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

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

The Forgotten Front: The Eastern Theater of World War I, 1914-1915

Gerard P. Gross, ed.
University Press of Kentucky, 2018
Michael P. Kihntopf, Reviewer

Russian Troops on the Eastern Front

The Forgotten Front was originally published under the title Vergessene Front—der Osten 1914,1915 in 2006. This English translation is part of a series about notable military campaigns and exceptional leaders and theorists by the Association of the United States Army with series editor Joseph Craig. The purpose behind the original work was to stimulate interest in the study of World War One's Russo-German Front. The translation's intention was to add another aspect to the study of international military theory and practice. The book contains 20 articles/essays by German and other academics, of which both Hew Strachen and Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius are prominent, arranged in three parts.

Part One's essays revolve around the reasons why there is a lack of works in German literature about the East, while there is a never-ending supply about the Western Front. Part Two attempts to look at the individual's experience in the East both from the German and Russian standpoint, while the final part concentrates on how the East is remembered in literature immediately after the war on through to the Internet of 2004.

None of the essays depend on the others to continue a line of thought other than the purpose of the part in which they have been categorized, so the reader can pick and choose which article might hold information of interest. Part Two's articles attracted me the most and my curiosity was rewarded with some new insights although none of the articles contained first-person accounts other than in paraphrasing. Prominent in one essay was a critique of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's 1914, while in another work myths about the conditions of the Russian soldier of 1914 and 1915 were exposed. I was surprised to find Ivan described as well fed, well equipped, and well clothed, sometimes better than his German counterpart, but I was not surprised to hear of the incompetence of the Russian leadership and supply trains.

Parts One and Three really have a lot to do with one another in that they talk about creating the image of an enemy in the Russian. Part one establishes that there was little animosity between German and Russian before the war. The government, amply aided by the media, created the savage of the East through stereotypes and innuendos. The Slav became someone who would destroy the civilized Germanic culture even though Germans enjoyed and admired Russian composers and writers. It wasn't an easy task to get the populace to buy into the image, but it succeeded through spectacular posters and atrocity stories. Part Three capitalizes on this mind-set by showing how the Nazis dramatized the manipulation and created the Untermenschen ("less than humans" Nazi designation) and launched the War of Annihilation in the east from 1939 to 1943.

From a study of social interactions, this book explores many new aspects of the Eastern Front and is well worth reading. Its essays clearly show the impact that the Forgotten East had on the history thereafter. However, much to my displeasure there was no consolidated bibliography. I had to rely on essay end notes for sources.

Michael P. Kihntopf


  1. This sounds like a much needed contribution to the criminally underappreciated Eastern Front.

  2. Many tanks, Michael. A lot of this was new to me and it's nice to be informed on what I don't know!