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New Scholarship on World War I, 2000–2014: Western Front

By Frederic Krome

Western Front

The popularity of books on the various battlefronts continues.  While a cynic might think that after so many years it is unlikely that any substantial new information can be gleaned, an examination of recent titles shows that not to be the case.  Historians have placed greater emphasis on issues such as logistics, operational concepts, and investigating previously neglected archival sources, resulting in a surge in the quantity and quality of what some call the “hard” military history.

Holger H. Herwig (The Marne, 1914: The Opening of World War I and the Battle That Changed the World) places the opening battles of the war in detailed context, demonstrating both how the infamous Schlieffen Plan broke down and the lengths to which the French went to disrupt Germany’s strategy of fighting a short war.  In addition to providing a day-by-day account of the politics, strategy, and command structure of the British army in 1916, Robin Prior and Trevor Wilson’s The Somme demonstrates the role of civilian leadership in pushing for a great Western offensive.  They revise the traditional account of British troops being ordered to march shoulder to shoulder to their doom on July 1, replacing it with a picture of poor tactical coherence among the British commanders and faulty battle preparations that left German defenses intact on the day of attack.

Michael S. Neiberg’s The Second Battle of the Marne is a revisionist account of one of the pivotal battles of the last year of the war.  Popular accounts of the French Army in 1918 describe it as a spent force, dependent on the British and waiting for the Americans.  Neiberg’s meticulous account of the battle not only demonstrates how the appointment of Ferdinand Foch helped contain the German offensive, it rehabilitates the fighting quality of the French army.  Robert H. Ferrell (America’s Deadliest Battle: Meuse-Argonne, 1918) integrates the economic and industrial flaws in the U.S. war effort, which deprived U.S. combat troops of adequate equipment, with a stinging indictment of the American command structure’s ability to engage in a learning curve for operational effectiveness.  The result was the battle in the Meuse-Argonne, which cost the American Expeditionary Forces over 26,000 killed.

Works Cited