THE GERMAN OFFENSIVES OF 1918
By Martin Kitchen
Tempus Publishing Ltd 2001
ISBN 0 7524 1799 1 - 283 pages - 80 b/w illustrations - maps - £25.00
Books on the operations of the German Army in English are few, and are to be greatly welcomed. This new study looks at the key period of 1918, and examines the German offensives of that year, from Operation Michael on the Somme in March, to Georgette in Flanders in April, to Blücher on the Chemin des Dames in May, and the final fling near Reims. The author, Professor Martin Kitchen, is a leading expert on twentieth century German military history, and has consulted a large number of primary sources in Germany for the book, as well has unit and operational histories.
The book makes fascinating reading, for while we are familiar with the story from the British perspective, the German side of these offensives is barely known. It becomes clear that the German High Command realised that the impending arrival of the American Expeditionary Force would tip the balance in favour of the Allies, and that while many German generals thought the war was un-winnable, one last major offensive might cripple the Allies and enable Germany to sue for peace on favourable terms. This was the gamble in the Spring of 1918, and while the ensuing offensive took the British by surprise and forced them back across the battlefields of 1916-17, it ended in failure and huge losses. By the close of operations in July, the German Army had lost 883,000 men since 21st March, and while the British had suffered bitterly, much of their losses had already been made good, something that it was now impossible for the Germans to do. Defeat was almost inevitable.
This is an academic study, but it is well written and readable. Kitchen argues his points well, but his major failing in my mind is that while his grasp of the German side of operations is excellent, his understanding of particularly the British army is suspect. He makes a number of assumptions and statements about the British that bear little close examination given recent studies, in particular on the subject of training and tactics. I fear he has fallen into Gudmunddsson's Stormtroop Tactics (which is mentioned in the bibliography) approach of believing that the Germans were the only tactical geniuses on the battlefield.
However, despite that this is an important book and one any serious student of the Great War should not be without. No understanding of the Western Front is complete without reference to those on the 'other side of the wire' and I hope the author might look at other aspects of the war from German sources. Recommended.
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