By Peter Simkins

Osprey Publishing 2002 - ISBN 1 84176 347 0

96pp - Paperback - 50 b/w illustrations, 14 colour


The new Osprey 'Essential Histories' series was started in 2001 and hopes to evolve into a standard history of conflict. The first few releases were concerned largely with the American Civil War and Napoleonic period, but now we have the initial books for the First World War.

It is clear that this is a serious attempt by the publishers to produce some definitive publications, and with the fighting on the Western Front they have rightly chosen to break it up into two periods. This volume covers the years 1914-16, from the war of movement to the deadlock of trench war and the great attritional battles of Verdun and the Somme. Actions such as Neuve Chapelle, Artois and Loos, often neglected in studies on this period, are also included, as is information on the French engagements.

The author, Peter Simkins, was for many years the Historian at the Imperial War Museum; he will be well known in WW1 circles. Here he has provided us with one of the most readable, concise and objective accounts of this period hitherto in print. This is not a sensationalist book, as many have been of late, and the 'Lions Led by Donkeys' brigade will find nothing to placate them here. Instead Simkins has constructed the truth of the trench war, and rightly outlined the start of the 'learning curve' which began during the bitter struggle on the Somme in 1916. The period is also examined from the point of view of a private in the East Yorks, using his trench diary, and a young middle-class Quaker in the Women's Volunteer Reserve.

This finely produced book is backed up with a number of good illustrations, and excellent colour maps showing some of the key battlefields; the ones for Neuve Chapelle, Loos and the Somme even showing unit dispositions.

This is an approach I personally welcome, and look forward to future volumes. Highly recommend.


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