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RUSI Victoria / (03)9282 5918/ secretary@rusivic.org.au/ © 2019 RUSI Victoria

The Last Battle

Endgame on the Western Front, 1918

 

Peter Hart

Profile Books, UK 2018

Hardback   420pp   RRP: $49.99

 

Reviewer: Neville Taylor, September 2019

 

There has been very little written on the final months of the First World War, and the author has addressed the last major battles fought in the ‘last one hundred days’.

The initial 50 pages have been devoted to providing both the military and, probably more importantly, the political scenario as the War was about to enter its last three months. The leaders and generals of the waring nations had no idea that the end of the conflict was so near. In March 1918 the French general Ferdinand Foch had been appointed Commander in Chief of the Allied Armies in France, heralding a new period of co-operation between the French, British, Belgian and American Armies.

Forthright in his approach, Foch realized that the Allies had the combat power to overcome a tired, depleted and demoralized enemy after their exhausting 1918 spring and summer offensives had failed to achieve their goals. His solution was a rolling series of coordinated attacks that would provide no respite for the Germans and also deprive them of the opportunity to counter attack or reinforce their troops. To this end he planned four successive attacks to commence each day from 26th September: each force being at least two armies attacking the Meuse-Argonne Line, the Canal du Nord, Ypres and Courtrai, and the St Quentin Canal and Beaurevoir Line. The outcome of these attacks were all successful: by the 3rd, 7th, 14th and 5th October respectively. Greater than normal tactical risks were expected in order to place the Germans under constant pressure, and the number of Allied casualties reflected this, (boosted by the outbreak of the Spanish Flu throughout the battlefield).

By 12th October the Germans had agreed to withdraw from occupied territories in order for peace negotiations to begin. Additional battles were fought during October (to seize Cambrai) and November at Sambre where the French-Belgian border was crossed on 10th.

Hart’s last chapter examines the difficulties faced by troops after the Armistice: eager for repatriation, some being required to remain as part of an Occupation Force, whether their former employment be awaiting their return, and home being radically different to what they left. He goes as far as to refer to it as ‘their next battle’.

Dealing with battles involving multiple armies necessitated the inclusion of comprehensive maps showing Allied intentions and daily progression to objectives. The narrative contains excellent first-hand accounts that places the reader ’on the battlefield’, but at times a paucity of dates makes it difficult to know at what stage a particular event occurred. A generous collection of photographs of key personnel and battle scenes, Notes and an exhaustive Index round out this notable work that fits well with any military history collection on the First World War.

 

The RUSI - Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this work available for review.