Many more books describe World War I’s beginning than its end, so readers will welcome this engrossing history covering Allied offensives from July 1918 to the German surrender in November.
Lloyd (Defense Studies/Kings Coll. London; The Amritsar Massacre: The Untold Story of One Fateful Day, 2011, etc.) disagrees with the traditional portrayal of World War I as a series of bloody offensives launched by dimwitted generals who failed to learn from their mistakes. In reality, they paid close attention. By 1918, Allied commanders—Alexander Haig, Philippe Pétain and John Pershing of the British, French and American armies—could take advantage of technological progress and bitter experience. Furthermore, tanks and aircraft were available in far greater numbers, and advances in artillery increased accuracy and made it unnecessary to “register” every gun by dropping a few shells on the enemy, thus warning of an attack. Previous debacles, from Ypres to the Somme to Passchendaele, taught that it was impossible to sustain an offensive no matter how successful since artillery and transport bogged down in the torn-up, muddy battlefield. It was far better to halt when progress slowed and enemy resistance was increasing and attack elsewhere. Lloyd describes how they proceeded with detailed descriptions of a dozen immense, half-forgotten offensives (Amiens, St. Mihiel, Meuse-Argonne) that, despite often horrendous casualties, pushed back an increasingly exhausted and demoralized enemy. The author emphasizes that both the German economy and its army were on the verge of collapse at the armistice, but since Allied forces were still beyond the frontiers, die-hard enemies, including Hitler, could claim that Germany’s army was not defeated but rather betrayed from within.
A fine account of the Allies’ dramatic but ultimately unsatisfying victory in World War I.