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Remembered Today:

All The Kaiser's Men


Robert Dunlop

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Robert Dunlop

Subtitle: 'The life and death of the German Army on the Western Front 1914-1918'

Sutton Publishing (ISBN 0 7509 2881 6)

The author had served in the modern British Army. He spent time in Germany. From this period of service came his interest in representing the effects of the First World War from the perspective of the German Army.

The book covers the key major battles on the Western Front only. There is a synopsis of the military and political background to the war. Then there are chapters on the period August-September 1914, First Ypres, 1915, Verdun, The Somme, Arras and Nivelle's offensive in early 1917, Messines and Third Ypres, Cambrai, the 1918 Spring offensives and the final defeat. The military information is interspersed with reviews of what was happening to the German people at home.

The vast bulk of Passingham's book is available in other histories of the war. I have read several of the quotes that he has used from German sources in other historical works as well. Of necessity, Passingham has condensed quite complex issues into some rather broad sweeping statements. This has more to do with the relatively concise nature of the book. Personally, I don't like his style of ascribing personal attributions but this is a minor issue.

Overall, the book is well researched, well written and easily readable. It gives a good overview of the impact of the First World War, through the early successes, the retreat and then the setbacks of First Ypres, the easy defence of the Western Front in 1915, and then the steady inexorable grinding down of the German military machine during the remainder of the war. There is a reasonable sprinkling of anecdotes and poems, some interesting photographs, and most of the maps come from German sources. The bibliography is extensive, particularly on German source material.

I think this book is best suited to someone who is relatively new to the First World War and would like a summary of the German Army on the Western Front. For those who have studied the war in more detail, it has much less to offer. Well worth waiting until it appears in discount bookstores I would have thought. Or at the very least, browse thoroughly before you buy new.

Robert

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Can I second Robert's comments. For me I took heart of the comments in the preface - in particular Passingham's comment that

"Germany was unquestionably at the heart of the bloody conflicts that marked the first half of the twentieth century. Therefore, Germanymust be the place to go to fully understand the context, rather than the myth, of the First World War"

For me this is the statement which should herald a volume giving a true understanding of the Germans and WW1. The context, inevitably sould incorporate the political climate and German aspirations from 1870 onwards. It should also outline the climate of 1918 which allowed the seeds of WW2 to be sown out of the establishment distancing itself from the "loosing" of the Great War, which must be seen as "loosing" but not a defeat of the Germans. It is an uncomfortable parallel with the events we have seen in Iraq and the way the "Gulf War" opened the path for the more recent "conflict".

Sadly some 5 pages or so take us from 1871 to 1914 and the context and impact of the last months of the war are similarly thinly treated.

Similarly the interplay between conditions at the front and privations at home is not expanded and it is here also that there is still much to be discovered.

I feel that this volume is a great missed opportunity to contribute to new thinking on the war and Germany.

Now, call me an anorak, but I find increasingly that I turn to the bibliography of a new volume for two reasons. Firstly it gives me a measure of the extent of research undertaken for the volume and secondly if often introduces me to new sources and published books.

While it is extensive and highlights a number of German sources, not least translated pamphlets held at the IWM some of the attributions are less than accurate. The British Official History (Military Operations, France & Belgium 1914 - 1918) is credited in its entirety to HMSO. In fact 1914, 1915, 1916 and parts of 1917 & 1918 were published by Macmillans. The War in the Air is credited as authored by H A Jones and published by HMSO and Hamish Hamilton (1928/1969). The original publisher was in fact Clarendon Press (OUP) and one of the volumes was authored by Walter Raleigh. More recent and more accessible reprints are not mentioned. Whilst this may seem a relatively minor point it does not help anyone searching for these volumes to read or order for loan from a public library. What is more it is a mistake that should not be made in a volume aspiring to quality and costing £25.

None the less it is not a lightweight volume and provides fair coverage of the German contribution to the war. It is also well illustrated and, as Robert says, is a useful introduction to this topic for the beginner. I would also venture to say that it is also worth reading if your view of the war has been essentially an allied one. It is not, however, the landmark in the literature of the Germans and WW1 that it could have been.

Martin

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Robert Dunlop
I would also venture to say that it is also worth reading if your view of the war has been essentially an allied one. It is not, however, the landmark in the literature of the Germans and WW1 that it could have been.

Martin

I would agree with both sentiments.

Robert

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Guest Koert Debyser
It should also outline the climate of 1918 which allowed the seeds of WW2 to be sown out of the establishment distancing itself from the "loosing" of the Great War, which must be seen as "loosing" but not a defeat of the Germans.

Are there other books you could recommend that go in more detail regarding this?

Tx,

Koert

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Robert Dunlop

One of the best books that sets the scene is:

'Victory must be ours: Germany in the Great War 1914-1918' by L Moyer (ISBN 0 85052 439 3).

It is important to consider the run-up to 1918 and then the terrible aftermath to 11 November, with the ongoing blockade. The above book does this - it is very powerful stuff. The effects of the blockade during the war are not referred to often. It is even rarer for people to be reminded about what happened after the armistice!

Robert

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David_Blanchard

I would also recommend Holger H Herwig:

'The First World War: Germany and Austria- Hungary 1914-1918' (1997)

and also;

Roger Chickering:

'Imperial Germany and the Great War, 1914-1918' (1998)

I was disappointed to read the reviews of Passingham's book. Has he much to say about the German Spring Offensive?

That perhaps isn't included in Martin Kitchen's recent book : 'The German Offensives of 1918'

David

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Robert Dunlop

There are 37 pages devoted to all of the German offensive operations in the Spring of 1918. Essentially, Passingham's gives a high level overview. The subsequent 100 days is even more sparse. Both chapters would be interesting for someone who knows nothing about this phase of the war. They do not add anything new. These chapters felt like they were created because the book needed finishing and most of the detailed research had been done on some of the earlier battles.

There are several books that are MUCH better for the German Spring offensives.

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Robert Dunlop
Has he much to say about the German Spring Offensive?

That perhaps isn't included in Martin Kitchen's recent book : 'The German Offensives of 1918'

Definitely no.

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I must agree that "Victory must be ours" (Moyer) is essential reading on this aspect.

A lot of background reading here tends to relate to the German Economy and Social order.

Two volumes I found very helpful in portraying the context of what went on are:

Germany after the first world war

Richard Bessel

Clarendon Press (OUP)

HB 1993

PB 1995

AND

The First World War 1914-1918

Gerd Hardach

Allen Lane 1977 and subsequently in Paperback

Though difficult at times these two, in conjunction with Moyer should provide enough to set anyone thinking about the German experience. What they do not so easily do is cross link to the German Army in the field.

As, specifically, for the German establishment distancing itself from the capitulation you have only to look at the way (and the names) chosen to act on behalf of Germany as plenipotentiaries (try spelling that after a good night out...).

An informal account by a British Naval observer (Bagot) at Compiegne gives some fascinating pen portraits of the German plenipotentiaries. It is interesting that the German army representative (General Detlev von Winterfeldt, a Royal Prussian Army Divisional General) was only identified at the last minute with Generals Gundell & Groener having managed to escape this duty".

Erzberger, the politician, was one of the "dreaded" socialists on the fringe of German government. He conveniently came from a family lacking in "worth" his father having been a "mere" postman.

Oberndorff was a Foreign office diplomat who was, seemingly, past his "sell by" date.

Lastly Capitan zur See Ernst Vanselow represented the German Navy. Vanselow was chosen from two naval men present at Spa at the time. Vanselow had commanded the battleship KAISER since September (a matter of weeks) and was hardly at the helm of the German Navy.

Vanselow was the most interesting choice and one might wonder whether the following thirty years would have been different had the chosen representative of the German Navy been the other naval man at Spa - Capitan Erich Raeder who then commanded the cruiser KOLN.

There is no doubt that the plenipotentiaries became outcasts. Erzberger notably survived several attempted assainations before he was finally murdered during 1921 by two men that the German state consicuously failed to bring to trial until after another world war was over.

As you might realise I find this an absolutely fascinating and remarkably unexplored aspect of Germany & the Great War.

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David_Blanchard

I would also like to give a plug to David Welch's study:

'Germany, Propaganda and Total War 1914-1918' (2000). A very extensive bibliography, an excellent cover.

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Robert Dunlop
As you might realise I find this an absolutely fascinating and remarkably unexplored aspect of Germany & the Great War.

I agree. It is extraordinary how little reference is made to the devastating effects of the blockade, especially after 11 November 1918. I think it was quite shameful that post-war Germany was subjected to this. It is easy to understand the sentiments behind the action, but that does not excuse it.

Robert

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I would add "The King's Depart" by Richard M. Watt to the must-read list. It covers the mess that was Europe between the Armistice and about 1922, with the majority being about post-war Germany. Spartacists, Kyffhauserbund, Freikorps, the quite extraordinary goings on at Versailles during the peace conference, the attempts by Bavaria to become independent, this has it all. I found it quite gripping and learned much. (And, from the other side as it were, "To lose a battle", by Alastair Horne, covering what was going on in France - although this is only the opening chapters of an account principally - and brilliantly - about 1940).

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  • 6 months later...

I'm sorry to say I bought it and read it. Sad. I could have invested the time elsewhere. I would say beginners book. I'm a Herwig book fan if for no other reason( I have lots of good reasons) than the notes. Well researched!

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Joe,

Not withstanding my earlier comments I do feel that there is value in virtually every book. In some cases, though, is is only that it makes you think and encourages you to realise that there is more to the story - or even a different story.

I hope no one ever makes the mistake of believing that because it was in a book it can be considered as "the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth". A good historian is one who considers the sources as well as the views of other and then makes up their own mind. My own research which is often triggered by reading others has, on a number of occasions, shown that even noted historians may get it wrong.

Regards,

Martin

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Martin,

Thanks, and I agree ... just was dissapointed. I look forward to Moyer. I spend most of my time doing pickelhaube books and trying to understand the Kaiser's Army pre-war. I can never get enough! I love all the comments here!

VR/ Joe

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