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Learning to Fight
Military Innovation and Change in the British Army, 1914–1918


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Part of Cambridge Military Histories

  • Date Published: September 2019
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781316641149

£ 21.99

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About the Authors
  • Learning, innovation and adaptation are not concepts that we necessarily associate with the British army of the First World War. Yet the need to learn from mistakes, to exploit new opportunities and to adapt to complex situations are enduring and timeless. This revealing work is the first institutional examination of the army's process for learning during the First World War. Drawing on organisational learning and management theories, Aimée Fox critiques existing approaches to military learning in wartime. Focused around a series of case studies, the book ranges across multiple operational theatres and positions the army within a broader context in terms of its relationships with allies and civilians to reveal that learning was more complex and thoroughgoing than initially thought. It grapples with the army's failings and shortcomings, explores its successes and acknowledges the inherent difficulties of learning in a desperate and lethally competitive environment.

    • Analyses multiple operational theatres, allowing readers to better understand the challenges facing the British army during the war
    • Proposes a new model for learning in military organisations which will appeal to anyone interested in the challenges of learning in complex organisations
    • Provides a new and illuminating case study on organisational learning and innovation that demonstrates how innovation is not the preserve of modern military forces
    Read more


    • Winner, 2018 BAMBY Prize, Book of the Year, British Army Military Book

    Reviews & endorsements

    'Sheds new light on the extent to which the British army in the First World War was a learning organisation. Essential reading for anyone involved or interested in the transformation of today's armed forces to meet new circumstances and future threats.' Lieutenant General Sir John Kiszely, author of Anatomy of a Campaign: The British Fiasco in Norway, 1940

    'Adapting to changing complex environments, rather than seeking to control them, will be fundamental.' So said UK Defence's Future Force Concept in 2017. Dr Fox's timely, well researched, thought provoking and thoroughly readable book helps remind us that the future imperative for Armed Forces to be able to learn, adapt and change, both tactically and institutionally, quicker than an adversary are far from being just twenty-first century concerns. One hundred years ago the same imperative existed. This book helps unpack how the British Army of the First World War went about turning words - innovation, adaptability, agility and learning - into deeds, both tactically and institutionally. As we commemorate the end of the First World War in 2018, Dr Fox's book is a timely reminder that history has an important role in helping us with our Future Force design and its ethos.' Major General 'Mitch' Mitchell, Director, UK Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre

    'Aimée Fox's analyses of innovation in the First World War advance our understanding of that critical time period, but she goes much further, offering critical lessons for today's military leaders as well. Learning to Fight is that rare book that can speak equally well to both the past and the present.' Michael S. Neiberg, author of Path to War: How the First World War Created Modern America

    'Adaptation is predicated upon learning from what was once 'entirely unknown'. Learning to Fight offers a deep dive into how the British Army and its colonial partners measured up to that task in the First World War … This is the latest contribution to a deepening pool of scholarship into military change, and the book offers a unique framework for the study of wartime adaptation … this is a well-executed book that dissipates mythology and discovers insights about the British military of a century ago … Learning to Fight will appeal to students of World War I, and is recommended for scholars interested in military sociology, military learning, and combat effectiveness.' Frank Hoffman, The Strategy Bridge

    '… a superb contribution to the literature of military innovation … This book is highly recommended for those interested in military innovation in general and in the institutional adaption of the British Army in the First World War in particular.' Benjamin Tuck, Defense & Security Analysis

    'From an examination of this book we can now state that the British Army was an organisation that published, disseminated, debated, and adapted … Fox's book does a tremendous job of widening our understanding of the process through which an army at war begins to learn'. Chris Kempshall, Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research

    'This book is a new approach to scholarship relating to Britain's military during the conflict, offering a more thorough and sophisticated understanding regarding military learning … Fox succeeds in putting forth a considered and thorough analysis of learning and innovation in the British Army during this period. This book … is invaluable to studies of military history and the Great War.' Laura Boyd, Twentieth Century British History

    'Aimée Fox has used her wide reading of modern management and business organisation literature to generate a series of questions about how large organisations learn and innovate, and then delved even more widely into archives in both Britain and Australia to discover how the British army went about doing so.' David French, The English Historical Review

    'An important read for anyone interested in the Great War, this will also be of value to those trying to understand how military institutions change and adapt.' New York Military Affairs Symposium Review

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    Product details

    • Date Published: September 2019
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781316641149
    • length: 290 pages
    • dimensions: 228 x 151 x 14 mm
    • weight: 0.4kg
    • contains: 3 b/w illus. 1 table
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Part I. The Practice of Learning:
    1. The legacy of the past
    2. A networked army
    3. Disseminating learning
    Part II. Learning in Practice:
    4. Inter-theatre
    5. Allies
    6. Civilian expertise
    7. Integrating newcomers

  • Author

    Aimée Fox, King's College London
    Aimée Fox is a Lecturer in Defence Studies at King's College London. Her research interests centre on organisational learning, change and administration in the British army of the First World War.


    • Winner, 2018 BAMBY Prize, Book of the Year, British Army Military Book
    • Winner, 2018 Templer Medal Book Prize, Society for Army Historical Research

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