of war, that it is hard to comprehend the mood in April 1915. Most observers were half expecting a disaster to happen. A careful reading of contemporary accounts shows more than anything a sense of sheer relief at getting ashore at all.
The exasperated accounts of the repetition of badly prepared and executed attacks, mainly on the Cape Helles Front, take no account of the series of telegrams from the War Office in London literally goading Sir Ian Hamilton to get on with the war and achieve some useful result. Hamilton was under strict orders not to ask for more troops from Lord Kitchener, and when reinforcements were sent out they were always below their normal strength in artillery (and some infantry divisions were sent out without a single gun to their name).
Robin has a problem with Sir Ian Hamilton! In an earlier book he thought he was 'dug out' of retirement in 1914 (instead of being the most senior general on the active list). In this book he is first mentioned as GOC Eastern Command (which he never was), before being recognised as commanding the Central Striking Force in the UK. He is described as "a man who it can reliably be said knew little of... modern war". The German Great General Staff published a potted biography of him in 1914 in which he was described as the single most experienced soldier alive anywhere in the world at that time - but what would they know?! He is also recognised as one of the very few British generals in 1914 who had ever commanded more than 20,000 men in the field. A hint that Hamilton, who was 61 in 1914, was just glad to get an active command and was too grateful to Kitchener to make any fuss is also wide of the mark. If the Gallipoli command had not come up, Hamilton was scheduled to take the next New Army (of six divisions) available for service on the Western Front.
Having convinced himself that Hamilton was incapable of fighting a modern war, Prior then suggests that when Hunter-Weston (who gets a relatively good press here compared to that which is usually meted out to him) devised some successful 'bite and hold' tactics that achieved some good results in the Cape Helles sector, Hamilton didn't understand them and chose instead to resume 'manouevre warfare' out of the Anzac bridgehead. How curious then that Hamilton wrote a letter in July 1915, based on the Gallipoli experience, pointing out precisely how the nature of war had changed and that to achieve success in trench warfare one had to seize a tactically important point and destroy the inevitable enemy counter-attacks. If that doesn't sound like Plumer in 1917 I don't know what does.
I am sorry to report that a heavy sarcasm is resorted to in several places, not just the lowest form of wit but the worst possible use of hindsight to make a sneering judgement on men coping with difficulties an historian writing ninety years later can never fully understand. The one attempt at a straight joke misfires because Hamilton's ship taking him east was not HMS Foresight (meant to contrast with a complete lack of ?) but it was HMS Phaeton. Sadly the book gets so bilious towards the end that even the astonishing success of the evacuation is written down to a 'myth'.
The book is good at forensically dissecting the political aspects of the campaign, both in its inception and preparation, and in the expectations of the effect it would have on the Balkans scene (though there is still a lot of hindsight employed). Abusing politicians who send men off to war without adequate resources is fair game. Abusing the servicemen trying to obey their political masters to the best of their ability should be done with a little more understanding.
Reviewed by John Lee for 'Journal of Military History'
The author opens with the highly rhetorical question, "Why another book on Gallipoli?" The book would stand alone as a homage to the extra-ordinary sacrifice of the Travers family—three of its menfolk were killed at Suvla in August 1915 - which should remind us all of that "last full measure devotion" offered up by the volunteers of 1914. What a vale of tears the British Army had to pass through before it became the battle- and war-winning machine of 1918.
Tim Travers has given us a book of the highest importance to all who would seek to understand the tragedy of the Gallipoli campaign, the parlous state of the British Army in 1915, and the haphazard higher direction of the war by the political and military authorities in London.
The most important aspect of this work is the complete integration of the Turkish (and German) side of the story into the more familiar Allied narrative. This both tells us that the whole enterprise was perhaps even more diffiicult than was originally thought (and we should remember that many contemporary military commentators feared the landings would fail) and was also tantalisingly close to success on a number of occasions. The repeated claim by Sir Ian Hamilton and his staff officer, Aspinall, who went on write the official history, that the presence of a major fresh formation early in the operation could have had decisive results is borne out by Tim Travers's exposition of the crisis in Turkish military fortunes at the end of April and the beginning of May. When the soldiers complained to the Commission of Enquiry that all reinforcements were too little and too late they they were saying nothing but the truth.
Conversely, the author shows that the last great effort to win through
in August was even more doom laden than we previously thought. The Turkish
numbers were tipping against the Allied effort at an even more alarming
rate than we have known to date.
Your reviewer should declare an interest here, as the writer of the recent biography of Sir Ian Hamilton, which Tim considers "a balanced and reasonable defence of Hamilton's command." So he won't mind if I point out Hamilton's "conversion" to the power of the defence was not quite the sudden revelation it appears to be in these pages; he had come to that conclusion before he went to Gallipoli as a result of his extensive corresponce with friends and colleagues already serving on the Western Front. This is a masterly use of archive material and can be recommended with the greatest enthusiasm.
Reviewed by John Lee for 'Mars and Clio', BCMH
After the great wave of volunteering in the autumn of 1914 slowed down, the continuing manpower requirements of the British Army saw a new appeal for recruits go out in April 1915. Using the public outrage at the German use of gas in April, the War Office made a direct appeal to the mayors of London boroughs to raise new units - either an infantry battalion or a brigade of artillery - to be found entirely at the public expense and then handed over to the War Office.
The neighbouring boroughs of Wandsworth and Battersea each raised a local battalion - 13th East Surreys and 10th Queen's (Royal West Surreys) respectively. Paul McCue, not a specialist historian of the War, has done a very good job indeed of describing the social history of the two boroughs, the mechanics of raising a new battalion of volunteers, and comparing and contrasting the fate of these two units raised in the same part of south-west London. The first cal was for 36 officers and 1,314 men, showing that they were recruiting a 'battle reserve' to form a battalion depot from the very outset. The harsh lesson of casualties on the Western Front was absorbed quickly enough.
The Wandsworths were assigned to 118th Brigade, 39th Division only to find their whole brigade declared 'in need of further training' and left behind when the division goes to France. They finally join the Anglo-Scottish 120th Brigade of 40th Division, going to France in June 1916. They start trench life near Loos under the tutelage of 15th (Scottish) Division and only come down to the Somme in November, after the battle had been 'shut down' for the winter. They had two stiff fights in 1917, at Arras in April and Cambrai in November, managing to miss all involvement in Third Ypres.
After 'avoiding' two of the bloodiest battles of the war, it is almost ironic that the Wandsworths should survive the wave of disbandments in early 1918 - transferring to Crozier's 119th Brigade - only to be severely hammered in the German March offensive and to be effectively annihilated in the Lys offensive of April. They had the misfortune to be on the immediate left of the Portuguese on 9th April, were promptly surrounded and obliged to surrender en masse. (77 men killed, 81 wounded, 388 made prisoner of war).
The battalion was sent back to England, and was rebuilt only to have half the 800 or so men declared unfit for overseas service - an indication of the parlous state of British manpower reserves in 1918. In a final indignity they were disbanded on 3rd November 1918 - just eight days short of seeing it through to the end.
The Battersea boys, recruited by offers of "Free tickets to Berlin via Boulogne or Havre to Adventurous Young Men", found themselves in 124th Brigade, 41st Division (what I always call the London Pals division). They were in France by May 1916, trench raiding in July and part of the great attack at Flers in September, where they were famously observed from the air co-operating with the new Heavy Branch, Machine Gun Corps - the tanks. At Messines they have a good day on 7th June, but have a torrid time on the Menin Road Ridge on 20th September. It was their brigadier, personally lugging a Lewis gun, who comes forward and encourages the men to go on and achieve their second line objective.
After a short interlude in Italy (thus avoiding the disbandments) they return to the Western Front in March - a clear indication we were expecting the German offensive at any time. They spend the rest of the war in and around the Ypres salient, taking part in the great offensive of 28th September. Their success is recognised by their joining BAOR until demobilisation in March 1920.
Reviewed by John Lee for 'Mars and Clio', BCMH
It is always a pleasure to read a book by an author as completely in command of his subject material as Chris Baker is here. He has taken a complicated story and rendered it commendably understandable within the word count imposed by all publishers!
The account of the war games conducted at Verailles in January 1918 was intriguing. British planners on the new War Council, at the instigation of Henry Wilson, made chilling predictions about the extent of the expected German offensive, its location and a fair stab at the start date. It was all a bit too uncomfortable to be taken as seriously as it should have bee.
Chris reminds us that this, the second great blow designed to put the BEF out of continental Europe in the spring of 1918, fell largely on divisions that had already been hammered in the March attack and had come up to the ‘quiet sector’ along the Lys for a rest. (Tragically, some of them went down to the Aisne for another rest and got clobbered again in May). What a pity that the Australian division moving into the line to provide such badly needed support should have adopted such a condescending attitude to the ‘Imperial troops’ they were relieving. They could have had no idea what they had endured over the previous few days, and should have been glad they were never at the receiving end of a full-scale first-day offensive by the German army in 1918.
As we have come to expect from Chris, there is an excellent section on the terrific contribution of the Belgian army in defeating what the Germans thought would be a decisive attack to ‘nip out’ the Salient (Operation Tannenberg). This was fought on pretty much the same ground as described in my Gas Attacks: Ypres 1915 and reminds us that the Belgians made such an important contribution to the defence of Ypres. We also come to appreciate the absolutely vital, if slightly tardy, role of the French army in finally defeating the German attack. Foch and others were wrong to obsess about Amiens when things were going decidedly ‘pear shaped’ in Flanders but, once he had seen the threat, he directed considerable French reinforcements in at the right time and the right place. Yes, the French lost Mount Kemmel just as the British handed it over to them. Let’s just not talk about the British taking over at Vimy Ridge early in 1916, shall we?
There are good sections on the epic defence of the Givenchy area by Jeudwine’s 55th Division, and a reminder that not all the Portuguese next door ran away at once. In such a sorry excuse for an army it is rewarding to read of those that did put up a half decent fight. The description of the defence of the Meteren-Outersteene area reminds us just how effective the BEF could be in defence, quickly putting together disparate units and stopping a fairly rampaging enemy in his tracks.
‘Daddy’ Plumer is there as usual, having the moral courage to order the evacuation of much of the hard-won territory of the Salient in order to free up troops to go south to the fighting. The new front line was literally in front of the town ramparts and even he, as the Germans pushed past Kemmel towards the Scherpenberg, came so very close to ordering the final evacuation of the town to the new defence lines that had been prepared at Brandhoek and Vlamertinghe. (The story of how that last German attack was shot to pieces in withering cross-fires reminds us of the heavy fire power of these infantry-light Allied divisions in 1918. The new machine-gun battalions were working well.)
The stories of close fighting in the most desperate conditions are as riveting as ever. Seeing battalions losing five or six hundred men in a day and still endeavouring to make fighting withdrawals is extraordinary. I noticed that ‘Jerry’ was till using his language skills to attempt to deceive the Tommies. There is more than one example of approaching Germans wearing British uniforms and speaking out in English. It was quite cool of the Coldstream Guards to decide that the men calling out that they were ‘King’s Company, Grenadier Guards’ didn’t have quite the right accent, and mowed them down just to be on the safe side!
While we recognise that the Germans could put down the most appalling weight of artillery fire to support these attacks, and then put in innovative infantry assaults that disrupted the line so effectively, it is also interesting to read the accounts of returning prisoners of war about the rear area chaos on the German lines. The impression that this is an army on the edge of collapse, making one last desperate fling before inevitable defeat looms, is driven home. The German high command was consistently ‘disappointed’ on every day of this offensive by the failure of its troops to achieve a decisive result. In his closing remarks, Chris reminds us that, in the last analysis, this was because the ordinary British soldier had a “bloody-minded will not to be beaten”.
Chris Baker was so delighted with this review that he asked if he could post it on his personal website!
Reviewed by John Lee for 'Mars and Clio', BCMH
Tony le Tissier, a former British governor of Spandau Prison, is developing a terrific series of books on the last desperate defensive battles that the Germans put up against a rampaging and vengeful Soviet army as it finally arrived in Germany from January 1945. In this he complements the work of David Glantz who gives us an ever increasing series on the great battles of the Eastern Front from the Soviet side.
Le Tissier makes excellent use of German testimony to give a vivid picture of a people plummeting to absolute defeat but who fought on anyway. To what purpose, we might well ask. Kustrin, just 50 miles from Berlin, was not put into a state of defence until 25 January. The Russian forward detachments arrived on 31st! (Incidentally, it is interesting to see how these forward detachments operated ahead of their main formations. Acting as something akin to a 'forlorn hope', they simply stormed down the main roads, getting the defences to reveal themselves by fire, and taking fairly heavy losses before coming to an abrupt halt at some bridge or river line.) Kustrin's garrison was a scratch built affair, until they were reinforced by 25th Panzer Grenadier Division and the re-born 21st Panzer division (of Afrika Korps fame).
The town proceeded to hold out for sixty days against elements of two Soviet armies, which were operating at the end of tenuous supply lines in the depth of winter. This precious time enabled the Germans to get on with the fortifications on the Seelow Heights and so delay the final assault on Berlin even further. To what purpose, we might ask yet again.
Of the 21,000 defenders, 5,000 were killed, 9,000 wounded and 6,000 captured. After the failure of a counter-attack to relieve them, the last 1,000 made an astonishing breakout to the west.
Excellently served by detailed maps, this is a valuable addition to any Eastern Front library.
Reviewed by John Lee
Individual memoirs of the Napoleonic wars are rare enough, but those of enlisted men are the proverbial hen's teeth. Here we have, at last, a translation of the 1846 memoirs of a soldier of the King's German Legion, the only man to be mentioned by name in Ludlow Beamish's 'official history' of the KGL for his part in the defence of the farm of La Haye Sainte on 18th June 1815 (based on Major Baring's own account of that famous action).
Friedrich Lindau escaped his native Hanover, then under French occupation, and got to England to join the KGL. (His two brothers would follow him later). Enlisted in the 2nd Light Battalion, he served in Spain from 1811 to 1814, and in the Waterloo campaign, being wounded at Vittoria and Waterloo.
In an army supposedly famous for the rigour of its discipline and the harsh justice meted out by its Provost corps, Lindau and his mates were the most inveterate thieves! The property of no peasant within a mile of them was safe, and they were not averse to offering violence to any aggrieved protester. He delighted in looting from the French on the battlefield, and even at the height of the fighting around La Haye Sainte he finds the time to rob a fallen cuirassier. His chief complaint on being captured as the farm finally fell is that he is relieved of his hard-won loot by a Frenchman! (He had even begged Major Baring to look after his haul for him).
One very interesting tactical observation to note. He describes an incident where, long before the nineteenth-century French Zouaves are supposed to have invented the idea, his unit waited for a French unit to present their muskets, they all fell to the ground as the volley was fired, and then they leapt up and went in with the bayonet as the enemy were reloading. Great stuff!
While Lindau probably was rifle-armed, the translators/editors seem to have used the word 'rifle' rather freely. I am sure 'musket' would have been more appropriate on many occasions. But, that minor quibble aside, this is an excellent addition to any Napoleonic library.
Reviewed by John Lee
Asked which is the longest siege in recorded military history (not allowing the mythical ten years at Troy), the usual answer to be expected is Leningrad and its famous 900 days (1941-44). But Gibraltar came under siege in July 1779 and that lasted until February 1783, earning it first place in the list of great sieges.
Ironically, Britain had no great interest in retaining the natural fortress she had acquired in 1704 and was far more interested in Minorca as a Mediterranean base. If her attitude to Gib's defences was lethargic, so too was Spain's drift into war with Britain. She felt obliged to declare war because of her alliance with France, who was very keen to intervene in America's revolutionary war (1776-1783).
The siege was certainly not pressed with any great enthusiasm (witness the ships slipping across from North Africa to sell supplies at exorbitant prices), at least not until after the French had recaptured Minorca. The only serious land action throughout was the British sortie that wrecked the Spanish land batteries.
James Faulkner tells a fine tale of the brave defenders (including those Hanoverian regiments that were found wearing 'Gibraltar' as a battle honour on their cuffs in the 1914-18 war), of long-suffering civilians, of the 'free market' in food that persisted throughout (if you had the necessary cash, you could do alright), of the excitement of the big annual supply convoys escorted in by the Royal Navy (that really kept the whole defence going), and the defeat of the one big effort the Spanish made from the sea.
After such expenditure of blood, treasure and effort, 'that proud fortress' would, and will, have to remain British.
Short review by John Lee
Clearly written for past members of the regiment, in which the author served for thirty years, this well-presented book covers the history of the Leicesters when they formed part of the larger Anglian Regiment.
It covers duty in Cyprus, Germany, Hong Kong and Borneo, Malta and Libya, Bahrain, Gibraltar and, of course, Northern Ireland - a veritable history of the British Army from 1955 to 1975. It is sad to see this great regiment shrink to just two companies of the Anglians, one regular and one TA.
This is a fine addition to the bibliography of the British Army, very well illustrated and exhaustively researched. It has a very useful eight pages of the abbreviations used in today's army. If we all know what a TEWT is, how many of us knew that a JEWT is a 'Jungle Exercise without Trees'?!
Short review by John Lee
Usually "no man is a hero to his valet", but we must make an exception in the case of Heinz Linge who, for ten years from 1935 to 1945, was closer to Hitler than anyone else, including Eva Braun!
Besides exposing further the utter banality of the Nazi regime, we get many important insights into the inner workings of the Fuhrer State - including Hitler's mistrust of his generals from the very first day of the Polish campaign; a reminder of what a nasty little Hitler lover Erwin Rommel was (until, that is, things started to go pear-shaped); the persistent infighting amongst the hierarchy (especially between Goering, Himmler and Bormann.
Linge, of course, gets his comeuppance in May 1945 and his Soviet captors treated him well while they thought they could get some useful propaganda out of him, and tossed him into the camps when they couldn't. I hope we are not supposed to feel sorry for him!
Short review by John Lee
If you only need one general history of the Second Boer War (1899-1902) in your library, this welcome reprint of Farwell's 1976 study is the best. (By which I mean very, very much better than Thomas Pakenham's later work).