Haig's Enemy book cover

Review: Haig’s Enemy by Jonathan Boff

ISBN 9780199670468
OUP
Hardback 373 pages

This is a biography of Crown Prince Rupprecht, the principal German commander facing Haig for much of the war, and a discussion of Germany’s war on the Western Front in World War I. The book is divided into five parts: To War 1914, The Anvil 1915-16, Holding the Line 1916-17, Year of Defeats 1918, Conclusions. Each section has a series of chapters covering the main events during the period. The author has made extensive use of his subject’s diaries but has also sought to interleave this with material from other sources as well as paying some attention to what was happening in the Allied camp. During the war Rupprecht rose to ultimately command an army group.

The book is very instructive and a useful correction to the English language preoccupation with their own armies. French troops are consistently rated as better than British troops, who seldom seem to have impressed the Germans. Within each section is a review of the attack and defence developments in the period. In the German army this process was well done early in the war but as the war lengthened there developed a habit of ‘shooting messengers’ (= sacking) those carrying unwanted news and ideas so, somewhat like the Japanese in WWII, there developed something of a dissonance between Supreme Headquarters and the reality on the ground. The light touch German command system was not, in reality, so light after all and could vary greatly according to commander, unit or latest doctrine.

One is well used to the stories of increasing political and military interference during WWII but less aware of how intrusive it was in WWI. Ludendorff was seen at first as the most professional of the Chiefs of Staff appointments but in time he became increasingly preoccupied with issuing orders further and further down the hierarchy, much to the irritation of higher formations who began to wonder what they were there for. The Kaiser would interfere with appointments and it was not acceptable to promote the Crown Prince of Bavaria over the Crown Prince of Prussia, irrespective of merit. The complexities of having Prussia, Bavaria, Saxony, Baden and other German states are touched on but not plumbed in depth.

Undoubtedly hard working, Rupprecht was in the habit of starting each morning with a ride to get exercise before the noon briefing from the latest reports from the front. Chateau generalship was the inevitable norm on all sides due to the nature of communications and logistics. Many books have been written analyzing the development and performance of Allied armies, generalship, and political relationships between generals and politicians and between different nations. This is a very useful look at the other side of the hill to disprove any idea that the other side was so much more efficient and better; they were not and the failures, which the book highlights, are indicative of the causes of German defeat. Highly recommended.

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