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The Myth of the Great War: A New Military…
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The Myth of the Great War: A New Military History of World War I (2001)

by John Mosier

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I would agree with the two earlier reviews of this work, it is poor history and bodering on the absurd despite being well written.

Mosier clearly fails to establish that the Germans won all the battles - Guise, 1st Marne, Verdun, Amiens etc show otherwise - and doesnt even get close to showing that the Americans won the war as the extended title claims. The book can be summarized as such; Written by an English professor, contains poorly constructed arguments, fails to validate its claims, and wanders into absurdity when making conclusions. Written to be controversial and appeal to those who like to pretend Germany was superior to everyone else.

Very poor history. ( )
  SunilAstrakhan | Aug 17, 2011 |
In The Myth of the Great War, John Mosier seeks to dispel several views held by historians about WWI. He shows that the Germans were invariably more successful on the battlefield than either the British or the French, even though Germany lost the war. He concludes that were it not for the influx of money, explosives, and men from the United States, the Allies could never have won. He contends “the myth” that the British and French essentially won the war came about because the allied professional soldiers did not tell their respective publics, or even their political superiors, what was really happening.

Mosier avers that the striking success of the Germans in the early part of WWII should be attributed not only to the achievements of the German Army of 1914, but to an equal extent, the foolhardiness of Germany’s adversaries.

WWI was unusual in that it was the first war in which the majority of combat deaths were caused by artillery, not by small arms fire. The Germans suffered far fewer combat deaths than did the British because of superior tactics and training. They seldom if ever launched the kind of massed suicidal attacks that were standard British tactics, but rather, fought more on the defensive. They also used mortars and heavy artillery to a greater extent than did the Allies.

France’s army on the eve of WWI was weak because of lack of central command, underfunding, poor doctrine, and lousy tactics. French doctrine posited that battles would be won by bayonets! At war's end, casualties caused by edged weapons were less than one quarter of one percent of total casualties. Increasing numbers of soldiers with machine guns could mow down any infantry wielding bayonets.

The Germans knew they would be greatly outnumbered, but they had a big advantage in firepower. They had much heavier artillery pieces and could fire them at a much higher trajectory. In the first month of the war, the Germans swept through Belgium without any real infantry engagements—their artillery reduced the Belgian forts to rubble, and the forts simply surrendered. The army marched into northern France, then turned southeast in an effort to surround two French armies and pinch off Verdun from Paris. But the Germans found themselves overextended, and so drew back to a defensible position north of Paris. The so-called Battle of the Marne was hardly a battle at all: the Germans had simply abandoned the position near the Marne to take an entrenched position along a more northerly ridge.

In the first half of 1915, a German engineer-general, Bruno von Mudra, developed tactics for seizing terrain at relatively low cost. It started with an intense, but short, bombardment, followed by small groups of men attacking with flamethrowers, pistols, and grenades. The French, by contrast, attempted large scale assaults, involving hundreds of thousands of men over a large segment of the front. The French typically gained a few hundred yards at the cost of tens of thousands of men. The Germans typically gained a few hundred yards at the cost of dozens of men. French Chief of Staff Joseph Joffre thought the French could overwhelm the Germans by sheer numbers. He was mistaken because the Germans had greater firepower and did not need superior numbers.

On July 1, 1916, the British and French launched the Battle of the Somme, a massacre in which they sustained about 700,000 casualties (compared to 250,000 for the Germans) and gained about 200 square kilometers. The British tactics were especially suicidal, using waves of infantry walking slowly in formation, carrying over 40 pounds of provisions per man.

The year ended with the British launching another semi-suicidal attack at Cambrai. The initial result was the gain of a few kilometers of ground and the announcement to the home government of a great victory. However, the Germans, as usual, held back their troops until the British had exhausted their charge, then counter-attacked successfully, driving the British back to their original start line.

In 1917, the Germans switched to the offensive, hoping to knock the British and the French out of the war before the Americans could arrive with a whole new army. Mosier sees the years 1917-18 as a great race between Germany and the U.S.A.

The Germans launched a great offensive in March 1918 and almost destroyed the British Expeditionary Force in Flanders. They were stopped by French reserves, however. The Germans then attacked farther east and south, but there ran into the Americans, who fought exceptionally well and defeated them at Belleau Wood. For the first time, the Germans did not dominate the battlefield. Shortly thereafter, the Americans took back territory the French had been unable to take for the last four years of fighting.

The German general staff realized that the American army would probably prevail. Their government contacted President Wilson directly, and said it would be willing to stop the war based on Wilson’s Fourteen Points. The German army was still intact and on French and Belgian soil. Mosier argues that the Allies wanted to continue with the war, but they knew the Americans held all the cards. He writes, “The Allies caved in. … Suddenly, the Great War was over. Peace had broken out.”

Evaluation: Mosier, an English professor, is an amateur historian who relies on secondary sources for his analyses. He tends to focus on the operational level of war, and his observations on the course of individual battles are generally sound. But he lacks an understanding of the political milieu in which the war was fought. Nor is he willing to broaden his conceptual lenses to admit evidence that contravenes his uninformed theories. It is true the British were reluctant to give up the old tactics of war that worked so well in the past but proved woefully inappropriate in modern settings with advances in weaponry. Nevertheless, Mosier’s theory about the sudden collapse of the German army in the face of the American threat is simply inaccurate. This ignores the effects of the British blockade, to name just one significant factor, which led to the sinking of German ships carrying nitrates for explosives and fertilizer for farmers, the starvation of German citizens (a fifth of all the calories consumed in Germany before the war had come from abroad), and diminution of support for the war by the German public. Other factors were in play as well; Mosier’s alternative interpretation of history is just too simplistic to hold up in the complex light of reality.

Maps and pictures are included in the book. Recommended for details of battles, but not for the theoretical scaffolding in which Mosier places them. ( )
  nbmars | Aug 23, 2010 |
I rarely read a book that I don't find useful in some way, but this is ridiculous. Though Mosier does mine some German sources to make his point that the Germans were technologically superior in the First World War, his suggestions that they were some kind of ubersoldaten is ridiculous. Mosier goes on to suggest that only the entry of the Americans and their superior fighting ability saved the Allies is equally simple-minded and ridiculous.

1. Though it may not seem so, the Allies, particularly the British were evolved technologies and tactics that changed the war in the summer of 1918.

2. Pershing espoused the "spirit of the bayonet" in the Argonne fighting, which cost the Americans dearly. The U.S. ignored the lessons of 1914-18 and made the same silly frontal assaults the French did in the opening days of the war.

3. My recollection is that the Germans lost this war. If they were so superior to the Allies, how did they lose? Did the Americans fight at Amiens, or Arras in 1918? I don't think they did. Did the French mismanage the attack at Verdun and wreck an entire field army, or was that von Falkenhayn's mistake?

This is just bad history. ( )
4 vote ksmyth | Oct 13, 2005 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0060084332, Paperback)

Based on previously unused French and German sources, this challenging and controversial new analysis of the war on the Western front from 1914 to 1918 reveals how and why the Germans won the major battles with one-half to one-third fewer casualties than the Allies, and how American troops in 1918 saved the Allies from defeat and a negotiated peace with the Germans.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:22:23 -0400)

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