Popular culture likes to paint the senior officers of the First World War as petrified fossils of an earlier style of warfare unable to adjust to modern fighting methods and strategies. Further, they are also identified as compensating for this shortfall through repetition of outdated techniques and a refusal to both acknowledge their own shortcomings and to make themselves aware of the impact of their decisions. This prevailing attitude was, the authors allege, the result of a society reeling from the devastating losses of the war and looking for culpability and UK governmental leadership in the form of Lloyd George’s memoirs placing very clear responsibility for the war’s conduct on the shoulders of senior military leadership.
Davies andMaddocks have undertaken an effort to adjust this perception and bring it closer in line with reality. Their approach does not seek to refute the idea that there were shortcomings amongst some of the commanders; indeed they readily acknowledge that there were some examples of poor leadership. What they do seek to redress is the idea that General Officers lacked courage and that they were unaware of the conditions under which their men fought; in this I would suggest that they were, for the most part, successful.
Drawing upon statistics of killed, wounded and captured General Officers by year; operational experience and explicit orders from senior HQ’s and government officials forbidding front line exposure for senior officers, they show that, as a group, casualties were very prevalent amongst senior staff. This is not an unbiased study; the authors are quite clear of the position that they hold right at the outset and they focus their efforts to prove their thesis. Their research is comprehensive and they provide a detailed synopsis of the fate of each senior officer casualties from the British and Imperial Armies.
I enjoyed this book and found it enlightening and educational. The authors have gone a long way towards redressing a misconception that history, thus far, has done little to address.
Reviewed by Chris Buckham for War History Online.
Bloody Red Tabs: General Officer Casualties of the Great War 1914-1918
Author: Frank Davies and Graham Maddocks
Pen and Sword
Major Chris Buckham is a Logistics Officer in the Royal Canadian Air Force. He has experience working with all elements including SOF. A graduate of the Royal Military College of Canada, he holds a BA in PoliSci and an MA in International Relations. He is presently employed as an ILOC Officer with the multinational branch of EUCOM J4 in Stuttgart, Germany. He maintains a blog of his reviews at: www.themilitaryreviewer.blogspot.com