The Telegraph Best Books of the Year
The Times of London Best Books of the Year
A panoramic history of the savage combat on the Western Front between 1914 and 1918 that came to define modern warfare.
The Western Front evokes images of mud-spattered men in waterlogged trenches, shielded from artillery blasts and machine-gun fire by a few feet of dirt. This iconic setting was the most critical arena of the Great War, a 400-mile combat zone stretching from Belgium to Switzerland where more than three million Allied and German soldiers struggled during four years of almost continuous combat. It has persisted in our collective memory as a tragic waste of human life and a symbol of the horrors of industrialized warfare.
In this epic narrative history, the first volume in a groundbreaking trilogy on the Great War, acclaimed military historian Nick Lloyd captures the horrific fighting on the Western Front beginning with the surprise German invasion of Belgium in August 1914 and taking us to the Armistice of November 1918. Drawing on French, British, German, and American sources, Lloyd weaves a kaleidoscopic chronicle of the Marne, Passchendaele, the Meuse-Argonne, and other critical battles, which reverberated across Europe and the wider war. From the trenches where men as young as 17 suffered and died, to the headquarters behind the lines where Generals Haig, Joffre, Hindenburg, and Pershing developed their plans for battle, Lloyd gives us a view of the war both intimate and strategic, putting us amid the mud and smoke while at the same time depicting the larger stakes of every encounter. He shows us a dejected Kaiser Wilhelm II—soon to be eclipsed in power by his own generals—lamenting the botched Schlieffen Plan; French soldiers piling atop one another in the trenches of Verdun; British infantryman wandering through the frozen wilderness in the days after the Battle of the Somme; and General Erich Ludendorff pursuing a ruthless policy of total war, leading an eleventh-hour attack on Reims even as his men succumbed to the Spanish Flu.
As Lloyd reveals, far from a site of attrition and stalemate, the Western Front was a simmering, dynamic “cauldron of war” defined by extraordinary scientific and tactical innovation. It was on the Western Front that the modern technologies—machine guns, mortars, grenades, and howitzers—were refined and developed into effective killing machines. It was on the Western Front that chemical warfare, in the form of poison gas, was first unleashed. And it was on the Western Front that tanks and aircraft were introduced, causing a dramatic shift away from nineteenth-century bayonet tactics toward modern combined arms, reinforced by heavy artillery, that forever changed the face of war.
Brimming with vivid detail and insight, The Western Front is a work in the tradition of Barbara Tuchman and John Keegan, Rick Atkinson and Antony Beevor: an authoritative portrait of modern warfare and its far-reaching human and historical consequences.