anzac sari bairSubtitle:  (Battleground Europe; Gallipoli)

Series Editor: Nigel Cave

Author: Stephen Chambers

ISBN: 9781781591901

Publisher and Date of Publication: Pen & Sword Military 2014

Length etc: 244 pp. with numerous black and white illustrations and maps. Notes, Order of Battle, Index, Bibliography and Recommended Further Reading.

This book is an outstanding contribution to the history of the Gallipoli campaign, covering the August 1915 offensive by British and Commonwealth forces which were met by stiff resistance by the Turkish forces. Covering locations including the attritional battles at Lone Pine, the Nek, Chunuk Bair, Hill 60 and others, the book follows the familiar Battleground Europe format. The first section deals with the historical events that took place during the offensives, and the second section provides descriptions of recommended tours for the battlefield visitor or, in this case, visitors: as the author strongly recommends that the tours should not be undertaken by lone visitors who might find themselves disorientated by the challenging topography of the region, in much the same way that many units found themselves in the wrong locations during the events that unfolded in August 1915.

In the first section, the author's excellent use of survivors' accounts of the actions that they were involved in, presented a compelling picture of courage and 'mateship' amongst the poor bloody infantry, alongside the tragedy of inadequate planning and leadership amongst some of the most senior ranks.

The section dealing with the tours provides a comprehensive guide, encouraging visitors to see for themselves the nature of the landscape in which men were asked to achieve the impossible and, at the numerous cemeteries in the peninsula, to reflect on the lives of those who had fallen; the majority having no known grave.

As I am no expert on the Gallipoli campaign, I took the opportunity to check other reviews of the book on the Amazon.co.uk website, finding (at the time of writing this review) that the eight reviews posted all gave the highest five star ranking. I would wholeheartedly concur with this. It may well be my unfamiliarity with the detail of the campaign, and its geography, that made me feel that a marginal improvement could be made in any future edition of the book by linking the text in the first section of the book more closely to specific maps. It was not always clear to me which of the many maps included would be best to refer to when trying to match the textual description of specific military actions with the complex geography of the area. However, this comment should not be allowed to undermine the importance and excellence of Stephen Chambers' book, which complements his already impressive range of guides on Gallipoli.

Reviewed by Chris Payne

 

naval battles first world warWritten by Geoffrey Bennett

ISBN Number 1473821118

Pen and Sword Books 2014. Originally published by B T Batsford Ltd 1968

313pp with photographs and maps

The author, Captain Geoffrey Bennett, was born in 1909 and served in the Royal Navy between 1923 and 1955. He earned the DSC while serving with Force H in the Mediterranean and between 1953 and 1955 was Naval Attaché in Moscow, Warsaw and Helsinki. After retirement in 1955 he became a full time author and wrote a number of books on naval history. Several of these works are to be found in the reviewer's library. Naval Battles of the First World War was originally published in 1968, Captain Bennett died in 1983.

There has been a considerable amount of research into the naval war since the original date of publication and it therefore has to be said right off the top that the book is somewhat dated. There are a few other issues as well.

At the end of the first chapte, Captain Bennett states that the failure of Germany to achieve an early victory on land allowed time for sea power to play a decisive role in the outcome of the war. Though conceding that the Western Front dominated the strategy of the Entente powers and later the Americans, the author asserts "...it was their navies, of which the British was immeasurably the strongest, that in the end brought Germany to her knees. And this is the theme of all that follows...."

Not everyone would subscribe to this view, and some might argue that the defeat of the German Army on the Western Front was more important in bringing about Germany's defeat in 1918. Regardless of personal viewpoints, however, after such a strong statement the reviewer expected that Captain Bennett would build his case and explain how the navy brought Germany to its knees. It was expected that there would be much on the achievements of the British blockade in cutting off the flow of supplies. In fact there was nothing and not much on Germany's U-Boat blockade of Britain either.

To understand the direction the book actually takes one has to look no further than the title, though perhaps it should be more accurately titled British Naval Battles of the First World War. As mentioned above, Captain Bennett wrote a number of books on naval history including a biography of Lord Charles Beresford, accounts of the Battle of Jutland, the Battles of Coronel and Falkland, and a lively telling of the naval war against the Bolsheviks in the Baltic in 1919/20; Cowan's War. He was a good writer and his books, including this one, have a good balance of narrative and analysis.

However, with Naval Battles of the First World War the reviewer gets the sense that he focused on the topics he had already produced books on (Jutland and Coronel/Falklands) and then added little bits on other aspects of Britain's naval war to try and fill in the gaps. As a result from a book of 313 pages we get 87 pages on the Emden, Konigsberg and Von Spee's victory at Coronel and defeat at the Falkland Islands. We get 121 pages on Jutland and the post-war controversy. But we only get 21 pages on the war in the Mediterranean, including Gallipoli, and the U-Boat war is tackled in under 20 pages with a good amount of that dealing with Q-Ships. There is nothing on the Royal Navy's distant blockade.

If a reader is new to Great War naval history, Naval Battles of the First World War is a well written and lively account of many of Britain's naval battles. On this level I can recommend it. However, if the reader is a veteran of the issues and debates of the Great War at sea, this book is probably not for them. Its drawbacks are threefold. First, a great deal of research on the naval war has taken place since it was first published in 1968 and so it is quite dated. Serious students will want to look for something more contemporary. Second, it is not balanced as to the amount of space devoted to the various aspects of the war being described. Jutland is naturally very important, but almost 40% of the book is devoted to the North Sea clash with over 25% focused on the destruction of the German cruisers of Von Spee's East Asiatic Squadron. The small number of pages devoted to the U-Boat War is a serious limitation given the crisis of Britain's merchant ship losses by April 1917.

Finally the author does not develop his thesis on how the Royal Navy "brought Germany to her knees". There is a complete absence of information dealing with the Royal Navy's distant blockade and, from the emphasis of Captain Bennett's narrative, if one accepts he is actually making his case for bringing Germany to her knees, one must infer that he is saying it was brought about through the Royal Navy's ability to deal with a handful of isolated cruisers early in the war and then after Jutland by bottling up the German High Seas Fleet in its harbours.

The Royal Navy did play an important role in the defeat of Imperial Germany. Whether it played the decisive role, as asserted in Chapter 1, is open to debate. Whichever side of the debate one favours though, Captain Bennett is unconvincing because he never really brings forward the evidence to support his contention. He probably never really intended to. He had already written books on Coronel/Falklands and Jutland. One feels he simply re-worked these and added a few additional bits to fill in the gaps.

Naval Battles of the First World War is a readable and lively telling of some very important naval battles of the First World War. It is fine for someone just getting their feet wet, so to speak, in the study of the First World War at sea. I would not recommend it for seasoned naval history veterans and even beginners might want to look for something a bit more contemporary.

Reviewed by Paul McNicholls

 

battle aisneThe BEF and the Birth of the Western Front

Written by Jerry Murland

ISBN: 9781848847699

Pen and Sword Military, an imprint of Pen & Sword Ltd, Barnsley, 2012

pp. 211 plus photographs, notes, two appendices and bibliography.

At its core, this book is a detailed unit-level account of BEF actions on the Aisne, from the arrival of the vanguard on the southern heights overlooking the valley during the evening of 12 September 1914, until the issue by GHQ of Operational Order No 26 at 8.30pm on the evening of 15 September, which not only "effectively signalled the beginning of positional warfare on the Aisne" but also, in the opinion of the author, marked the birth of the Western Front. But the book is much more than this.

The introduction and the first three chapters provide an absorbing overview of the trials and travails of the BEF, from its assembly in France during August 1914, until its arrival on the Aisne. It includes a summary of the deployment and movement of the German Army to "parry the blow" of the British and French armies on the Aisne, following its retreat from the Marne. The concluding chapters give an account of the early experience and learning of trench warfare; the experiences of the Sixth Division of the BEF on its later arrival on the Aisne on 19 September, having been released from its 'home guard' role in early September; the lessons learnt by the end of the Aisne, on the strategic and tactical use of artillery and aircraft; and the experiences of prisoners of war of both sides.

The final chapter covers the withdrawal of the BEF from the Aisne in early October, the distinct change in the nature of the fighting following the Aisne clashes, the heavy casualty toll on the Aisne (650 officers and 12,000 other ranks killed), the awards won - which included seven VCs - and a poignant telling of what subsequently happened to the principal characters whose diaries, letters and reports are referred to in the text. The author draws his own final line under the Aisne campaign in the last sentence of the book, which is a reflective quotation from an RAC volunteer driver: "The Aisne we had reached with such sanguine hopes twenty-one days before was still the high water mark of our advance".

At times, the account of the unit engagements in the key three days of mid-September reads like a ferocious and merciless adventure story. The brutality and intense confusion of the fighting on the formidable natural barrier formed by the river and the lower slopes of the Chemin des Dames - a barrier that the Germans had been given time to exploit - is brought out in forceful fashion in the many extracts from personal diaries and memoirs. The ruthlessness of the fighting is demonstrated by many 'white flag' incidents and the pandemonium is brought home by the numerous 'friendly fire' events. Readers who relish the fine detail of battles will be very impressed by the depth of the author's analysis; others might need to review the odd section here and there to fully digest episodes as they unfold. Maps are included but, as is often the case, they are the least detailed part of the narrative and reference to external maps is helpful, even to current large scale road maps of France.

Prior to a successful career in teaching, the author served in the Parachute Regiment and saw active service in the Middle East. In recent years he has written a number of books about the Great War, including at least one other on the Aisne. His military experience and the fruits of his research manifest themselves in a number of ways, not least in trenchant remarks that occur throughout the book, particularly as regards the planning, decision making (or lack thereof) and logistical support provided by GHQ. Perhaps the most notable comment is the one on the replacement of Sir John French by Sir Douglas Haig: "Ideally, this should have taken place before the BEF moved to Flanders".

I enjoyed this book. I am not usually an enthusiast of detailed battle accounts but the author blends the fine detail with interesting overviews of the BEF's journey to the Aisne, the immediate aftermath of the battle and insights into artillery and air tactics. Consideration of the experiences of prisoners of war adds a further engaging dimension. Throughout there is skilful and often moving use of unit war diaries and personal diaries and accounts. The appendices on the Order of Battle of the BEF in September 1914 and the 26 cemeteries north and south of the Aisne add to the picture. The depth of research, self-evident as it is in the text, is reinforced by the extensive notes and bibliography.

I have no hesitation in recommending it.

Reviewed by David Parmee

 

zeebrugge raidWritten by Paul Kendall  

ISBN 978 0 7524 5332 3

Spellmount paperback edition, 2009. 351pp, illustrations, maps. 

Most WFA members will be aware of the Zeebrugge Raid of St George's Day 1918 and some will even possess or have read Paul Kendall's book. Nevertheless, it is worth bringing the book to the attention of those who are not aware of it, especially since it is still in print.

What led the author to embark on his six years of research into the raid was an enquiry by a French military historian friend, whose grandfather had witnessed the aftermath of the equally famous St Nazaire raid of March 1942, which bore striking similarities to that at Zeebrugge. Kendall has also devoted time to looking at the German side and the result is some most useful material on the history of the Flanders U-boat flotilla, which was based at Bruges and used the canals running to Zeebrugge and Ostend to exit to the sea.

Hence the plan evolved to block the entrances of these canals through sinking ships in them. The author describes how the plan was developed and the preparations for the raid. He also provides an interesting appraisal of Roger Keyes, the driving force behind the operation.

The tale of the raid on Zeebrugge is told in graphic but accurate detail and one really does get a feel of what it was like on both sides. The operation itself was only partially successful, in that the Flanders Flotilla and surface vessels were still able to operate from Bruges and did so until withdrawn in October as a result of the final Allied advance in Flanders.

Thereafter, Paul Kendall devotes some one hundred pages to potted biographies of those who took part in the raid. This certainly reinforces the human aspect of the book. He also includes appendices on British killed and wounded, awards, and U-boat casualties from the Flanders Flotilla throughout the war.

Paul Kendell has certainly carried out some very thorough research and presented it in most readable form. There is also a large collection of photographs, many of which I have not seen before. It is, however, not a definitive account, mainly because he makes so little mention of Ostend, both the subsidiary operation on 23 April and the subsequent operation against the port less than three weeks later and during which HMS Vindictive, the hero of the Zeebrugge raid, was sunk as a blockship. The reproductions of the two old plans of Zeebrugge Harbour and mole are also not easy to read; the book would have benefitted from fresh maps, including one showing the overall plan. Nevertheless, The Zeebrugge Raid does add to our knowledge and is well worth reading.

Reviewed by Charles Messenger

 

the nekWritten by Peter Burness, edited by Glyn Harper

ISBN number: 9781781593073

Publisher and date: Pen and Sword Military (UK), 2013 167 pp Illustrations/maps

To quote Charles Bean, the official Australian war historian:

"In the history of war there is no more signal example of reckless obedience that that given by the dismounted light horsemen at The Nek when, after seeing the whole of the first attacking line mown down within a few yards by a whirlwind of rifle and machine-gun fire, the second, third and fourth lines each charged after its interval of time, at the signal of its leaders, to certain destruction"

On 7 August 1915, men from an Australian light horse regiment attacked well defended Turkish positions at the Nek, on the Gallipoli peninsula. They were slaughtered. This is a thought-provoking critique of the circumstances leading up to that ill-fated action, focusing not only on the personalities of the officers responsible for sending those men to their deaths, but also asking the question: why the attack was persisted with and not abandoned? Why are suicidal charges allowed to continue when all hope of success has been lost? This is an easy, albeit sad read, which can be easily completed over a weekend. Well researched by an author with impressive credentials who is said to have significant experience leading battlefield tours on behalf of the Australian War Memorial. 

7 August 1915 was not the first time that the Nek had become a human abattoir. Earlier, on 29 June, the Turks had launched a similar attack on well defended Australian positions over the same space under similar, perilous conditions, with the same appalling results. Earlier still, on 19 May, troops from New Zealand were ordered to attack the Turkish lines at the Nek. Showing a degree of leadership and concern for the wellbeing of their men later apparently found to be lacking in the Australian officer corps, the New Zealand officers refused to comply with that order.

Mistakes made at the Nek were repeated a year later in northern France, at Fromelles, notably the loss of senior officers early on in the attack, thus leaving an immediate and dangerous gap in the command structure. Lieutenant Colonel Alexander White was among the first fatalities leading the Light Horsemen from the front at the Nek. Lieutenant Colonel Ignatius Norris perished in similar circumstances leading the men of the 53rd Bn at Fromelles on 19 July 1916.

The charge of the 3rd Light Horse Brigade at The Nek on 7 August 1915 has been immortalised in the painting of the same name by George Lambert and was the core story line in the 1981 film "Gallipoli", starring Mel Gibson and the late Bill Hunter.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Dick Kagi

 

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