Tuesday, 15 September 2015

The Other First World War: The Blood-Soaked Russian Fronts 1914-1922 - Douglas Boyd

This review has been submitted to Military History Monthly for publication.

Title: The Other First World War: The Blood-Soaked Russian Fronts 1914-1922
Author: Douglas Boyd
ISBN: 978-0-7524-9358-9
Publisher: Trafalgar Press
Pages: 256
Photos/Maps: 38/13 

From an international perspective, other than the actual collapse of the Russian Czar, very little is known or understood about the conflict in the East during the Great War years (1914-1918) and the follow-on Russian civil war period (1918-1922). Yet, the impact of those years on the future of both the world and European civilization in particular cannot be understated. Boyd has endeavoured to relate a synopsis of the actual events and the impact of them on the broader international canvas. 

Boyd's rendition of the Brusilov Campaign and the Battle of Tannenberg are highlights of this book and he certainly does a reasonable job of the flow of events in between. He makes some very interesting observations however, that I would have liked to see some additional references made for further study. These include the role that Romanian forces played in the operations on the Eastern Front as well as the operational challenges of the various “Colour” factions and how they came to be. Unfortunately, he also makes regular comments within his narrative without the benefit of endnotes which I feel would have merited reference in order to confirm source. 

He does not provide a comprehensive bibliography but references endnotes at the close of each chapter. I also found that the maps used were of limited value due to the quality of both diagrams and the choice of style of map; certainly, a series of comprehensive 'overview' maps would have been very beneficial in following the myriad of changes and fronts throughout this period. 

In my opinion Boyd has undertaken a very distracting style of writing as he tends to flow off on tangents that would appear to have little to nothing to do with the narrative. A key example of involves a discussion of his (the authors) time in a Stasi prison in 1959 interjected into the middle of his discussion on the Kerensky offensive in 1917. While the intention was good, I found it to be a very frustrating habit.
The quality of the publication and the photographs are high and Boyd provides a reasonable overview or start point for those wishing to garner a very high level appreciation of the complexity of the Russian war, revolution and civil war. However, I would suggest that the portion accepted was larger than the diner could effectively consume and that significant aspects of the book will leave the reader more confused than enlightened. Perhaps this in itself best conveys the degree of confusion experienced by all of the players involved in the tragic opera that was the Russian Front 1914-1922.

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