by Jonathan Boff
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018. Pp. xvi, 374+.
Illus., maps, append., notes, biblio., index. $34.95. ISBN: 0199670463
High Command on the Western Front
In this first ever biography in English of Bavarian Crown Prince Rupprecht (1869-1955), British academic Boff, who has written on the BEF in the Great War, notably Winning and Losing on the Western Front: The British Third Army and the Defeat of Germany in 1918, not only gives us a life of one of the leading German generals of the Great War, but also a look the conflict as seen from the other side of the hill. While his royal blood certainly played a role in gaining command of a field army, and eventually an army group for Rupprecht, Boff demonstrates that – unlike Imperial Crown Prince Wilhelm -- the man knew his business, and readily adapted to changing conditions as the war unfolded.
Boff gives us a good look at the German command system at work, in the interplay between general and chief-of-staff. He also provides some insight into the internal tensions in the army, as the dominant Prussians often slighted the commanders of the other contingents – Bavarian, Wurttemberger, and Saxon – at times to the detriment of operations. In keeping with more recent scholarship on the war, Boff’s treatment of the supposedly “gifted team” of Hindenburg and Ludendorff demonstrates that they were considerably less capable than their reputations would have us believe.
Boff also demonstrates that the German perspective on many events was often quite different from that of the Allies. For example, the protracted Battle of the Somme, traditionally seen in British scholarship and popular memory as a disastrous and wasteful effort, was considered a serious threat by the Germans.
Boff concludes with an account of Rupprecht’s postwar years, during which his opposition to Hitler led him into exile, and some of his family into concentration camps. While hemight have said more about Rupprecht’s effort, with some other senior commanders, to get Germany to seek a negotiated peace in 1917, Boff has certainly written an excellent account of the man’s life and military career
Haig’s Enemy is an essential read for anyone interested in the Great War or command in wartime.
Note: Haig’s Enemy is also available as an e-publication.