Recommended reading on the First World War

Discussions on all aspects of the First World War not covered in the other sections. Hosted by Terry Duncan.
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Attrition
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Re: Recommended reading on the First World War

Post by Attrition » 29 Oct 2008 23:35

http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0521044367

R.T. Foley has written a rather fine piece on the origin of the Battle of Verdun which offers something close to an operational history of the German army in the West between November 1914 and the end of 1916.

He sees the traditional German occupation with decisive battle, consequent on Prussian/German economic and strategic frailties substantially challenged by the revival of 'Volkskrieg' during the Franco-Prussian war (unaccountably called the 'Franco-German' war).

He finds that Moltke the Elder spent the years after the war occupied wth the implications of mass warfare and the new difficulties caused by population growth and industrialisation. Although mainstream opinion felt that the war vindicated Clausewitz's model of decisive victory there was some support for the renewal of interest in the long war idea. Von der Goltz, Delbruck etc challenged the view that the war ended with decisive battles. Delbruck also claimed (to much dispute) that Friedrich I avoided battle and instead fought 'ermattungskrieg', a war of exhaustion, where battle was only accepted on favourable terms as part of a strategy in which military operations were subordinate to diplomacy.

Foley argues persuasively using records retrieved from Russia and long thought destroyed by wartime bombing (a convenient cover for much Allied looting and German official dissimulation) that Falkenhayn drew the right conclusions from the course of the war in 1914 - that decisive battle had failed and that Germany couldn't win by further attempts. Falkenhayn's pessimistic view left the war of exhaustion as the only feasible alternative. Germany should concentrate on splitting the Entente with carefully calculated attacks to weaken its armies, with a diplomatic offensive to detach the most weakened country.

This was blown off course in 1915 due to the crisis in the Austro-Hungarian army and the controversy Falkenhayn caused by rejecting vernichtungskrieg. Nonetheless Russia was booted out of Poland for a loss of about 2 million men. Falkenhayn believed that the Russian army was incapable of offensive action, the new front line was easily defensible and that the weakened Austro-Hungarian army could cope with this reduced burden.

In 1916 Falkenhayn tried to knock France out of the war the same way as Russia by attacking at Verdun and compelling the French army to counter-attack the Germans, who would have captured ground easy to defend (the Meuse Heights) and could inflict disproportionate casualties on the French with artillery fire; the British would launch a hasty relief offensive and be cut to pieces and then the Germans could counter-attack the weakened French and British armies, drive the British out of France and make a separate peace with the French.

As we know a wheel fell off and the Germans returned to the search for decisive victory under Hindenburg and Ludendorff and succumbed to the war of exhaustion.

Despite Foley being a known American [;-)- he has a literate prose style which many English historians would be wise to emulate. There is a dearth of fatuous cliches, reasonable sentence contruction and only a few occasions where the red pen was needed to eliminate infelicitous language. Pleasingly, the footnotes are where they belong, the pictures are nice and the maps are adequate. Well done CUP.

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Re: Recommended reading on the First World War

Post by Attrition » 30 Oct 2008 11:44

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Origins-First-W ... 165&sr=1-1

The Origins of the First World War: Controversies and Consensus, Annika Mombauer.

A historiographical survey. When the war began each country tried to throw blame on their enemies; quite a surprising thing for your intrepid reviewer, who was of the view that public opinion was less important in those days. Each country was quick to print justifications which were published in 1914.

After the war the War Guilt Clause galvanised the Germans to try to undermine the Entente belief in Germany's culpability. The Germans were the first to publish their version of events from archives material, though it was noted that by doing it chronologically rather than thematically they avoided juxtaposing documents from different places which would make the German case look dubious.

By the late 20's some US writers had offered a revisionist view that the Entente was to blame. This didn't become an orthodoxy though because there was some genuine scholarship in Germany which was never published. Commentators smelt a rat over this.

After the Big Two, Germans needed a 'discontinuity' thesis to keep the Hitler regime in a box marked 'aberration', what with the desire for reunification and the US need to remilitarise Germany, with the associated need to rehabilitate nazis in general and war criminals in particular to fill posts in the West German state and armed forces.

Fritz Fischer's 1960 bombshell blew this out of the water by bringing Albertini’s conclusions to the German audience. Now there is a consensus that German leaders were the most culpable for the Great War though not one for Fischer's rather mechanistic analysis. Comparative studies of Britain and France since archives were opened in the 60's have refined the German war guilt conclusion by examining Entente motives without substantially altering the conclusion that it was the Germans who were ready for a small earthquake in the Balkans to become a great European war in their effort to undermine the Entente.

Sadly the book isn't a translation so Mombauer has to take the blame for a dreadfully written book full of linguistic infelicities, which have sorely pressed the red pen. Sentences have been struck out, even a few paragraphs; it is a book so poorly written that it sometimes overpowers the quality of the scholarship. I suspect that the chapters are lecture notes which have been poorly worked up. The dreadful prose is a great pity since Mombauer has summarised the subject admirably.

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Re: Recommended reading on the First World War

Post by Attrition » 30 Oct 2008 11:59

Decisions/dp/1845741390/ref=sr_1_5?ie=U ... 270&sr=1-5

General Headquarters 1914-16 and Its Critical Decisions by Erich von Falkenhayn.

An interesting and yet peculiar book. I thought that it was a bargain at £1.60 yet reading it was difficult. I doubt that this was the fault of the translator who seems to have done a competent job. Falkenhayn writes with a degree of abstraction that is rare in a memoir. When referring to himself he uses his title rather than 'me' or 'I' and is almost anonymous in the narrative. Whilst it is literate, it is difficult to warm to and a slow read.

He got the top slot in September 1914 after the Schlieffen Plan went Pete Tong, keeping his previous job as Prussian War Minister. This set off a controversy in the upper reaches of the Imperial Army because he was an outsider, having spent time outside Europe involved in matters like the suppression of the Boxer Rebellion. He also antagonised traditionalists by insisting that the course of the 1914 campaign showed that the Entente's preponderance of manpower, money and resources couldn't be overthrown by purely military methods since Germany's capacity to use them had been at its peak in 1914.

Falkenhayn claimed that all was not lost but that military methods had to be part of a wider war policy which included diplomatic efforts to split the entente (i.e. a continuation of German diplomatic priorities before the war). By depriving one of the Entente powers of hope of a military victory and then offering generous terms to make peace, Germany might reduce the Entente's material preponderance and obtain sources of supply despite the British blockade. A military decision might be possible if this was achieved. The traditionalists rejected this theory and rallied behind Hindenburg who spent the next couple of years advocating belief in the possibility of a purely military victory without the need for any of these outrageous intellectual refinements.

Falkenhayn began by using the extra troops that Berlin was able to produce plus those freed by the fall of Antwerp to implement his limited strategy of modest attacks, intended cheaply to take ground needed to make a prolonged defence of the conquests in the West as efficient as possible. This would stabilise the situation despite the French army still being in the war whilst the crisis in the east consequent on the disasters that befell the Austro-Hungarian army was also dealt with. The result was that the German army in the west tried to advance down the Channel Coast (which would hamper the British army and help the German Navy menace the Channel) as the British and French tried to go the other way. The Germans captured the Gheluvelt Plateau and the entente held on to Ypres. Losses were heavy on both sides. This meant that the Germans had the high ground and were able to use it to make the British pay a heavy price for holding the town. The relative cumulative loss favoured the Germans as time passed. This was to have greater ramifications in 1916.

By reducing German divisions in the west to nine battalions in early 1915 on the grounds that a strategic defensive on favourable ground needed less manpower than firepower and that the German army was of higher quality so needed fewer men than their opponents (even in the west) Falkenhayn accumulated a strategic reserve without an over-expansion of the army which would unduly dilute the effectiveness of its best asset - the peace trained officers and NCO's.

In 1915 despite the heated opposition of Hindenburg and his faction Falkenhayn rescued the Austro-Hungarian army with the Gorlice-Tarnow offensive, instead of a strategically meaningless advance further north that they wanted (and would reap the credit for). The Russian army had no answer to the mass of heavy and medium artillery that Falkenhayn was able to confront them with. With a relatively small infantry force to follow up the destruction wrought by this siege train the Germans and Austro-Hungarians forced the Russians to retreat and overpowered every attempt they made to stand their ground. The effect of this was soon to make the Russian position in Congress Poland and Galicia untenable. Before the autumn they retreated way beyond Warsaw for a loss of about 2,000,000 men. Falkenhayn was well pleased that the new line was within the limited capacity of the Austro-Hungarian army to hold with some German army support south of the Pripet Marshes, due to the destruction of the Russian army's capacity to attack.

In the autumn Falkenhayn further cleared the Austrians' yard arm by stopping the offensive against the Russians and taking troops from Hindenburg (after forcing the Kaiser to choose between him and Hindenburg) to defeat the Serbs and assist the Bulgarians establish a defence against the Entente incursion at Salonika. During this time the Western Army withstood big offensives by the French in Artois and Champagne and improved their position in Flanders during Second Ypres, another limited liability attack. The French attacks 'failed' in the sense that they were intended as 'percees' (breakthroughs). They did though capture tactically valuable ground in the early stages and precipitate a crisis of confidence among the defenders.

Unfortunately for Falkenhayn, the Russians rejected Bethmann-Hollweg's peace offensive in 1915, so he planned another try against the French on the grounds that the Russians were mortally wounded and would collapse of their own accord. This led to the Battle of Verdun. Since the French couldn't neutralise a German advance by retreating into the hinterland, Falkenhayn decided that Verdun was the place to pin the French and compel them to expend their infantry against German artillery. This would repeat on the grand scale the situation at Ypres. The German plan was for a limited commitment of infantry at Verdun to follow up an overwhelming bombardment on the Gorlice-Tarnow model to capture the Meuse Heights, which would be held by a small infantry force and to inflict huge casualties with artillery on the French unless they were prepared for Verdun to become untenable. Given German numerical inferiority (Falkenhayn says the British had 7-8 men per yard of front compared to 1 German) the first attacks were restricted to the east bank of the Meuse (despite the likelihood that the French artillery on the west bank would rake the German flank) because of the need to retain a big reserve ready to repulse expected relief offensives on the British front. The early results at Verdun were good but the German attack never captured the Heights, so reducing the French army became a dour infantry battle of the type that Falkenhayn believed the German army couldn't withstand. The British relief offensive never came either. Instead of hasty attacks the British (and French) did on the Somme what the Germans were doing at Verdun. The Russian revival at Lake Narotch and the sensation of the Brusilov Offensive showed that Falkenhayn's strategy was misconceived and that the war of limited objectives which he believed could cumulatively exhaust at least some of Germany's enemies had failed.

Falkenhayn got the push in August 1916 and Hindenburg got the chance to prove him wrong. Russia collapsed for which Hindenburg got the credit and tried to force a decision in the west in 1918 with the military strategy that Falkenhayn believed was beyond Germany's resources and proved him right. Germany lost the ermattungskrieg because the Entente fought it better after the time passed (mid-1916) when Germany could still try to impose its will on its enemies with military force.

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Re: Recommended reading on the First World War

Post by Randyflycaster » 06 Jan 2009 16:04

The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman; also The Road to Saarajevo, by Vladimir Dedijer (a must, IMHO, about the events leading up to the assassination of Franz Ferdinand;).

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Re: Recommended reading on the First World War

Post by Boby » 14 Feb 2009 14:40

Recommended reading:

British War Cabinet papers 1916-1918:
http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/cabi ... usions.htm
http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/cabi ... oranda.htm

An amazing primary source.

Boby,

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Re: Recommended reading on the First World War

Post by Barry Graham » 26 Apr 2009 11:07

Monash: The Outsider who Won A War,
Random House, 2004, ISBN 1-74051-364-9.
Author: Roland Perry

Drawing on Monash's extensive letter and diary archive, the riveting story of how General Sir John Monash, the classic outsider, overcame the obstacles of prejudice that allowed him to play a major role in winning World War 1.

Monash planned and won major battles in the last year of the war that eventually led to the German capitulation. He was ranked, by military experts, as the finest leader on the Allied side, and knighted on the field by King George V.

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Re: Recommended reading on the First World War

Post by Attrition » 13 May 2009 09:54

The British Official History for France 1916 vol 2. I've only browsed it but I have the feeling that it's a gothic monster in the vein of Das Kapital (!) I wouldn't have bothered but I noticed a book about the OH which claimed that the narrative is full of realism and constructive criticism tucked away in footnotes and at the beginnng and end of chapters so I decided to have a punt. It's a very well produced book - a proper hardback and acid free paper. For once I can report that the maps are excellent. Oddly you have to buy the OH from America. Funny old world.

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Re: Recommended reading on the First World War

Post by ironangel82 » 25 May 2009 06:27

hello everyone,

This is my first post in this forum. I'm new to this kind of thing, so please go easy. I am right now reading the second of a two volume set written by a man called Tim Cook. The first volume is definitely worth the read. It is called "At The Sharp End - Canadians fighting the great war 1914-1916."

it can be found here: http://www.amazon.ca/At-Sharp-End-Tim-C ... 0670067342

I'm not too certain how many people on this forum may have read this volume. It is one of the best books I personally have read. I didn't know much about World War I. I have had a few experiences in the mean time linked to travelling and WWI, but prior to reading his book I didn't really know much about it, only that it was a horrible war which killed alot of people. The book starts at the outbreak of the war. It takes you through the preparations and exercises endured by the original members of the CEF during their time on Salisbury Plain. It was written from over 10 years of archival research and the like. The guy who writes it is actually a curator at the Canadian War Museum. It is an amazing book. Well written and above all else, being Canadian - (I don't know if there are any fellow Canadians in this forum) it gave me an immense sense of pride and thankfulness for the fact that I am Canadian. The other things which made the book stand out to me was the way the author takes the book and breaks the war down into its elements, such as say for instance there is a chapter written exclusively on the infamous or famous (depending on who you speak to) Canadian built Ross Rifle. Tim Cook breaks the war down into parts and elements which can be easily absorbed and understood by the reader. That is one of the things which turns me off some books I've read. The author gets too technical and too analytical. Instead of trying to explain the things which make the situation what it is, the author simply throws terminology at you which you wouldn't understand without a history degree. In this book, it's written for the everyday man, as well as having the content and expert analysis which will keep the attention of someone who is a little bit more technically minded or knowledgeable about the subject.

The first volume takes you right up to the end of the Somme battles. The second volume (which I'm reading right now) is called "Shock Troops". I will review that book when I am finished it.

"At The Sharp End" is definitely one of those books you're happy you bought. packed with tidbits of information and tons of insight and tactical analysis, as well as comparisons of kit, and one of the most complete pictures of the harsh inhuman conditions that soldiers fighting the First World War endured, it is definitely a book which you won't regret if you pick it up and read it. I would definitely have bought it if say I borrowed it from the library. It's well worth the read. Please check it out.

How was that....did I do okay?

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Re: Recommended reading on the First World War

Post by Attrition » 20 Oct 2009 11:00

Nice piece ironangel82.

I've just started the OH for 1916 vol 2 and am glad that I got 'The Somme: The Day by Day Account' Chris McCarthy first as it has a lot of copies of the maps which make the narrative easier to follow. It's a worm's eye view and all the better for it. Readers familiar with Attrition's comments will know that I am interested in how things were going on the German side, particularly operationally. The narrative does include some description of the German defensive effort and also remembers that the French were involved. I'm only up to 8-9th July so there's a long slog ahead.

I'm on Bazentin Ridge, having a little difficulty with High and Delville Woods but rather enjoying the literacy of the book. I have the impression that some of the comments are motivated by a desire to refute criticism of the British army, units are mentioned advancing in 'artillery formation' etc quite often as if to forestall carping about human wave assaults. German counter-attacks in line are also mentioned and there is a pleasing disdain for the French at times. Having copies of the maps in the McCarthy book is such a great help.

Fromelles now.

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Re: Recommended reading on the First World War

Post by revans618 » 28 Oct 2009 19:46

The Road To Verdun by Ian Ousby is very good reading on the titanic battle.

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Attrition
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Re: Recommended reading on the First World War

Post by Attrition » 11 Nov 2009 21:18

Attrition wrote:Nice piece ironangel82.

I've just started the OH for 1916 vol 2 and am glad that I got 'The Somme: The Day by Day Account' Chris McCarthy first as it has a lot of copies of the maps which make the narrative easier to follow. It's a worm's eye view and all the better for it. Readers familiar with Attrition's comments will know that I am interested in how things were going on the German side, particularly operationally. The narrative does include some description of the German defensive effort and also remembers that the French were involved. I'm only up to 8-9th July so there's a long slog ahead.

I'm on Bazentin Ridge, having a little difficulty with High and Delville Woods but rather enjoying the literacy of the book. I have the impression that some of the comments are motivated by a desire to refute criticism of the British army, units are mentioned advancing in 'artillery formation' etc quite often as if to forestall carping about human wave assaults. German counter-attacks in line are also mentioned and there is a pleasing disdain for the French at times. Having copies of the maps in the McCarthy book is such a great help.

Fromelles now.
I finished the book last night. I have the feeling that I know every ridge and hollow in the Somme area.

It was franker than I expected, despite the encouragement I found from Andrew Green ('Writing the Great War' [2004]) which is why I gave it a go. There is some analysis clearly intended to refute post-war criticism of profligacy and indifference which rings true as does the riposte to the 'easterners'. The narrative makes it clear that the commitment of the German army on the Somme was as high as that of the French and British which goes a long way to explain the huge casualties. Definitely worth reading.

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Re: Recommended reading on the First World War

Post by Peter H » 21 Dec 2009 09:02

The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front, 1915-1919 Mark Thompson
http://www.amazon.co.uk/White-War-Death ... 0571223338

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The definite account,in English,of Italy at War in WW1.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2008/ ... tory.italy
Thompson's account of all this is original, masterly and definitive. He has not only read everything about the subject, he has also tramped the battlefields and talked to centenarian survivors. His descriptions of the gore, guts and filth of attrition in a petrified wilderness are vivid and terrible. His character sketches are penetrating and precise. His judgments are incisive. He is particularly good on literary aspects of the war, delicately anatomising, for example, the work of Italy's foremost war poet, Giuseppe Ungaretti, which "burst like starlight from violence".

Perhaps Thompson's indictment of Italian military incompetence is too relentless. But nothing is more illuminating than his contrast between the modern British memory of the great war as a pointless shambles, and recollections in Italy, where it is seen as an expression of the most glorious qualities of the united nation. Rome's Museum of the Risorgimento displays this legend: "Splendid Italy, binding herself forever in sacrifice." Like Hemingway, we are embarrassed by words such as sacred and sacrifice, and reckon "the things that were glorious had no glory".

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Re: Recommended reading on the First World War

Post by philjd » 27 Jan 2010 00:03

Good books for me (trying to cover off some areas of topics not already covered by previous posters):-

'The Rules of the Game, Jutland and British Naval command' - Andrew Gordon
'British Propaganda during the first world war' - ML Sanders+Philip M Taylor
'The Eastern Front, 1914-1917' - Norman Stone
'Jutland' - John Campbell
'The economics of World War 1' - Broadberry and Harrison
'Dynamic of Destruction: culture and mass killing in the first world war' - Alan Kramer
'Through german eyes: the british and the somme 1916' - Christopher Duffy
'British submarines in the Great War' - Edwyn Gray
'With the german guns: 4 years on the western front' - Herbert Sulzbach
'The First world war: Germany and Austria-Hungary' - Holger Herwig
'A Naval history of world war 1' - Paul G Halpern



NOT recomended 'All the kaisers men' by Ian Passingham - only my opinion, but this book, while interesting, is not objective and has a very obvious bias against the german military.

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The Atlas of Kaunas fortress

Post by Voland » 08 Feb 2010 09:08

New book is published: The Atlas of Kaunas Fortress

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ISBN 978-9955-39-080-0
Vladimir Orlov, Jelena Vitkauskiene (translator), Vladimir Kalinin (editor)

68 pages, hard-cover, format: 28x40, full-color.
Price: 30 euro + delivery.
Orders: [email protected]; [email protected]

The city of Kaunas underwent significant changed in terms of development in the years 1882 – 1915. In those 33 years Kaunas witnessed construction and upgrade of a first-class land fortress – an important part of Russian Empire military doctrine in Europe. Kaunas was selected as a location for the fortress not by accident – its strategic location, unique landscape, significantly located routes and railways earned Kaunas an important place in the military doctrine of the Russian Empire.
The fortress complex consisted of defense and non-defense objects as well as infrastructure elements. In accordance to fort fortification principle Kaunas was encircled by the ring comprised of nine forts and ten batteries, beyond which, two kilometers away, was another ring made up of central fortifications. Kaunas suburbs were augmented to include military camps or towns to accommodate 15 000 – strong garrison, ammunition stores, artillery workshops; a set of administration buildings was erected in the city centre. All fortress objects were connected by means of a narrow railway. A fortress main temple, St Peter and Paul’s Cathedral became a symbol of the fortress power and imperial might; military parades held on the streets of Kaunas, together with the efforts of the administration fortress strove to make every Kaunas resident feel as if they were members of the garrison.

The fortress became a major centre of attraction within Kaunas and its adjacent areas. Thousands of soldiers, modern military machinery, exceptional city – fortress rhythm of life, millions of rubles invested in fortifications and infrastructure – this is the incomplete list of changes brought on Kaunas by the fortress. Such was an impact of Kaunas fortress, that even now, after the city’s expansive development, when only several fortress structures still remain – an ordinary person can hardly perceive this legacy as a whole.

The battle of two gigantic empires which gave rise to the World War, ended up in their demise; Lithuania however was granted an opportunity to regain its independence. No witnesses of those events have lived to this day to tell the tale of the huge Kaunas fortress construction effort, soldiers and military on the streets, tension of war months, German artillery cannonade and the city’s occupation. However, the most significant witness remained – imposing and extraordinary heritage – the complex of Kaunas fortress to which the present book is dedicated.

Recently, Kaunas fortress has been the subject of many talks. Scientific conferences, articles and dedicated periodicals study Kaunas fortress, details of its existence and downfall. However one cannot just talk about the fortress – it has to be seen, a unique monument of architecture and urbanism; a source of the living history, invaluable testament to the efforts of the people - from honorary generals to humble peasants - who built it, prepared it for action and died on its fortifications.

Kaunas fortress is arguably the only first – class fortress of the Russian Empire in Europe that still remains. Its legacy is vast and consists of several hundred structures – administration buildings, forts, batteries, military towns, storehouse complexes, churches, roads, shelters. The fortress elements are scattered in the entire territory of Kaunas, most of the objects are not adapted or refined for tourism. Hundreds of the fortress defense objects are left to their fate and often fall prey to vandals. This is the sad current state of the complex – and this is our common problem. The root of the problem lies not solely with economic reality and lack of funding. The most important issue is the lack of competence, professionalism and motivation – something which cannot be bought.

This atlas will help to learn about most important elements of the Kaunas fortress heritage. One can find here authentic fortification plans, drawings of their composite parts and archive photographs of the structures. The large-scale format of the atlas and its high quality allow to recognize smallest details while the accompanying comments enable understanding of the fortifications’ characteristics and designation. Separate chapters are dedicated to non-defense elements of the fortress – storehouses, infrastructure elements, barracks. Nearly all material collected here is published here for the first time. The concept of the atlas as such did not provide for publishing material descriptive in nature – however, more detailed information is available in V. Orlov’s book “History of Kaunas fortress” (published in Lithuanian only).

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Re: Recommended reading on the First World War

Post by Gungnir » 20 Mar 2010 16:45

The Maoris in the Great War: A History of the New Zealand Native Contingent and Pioneer Battalion
by James Cowan

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