THE WESTERN FRONT by Richard Holmes


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A history of the Western Front (northern France and Belgium) of WWI, invaded and occupied by the Kaiser’s German armies of 1914–18.

Holmes (History/Royal Military College of Sciences) has written a survey of a place that witnessed an astonishing loss of life and limb—more than 750,000 deaths—in four bloody years of continual fighting. Holmes notes that the evolution of mass armies came about after Prussia began military conscription and successfully fought several wars in Europe during the 19th century. Other nations followed and, concurrently, a greater production of increasingly more lethal weapons occurred. Holmes consulted the recorded memories of veterans, public records, and many books by historians to explain such dreadful battles as those at Verdun (where heroic French troops held), the Somme (where 150,000 British soldiers died while 300,000 were wounded), Ypres, Passchendaele, Cambrai, and the Argonne. While exhausted, worn survivors tended to think of the rear-echelon generals ordering these attacks as deadly buffoons with hearts of flint, others would describe the process as a parade of “lions led by donkeys.” The author, to be fair, admits that the generals were called upon to solve extremely complex military problems that demanding politicians and failed diplomats had left them to cope with. Facing a variety of terrifying new weapons (artillery barrages, improved machine guns, and poison gases), neither officer nor troops could rely upon established military procedures, and the reader becomes vividly aware of the inhuman, desperate conditions that the bravest soldiers had to face through Holmes’s re-creation of the hardships endured at the front lines.

A concise, balanced study of one of history’s most cataclysmic events.

Pub Date: July 1st, 2000
ISBN: 1-57500-147-0
Page count: 256pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2000


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