Book Review: The German Army In War

The German Army In War, by Andrew Hilliard Atteridge

From time to time I enjoy reading about the German military because of its importance to 19th and 20th century history [1], and I must say that this book is among the finest of such efforts, all the more striking because it was published in 1915 towards the beginning of World War I, without the historical context that bears this book’s insights out.  Although a short volume of only about 100 pages or so, this book is particularly valuable in that it gives the Germans a good deal of respect and also points out that much that the Germans did in war, including much that strikes readers as offensive about German behavior in World War I, were behaviors that were quite common during the time.  This is a book that does not idolize the Germans, but neither does it demonize them, and that it was written during World War I, when anti-Hun propaganda was at its peak, shows the fair-mindedness of the author in even more relief than would be the case if we take this book outside of its context.  Given the sort of book it could easily have been, the quality of observations and insights provided are immensely important.  Without a doubt, this is a book that should be far better remembered.

In providing his look at the German Army in War, the author accomplishes several worthwhile tasks in a way that is easy to read and still of value for readers today.  For one, the author places the German army of World War I in the context of its history, particularly the history of Prussia, going back to the time of Frederick the Great and especially in the traumatic aftermath of defeat in 1806.  The author also places the German military in the context of how its skill in spycraft, technology, the general staff, and war games have been imitated by other nations.  Some of those nations have honestly stated their debt to German military thinking, and some militaries have been less honest about it.  The author also even manages to point out that the only reason the Germans were able to keep some of their weapons secret was because there were so few of them, as the creation of large numbers of anything would require too many people in on the secret to keep it safe from spreading, something that would later bedevil the Manhattan Project and provide the Soviets with a great deal of espionage for themselves.  Once you get beyond a few people in on a secret, the odds of it spreading are high, and this author does a great job discussing espionage with a great deal of knowledge and fairness.

The only criticism I have for this book is that the version I read had some very poor copying of some of the pages towards the end of the book.  This book was sufficiently worthwhile that it was a shame that some of the pages did not show up entirely properly, creating a lot of unnecessary typos and making the book less easy to read.  This is a book that one can easily wish would be longer, and one that provides insight and remains a worthwhile book in looking at the German military model for World Wars I and II, as it is striking that the Germans in the interwar period used the same technique that the Prussians did after the disaster of 1806 in using the slots of their limited army to provide for a high degree of officers and to train as many soldiers as possible to have effective front-line soldiers.  Of course, the German penchant for aggression did not serve its well, and the author gives plenty of criticism on that front as well.  This is a book that contemporary historians of World War I would do well to read and appreciate.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, History, Military History and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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