Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War
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From the acclaimed military historian, a new history of the outbreak of World War I: the dramatic stretch from the breakdown of diplomacy to the battles—the Marne, Ypres, Tannenberg—that marked the frenzied first year before the war bogged down in the trenches.
In Catastrophe 1914, Max Hastings gives us a conflict different from the familiar one of barbed wire, mud and futility. He traces the path to war, making clear why Germany and Austria-Hungary were primarily to blame, and describes the gripping first clashes in the West, where the French army marched into action in uniforms of red and blue with flags flying and bands playing. In August, four days after the French suffered 27,000 men dead in a single day, the British fought an extraordinary holding action against oncoming Germans, one of the last of its kind in history. In October, at terrible cost the British held the allied line against massive German assaults in the first battle of Ypres. Hastings also re-creates the lesser-known battles on the Eastern Front, brutal struggles in Serbia, East Prussia and Galicia, where the Germans, Austrians, Russians and Serbs inflicted three million casualties upon one another by Christmas.
As he has done in his celebrated, award-winning works on World War II, Hastings gives us frank assessments of generals and political leaders and masterly analyses of the political currents that led the continent to war. He argues passionately against the contention that the war was not worth the cost, maintaining that Germany’s defeat was vital to the freedom of Europe. Throughout we encounter statesmen, generals, peasants, housewives and private soldiers of seven nations in Hastings’s accustomed blend of top-down and bottom-up accounts: generals dismounting to lead troops in bayonet charges over 1,500 feet of open ground; farmers who at first decried the requisition of their horses; infantry men engaged in a haggard retreat, sleeping four hours a night in their haste. This is a vivid new portrait of how a continent became embroiled in war and what befell millions of men and women in a conflict that would change everything.
lost in forests, or seeking places to ford rivers. The beaten army fell apart, each fragment desperately seeking its own path to escape the relentless Germans. Hindenburg sought, and received, the Kaiser’s consent to name his victorious battlefield Tannenberg. Though the village was some distance removed, its name possessed a powerful resonance. There, in 1410, the knights of the Teutonic Order had suffered a historic defeat at the hands of the Poles and Lithuanians. Now, that outcome was
men’s morale ‘terrible, everywhere confused looks’. One regiment of Third Army called the order to retire ‘a thunderbolt’, its colonel writing, ‘I saw many men cry, the tears rolling down their cheeks.’ Gen. Oskar von Hutier of 1st Guards Division demanded, ‘Have they all gone crazy?’ Gen. Paul Flack wrote in disbelief: ‘This could not be … Victory was ours.’ Here was an early manifestation of a deep, passionate, almost hysterical sense of betrayal, a belief that dark forces had robbed the nation
become an army medical officer, arrived at the front with only a small valise because ‘it is said that the campaign could only last a few months’. But staff officer Alexander Pallavicini – Berchtold’s acquaintance – was gloomy from the start: ‘This is a sad “success” for our diplomacy, which always calculated on [fighting] only Serbia.’ He resorted to French in his diary: ‘Now, the words are ordre, contreordre, désordre.’ When Lt. Col. Theodor Ritter von Zeynek said farewell to his wife in Vienna
‘Every unit was provided’ Kisch p.73 ‘Water doesn’t feel’ ibid. p.94 7.9.14 ‘Of Kisch’s platoon’ ibid. pp.98–9 ‘How hungry I am’ ASA MS Matija Malešič, War Diary 1914 ‘Our Serbs fight’ Mitrovic p.75 ‘Such an order’ ASA B 609 Bachmann MS ‘because they too can’ ibid. ‘first came a strong guard’ ibid. 15.10 Chapter 5 – Death with Flags and Trumpets 1 THE EXECUTION OF PLAN XVII ‘The dust clung’ Lintier, Paul My Seventy-Five: The Journal of a French Gunner Peter Davies 1929 p.28 ‘It
Chapter 13 – ‘Did You Ever Dance with Him?’ 1 HOME FRONTS ‘the impossibility of keeping’ Gide p.80 ‘In Austria there was’ Krafft-Krivanec p.147 12.10.14 ‘The government recognised’ Becker, Jean-Jacques The Great War and the French People trans. Arnold Pomerans 1985 p.13 ‘The word “Durchhalten” ’ Healey p.34 ‘Austrian women were’ ibid. p.38 ‘The Marquis of San Giuliano’ Bertie diary 26.10.14 ‘The Italians imagine’ ibid. 11.10.14 ‘Otto Zeilinger’ Brenner, Stefan Das Kriegsgefangenenlager