Book Review: Learning to Fight: Military Innovation and Change in the British Army, 1914-1918


by Aimeé Fox

Cambridge & New York: Cambridge University Press, 2018. Pp. xii, 280. Figures, notes, biblio., index. $39.95. ISBN: 1107190797

Military Innovation Under Fire

Dr. Fox (King’s College London), adds to the growing mass of literature rejecting the long held “Donkeys” image of military leadership during the Great War with this look at the how British Army instituted systematic efforts to adapt to the new style of warfare that arose as the fighting settled into the trenches. A key factor in this process was that before the Great War broke out in 1914, the British Army did not have a rigid doctrine. Experience in small wars – and not so small in the case of the Boer War – had instilled an understanding that how one fought varied depending on the enemy and the theatre.

Fox divides her treatment into two parts. In the first, she explains the background and lays out the processes that were developed during earlier wars that helped further change, while in the second she gives us examples of how new ideas were developed and disseminated. So we get a look at how after-action reports were processed, the work of liaison officers and observers with allied armies, learning new ideas and imparting them as well, how the army reached out to tap civilian expertise, and more. Fox concludes that the result of this was to make the army a learning institution, and certainly the British did learn more than anyone else, turning their army into a highly effective all-arms force that sustained the war-winning “Hundred Days” offensive in the final months of the war .

An important read for anyone interested in the Great War, Learning to Fight, a volume in the Cambridge “Military Histories” series, will also be of value to those trying to understand how military institutions change and adapt.


Note: Learning to Fight is also available in paperback and several e-editions.


StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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