Forgotten Victory by Gary Sheffield

#1
Anyone read it? Some controversial views on WW1, but I think he argues very well. He came and gave us a lecture on it when I was at university, very interesting bloke...
 
#2
Looking at the facts, not the PR from the Theatre Workshop is hardly controversial.

The book is a seriously good read which explodes most of the myths about the Great War which sprang up in the '60s.
 
#3
Well, its controversial for the reasons that he explains in the books introduction, that if you dare suggest to some people that Haig wasn't a monster and the Army did actually have a clue what it was doing in WW1 they get their knickers in a twist. You are right though, too many peoples image of WW1 comes from a combination of emotionalism, poets like Sassoon and Owen, who, whilst great poets, were not representative at all of the average british soldier's experience, Blackadder goes forth and a bunch of 1930s lefties who had a vested interest in undermining public faith in the 'Establishment'...Most of the criticism of WW1 generals amounts to having a go at them for not being military geniuses of alexander the greats or napoleons stature, as you'd have to have been that clever to come up with the tactical system that won the war without 4 years of experimentation, in earlier or later wars where voice command was possible they may have been Wellingtons or Montgomerys...
 
#4
There are quite a few good books which debunk the "revisionists" of between the wars-1970s. I can heartily recommend both "Mood blood and poppycock" and "Myths and Legends of the First World War" as eminently readable and very well researched. If you have a few more pennies then The Great War:Myth and Memory" is also very good.
 
#5
Bradstyley said:
Well, its controversial for the reasons that he explains in the books introduction, that if you dare suggest to some people that Haig wasn't a monster and the Army did actually have a clue what it was doing in WW1 they get their knickers in a twist. You are right though, too many peoples image of WW1 comes from a combination of emotionalism, poets like Sassoon and Owen, who, whilst great poets, were not representative at all of the average british soldier's experience, Blackadder goes forth and a bunch of 1930s lefties who had a vested interest in undermining public faith in the 'Establishment'...Most of the criticism of WW1 generals amounts to having a go at them for not being military geniuses of alexander the greats or napoleons stature, as you'd have to have been that clever to come up with the tactical system that won the war without 4 years of experimentation, in earlier or later wars where voice command was possible they may have been Wellingtons or Montgomerys...
Spot on.

This book should be required reading.
 
#7
I do wonder which voice is going to be heard in 2014-2018 as we hit the various 100th anniversaries with the inevitable media frenzy. Is it going to the ‘Butcher and Bunglers’, ‘Lions Led by Donkeys’, Blackadder-as-documentary, Joan Littlewood, doomed poets, slaughter of a generation by incompetent port-swilling toffs, etc, etc, one – or is there a chance that Sheffield et al may get a hearing? I reckon we’re in for a lot of myth and very little history (whatever that is).

OaC
 
#8
GCSE coursework for my pupils focuses on "the Haig Debate", and more than a few 6th formers have been sufficiently interested to pursue the matter further in their A level Personal Investigations.

Popular perceptions will, I think, continue to be shaped by the "Butchers & Bunglers"/ "Oh! What a Lovely War." / war poets consortium for a good many years to come, but in the longer term, a more objective consensus may begin to emerge. There are certainly quite a few bright youngsters/ potential future academic historians who have a very different take on things, and who are much better schooled in the historiographical vagaries of the debate than my generation ("Baby Boomers") ever were.
 
#9
WM, your comment on the rising generation is hugely encouraging. Gary's book does indeed deserve a very wide audience, and he's had the moral courage to stick to his thesis over the years. Documentary TV crew (from Timewatch?) once trailed after him as he spoke to a group of Sandhurst cadets on the Somme. His suggestion to the effect that Haig wasn't simply an incompetent butcher provoked a heap of hate-mail.

In 1998, on the 80th anniversary of the end of the war, the Express ran a front page lead calling for Haig's statue in Whitehall to be pulled down. It's probably hoping for too much to think that this won't be repeated in some form, but perhaps with historians of the stature of Richard Holmes and Gary Sheffield making themselves heard, a more balanced debate is also possible.
 
#10
Sadly it is much easier (and more enjoyable) to read/watch Oh what a lovely war!, than it is to read Haig's diaries!

That is why the likes of Professor Gary, Peter Barton, Neil Oliver et al are so important. They are academically rigourous but produce readable and interestingly view-pointed works. As do historians like Richard van Emden, who focus on the people but not in isolation. They are all trying to "interpret" primary sources, whilst avoiding twisting history to an ideological or cliquist stance.
 
#11
I do think that Britain started WW I with the best small army in the world and finished it with the only army capable of winning inside of twelve months.
john
From Contemptible (small) to Capable.
 
#12
Well that is one view...however wide of the mark!
 
#13
jonwilly said:
I do think that Britain started WW I with the best small army in the world and finished it with the only army capable of winning inside of twelve months.
john
From Contemptible (small) to Capable.
I too understand the Kaiser's comment was mistranslated as "Contemptible little army", and should have been "Contemptibly small army".

People forget that the Kaiser had connections with various British regiments, and had attended manouevres as a result.
 
#14
BegoneCare said:
WM, your comment on the rising generation is hugely encouraging. Gary's book does indeed deserve a very wide audience, and he's had the moral courage to stick to his thesis over the years. Documentary TV crew (from Timewatch?) once trailed after him as he spoke to a group of Sandhurst cadets on the Somme. His suggestion to the effect that Haig wasn't simply an incompetent butcher provoked a heap of hate-mail.

In 1998, on the 80th anniversary of the end of the war, the Express ran a front page lead calling for Haig's statue in Whitehall to be pulled down. It's probably hoping for too much to think that this won't be repeated in some form, but perhaps with historians of the stature of Richard Holmes and Gary Sheffield making themselves heard, a more balanced debate is also possible.
That's what happens when a newspaper is entirely staffed (and mostly read) by mongs.
 
#15
For what it's worth the Great War Generals took an army of 300,000 men and expanded it to one of nearly 5 million. They took that army into a field that no one had had any conception of before they got there and had to deal with field works, massed artillery and machine guns, chemicals and air. They fought that Army for four years and it never had a major mutiny even though it suffered greivous casualties. Eventually it beat in the field the great German Army.

Some people call the men that did that fools.
 
#16
Cuddles
Surely you'll agree that the British Army of 1914 was a small army but well trained and as history shows capable of beaning expanded to a large size.
In the fighting of 1918 the British army held together, Yes another close run thing, but thats nothing new for Britain's armies in Europe.
The French Army had mutinied and was not up to the job and the US army was new and would take years to become the dominate army.
Had Britain not learned in the autumn battles the value of the Tank and its employment ?
Had Ludendorff not describe the Amien's battle as The Black day of the German army?
Where the Brits not preparing the 'Light' cruiser tanks that would enable them to exploit The Breakout in 1919 ?
By 1918 the German army was all but finish The Royal Navy had done it's job with the blockaded and even the Great High General Staff had know from before 1914 that if it did not win a quick war, then at the best it could hope for a negotiated Peace at the best.
The German High Command started stripping the conquered territories before the end of 1914 for IT new what it had committed Germany too.

john
 
#17
As John Bourne (Director of the Centre for First World War Studies at Birmingham) put it:

"Douglas Haig fulfilled the most important criterion of generalship. He won. The scale of his victories was the greatest in British military history. His countrymen have never forgiven him" (JM Bourne, Britain and the Great War, 1914-1918 Edward Arnold, 1989, p.174)
 
#18
I have been reading a bit about the British Army of That period. I have come accross several decent books athat rebut the "revisionist" view, that chastises British Military leadership in WWI.
Namely ;
Paddy Griffith - Battle Tactics of the Western Front The British Army's Art of Attack 1916-1918
Bidwell & Graham - Fire-Power British Army Weapons & Theories of War 1904 - 1945
Tim Travers - How The War Was Won

All authors, who examine the factual evidence, seem to agree that the British Army developed a practical method of winning battles, during the later part of the First World War.
Griffith and others make the point that The Royal Artillery far surpassed their German Counterparts by 1917-18, in almost all technical areas. This , almost certainly, being a superiority in the dominant arm of the war must be central to the fact that The British and Dominion forces had a demonstrable ability to prevail against the Germans. The 3rd Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele) was not the one way martyrdom of the British "lions", that many have portrayed it. The Bite and Hold technique was not reactionary, at the time the Germans etc had no demonstrable means of taking and KEEPING ground
Although The Royal Artillery did not have a central "school' (Hythe opened in 1920?) it seems to me that he RA created a Doctrine that worked with the Technology available, then applied it throughout the British Armies in France.
This is "the" factor that demonstrates the Falacy of those that seek to belittle the British army's achievement in World War One.

As a subsidiary point, I think the fact that in World War Two as well, the Royal Artillery (unlike the R.A.C. and Infantry) had a unified doctrine, that was applied systematically, goes a long to explain why the RA was so central to British success in the later half of WWII.
 
#19
baboon6 said:
BegoneCare said:
WM, your comment on the rising generation is hugely encouraging. Gary's book does indeed deserve a very wide audience, and he's had the moral courage to stick to his thesis over the years. Documentary TV crew (from Timewatch?) once trailed after him as he spoke to a group of Sandhurst cadets on the Somme. His suggestion to the effect that Haig wasn't simply an incompetent butcher provoked a heap of hate-mail.

In 1998, on the 80th anniversary of the end of the war, the Express ran a front page lead calling for Haig's statue in Whitehall to be pulled down. It's probably hoping for too much to think that this won't be repeated in some form, but perhaps with historians of the stature of Richard Holmes and Gary Sheffield making themselves heard, a more balanced debate is also possible.
That's what happens when a newspaper is entirely staffed (and mostly read) by mongs.
Doubtless by 2014 this piece of arrse-wipe will be accusing DH of involvement in the disappearance of 'Maddy' and the death of 'Princess Di' and producing 'evidence' for their mouth-breathing readers ....

On a brighter note, the WW1 shelves in my local Waterstone's do seem to be carrying mostly good stuff, although I had to do a bit of book shuffling to hide a copy of 'The Donkeys' behind three of 'Tommy'.

OaC
 
#20
Cuddles said:
There are quite a few good books which debunk the "revisionists" of between the wars-1970s. I can heartily recommend both "Mood blood and poppycock" and "Myths and Legends of the First World War" as eminently readable and very well researched. If you have a few more pennies then The Great War:Myth and Memory" is also very good.
Aren't the current the current crop of historians the 'revisionists'? I must say I agree that DH seems to have done a pretty good job given the constraints of the time but he's still a cnut - read any biog of him (pro or anti) and he definitely comes across as one. However, he 'selected and maintained the aim' and effectively defeated the German Army (not that they'd agree).

Not sure that the French 'weren't up to the job' they may have mutined post Verdun but we may well have done under the same circumstances - we certainly had our own dramas, particularly at the very end of the war. We certainly couldn't have won it on our own.

Gary Sheffield was one of my war studies tutors at Sandhurst - good bloke (but ginger).
 

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