We are pleased to announce that the annual Norman B. Tomlinson, Jr., prize for 2015 for the best work of history in English on World War I has been won by Dr. James Lyon, author of “Serbia and the Balkan Front, 1914: The Outbreak of the Great War” (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2015). Professor Lyon has studied the Balkans for over 34 years and currently works at the Austrian University of Graz’s Center for Southeast European Studies.
“Serbia and the Balkan Front, 1914” is the first history of the Great War to address in-depth the crucial events of 1914 as they played out on the Balkan Front. James Lyon demonstrates how blame for the war’s outbreak can be placed squarely on Austria-Hungary’s expansionist plans and internal political tensions, Serbian nationalism, South Slav aspirations, the unresolved Eastern Question, and a political assassination sponsored by renegade elements within Serbia’s security services. In doing so, he portrays the background and events of the Sarajevo assassination and the subsequent military campaigns and diplomacy on the Balkan Front during 1914.
The book details the first battle of the First World War, the first Allied victory and the massive military humiliations Austria-Hungary suffered at the hands of tiny Serbia, while discussing the oversized strategic role Serbia played for the Allies during 1914. Lyon challenges existing historiography that contends the Habsburg Army was ill-prepared for war and shows that the Dual Monarchy was in fact superior in manpower and technology to the Serbian army, thus laying blame on Austria-Hungary’s military leadership rather than on its state of readiness.
Based on archival sources from Belgrade, Sarajevo and Vienna and using never-before-seen material to discuss secret negotiations between Turkey and Belgrade to carve up Albania, Serbia’s desertion epidemic, its near-surrender to Austria-Hungary in November 1914, and how Serbia became the first belligerent to openly proclaim its war aims, “Serbia and the Balkan Front, 1914” enriches our understanding of the outbreak of the war and Serbia’s role in modern Europe. It is of great importance to students and scholars of the history of the First World War as well as military, diplomatic and modern European history.
James Lyon received a Ph.D. in Modern Balkan History at the University of California, Los Angeles (dissertation: The Forgotten Ally: Serbia and the Balkan Front, 1914), an M.A. in International Relations from Brigham Young University (thesis: Yugoslavia’s Post-World War Two Economic Development), and a B.A. in Russian Language and Literature from Brigham Young University.
Dr. Lyon directed Balkan projects for the International Crisis Group for ten years: an accomplished analyst, he has written three books, many scholarly articles, dozens of published reports, numerous Op/Eds, and has testified before the U.S. Congress and parliamentary panels of EU member states. He has twenty years’ experience in conflict/post-conflict areas of the Balkans, worked on EU and USAID projects and with the Office of the High Representative, as well as in the private sector.
He is the founder of the Foundation for the Preservation of Historical Heritage, which is working with the National Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Historical Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina to digitize their endangered collections. www.fphh.org. He is also an associate researcher with the University of Graz in Austria.
Learn more about the winning book:
The Tomlinson award winner is chosen by a panel chaired by Professor Dennis Showalter of Colorado College, a past president of the Society for Military History. Other panel members are Dr. Michael Neiberg, Professor at the US Army War College, and Graydon A. Tunstall, senior lecturer at the University of South Florida. The prize is made possible through a grant from Norman B. Tomlinson, Jr., director-emeritus of the Western Front Association – US Branch. (WFA-US became the World War One Historical Association in 2011.)
The panel chose this book because it takes a new look at the critical Balkan front using the latest archival evidence. Panel members were impressed that Lyon takes a transnational approach to the subject, setting the Serbian front into an international context. Serbia and the Balkan Front, 1914 analyzes diplomatic, political, and military arenas to give the fullest picture yet of events on the Balkans, the true fulcrum of 1914.
A Mad Catastrophe by Geoffrey Wawro (2014)
Reviewed by WW1HA President Sal Compagno
Geoffrey Wawro is professor of history in Texas and has written a painful study of the role
of the Austro-Hungarian military in the first six months of World War 1. He relates how in
these first months the empire of the Hapsburgs was doomed to extinction. Most emphatically, he emphasizes the deliberate intention of the Austrian government and military in starting
the war. Revenge for the killing of the heir apparent, Austria knew attacking Serbia, whom
they believed instigated the assassination, would draw Russia in. Blatantly unprepared for
war, her infantry had little or no training, she attacked Serbia, only to be thoroughly defeated
three times by an inferior but determined enemy. Conrad von Hotzendorf, a palace General,
enjoyed the reputation as the most incompetent supreme military leader. Gen. Potiorek,
whose military experience was minimal, led the disastrous Serbian ventures.
The Hungarians were described by Wawro as continually undermining all the Austrian efforts
before and during the war. They refused to fund or modernize their joint armies nor were
they willing to cooperate in battle! When both faced the Russian army in the east, they were
unable to achieve even the the most modicum of victory. Exhausted by heat, long marches,
little food, they died or surrendered in thousands. Losing enormous territory, they begged
assistance from the Germans, who reluctantly complied. The first winter in the Carpathian
mountains saw their Austrian-Hungarian troops frozen. Gross incompetence by their leadership led to over 800,000 casualties in six months! The end of the empire was guaranteed. Wawro has painted a sorrowful & agonizing portrait of a mad reckless nation.
Ring of Steel by Alexander Watson (2014)
Reviewed by WW1HA President Sal Compagno
British historian Alexander Watson has written a voluminous book on the history of Imperial Germany and the Empire of Austria-Hungary in the First World War. He offer no excuse for their culpability in starting the conflict and places clear blame on Austria-Hungary more than
Germany, whose backing sparked the war. His judgement is clear, both created and
convinced themselves the war was necessary and just. Nevertheless, the war was one
of total illusions. Austria-Hungary was totally unprepared for a modern war and her
reverses on the battlefield in the first six months devastated her martial ability through
unbelievable incompetence. The result was a decent into the collapse of her empire.
Germany, as he states, bit off more than it could chew. Even its military prowess was
incapable of confronting a two-theater war. Brilliant in tactics, her strategy guaranteed
What renders his study most fascinating is the effect of the war on the peoples in each
country. To the Germans, Russia was the real threat with deep feelings of being overrun
by a barbaric hoard. This fear galvanized the German people to support wholeheartedly
their military effort extending the support to the Western Front. But the price was phenomenal. The war was not even a year old when food shortages became evident in both empires and grew progressively worse as the war dragged on. Stubbornly, they persisted in the downward spiral to total exhaustion. The Austro-Hungarian army, short of every valuable resource, became totally dependent on Germany. Her internal disintegration undermined her resolve to be a competent ally.
Watson is very careful and detailed explaining how the lack of resources, especially food, became so critical in both areas. An urgent & vociferous cry to end the war became paramount and unstoppable. He emphasizes how the last desperate and most blundering act when Germany allows unrestricted submarine activity brings in the United States & its failure ended any possibility of victory. With over 118 pages of notes, Watson has created a formidable study how both in military and domestic areas intertwined in a catastrophic war.