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Enduring the Great War
Combat, Morale and Collapse in the German and British Armies, 1914–1918

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Part of Cambridge Military Histories

  • Date Published: November 2009
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9780521123082

$ 39.99 (C)

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About the Authors
  • This book is an innovative comparative history of how German and British soldiers endured the horror of the First World War. Unlike existing literature, which emphasises the strength of societies or military institutions, this study argues that at the heart of armies' robustness lay natural human resilience. Drawing widely on contemporary letters and diaries of British and German soldiers, psychiatric reports and official documentation, and interpreting these sources with modern psychological research, this unique account provides fresh insights into the soldiers' fears, motivations and coping mechanisms. It explains why the British outlasted their opponents by examining and comparing the motives for fighting, the effectiveness with which armies and societies supported men and the combatants' morale throughout the conflict on both sides. Finally it challenges the consensus on the war's end, arguing that not a 'covert strike' but rather an 'ordered surrender' led by junior officers brought about Germany's defeat in 1918.

    • A comparative English-language study of Anglo-German morale during the First World War
    • Provides an important interpretation of the German army's defeat
    • Draws on a wide range of English and German source material including soldiers' letters and diaries, official military sources and psychiatric reports
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    • In manuscript form, Joint-winner of the Institute of Contemporary History and Wiener Library's Fraenkel Prize, 2006

    Reviews & endorsements

    "Alexander Watson’s Enduring the Great War is certainly a must-read for all students of World War I, as well as those who write about it. Ably written and nicely illustrated, this study boasts an impressive depth of research in fifteen archives, repositories, and collections in Britain and Germany. ... [It] belongs on the shelf of any scholar who aspires to be current on the literature of twentieth-century Europe." Professor Eric Dorn Brose, Drexel University, History: Reviews of New Books

    "A superbly researched monograph on a difficult subject ... as an instrument for further research on the subject, it is without parallel ... all university libraries will want to acquire it--as well as all departments of history and departments of British, German, and war studies." -Professor Antoine Capet, Université de Rouen, H-Net Reviews

    "This is a new and fresh analysis of the performance of the British and German Armies on the Western Front drawing on post-war research, reports from censors and other contemporary official sources and diaries of combat veteran. It is replete with useful statistics and statistical analysis...." --Len Shurtleff, The Listening Post

    "This is an extremely good book, which makes a significant contribution to the history of the First World War and to the wider study of combat effectiveness. Alexander Watson has analysed a wide range of primary sources in an original manner: the result is a stimulating work that will become required reading. … [His] ability to incorporate the information he has gathered in a readable volume is truly impressive. … This book blends military, social, cultural, and psychological history with panache. … It is to be hoped that it will be both example and provocation for further, similarly brilliant work, which will test its arguments and approach on other fronts and other nations." Dr. Dan Todman, Queen Mary University of London, War in History

    "With its impressive use of archival evidence, its mastery of the relevant secondary literature, and its scrupulously fair-minded treatment of the German army, this book is well worth reading for anyone who seeks a glimpse inside the minds of the men, both British and German, who fought the Great War." Dr. Jesse Kauffman, Stanford University, H-Net

    "an exciting comparative study". -TLS

    " exhaustively researched, elegant, and argumentative book that deserves wide readership." -Adam R. Seipp, Military History

    "This book represents an impressive achievement of research and argument." -Larry L. Ping, German Studies Review

    See more reviews

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    Product details

    • Date Published: November 2009
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9780521123082
    • length: 308 pages
    • dimensions: 229 x 152 x 18 mm
    • weight: 0.45kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. War of endurance
    2. Why men fought: combat motivation in the trenches
    3. Self-deception and survival: mental coping strategies
    4. Junior leadership: command, cohesion and combat motivation
    5. Morale and military endurance
    6. The German collapse in 1918: strike, mutiny or an ordered surrender?
    Appendix 1. Walter Ludwig's study of Württemberg soldiers' coping strategies
    Appendix 2. Psychiatric casualties in the German and British armies
    Appendix 3. Military ranks and status in the German and British armies.

  • Author

    Alexander Watson, University of Cambridge


    • In manuscript form, Joint-winner of the Institute of Contemporary History and Wiener Library's Fraenkel Prize, 2006

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