This article is a review of Barbara W. Tuchman monumental book ‘The Guns of August’.
This book is an account of the first month of the World War 1 ( WW1) which was in August 1914. Barbara W. Tuchman was not an academician, but she was no stranger when it comes to world politics, her grandfather, Henry Morgenthau was Ambassador to Turkey during WW1. The book started with the funeral of Edward VII of England in 1910 which was a special occasion where many of Europe’s monarch convene peacefully before they went to war with each other.
The book was divided into 3 parts – plans, outbreak, and battle. The German’s plan was called The Schlieffen’n Plan the brainchild of Count Alfred Von Schlieffen. The plan from the start has been made clear, in case of war with France, Germany will violate Belgium’s neutrality. Schlieffen’s concentrate major German’s force toward France, only one-eighth of her force will hold her eastern front against Russia, as he calculated that Russia with its vastness and meager railroad will take 6 weeks to mobilize, by which France will already beaten and the army can be shifted east. Germany also believed that railways were key to war, the best military brain went to rail planning, Germany has mastered the art of logistics, which tuned to be very crucial and effective.
The French plan called Plan 17 centered on the doctrine of an offensive war, which was taught at the War College by General Ferdinand Foch. France has been weary of been defensive all the time. The plan was thought with the spirit of France to win the war, this spirit was called an ‘elan’. The doctrine however soon proven to be hard to sustain under heavy German’s shelling.
The Russian after a shameful defeat in the Russo-Japanese War began to reform its military. Corruption, weak leadership and clinging to obsolete theories, however, have hampered the reforms. Czar Nicholas was said to be uneducated in statecraft, instead, the real government was run by a class of bureaucrat called Tchinovniki, while the secret police dealt with the revolutionaries and guarded the monarch to stay in power.
The outbreak of the war came when Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir of Austria was assassinated by a Serbian nationalist on June 28. Austria with the backing of Germany declared war on Serbia and bombarded Belgrade. Prompted Russia to mobilize her army to defend her natural ally, Germany declared war on Russia. France having under obligation in a treaty with Russia began her mobilization to attack Germany, while the British, although were hesitant all the way, entered the war after Germany had violated Belgium’s neutrality.
Turkey which was crucial for Germans to ensure that their supply route through the narrow strait, hesitate to pick a side in the conflict. British betrayal, however, seizing 2 ships built in Britain that were already paid by the Turks pushed them to ally with Germany. Churchill was described in the book as “violently anti-Turk”. Eventually, Germans sold 2 of their battleships ‘Goeben’ and ‘Breslau’ to Turkey. German’s Admiral Souchon then used these ships now manned by the Turks to shell Odessa, Sevastopol, and Feodosia which caused Russia, Britain, and France declared war on Turkey.
The book ends with the battle of the Marne where the Germans were pushed back although it does not end the war that would continue for years. Overall the book dealt with the dilemma faced by the commanders and generals, how they made their decision and also the issue of strategy versus necessity.