Military Archive Research
by Dr. Stuart C Blank
Member of the Orders and Medals Research Society (OMRS)
Member of the Royal Air Force Historical Society (RAFHS)
Member of the Naval Historical Collectors and Research Association (NHCRA)
Member of the Nautical Archaeology Society (NAS)
Member of the International Bank Note Society (IBNS)
Member of the International Bond and Share Society (IBSS)

 

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Review of
The British Army in World War 1 Volume 1
By Mike Chappel
Osprey Publishing (www.ospreypublishing.com)
ISBN 9781841763996
RRP GBP £9.99


War erupted in Europe during August 1914 and the British army at that time was unique compared to its continental peers. The 1914 British army was a small force of volunteers. Its first continental campaigns (as the British Expeditionary Force (BEF)) against the Imperial German army saw the BEF decimated and by the end of 1914 the BEF had been virtually eliminated.

Lord Kitchener’s famous call to arms provided massive numbers of new volunteers due to a hugely patriotic response from the general British population. By mid-1916 the BEF had grown to a massive 55 divisions. This book seeks to explain and illustrate (where possible) the equipment, uniforms and organisation between August 1914 and the Battle of the Somme.

This interesting volume on the BEF starts with a description of the state of the British army at the commencement of the First World War. It characterises the Regular Army of the time and discusses the merits of the Territorials (the reserve army now called the Territorial Army). Also the lessons the British Army had learnt by its Boer War (South Africa c. 1900) experiences are recorded.

It reveals how Kitcheners’ call to arms saw the raising of a new huge army and these massive numbers of new volunteers overwhelmed the system for training, clothing and supplying. Indeed the system was so far stretched that it had insufficient men as instructors. The roles of the Territorial Force and the Imperial Service Volunteers are discussed as they were mobilised early in the war.

The book details the standard infantry weapons of 1914-16 and gives an eloquent debate about the merits of the SMLE “.303” rifle (the standard infantry rifle) and its shortcomings. Other weapons such as the various designs and models of “bombs” (now called grenades), bayonet, pistols and machine guns are considered.

Of vital assistance to the frontline infantry the artillery played an exceptionally important support role. Their main guns and howitzers are discussed and issues like the “shell scandal” are featured in the book. The Royal Garrison Artillery (RGA) and the organisation of the artillery function are noted.

The First World War also saw the introduction of new fighting modes such as the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and the first tanks. This interesting text reveals how these new modes of combat evolved and were placed into action. The land based actions of the Royal Navy are also recorded. Generally the RN is always thought of as a nautical service but the book reveals how its surplus manpower was used in the “trenches”.

The book devotes a full chapter to the organisation and tactics of the infantry, artillery and the supporting arms / services. The final chapter discusses uniforms for both officers and men, the personal equipment used by soldiers and insignia.

If you are interested in the Western Front campaigns from 1914 to 1916 then this book is essential reading. It is amply illustrated, often using period images, and the text is very informative. A “well done” is due to the author.

March 2012