Author(s): Allan Mallinson
'War is too important to be left to the generals' snapped future French prime minister Georges Clemenceau on learning of yet another bloody and futile offensive on the Western Front.
One of the great questions in the ongoing discussions and debate about the First World War is why did winning take so long and exact so appalling a human cost? After all this was a fight that, we were told, would be over by Christmas.
Now, in his major new history, Allan Mallinson, former professional soldier and author of the acclaimed 1914: Fight the Good Fight, provides answers that are disturbing as well as controversial, and have a contemporary resonance. He disputes the growing consensus among historians that British generals were not to blame for the losses and setbacks in the 'war to end all wars' - that, given the magnitude of their task, they did as well anyone could have. He takes issue with the popular view that the 'amateur' opinions on strategy of politicians such as Lloyd George and, especially, Winston Churchill, prolonged the war and increased the death toll. On the contrary, he argues, even before the war began Churchill had a far more realistic, intelligent and humane grasp of strategy than any of the admirals or generals, while very few senior officers - including Sir Douglas Haig - were up to the intellectual challenge of waging war on this scale. And he repudiates the received notion that Churchill's stature as a wartime prime minister after 1940 owes much to the lessons he learned from his First World War 'mistakes' - notably the Dardanelles campaign - maintaining that in fact Churchill's achievement in the Second World War owes much to the thwarting of his better strategic judgement by the 'professionals' in the First - and his determination that this would not be repeated.
Mallinson argues that from day one of the war Britain was wrong-footed by absurdly faulty French military doctrine and paid, as a result, an unnecessarily high price in casualties. He shows that Lloyd George understood only too well the catastrophically dysfunctional condition of military policy-making and struggled against the weight of military opposition to fix it. And he asserts that both the British and the French failed to appreciate what the Americans' contribution to victory could be - and, after the war, to acknowledge fully what it had actually been.
Published as the world marks the centenary of one of the most infamous battles of the First World War, the Somme, this powerfully-argued and polemical new history of the war by one of Britain's most respected military historians explores how the war was fought, how near we came to losing it - and why winning proved so costly and why the Allied generals and politicians failed to find a less bloody strategy for victory.
"Allan Mallinson puts his case compellingly in a stimulating overview of the war. He combines the authority of a soldier-turned-military historian with the imaginative touch of the historical novelist." -- Lawrence James The Times "Very readable ... excellently researched ...a must for anyone interested in military history and the interface of political and military power; the fact that, 100 years on, historians are still in such disagreement demonstrates just how important and absorbing the debate remains." COUNTRY LIFE "Provocative ... succinctly summarises the big battles of the conflict, before discussing the commanders' shortcomings, which is his theme.'" -- Max Hastings SUNDAY TIMES "Mallinson ... argues persuasively that those charged with sending men into battle should have given a better account of themselves. As the nation commemorates one of the darkest chapters in British Army history, it is hard to disagree." SOLDIER magazine "Refreshingly clear ... this is a well-written, at times provocative, and concise overview of why the war was conducted as it was, and why it probably was too important to be left to the generals." -- Simon Heffer NEW STATESMAN
At seventeen, Allan Mallinson gave up the promise of an exhibition at Brasenose College, Oxford to go instead to theological college. After three years he decided to take a break in training with a short-service commission in the army. He served with the infantry worldwide, and then, on deciding to make the army a career, transferred to the cavalry. He began writing while still serving - first, a history of the antecedent regiments of that which he commanded, and then the Matthew Hervey series of novels chronicling the life of a fictitious cavalry officer before and after Waterloo. He left the army in 2004 as a brigadier to write full time, including defence comment for the Daily Telegraph and then The Times. In 2009 his The Making of the British Army, a survey of the army's history and development since 1660, was shortlisted for several prizes and chosen by Jeremy Paxman for the Observer's 'Books of the Year'. An updated edition, with a commentary on the Strategic Defence and Security Review, was published in 2011. His centenary history, 1914: Fight the Good Fight - Britain, the Army and the Coming of the First World War was shortlisted for the Westminster Medal and won the Army Book of the Year Award 2013. Its sequel, Too Important for the Generals, examines the failure of Allied generals and politicians to find a less bloody strategy for victory in the First World War and will be published in June 2016. Allan Mallinson lives with his wife, Sue, a dressage trainer, on Salisbury Plain.