The Fight to the Finish
The First World War – Month by Month
London: Penguin Random House, 2019
Paperback 432pp. RRP $24.99
Reviewer: Neville Taylor, May 2020
Allan Mallinson served as an officer in the British Army from 1969 to 2004 in both the infantry and cavalry – commanding a cavalry regiment before reaching the rank of Brigadier. His last posting was as Military Attaché in the British Embassy in Rome. He commenced writing before retiring from the Army: creating a fictional cavalry officer in India in the early 19th century that has led to a total of thirteen extremely popular books. He has written five military history books – not being afraid to consider the shortcomings of commanders in battle. Highly respected, he is a perfect author to encapsulate the First World War in a single volume
As the centenary of World War I approached, The Times approached Allan Mollison to write corresponding monthly commentaries of approximately 1000 words on the course of the War. Fight to the Finish has expanded and edited the commentaries with a view to maintaining continuity of the narrative. The predominant actions, how and why they came about and how they appeared on the ground is the main thrust of this work.
A very concise Prologue outlines the Alliances from 1839 to 1913. The five Parts (one for each year) have an opening summary of the major occurrences before launching into the month-by-month chapters. The reader is able to easily follow the progress of events from the beginning of the conflict through to the signing of the Armistice in November 1918. Naturally many of the minor battles known to military history buffs have not been mentioned; this is small price to pay for a comprehensive narrative of one of the 20th Century’s major catastrophes in one volume.
This work intentionally omits the inclusion of references or citations to allow the reader to move smoothly and unencumbered through the narrative. A relatively small number of adequate maps have been included for clarity and avoidance of wordy descriptions. Two inserts of excellent black and white photographs of the major players on both sides and battlefield scenes have been included, as have the colour prints of war artists.
Mallinson concludes with the comment that the lives lost should have been far fewer. This he has explored in detail in his Too Important for Generals (2016). Two brief Annexes list the terms of the Armistice and the human cost (listed by country – the British Empire excepted); there was a 57% casualty rate suffered by the 65 million who fought. A short list of recommended British books precedes a 20-page Index.
Written in imminently readable prose that retains the reader’s interest through its brevity, this is a work that should grace the military history section of every library.
The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this work available for review.