A rigorous look at the grinding war machine involved in the making of the Great War, both at home and on the battlefield.
Author of the authoritative Three Armies of the Somme (2010), Philpott (War Studies/ King’s Coll., London) plunges into the complicated factors that allowed the war of attrition, which had been used effectively since ancient times, to “come into its own” during World War I. The clash of the powerful industrialized armies created a three-year stalemate within the trenches of the western front in France, rather than a swift, decisive victory anticipated by the Central Powers by Christmas 1914. As such, the fighting required the strategic coordination of four other “fronts” in order to defeat the enemy: the maritime front, whereby Britain and Germany would contest superiority of the seas, most effectively through economic blockade; the home front, encompassing raw material resources and maintaining the wills of the populations to support the war; the diplomatic front, involving war and peace negotiations, including the introduction of President Woodrow Wilson’s appeals to “peace without victory” in 1917; and the “united front”—i.e., the ability of the cohorts to work together, as the Allies managed to do more effectively than the Central Powers. Philpott looks at how each engaged country addressed each front, from the shift from short-term thinking to long-term slog, as the old-style generals were learning that, as British Secretary for War John Seeley noted, “the armies have outgrown the brains of the people who direct them.” The author also addresses the “essential and practical” construction of the trench systems; the diversion of war materiel to the Middle East to fight Turkey, which was allied with Germany; and the manipulation of press and propaganda while mobilizing manpower and morale.
An astute examination by an expert war historian that sifts through the collective “theatres of attrition” in this unprecedented slaughter.