Learning about the First World War through German eyes


From OUP Blog by Jonathon Boff author of Haig’s Enemy: Crown Prince Rupprecht and the Germany’s War on the Western Front:

Thanks to the ongoing centenary commemorations, interest in the First World War has never been higher. Whether it be through visiting the poppies at the Tower, touring the battlefields of Belgium and France, tracking grandad’s war or digging in local archives to uncover community stories – unprecedented numbers of people have come face to face with their history in new and exciting ways. There are a few aspects missing from the commemorations held so far, however. For instance, there’s so much about the dead that we forget the sacrifices made by those soldiers who survived (nearly 90% of them) as well as by those who stayed at home.

Equally, we tend to focus narrowly on the Western Front, when this was, after all, called a ‘world war’ for good reason. In this article, though, I want to concentrate on another aspect I think we have too often missed during the centenary. It would be easy, observing the commemorations of the past four years, to think that this was a British-only event. The fact that British soldiers fought alongside allies, most obviously the French, and against human enemies, most notably the Germans, is often skipped over, and we tend to look at the war from an exclusively British perspective. If, however, we see the war, not through that familiar lens, but through German eyes, we can learn a lot and challenge some hoary old myths. Here are five examples:

1) The German Army

Myth: The German army was a superb tactical instrument, a true meritocracy with a very flexible system of command which enabled fast responses and great flexibility. It learnt and adapted to the challenges of the new warfare with speed and skill, developing ‘stormtroop’ tactics in the attack, and elastic ‘defence in depth’ tactics when under threat, both of which underpin modern tactics even today.

Reality: The weaknesses within the German army contributed greatly to its defeat. The officer corps was riven with cliques and patronage. Senior commanders interfered all the time in the operations of their subordinates. It was overtaken in the race to innovate by the British and French, who created new ways of fighting by 1918 to which the Germans could find no answer.

Read the rest of the article at OUP Blog

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