History of the Great War, Volume 2 - 1923

Front Cover, History of the Great War, Volume 2 by John Buchan, 1923.

Front Cover, History of the Great War, Volume 2 by John Buchan, 1923. GGA Image ID # 18d3d56870

The second book in this series, History of the Great War, Volume 2, covers the period from the beginning of the Dardanelles Campaign, September 1914 through April 1915 to the Battle of Verdun, February to April 1916.



XXVI. The Opening of the Dardanelles Campaign (September 1, 1914-April 27, 1915)

The First Hint of an Eastern Diversion—Discussions in the War Council—Lord Kitchener, Lord Fisher, and Mr. Churchill—Subsidiary versus Divergent Operations— Topography and History of the Dardanelles—Justification for the Naval Attack—Fortifications of the Straits —The Naval Attack and its Results—The Origin of the Military Expedition—Sir Ian Hamilton—The Tactical Problem—The Battle of the Landing.

XXVII. The Second Battle of Ypres (17th April-24th May 1915)

Germany's Spring Policy in the West—The Taking of Hill 60—The Gas Attack—The Second Battle of Ypres —Its Results—The Ruined City—The Political Situation in Britain during April and May—The Formation of a Coalition Government.

XXVIII. The Allied Western Offensive in the Summer of 1915 (5th April-17th June)

Germany's Summer Strategy—The French in Alsace and Lorraine—The French Advance in Artois—The British Attack at Festubert—The Summer's Stagnation—The War in the Air.

XXIX. The Russian Retreat from the Donajetz (28th April-21st June 1915)

Russia's Position in April—Hindenburg's Plan—Mackensen attacks—Retreat of the Russian Armies—The Loss of Przemysl and Lemberg—The Russian Position Midsummer.

XXX. The Beginning of Italy's Campaign (26th April- 21st August 1915)

Sonnino's Diplomacy—The Treaty of London—Italy declares War on Austria—Italy's Strategic Position—The First Engagements on the Frontiers—The Beginning of the Isonzo Campaign—Italy declares War on Turkey.

XXXI. The First Year of War: A Retrospect (28th June, 1914-28th June 1915)

The Military Result—Germany's Calculations—Her Strength and Weakness—The Position of the Allies—The British Problem of Men and Munitions—British Finance—The Allies' Lack of Central Direction—The Neutral States—The Naval Position—The Leaders.

XXXII. The Asian and African Campaigns (October 1914-9th July 1915)

Transcaucasia—The Mesopotamian Campaign—The Capture of Nasiriyah and Kut—The Cameroons—The War in German South-West Africa—The Enemy's Surrender.

XXXIII. The Abandonment of Warsaw (22nd June-5th August 1915)

Germany exploits her Success—The Crushing of the Warsaw Salient—The Advance of Mackensen and Linsingen—The Advance of Gallwitz—Comparison with Napoleon's Invasion—Prince Leopold enters Warsaw.

XXXIV. Gallipoli: The Battles for Krithia (29th April-31st July 1915)

The Attack of 6th May—The Australasian Corps at Sari Bair—The Battle of 4th June—The Withdrawal of the larger Warships—Kitchener's Difficulties—The Action of 21st June—The Action of 12th July—Arrival of British Reinforcements.

XXXV. The Straining of America's Patience

America's Temper—Reasons for her Hostility to Germany—The Difficulties of immediate Intervention—President Wilson—German Activities in America—Dr. Dumba.

XXXVI. Gallipoli: The New Landing (6th-27th August 1915)

The New Plan—Suvla Bay and its Neighborhood—-The New British Divisions—The Preliminary Attack at Cape Helles—The Anzac Advance on Koja Chemen—The Landing at Suvla—Its Failure.

XXXVII. The Great Russian Retreat (5th August-30th September 1915)

The essential Russian Weakness—Germany's Next Step—The Russian Armies' Retreat to the Bug—The Fall of Kovno and Novo Georgievsk—The Fall of Brest Litovsk—The Fall of Grodno—The Retreat from the Vilna Salient—The first Russian Counter-strokes—Political Changes.

XXXVIII. Champagne and Loos (23rd September-2nd October 1915)

The Allied Line in the West—The Policy of the New Advance—The Great Bombardment—The Attack in Champagne—The French Attack in Artois—The British Subsidiary Attacks—The Battle of Loos—The Achievement of the 15th Division—Summary and Criticism.

XXXIX. The Balkan Labyrinth

The Balkan States—Geography and History of the Peninsula—The Treaty of Berlin—-The Balkan League—The First and Second Balkan Wars—Bulgaria's Discontent—King Ferdinand—Greece and Venizelos—Failure of Allied Diplomacy.

XL. Bulgaria enters the War (19th September-15th October 1915)

Bulgaria's Alliance with Germany—Mackensen's Army—The Intrigues at Sofia—The Position of Greece—The Allies send Troops to Salonika.

XLI. The Overrunning of Serbia (19th September 1915-25th January 1916)

Serbia's Military Position—Mackensen's Problem—The Advance of Gallwitz and Kövess—Bulgaria's Flank Attack—Fall of Usku—Fall of Nish—The Serbian Retreat to the Adriatic—The Allies in Salonika—The Austrian Conquest of Montenegro.

XLII. Gallipoli: The Evacuation (21st August 1915-9th January 1916)

Sir Ian Hamilton recalled—Sir Charles Monro's Report—Kitchener's Visit to Gallipoli—The Evacuation of Suvla and Anzac—The Evacuation of Helles—A Miraculous Exploit.

XLIII. Mesopotamia: The Bagdad Expedition (21st October-3rd December 1915)

The Turkish Massacres in Armenia—Trouble in Persia —The Question of an Advance to Bagdad—The Chief Responsibility for it—Townshend reaches Laj—The Battle of Ctesiphon—The Retreat to Kut.

XLIV. The Second Winter in the East and West

The Fighting at Riga and Dvinsk—The Russian Attack on Czemovitz—The Aftermath of the Loos and Champagne Battles —The Winter Hardships—Sir John French surrenders his Command—His Qualities and Defects.

XLV. The Political Situation in France and Britain (1st October, 1915-26th January 1916)

Widespread Anxiety—The New Ministry in France—Criticism of the French Staff—The Situation in Britain—The Censorship—Edith Cavell—The New General Staff—British Finance—The Recruiting Problem—The Derby Report—The Military Service Bill—Parallel with American Civil War.

XLVI. Some Sidelights on the German Temper

The Growth of the Politiques—German Military Opinion —Views of German Financiers—The Popular Mind— Bethmann-Hollweg.

XLVII. America at the Crossroads

The Purpose of the Allies—American Ideals—Mr. Wilson's increasing Difficulties—Mr. Elihu Root's Speech—The Problem for America narrowed and clarified.

XLVIII. The Position at Sea (24th January 1915-29th February 1916)

Tirpitz's Plan—The Allied and German Losses at Sea—The German Submarine Campaign—The Bar along Incident—The British Blockade—German Commerce Raiders—The Work of the British Fleet.

XLIX. The War in the Ægean and Africa (October 1915-May 1916)

Stalemate at Salonika—Bulgaria's Temper—The Position in Constantinople—The Defenses of Egypt—The Defeat of the Senussi—The Conquest of the Cameroons —Germany's Principles of Colonization.

L. The Russian Front in the Spring of 1916 (11th January-18th April)

The Battles of Lake Narotch—Yudenitch takes Erzerum—Capture of Trebizond.

LI. The Fall of Kut (3rd December 1915-29th April 1916)

The Siege of Kut—The Relieving Force—The Battle of 6th and 7th January—The Battles of 13th and 21st January—The Attempt of 7th to 8th March—The Attempt of 5th April—The Last Efforts—Fall of Kut—The Responsibility of the Government of India.

LII. The Battle of Verdun: First Stage (21st February-10th April 1916)

The Reasons for Falkenhayn's Plan—Nature of Verdun Area—The French Position—The Attack of 21st February—The Crisis at Douaumont—Pétain's Scheme of Defence—The German Attack west of the Meuse—The Struggle for Vaux—The Flank Attack at Avocourt—The Position on 10th April—Pétain—The Achievement of the French Soldier.



  • Right Honourable David Lloyd George Gassed
    From a painting by John S. Sargent, R.A.
  • The Salt Lake, Suvla Bay
    From a painting by Norman Wilkinson
  • Marshal Henri-Phillippe Pétain
    From a photograph by Melcy, Paris
  • Verdun on the Meuse, before Bombardment
    From a painting by A. Renaud


  1. The Gallipoli Peninsula
  2. The Second Battle of Ypres
  3. The Spring Campaign in Artois, 1915
  4. The Italian Battleground
  5. The Mesopotamian Campaign
  6. The Campaign in Southwest Africa
  7. The German Advance from the Donajetz to the Eve of the Fall of Warsaw
  8. The Gallipoli Peninsula: Anzac and Suvla Areas
  9. The German Advance from Warsaw to Vilna
  10. Champagne
  11. The Fighting in Artois, September 1915
  12. The Battle of Loos
  13. Race Distribution in the Balkans
  14. The Serbian Campaign
  15. Riga and Dvinsk
  16. The Western Frontier of Egypt
  17. The Cameroons
  18. The Erzerum Campaign
  19. Mesopotamia: the Kut Area
  20. The Verdun Area

The World War in Vivid Narrative

SIR WALTER RALEIGH once excused himself for not writing the story of his own time by remarking that “whosoever in writing a Moderne Histoire shall follow truth too near the heels, it may happily strike out his teeth.”

In a later century, Conan Doyle followed very near to the heels of the Boer War and won a knighthood by writing its history. Still more daring, in this regard, was the venture of John Buchan in producing a history of the World War in twenty-four volumes while it was still going on.

No doubt the heels of truth, as Raleigh intimates, time, had not Mr. Buchan revised, reshaped, and largely rewritten the whole work, incorporating in it all the new facts and fuller interpretations that have come to light since the war ended.

"A History of the Great War" is now offered to the public in four large volumes, with scores of maps and with an introduction by Major-General Harbord of the United States Army.

General Harbord testifies to the grasp and accuracy of the military portions of the author’s narrative. “The literary style of his work is charming,” he adds; “its movement and color are satisfying, and it is rich, even fascinating, in historical allusion and comparison.” The reviewer finds no cause to differ with these judgments.

General Harbord’s introduction is in itself a valued addition to the work. As seen from the American reader’s viewpoint, Mr. Buchan’s war history has, indeed, certain shortcomings, or let us say limitations, which are natural if not inevitable in the circumstances.

The author, an Englishman serving at the British front and later writing for a British public, has confessedly gone somewhat more into detail regarding the British military operations than regarding those on the French, Russian, Italian and other portions of the long battle line.

He also has allowed himself to lapse from the strict measure of proportion occasionally in other directions. He devotes a page to the rare personal qualities of his friend, Lieutenant Raymond Asquith, the Premier’s son, who fell in battle.

These are faults or merits, according to one’s viewpoint. Then the heel, as mentioned earlier of historical truth, of course, is ever threatening the close pursuer.

For instance, since Mr. Buchan's new volumes have been put into type, his account of Gaza's battles, based on General Murray's official report, has been impaired in some details by the Memoirs of Djemal Pasha, the Turkish commander.

The number of Turks killed and wounded in the first battle of Gaza is given as 8,000 and the British casualties as 4,000; Djemal declares that his whole force at Gaza, including cooks, stretcher-bearers, and other non-combatants, never exceeded 8,000, the armed garrison being only 3,500; his itemized list of casualties is only 1,627.

When Mr. Buchan comes again to revise this page of his work, therefore, he will have to consider the apparent truth of Djemal’s boast that each Turkish soldier in that battle killed or wounded an English soldier.

All this is merely saying that one must revise every history at intervals. These things being understood, it may be noted at only is undoubtedly the most complete, accurate, readable, and satisfactory account of the war now before the public.

It withstands practical tests applied almost at random, whether in the European or in the American sections. Would a British historian discern that the American West and Middle West were not read to go to war until the German-Mexican intrigue brought the peril to their doorsteps?

Yes, here is the fact duly stated in Mr. Buchan’s pages at the props place. Can a Briton do full justice to the causes of President Wilson’s delay in entering the war? Mr. Buchan’s page on this phase of the subject leaves nothing to be desired, either an intelligent grasp or in even-handed justice.

His summary deserves to be repeated here:

Mr. Wilson had justified his policy of waiting. The debate on the declaration of war showed that America's public mind was still in some doubt and confusion. If this were so even at that late hour, it is probable that the President could not have secured the national assent he needed at an earlier date.

He had played his part with remarkable skill. He had suffered Germany herself to prepare the American people for intervention, and Germany had labored manfully to that end. He had allowed the spectacle of American powerlessness in the Titanic struggle to be constantly before the popular mind, till the people grew uneasy and asked for guidance.

He had shown infinite patience and courtesy so that one could bring no accusation of petulance or haste against him. But when one proved the case, and the challenge became gross, he struck promptly and struck hard.

If in the eyes of his critics he had not always stated the issue indeed and had shown an easiness of temper which came perilously near complaisance, it was now dear that he had had a purpose in it all.

As soon as he felt strong enough for action, he had not delayed. He had brought the whole nation into line on a matter that meant the reversal of every traditional thought mode. When we reflect on American life's centrifugal tendencies and deep conservatism, we confess that such a feat demanded a high order of genius in statecraft.

The American soldiers' military achievements in France get their due share of attention, though only as a component of the larger battle pictures.

The problem before Pershing is the Argonne says the author, “had now become the most difficult of that of any army commander.” He calls that battle Perishing’s Wilderness Campaign”. He says our First Army fought it with the bravery and tenacity of the original Battle of the Wilderness if the result was “a decisive factor in the victory.”

Mr. Buchan has no strikingly new facts or interpretations to offer. The value of his work consists in its patient marshaling and sifting of all available materials. In its judicial handling of every disputed point, all in the most limpid and genial English, he gives a little more space to the British battles, such as the first Ypres—one of the most terrible fighting from any viewpoint he certainly does not fail of complete justice in his apportionment credit to the other Allies.

After giving due credit to Joffre’s Fabian strategy and all the other deciding elements, His final comment on the First Battle of the Marne, is this: “In the last resort the giver of victory was the ancient and unconquerable spirit of France.”

Again, in the case of Verdun, no Frenchman would pen a more nuanced appreciation of the courage of cold rage that held every French soldier to his post until death, cheerfully and without complaint, in the spirit of a race that was ready to perish rather than accept German domination.

Mr. Buchan aptly closes his second volume with the words found scribbled on the wooden rising of a bomb-proof shelter in the French firing line:

My body to earth,
My soul to God,
My heart to France.

To the Italians, likewise, the author gives a due share of the credit for the Allies' ultimate victory. The causes of the disaster of Caporetto, the most incredible suffered in so short a time by any combatant in the war, are carefully weighed.

Though General Cadoma is blamed with carelessness, both in his choice of strategic positions and in his ignorance of the wavering morale of his troops, Mr. Buchan rightly finds the primary cause of the disaster in the insidious socialist propaganda with which the enemy had long been undermining the stamina of the less intelligent elements of the whole nation.

“The poison,” he says, “had affected certain parts of the army to an extent of which the military authorities were wholly ignorant.” The result was that when the blow came from the Austrian armies, “there were found treachery and folly in the Italian ranks,” notably at Caporetto.

There were strange tales of men running out with white flags to greet their Teuton ‘comrades’ and being shot down or made prisoners. There were tales of troops in reserve who refused to advance.”

From the overwhelming rout which followed, only me Italian army, the Third, under the Duke of Aosta, snatched safety by orderly retreat and ultimately gave Italy a chance to ‘come back.” The story of that phenomenal retreat is told here with all the vividness and thrills of a good historian.

The greatest glory of all [says the author) The cavalry won troops like the Novara Lancers and the Genoa Dragoons, some of the finest horsemen in Europe, who again and again charged the enemy and sacrificed themselves with a cheerfulness that the retreat might win half an hour’s respite.

Said one Colonel to his officers: “The canaille have betrayed our country’s honor; now we, the gentlemen of Italy, will save it,” and wheeled his squadrons into the jaws of death.

Battles and leaders are the primary substance of Mr. Buchan's volumes, though they are woven into a chronological narrative's smooth fabric.

The blame for deliberately starting the war is laid upon the Austrian and German statesmen of 1914, but the author tries to be fair even to the enemy, and in the main be succeeds. Few readers, for instance, at least outside of the German-speaking nations, will take exception to this judgment regarding Emperor Francis Joseph:

He was the last believer in the old theory of monarchs' divine right (for the German Emperor had a more modem variant), and his passionate faith gave him strength and constancy.

Everything was sacrificed to this creed—ease, family affection, personal honor, the well-being of individuals and nations—until he became an inhuman monarchical machine, grinding out decisions like an automaton.

His age and afflictions persuaded the world to judge him kindly, and indeed the tragic loneliness of his life made the predominant feeling one of pity.

But if we try him by any strict standard, we cannot set him among the world's good sovereigns and still less among the great.

He gravely misruled the peoples entrusted to his care, he brought misfortunes upon Europe, and in the end, he left his country ruined, bleeding, and bankrupt.

The cause he fought for was not noble or wise but only a great egotism. At no time in his career had he any accurate perception of the forces at work in the world.

He broke his head against new powers which he did not foresee and then sat in the dust to be commiserated. The tragedy lay in mind so sparsely furnished being charged with the control of such mighty destinies.

Mr. Buchan holds that Germany had several chances to win the war, even after the Marne, and that she failed because of her statesmen and military leaders' blunders. He believes that she produced "no single soldier of the highest rank," that even Ludendorff "shared to the full that lack political insight, that strange incapacity to judge the hearts of other peoples," which lost the war, and that "the High Command were themselves the principal architects of their country's defeat."

Ferdinand Foch, judged by whatever standard, would place among the dozen most remarkable of the world's captains. "Foch is a happy compound of patience and ardor; he could follow Fabian's tactics when these were called for, and he could risk everything on the sudden stroke.

He was not infallible, any more than Cansar, Napoleon, or Lee, but he could rise from his mistakes to higher wisdom. In a word, he had a genius for war, that rarest of human talents. In the splendid company of the historic French captains, he will stand among the foremost—behind, but not far after, the greatest of all.”

While Russia gets full credit for all that the Tsar’s armies achieved for the allied cause, the Bolshevik saturnalia destroyed the Russian front. It culminated in the great treaty of Brest-Litovsk finds no sympathy at this historian’s hands. Lenin’s recent speech at Moscow ridiculed the Allies for the chaos they produced at Versailles and asserted that Soviet Russia never did anything so wrong and would find a sufficient reply in these pages.


Some two hundred billion dollars were spent by the Mr. Buchan has not, unfortunately, attempted to give detailed or tabulated statements of the war losses. He summarizes by saying that more than eight million men died in battle.

The casualties were over thirty million, that disease and famine brought the total of dead in the world to twenty million, while as many more were maimed or weakened for life. nations in the direct business of war, and the property losses were incalculable.

This is well enough in its way, but one wishes the author had added to the appendix a complete set of tables of the forces on both sides, the total casualties by countries, the war debts, the shipping losses, and other data useful for reference.

The present appendix consists only of the armistice terms arranged with the various Central Powers. There is a helpful “Index of Military and Naval Units,” which makes it easy to turn to the page, in any of the four volumes, where a specific army or fleet is mentioned.

A good general index is another welcome feature, and the seventy-odd maps and diagrams of battles are invaluable. Both its literary charm and its authoritative and orderly marshaling of the war’s far-flung activities entitle this work to a high and permanent place in the great conflict literature.

Based on Edwin L. Shuman, “The World War in Vivid Narrative,” in The Literary Digest International Book Review, New York-London: Funk & Wagnalls Company, Vol. I, No. 4, Whole Number 4, March 1923, pp. 20-21.

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