Thursday, 26 February 2015

Verdun - Brian Mosier

Title: Verdun

Author: Brian Mosier
ISBN: 978-0451414625
Publisher: NAL
Pages: 400
Photos/Maps: 12/3

The author has a history of drafting books that challenge the contemporary historical interpretation of events; Verdun carries on this tradition. Mosier contends that the standard version is far too limited in scope and that the Battle of Verdun was actually a series of independent battles commencing in 1914 between the Germans and French and finishing with the Americans in 1918. Furthermore, he is obviously frustrated by the fact that the version of history most widely known and accepted by nations and the public is the single battle version and is critical of those authors (repeatedly referring to Alistair Horne and his book The Price of Victory) propagating this perspective as one of the main causes of this situation.

It is clear that the author is a Germanophile and exceptionally dismissive and critical of the French General Staff and Government as effective overseers of the French war effort. He pulls no punches when it comes to criticism of the French Commander in Chief, Joffre, and the misinformation/censorship relating to casualties and geographic successes provided to the Government and people of France in order to bolster his position as commander. He backs his contention with numerous examples citing how and where the French military leadership failed in the sense of strategy, vision and leadership. Unfortunately, he undermines his credibility to a certain degree through his use of sarcasm and personal attack as opposed to sticking with fact. This tendency is a significant distraction throughout the book and, while I don't disagree with his assertions, I found his delivery appearing to be, at times, unnecessarily petty.

The author does provide outstanding background on the strategic and emotional importance of Verdun towards the French war effort thereby providing excellent reference on why both the Germans and French focussed on this region. He also does a very credible job of explaining what transpired for both adversaries in terms of political, doctrinal, technical, intelligence and economic development and evaluation during the interwar period between 1870 and 1914 and the first two years of the First World War. Each facet had a huge impact upon the preparations and effectiveness of each side leading into the conflict. Each of those areas could have entire books written about them individually and Mosier provides a solid synopsis without taking away from his primary focus of the battles.

Another area that I enjoyed was his evaluation of the German strategic analysis done by von Falkenhym, the German Commander in Chief following the dismissal of von Moltke in 1914. Von Falkenhym has not been treated kindly by historians as the architect of the 'bleed the French Army white' campaign. However, this dismissal of him as a two dimensional strategist flies in the face of his notable successes in destroying the Russian and Serbian armies during the 1915 campaigning season. Mosier contends that the strategic appreciation drafted by von Falkenhym to the Kaiser where he lays out his long term plans for Verdun has been misunderstood and quoted far too narrowly by historians. Mosier presents a compelling argument to suggest that von Falkenhym was focussed on the domestic audience of France and, more specifically, its civilian leadership, not the French Army, when he was conceiving his plans; his vision and intent was very much strategic and not operational. He deduced that Verdun was both an access point to the interior of France as well as a national symbol that could not be allowed to fall and that the French army could not continue to hide or misrepresent its anticipated losses given the expected degree of focus of the Government.

The book overall is one that should be read as a counterpoint to many of the traditional narratives available on Verdun. He provides a good general bibliography and numerous texts from French and German historians that are worth reading. This book should not however, be read or seen to be a definitive account of the numerous engagements at Verdun. Mosier, in my opinion, presents some very interesting perspectives but undermines himself to a certain degree, with both his controversial style and some of his assertions that I felt should have been credited for source. For the professional officer, it does provide numerous examples of where strategic planning and execution were failed by the French and is outstanding as an example of the challenges of civil/military relations. Finally, I would have like to have seen a better map layout for the reader to follow the battles as the ones provided were of limited value. Worth reading but with caveats.


No comments:

Post a Comment