Book Review: The Other Side of the Wire, Vol II, Battle of the Somme with the German XIV Reserve Corps


by Ralph J. Whitehead

Solihull, Eng.: Hellion / Philadelphia: Casemate, 2013. Pp. xiv + 468 + CD. Illus., maps, tables, notes, appends., biblio. $89.95. ISBN: 1907677120

In this, the second volume of his monumental work on the German XIV Reserve Corps in the First World War, independent scholar Whitehead concentrates almost entirely on the events of a single day, June 1, 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

As noted in our review of the first volume of The Other Side of the Wire,  With the German XIV Reserve Corps on the Somme, September 1914 - June 1916, the corps was formed on the outbreak of the war from a handful of regular troops and a large number of reservists from Wurttemberg and Baden, and primarily consisted of the 26th and 28th Reserve Divisions.  After a brief tour in Alsace, the corps took part in the final days of the war of movement in the late summer and autumn of 1914, and then settled into the trenches on the Somme. 

In Whitehead’s second volume, he covers the work of the XIV Reserve Corps on the first three days of the Battle of the Somme, with a particular concentration of the events of June 1st.  He uses ten chapters, each dealing with the events of a particular sector of the front in considerable detail, often on a minute-by-minute basis.  This is a grim tale of how the corps took more than 6,000 casualties in helping to break the British offensive, with so many dead that a CD is necessary to list them. 

As was the case with Volume I, Whitehead uses numerous excerpts from letters, memoirs, and unit diaries.  We get little details of soldiering and the soldier’s life from the German perspective, usually overlooked in most English-language accounts.  So we learn about the benefits of going on patrol into “No Man’s Land,” religious services at the front, changes in uniforms and equipment, and quite a lot about weapons, tactics, trench construction, rations, and more.  

Writing of the second volume, Stand To! The Journal of the Western Front Association, said "This book covers so much that it needs to be read by everyone who knows the Allied versions [of the Somme],” a conclusion that is hard to argue with and easily extends to the entire work.  Whitehead’s The Other Side of the Wire is an outstanding achievement, and an essential read for anyone interested in the Great War or men at war.                                                      


This volume is also available in paperback for $69.95, ISBN 978-1-908916-9-1.


Note: The third and final volume, due in mid-2015, will carry the story of the corps from the first days on the Somme through the end of the war, by which time the 26th Reserve Division and the 28th Reserve Division, around which the corps had been built, were split up, the one to fight on at the Somme, then Ypres, and in the German March 1918 offensive, and the other to fight in Champagne, at Verdun, and in the May 1918 offensive.   As Whitehead tells their stories, he will also look at the German collapse in the face of the Allied offensives later that year and cover some post-war matters.  The volume will also have a comprehensive index and other materials.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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