An accessible scholarly history of how the British Expeditionary Force found its legs during the first months of World War I.
Imperial War Museum oral historian Hart (The Great War: A Combat History of the First World War, 2013, etc.) has combed the archives for firsthand witnesses to the fraught first decisions and movements by the British and French armies to check the aggression across Europe of imperial Germany and Austro-Hungary. Traditionally enjoying maritime supremacy, Britain had to take stock as Germany began to build up its own fleet and massive continental army in accordance with the thinking of Gen. Albert von Schlieffen, as well as his successor, Gen. Helmuth von Moltke (the Younger), that the way to knock out France quickly was to move laterally through Belgium and Luxembourg. German aggression forced Britain to ally with France in the signing of the Anglo-French entente in 1906. This contributed to the secretive building up of a BEF under the direction of Gen. Sir Henry Wilson to “stand alongside the French.” The British had learned much about modern warfare since the Boer War of 1899-1902: The cavalry was on the wane and the machine gun on the rise, while important British generals continued to emerge, including Sir John French and Sir Douglas Haig. Moreover, “close-order attacks” had ended, the system of trenches was developed, and the “movement” of men was achieved over open ground by heavy covering “fire” (hence Hart’s title). Indeed, the BEF (made up of many Irish and colonial recruits) proved itself a valiant foe against the larger German onslaught, from the battles of Mons in August through Ypres in late October, the race to the sea and the halted British retreat. Dispelling close-held myths, Hart presents extracts from diaries and letters by soldiers and officers for an in-the-moment account.
A World War I authority offers a focused, organized, evenhanded work of research.