Stemming The Tide. Officers and Leadership in the British Expeditionary Force 1914.

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Having spent years reading military history, I have finally made it into print with a chapter in “Stemming The Tide. Officers and Leadership in the British Expeditionary Force 1914”.

This is the first volume in the Wolverhampton Military Studies Series and is an examination of command at all levels of the BEF in 1914 through a series of biographical essays on its key officers. Having finished my MA in 2011, I was approached and asked to contribute a chapter on Henry Wilson, the Sub-Chief of Staff during the opening months of the war. Wilson is a controversial figure who provokes a wide range of views on his military effectiveness – and in particular, his political “scheming” to achieve his ends. While his role as Sub-Chief did not entirely cover him in glory, he played a vital part in readying Britain for a Continental war through his activities initially as Commandant of the Staff College (1907-1910) and then as Director of Military Operations in the War Office (1910-1914).

I am very pleased with my chapter and to be included in such august company is a real honour. If you would like to read more – the book is out this month and will be officially launched at the University of Wolverhampton on 12th December.

Book description from the Helion & Co website:

The British Expeditionary Force of 1914 was described by the official historian as “incomparably the best trained, best organised, and best equipped British Army that ever went forth to war.” The BEF proved its fighting qualities in the fierce battles of 1914 and its reputation has endured. However, the same cannot be said for many of its commanders, who have frequently been portrayed as old fashioned, incompetent, and out of touch with events on the battlefield.

Yet the officers who led the BEF to war were every bit as professional and hard-bitten as the soldiers they commanded. These officers had learned their craft in the unforgiving school of colonial warfare and honed their understanding of conflict in the period of reform that reshaped the army between 1902 and 1914. As this book reveals, when faced with the realities of modern combat, the officers of the BEF were prepared for the challenge.

This collection offers a broad picture of command at all levels of the BEF through a series of biographical essays on key officers. Drawing upon much original research, each chapter explores the pre-war background and experience of the officer and assesses his performance in combat in the opening months of the First World War. The book features insightful reappraisals of famous figures including John French and Douglas Haig, fresh studies of staff officers such as William Robertson and Henry Wilson, and a thorough discussion of officers at the sharp end, with chapters covering divisional, brigade, battalion and company commanders.

The essays reveal an officer class that, despite certain weaknesses, provided highly effective leadership during the chaotic fighting of August to November 1914. Without their influence it is unlikely that the BEF would have been able to survive the difficulties of the Great Retreat, much less halt the German invasions of France and Belgium.

This book will be of great interest to anyone who studies the First World War, and of particular value to those who seek a greater understanding of the British Army of the era.

Book contents
List of illustrations
List of maps
Abbreviations
Notes on Contributors
Series Preface
Acknowledgements
Introduction by Spencer Jones

GHQ

1 Sir John French and Command of the BEF by Stephen Badsey

2 Major-General Sir Archibald Murray by J.M. Bourne

3 Henry Wilson’s War by Brian Curragh

4 ‘The big brain in the army’: Sir William Robertson as Quartermaster-General by John Spencer

Corps Command

5 The Making of a Corps Commander: Lieutenant-General Sir Douglas Haig by Gary Sheffield

6 Lieutenant-General Sir James Grierson by Mark Connelly

7 ‘A Commander of Rare and Unusual Coolness’: General Sir Horace Lockwood Smith-Dorrien by Spencer Jones and Steven J. Corvi

Divisional Command

8 The Bull and the Fox Terrier: Edmund Allenby and Command in the BEF in 1914 by Simon Robbins

9 An Inspirational Warrior: Major-General Sir Thompson Capper by Richard Olsen

Brigade Command

10 ‘A Tower of Strength’: Brigadier-General Edward Bulfin by Michael LoCicero

11 ‘The Demon’: Brigadier-General Charles FitzClarence V.C. by Spencer Jones

12 David Henderson and Command of the Royal Flying Corps by James Pugh

Command at the Sharp End

13 The Infantry Battalion Commanding Officers of the BEF by Peter Hodgkinson

14 The Company Commander by John Mason Sneddon

15 ‘Amateurs at a professional game’: The Despatch Rider Corps in 1914 by Michael Carragher

Appendix: British Expeditionary Force Order of Battle 1914

Index

The 1912 Balance of Power in Central Europe

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This map was found in the 1912 files of the Directorate of Military Operations, a part of the War Office, and shows how Henry Wilson and his staff saw the struggle for overall power. Apart from the obvious colour coding which shows both the Central Powers and the Triple Entente allying against each other – it also illustrates the degree to which Britain was unprepared for war on a continental stage. The six division Expeditionary Force that was envisaged could do little other than play a subsidiary role next to the sixty-six French divisions that would line up along the Western Front.

Of far greater importance was the political significance of the BEF’s involvement which had been summed up in the following conversation between Wilson and Foch in 1909:

Wilson: “What would you say was the smallest British military force that would be of any practical assistance to you in the event of such a contest as we have been considering?”

Foch: “One single private soldier and we would take good care that he was killed.”