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Tuesday, May 2, 2017

“Instrument of War: The German Army 1914–18”, by Dennis Showalter


328 pages, Osprey Publishing, ISBN-13: 978-1472813008

Instrument of War: The German Army 1914–18 by Dennis Showalter draws on his more than half a century of research and teaching in order to present a fresh perspective on the German Army during World War I; an army that was at the heart of German pride and national identity that was driven (yet also defeated by) warfare in the modern age, and which struggled to capitalize on its victories and ultimately forgot the lessons of its defeat. Exploring the internal dynamics of the German Army and detailing how the soldiers coped with the many new forms of warfare, Showalter shows how the army’s institutions responded to and how Germany itself was changed by war. The overall theme of this book is that the inward-looking nature of the officer corps: concentrating as it did on tactics, weaponry and operations, to the detriment of broader strategic and diplomatic/political policy. Detailing the major campaigns on the Western and Eastern fronts and the forgotten war fought in the Middle East and Africa, this comprehensive new volume reveals operational strategy, the complexities of campaigns of movement versus static trench warfare, and the changes in warfare. Specialists will not be surprised at such a conclusion, nor at the idea that Ludendorff botched the political/diplomatic and strategic handling of the War’s last two years. Rather than seeing Ludendorff as a sinister or mentally unbalanced tyrant, Showalter sees him as a product of the very nature of the Army’s culture. Overall, Showalter is quite balanced and convincing in his arguments. The Professor is a great lecturer and his writing is like his speaking style. He has some fresh insights for the specialist, but for the most part this book will serve well as an intro to the German Army’s role in WWI for the intelligent and well-read non-specialist. Instrument of War could use some (fairly minor) editing/proof-reading for the sake of clarity and to correct a few bloopers (my favorite was about the “German General Stairs Railroad Section”; I guess the generals had their own staircase?) All in all, however, a fine book and great introduction to any study of the German Army.

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