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Winning and Losing on the Western Front
The British Third Army and the Defeat of Germany in 1918


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Part of Cambridge Military Histories

  • Date Published: November 2014
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781107449022
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About the Authors
  • The 'Hundred Days' campaign of 1918 remains a neglected aspect of the First World War. Why was the German army defeated on the Western Front? Did its morale collapse or was it beaten by the improved military effectiveness of a British army which had climbed a painful 'learning curve' towards modern combined arms warfare? This revealing insight into the crucial final months of the First World War uses state-of-the-art methodology to present a rounded case study of the ability of both armies to adapt to the changing realities they faced. Jonathan Boff draws on both British and German archival sources, some of them previously unseen, to examine how representative armies fought during the 'Hundred Days' campaign. Assessing how far the application of modern warfare underpinned the British army's part in the Allied victory, the book highlights the complexity of modern warfare and the role of organisational behaviour within it.

    • Innovative comparative approach allows readers to consider both sides of the war on the Western Front
    • Draws attention to the 'Hundred Days' campaign in the wider context of the war as a whole
    • Provides an illuminating new case study for students of organisational behaviour and innovation
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    • Shortlisted for the 2013 British Army Military Book of the Year Award

    Reviews & endorsements

    'A well-written and well-researched book that deserves a wider audience.' The Times

    '… a welcome addition to the literature and a must read for scholars of the First World War as well as scholars interested in the question of why some armies succeed and others fail.' Michael Neiberg, Journal of Military History

    'Jonathan Boff has written a careful, thoughtful, and well-researched book that attempts to answer the vexed question: what caused the defeat of the German army on the western front in 1918?' The American Historical Review

    'Winning and Losing on the Western Front is a remarkable book that takes us a quantum leap forward in our understanding of the how the 'Great War' ended in 1918.' Military Review

    '… [a] fine specialist study … is in places boldly revisionist …' Adrian Gregory, The English Historical Review

    'Boff demonstrates mastery of both English and German language sources … In fact, one senses a mastery of the literature in his thorough presentation … His book will be most satisfying … for the expert in operational history, World War I battle, and in the character of leadership and of armies.' Dean A. Nowowiejski, Parameters

    'Boff's research is solid, relying on archives located in Britain, Germany, and the Commonwealth countries.' Robert M. Citino, German Studies Review

    See more reviews

    Customer reviews

    31st Mar 2014 by Robbo

    Overshadowed in the historiography of the Great War by the vast literature on the battles of the Somme and Third Ypres, the great allied success of the Advance to Victory in 1918 has only recently received belated attention. Jonathan Boff’s Winning and Losing on the Western Front: The British Third Army and the Defeat of Germany in 1918 continues to correct this imbalance, but from a different perspective. He delivers more than the title suggests in a meticulously researched and carefully presented study, through the relatively narrow lens of the operations conducted by Byng’s Third Army, in which he seeks to understand why the Allies won, and the Germans lost during the last “Hundred Days”. Despite the title, Boff considers both the British Third Army, and its opponents, the German Second and Seventeenth Armies, during the period August to November 1918. The result is a detailed and compelling analysis that presents some surprising conclusions, not the least of which was the failure of German command. This is not a narrative of Third Army’s campaign, but a detailed comparative case study to address four hypotheses variously given for the German defeat: that they were overwhelmed by an Allied superiority in men and material that German morale collapsed superior British tactics on the battlefield triumphed and success came from the Allied ability to maintain tempo at the operational level. In this he succeeds admirably as they apply to the narrow focus of his subject. Doing so, he sweeps away the “stab in the back theory” much touted by the German generals and their acolytes after the war, and gets down to the nuts ands bolts of why this campaign ended so conclusively in the Allies’ favour. Following an initial chapter that outlines the campaign on the Third Army front, Boff considers each hypothesis in a thoroughly detailed manner, drawing on extensive British and German sources, accompanied by charts and tables, to make his case in each area. Thus we learn that while trained manpower was a concern for both sides, the disparity in numbers in favour of the British grew as the campaign progressed, but the material difference was not as marked as some suggest. Morale is complex issue, and Boff doesn’t fall into the trap of generalisations, reminding us of the difference between spirit and mood, and the fluctuations over time, within and between units. Thus, while morale was a factor, to suggest the German Army was a morally beaten force over-simplifies the matter. In two strong chapters Boff considers the British combined arms tactics, and the German response to them - those who tout the superiority of German tactics would do well to read Boff’s findings. As the British advanced, however, all the issues associated with culminating points were making their impact. He concludes with a comparison of British and German command performance, and the ability to maintain tempo at the operational level. Here we find a marked difference to the popular perception, rather the complexities of command in battle and the difficulties in maintaining tempo are well illustrated. While Boff highlights strengths and shortcomings in command styles, his preference to see the differences in the British approach between delegation, and control as an either/or approach, a soldier would see them as complimentary and essential in the fluctuating fortunes on the battlefield. Objective and dispassionate in his analysis, Boff arrives at balanced conclusions that reflect the complexity of modern industrial war, and this is the greatest value of his book. That the reasons for victory and defeat cannot be reduced to the simple generalisations thrown up by the arm-chair general brigade, but are the result of a highly complex range of human and material factors. It is highly recommended to those wanting a bi-partisan, mature and thorough evaluation of why the Allies won in late 1918.

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    Product details

    • Date Published: November 2014
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781107449022
    • length: 310 pages
    • dimensions: 229 x 152 x 17 mm
    • weight: 0.42kg
    • contains: 50 b/w illus. 4 maps
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Introduction: 'An Unknown Story'
    1. 'The Advance to Victory'
    2. Manpower and training
    3. Materialschlacht
    4. Morale
    5. British tactics: 'The True Elixir'
    6. The German tactical response
    7. British operations and command
    8. The failure of German command
    Conclusion: winning and losing on the Western Front.

  • Author

    Jonathan Boff, University of Birmingham
    Jonathan Boff is a Lecturer in History at the University of Birmingham.


    • Shortlisted for the 2013 British Army Military Book of the Year Award

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