Book Review — Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War

Catastrophe 1914 by Max Hastings

Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War is nearly twenty-six hours of audio book covering the last six months of 1914. Last year being the 100th anniversary of The Great War has seen many WWI histories published. I look to each of the many I have read for something new or different. Granted writing a book takes a great deal of effort, but if it does not produce new knowledge, what is the point? Most of the new histories do take up one or two pieces of new information, like the value of railroads in mobilization or presenting cases against long held beliefs.

Hastings brings to the table a few thoughts and ideas that are not always thought about. Horses for example. In the early mechanized age, internal combustion was not very dependable, especially in the field. Granted the Marne Taxis have become legendary for delivering 4,000 troops from Paris to the Marne “to save Paris.” This did indeed happen, but there were already over 150,000 soldiers in position. Although the help must have been appreciated the number of soldiers did not make a practical difference. Horses were still key in moving artillery, supplies, and providing fodder as cavalry units charged into machine guns. It was easier for governments to conscript people than horses as horses were still valued on farms. Horses on the battlefield provided other challenges too. They quickly became corpses from enemy fire and mistreatment (intentional or not) and littered the battlefield. Armies barely had time to move or bury humans, and no time bury tens of thousands of horses. Britain alone lost nearly half a million horses in the war — one for every two soldiers killed. Most animals just rotted on the battlefield.

Hastings blames Germany for the war and the atrocities, particularly in Belgium. He states that current thinking is that the atrocities were not as bad as reported, in reality they were. Austria-Hungary was also relentless with dealing with civilian populations, horribly so. The Eastern front of the war is covered in more deal than most histories, which is important because that is where the war started. But both Austria-Hungary and Serbia, the reason for the war, slip out of the common historical view. Serbia was ill-prepared for war, not in experience, but material. Austria- Hungary was simply a mess living on faded glories of the past.

Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War is a detailed history of the start of WWI. With such detail of the opening six months, it is easy to see how the war evolved and stalemated. Although there is some mention of the alliances, Hastings shows it was more the leadership, civil and military, of Europe that caused the problems and allowed the war to be fought in the first place. Very well done.

Read and reviewed strictly for personal use, not for any author or publisher.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Book Review — Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War

  1. tgottschling

    Interestingly, Peter Hitchens touches on WWI and recent theories “… against long held beliefs.” Simply the rise of secularism, which should not be confused with secularization.

    http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/religionandethicsreport/peter-hitchens-on-the-role-of-religion-in-the-uk-election/6431356

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