A lot of the focus of the centenary of the Great War in recent weeks has been on the Western Front, the cockpit of the war as someone once said. But there was another war, just as ruinous, if not more so, for the leaders of the protagonists. When it was over, three imperial houses were swept away and new states formed. The world was completely changed and events were set in train to bring decades of misery to millions.
The Kaiser and his field marshals failed to take any notice of the catastrophe that befell the great opportunist of a century before. When Napoleon marched on Russia he reached Moscow unlike the Kaiser and one of his corporals, who would be even more ambitious and much more bonkers. But the result for the little genius was just the same – or rather it was for his army – disaster. You read stories of the horrors falling on the strung out and starving army Napoleon abandoned in Russia and the Retreat from Moscow was no oil painting in real terms.
In this superior book by David Bilton we get to see the misery heaped on everyone when the Germans invaded Russia supported by the Austrians, who let their Czechs and other minorities do a lot of the fighting for them. What none of them expected was that Russia would mobilise so quickly and attack them! But we all know that regardless of the bravery of the ordinary Russian soldier, the top brass, logistics and sheer size of the army was it’s undoing. This great force, wallowing about under the command of aristocrats and popinjays was doomed to fail against a wholly more organised and ruthless German army. Hindenburg’s victory at Tannenberg is perhaps the principal reminder of this.
The shipwreck that was the Russian army dashed itself on the breakwater of the revolution sweeping the country and that is all we need to say on that score. Victory allowed the Germans to shift a vast number of divisions west in time for the Kaiserschlact, for all the good it did them.
This is an excellent book brimming with superb photographs accompanied by very useful captions. As ever, there is something for uniform buffs and collectors, living historians and old photo lovers along with anyone nostalgic for the days of empire in central and Eastern Europe. I am not too sure how many of them there might be! Once again this series has done itself justice with a thoroughly good instalment. I am not an expert on photography from this theatre so cannot say whether the rare photographs subheading we know so well is pushing it’s luck or not. The chronology of the war in the East and explanatory texts serve to make it an extremely valuable resource. All in all, this is a top class product. The Great War in the East will never outshine the Western Front for populist reading, but it is well worth a look at to widen your horizons. This book will get you started on that journey.
Reviewed by Mark Barnes for Warhistoryonline
THE CENTRAL POWERS ON THE RUSSIAN FRONT 1914-1918
By David Bilton
Images of War series
Pen & Sword Military
ISBN: 978 1 78340 053 9