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The Guns of August

The Guns of August

Winston Churchill once observed that "No part of the Great War compares in interest with its opening, the first collision of a drama never surpassed." When that drama opened in August 1914, its first act followed a script dictated by Gewrman, French, English and Russian military plans that had evolved over the preceding years in splendid isolation and total ignorance--oblivious to the fact that each General Staff was aware of its opponents' intentions. The German con Schlieffen Plan swept through neutral Belgium upon the French flank; the French Plan 17 launched an attaque brusquee to regain lost Alsace and Lorraine; the British "military conversations" intended to bolster the French offensive; and the Russian "pincer movement" depended upon light German resistance in East Prussia. All were orchestrated down to the last minute detail.

How wrong these fanciful schemes proved! Yet, in the summer of 1914, no one recognised how badly out of step were military and diplomatic expectation with national and political realities. Instead, statesmen and generals, kinds and presidents confidently blundered forward with strategies that blissfully ignored the years of carnage that lay ahead.

The battles of August did not go as planned: the German right wing proved too light at the Liege, the combined Anglo-French offensive fizzled on the Meuse, the Russians were annihilated at Tannenberg. The first Battle of the Marne followed, a costly stalemate that would end the futile race to the sa and initiate the bloody war of the trenches. The blame for this shortsightedness belongs on the shoulders of those who refused to accept reality, as the author's vivid drmatis personae of such figures as the British Commander Sir John French, the French General Joseph Joffre, the German Chief of Staff Helmuth von Moltke, and the Russian General Aleksandr Samsonov clearly demonstrates.

In The Guns of August, historian Barbara W. Tuchman recalls this tragic period in military history--its strategies, its individuals, and its battles--with brilliant style and definitive detail.