Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Three German Invasions of France – The Summer Campaigns of 1870, 1914 and 1940 - Douglas Fermer

This review has been submitted to the British Military History Journal

Title: Three German Invasions of France – The Summer Campaigns of 1870, 1914 and 1940
Author: Douglas Fermer
ISBN: 978-1-781593-54-7
Publisher: Pen and Sword
Year: 2013
Pages: 273
Photos/ Maps: 30/11

Germany and France have maintained a difficult relationship stemming back to the pre-German unification period of Prussia and Napoleonic France. Three wars were fought between the two nations during the 70 years from 1970 until 1940; each reflecting a period of political, doctrinal and societal change within each nation state. Fermer’s book looks at the root causes and the execution of these wars with a view towards highlighting the impact on these conflicts upon the French army and society primarily and upon Germany secondarily.

Fermer’s analysis is balanced and insightful. Despite the breadth of the topics that he has undertaken to review, he does so in a very succinct manner; the renditions of his observations easy to follow and well developed. His approach is to look at each of the individual engagements as a part of a greater whole. This facilitates a linear examination that clearly identifies the connections and causation's between the wars.

He has divided his book into four distinct parts, each addressing the individual conflicts as well as the precursor period in France leading up to 1870. Each section establishes the environment of the period and the main changes that had occurred as well as the main lessons to be learned from each encounter. Central throughout is the political atmosphere which remains the main cause of the military escalation between the nations. The use of the military as a tool of political gain must be balanced and extremely carefully applied; Fermer shows that, leading to 1870, the Germans were extremely adept at this but that limitations in political acumen by both participants made themselves felt to a greater degree as time went forward. Hubris on the part of both French and German leadership was legion.

Fermer also undertakes a detailed evaluation of the impact of success upon both the victor and vanquished both doctrinally and psychologically. His investigation reveals that the German use of lessons learned following their actions were far more in depth (and taken far more seriously) than their French counterparts. The French were further handicapped by their political instability and ongoing intra-national divergence. This manifested itself in inconsistent recruitment and armament policies as well as challenges in foreign policy.

Also, included in the book is a comprehensive listing of the references that he has utilized; of particular note is the number of primary source documents. Overall this is an outstanding rendition of the turbulent period encompassing these three conflicts. The author has drafted a narrative that recounts the characteristics of the conflicts themselves, the underlying causes (primary, secondary and beyond) and the results politically, militarily and socially thus providing the reader with a complete understanding of this period. Fermer’s book is an excellent account and source. 

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