While admitting that Haig was no genius, revisionist historians have argued that by 1918, he was able to co-ordinate successfully all elements of military force – artillery, armour, airpower, and infantry – to achieve a decisive victory in the series of operations known collectively as ‘The Hundred Days’. Does this argument stand up to critique? Chris Bambery tests the case.
A century ago, between 8 August and 11 November 1918, after four years of trench stalemate, the Allied armies on the Western Front went onto the offensive, broke through the enemy line, and maintained their advance for three months until the German Army had been brought to final defeat. How was it done? Debate has raged ever since about the combination of factors that delivered Allied victory in the autumn of 1918.
The Battle of Hastings in 1066 was not only a seminal event in British history, it is also widely regarded as a turning point in military history: the moment when a ‘Dark Age’ way of war based on heavy infantry gave way to a ‘medieval’ way of war based on armoured cavalry. But was this really so? Shift the focus from Hastings, and events take on a new aspect.
How did Michiel de Ruyter transform war at sea? Gone were the chaotic close-quarter mêlées, galleys, and archers. In came tight discipline, strategic formations, and the man–o’–war. We revisit the swashbuckling era of 17th-century naval conflict, when the Dutch – not the British – ruled the waves.
No general in American history held the kind of absolute power General Pershing wielded. With complete backing from President Woodrow Wilson and Secretary of War Newton D Baker, Pershing could shape the American Expeditionary Force, due to deploy on the Western Front of the First World War, as he saw fit. But how successful was his military strategy?
The late Richard Holmes considered Marlborough to be Britain’s greatest general. He was probably right. But, like many great commanders, Marlborough was paired with a man of comparable calibre: Prince Eugene of Savoy. So outstanding were Eugene’s talents that Napoleon listed him among history’s top seven generals. Together, the two men shaped a continent.
We know the story. Goaded into a hopeless war by an expanding colonial empire, thousands of warriors rise against their oppressors – and inadvertently spawn a legend. There is a twist: this action takes place in present-day Zimbabwe. While we are very familiar with the struggle for South Africa and the desperate encounters at Isandhlwana, Rorke’s Drift, and Ulundi during the Zulu War of 1879, this was only the beginning of a generation of brutal conflict across the ‘dark continent’.
The TV series Britannia (2017) is a historical fantasy along the lines of Game of Thrones. Though set at the time of the Roman invasion of Britain in AD 43, it makes no great claim to historical authenticity. It reflects enduring interest in the Celts, the druids, and, above all, Queen Boudicca of the Iceni. But what was warfare really like during the Roman conquest of Britain between AD 43 and 84?
The epic defence of Chakdara is intriguing. It lasted a week (26 July-2 August 1897), involved 240 men defending an isolated post against up to 8,000 tribal warriors, and had a big impact on the British public back home at the time. But no VCs were awarded, and the action is almost totally forgotten today. Why?
Could the Germans have won the First World War in 1918? Almost certainly. A quarter of a century later, the tide of war would turn irretrievably against Hitler’s Third Reich in 1942/1943. The massive industrial power of the Soviet Union and the United States combined – still rising towards a wartime peak –guaranteed eventual defeat. The outcome was far more open in 1917/1918.