Fire and Movement - The British Expeditionary Force and the Campaign of 1914, by Peter Hart

Fire and Movement - The British Expeditionary Force and the Campaign of 1914, by Peter Hart

Published by Oxford University Press, Hardback with Dust Jacket (N7030)

Brand New Book

From the front inside fly leaf: in the summer of 1914, it didn't send an army but the British Expeditionary Force-a volunteer force of fewer than 120,000 men. The BEF was dwarfed by the massive armies lined up against each other on the Western Front. Kaiser Wilhelm II and his generals fully expected the German forces to annihilate it. In the opening months of the Great War, the British fought a series of battles at Mons, Le Cateau, the Aisne, and, perhaps most famously and calamitously, at the First Battle of Ypres. In the process, the BEF­ the "Old Contemptibles" as they proudly styled themselves-became the stuff of popular legend as a British David marching into battle against a German Goliath.

And yet, as Peter Hart shows in this gripping and revisionary look at the first months of the Great War, for too long the British part in the 1914 campaign has been veiled in layers of self-congratulatory myth: a tale of unprepared Britain, reliant on the superior class of her regular soldiers to bolster the rabble of the unreliable French Army and defeat the teeming hordes of German troops. Hart suggests that the reality of those early weeks and months is much more complex and, ultimately, a far more powerful story than the standard triumphalist British narrative.

Fire and Movement places the British role into a proper historical context. The British regulars were indeed skillful soldiers, but, as Hart reveals, they also lacked practice in many of the essential disciplines of modern warfare, and the inexperience of some of their officers led to costly mistakes. Hart provides a more balanced portrait of the German Army­ not the caricature of a mass of automatons, but a well-trained and superlatively equipped force that outfought the BEF in the early battles. This reassessment also allows for a fuller appreciation of the crucial role of the French Army, without whom the key victory at the Battle of the Marne never would have been won.

Ultimately Fire and Movement reveals the story of the 1914 campaign to be an epic drama, sometimes lost in the larger conflict of which it was the opening act, and one that needs no embellishment. Employing the voices and recollections of the soldiers who fought the battles, Hart strips away the myths to offer a clear-eyed account of the earliest days of the Great War.