Author Topic: The Myth of the Great War  (Read 3181 times)

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Offline Thucydides

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The Myth of the Great War
« on: December 24, 2010, 15:25:41 »
Something of an early Christmas present, this book by John Mosier is a very interesting piece of historiography.

Examining the actual battlefields and looking at the actual equipment used by the various powers, as well as going over primary documents, the author creates a revisionist history of WWI. The conclusions he comes to are both stunning (there was no "Battle for the Marne", it was a fiction created for propaganda purposes), common sense (the German model of combined arms battalions was far more effective than anything the Allies come up with) and disturbing (the Allied general staffs interpreted the reorganization of the German army into smaller battalion sized battle groups as a sign the Germans were running out of manpower. This was not only untrue, but also blinded the Allies into believing a massive offensive would win the war, and concealed the fact the new battlegroups had far more firepower and combat ability than any corresponding Allied unit).

The British were particularly slow learners in the art of land warfare, and the arrival of the Americans realy did win the war for the Allies.

Other lessons might be applicable for us even today. The German battalions became ever more powerful as they gained extra weapons and specialist troops (mortars, artillery, flamethrowers and pioneer troops) while our current trend is to strip away capabilities and centralize them. The German Command and Control system also evolved towards the directive control model we study today, but also less well known is the relative reduction in emphasis on intermediate levels of command (the so caled Wal Mart model of flattened structures).

A very interesting read, and certain to arouse lots of arguments and re examination of the conduct of the War.
Dagny, this is not a battle over material goods. It's a moral crisis, the greatest the world has ever faced and the last. Our age is the climax of centuries of evil. We must put an end to it, once and for all, or perish - we, the men of the mind. It was our own guilt. We produced the wealth of the world - but we let our enemies write its moral code.

Offline Old Sweat

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Re: The Myth of the Great War
« Reply #1 on: December 24, 2010, 15:37:19 »
I thought his name rang a bell. Doctor Mosier did his PhD on the link between poetry and historiography at Tulane.

He is known for revisionist works including one that claimed the Blitzkreig was a myth. It is probably safe to say his efforts have not been well received by the bulk of the military history community. I am not saying don't read this book. What I am saying is be careful. It may be a real work of scholarship or it may be the academic version of the Tac Vest.

Online Tango2Bravo

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Re: The Myth of the Great War
« Reply #2 on: June 11, 2011, 14:22:41 »
Having seen this thread before Christmas I recently picked up Mosier’s The Myth of the Great War. Mosier asserts that the Germans won the battles against the French and British during the First World War and that only the intervention of the United States gave victory to the Allies.  He uses casualty statistics as the basis of his analysis. The entry of the United States into the Great War was indeed decisive, but this is hardly a new idea. I found that Mosier ignored or minimized British battlefield successes while also ignoring or minimizing German failures.

In his discussions of the 1914 Marne battle Mosier de-emphasized German failures and French/British successes. Mosier claims that the “Miracle of the Marne” was a myth. He asserts that the battles that stopped the German advance short of Paris were a series of skirmishes and that the Germans had already decided to withdraw. The engagements that stopped the Germans were indeed fought across a broad front. The British advance was slow and Foch’s attacks were indeed counter-productive. The German armies were not annihilated and they were able to conduct offensive operations after the battle. None of this, however, takes away from the fact that the Germans were prevented from achieving the aim of their invasion. The Germans intended to knock France out of the war with a single blow. Molke failed to see the operation through to success. Joffre’s plan that led to the “Miracle of Marne”, however, worked. Joffre, once he realized that the German main effort was coming through Belgium, was able to reform and reorient his forces. He conducted a counter-stroke against an enemy that was culminating. That the Marne was not a shattering victory does not make it any less miraculous. Given that the 1870 war was still in living memory the ability of the French to overcome initial disasters and save Paris was indeed a miracle.
Mosier also de-emphasized British offensive successes. While it is hard to put the Somme and Paschendaele in a positive light, the British could indeed mount successful offensives. Mosier briefly mentions the Canadian success at Vimy Ridge, but states that “Vimy Ridge became the graveyard of the Canadian forces.” It is an awkward stretch for Mosier to suggest that the Canadian Corps was finished at Vimy, and this is indicative of how he minimizes British successes. His treatment of the BEF’s operations during 1918 is another example of minimizing British successes. While he devotes considerable space to the Americans at Belleau Wood and the Argonne, he dismisses the BEF’s series of offensives that constitute “the last 100 days.” Of the 8 August 1918 Battle of Amiens, Mosier states that the offensive was successful because the Germans had already begun to withdraw. No mention is made by Mosier of Ludendorff’s statement that 8 August was the black day of the German army in the war. Mosier asserts that the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) was “the only capable army.” He refers to British heavy casualties and a comparison of frontages to establish AEF superiority. What he does not mention, however, is that the BEF captured twice as many German prisoners as the French, Americans and Belgians combined during the offensives of the last 100 days. Shane Schreiber’s Shock Army of the British Empire offers a detailed view of the Canadian aspect of that campaign. The offensive successes of the BEF in 1918 need much better treatment, and this is a massive hole in The Myth's argument.

While Mosier goes into German stormtrooper techniques in some detail, he does not mention how the British employed similar successful offensive tactics. The BEF employed “worms” that consisted of platoon sized columns infiltrating with a variety of weapons. The BEF employed predicted artillery fire on a large scale from late 1917 through to the end of the war. These are described by Jonathan Bailey and Colin Gray. While there were differences between British and German offensive methods, there was also much in common between the two. Gray provides a fairly balanced comparison of German and British methods that I recommend highly. There are, of course, strong arguments for German doctrinal superiority. The works of Lupfer, Gudmundson and Samuels can all provide this point of view. This view, however, needs to address British successes on the battlefield.

Mosier’s study of several French actions in 1914 and 1915 are, however, quite detailed and do offer a view into battles that many may not be familiar with. I think that if he simply discussed those battles and not tried to look at the whole war his book would have been stronger.

In summary, I believe that Mosier made his point too strongly and broadly without enough supporting arguments. All armies had difficulties conducting offensive operations, and to set the Germans on a pedestal ignores their problems as well as the successes of the BEF.

- editted to include formating that did not carry over from my word processor...
Well-trained, older Panzer crews are the decisive factor for success...It is preferable to start off with fewer Panzers than to set out with young crews who lack combat experience.

 - Verbal report of Gen Balck 1943