SPENCER JONES (editor)
The scrutiny of British military leadership during the First World War has become an enduring feature of academic study over the last couple of decades. This welcome new book continues the trend but in a series of biographical essays extends the scope of inquiry from the high command to all levels of officer leadership. Written by experts in their field, this compilation of 15 chapters is grouped into the various command levels: GHQ; corps, division and brigade; with a final section considering leadership by battalion and company.
The outlook on British leadership is generally positive and the various authors argue strongly for their chosen subjects (there are a few exceptions, notably a very level-headed assessment by J. M. Bourne of Archibald Murray, Sir John French’s hapless chief of staff). In terms of their performance in 1914, little criticism could be attached to I Corps commander Haig (Gary Sheffield) and the Quartermaster General Robertson (John Spencer), or indeed Grierson (Mark Connelly), the II Corps commander felled by a heart attack before the action commenced. From my own more critical perspective of the BEF in 1914, the authors have had to work harder to justify their claims for French (Stephen Badsey), Smith-Dorrien (Spencer Jones and Steven J. Corvi), Allenby (Simon Robbins) and Capper (Richard Olsen). These generals have been fortunate in finding such eloquent advocates.
Of the three subjects chosen at brigade level, I was pleased to see acknowledgment given to those great fighting soldiers FitzClarence (Jones) and Bulfin (Michael Stephen LoCicero). The final member of the trio, Henderson (James Pugh), played a key role in the formation of the Royal Flying Corps, one of the success stories of the British Army in 1914.
Two chapters are assigned to officers operating within the infantry battalion, ‘collective’ rather than individual biographies. Battalion commanders (Peter Hodgkinson) are subjected to close statistical analysis, a vital command position given that the CO set the tone of the battalion and was largely responsible for its peace-time training. Last but far from least is the chapter devoted to company commanders (John Mason Sneddon), a thoughtful study of the officers who actually led their men into battle. Complemented by photographs and several informative colour maps, this is an welcome addition to the literature of command and control; essential reading for those interested in the British Army in 1914.
Helion, 375 pages, £29.95 (h/b)