"Did anyone really care whether Alsace-Lorraine was French or German?" Using those words, British history professor Nick Lloyd summed up German thoughts at the end of the "Great War" as the German government considered surrendering to the Allied forces in Fall, 1918, in his new book, "Hundred Days".
August 1914 - young men from Britain to Austro-Hungary marched gaily off to war. They'd be home by Christmas, these fearless young men told themselves - and each other. But as the years went by with battles gaining literally inches and men living - and dying - in hideous trenches in France and Belgium, by summer of 1918, the war was finally creaking to an end. The American entry into the war in 1917 on the Allied side had given the French, British, and Dominion troops an added boost to those armies who had been fighting for three years, often to a standoff with the Germans on the Western Front, in a war of attrition.
Nick LLoyd, a senior lecturer of Defense Studies, at Kings College, London, lost a great-uncle at the French village of Gouzeaucourt, just six weeks or so before the Armistice. Lloyd has written an amazingly readable book about those last hundred days of WW1. He looks at the war from British, German, French, and American sides and examines both the military battles at the Front and the political battles behind the scenes. He includes maps at the front of the book which detail the battles fought and military lines that had to be crossed by the advancing Allies and defended by the Germans.
One of the most interesting parts of the book deals with the political situation in Germany as the war caused the collapse of the Kaiser's government. Lloyd looks at the cries of "betrayal by the Communists/Bolshevics/Jews/Defeatists" that lasted well into the 1920's and '30's. Nick LLoyd has done a wonderful job looking at a smallish slice of time in a much larger conflict. Great book for WW1 history readers.
on April 2, 2014
Nick Lloyd has written a straightforward and compelling account of the final battles of World War I.
The author observes that their are many books on the origins and events of the beginning of the war, but few on the end. In particular, there is an inadequate understanding of the impact of American participation on the battlefield. Mr. Lloyd remedies that by providing a clear and readable history of the battles of the final days. He has vivid portraits of the leading allied generals: Foch, Pershing, Haig and Petain. He personalizes the story with battlefield accounts by the soldiers themselves, including an account of a relative who died in the war's closing days. Despite all the tragedy and horror we have witnessed in the intervening years, there is still nothing quite as desperate and heart-rending as the story of foot soldiers in the mud, gas and barbed wire of WWI.
Lloyd makes it clear how the German war machine had effectively lost its bearings and was grinding to a halt. Field Marshal Ludendorff had become irrational, despondent one minute and full of bravado the next. After the Kaiser sacked him, the army was probably better off, but it had lost cohesion. The Kaiser remained in a state of delusion himself, confident that the people and Army stood behind him. He was soon to learn better.
Congratulations to Mr. Lloyd for illuminating the end of the conflict in this well-written and helpful account.
on March 17, 2014
As a long-time history buff and fan, in particular, of the First World War, this book filled a very important gap in the popular literature of the War. It picks up in July, 1918, with the failure of the German attacks on the Western Front, and shows, battle by battle, the progress of the Allied counter-attack. It is especially valuable in quoting German documents, diaries, etc. which demonstrate the increasing precarious situation they found them selves in. The maps, while adequate, could have been more detailed. Well worth the read!
on March 30, 2014
The author's thesis is that the beginning of WWI has been covered far more extensively by historians than the finale. This book is intended to begin redressing that imbalance. I thought it struck a fair balance between narrative and operational history, thus making the book a most engaging read.
on April 11, 2014
Finally, a World War I book that acknowledges the contributions of the US Doughboys. Thank you, Mr. Lloyd. I immensely appreciated the information on the Americans and attention paid to the last one hundred days of the war, something that many Great War books do not adequately cover. The German perspective was also refreshing to see from an Allied author, again something that is often missing. Mr. Lloyd possesses a gift for both history and writing, which isn't necessarily present with many books written by academic historians. I highly recommend "Hundred Days."
~Jennifer Rude Klett, Author Alamo Doughboy: Marching into the Heart of Kaiser's Germany during World War I
on March 13, 2014
I was impressed by this book, which focuses on a very significant event, the last hundred days of the first world war, when the British (including the Commonwealth), the French and the newly arrived American doughboys pushed through German defenses to precipitate the collapse of the Kaiser's reich and end the war that claimed over 10 million lives, and left multiples of that wounded or psychologically crippled. Despite being the knockout blow of that brutal combat, the campaign seems to have received less attention that other phases of that war, including the armistice, which has probably been the subject of tenfold more books. So this is a valuable contribution to the literature about the war, as we approach its centennial anniversary.
The author bravely and with great stamina recounts the campaign on a day by day, hill by hill, woods by woods basis, and at the same time manages to convey some overarching themes such as the Americans' tragic lack of preparation and their commanders' hubris. He also takes pains to show you the German side of the campaign, citing numerous diaries and other primary sources which impressed me as a matter of research. As one of the editorial reviews says, the work brims with archival research.
I am not a military history buff, but rather came to this seeking to learn about the Meuse-Argonne campaign in which my grandfather fought (and luckily for me survived). There was not an enormous amount in here about his division, which, now that I have finished the book and also read others about the campaign, I didn't mind as the book taught me other valuable lessons about the horrors all the soldiers endured, and the campaign was indeed a multinational one. If anyone should feel slighted, I suppose, it would be the French, who barely show up in his account, but then, it's war and they are the French...
Ultimately, I was glad I read it, because I gained such an appreciation for the sacrifices made by the combatants, who deserve to have their heroism commemorated.
on April 9, 2014
Lloyd sheds light on a subject that has not received enough attention. The ability of the Western Allies to successfully engage in coordinated armored, infintry and air operations is especially interesting in the context of WWII, where Germany adopted those tactics and the Allies seem to have been slow to remember them.
on May 8, 2014
I have read a bit about WWI but this book really added to my understanding of the end of the war. Most WWI histories seem to get tired of the subject and gloss over this very important period. Important because the way the war ended set the stage for WWII. Great work on fleshing out the personalities of the various leaders, especially the French. Was probably a little too kind on Pershing, but overall, a great read.
on November 15, 2014
As part of the growing drum barrage of new books on World War I, this one hits almost exactly on target. Lloyd has taken an often ignored topic - - - the Allied counteroffensive that eventually led to the Armistice an end of the war - - - and has produced a spell binding account. There are numerous studies of the final German offensives of 1918 on the Western Front; this picks up where they leave off. And Lloyd has an excellent presentation style that shifts smoothly between top level planning at supreme headquarters on both sides, to the suffering soldiers (British, American, French and German) in the muck. The maps are very good, although I wished there were more, particularly covering the German collapse over the final four weeks of the conflict. Lloyd does a good job of summarizing the political torture that the German command went through as the Allied offensive gradually overwhelmed the shattered remnants of the ghosts of the Schlieffen Plan. "Hundred Days" fills a big gap in the military history of the last months of World War I.
As Nick Lloyd writes in his Preface, while thousands of books have been written (and continue to be published) on the beginning of World War I, few have been written on how it ended. HUNDRED DAYS helps address that imbalance. It tells of the Allied campaign that closed out the war, a campaign quite different from the conventional image of the Western Front as gridlocked, stalemated trench warfare. On most of the Western Front, the Allies pushed the Germans back fifty to one hundred miles.
The term "Hundred Days" is a British one (echoing the popular term for Napoleon's last hurrah); it refers to the period between the Battle of Amiens on August 8, 1918 and the Armistice on November 11 (actually, a span of ninety-five days). Lloyd, however, begins his account on July 18, 1918 and the start of the Second Battle of the Marne, in which the French launched a well-coordinated surprise counter-attack and routed the Germans, securing Paris and snatching the initiative away from the German Army, for good as matters developed.
What accounts for the turnaround? On the one hand, it is true that the German Army was worn down and handicapped by manpower shortages, ever-dwindling materiel and transport and food, and ever-sagging morale. But the French and British armies also were undermanned and exhausted (the French Army had mutinied in 1917), and for the most part the German Army was fighting from formidable defensive positions that had proved impervious to repeated Allied attacks in previous years. The most important change, according to Lloyd, was in Allied tactics. They masked their offensives with surprise and deception. No longer did they announce an attack with thunderous preliminary bombardments; instead, they employed creeping barrages followed closely by infantry, supported or led (where the terrain allowed) by tanks. They resorted more to concentrated attacks on strategic points as opposed to thinly dispersed attacks over much wider stretches of front. They had learned how to use artillery to much greater devastating effect. In addition, they enjoyed, and exploited in full measure, significant advantages in aircraft, in tanks, and in artillery. Finally, they had been joined by the doughboys.
American soldiers had begun fighting in 1917, but as units incorporated into French or British armies. It was not until August 1918 that the Americans operated as an independent army. The first American offensive, begun September 12 to eliminate the Saint-Mihiel salient, is little known, but it was a decided, perhaps even stunning, triumph. Later, in the better known Battle of the Meuse-Argonne (the largest engagement in American military history), the U.S. First Army bogged down and was nearly turned back, although eventually and with great losses the Americans finally did clear the Argonne Forest. In addition to hundreds of thousands of men who were quickly learning to be effective soldiers, the Americans contributed vast amounts of materiel. But perhaps the most important result of American entry into the war was its effect on German morale. Lloyd goes so far as to say that "the American declaration of war on Germany in April 1917 had settled" the outcome of the war: "Kaiser Wilhelm had lost; the only question was when it would happen and in what way."
When Germany sought peace in November 1918, the exhausted French and British agreed, although American generals thought that the Armistice was premature. Lloyd finds the peace impulse quite understandable, but he writes that "with hindsight" the American generals probably were right: "The Allies should not have signed an armistice, but carried on, fought the war into 1919 and occupied large parts of Germany. Only through the systematic breaking up of the Fatherland and the reversal of the unification of 1871 could France's long-term security be assured. Yet the partial victory of 1918, which left Germany weakened and constrained, but not crushed, meant there was always a possibility that she would rise again."
Lloyd incorporates into his narrative many first-person accounts from participants in the Hundred Days campaign, and there is a suite of forty-one photographs inserted in the middle of the volume. Lloyd's prose is lively, but it tends to be formulaic and on occasion the formula is mindlessly applied to the point of silliness. There are passages that contain many words, slickly organized, which however convey relatively little information. (The book would have benefitted from a strong edit, something I sense rarely occurs in publishing these days.) My other carp has to do with the maps: At the beginning of the volume there are nine maps of the Western Front and various battles, but the naming of the German defensive lines is hopelessly confusing and many of the towns discussed in the text are not located on any of the maps.