Book review: “Planning Armageddon”


HMS Dreadnought, 1906

Review by Len Shurtleff

President, World War One Historical Association

Planning Armageddon: British Economic Warfare and the First World War, Nicholas A. Lambert, Harvard, 2012, 651 + xii pages, index, map, abbreviations, notes, ISBN 978 0 674 06149 1. The author won the 2000 Tomlinson Book Prize for his work Sir John Fisher’s Naval Revolution (Cambridge, 1999).

This is the first complete history I have seen to trace the evolution of British economic warfare policy from its inception in the early 1900s to the end of the Great War. It is a massive work, carefully researched and eminently readable. It is the story of how British Admiralty planners convinced their political masters that the use of economic warfare on an unprecedented scale could defeat Germany. This strategy called for Great Britain to use her virtual monopolies international banking, communications and shipping – essential infrastructure underpinning international trade in this first era of globalization – to create a controlled economic implosion. The author argues, not unconvincingly, that historians have consistently underestimated the role of economic warfare in bringing Germany to her knees by 1918.

The fact remains that resort to the economic weapon reflected British military weakness and economic vulnerability. Though the City of London controlled world trade, Britain was a net importer of food, oil and raw materials utterly dependent on imports. By the early 1900s its industrial power had been eclipsed by Germany and America. While the British army was puny, the Royal Navy with its global system of bases was undeniably the strongest in the world as was Britain’s huge, modem merchant fleet. Thus, when war brokeout in August 1914, the UK was able to react immediately, putting into effect a wide range of pre-agreed measures, including blockade, to cut off German international commerce, communications and sources of finance.

Unfortunately, these measured aroused immediate and loud opposition not only from powerful trade and financial interests at home, but also from powerful neutral powers such as America. Britain was obliged to back off. Indeed, as Lambert sees it, US pressure was a key factor in an 18-month delay in imposing full economic sanctions and maritime blockade on Germany.         In fact, German trade continued to grow until early 1916 and the blockade only became fully effective only after America entered the war in April 1917.

The fact that British historians have largely failed to plumb the depths this key element of warfare from 1914 to 1918 is partly the result of official secrecy. Many archives were not opened until the 1960s and contemporary official historians were discouraged from telling the full story by skittish politicians. Winston Churchill, for example, glosses over economic warfare in his published works on World War One. Now that lacuna has been filled.


The Hidden World of WWI: Jeff Gusky

French soldiers dining area, underground, Vauquois. Reuse of this photo is forbidden by law.

French soldiers dining area, underground, Vauquois. Reuse of this photo is forbidden by law.

Hidden under the former battlefields of WWI lie hundreds of forgotten rock quarries transformed into underground cities by armies on both sides.

Cloaked in darkness under private land in the beautiful French countryside, these underground cities are bristling with artifacts, sculptures and emotionally charged “graffiti” created by WWI soldiers a century ago. Frozen-in-time, these cities beneath the trenches form a direct human connection to men who lived a century ago. They make hundred years ago seem like yesterday. They are a Hidden World of WWI that is all but unknown, even to the French.

American medical doctor, fine art photographer and explorer Jeffery Gusky was introduced to these underground cities by landowners and dedicated volunteers and their families who fiercely guard the secrets of these spaces with loving care to prevent them from being vandalized and to preserve them for the future.

More about the underground cities




Book review: “The Long Shadow”

abac077From WW1HA President Len Shurtleff:

The Long Shadow: The Legacies of The Great War in the Twentieth Century, David Reynolds, W. W. Norton, 2014, 544 pages, maps, illustrations, index. $32.50 hb. Also available in Kindle and CD. The author is a Cambridge University historian.

This is a monograph that would have pleased scholar-diplomat George Kennan, who labeled The Great War “the seminal tragedy of the 20th century.” Much of the ground plowed here in elegant prose will be familiar to students of WWI. The collapse of the German, Austro-Hungarian, Russian and Ottoman monarchies; the German Revolution of 1918 and 1919; the rise of Fascism and Communism, the twin scourges of the 20th century; major if short-lived expansion of the victorious British and French empires at the expense of the losers; the creation nine states, among them Czechoslovakia, Poland and Yugoslavia, that did not exist prior to the war; the emergence of Japan as an expansive great power, and of the United States as a global power house whose economic and financial might humbled that of Great Britain.

The aftermath of the conflict was hardly peaceful. Fighting broke out in newly independent Finland and along the Baltic coast in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. The Soviet Union fought a civil war and reconquered Ukraine even while it invaded Poland in an abortive bid to expand Communism into Central and Western Europe. The Ottoman Sultan was replaced by a Turkish republic, led by Ottoman war hero MustafaKemal Atatürk, which fought a short, bloody war with Greece to regain much territory lost on The Great War. Nationalists from Egypt to Korea took Woodrow Wilson at his word and attempted unsuccessfully to throw off their colonial yokes.

Many of the leaders of World War II — Churchill, Mussolini, Hitler, Roosevelt, DeGaulle — were active participants in WWI and carried their experiences into the next great conflict. Veterans’ movements like The American Legion got their start as a result of The Great War. While the Legion was dedicated to democratic principals; other similar groupings in Europe were not and achieved their ends – particularly in Germany – by paramilitary means. Even the venerable Council on Foreign Relations was the result of Wilson’s inability to field a professional diplomatic corps, and The American Civil Liberties Union had its origins in wartime American patriotic excesses.

In all, while France and Great Britain had won, they felt less secure and were less secure in 1919 than in 1914. France, irreparably scarred by her vast human battle losses, was unable to elicit British and American support for the creation of a Rhineland buffer zone against Germany. The result was the Maginot Line. British finances were crippled by the war and never really recovered until well after 1945. She was obliged to accept naval parity with America and later during WWII to transfer her gold stocks to Fort Knox. Only America and Japan stood up as overall winners. Thus, the whole thing had to be refought all over again as the inimitable Yogi Berra might say.


A French officer’s photos restored

This post is from Casa de la Imagen, a cultural place in Logroño, Spain.

We has an impresive and unseen collection of 500 stereo negatives taken by a french officer at WWI, who portrayed battles like Somme, Arras or Ypres, and people and weapons of all the Western Front’s armies in high quality images. We had digitalized and restored the entire collection. You could see a small example here, in a special section inside the French Government official website to commemorate the Centenary:

Also, to reveal the 3D virtues of this exceptional images, Casa de la Imagen just made the video you can see here:

In this link you can see the new dedicated to our collection in the most important spanish journal EL PAÍS, the 1th November 2013:

Our project is to make a book and exhibition showing the collection commemorating 2014-2018. We just finished the book (in Spanish yet). You can see it here:

For further information, please feel free to write to

This is a basic information about the archive:

The collection was discovered at Tanger in 1999. It was contained in 10 wooden boxes, wherein each contains about 50 glass plates. In total, about 500 plates. All are unseen stereo negatives, made by a Verascope camera, if we believe in the advertising attached in the boxes. Each plate measures 4×10,5 cm, and each frame 4×4,5 cm. The conservation condition is variable, but mainly between good to excellent. The unknown French officer wrote notes between the stereo pairs. All the photos are dated, many are placed and a important portion has commentaries as “25/10/1917 Nettoyage du champs de batailles par les boches”.

The photographer domains the stereo peculiarities, is technically superb and the photographic, military and historic information is very rich.

After a hard investigation, we discovered the author was the captain Pierre Antoine Henri Givord, born at Lyon in 1872 and attached to the Transport de Matériel (le Train) during the Great War. We have his complete military records. The photographer travels between Northern France and Belgium: Ypres, Amiens, Hooglede, Somme…  The dates starts at 1916 and goes until the end of the war, even a familiar part of the collection after the war includes a visit to the post-war front. The officer was in close contact to the other allies armies, including a big amount of british themes photos, like soldiers and curious weapons.

Nowadays, we am working on a complete historic research on each image. The entire collection has been digitized by a full frame camera using a non-aggresive conversion method and restored, achieving high quality images for exhibition and publication purposes.

I can send you more specific info if you wish.
Please feel free to contact me should you have any further questions.

001 Bélica expoThanks, Casa de la Imagen!

Graphic novel announcement

World War One Historical Assn:

I think graphic novels can have an intensity fiction sometimes lacks. There’s nothing poetic about “To End All Wars.” I would love to hear from anyone who gets the chance to read it.

Originally posted on To End All Wars:


There’s just over a month to go until TO END ALL WARS hits your bookshops and letter boxes. After eighteen months of fairly non-stop work we now turn our attention to the promotion of the book. Our most recent feature appears in Nottingham based magazine Left Lion - a free online and print publication focusing on the Nottingham arts and culture scene.

left lion

Our thanks to Robin Lewis for putting the piece together, which you can read at the link below.–59/id/6715

Over the coming weeks and months we’ll be taking part in various launches, talks and exhibitions, the first of which takes place on the 30th of July at the Five Leaves bookshop in Nottingham. TEAW contributors Brick, Pippa Hennessey, Ian Douglas and Kate Houghton are all local to the city, so contact the shop for more information as it’s sure to be an interesting evening.

We’ll update the…

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WW1 Book Review: The Great War 100

World War One Historical Assn:

Add to the nightstand — my nightstand is getting a little wobbly under all the books waiting for me!

Originally posted on WW1 Centenary:

The Great War 100: The First World War In Infographics by Scott Addington (History Press 2014, ISBN 9780752486390, hardbound, £25.00)

Scott Addington is a very active Twitter user and has produced a number of good WW1 and WW2 digital books. This new publication takes his work to a whole new level. He presents the conflict that was the Great War in a very fresh but appealing way by using infographics to retell the story. What are infographics? These are akin to slide images with text which using clever illustration they help explain a point, fact or part of the history of the war. This is a novel approach to WW1 history but all part of Addington’s ‘history for the ordinary person’ approach, which is to be applauded.

This is a really handsome and well produced book with facts on subjects like battles, medals, and weapons, as well as the human cost…

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Somewhere In France, 6/9/1918

World War One Historical Assn:

Here are letters I can read.

Originally posted on Soldiers' Mail:

Somewhere in France

June 9, 1918

Dear Mother and Father:

We have changed our location since I wrote you last. As I told you in my last letter we didn’t expect to stay where we were very long. We were there just a week. We didn’t do anything but loaf around there. When we came there the camp was crowded with the soldiers that came across with the same convoy that we did. After the camp itself was filled they put the new arrivals out in the nearby fields. We were about the last to leave of the men that came over with us. But as we came away there were other ships in the harbor unloading men. Men are coming over as fast as they can be taken care of, and faster than I had any idea of.

It is a little over a week ago that we packed…

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World War One Historical Assn:

I wish I could read them, don’t you?

Originally posted on digital 1418:

Header Krigsbreve

The digital collection Krigsbreve [War Letters] presents some 450 letters written by the Danish soldier Georg Christian Knudsen between 1913 and 1918, mainly addressed to his fiancée Marie Hübschmann. and her mother. The website is maintained by his grandchildren Hanne Winther Knudsen and Werner Knudsen. During the First World War [Danish: Første Verdenskrig]  Danmark belonged to the neutral countries. However, Knudsen served in the Germany. He had been born in 1886 to the south of the Danish border at that time. The website gives transcriptions of each letter; the letters were published in their original sequence. A few photographs illustrate this letter collection.The website and the letters are in Danish.


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DNB – 100 Jahre Erster Weltkrieg

World War One Historical Assn:

Note the links as well!

Originally posted on digital 1418:

Header DNB Erster Weltkrieg

The virtual exhibition DNB – 100 Jahre Erster Weltkrieg [100 years First World War] has been created by the Deutsche Bücherei in Leipzig, nowadays part of the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek. In 1914 the Deutsche Bücherei started collecting items for a Weltkriegssamlung. The virtual exhibition has been created for the centenary of the First World War. A selection of items from a wide variety of resources has been catalogued anew and partially digitized.  By clicking on the menu you can choose item concerning a number of themes, such as Krieg sammeln (collecting the war), Krieg Ausstellen (showing the war), Medienwelt (the world of the media, with a wide variety in formats), Kriegsalltag (daily life during the war), propaganda and persons. You can also select some thirty  themes from an alphabetical overview (A-Z). The Zeitstrahl (“time ray”) allows you to search on a time-table for events during a particular…

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Planning the best battle pilgrimage, Part 2

If time is more precious than money, consider hiring a guide. The going rate is generally $400-$600 per day. If that is not in the budget, they can often provide initial guidance and suggestions. In many cases, the experts are Europeans with good command of English and the advantage of living close to the battlefields. A partial list of tour guides and authors includes Markus Klauer of Germany (; Michael Prisille of Germany (; Wim Degrande of Belgium (; and Englishwoman Christina Holstein ( Americans, too, have developed very specific expertise. For example, Rob Laplander has researched the Lost Battalion extensively, and Steven Skinner has researched the life of aviator Frank Luke.

The benefit of experts is best illustrated in this example: A friend knew that his great-uncle served in the (Imperial German) Infanterie-Regiment Nr. 87, and that he was buried in France. He wanted to retrace his great-uncle’s footsteps; but he had no knowledge of traveling in France. So he turned to the author for assistance.

My first research step was to obtain a copy of the German regimental history — all 400+ pages — from a German friend. This was followed by a search of the German War Graves Association database ( that identified the cemetery, burial plot, and the date of death. Cross-referencing this date with the regimental history narrative yielded the front line held in June 1918. A browse through the regimental history and a reading of Alistar Horne’s “The Price of Glory” also revealed that IR87 played a key role in the initial assault on Verdun.

Vacation time and budgets were worked out, and it was determined that three days would be available to retrace the great-uncle’s steps. This meant a very narrowly focused trip. It was decided to visit the cemetery grave and the area of line held at the time of his death in June 1918 on one day, and to follow the regiment’s advance in the Verdun sector for two days. IGN Series Blue (1, 25,000) maps were purchased for both regions.

This was an extremely successful trip, where years of experience, determination and luck all came together. The experience was in the form of understanding and appreciating the information in the German regimental history — especially the detailed maps. The determination was in the form of driving down a narrow, dirt farm lane in a rental car to get to the German front line position and walking through about 30 yards of crops to enter a wooded ravine where there had once been a headquarters. The luck was in the form of finding the wooded area largely undisturbed, complete with shell holes and a few unexploded shells that the farmer had removed from the field. Similarly, the combination of IGN maps for Verdun and the regimental history’s maps made it easy to follow the great-uncle’s advance.

The battlefields of World War I are still there to be explored. The Internet and the information age continue to make it easier; but it takes effort and determination on several levels to make a truly rewarding trip. Bon voyage!

About the author: Randal S. Gaulke is an armchair historian and battlefield tourist. Since 1994 he has been focusing on the Meuse-Argonne Offensive; with an emphasis on the German side of the battle. He enjoys sharing his interest with others, and he can be reached at


Blogger’s note: Speaking of luck … on one trip, bad luck led to the bus coming to a dead end on a dirt track out in the middle of the French nowhere. Good luck led a herd of cattle to misinterpret the arrival of the bus as a food delivery and come charging across a field toward us. The frustration of the dead end is barely recalled, but the charge of the cows will never be forgotten.

Steve cow stampede