by David T. Zabecki
New York: Routledge, 2006. Pp. xxiv, 414.
Maps, tables, gloss., notes, biblio., index. $49.95. ISBN: 0415558794
An eminent soldier-scholar’s analysis of the German Kaiserschlacht in 1918 that nearly changed the outcome of the Great War.
After 38 years in the Army, Zabecki retired as a major general, and has since earned a reputation as an outstanding military historian. In The German 1918 Offensives, he give us an analytic look at of the origins, planning, and execution of the German offensives in the Spring of 1918 – the Kaiserschlacht – in terms of the concept of ‘the operational level of war.” Zabecki’s thoughtful introduction addresses the relevance of World War I to the contemporary world. He then opens his account of the events of 1918 with lengthy discussion of the evolution of the idea of an “operational level of war” during the nineteenth century, and particularly the German understanding of the concept. There follows a chapter on the tactical realties of the war going into 1918, which were not too bad for the Germans, and then one on the strategic situation, which looked increasing grim for Germany, thus setting the background. This is followed by with a long, highly critical chapter on why the German high command, or, more accurately, Ludendorff, opted to make an all-or-nothing throw, a decision rooted in Germany’s political and strategic bankruptcy, and an obsessive focus on the destruction of the enemy, against the advice of some of the most experienced German commanders, an account in which Zabecki offers argues that a slightly different series of offensives might well have forced the Allies to a negotiated peace. Zabecki then gives an analysis of each of the six series of German offensives (there were actually a dozen individual operations, of which one was planned but not carried out). Each of these chapters is divided into four sections, Plans, Preparations, Execution (on a day-by-day basis), and Assessment, in which Zabecki usefully offers alternative courses of action. Zabecki ends the book with a long chapter that reviews the critical German blunders and offers a short meditation on generalship.
An essential read for students of the Great War, The German 1918 Offensives is also an important one for those interested in the history of operational art.