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Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War (2013)

Tekijä: Max Hastings

JäseniäKirja-arvostelujaSuosituimmuussijaKeskimääräinen arvioMaininnat
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"From the acclaimed military historian, a new history of the outbreak of World War I: from the breakdown of diplomacy to the dramatic battles that occurred before the war bogged down in the trenches. World War I immediately evokes images of the trenches: grinding, halting battles that sacrificed millions of lives for no territory or visible gain. Yet the first months of the war, from the German invasion of Belgium to the Marne to Ypres, were utterly different, full of advances and retreats, tactical maneuvering, and significant gains and losses. In Catastrophe 1914, Max Hastings re-creates this dramatic year, from the diplomatic crisis to the fighting in Belgium and France on the Western front, and Serbia and Galicia to the east. He gives vivid accounts of the battles and frank assessments of generals and political leaders, and shows why it was inevitable that this first war among modern industrial nations could not produce a decisive victory, making a war of attrition inevitable. Throughout we encounter high officials and average soldiers, as well as civilians on the homefront, giving us a vivid portrait of how a continent became embroiled in a war that would change everything"--… (lisätietoja)
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englanti (26)  espanja (2)  italia (1)  Kaikki kielet (29)
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A comprehensive History of the First World War from the lead up to initial battles of 1914. Visiting all the fronts; Russian, Serbian, Western, Naval and elsewhere including perspectives of individual soldiers of all the combatants it becomes an enveloping read. ( )
  charlie68 | Jun 16, 2023 |
Catastrophe 1914 is one of the many books that were published on the occasion of the centenary of World War I, a horrific conflict that was the preliminary to the rise of totalitarianism in 20th century Europe that eventually resulted in World War II, the Cold War and the threat of mutually assured destruction posed by the "atomic age" launched by the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. World War I is often explained as an accidental war that its participants drifted into as a consequence of the creation of competing security alliances, namely, the Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Italy) and the Triple Entente (France, Russia, Great Britain). In this understanding the several autocrats, statesmen, and military leaders navigated their way through the crisis that erupted after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in an ad hoc fashion due to poor internal and external communications and being dragged along by the exigencies of mobilization just in case a shooting war turned out to be the resolution of the crisis. Everyone was to blame, and no one was to blame.

Hastings does not buy the line that WWI was a mistake and a failure of diplomacy to forestall a colossal overreaction to the Archduke's assassination. The Hapsburg empire was, if anything, almost grateful for the excuse to crush Serbia which had only recently achieved independence and sought to make itself the center of a pan-Slav state that would, of necessity, pose a major threat to the shaky integrity of the empire. The Germans correctly assumed that an Austrian aggression against Serbia would draw Russia into a conflict with Austria-Hungary and in effect gave Austria a blank check to deal with Serbia as they saw fit. From the German perspective Russia posed the greatest long term existential threat to the German empire and settling with Russia sooner rather than later was a motivating factor in encouraging their Austrian allies to settle with Serbia given the provocation gifted to them by the Bosnian assassins. Thus, the Austrians issued the ultimatum that Serbia was bound to reject. Russia, the long term threat to Germany, was not in the short term able to conduct a mobilization of its army with the same dispatch as its adversaries and had to mobilize in advance of Germany, thus allowing the Germans the cover desired to avoid the appearance of being the aggressor.

Meanwhile, the French, with the largest army on the continent, mobilized to meet the anticipated attack in the West by Germany. The Germans began execution of the Schlieffen plan that called for offensive action through Belgium with the objective of a quick victory in the West, then pivoting to deal with the Russian enemy in the East. The Germans hoped that the Austrians would concentrate their forces to hold off the Russians in the meantime just as the Entente allies hoped that Russia would concentrate against the Germans. However, in the absence of any coordination among the members of the Alliance and the Entente, neither the Austrians nor the Russians followed the strategy desired by their respective allies. The British, who were extremely reluctant to get dragged into a land war on the continent finally were drawn by their treaty obligations to defend Belgian independence once the Germans violated Belgian neutrality.

So, in the end, Hastings rejects the various revisionist accounts and assigns blame for WWI to Austria-Hungary and Germany with Russia getting a secondary share of the blame based on its guarantees to Serbia and its total mobilization after the Austrian attack in Serbia. As far as the French and British were concerned neither were motivated to go to war to bail out the Serbs, but just as the Germans viewed Russia as a long term threat that needed to be dealt with before it developed into what might be called a clear and present danger, so the Western members of the Entente feared being eclipsed by the growing power of the German Empire.

Once hostilities commenced the Austrians were exposed as a sclerotic, poorly led 19th century military that had not kept up with the requirements of a 20th century mechanized war. They were expelled by the Serbs following the initial attack and suffered defeats by the Russians that necessitated German assistance to keep them from being knocked out early. In the meantime, initial Russian successes in East Prussia were undone to lack of coordination in the Russian high command that resulted in the disasters at Tannenberg and the Masurian Lakes, the suicide of General Samsonov whose army was routed at Tannenberg, and the retreat by the Russians across the border back into their own territory having lost over half of Samsonov's army of 230,000 men to death, wounds or capture. The Germans suffered "only" 12,000 causlties out of the 150,000 troops committed to battle by Hindenburg / Ludendorff.

Meanwhile in the West the French who had held back from any offensive against Germany proper, launched an attack to liberate Alsace and Lorraine, the provinces lost by France in 1870. Initial successes turned into disastrous failure and retreat back into France. In a three day span between the 20th and 23rd of August the French suffered 40,000 dead. By the 29th the French army had taken 260,000 casualties including 75,000 dead. Meanwhile, the British Expeditionary Force saw their first action in Begium at the Battle of Mons. Poor coordination between the British second corps commanded by Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien and the first corps led by Sir Douglas Haig resulted in a defeat and a retreat that prevented the second corps from being wiped out. As Hastings wryly noted the retreat from Mons was portrayed as a heroic event almost as if it was a British victory. Poor communications and coordination were endemic to all of the high commands in all of the armies in 1914.

Competent leadership was also in short supply across all of the combatants in 1914. The overall commander of the BEF, Sir John French, comes in for the harshest criticism for his reluctance to fight, placing blame for all his problems on the shortcomings of his French allies, and a refusal to support the French General Joffre that caused Herberrt Kitchener to be dispatched to Paris and meet with French ordering him to commit troops to support Joffre's line of defense. By the end of 1914 French had resigned and been replaced by Haig. Joffre meanwhile was not a brilliant strategist by any means but does get credit for stiffening the resolve of the army at the Battle of the Marne which pretty much ended any German hopes of achieving a quick victory, and ultimately caused the war in the West to devolve into the stalemate of trench warfare that was to last another four years. Hastings devotes entire chapters to famous battles such as the Marne and the first battle of Ypres that was fought in October-November of 1914. In these accounts he gives a day by day, blow by blow account of the fighting and relates the misery endured by troops on both sides quoting from their diaries, letters and memoirs. It makes for pitiful reading.

Meanwhile, on the home front, people are kept in the dark by their governments and press about the reality of the horror of the war. He relates an amusing anecdote about the reliability of the French newspapers in their reporting of the fate of the German Crown Prince who was serving as a commander in the field. "On 5 August he was the victim of an assassination attempt in Berlin; on the 15th seriously wounded on the French front and removed to hospital; on the 24th subject to another assassination attempt; on 4 September he committed suicide, though he was resurrected on 18 October to be wounded again; on the 20th his wife was watching over his death bed; but on 3 November he was certified insane. None of these stories contained the smallest element of truth."

Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War is a deep dive into the first year of the first world war that is extremely well researched and well written and worth your time and effort. Not for the first time nor for the last it illustrates how easy it is to get into a war and how difficult it is to end it. ( )
  citizencane | Nov 18, 2022 |
Pretty great- close telling of first year of war and the mistakes everyone made over and over again. ( )
  apende | Jul 12, 2022 |
Ítarleg umfjöllun um fyrsta ár fyrri heimsstyrjaldarinnar. Hastings dregur saman skoðanir margra og bréf og dagbækur þeirra sem lifðu þennan hildarleik, bæði á vígvellinum og heima við. Bókin er vel skrifuð og veitir manni innsýn í hvernig stríðið hófst, hvernig hermenn og almenningur fóru fullir ákafa til að heyja glæst stríð og hvernig vonir þeirra hrundu. Slæleg herstjórn og iðnvæðing hernaðar átti þátt í gríðarlegu mannfalli og síðar meir örmögnun heilla þjóða. ( )
  SkuliSael | Apr 28, 2022 |
Better even than Tuchman's Guns of August. ( )
  ichadwick | Dec 7, 2020 |
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Englanninkielinen Wikipedia (5)

"From the acclaimed military historian, a new history of the outbreak of World War I: from the breakdown of diplomacy to the dramatic battles that occurred before the war bogged down in the trenches. World War I immediately evokes images of the trenches: grinding, halting battles that sacrificed millions of lives for no territory or visible gain. Yet the first months of the war, from the German invasion of Belgium to the Marne to Ypres, were utterly different, full of advances and retreats, tactical maneuvering, and significant gains and losses. In Catastrophe 1914, Max Hastings re-creates this dramatic year, from the diplomatic crisis to the fighting in Belgium and France on the Western front, and Serbia and Galicia to the east. He gives vivid accounts of the battles and frank assessments of generals and political leaders, and shows why it was inevitable that this first war among modern industrial nations could not produce a decisive victory, making a war of attrition inevitable. Throughout we encounter high officials and average soldiers, as well as civilians on the homefront, giving us a vivid portrait of how a continent became embroiled in a war that would change everything"--

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