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Zuber and Mons


phil andrade
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I'll be stepping back out the thread for a while. I see that a bush war has broken out, in which I have no desire to get involved.

That's a shame Tom. Please just avoid the bush war - it will be dealt with by me/us if it sparks up again - but stay with the topic.

I'm all for constructive disagreement. I'm against the personal attacks and digs that some people also employ when they feel they are not 'winning'. Put simply, I'm fed up to the back teeth of people who 'flame' on this forum and as a consequence stifle quality debate.

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I still look forward to the book. I am not a fan of regimental histories only as there is a wide division of quality between various books. One of the things that gave me problems with the previous book was a failure to grasp the difference between the Imperial army of 1914 and the German Army which came later. While the differences were more telling at the operational level there were specific tactical differences that are apparent in the battle of Lorraine that did not come to the front in the Ardennes. Perhaps Zuber should read the Handbook!

Even though most people find it convenient to call it Germany there really was no completely unified Germany before the first world war. The German Empire which was not found at all until 1871 was just over 40 years old when the war started. Nietzche wrote in 1873 “until now there has been no original German culture.” The empire itself was a cobbled together federation of 25 different states. Each of the states had given up their sovereignty to be part of the empire but had a wide range of powers in governing their internal affairs. Not all of the states were equal, some states having a considerable amount of autonomy while others had very little. While the Imperial German constitution provided for an Imperial Navy, there was no Imperial Army. In fact there were four separate armies.

The renowned historian Holger Herwig recently wrote “After the battle of the Marne, the German army of 1914 was gone forever. It’s tidy division into federalist... Bavarian, Prussian, Saxon, and Württemberg contingents ended, never to be revived.” During the early fighting in 1914 the federalist nature and state independence lead to distinct problems. The third Army was Saxon and the sixth Army was from Bavaria. The former Prussian Minister of War von Heeringen who commanded seventh Army refused to answer requests and queries from the Crown Prince of Bavaria who commanded the six Army. The end result was operational failure during the battle of Lorraine. The Crown Prince of Bavaria commanding six Army also had very poor communication with his higher headquarters and in particular Gen. von Moltke the chief of the Great General Staff based on animosity between the Prussian and Bavarian elements. As the divisions ended out of necessity for the following years of the war we often forget of the divisions that caused so many problems early in 1914.

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Good evening Tom,

Got my copy today but I've another to finish before I read it cover to cover. Quickly flicking through I agree there's a disappointing number of photos; that was one thing that annoyed me about the Ardennes book, he clearly stated that there were no photos existing of the combat of August 1914 and the other books I have of the period include many ! In that book he just touched on the civilian casualtie;, Phil says he covers it in more detail in the Mons book, accepting the version of the regimental histories. Such official histories are hardly likely to admit to the massacre of civilians of all ages !

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Good evening Tom,

Got my copy today but I've another to finish before I read it cover to cover. Quickly flicking through I agree there's a disappointing number of photos; that was one thing that annoyed me about the Ardennes book, he clearly stated that there were no photos existing of the combat of August 1914 and the other books I have of the period include many ! In that book he just touched on the civilian casualtie;, Phil says he covers it in more detail in the Mons book, accepting the version of the regimental histories. Such official histories are hardly likely to admit to the massacre of civilians of all ages !

I think what is so disappointing is that people are still willing to take the alleged conduct towards French and Belgian civilians by the German army and regard it as something separate and distinct from all such other occurrences in the history of warfare. What other examples, often worse than what the Germans allegedly perpetrated, can we find in recent history? The British treatment of the Boers? Imperial Russia's ruthless campaign against the people of the Caucasus? Sherman's March to the Sea? If we're going to be morally outraged about such things, certainly the time has come when we should no longer be hypocritical about it. I personally don't think that Zuber is being as naive as some of the members here seem to be suggesting; if by simply basing his conclusions on what the German sources have to say, he's doing little more than what British historians of the war have been doing for the last 90 years.

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Good evening Ken,

You are quite correct; there are unfortunately many examples of atrocities committed against civilians, both before August 1914 and after then, right up to the present day. I condemn them. Also the WW1 in the west was hardly fought on German soil so I can't say with 100% certainty that in such a situation there wouldn't have been instances of German civilians meeting a similar fate.

We are however looking at what actually happened in WW1 and in particular we are addressing the opening encounters of that war on the Western Front. Several thousand Belgian civilians of all ages and both sexes,young children to old men, were executed in the opening weeks - in any context it is still an atrocity.

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Good evening Ken,

You are quite correct; there are unfortunately many examples of atrocities committed against civilians, both before August 1914 and after then, right up to the present day. I condemn them. Also the WW1 in the west was hardly fought on German soil so I can't say with 100% certainty that in such a situation there wouldn't have been instances of German civilians meeting a similar fate.

We are however looking at what actually happened in WW1 and in particular we are addressing the opening encounters of that war on the Western Front. Several thousand Belgian civilians of all ages and both sexes,young children to old men, were executed in the opening weeks - in any context it is still an atrocity.

Fair enough. I appreciate your reasoned response. I am not denying that there is truth to the allegations, but at the same time I don't think it's justifiable to divorce what allegedly occurred in Belgium and France from the particular circumstances that Germany was confronted with, nor the fact that such tactics had been previously employed by its enemies.

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Fair enough. I appreciate your reasoned response. I am not denying that there is truth to the allegations, but at the same time I don't think it's justifiable to divorce what allegedly occurred in Belgium and France from the particular circumstances that Germany was confronted with, nor the fact that such tactics had been previously employed by its enemies.

Now I'm still waiting for the Zuber Book before replying to this but this raises some questions for me.

What does Ken mean by the particular circumstances that Germany was confronted by and can he substantiate the fact that such tactics had been previously employed by Belgium ?

Carl

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The real problem I have with Zuber and his book on the Ardennes is that I do not accept his premise. He constantly tells us that his book users two separate premises that basically isolate his analysis from operational and strategic thought.While he uses several source documents to detail tactical training I am not certain that he is using the right document -- or correct documents. Over and over again I was given the impression that his analysis was limited to the understanding of a company commander. Now while I do not like the results I commend the man for taking on the topic at all.
Joe, thanks very much for the clarifications. On the issue of Gefechts- and Schulschießen, I got the distinct impression of these two types of training from reading Zuber's book, FWIIW. I went back to several anecdotal sources written by German soldiers. Those who described their training also confirmed these distinctions.

It is interesting how different perceptions can be taken. On the issue of the limited focus (ie at the level of company commander), I didn't perceive that at all. You are right, of course, that this command level was covered. I really appreciated this, as it is seldom covered in other books. But there are many instances where Zuber covers the higher command levels and how they contributed to the evolution of various actions, right up to Army level.

I think he tries to isolate it and focus German success at the tactical level. Lorraine is much more interesting, really forces you to understand operational thought and staggers the mind when one considers casualties.
I agree that Lorraine is very different, though not necessarily more interesting FWIIW. The two regions posed very different tactical and operational issues. Any conclusions about successes or otherwise in the Lorraine cannot be used to counter the body of Zuber's work. Rather, such conclusions merely serve to illustrate that the opening encounter battles were highly complex, separate (at the tactical level) but intertwined (at the operational level) events, as predicted by von Schlieffen.

Thank you again for raising several interesting points for discussion. FWIIW, I agree that Zuber tries to extrapolate too far. By ignoring this aspect of his work, which is a tiny tiny part of the whole, then it is possible to gain deeper insights into what actually happened in the Ardennes during those few days in August (period), IMHO.

Robert

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I am not a fan of regimental histories only as there is a wide division of quality between various books. While the differences were more telling at the operational level there were specific tactical differences that are apparent in the battle of Lorraine that did not come to the front in the Ardennes.

....The former Prussian Minister of War von Heeringen who commanded seventh Army refused to answer requests and queries from the Crown Prince of Bavaria who commanded the six Army. The end result was operational failure during the battle of Lorraine.

Joe, I agree with your concerns about only using regimental histories. Zuber did use other sources too. In particular, I appreciated the use of French sources as well, though there are many more available than he used. Elsewhere I have commented that the book on the Ardennes cannot be considered as a definitive view of the French version of events. More work is needed on this.

On the events in Lorraine, I would be very cautious about ascribing the operational failures to problems between the Prussian and Bavarian commanders. Interstate rivalries were certainly hit upon as a cause at the time, but the detailed tactical analyses have yet to be completed, IMHO. There were many other factors that played a major role in causing the different overall outcome in Lorraine compared with the Ardennes.

Robert

PS: None of my comments should detract in any way from the quality of the Handbook. Excellent work, Joe.

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Coming back to this thread this morning--trying to catch up after a busy week. Really interesting discussion.

I always have to smile a bit when I see an argument crop up about the German Army, "being the best," at anything. I think my perspective is a bit different, in that I've almost only read German sources, and there is more than enough self-criticism going about to convince me that the Germans knew what their problems were--maybe more than later historians.

On the subject of infantry training, this is a critical point. The is ample documentation about to get a very good idea of what was being trained, and how, and tracing this from pre-war through late 1915 is especially informative. Now how it was being applied in the field is another matter. Ralf Rath's " Vom Massensturm zur Stoßtrupptaktik," is a new interesting work on this subject--my only criticism is that it is too short! There is some excellent, and very specific material on German training in the archives in Freiburg. I've not seen it referenced anywhere, so it may have been overlooked.

This is all really good stuff. Examining operations from the ground up is not very easy, but it is, as even Clausewitz pointed out a long time ago, necessary and important.

For anyone interested in the tactics of the period I can recommend without reservation William Balck's voluminous work on tactics. It's free, and in english, and you can download it from the internet. A great starting point for understanding the tactics of the times.

Tactics are difficult to discuss and understand because they have to be grounded in procedure--procedures that are often very foreign to someone sitting at his desk some 90 years later. How is an artillery fire mission conducted? How did a company commander deploy his troops to go into combat?

I read something very interesting just this week--an author was writing about military history and he pointed out much of what is written on the subject had a target audience of officers of that time. Most of the procedural details are not included because they were knowns to the audience. This means that later readers, seperated in time, and also by profession, miss a lot of what is between the lines.

Paul

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I read something very interesting just this week--an author was writing about military history and he pointed out much of what is written on the subject had a target audience of officers of that time. Most of the procedural details are not included because they were knowns to the audience. This means that later readers, seperated in time, and also by profession, miss a lot of what is between the lines.

Paul

I am new to this thread.

I have been appalled to read some of the nasty exchanges.

If such exchanges occurred in a pub, fisticuffs would follow.

Why do people descend to such behaviour ...... is it for an adrenaline rush?

Now to the point quoted above.

I agree entirely.

I have one such example, totally divorced from tactics major or minor, and it is brevet rank in the British Army.

Nobody, but nobody, has explained it, as it was defined and practised in the Great War, to my satisfaction. I have just about every official source which might give a definition comprehensible to a layman. Nothing worth reading. To those that needed to know in 1914, it was known. To those who follow, the greyest of grey areas.

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You are not alone in wondering what exactly a brevet rank is/was. As an accompaniment to reading Zuber's Mons book,( See! I am on topic :innocent: ) I am looking at other relevant works and in Smith-Dorrien's excellent biography," Isandlwhana to the Great War", he twice mentions being awarded brevet ranks. This is done in the passing in a typically modest, unassuming way but the strong impression I got was that they were awarded for doing well, another time he might have got a medal. I remember a non conclusive thread on the subject. Mind, one thing his book emphasises was just how far rules and regulations could be stretched and bent. In the pre-war army, I am more and more convinced that rules were observed at least as much in the breach as the observance.

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I had hoped to give an in depth review of this book but I am struggling with it. Briefly, the British O H is myth, propaganda and fantasy created from whole cloth. The Russians were the aggressors in the Great War and any author who does not agree with this is a fantasist, absurd or an apologist for the Entente. There was no Schlieffen plan ( that was another myth, dealt with and exposed in another Zuber book) so the Vormarsch was not carried out as most books, Reichsarchiv, British OH etc. describe it. I had thought that Zuber had found a novel approach to present a different take on the history of the Great War. Unfortunately, it seems not to be the case. At the moment, I am of the opinion that he has spent too long forming his own picture of the war. He has, I believe, immersed himself totally in the German inter war regimental histories and succumbed to that description of the war, losing all touch with the views of the other participants. Nor is this the most disquieting aspect of this book. We have here a glaring example of an author cherry picking his sources to support his hypothesis. In the process, he is not above partial quoting to actually misrepresent the import of the work he is quoting. I refer to his use of Bidwell and Graham's " Firepower". Zuber's book repeats much of the introductory matter of his book on the Ardennes. The same congratulations and criticisms apply here. This is by way of being an interim review. I found that I could only read his Ardennes book in short stages and this one looks as though it will require the same tactics.

Interim judgement:

A very bad book by a deeply deluded author who does not scruple to misquote and worse, to bolster his completely unsustainable opinions. The really worrying thing is that none of his views are new. They are the views of the defeated German High Command as presented again and again in the inter war period and were the views used to underpin the Nazi myth of the undefeated German Army stabbed in the back by the Jews and socialists. His history of the war bears an unsettling resemblance to that promulgated by Hitler and his cronies.

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I rather think I shall miss out on this one, thank you!

As an aside, I have always had the sneaky feeling that the first few months of the war are more burdened with myth, misconceptions and mischief than any similar period later. This applies also to many British accounts, and to some War Diaries. There were a lot of severely rattled people at all levels, many of whom had a bit of rewriting of history to undertake when the dust settled. Add to which the fog of war, thickest when most mobile.

I shall keep my cash in my pocket. I don't suppose Mr Z. bought any of my books!

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I have always wondered how accurate some of the accounts may be bearing in mind that apart from their immediate experiences and locations, most had little clue of the overall situation and had had very little sleep coupled with great physical exertion. Having bought the book I am going to read it carefully after some of the comments above.

I noticed also that there are no photographs in the book showing the German Infantry and their remarkable prowess in manouvre and fire tactics. The excellent drawings showing these seem to be unattributed but I wonder just how accurate they are.

Also I noticed in the introductory section some sections which could have been lifted from Infantry Training 1912 and the Field Service Pocket Book. Presumably these were just lifted straight from the German manuals and bore no relationship to the way that the British Army actually trained and fought?

I have yet to see in the book any reference to the matter of when taking up a defensive position to hold an enemy advance, the first thing that you restrict is your own power of manouvre, the main idea being to hold an enemy and then withdraw - but then perhaps I am being too simplistic.

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It is interesting how different perceptions can be taken. On the issue of the limited focus (ie at the level of company commander), I didn't perceive that at all.

Robert, I agree! It is very interesting how different interpretations of the same writing can be. That's one of the great values of this forum for me as sometimes different people bring up things I had never thought of. I really appreciate your thoughts.

Relative the company commander comment, this was only a "feeling" and probably an unfair dig at the background of the author. I got the feeling from his constant focus on training and employment of one single element. I was looking for something more integrated and synchronized and I do not believe that the author really appreciated that he was constantly referring to a single instrument from the orchestra. My bias.

On the events in Lorraine, I would be very cautious about ascribing the operational failures to problems between the Prussian and Bavarian commanders. Interstate rivalries were certainly hit upon as a cause at the time, but the detailed tactical analyses have yet to be completed, IMHO.PS: None of my comments should detract in any way from the quality of the Handbook. Excellent work, Joe.

Very wise counsel -- that is really something that we hope to get from looking at regimental histories. Not so much the "facts" as much as the "feel". There may or may not be something there.

Thank you very much Robert for your overly kind comments, I look forward to the Mons book but unfortunately will be waiting more than a month to get it.

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Relative the company commander comment, this was only a "feeling" and probably an unfair dig at the background of the author. I got the feeling from his constant focus on training and employment of one single element. I was looking for something more integrated and synchronized and I do not believe that the author really appreciated that he was constantly referring to a single instrument from the orchestra. My bias.
And a fair description of the relative focus, from a command level perspective.

Robert

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Thank you to all those who heeded the request above to avoid personalised bickerings. As a result a quality discussion has been allowed to emerge with some excellent contributions. Many thanks to all concerned.

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Grumpy,

I have one such example, totally divorced from tactics major or minor, and it is brevet rank in the British Army.

Nobody, but nobody, has explained it, as it was defined and practised in the Great War, to my satisfaction. I have just about every official source which might give a definition comprehensible to a layman. Nothing worth reading. To those that needed to know in 1914, it was known. To those who follow, the greyest of grey areas.

I do not know if this applies for can help you in anyway but I had a similar experience in the modern U.S. Army. When I was selected for Battalion command as a major my superiors decided that I should be "frocked" Or breveted. This required an administrative order from the army commander. I wore the insignia and had the authority of a Lt. Col. I was placed on the housing list as a Lt. Col. however, the reality was I was only major, and I was paid as a major. Reversing this promotion could simply have been done with an administrative stroke of a pen. I don't know if this helps or adds to the confusion!

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I think that US brevet rank equals British acting rank. I fear that British breevt rank is like the Schleswig-Holstein question, which was understood by 3 people, of whom one was dead, one had forgotten and the third had gone mad thinking about it.

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Ahem...we're wandering off the topic Gents! :)

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OK, here's an attempt to get this debate back on topic.

The two reviews we have so far (PJA's & Tom's) have not made it clear which myth about Mons Zuber is actually attempting to expose, but from their posted opinions it seems they have taken great exception to the book's overall tone i.e.

In post #71 PJA says, amongst other things, "Where I recoil from the book - and, I must say, with a sense of outrage - is when Zuber becomes an apologist for Wilhelmite Germany's war policy, arguing that it was a war of defence, and that attempts to pin the blame on German aggression are mistaken at best and downright historical conspiracy at worst."

And in post #88 Tom tells us, amongst other things, that in his opinion, "His history of the war bears an unsettling resemblance to that promulgated by Hitler and his cronies."

Given these highly damning conclusions by Phil & Tom, I would like to ask both of them if they think that what they see as excuser-of-German-aggression/National Socialist tendencies in Zuber's latest work stems directly from his research into the German regimental histories, thus giving further evidence that the seeds of National Socialism started their malignant growth in either the Wilhelmine or immediate post-WW1 German military, or if they think Zuber already held the views they condemn and took them with him when researching this book? In other words, are there any direct quotes to this effect given by Zuber from the regimental histories he cites as being the "truth", or do Phil & Tom think that Zuber superimposes his own general views around any "evidence" he gives from those histories?

Cheers-salesie.

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That's "getting the debate back on topic"? :lol:

Coffee out my nose I'm laughing so hard at that post.

Paul

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I would be cautious about throwing the baby out with the bathwater. FWIIW, I am not too interested in the general conclusions that Zuber makes. As with the Battle of Ardennes, I want to get information about what happened from the German perspectives, particularly from primary sources. Every primary source is flawed in some way. Regimental histories are no exception. But there has been so little material published in English that any improvement on this is helpful. None of the material should be accepted at face value. It must be intersected with material from British and other sources. Zuber does not do this to any degree. That was his choice as an author, and I respect that choice. We have to do the extra work of seeing where the regimental histories (and other German sources) agree and disagree with British accounts. Then a more balanced view of Mons will emerge, IMHO.

Robert

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