Sturdy but plodding account of the hell of World War I.
France-based military historian Ford turns in a comprehensive survey of the Great War as it was fought over territory belonging to a rapidly crumbling Ottoman Empire, including Egypt, Iraq, Turkey and what is now Saudi Arabia. With its battle-by-battle, unit-by-unit narrative, the book seems intended for an audience of professional historians rather than history buffs, and the writing is excessively dry. Ford’s attention is often focused on matters of order of battle rather than of the battle itself—e.g., “In front of Bitlis Nazarbekov had the 7th and 8th Caucasian Rifles in prepared positions, supported by field artillery and howitzers, with a battalion of the 6th Caucasian Rifles in reserve.” Still, the author provides solid, detailed accounts of incidents such as the disastrous British expedition into Mesopotamia and the even more disastrous landing at Gallipoli. He takes a cold eye to the claims to greatness of T.E. Lawrence—Lawrence of Arabia, that is—whose effectiveness in the field was amplified by a helpful public-relations machine, and who seems a touch petulant whenever he is encountered, certainly less even-keeled than his commander, Gen. Edmund Allenby. Even here, however, Ford is given less to personalities than aggregates: “Two days later Allenby made significant changes to his table of organisation. The cavalry would now become the Desert Mounted Corps, while the infantry was reorganized into XX Corps and XXI Corps.”
A tough slog for anyone without a technical interest in the workings of an army.