The best books on the German army in World War One

Eric Dorn Brose Author Of The Kaiser's Army: The Politics of Military Technology in Germany During the Machine Age, 1870-1918
By Eric Dorn Brose

Who am I?

I retired from Drexel University in 2015 after thirty-six years as a professor of German and European History of the 19th and 20th Centuries. My sub-specialty in the History of Technology carried over into publications that over the years focused increasingly on the Prussian/German Army (The Politics of Technological Change in Prussia [1993] and The Kaiser’s Army [2001]) and naval conflict (Clash of the Capital Ships [2021]).  


I wrote...

The Kaiser's Army: The Politics of Military Technology in Germany During the Machine Age, 1870-1918

By Eric Dorn Brose,

Book cover of The Kaiser's Army: The Politics of Military Technology in Germany During the Machine Age, 1870-1918

What is my book about?

Contrary to contemporary and later historical opinion, the German army that entered World War One in 1914 was not a mega-machine-like juggernaut built to smash enemies under its wheels. In fact, older notions of combat stressing human strength and morale overcoming all technological and numerical odds had been so persistent in Germany since defeating France in 1870 that – despite the best efforts of modernizers in the decades before the World War – technological shortcomings factored mightily into Germany’s failure to win a quick and decisive victory on the western front in August and September 1914. The result: defeat in a longer war of attrition against a coalition of more powerful enemies.     

The books I picked & why

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The Schlieffen Plan: Critique of a Myth

By Gerhard Ritter,

Book cover of The Schlieffen Plan: Critique of a Myth

Why this book?

Facing a two-front war against France, Britain, and Russia in 1914, Germany opted to strike west first against the French and English; win a quick victory by avoiding French fortresses with an outflanking push through Belgium; and then turn east against the Russians. This operational plan was the brainchild of former Chief of the General Staff Alfred von Schlieffen. In the 1920s, many German generals argued that the inept execution of Schlieffen’s plan explained their loss of the war. Ritter’s work is the classic critique of this argumentation, showing that in reality the flaws of the plan and Schlieffen’s narrow-minded militaristic mindset, not the lesser capabilities of his successors, led to a war of attrition Germany could not win.  


Tannenberg: Clash of Empires, 1914

By Dennis E. Showalter,

Book cover of Tannenberg: Clash of Empires, 1914

Why this book?

In this beautifully written, well-researched book, Showalter explains how German generals won a spectacular victory on the eastern front. Although able to deploy only one army group – while seven were deployed in the west – they prevailed in the famous Battle of Tannenberg (1914) against two ineptly led and poorly armed Russian armies. Germany achieved the kind of success that eluded them in the west, but was unable to knock Russia out of the war – in fact, the victors had only bought time against enemy forces increasing in number. Not until the communist revolution three years later would Germany wriggle free of enemies in the east.


German Strategy and the Path to Verdun: Erich Von Falkenhayn and the Development of Attrition, 1870-1916

By Robert T. Foley,

Book cover of German Strategy and the Path to Verdun: Erich Von Falkenhayn and the Development of Attrition, 1870-1916

Why this book?

Foley’s solid analysis of “the path to Verdun,” a horrible battle in 1916 that inflicted a million casualties, opens with an informative discussion of recent work on the Schlieffen Plan that brings Ritter’s book up to date. Next, he provides an in-depth look at General Staff Chief Erich von Falkenhayn’s attempt to win a sweeping victory on the Eastern Front in 1915. Like Tannenberg, however, extensive gains could not eliminate a vexing enemy. Thus Falkenhayn turned to the west with operational plans almost as ingenious as Schlieffen’s. He wanted to smash through the seemingly impregnable fortress zone of Verdun in a week or so, and then unleash additional forces held in reserve against the British farther north. But the French held; the British unleashed a preemptive offensive of their own astride the Somme River; and the Germans had to desperately hold onto their own lines.   


The Defeat of Imperial Germany, 1917-1918

By Rod Paschall,

Book cover of The Defeat of Imperial Germany, 1917-1918

Why this book?

Paschall brings to this book his insightful experience of army organizations and war as an infantry officer and veteran of the Vietnam conflagration. Readers can follow in detail the allied offensives of 1917, Germany’s last gasp effort to win on the Western Front in 1918 after Russia’s collapse in the east, and the retreat and breakdown of the once impressive German army in the waning months of the war.  


Haig's Enemy: Crown Prince Rupprecht and Germany's War on the Western Front

By Jonathan Boff,

Book cover of Haig's Enemy: Crown Prince Rupprecht and Germany's War on the Western Front

Why this book?

Boff’s book, impressively researched with extensive use of rare primary sources, and winner of two impressive British book awards, examines the war life and times of Bavarian Crown Prince Rupprecht. In high command on the Western Front for the entire war, Rupprecht remained in position to witness the limitations of Prussian generalship, especially in 1914 and 1918; the growing preponderance of allied strength after U.S. entry in 1917; and divisive home front politics throughout Germany. He lost not only the war, but also a son, as well as his throne, which was swept away in the revolutionary upheaval at the war’s end. 


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