World War I, also known in its time as the “Great War” or the “War to End all Wars”, was an unprecedented holocaust in terms of its sheer scale. Fought by men who hailed from all corners of the globe, it saw millions of soldiers do battle in brutal assaults of attrition which dragged on for months with little to no respite.
The enduring image of World War I is of men stuck in muddy trenches, and of vast armies deadlocked in a fight neither could win. While these impressions are all too true, they hide the fact that trench warfare was dynamic and constantly evolving throughout the war as all armies struggled to find a way to break through the opposing lines.
Needless to say, the First World War came at an unfortunate time for those who would fight in it. After an initial period of relatively rapid maneuver during which the German forces pushing through Belgium and the French and British forces attempting to stymie them made an endless series of abortive flanking movements that extended the lines to the sea, a stalemate naturally tended to develop. The infamous trench lines soon snaked across the French and Belgian countryside, creating an essentially futile static slaughterhouse whose sinister memory remains to this day.
As with the other nations involved, the war came as a shock to the British army. For the past century, it had mostly been engaged in colonial conflicts against opponents with far more limited resources and technology, and this created a sense of superiority. Put simply, the British army was used to defeating any opponent it faced, and even against more challenging opponents, Britain came out on top, suffering only a few embarrassments along the way.
Europe’s attempts to appease Hitler, most notably at Munich in 1938, failed, as Nazi Germany swallowed up Austria and Czechoslovakia by 1939. Italy was on the march as well, invading Albania in April of 1939. The straw that broke the camel's back, however, was Germany's invasion of Poland on September 1 of that year. Two days later, France and Great Britain declared war on Germany, and World War II had begun in earnest.
Of course, as most people now know, the invasion of Poland was merely the preface to the Nazi blitzkrieg of most of Western Europe, which would include Denmark, Belgium, and France by the summer of 1940. The resistance put up by these countries is often portrayed as weak, and the narrative is that the British stood alone in 1940 against the Nazi onslaught, defending the British Isles during the Battle of Britain and preventing a potential German invasion.
The British Army in the World Wars: The History of Britain’s Ground Forces During World War I and World War II comprehensively analyzes Britain’s experience in the field, the results, and the traumatic aftermath. You will learn about the British Army in both wars like never before.