Britain and Victory in the Great War

Britain and Victory in the Great War

Peter Liddle
ARRSE Rating
5 Mushroom Heads
This book is the third in a trilogy having been preceded by Britain Goes to War and Britain and the Widening War, the common theme being that each of the 20 chapters is written by a leading historian who examines how the Allied victory was achieved in the Great War. Each chapter gives, therefore, new insights into the political, social and cultural consequences of the war years. Skilfully put together by Dr Peter Liddle with generous use of notes and suggestions for further reading, the finished article is almost encyclopaedic in nature and thus becomes an important reference work.

Introduction - Preparing for Victory. Edward M Spiers
Spiers is the author of this very powerful and incisive Introduction to the rest of the book with thought-provoking discussion as well as basic facts about the second half of the Great War. His contribution is probably deserving of a book in its own right.

The Individual Chapters
It would be nigh-on impossible to write a comprehensive review of the whole book and keep the reader’s attention, therefore a simple precis of each Chapter follows.

The BEF and the Hundred Days – Niall Barr The battles of 1918 including the 100 days of Operation Michael and the subsequent gains in strength and armament technology by the British and Commonwealth forces.

German Defeat and the Myth of the Stab in the Back – Jack Sheldon The myths and the truth about the collapse of the Axis alliance and their individual requests and suggested terms for an Armistice with the Allies.

The Royal Navy - Duncan Redford This chapter is an examination and discussion on the role of the Royal Navy between 1916 and 1918 with particular focuses on securing victory and coping with its consequences.

Kitchener or Lloyd George, the Architect of Victory? – George Cassar The author provides much insight into both men with careful scrutiny of their strengths and weaknesses. Included are particulars of the sideshows of the Dardanelles, Mesopotamia and Salonika and their effect on the conduct and outcome of the Great War.

British Industry – Matthew Richardson Here are essential insights into the mass recruitment of women, the conversion of factories to provide armaments, food and rationing, the changing roles of shipyards, railways and mines as well as the influence of union power. Typical of the discussions is the reasoning that the Great War induced weakness in the coal mining industry, was one of the major triggers for the General Strike of 1926. As a counter there is considerable evidence that the actions of the Government with industry in the Great War paid dividends in WWII.

Propaganda – David Welch Having discussed the importance and complexity of propaganda during the Great War, the author then scrutinises individual issues including the reasons for the entry of the US into the Great War, and fake news reports by the Allies.

The Contribution of the Commonwealth to Victory – Peter Burgess, Tim Cook and Chris Pugsley Although the three authors recognise all contributions, they major on the massive inputs by Australia, New Zealand and Canada. The battles, troop movements and tactics on the Western Front (particularly) receive extensive examination, plus the combined forces of infantry, artillery and air power in 1918 – when Germany lost 800,000 men - are given detailed attention.

Sideshows to Strategic Victory – Robert Johnson Covered here are the defeats of the three Axis empires in south eastern Europe as well as the East African campaigns and the wars in Palestine and Syria. The author provides extensive detail to the contributions of these so-called sideshows in the eventual defeat by the European and Commonwealth allies.

The United States and Britain’s Victory – Ross Kennedy An extensive discussion and examination covering the economic, military and naval assistance given by the US to the UK before their own declaration of war in April 1917, concluding that the major British offensives in 1916 would have otherwise been impossible.

As with the rest of the book this chapter makes extensive use of statistical information, from the 77,000 US troops in France which increased so rapidly that by the following May they were working alongside their Allies on 55km of the Western Front, to the fact that the US launched its first independent action on 12 September 1918 with 500,000 troops at St Mihiel and that there were over 2 million US troops in combat by the Armistice.

The critical actions by the US during the Great War, by precise examination and discussion, receive the attention they deserve.

France Leads the Way to Victory – William Philpott Although a largely political chapter, Philpott reminds his audience that the French had the largest of all Allied armies by 1918 and that it was a myth that France was utterly drained in 1917, having regained strength after the second battle of Verdun and continuing to make gains thereafter. Powerful evidence is used to prove that despite sending a division to Italy, the Battle of Malmaison was a near-perfect French offensive and thereafter, all France’s battles were short, effective and successful.

Operation Michael is discussed and analysed as is the appointment of Foch as the Supreme Allied Commander during the final German gains. The conduct of the Allied offensives and gains in the final 100 days before the Armistice – despite the release of German assets from the Eastern Front - occupies a large part of this chapter.

The Bolshevik Catastrophe and Imperial Russia’s Role in the Allied VictoryChris Bellamy The war on the Eastern Front, which led to the collapse of the Houses of Romonov, Hapsburg and Hohenzollern is addressed, analysed and discussed. There are clear descriptions of the huge amounts of German, Austrian and Hungarian troops tied down in vast areas of the Eastern Front as well as an extensive narrative covering the Russian defeat of the Turks on the Caucasian Front. In both cases the battles involving millions of men receive attention. The actions demonstrate how German forces were drawn away from the Western Front thus aiding the UK and France. There is also an excellent description of Allied aid being provided to Russia by sea through Murmansk and how the sea blockade from Dover to Petrograd helped to starve the Central Powers during the latter part of the Great War.

Italy – Irene Guerrini and Marco Pluviano Simply put, this chapter is devoted to the complete and utter mess that befell Italy in the Great War and beyond, leading to the seizure of power by Mussolini in 1922. A very complex yet compelling subject which deserves total attention to understand how the turmoil created gains and losses to the Allied efforts.

Observations on the German Defeat – Ian Whitehead As early as 1915 Germany was scared that Austro-Hungary may sue for an Armistice with the Allies but in the event they lasted until October 1918, unlike Bulgaria who made it as far September of that year before their surrender. Having sought a peace initiate with the help of Holland and Spain in the summer of 1918 the Germans finally asked the Allies for an Armistice on their terms in October 1918 then changed those terms frequently before the ceasefire on 11 November 1918. The end for Germany was inevitable as by the middle of 1918 the Allies had obtained a manpower superiority of 2:1 with the constant stream of US arrivals and the Germans, just few months later were sufficiently short of food, equipment and other resources to recover their lost ground in France, let alone continue an all-out war of attrition.

The Great War and British Identity – Ian Whitehead The author observes and discusses the Edwardian values before the Great War and how Britain was viewed by the rest of the World: for example the celebrations on Empire Day, the pride in our politicians and monarchy and the British identity generally. This is expanded by the examination of the effects, for instance, of the 1916 Easter Rising and the decision by the King to adopt the family name of Windsor, also in 1916.

Women and the Great War – Phylomena Badsley A wide-ranging examination of Women’s rights, their vital importance in war work, pre-war suffrage and the eventual parity with men plus post-war unionism and class issues. Covered in depth are the roles of nurses on war fronts, police woman at home, the establishment of the WRNS, the WRNS and the WLA as well as the complete transformation of society post 1918.

The Middle East – Yigal Sheffy A complex chapter about the many political facets faced by tge UK when dealing with the Middle East. Also covered is the Turkish request for a ceasefire after the collapse of Bulgaria.

The War Poets and Composers – Kate Kennedy A complete and emotive discussion about the emergence of art, music and literature during the Great War and its effects at that time and afterwards.

Loss and Devastation – Nick Bosanquet Despite the greater air support and firepower it was generally accepted in 1918 that the war would extend into 1919. The potential of US involvement was important but the actual week by week pressure on the Germans by the UK in the latter part of the conflict receives discussion and scrutiny. The efficiency of the British Army health services, the food shortage and rationing, the deaths of UK Servicemen (and by what means) and the total financial expenditure all get deep coverage. The revealing facts in this chapter shed light on the non-financial costs, for example: the 1.5 million UK war pensioners; the reduction of the adult male population in France by 20%; the huge population losses in Italy, Serbia Russia and Germany and how this all contributed to the anger felt in the 1920s and beyond.

That Quiet Place and a History of Visiting the Old Front Line – Clive Harris Despite the annual British Legion tours for 10,000 by 1928, interest in the Great War diminished by the 1950s and was only rekindled by the BBC series ‘The Great War’ in 1964. The author delivers the good news that tours of the old battlefields and visits to the huge war cemeteries is now very much alive and well. A hugely interesting chapter.

Britain and the Post War Settlement – Alan Sharp The theme here is the rebuilding of a shattered world and covers commitments and promises; the Armistice and terms with the Axis powers; British Aims, Peacemaking in Paris, reparations and disarmament and the League of Nations.

An exceptional volume that is really 20 books in one plus a huge amount of references, detail and facts. My only criticisms are that it needs more maps and that the superb photographs should be in with the text and not all together in the middle. The book is a must for anyone interested in the Great War at any level.

Mr MRH rating 5.

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