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The Guns of August - Barbara Tuchman


Saluki
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When reading the "Becoming Trader Joe" book, he mentioned that this book was one of his favorites.  It won the Nobel Prize for literature, so I figured that with two recommendations like that, it must be good. I listened to the Audiobook (16 hours on audio, almost 1000 pp on paper).  It's a very thorough look at the first 6 months of the First World War (well, the First World War if you don't count the Seven Years War, which we call "The French and Indian War" in US Schools). 

 

It's basically a battle of two different tactics.  Thorough planning by the Germans following the "Schlieffen Plan" which had taken years to prepare and had troop movements planned down to the hour in some cases versus the improvisation and "Elan!" of the French, aided by not enough Brits, and some eager but not well prepared or equipped Russians. The writing is excellent and some of the quotes are great prose and saltier than anything you can find on twitter.  For instance, the inexperienced German Crown Prince was put in charge of one of the German armies.  He gave out a LOT of bronze crosses to his men after battles. "The only way to serve in his army and avoid getting one was to commit suicide". 

 

It's fascinating to see how many bad decisions there were, and how many chances there were to change the tide of the war with small decisions.  For instance, in the first days of the war the Germans captured some territories where there was lots of iron ore, and agriculture.  This allowed the war to persist at a standstill for years because they were able to keep up military production and feed the nation, which would've been impossible otherwise since they were surrounded on all sides by land and cut off from the sea by the British navy.  And the Schlieffen plan counted on marching through Belgium and not putting up a fight.  The Belgians fought back and blew up train tracks and bridges which slowed the advance and ruined the perfect plan. The Germans had to follow the plan, and the Belgians weren't cooperating.  But if they hadn't invaded  Belgium, it would've remained neutral, and the UK wouldn't have gotten involved.  Fighting the UK led to attacking merchant ships which eventually got the US involved.  Why not just stay clear of Belgium?  The Schlieffen  plan took years to prepare, so without the Belgium part,  you would need a new plan.  You can't just improvise in a war, right? 

 

Also, as is clear from the Ukraine/Russia situation where drones and anti-tank handheld weapons are tipping the scales, the generals are always planning to fight the previous war.  Calvary and Bayonet assaults were used by both sides early in the war and they both learned how useless that is against a dug in opponent with a few machine guns.   (Not mentioned in this book, but when the British first used Tanks towards the end of the war, the man who had been pushing for them for years, asked for 50 of them so that they could run then in a formation, over the barbed wire and trenches and wipe out the whole enemy line.  He was told by the general that it was a stupid idea.  The General thought the way that you use a tank is punch a hole in the barbed wire lines, then send in your Cavalry to cut the enemy down with lances and sabres. )

 

 

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I have read so many world war books (40+ no jokes) that I cannot recall if I read this one.

 

But if I recall (and if I have indeed read it) the book gives an impression of an Europe slowly sleepwalking into a world war in the last glorious sunny days of August and not knowing what was about to happen. 
 

On the Schiefflan Plan, it needed two elements. A very strong General Staff , which the Germans had, and a strong leader, which they did not, for alas Moltke the Younger was not his great uncle. 
 

I don’t recall details on the crown prince, but I would say that they were backed by very able general staff. Even on the eastern front, which was under the titular leadership of Hindenburg, a military man, it was Lundendorff that lead the armies, and even then it was really Colonel Hoffman the glue. 

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2 hours ago, Saluki said:

  The Schlieffen  plan took years to prepare, so without the Belgium part,  you would need a new plan.  You can't just improvise in a war, right? 

 

 Calvary and Bayonet assaults were used by both sides early in the war and they both learned how useless that is against a dug in opponent with a few machine guns. 


improvise is what the German did in 1940 by going through the Ardenne forest. round 2. 
 

I maybe wrong, but earlier in 1939, Polish defenders, some of them were charging Germans with old school cavalry. 


PS: there we go. Thank god for Wiki

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charge_at_Krojanty

Edited by Xerxes
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