The Guns of August, by Barbara Tuchman, is a history of the first month of World War I and its climax at the Battle of the Marne. She tells of the prelude to the war, as tensions left unresolved by wars twenty years earlier led inexorably towards the outbreak of hostilities in 1914. She leads us through the formation of alliances between all the European countries, into the discussions and analysis of strategy on both sides of the war. She leads us from the twilight of the pre-war era at the turn of the century through the first month of the war. If events had occurred only slightly differently, the Germans might have won the war in the first thirty days-as it was, the war dragged on for several years after the Battle of the Marne, leaving millions dead and the countryside and economies of all of Europe decimated.
Although of course I knew the outcome of the war before reading The Guns of August, Tuchman did an admirable job of bringing a genuine suspense to the tale. Her detailed study of the theories of war by both sides, and the bold preparations made in advance of the war by the Germans, brought great life to the history. A couple of things really stood out for me Guns for sale Germany.
I was reminded how inevitable World War I seemed to the people at the time. Turn of the Century European literature and art have a certain wistful, between worlds feeling to them. As if they knew that the world in which they lived was soon to change forever. The Guns of August captures that feeling of inevitability perfectly. The war academies of Germany and France actively, thoroughly and explicitly prepared for war with one another. The politicians hustled around forming alliances… it all seemed so obvious.
What surprised me about the history was how often the generals and other military leaders ignored or countermanded instructions they received from superiors. The Germans certainly had adequate communications, but the field commanders quite frequently simply took things into their own hands, advancing or retreating as they saw fit. The strategic commanders sometimes reformulated their plans to adopt the more successful elements on the field. Strangely, none of the mavericks were disciplined in any way, apparently. It’s hard to imagine that sort of free-wheeling today.
The disarray of French preparations was perhaps equally startling. Despite the certainty for years in advance that war would break out between France and Germany, the French were woefully unprepared in artillery and communications. Some of the French generals scorned heavy artillery, and most of them scorned defensive preparations, believing instead in “elan!” (spirit, or finesse) and the attack. Unfortunately for the French troops, the Germans were a little more up to date, and they shelled tens of thousands of French soldiers into oblivion.
When the Germans seized the offensive and were closing in on Paris, communications were in such a state that the French were reduced to uncoded wireless communications. The Germans knew as soon as the French did what the French plans were. But no one seemed to know exactly where all the armies were.
The prevailing theory among all the warring parties was that the entire war would be terminated by complete conquest within a month or two of its inception. The French were as convinced that they would overrun Germany (hence their rallying cry: “Attack!”) as the Germans were that they would take France. Nobody believed that anybody could sustain the war beyond a few months. Ironic that they could all be so wrong after years of planning and thought.
The only faults I could find with the book were that its focus on the personalities of the warriors occasionally bordered on being too gossipy for my tastes, and the extremely complex movement of the armies in the final days of August were recounted a little confusingly. Perhaps it would have been impossible to be any clearer, though, considering that over two million men, in several different armies under different generalship, were all on the move at that time.