The Guns of August, Barbara W. Tuchmann

The Guns of August

The dis-oriented author has not read much on the Great War. I was pleased, therefore, to find Barbara Tuchmann’s Pulitzer Prize winning, The Guns of August about the forst 30 days of the First World War.

Of course I knew some of the broad themes; tangled alliances, military build-up and the optimistic view that any conflict would be short. I also knew that the war quickly bogged down in the trenches and became a war of attrition. Tuchmann’s book helped me to focus and see the sequence of events leading up to and into the conflict.

This book helped me to see how the war evolved.

Tuchmann’s book spells out the sequence of events leading up to the Great War. In the book I learned about the various players. The Germans thought that they would wage a short war attacking France through neutral Belgium. The French were planning a counter attack against the German rear. The Belgians refused to allow foreign reinforcements on their soil since they did not want to violate their own neutrality. The British were not certain how much help to give. The Russians were committed to attacking Germany if Germany attacked France.

The Belgians were between a rock and a hard place. If they accepted foreign military aid, they would violate the terms of the 1839 Treaty of London. The Germans had no such compunctions — they took advantage of Belgium’s neutrality and invaded. The world watched while Belgium tried to hold out but it was too late. After reading the book, I was left with several what ifs. This was one, what if the allies had reinforced Belgium.

In the circles I frequent, the French are often criticized for not defending themselves in the WWI and WWII. The French had several problems in this war, among them confusion in the command structure. One of the biggest flaws in the French military culture was the idea of elan. French officers were taught to wage an aggressive war, their only thought was attack. Unfortunately this conflict called for the stronger position of defense. It was heretical to even suggest a garrison-style defense, a defense that might have held against the Germans.

The British sent an Expeditionary Force to the continent but it was not coordinated with the French or Belgian command structures. The BEF commander, Sir John French was altogether too timid and missed opportunities to commit his forces decisively to battle. When he could have held up the French left, his unbloodied troops held back and did not commit.

The Russians were still reeling from their brief and costly war with Japan. The Czar would soon be deposed and the Russians failed to drain resources from the Western Front an lessen pressure on the French.

This was an exceptional book.

The Guns of August gets 5 of 5 dis-oriented smileys  ;-) ;-) ;-) ;-) ;-)

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1 Comment

One Comment

  1. Thank you for your sons’ service in the military and for this great review. It was a pleasure to read this and became really helpful for me.

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