As The Driving Force Behind The Allied Effort In World War I, France Willingly Shouldered The Heaviest Burden In This Masterful Book, Robert Doughty Explains How And Why France Assumed This Role And Offers New Insights Into French Strategy And Operational Methods French Leaders, Favoring A Multi Front Strategy, Believed The Allies Could Maintain Pressure On Several Fronts Around The Periphery Of The German, Austrian, And Ottoman Empires And Eventually Break The Enemy S Defenses But France Did Not Have Sufficient Resources To Push The Germans Back From The Western Front And Attack Elsewhere The Offensives They Launched Proved Costly, And Their Tactical And Operational Methods Ranged From Remarkably Effective To Disastrously Ineffective Using Extensive Archival Research, Doughty Explains Why France Pursued A Multi Front Strategy And Why It Launched Numerous Operations As Part Of That Strategy He Also Casts New Light On France S Efforts To Develop Successful Weapons And Methods And The Attempts To Use Them In Operations An Unparalleled Work In French Or English Literature On The War, Pyrrhic Victory Is Destined To Become The Standard Account Of The French Army In The Great War There is little else available in English on the topic and Doughty is undoubtedly the best qualified to write it, given his previous work on the French Army between the World Wars and in 1940 As in his other works, the strength of this volume is describing the lessons the French learned from their wartime experiences and how these were applied While results can often be denigrated e.g., the Nivelle Offensive in 1917 , why such approaches were adopted seem eminently sensible given the personalities and perspectives of the time Perhaps most of all, Doughty s books read like Greek tragedies you can t help but love the main character, despite the flaws that conspire to bring him down at the end. Joffre the French Generalissimo at least for the opening of the War seldom visited the front and preferred instead to wage France s struggle well behind the lines One can certainly criticize him for doing this But for a pertinent aside as Robin Nielland pointed out in The Great War Generals on the Western Front that there was a peculiarity to the First World War compared to conflicts before and after which is that communication and thus command and control between the front and the generals commanding was not in any way improved by a general s forward presence and was indeed worse Battles took place on too large a front with many men for a general to control At the very least a general behind the lines was easily found if and when information came back from the battle Plus there s communication or rather the lack thereof Electronic communication meant wires had to be laid by hand and these were typically hastily run and so on the ground or just under and therefore easily knocked out More reliable methods were runners an often fatal job, pigeons subject to the unpredictability of any animal, and semaphore useless in fog, smoke, and darkness or basically the conditions found on a battlefield Another possibility for Joffre s absence at the front is that it was a method to preserve his sanity In 1914 the French army lost an average of 2,200 men per day The Battle of the Frontiers which ran for about a month from 8.6.1914 to 9.5.1914 consumed 329,000 of Marianne s sons killed, wounded, missing, and captured It s easier now over a century removed to deal with this as an abstract At the time of course these were brother officers, classmates, neighbors, sons stellar men and average men alike Removing oneself may well have been the only way to deal with these sorts of catastrophic losses not only as personal losses, but these are serious casualties for any army to endure For comparison the American Civil War our bloodiest took four years to consume a rough approximation of France s losses in four months of 1914 But this book isn t really so much about Joffre and why he didn t often visit the front it s fundamentally about France and her army and how she managed to carry on in the face of these horrendous losses Of course the scale of this book means that its focus is top down So there s a lot from Joffre, and his successors greatly appreciated as the French effort barely figures in available books in English from any perspective , but little by the average poilou Even still, this is a solid addition that fills a very awkward void in Great War literature available in English one that is recommended. A tremendous review of the French effort in World War I, certainly the best use of French sources by an American writer on the war that I ve seen or heard of Doughty provides a balanced assessment of key personalities in the French war effort like Joffre, Petain, Foch, and Nivelle, and also a sound and fair evaluation of the strategic and operational efforts they undertook The core thesis is that Joffre s strategy in 1914 that of simultaneous offensives on the Triple Alliance on all fronts until Germany broke from lack of reserves was fundamentally sound, but operational and doctrinal challenges and failures as well as the political difficulties stemming from poor coordination among allies and the lack of a supreme commander until 1918 made the achieving of this goal slow, painful, and difficult Indeed, it seems the manifestation of Sun Tzu s quote that strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory This view explains Joffre s insistence on executing Plan XVII, with its disastrous operations in Alsace Lorraine even as the Schlieffen Plan was being executed in Belgium his pursuit of offensives in Artois and Champagne in 1915, and his demands for Russian and British offensives to take the pressure of the French defense of Verdun in 1916 Doughty also shows that the main differences from Joffre to Nivelle to Petain and Foch not changes to this basic strategy, but the means by which the offensives should be made successful either through grinding down German reserves to create a rupture on the front as eventually occurred in 1918 or through pursuing a breakthrough in individual sectors of the front and return to mobile warfare Finally, Doughty cautions that the fact and methods of victory in 1918 in no way sealed France s fate in 1940, though its strategic paradigm required a shift this was something de Gaulle noted in the 1920s Overall, for Americans who know little about France in World War I, this is a tremendous though of necessity high level and somewhat dry from a personal perspective account.
Is a well-known author, some of his books are a fascination for readers like in the Pyrrhic Victory: French Strategy and Operations in the Great War book, this is one of the most wanted Robert Allan Doughty author readers around the world.
- 592 pages
- Pyrrhic Victory: French Strategy and Operations in the Great War
- Robert Allan Doughty
- 14 October 2017 Robert Allan Doughty