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R. A Forczyk
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World War 1 Trench Warfare is an excellent summary of the transformation from maneuver warfare to static operations and its associated problems in 1914-1916. The author, Dr Stephen Bull, is a curator and military historian at the Museum of Lancashire. While this volume is almost exclusively focused on the Western Front, the author does provide a thorough survey of the main elements of his subject. Unfortunately, the size constraints imposed by the Osprey format prevent Dr. Bull's fine effort from being more comprehensive in terms of other theaters of the war. The Eastern Front is only slightly addressed, while the Balkan and Gallipoli fronts are virtually ignored. The Italian army and the Italian-Austrian Front are never mentioned. All in all, Dr Bull has provided a fine survey of trench warfare in the opening phase of the war, but his fine efforts are clearly constrained by the concise Osprey format.
The volume begins with a 6-page summary of the main armies in 1914, including sections on artillery, cavalry and infantry, enlistment sources and tactics. A 4-page section on infantry weapons in 1914 appends the section on armies. This opening 10-page section is well written and provides a good basis for understanding the military forces available at the start of the war. However, there are some omissions that affect the author's narrative concerning the genesis of trench warfare. First, there is no mention of relative engineer capabilities of the opposing armies, since the author focuses only on the three primary branches. In fact, Germany had a substantial edge in engineering capabilities, beginning with the fact that it assigned an engineer battalion to each of its divisions; British divisions had only two engineer companies and French divisions only one. Therefore when the time came to dig in, German divisions had 50-200% more engineering capability than their opposite numbers. A second factor relates to pre-war doctrine, which the author only addresses in terms of offensive tactics. Again, Germany had an advantage because it had employed rudimentary trench works in pre-war maneuvers, whereas most other armies had not. Both of these factors helped to give Germany an early edge in trench warfare.
The author provides a short section on the early maneuver phase of the war in 1914, followed by a 10-page section on the first trenches. The section on the transformation to trench warfare is decent but fails to adequately explain the reasons for this shift. The "shell scandals" of 1914-1915 are also covered in this section on the opening days of the war. Unfortunately, the author misses the opportunity to mention a number of issues highly germane to trench warfare, partly because of diversions on side issues like the "shell scandal." The author misses the two critical components that set the stage for trench warfare in the first place: machine guns with mutually supporting and interlocked fields of fire and durable obstacles. While the author provides technical details on machineguns, he fails to note that it was the combination of the two aforementioned factors that changed the tactical equation. Furthermore, barbed wire - one of the critical components of trench warfare - is never addressed. The author should have addressed how it was incorporated in defenses, how it was laid and the difficulties in penetrating wire that defeated infantry assaults. Another related factor of trench warfare is the issue of non-battle casualties, of which there were thousands in the muddy lice-infested trenches; it was the non-battle casualties that necessitated unit rotation even more than combat casualties. The main part of this volume consists of a 19-page section on the new weapons and tactics required by the transformation to trench warfare. In the weapons section, the author details the various grenades, mortars and bomb throwers introduced to deal with the siege conditions at the front. In the tactics section, the author covers the use of these new weapons and ends with a interesting example of trench warfare, "during a period of little more than 48 hours of defensive action 2nd Lancashire Fusiliers threw 8,000 grenades, and lost 93 men killed or died of wounds, 13 men missing, and 274 wounded. During their ten week tour of duty casualties amounted to 50 officers and 2,300 rank and file, or more than double the initial strength of the battalion."
The last 10 pages of this volume consist of an overview of new tactics in 1915 and the 1916 Battle of Verdun. There is little mention of the Battle of the Somme, which presumably will be addressed in the next volume, or of changes in artillery tactics. The section on 1915 tactics is quite good and includes the introduction of poison gas and flamethrowers. Dr Bull succeeds in demonstrating that 1915 was not a static year of mindless trench assaults but rather, a period of experimentation and transformation as both sides sought to find solutions to the indecisiveness of trench warfare. Hurricane bombardments, infiltration and mixed assault groups were all introduced in 1915. Unfortunately, while the author points out that not all attacks were not futile, he fails to highlight some of the battles in 1915 - like the initially successful French assault on Vimy Ridge on May 9, 1915 - where well-prepared attacks succeeded. Indeed, it was the lack of sufficient heavy artillery that greatly inhibited Allied offensive action in 1915.
As usual in an Osprey title, the section of color plates in the center of the volume is excellent. These plates include: French bombers in 1914-1915, British bombers in 1914-1915, British snipers in 1915-1916, a German machine gun team in 1915, British bomb catapults in 1915, mine warfare in 1916, Allied gas masks, a Russian trench garrison in 1914-1915, German trench raiders in 1916 and French mortar troops in 1916. All of these illustrations are excellent. The photographs and diagrams throughout the volume are also quite good.