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Osprey Pub. - Instrument of War, The German Army 1914-18

ISBN Number:
Friday, June 15, 2018
Osprey Publishing
Retail Price:
$16 USD
Reviewed By:
Chuck Aleshire



Professor Showalter has written quite a few articles and award winning books on military history subjects, and has taught at the USAF Academy, West Point, and the Marine Corps University. He clearly has the credentials and the chops to be a trusted writer of military history.

This volume seeks to explain the rise of the Imperial German Army, the forces that influenced it as an institution, and its employment in the catastrophe that was the Great War of 1914-18, which ultimately led to it’s dissolving into chaos at war’s end. This is a complex subject matter, with many influencing factors.

Given that we are in the “centennial years” relative to World War I, it’s nice to see more titles concerning WWI being published, to go along with all of the new models being produced of WWI subjects.

Vital Statistics

Format - Paperbound, portrait format

Page count - 360 pages

Size - 5” x 7.75”

Photos - B/ W photographs

Tables / Drawings / Diagrams - none

What’s between the covers?


As can be seen by the table of contents shown above, the tale of the Imperial German Army that participated so vigorously in the Great War is divided into six chapters, each one illustrating phases with turning points for this Army.

Thumbnail looks at the Chapters

Chapter I - the effects of the 19th century German Wars of Unification on what became a new Imperial Germany, and on it’s military are discussed, as is the life and experiences of common soldiers in what was quite largely a conscript army. Germany’s overseas colonies are briefly examined, and pre-War General Staff planning and strategies are looked at, including the Schieffen Plan originally designed as a “first strike” against the French.

Chapter II - the war begins, a quarter of a million men volunteer for the Army in just August of 1914, swelling the ranks of the reservists and conscript army significantly. Conditions and reaction to the war’s outbreak are examined! As well as mobilization of reserves and transition to a nation at war. Early War moves and countermoves are discussed, as well as emerging wartime problems; notably logistical ones.

Chapter III - after the war’s first stages, the “race to the sea” begins, with successive flanking maneuvers that ultimately lead to hundreds of miles of trenches. The home front in Germany is adversely affected more and more. Gas warfare, the two front war involving Russia, the rise of aircraft as a weapon of war are examined.


Above - the book contains three short sections of photographs

 Chapter IV - the very title of this chapter nearly says it all; “Verdun and the Somme:End of an Army”. It wasn’t the literal end of the Army of course, the war would drag on for another two miserable years. But the loss of over one million men dead from combat in 1916 alone pretty much killed the army that went confidently to war in 1914. The cataclysmic battles of the Somme and Verdun saw to that.

Chapter V -  this chapter opens with the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian army on the Eastern Front, leading to Germany’s making extreme efforts to stabilize that area, which led directly to the rise of the Hindenburg / Ludendorff team taking charge there in 1917.This had a profound effect on the course of the war and the eventual German successes in the East led to the rise of the Bolsheviks and Communism in Russia. Increasing supply problems, worsening problems and civilian unrest in Germany are also examined, as are plans that the German High Command considered ( and actually implemented ) for a sort of scorched earth pull back.

Chapter VI - the events leading to the armistice of Nov. 11 1918 are discussed, including the development of storm troops to break the stalemate at the trench lines, increasing use of armor at places like Cambrai, and the Bolsheviks dropping out of the war, enabling the German Army one final chance to end the war on their terms, before the American troops arrived in force and learned their craft. The gradual “grinding down” of Germany’s resources, including manpower is examined at length, as well as the increasing inability of the Army to sustain combat effectiveness, leading to the Germans finally seeking an end to the war.

The above snippets for each chapter do not even begin to cover the depth and detail of the historic material presented in each chapter. There is a huge amount of varied information on a great many subjects in each chapter, but first and foremost this information is presented with an eye towards how it relates to the German Army of 1914-18. Therefore, the bulk of the narrative of the conflict is sharply focused on the German perspective.


Given the text based nature of this book, the included photographs are secondary to the text, and are contained in three short groups of 8 pages each. The photos are a mixed bag of subjects, ranging from formal portraits ( such as the one of Hindenburg seen earlier in this review ) and various views of life in the trenches and dugouts, etc. The quality of the photos is generally pretty good, given the conditions that some taken in. Photo sizes generally range from full page to half page sized.


When I first cracked this volume open, I did so fearing that it may be one of those really “tough to read” books, due to the potential of the material being a bit dry. I’m very glad to report that was not the case at all. The author does a wonderful job of pulling all of the many threads involved in this volume together into a narrative that reads pretty well. Not an easy task at all, given the complex nature of the subject and time, with all of the contributing factors involved.

The author brings to light a great many events and actions which shaped the German Army of WWI, that probably aren’t very well known outside of real experts on this subject. Each chapter had several really interesting tidbits that made me very glad to read this book with care.

I’d have liked some maps to accompany the first-rate text, but maps can always be sourced I suppose, so it’s not a big negative by any means. The quality of the text more than makes up for any lack of maps.

Despite it’s relatively small size compared to some, this volume packs a terrific punch.

Highly Recommended!

Thanks to Osprey Publishing for the review copy

Reviewed by Chuck Aleshire, AMPS Chicagoland


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