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THE FIRST WORLD WAR - who wants to talk about it?

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Initial post: Nov 4, 2009, 7:05:14 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 4, 2009, 7:19:39 AM PST
KOMET says:
The First World War (or "the Great War" as it is still referred to in Great Britain and a few other countries) was a conflict whose echoes still resound worldwide almost 91 years since it ended.

The present problems in the Middle East and the tenuous peace in the Balkans can be traced to that distant era. Poland re-emerged as a nation as a result of the postwar treaties (after having been wiped off the face of Europe in 1795). Italy acquired additional territory on its northeastern frontier, and Austria was created out of what was the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Africa and several of the former German colonies in the Pacific were acquired and re-organized by the Allies.

I would welcome anyone to this forum who wants to recommend books (non-fiction & fiction) about the First World War. In doing so, feel free to share with your fellow Forum members something of what the book(s) is (are) about.

For starters, I would like to recommend 6 books about the War, which occupy pride of place in my library.

Covers the history of the war at sea, not simply in the waters around Great Britain, the Atlantic Ocean, and the North Sea.

2) OVER HERE: The First World War & American Society - David M. Kennedy

Tells how our society was directly impacted by the war.

3) FORGOTTEN VOICES OF THE GREAT WAR: A History of World War I in the Words of the Men and Women Who Were There - Max Arthur

The author interviewed, over the past decade, a large number of surviving veterans to give their impressions of the War and how their lives were shaped by it.

4) THE WHITE WAR: Life and Death on the Italian Front, 1915-1919 - Mark Thompson

Sheds considerable light on a theatre of war that had been long neglected and little remarked upon, aside from the official histories of the War.

5) PYRRHIC VICTORY: French Strategy and Operations in the Great War - Robert A. Doughty

Doughty, a retired Army officer who had served as the Head of the History Department at West Point, provides a French perspective on the War rarely found in English. It's a fascinating book.


This book is ABSOLUTELY PRICELESS. It sheds light on the efforts made by the French Aviation Militaire during the War to develop strategic and tactical bomber units. If you are as fascinated with First World War aviation as I am, you'll be delighted with this book.

Posted on Nov 4, 2009, 7:09:38 AM PST
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Posted on Nov 4, 2009, 7:48:03 AM PST
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Posted on Nov 4, 2009, 8:27:13 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 4, 2009, 8:36:50 AM PST
KOMET says:
M. César:

Most historians cite the assasination of the Austrian Archduke Francis Ferdinand & his wife Sophia at Sarajevo by the Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip on June 28th, 1914 as one of the key events that helped to precipitate the outbreak of the war in August.

Austria-Hungary was angry with Serbia because of the assassination and sought territory from her. Belgrade was given a month's ultimatum. Either cede to Austria-Hungary the desired territory or face invasion. At the same time, Kaiser Wilhelm II expressed a willingness to act as an intermediary in the matter. Serbia looked to Russia, its fellow Slavic nation and traditional ally, for support. Austria-Hungary in turn, looked to its ally Germany for help should Russia play its hand in the developing crisis. France, as an ally of Russia, stood on the sidelines (along with Great Britain), but open to honoring her treaty obligations to St. Petersburg should Germany attack Russia.

By the end of July 1914, though Serbia had acceded to 8 of the 10 demands contained in the ultimatum, Austria-Hungary was not satisfied with that. Consequently, she invaded Serbia. Russia, protective of Serbia and unwilling to have its influence in the Balkans threatened by Vienna, then mobilized its military. As did Germany on July 30. By August 1, war was declared between Russia and Germany. Two days later, Germany declared war on France (still aggrieved over her loss of Alsace-Lorraine in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71).

Germany then proceeded to invade France by way of Luxembourg and Belgium (as a flanking manoever, outlined in the Schlieffen Plan which the German General Staff had adopted a decade earlier).

Britain, as a longtime defender of Belgium neutrality (since 1839) asked Germany to withdraw its forces from Belgium within 24 hours. Germany made no such undertaking and thus, on August 4, 1914, Britain declared war on Germany.

If blame for the War is to be apportioned, then one needs to look at the nature of the pre-existing alliances that existed among the European powers.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 4, 2009, 8:44:40 AM PST
Smallchief says:
With the exception of the first month of the war and sideshows like Lawrence in Arabia, World War I seems to have been a rather dull slugging match. That's not to deny its importance -- only that it's hard to make Verdun and the Somme very interesting to read about.

I liked Tuchman's "Guns of August" (although her knee-jerk anti-German attitude irritated me) and I recall a good book by John S.D. Eisenhower about Pershing.

Who was responsible for the war? Well, if Austria Hungary hadnt overplayed its hand perhaps there wouldn't have been a war -- but unfortunatly it seems that all too many people in too many countries were looking for a fight.

Posted on Nov 4, 2009, 9:29:39 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 4, 2009, 9:30:20 AM PST
J. A Magill says:
To me one of the most interesting thing about WWI, is the counter factual questions it raises. Unlike WWII, where one really has to stretch to find a means to Axis victory (or give them serious benefit of the doubt in several points of luck), by any standard the Central Powers SHOULD have won World War I. Indeed, there were several ways they could have. Germany could have stuck to the original plan, allowing France to advance further in to central Germany, so that they couldn't retreat to firm up the French lines. Germany could have starved Britain by engaging in unrestricted submarine warfare from the start. One thing is certain, the 20th century would have looked very different (no USSR, no Nazi Germany, no cementing of US-British alliance, etc).

And on an aside, "All's Quiet" is still one of the most poignant war novels ever written.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 4, 2009, 9:42:42 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 4, 2009, 9:43:15 AM PST
I never got a satisfactory answer to the ultimate question: "Why did WWI happen?" Not what was the trigger, but why did these nations fight each other, really? All the university coursework I took for my Masters' Degree danced around this issue but I never felt I got a good reply. Even the soldiers fighting in the trenches never understood why they were dying in such vast numbers. Any good answers out there?

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 4, 2009, 9:45:52 AM PST
J. A Magill says:
If I can suggest one theory -- which isn't mine -- each alliance was in the first place scared of being caught behind once mobilization began and each state was looking not at the US civil war, which was the right model, but Bismark's short wars of unification. None believed that the war could drag on for years and each thought they could achieve what they were imagined as moderate war aims. Once the war began, and mobility was eliminated, all that was left was for the blood bath.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 4, 2009, 10:23:36 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 4, 2009, 11:33:06 AM PST
Smallchief says:
Why did World War I happen? I'll take a wild stab.

The psychology of the Europeans favored a war in 1914. They hadn't had a major one for a long time and the mood of the people was receptive to a war. It sounded like fun, a little excitement in the boring lives of the average man; the generals would have the chance to prove they were military genuises; the politicians saw possibilities of improving the geopolitical position of their country; and, after all, it would be a short war. A long war was impossible in a globalized world. Wasn't it?

Some of the same factors entered into the American decision to go to war in Vietnam and Iraq (the second time).

Posted on Nov 4, 2009, 10:35:23 AM PST
On Verdun--Alistair Horne's "Price of Glory" makes it interesting. On the deep causes, going back to the 1870s, see George F. Kennan's books Decline of Bismarck's European Order, and Fateful Alliance. Also Robert Massie, Dreadnought. Also Fritz Fischer, Germany's Aims in the First World War.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 4, 2009, 10:53:32 AM PST
Have you read Eleventh Month, Eleventh Day, Eleventh Hour: Armistice Day, 1918 World War I and Its Violent Climax

It is a good read about all the lives wasted on the last day of the war.

You may never look at the allied leaders the same way again. Complete murdering a holes.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 4, 2009, 11:13:08 AM PST
John M. Lane says:
Hello Frances Barrineau,

I'll take a stab at your question, "Why did WW I happen?"

In my opinion, one major cause of it was Kaiser Willhelm II's decision to dismiss Bismarck and ignore the system of alliances he'd built up. Bismarck realized that Germany needed to keep France isolated diplomatically which meant catering to the Tsar and to the British.

Bismarck was a Prussian himself and understood the lethality of trying to wage a war on two fronts. That meant doing everything possible to keep Russia and France from drifting into an alliance.

He was consequently conciliatory to France after 1871, careful to avoid antagonizing Russia by siding too strongly with Austria in the continuing unrest in the Balkans, and reluctant to challenge the British for domination of the high seas by the Royal Navy or engage them in a race for overseas colonies.

Bismarck saw Germany's future as the dominant power in Europe, not as a competitor to the British.
The Kaiser, however, was unduly influenced by navalists (notably Admiral von Tirpitz) to envision Germany as a great naval power.

This led to an expensive race to build Dreadnaught class battleships which alienated the British prompting them to an entente (understanding) with France. Russia was alienated by the Kaiser's firm support of Austria in its disputes with Serbia. The Serbs were perceived to be "little brothers" by their co-religionists in Russia, notably the Tsar.

This created more potential allies for the French and Russia drifted into the "entente." Imperial Germany continued to build up its fleet, an obvious challenge to the British and drifted into much closer alliance with Austria, a challenge to Russia. The die was cast for a world war when a Serbian student assassinated the Austrian Emperor's son and his wife in Sarajevo on a sunny day in 1914.

I don't consider the Great War to have been Germany's fault exclusively, but must concede that Kaiser Wilhelm II played a major role in getting it started with his ill-conceived navalism and sabre-rattling blank check to Austria. I suspect that he was perceived to be much more aggressive than he really was. He had a closet full of military and naval uniforms (over 200 of them, I believe) and liked to pose in them. In fact, he probably found it gratifying to be regarded as the aggressive emperor of an increasingly powerful Germany.

The tragedy is, he could have played that role without painting Germany into the corner it found itself in in 1914. Had he maintained Bismarck's carefully balanced system of alliances, he could have enjoyed all the military parades and naval reviews he could stand without contributing so heavily to the alliance system of 1914.

Posted on Nov 4, 2009, 11:14:08 AM PST
KOMET says:
I have read that Joseph E. Persico book ("ELEVENTH MONTH, ELEVENTH DAY, ELEVENTH HOUR: Armistice Day, 1918 - World War I and Its Violent Climax"). I concur with Spiritual Architect's remarks about this book.

From my reading of "Eleventh Month...", Pershing, the Commander of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF), did not want an armistice. He felt that now the Germans were falling back all along the Western Front that the Allies should advance into Germany itself. He wanted a definitive end to the war - not a truce, which is what an "armistice" is.

A number of officers in the AEF were interested in making the most of their opportunities. The War, for them, represented a rare opportunity for rapid advancement in the ranks. So, even when several of the field officers received word early on the morning of November 11th, 1918 that an armistice would come into effect by 11 AM, many of them persisted in carrying out offensive actions against the enemy.

Posted on Nov 4, 2009, 11:28:03 AM PST
James says:
One interesting book for an interesting African sidelight of the war is:
Farwell, Byron. The Great War in Africa, 1914-1918.
Among other things it covers the events fictionalized in "African Queen"

There are also a host of books on the Gallipoli invasion. I did a study on Gallipoli for a military planners course and it was interesting how dramatically sources on it varied as to who good of an idea it was in the first place, whether it had any chance of working, what went wrong, and who was at fault. I found it a fascinating operation and an interesting puzzle.

Posted on Nov 4, 2009, 11:41:40 AM PST
James says:
A couple notes on the Schleiffen Plan:
- It was originally composed about a decade before the war
- In 1906 von Moltke modified the plan, weakening the German forces attacking France and constricting their front
- In actual practice the plan was again modified, further weakening German forces going into France to have more forces against Russia

Arguably, had the plan been used as originally intended, France might likely have fallen and been knocked out of the war. However, had it been used as intended, early German successes against Russia might NOT have happened, making that front more of a problem. So, perhaps some modification of the forces between the original plan and what was actually done might have been most appropriate. More importantly, had the German forces had the front (including Netherlands) as intended, their movement might have been considerably quicker, and, had the German thrust NOT veered away Northward/Westward, they would likely have taken Paris and much of the French Army.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 4, 2009, 11:42:58 AM PST
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Posted on Nov 4, 2009, 12:35:02 PM PST
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Posted on Nov 4, 2009, 8:30:43 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 4, 2009, 8:31:45 PM PST
KOMET says:
Mr. Roland,

Perhaps you forget or were not aware of the fact that Germany faced severe INTERNAL crises in the immediate postwar years.

Once Germany's last great offensive on the Western Front failed in July 1918, there was a greater clamor in the country for an end to the war, for it had become clear that Germany could not win. The French and British armies had survived the harshest blows the Germans threw at them earlier in the year through Operations Michael, Georgette, Blücher, Yorck, and Marne (sometimes known as the "Peace Offensive", which brought the Germans within 40 miles of Paris). The Americans were now arriving in France in larger numbers. Within a month, the British and French would launch the Hundred Days Offensive, which put the Germans on the run. The Americans would stage their own offensives at St. Mihiel and in the Argonne Forest, which further weakened Germany's capacity for making war.

By early November 1918, there was an uprising among German sailors at the naval base at Kiel. The Kaiser was forced to abdicate and found sanctuary in Holland. The Weimar Republic was established under Friedrich Ebert, a Socialist. The war came to an end on the 11th of November.

Notwithstanding that, Germany remained in a precarious position as factions from the left and right fought for control of the country. There was a short-lived Soviet Republic in Bavaria. Many German soldiers who returned home from the war formed paramilitary units (the Freikorps) to prevent Germany from being "sovietized". There were also coups launched by ultranationalist forces, as evidenced by the Kapp-Lüttwitz Putsch of 1920 and the abortive Nazi putsch of November 1923.

So, not all of Germany's problems in those years can be exclusively attributed to the Allies. Anti-German sentiment was very strong at that time, especially among the French. As the 1920s continued apace, some countries (principally the U.S. and Britain) were open to being conciliatory to Germany and helping her to set her economy aright and with the matter of war reparations. Hence, the establishment of the Dawes Plan in 1924, which significantly stablized the German economy.

You also fail to take into account the effects of the Great Depression. It put Germany again in a dire economic state.

Posted on Nov 4, 2009, 9:05:32 PM PST
Anything by Robin Prior and/or Trevor Wilson is well worth a look. The same goes for books by Peter Hart, whose work is based on records held in the Imperial War Museum. "The Rules of the Game", by Andrew Gordon, is the best work on the RN in the war, but I don't know if it is still available. "Blinker Hall: Spymaster", by David Ramsay, is an excellent account of the intelligence war. "Blindfold and Alone: British Military Executions in the Great War", by John Hughes-Wilson and Cathryn Corns, is an intelligent assessment of the three hundred executions of British soldiers during WWI, a controversial subject in Britain. "Tip and Run: The Untold Tragedy of the Great War in Africa", by Edward Paice, tells the story of the war in Africa (not actually "untold", as Hew Strachan has devoted quite a lot of space to the same subject matter).

English-language books on other fronts, or the French sectors of the Western Front are more scarce. W. Montgomery and Karl G. Larew have mentioned some of those. "The Eastern Front 1914-1917", by Norman Stone, is a reasonable summary, but very short, considering the size of the subject matter.

I had a look for WWI books in French on There are plenty of them, but very few with reviews, suggesting that the subject attracts more authors than readers in France. Those who can read French should probably have a look at the website.

The notion that "Germany got screwed after WWI" and that Versailles was the cause of nazism is completely unsustainable. The Italians were on the winning side in the war, not subject to any punitive clauses in the Versailles Treaty, but fell under a fascist regime a full decade before Hitler's rise to power. Germany got off pretty lightly, especially since German reparations payments weren't exactly punctual. Before 1914, the Kaiser's regime squandered huge sums on preparations for war. After 1919, the Weimar Republic was forbidden to do likewise. If Germany's neighbours had exploited her defencelessness in the twenties, painting Germany as a victim of Versailles might make a small amount of sense. The fact is, though, that they didn't. All that pre-war expenditure on dreadnoughts did not need to be repeated after the First World War. Versailles probably saved Germany money (or would have done, without the clandestine military expenditure of the Weimar Republic, in defiance of the Treaty).

Posted on Nov 5, 2009, 3:09:54 AM PST
R. Miller says:
Morgan, you write "The notion that "Germany got screwed after WWI" and that Versailles was the cause of nazism is completely unsustainable." I'm afraid you are completely mistaken. I had family living near the French border after World War I - they were screwed to the nth degree. Do some research into what French "reparations" caused in Aachen. The French occupation was completely heavy-handed and arrogant and no doubt caused sympathy for extremists including Hitler. If you want to read a book about World War I that explains this most absolutely stupid war in the history of humankind, read Thomas Fleming's Illusion of Victory. Germany did not get off pretty light. You fail to mention the post war blockade that the British continued causing death by starvation of many Germans. It's really sad that the British are in fantasy land about their Great War, and the Americans are totally ignorant about their stupid meddling. Fleming does a great job of deconstructing the myth of Woodrow Wilson.

Posted on Nov 5, 2009, 5:20:09 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 5, 2009, 5:24:19 AM PST
KOMET says:
Mr. Miller,

You are right about the suffering many Germans (especially in the Rhineland and Saarland) experienced in the years immediately after the War. There was a short-lived occupation of areas of the Rhineland in 1918-19 by British, American (in particular, Koblenz), and French forces.

"In 1920 the Saargebiet was occupied by Britain and France under the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles. The occupied area also included portions of the Prussian Rhine Province and the Bavarian Rhenish Palatinate. In practice the region was administered by France. In 1920 this was formalized by a 15-year League of Nations mandate."

What is more, in view of the failure of the Weimar Republic to pay war reparations, France and Belgium sent troops to occupy the Ruhr. The French rationale for doing this was to extract payments from Germany, for the Ruhr was the heart of coal, steel, and iron production for the nation. France had suffered extensive infrastructure damage during the War (in particular, in Northeastern France), and so, was bent on punishing Germany. Thus, they and the Belgians remained in the Ruhr from 1923 to 1924.

In general, we Americans are not very knowledgeable about our involvement in the First World War. Only one living veteran from the conflict is alive today and once that living memory is extinguished, the War may become little more than an obscure footnote in the collective consciousness of the U.S.

Mr. Miller, thank you for mentioning Thomas Fleming's book, "ILLUSION OF VICTORY". As November 11th will soon be here, I intend to buy it from one of my favorite bookstores.

In the meantime, I wish to cite a few more books about the First World War that may be of interest to other Forum members...

1) THE DAY WE WON THE WAR: Turning Point at Amiens 8th August 1918 - Charles Messenger

It was the Battle of Amiens which ended once and for all the stalemate on the Western Front.

2) SKYFIGHTERS OF FRANCE: An Account of the French War in the Air During the First World War - Henri Farré

Provides a look into French military aviation during the War.

3) SHOCK TROOPS: Canadians Fighting the Great War, 1917-1918 - Tim Cook

David Lloyd George, the Prime Minister of Britain in the latter years of the War, referred to the Canadian troops as "the shock troops of the British Empire" by virtue of their fighting prowess. The Germans had a healthy respect for the Canadian soldiers, who distinguished themselves in the taking of Vimy Ridge during the Battle of Arras in the Spring of 1917.

4) TIGRIS GUNBOATS: The Forgotten War in Iraq, 1914-1917 - Wilfred Nunn

"Originally published in 1932 and written by the commander of the British naval forces, Tigris Gunboats is a gripping account of the three-year British expedition in Iraq--and especially its naval operations. Launched as an attempt by the Indian Army to secure Western oil supplies, the British campaign yielded startling initial successes followed by now-familiar challenges, including intertribal rivalry. Written with insight and authority, 'Tigris Gunboats' provides a fascinating insider's view of an operation that did not always run smoothly but whose results look all the more impressive when compared with the recent history of Iraq."

5) A SAILOR OF AUSTRIA (fiction) - John Biggins

"In an extended flashback, centenarian Ottokar Prohaska, ending his life in a Welsh nursing home, recalls his participation in the earliest days of undersea war, commanding U-boats so primitive that every dive was an adventure. Biggins brilliantly reconstructs the turn-of-the-century Hapsburg Empire, where situations might be hopeless but never serious. Prohaska is a well-rounded, sympathetic character whose point of view perfectly reflects the navy's officer corps. He and his crew sink ships, kill men and endure depth charging. They carry a pretender to the Albanian throne and transport a camel from North Africa to Crete.

"Underlying the picaresque adventures of these pioneering submariners is the ever-present prospect of dying in a steel coffin, whether from enemy action, asphyxiation, engine failure or mud. Prohaska's war has no glory--only the satisfaction of duty in a cause they believed in."

Posted on Nov 5, 2009, 5:34:14 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 5, 2009, 5:36:19 AM PST
NAI says:
interesting discussion: would like your opinion and further explain how this war that took place almost 100 yrs ago has ramifications to this day, affecting Middle East, Balkans, etc.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 5, 2009, 5:47:48 AM PST
[Deleted by Amazon on Dec 7, 2009, 9:27:29 AM PST]

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 5, 2009, 6:06:55 AM PST
NAI says:
yes, land held by the allies didn't give back to original, rightful owners, gave back to occupiers, like the ottomans. Constantinople, held by the allies, occupied by the ottomans, but gave to the new turkish republic, it had been part of Greece. I know, all part of negotiation, everyone gave up something and they retained some lands too. many people harmed and you don't hear about all of them, just about a few. maybe all tired, wanted to be rid of war, and the league was a weak organization. they weakened countries within, as a result of their decisions. back to how middle east unsettled today as a result of this war?

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 5, 2009, 6:10:46 AM PST
[Deleted by Amazon on Dec 7, 2009, 9:24:27 AM PST]
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