Foch in Command: The Forging of a First World War General
Nick Lloyd is Professor of Modern Warfare at King's College London, based at the Defence Academy UK in Shrivenham, Wiltshire. He is the author of five books, including Passchendaele: A New History, which was a Sunday Times bestseller, and most recently, The Western Front: A History of the First World War. He lives with his family in Cheltenham.
A panoramic history of the savage combat on the Western Front between 1914 and 1918 that came to define modern warfare.
The Western Front evokes images of mud-spattered men in waterlogged trenches, shielded from artillery blasts and machine-gun fire by a few feet of dirt. This iconic setting was the most critical arena of the Great War, a 400-mile combat zone stretching from Belgium to Switzerland where more than three million Allied and German soldiers struggled during four years of almost continuous combat. It has persisted in our collective memory as a tragic waste of human life and a symbol of the horrors of industrialized warfare.
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There is little that has not been said about this readable, engaging, and deeply moving account of the disaster on 1 July 1916 – the worst day in the history of the British Army. Middlebrook’s book was a revelation when it first appeared; utilising recollections and stories from veterans, whom Middlebrook met and interviewed, giving it an immediacy and power that captivated readers. The book charts the birth and development of Britain’s New Armies and their subsequent destruction on the Somme. Piece-by-piece Middlebrook examines how the battle was planned and prepared, before going on to detail the progress of the fighting at set-times, allowing us to grasp the ebb and flow of the battle. This remains a much-loved classic.
Published almost sixty years ago, this compelling study of four senior commanders who served (mostly) on the Western Front remains as fresh as when it was first written. Barnett’s prose is exquisite, bringing us directly into the world of Helmuth von Moltke, John Jellicoe, Philippé Pétain, and Erich Ludendorff, telling us how they coped (or not) with the enormous stresses and strains they encountered as ‘supreme commanders’. It is a stunning portrait of men (and their command systems) at war.
This is a fascinating portrayal of one of the most important, yet neglected, figures on the Western Front: the army group commander and heir to the throne of Bavaria, Crown Prince Rupprecht. Boff follows Rupprecht through the war years with an assuredness and skill that comes from his great knowledge of the archive source material, describing the man who was ‘Haig’s enemy’ and on the receiving end of most of the great offensives conducted by the British between 1916-18, including the Somme, Arras and Third Ypres. But this is not just the biography of a senior officer; it is a portrait of an army as it tried to grapple with the complexities of total war and react to new tactics and technologies.
Holger Herwig sheds new light on the Battle of the Marne (September 1914) in his exhaustively researched, yet fast-paced and readable account. For English readers, the Marne does not always gain the attention it deserves (British participation being relatively minor), but Herwig shows just how terrible the fighting was and why the French were able to snatch victory ‘from the jaws of defeat’. Because Herwig was able to utilise both German and French sources, it presents a fully rounded, three-dimensional portrait of one of the most decisive battles of the modern world, which ended Germany’s hopes of victory in the west in 1914.
We think you will like The Old Front Line, All Quiet on the Western Front, and Fallen Soldiers: Reshaping the Memory of the World Wars if you like this list.
From W.D.'s list on The best books that are unjustly forgotten from World War One.
Masefield, before his 50-year tenure as Britain’s Poet Laureate, spent the war writing dispatches from the front. This slim book from l917 is his honest, soberly graphic description of what the Somme battlefield looked like after the fighting moved on—an approach that conveys war’s horrors without any moralizing or exaggeration.
From Matthew's list on The best books on the war within: the mental strain of modern warfare.
I discovered this classic First World War novel in a bookcase in our crowded basement rec room when I was eleven. I read from it anytime I went down there, and it really impressed itself upon my consciousness and helped inspire me to (eventually) write my own modern war story. In it, Paul Baumer, a sensitive German high school student and patriot, joins the German Army at the behest of a patriotic teacher, and he soon finds himself embroiled in the chaos and carnage of the Western Front. There is no plot, really, just the story of a young man being hardened into a soldier in the worst possible conditions, losing friends on a daily basis, and in the end just trying to survive until the impending armistice.
From Shannon's list on The best history books on the memory of the war dead.
This may be the book that started it all. Mosse has many books that try to explain the rise of the Nazis in Germany who Mosse and his parents fled in the 1930s. Here Mosse describes how Nazis used the war dead from the First World War in an explicit attempt to harness the nationalism of Germans to support Nazi politics. Winter disagrees with Mosse and developed arguments that are probably more accepted by historians today but, for me, that doesn’t take away from the power of Mosse’s argument. Even though I don’t always agree with Mosse’s analysis, I can’t help but be engrossed by his writing, his passion, and his ability to describe how the war dead could be used as political weapons.