Book Review: Reinventing Warfare 1914-18: Novel Munitions and Tactics of Trench Warfare


by Anthony Saunders

London / New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2012. Pp. x, 362. Illus., plans, tables, notes, biblio., index. $120.00. ISBN: 1441123814

Figuring out how to fight during the Great War.

Saunders, who has written extensively on weapons and tactics in the twentieth century (e.g., Raiding on the Western Front, Hitler’s Atlantic Wall, etc.), opens by noting that “No army went to war in 1914 expecting to conduct trench warfare . . . and consequently no army was equipped for such an eventuality.”  It is the effort to find the proper equipment and tactics needed for trench warfare that is Saunders' theme in this work. 

Although focused on the British Army, Saunders does pay a good deal of attention to developments by other armies.  His discussion covers existing munitions suitable for trench operations, the development of the “bureaucracy of invention” in several countries, the engineering problems of trench warfare and the prodigious growth of military engineering forces.  He then concentrates on two weapons, grenades and mortars, reaching back into the seventeenth century, no less, and shows how these evolved during the war and how these affected tactics as the armies integrated them into their tool kits.  Saunders concludes with a look at how innovations affected the conduct of the war and helped restore mobility. 

The major flaw in the book is that Saunders should have paid more attention to the reason that armies did not go to war “expecting to conduct trench warfare.”  Certainly recent wars (e.g., Russo-Turkish, 1887-1888, Russo-Japanese, 1904-1905, Balkans, 1912-1913) provided ample evidence that trench warfare was an increasingly common response to the lethality of modern weaponry.

Nevertheless, given that Saunders’ primary object is to explore the development of new weaponry to cope with the trench stalemate, Reinventing Warfare, a volume in the series “Continuum Studies in Military History,” is an excellent book for anyone interested in the problem of trench warfare, the development of modern munitions, or the Great War.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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