Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Pyrrhic Victory, French Strategy and Operations in the Great War — Reviewed by Clark Shilling

Pyrrhic Victory, French Strategy and Operations in the Great War
by Robert A. Doughty
Published by The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 2005

Brigadier General (Ret) Robert A Doughty served as  head of the Department of History at the United States Military Academy from 1985 to 2005. His book, Pyrrhic Victory, was published to wide scale acclaim in 2005. This work was the 2006 winner of the Norman B. Tomlinson Prize, awarded by the U.S. Branch of the Western Front Association for the best work of history in English on the World War I era. When considering France's role in the Great War, we usually recall the disastrous opening moves of Plan XVII, the boiling cauldron of Verdun, and the eventual mutiny of French soldiers in the spring of 1917. Often the French war effort has been portrayed as a number of very brave, but often impulsive and irrational, campaigns ending in costly failure

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General Doughty presents quite a different picture in Pyrrhic Victory. He contends that the French carried out a logical strategy of forcing a multi-front war on Germany and her allies, and that the French military carried out coordinated and carefully considered operations to support that strategy. He concedes that in many cases these operations ended in costly failure, but he correctly adds that costly failures were not exclusively limited to the French. General Doughty would have us remember that on the Western Front the French fought heroically, raising the largest Allied army, manning the greatest part of the front, and suffering the most Allied casualties during the four years of the war.

The author points out that a succession of French generals, starting with Joffre and ending with Foch directed the activities of the Allied armies in the West and attempted to coordinate their efforts with the Russians, Italians, and Serbs.

This work does not present detailed accounts of French campaigns in the Great War, but rather concentrates on the development and implementation of French and Allied strategy. A key feature of the book is its focus on three relationships: first, that between the French government and French military leaders; second, that of French generals and their allies; and finally, the relationship between the leading French generals themselves.

After the War:  France's Three Most Influential Generals —
Joffre, Foch, Pétain

Pyrrhic Victory is an excellent book, providing a much-needed English language evaluation of French strategy and diplomacy in the Great War.

Clark Shilling

1 comment:

  1. You seem to have included three paragraphs from the review of The Long Shadow in this review .