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Pyrrhic Victory: French Strategy and Operations in the Great War Paperback – April 30, 2008

ISBN-13: 978-0674027268 ISBN-10: 0674027264

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press (April 30, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674027264
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674027268
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,052,001 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This well-written, exhaustively researched history of France's role in WWI adds a French perspective not often found in English-language literature on these seminal military events. Explicating France's "grand strategy... [of] waging a multifront war against the Central Powers," West Point history department head Doughty (Breaking Point: Sedan and the Fall of France, 1940) convincingly debunks the cliché of "France's war effort as a series of ill-conceived but energetically executed operations with no connection to a coherent strategy." Doughty sheds light on Commander-in-Chief Joseph Joffre's point of view on the "bloody failures in the Artois, Champagne, and St.-Mihiel offensives" (1915), Nivelle's disastrous 1917 offensive and Pétain's salvation of the French army so that Allied Supreme Cmdr. Ferdinand Foch could lead it in the three-pronged 1917 Allied offensive, among other campaigns. Add his insight into military strategy to his portraits of lesser-known figures, such as Fifth Army commander Gen. Franchet d'Esperey, and the sum—pro-French but not uncritically so—is a valuable addition to WWI literature. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

Pyrrhic Victory is the first work to address comprehensively the strategic planning and the operational execution that shaped World War I. Doughty makes an eloquent case for the strength and flexibility of the French Third Republic as it confronted a mortal challenge. He brings an intellectual force and clarity of expression, as well as a gifted professional soldier's understanding of French aims and intentions. This long-awaited work will stand as the definitive account of French strategy in the Great War. (Dennis Showalter author of Patton and Rommel)

Doughty fills a glaring gap in the literature on World War I with a magisterial book. He is very good on the French army's commanders, balanced but incisive in his judgments, and particularly revealing on the tensions between Petain and Foch. (Hew Strachan, author of The First World War)

Robert Doughty has at last brought the French Army to its proper place in the historiography of the First World War: at the heart of the military operations on the Western Front. This represents one of the most important contributions to the history of the war in the last fifty years. (Williamson Murray, co-author of A War to Be Won)

This well-written, exhaustively researched history of France's role in WWI adds a French perspective not often found in English-language literature on these seminal military events...Add [Doughty's] insight into military strategy to his portraits of lesser-known figures, such as Fifth Army commander Gen. Franchet d'Esperey, and the sum--pro-French but not uncritically so--is a valuable addition to WWI literature. (Publishers Weekly 2005-09-26)

This is a book for which historians of the First World War have been waiting...Although there are some excellent studies of individual aspects of the subject, until now we have lacked a comprehensive account of French strategy and campaigns. In Robert A. Doughty's superb Pyrrhic Victory, the French army at last has the scholarly study it deserves...Pyrrhic Victory is solidly founded on primary sources, culled both from archives and the volumes of the French official history. Doughty provides an essay on sources rather than a conventional bibliography. (Gary Sheffield RUSI Journal)

Pyrric Victory is a most useful contribution to our understanding of La République dans la Grande Guerre. (Nathan M. Greenfield Times Literary Supplement 2006-05-05)

Robert Doughty, the longtime chair of the History Department at West Point, has...done the field a great service with this intelligent and well-crafted study of French operations from 1914 to 1918. Readers will find much to interest them here and much to make them change their preconceptions of how and why the French fought as they did...Scholars interested in the military aspects of the war, especially at the level of high command, should read this book. It will help to dispel many of the old chestnuts that continue to cloud our understanding of the important role played by the French Army from 1914 to 1918. (Michael Neiberg Journal of Military History)

Every scholar of the Great War, and anyone interested in a basic grounding in the subject, should read the book under review here. Robert Doughty has delivered a tour de force, a major contribution to military history and the history of the Great War...The French military effort in the Great War has always deserved a history written in three dimensions, neither as hagiography nor as caricature. Now we have it. (Leonard V. Smith Journal of Military History)

Robert A. Doughty has filled a longstanding gap in the military history of World War I...This is an admirably researched text, well versed in the relevant historiography, and the publishers deserve congratulation for providing sufficient space for Doughty to pursue his topic in depth...His book is organized as a series of extended narrative chapters, which incorporate judicious commentaries on the controversies that surround French strategy and its authors. (David Stevenson American Historical Review 2007-10-01)

Doughty recognizes the high-, short- and long-term costs of what he legitimately calls a Pyrrhic victory. But in this seminal book he demonstrates the crucial role of the army and its generals in structuring a triumph of national determination. He demonstrates as well that for all its errors of preparation and execution, the army's prestige was by no means undeserved. This dual intellectual achievement merits the highest recognition by soldiers and scholars alike. (Dennis E. Showalter Parameters 2007-04-01)

This is General Doughty's valedictory work capping decades of research, analysis and writing on the French Army in two world wars. In it he presents a thorough yet concise analysis of French strategy and operations...Also analysed are the political forces and personalities at work in France and internationally, the push and pull between easterners and westerners, as well as the evolution of inter-Entente relations as the conflict progressed. Indeed, Doughty's character sketches of French military and political figures are among the best this reviewer has seen. He emphasises the nation's grim determination to hang on, to prevail despite having suffered proportionately the highest casualties of any Western Front combatant. (Len Shurtleff Stand To! 2007-01-01)

Robert A. Doughty has rendered another service to history, and to France...This is now the best English-language book about French strategy in the First World War. (Robert Young International History Review 2007-02-01)

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Customer Reviews

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I recommend this book for anyone interested in serious study of WWI.
P. Stensrud
Doughty recounts the tense struggles between French civilian and military leaders over the best way to identify and carry out a winning strategy.
D.S.Thurlow
One of the more interesting books on the First World War which is valuable in giving another perspective on the conflict.
Tom Munro

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

50 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Tom Munro on August 5, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Most histories of the First World War have focused on the British or German perspective. This is a history of the French operations, which provided the bulk of the resistance to the Germans on the western front.

Histories of the First World War suffered from partisan books written directly after the war that gave a caricatured version of operations. They suggested that French and British generals failed to appreciate the impact of modern technology and simply used men as cannon fodder. This book is one that seeks to counter that view and show how the French commanders reacted to the success and failure of operations and developed strategies which evolved during the war to lessen the loss of human life and develop more efficient methods of attack and defence. In fact the year of 1914 saw one of the French Armies considerable triumphs the defeat of the German movement through Belgium aimed at outflanking the French line. This success occurred when the Germans devoted the majority of their army to the western front in an attempt to gain an early victory. England at the time had only mobilised a small army so the defeat of the Germans was a remarkable victory.

One of the interesting points made by the book is that some 50% of the French losses occurred in the first year of the war before the development of the trench system. The reason of course was that before the development of the trenches when there was the war of movement infantry were much more vulnerable to artillery fire. In 1915 when the French attacked again and again in an attempt to aid the Russian offensives the losses were although substantial far less than in the disastrous first year. The losses suffered in resisting the German offensive at Verdun again were again less than in 1915.
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32 of 32 people found the following review helpful By O. Pflug on February 17, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Pyrrhic victory is an important English-language addition to scholarship on France's role in the First World War. Nearly 1.5 million Frenchmen died in the war, a loss that would help end France's reign as a great power. Although France won the war--sacrificing more than any allied victor--the costs of four years of battle proved disastrous.

Pyrrhic victory is first and foremost a study of the French command's strategic goals. Doughty also discusses tactical maneuvers in some key battles. While the tactical coverage may be a little inconsistent at points, or open to debate, explanation of the evolving strategy of French leaders is first rate. There is little on the soldiers themselves, though the effects of the 1917 mutinies are discussed. Doughty relies most on official government sources and the accounts of French leadership. Those more interested in daily life in the trenches will have to look elsewhere. But anyone deeply interested in the military operations of the Great War will need to read Pyrrhic victory.
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45 of 48 people found the following review helpful By 1. on October 19, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Robert Doughty has written the definitive history of France's involvment in the First World War. In the first chapter of the book, Doughty is strongly critical of Joffre for spreading out French forces and leaving them vulnerable to German attacks in the opening phases of World War I. Doughty writes that Joffre employed faulty tactics in the French offensives of 1915 by launching continuous attacks that left French forces out of range of their artillery and vulnerable to German machineguns and counterattacks. In 1916 methodical attacks with limited objectives were used in the intial Somme offensive and at Verdun. However in 1917 General Nivelle launched his failed offensive that was mainly the return of the continuous offensive tactics. But once Petain assumed command in late 1917 the French employed the methodical approach to tactics. Doughty praises General Foch's strategic sense by ordering Petain to counterattack at the Second Battle of the Marne and Soissons which stopped the German offensive in 1918. Moreover the French offensive in Salonika and the employment of French soldiers in Italy helped persuade Austria to leave the war and this left Germany diplomatically isolated. However by late 1918, Doughty concludes that the French army was exhausted and needed the help of the British and the Americans to win the war. The only weakness of this book was that Doughty largely ignored the development of the French armored and air forces, otherwise I would strongly reccommend this book about the French sacrifice in the First World War that is largely forgotten by Americans.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Michael Surace on March 3, 2006
Format: Hardcover
First book on World War One that covers the French strategy. Most books cover the Btitish or American effort. All other books on WWI pale beside this magnificent effort. Great insight into the strengths and weaknesses of Marshals Joffre, Petain and Foch. Balanced view of the tug of war between the French politicos and the generals. Another book I would recommend on WWI if you want to learn about the German strategy would be Robert Asprey's book on Hindeburg and Ludendorf.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By R. A Forczyk VINE VOICE on February 5, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Despite the fact that the French Army carried the bulk of the Allied war effort on the Western Front in 1914-18, it has rarely received its due in First World War historiography. Brigadier General (ret.) Robert A. Doughty, head of West Point's history department for twenty years, seeks to correct that omission in his Pyrrhic Victory: French Strategy and Operations in the Great War. Overall, this is an erudite, well-written book for professional military officers and historians and an essential addition to any serious library on the First World War.

This book consists of ten chapters, with one on pre-war doctrine, eight that each cover about six months of the war and a conclusion. The initial chapter on transformation examines pre-war doctrine and strategic planning. Despite first-rate intelligence on German order of battle, the author notes that the French expected an invasion of Belgium but thought that the Germans lacked the reserves to make a deep penetration. The French Army was also fairly well equipped for war, but the neglect of heavy artillery was a serious omission. Furthermore, the author notes that initial combat on the borders indicated "the bankruptcy of French tactical doctrine and the inadequacy of their artillery," although these flaws were not immediately apparent to General Joffre, the French commander-in-chief. Indeed, the author paints a poor picture of Joffre in August 1914, as a commander who blamed others for his faulty operational plan, failed to concentrate his forces and ignored intelligence about enemy intentions. On the other hand, Joffre showed marked improvement in September 1914 by effectively utilizing France's railroads to mass forces for the Battle of the Marne - a victory which the author notes to Joffre's credit.
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