I recently finished the book The Myth of the Great War by John Mosier.
This is a revisionist book by a revisionist historian. While there are certainly some issues with the book there are also some broad themes that I agree with. It reads well, although would be better with maps.
The basic message of the book is as follows:
Everything you think you know about WW1 is wrong.
There was no Schlieffen plan. Schliffen knew he didnt have enough troops or rail for it and it was forgotten.
Moltke looked at it and knew there were not enough troops for it.
One step however for the Schlieffen plan would have been the reduction of the Belgian forts. So, Germany had been developing new artillery pieces as had Austria.
The Germany artillery was vastly superior to the allied artillery at the start of the war.
The idea that Germany tried to knock out France and then Russia was not true. Not only did Germany know they could not pull of a Schlieffen plan, they actually anticipated not 2 but 3 fronts (the Balkans).
Its also not true that Germany expected the Russians to take 90 days to mobilize. Germany expected two weeks.
Germany had less armed men than France at the start, but more manpower to draw on.
Most of Frances Industry was in the North, particularly since its major trading partner was Belgium.
So, plan was to occupy northern France and Belgium to put France at a disadvantage in a long war.
The allies suffered by deluding/lying to their government and themselves about the state of affairs.
The German attack on Belgium was stunningly successful yet allies thought Germans were held up and being massacred so did not react quickly.
After fall of Belgium there was maneuver warfare that Germany dominated in. Casualties were 3-1 in Germanys favor.
THERE WAS NO BATTLE OF THE MARNE. It didnt exist. Its a complete fiction. Its a marketing ploy by the Allies. The Germans never moved on Paris and never had orders to. They were trying to outmaneuver the French Army in field as they had done in 1870.
As soon as this failed they settled into strong defensive positions.
The notion of WW1 as masses of troops charging machine guns is only partly true. It is true of the first few months of the war, but that after the winter of 1914-1915 it was true primarily just of the English and French.
When formations met up the Germans went to ground immediately and massacred British and French formations with artillery.
Throughout 1915 the Germans mastered new combined arms techniques in the Argonne and exported this new knowledge throughout the Army.
Because the Argonne was forest their Artillery firepower was weakened so they developed grenades, mortars, and the tactics to use them.
At this point German infantry units at the lowest level have massive amounts of firepower available to them, whereas to the extent British and French troops had firepower it was in separate commands and hard to coordinate.
Casualties continue to be insane on the allies side. the French throw wave after wave of men into pointless battles.
When the French attacks are really strong, the local German commanders are allowed to retreat.
A typical battle is as follows: The French get slaughtered taking a position the Germans retreat from.
The French put out a press release of the great victory. German counterattack take back the position the next morning.
At this point the German infantry hardly fights with rifles at all.
They fight with satchels of explosives, shovels, grenades, and flamflowers backed by massive artillery power.
GermansVerdunNote the lack of rifles in this picture of Germans attacking at Verdun
This new massive amount and use of firepower allows the Germans to cut the amount of infantry men in divisions and send them east. The British and the French, seeing the decline in manpower in the Divisions interpret it as a reinforcement of the belief that they are winning when by any standard they are losing.
They are convinced that German casualties are twice allied casualties when in reality they are half. They see the troop transports to the east as proof that the Germans are weakening in the west when in reality they are stronger than ever.
If the Germans are so weak the Entente powers wonder why their attacks against Germany have been so unsuccessful. They decide that it must be because the Germans are more efficient at shuttling troops around (the Germans carefully took positions with good lateral rail tracks).
The solution then, must be one massive attack across the whole front.
The French dont have the manpower for it so they have to wait for the British to have 1 million + men ready.
So thus the battle of the Somme which did double duty as a means to take pressure of the French at Verdun where conventional wisdom is also wrong. Contrary to conventional wisdom at Verdun,while a bloodbath, the Germans seized a lot of ground that was important for their defenses.
At the Somme, the British and French attacked a strategically useless piece of land. The British were utterly slaughtered. The French performed better because they had started changing their tactics and also their artillery was starting to catch up with the Germans. the employment of tanks was a disaster. However it did cause the Germans to stop operations in Verdun.
1917 is a total disaster for the allies as Romanias quick entry into the war ceases. Italy is smashed, and Russia comes to terms with the Germans. In some places the French do better as they are using better tactics.
However the Americans are on the way. The Germans have to knock out the Allies before America is ready which they think is summer 1918 at the earliest.
They launch the big March 1918 offensive with the goal of smashing the english and then the french.
Its totally successful. They smash the british and whole battalions melt away and then turn and do the same on the French. Casualties are worse than 1914.
The war is won.
However Pershing already has 500,000 men in France. Pershing was smart and astute although a pain in the ass, but his commanders under him were good. The French and British hated him and feared he would steal the glory. They wanted Americans to be cannon fodder in their divisions but Pershing said no way and insisted that they be employed as an American Army.
As the Germans were smashing the British, and then the French, The americans attack at Belleau Wood. Casualties were huge, but the Americans force the Germans out.
This was profoundly disturbing to the Germans. They basically realized that with 2 million Americans on the way they can no longer win the war. Unwilling to sacrifice their men like the allies did, they decide to retreat to their 1917 start line where they have strong defensive positions The Germans have room to retreat all the while inflicting casualties on attackers.
Contrary to popular myth the Americans were well trained. Most were trained by the shattered French Alpine troops who had learned the lessons. Some though were trained by the British in the old way. As a result American casualties were more like the German than the allied.
As the Germans retreat, myth has it that the British made a decisive advance that broke the German front. Nothing is further than the truth. In the last 5 months of the war the British had three times as many killed as it the Somme.
The one and only difference was the highly successful American Army.
As the Germans retreat, the British want to attack through Belgium which is a bad idea because as they retreat the German line would shrink there, meaning that for each km of advance the Germans line becomes shorter and shorter and the Entente longer and longer.
Pershing and Petain together realize the only way is to smash the center with the Americans leading as they have the only fresh troops.
Foch is horrified at the plan because it is clear the Americans will win the war basically on their own. So he goes to Pershing and suggests that the American units be split up and dispersed among the French.
Pershing tells him no way again.
So the Americans attach at St. Michel and gain a decisive victory.
The Americans then attack and the Argonne where the casualties are heavy but progress is made. However the Germans are defending with everything they have. The English and French make progress elsewhere as the Germans retreat in those sectors.
As the Americans advance the Germans panic, and Germany decides to get out of the war. Wilson has offered the 14 points. Germany contacts Wilson to surrender. The French and British are horrified. They have no intention of letting people in occupied countries have a say in their own form of government.
But Wilson says Hey the Germans agree with the points, if you dont, we will stop fighting so the British and French have no choice.
An armistice is reached. The defeated French and British wind up imposing ridiculous terms.
Then the book ends:
Personal comment: If all of this is really true, its impossible NOT to see how Germany would have been itching to re-start the war at a later date. That being said, I have differing views over some of Mosiers assertions. My biggest concern is his portrayal of Verdun as some sort of success for the Germans. Yes they gained some land, and yes they inflicted massive casualties on the French, but it was still not productive. Those troops could have been used productively in the east. The most controversial of his assertions are that there was no Schlieffen Plan and no Battle of the Marne. There is plenty of records of German Officers themselves blaming Moltke for the failure of the Schlieffen Plan, so they at least thought it was in effect. I do agree though that there is nothing really that can be described as a Battle of the Marne and that the German Offensive simply petered out and the Germans withdrew to commanding defensive positions.
All in all its a very readable book and I recommend it highly.