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

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

The Hindenburg Line 1918: Haig's Forgotten Triumph

Alistair McCluskey; Illustrated by Peter Dennis
Osprey Publishing 2017
Peter L. Belmonte, Reviewer

Concrete Reinforced Section of the Hindenburg Line

Students of World War I are generally acquainted with the final Allied push to end the war (or at least to put the Allies in a good position to continue in the spring of 1919) as planned by Marshal Ferdinand Foch. Beginning on 26 September 1918 and extending from the American positions along the Meuse River to the Belgian positions on the English Channel, the battles have received a lot of attention from historians. In The Hindenburg Line 1918, Alistair McCluskey, a British Army officer, and artist Peter Dennis, devote their attention to the part played by Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig and his army.

Of course, given the constraints of the Osprey Campaign Series of books (in this case, 96 pages), the author could not hope to cover the topic in great detail. McCluskey begins by setting out the strategic situation that existed in late summer 1918. In only a few pages, he nicely summarizes manpower and coalition warfare concerns. The fighting came at a critical time, relative to manpower and other resources, for all of the combatant armies. Britain, France, and Germany were delving deeply into their draft pools, while the United States was just hitting its stride. These issues, as well as domestic political issues, drove strategic and operational planning for all nations.

French and British Soldiers Fighting Side by Side

Next the author discusses British, Australian, Canadian, American, French, and German commanders who were involved in the campaign. Mostly these are brief biographic and military sketches; McCloskey makes no attempt at evaluation. He then outlines the opposing forces' orders of battle. In so doing, McCloskey discusses some of the tactical and defensive adaptations made by the various forces. He also gives us a general idea of the weaponry in use. After reviewing the opposing plans of the Allies and Germans, McCluskey begins a discussion of the actual campaign.

He covers the fighting chronologically and in each theater, but with an emphasis on the British First, Third, and Fourth Armies. The combat is covered in a straightforward manner without a lot of analysis. Highlights include coverage of the fighting for St. Quentin Canal, Cambrai, and the Canal du Nord. The author also provides a description of the movements of German Army units in response to the offensive. In this way, readers get a day-by-day picture of the campaign and the steady, bloody effort to push the Germans back to and beyond the Hindenburg Line.

There are no endnotes, but the author has included a short bibliography. This is a typical Osprey Campaign Series offering, well written and researched, with fine illustrations and maps. The double-page color illustrations include a depiction of a German tank attack, a British pilot shooting down a German "sausage" balloon, and Canadian artillery supporting a night infantry attack. Each of these is based upon actual events that are recounted along with the illustrations. I would have preferred more large-scale maps, but that is a personal preference. The Hindenburg Line 1918 is a fine overview and brief account of the battles fought by the British (with some space devoted to the other Allies and the United States) during the final push of the war. It is recommended for those who desire just such an overview before delving more deeply into specific military actions or operational analysis.

Peter L. Belmonte


  1. Well-said. It is a nice "Cliff Notes" version.

  2. You're right, Pete, this is an excellent overview--enough for some readers, not enough for others. I appreciate the review!