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Directing Operations: British Corps Command on the Western Front 1914-18. Andy Simpson.

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Crunchy

Directing Operations: British Corps Command on the Western Front 1914-18. Andy Simpson. Helion & Company, Warwick, 2019.

 

Andy Simpson's seminal Directing Operations: British Corps Command on the Western Front 1914-18, first published in 2006, has been reprinted in paperback by Helion & Company, with a new preface which considers the impact his book has had on subsequent historical research of the Great War. Not a great deal he concludes from reviewing the work undertaken since 2006. That, however, should not detract from its worth. Deeply researched and well argued, Directing Operations is a splendid analysis of the evolving importance of the Corps level of command within the BEF during the war, and it makes a significant contribution to our understanding of how British command and control over operations was exercised on the Western Front.

 

Written very much in the 'learning process' genre, Simpson follows the evolution of the functions and methods of Corps command and control considered against the pre-war doctrine contained in Field Service Regulations (1909) Part 1 Operations (FSR I) and the SS Series of documents published from late 1916 to the end of the war, both of which he argues were influential. In discussing the British approach, which in fact was flexible in its approach and rooted in the devolution of control, throughout the book Simpson effectively demolishes the claims of the Canadian historian Tim Travers, and of Martin Samuels' highly selective, poorly researched and heavily biased Command or Control? Command, Training and Tactics in the British and German Armies, 1888-1918. Indeed this reviewer heartily concurs with Simpson on both counts, and is reminded of Sir Michael Howard's sage advice that to really understand a subject one must read in width, in depth, and in context - something it seems neither Travers nor Samuels adhere to.

 

In making his case Simpson selects seven Corps for his study ( I, V, VII,VIII, X, XIII and XVIII Corps) providing his reasons for doing so in order to avoid a distorted result. He then launches into his study taking the reader through Corps command and control via the lenses of the selected Corps and the major operations they conducted on the Western Front. In successive chapters we are led chronologically through the initial and largely  'post office' function during the fighting of 1914-15 to a greater involvement in planing and control of assets, especially artillery, at the Somme; Arras and Messines; Third Ypres; Cambrai; the German Offensives of 1918; and the Advance to Victory, finishing with an analyses of the daily life of a Corps commander based on several personal diaries. The last provides a useful insight into the responsibilities and commitments undertaken by Corps commanders.

 

Much of the focus of the book is on the extent to which Corps detailed the planning of operations and subsequently controlled them. Simpson draws his conclusions from a study of the plans, conferences, orders and correspondence of the Corps and commanders under consideration, highlighting the interaction between Army and Corps, and Corps and their subordinate divisions. The methodology and analysis delivers a thorough examination of how the influence and control by British Corps headquarters over operations evolved as the war progressed, and how different methods were employed depending on the operational situation and the experiences gained from previous operations. In doing so, Simpson concludes that both the pre-war FSR I and the wartime the SS Series of pamphlets resulting from lessons learned provided a sound basis for conducting operations. Presented in a cogent and easily read style, the result makes convincing reading.

 

Simpson threw fresh light on British command methods, and highlighted the growing importance of the Corps level of command within the British Army when Directing Operations was published over a decade ago. Nothing has been written since to challenge it, and thus it stands as a seminal and important work on the subject. For those wishing to understand how the British really practiced command and control not only at Corps level, but in general, Directing Operations is a must read.

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Steven Broomfield

£19.95, but currently on offer at £17-something on the Helion website.

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Black Maria
8 minutes ago, Steven Broomfield said:

£19.95, but currently on offer at £17-something on the Helion website.

They sell their books on Amazon under the name Dagwoods Books , currently £9.51 ( plus £2.80 p&p) on that site .

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Skipman
13 minutes ago, Black Maria said:

They sell their books on Amazon under the name Dagwoods Books , currently £9.51 ( plus £2.80 p&p) on that site .

 

They are used books, I think, but good spot Click

 

Mike

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Black Maria
5 minutes ago, Skipman said:

 

They are used books, I think, but good spot Click

 

Mike

Thanks . They are the new paperback reprint , the same ones that Helion are selling on their official site only cheaper .

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paulgranger
11 minutes ago, Black Maria said:

Thanks . They are the new paperback reprint , the same ones that Helion are selling on their official site only cheaper .

Yes, all Helion books via Dagwood are new, and I always wait for any I am looking for to appear on the Dagwood list before I buy. 

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Skipman
16 minutes ago, Black Maria said:

Thanks . They are the new paperback reprint , the same ones that Helion are selling on their official site only cheaper .

 

 

OK thanks. Does the author lose out in these deals, or does the book company take the hit?

 

Mike

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Black Maria
1 hour ago, Skipman said:

 

 

OK thanks. Does the author lose out in these deals, or does the book company take the hit?

 

Mike

Don't know I'm afraid , but as a buyer I do the same as paulgranger and buy from Dagwoods.

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seaJane
2 hours ago, Skipman said:

 

 

OK thanks. Does the author lose out in these deals, or does the book company take the hit?

 

Mike

Both, I think. Authors paid by percentage.

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Steven Broomfield

Thanks. Good tip re: Dagwood's.

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josquin

Excellent review of an important contribution to our understanding of the evolution of British Army command and control

in the Great War.  Your review does justice to the quality of Simpson's work and its importance for correcting the

serious inadequacies of prior works addressing tactical command, control, operations and logistics.

 

Josquin

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nigelcave
On 13/03/2019 at 10:00, Skipman said:

 

 

OK thanks. Does the author lose out in these deals, or does the book company take the hit?

 

Mike

Depends on a range of factors, such as the size of the second print run after the first - and on the contract, of course.

 

A second print run is more financially beneficial to the publisher, in the sense that production costs (e.g. setting/design; editing and proofing; cover design) have (presumably) been covered. It is for that reason, I suppose, that the norm is a reprint rather than a new edition, which brings in a lot of extra costs.  Print costs themselves are relatively cheap in real terms, I think, compared to ten years or so ago; and short run reprints are certainly a significantly cheaper option than they were. One of the not insignificant costs is warehouse storage for titles.

Edited by nigelcave

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Skipman

Thank you Nigel.

 

Mike

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