Book review: “Ring of Steel”

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
defeat.

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.

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