Monday, January 01, 2007

06.41 The Guns Of August by Barbara W. Tuchman


The Guns Of August (1962) by Barbara W. Tuchman
Pbk., Presidio Press; Reprint Edition, 640 pp.

The Guns Of August is one of the most respected military history books covering WWI. The books thesis is that France and Germany were on a collision course for war irrespective of events that happened as they did. If it had not been the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand then there would undoubtedly have been another casus belli.

The book covers the events from the death of King Edward VII in 1910 up to the beginning of the war but focuses primarily on the month of the wars outbreak in August, 1914. Germany had become a country driven by a desire to assert its hegemony in Europe and was emboldened by it's successes in the Franco-Prussian war. They had developed the Schlieffen Plan which envisioned a vast encirclement of the French army by driving through neutral Belgium and falling upon the rear of the assembled armies in France.

France, in turn, was naturally bitter from their previous losses and in particular the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine. She lobbied for Britain to become involved but that country was riven with political paralysis over sending troops to Europe. The eventual invasion of Belgium finally forced Britain to send 4 divisions of a British Expeditionary Force (BEF) across the channel. The Belgians, in a complete surprise to the Germans, fought back from a series of forts which were eventually destroyed by giant artillery guns.

Meanwhile, Russia was being encouraged to join the war and open an Eastern front in the hopes of drawing German troops away from France. Although Russia was vast in size, they had a military in disarray. Their officer corp was vastly top heavy and the military infrastructure and logistics inferior. For example, Russian railroads had a different gauge from those of Germany to slow invasion. This however, caused massive problems for an invasion into Germany.

Tuchman then outlines the major battles and players over the course of the first month of the war. The German army met the French and the BEF along the border in a series of battles that resulted in massive casualties (about 250,000 for the French alone in the first month).

The book is a masterwork of writing. The author gives a clear overview of the scope of the war in Europe and you really get a sense of who the major players were with their strengths and flaws revealed. A fine piece of historical writing.

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