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Fighting the Somme (Hardback)

German Challenges, Dilemmas and Solutions

Military WWI > Battles & Campaigns > Somme WWI > By Year > 1916 WWI > German Forces & Weaponry

By Jack Sheldon
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
Pages: 225
ISBN: 9781473881990
Published: 20th March 2017



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This book will provide an entirely fresh way of looking at the Battle of the Somme 1916. It will not be a rehashed narrative history of the battle. Instead, drawing heavily on examples that can be illustrated through exploitation of the primary sources still available in abundance in the archives at Stuttgart and Munich and anecdotal accounts, it will explain how and why the German defence was designed and conducted as it was. There will be descriptions of the reasons for the dominance of the Great General Staff, the tensions between commanders and staff, the disagreements between the commanders of First and Second Army and the replacement of General von Falkenhayn with the duumvirate of Hindenburg and Ludendorff.
Specific case studies will include the loss and recapture of Schwaben Redoubt on 1 July, the British assault on the Second Position of 14 July, the tank attack at Flers 15 September and the autumn battles for Sailly Saissisel and St Pierre Vaast Wood.
This will ensure that there is plenty to interest the general reader as well as showing how the various levels of command from regiment to army group operated and responded to emergencies and crises. Space will be devoted to changes in command philosophy, the introduction of new weapons and equipment and the evolution of tactics to counter the massive Allied superiority in manpower and materiel.

For some readers the main learning point may be the critical role played by the staff officers such as 'Fritz' von Lossberg who proved so adept in adapting and implementing Prussian military doctrines in a context which would have been inconceivable to the reformers who developed the concepts in the nineteenth century. The result is a compelling read.

Stand To! Western Front Assc No.110

Here one of our most influential historians is at the top of his game. Excellent.

Read the complete review here.

Great War Book Reviews (GoodReads)

Fighting the Somme is an informative introduction to German strategy on the Somme and is a must-read for anyone with a serious interest in understanding the campaign.

Read the complete review here.

WW1 Geek

Here one of our most influential historians is at the top of his game. Excellent.

Read the complete review here.

Great War Book Review Facebook Page

Jack Sheldon’s latest study of the German Army on the Western Front is, I believe, by far his best offering to date. His detailed research and background knowledge has produced a book that will surely stand as the definitive work for the German experience of the Somme battle.
Drawing upon original material – much of it previously unpublished – he has produced a remarkable insight into the German operational level of command in France at that time.

Together with the more cerebral analysis of tactics there are quite unique descriptions of conditions on the battlefield. Previous and extant narratives tend to regurgitate and trot out the same old story lines – mostly slanted toward the British and, to a lesser degree, the French experience. In “Fighting the Somme” we find an entirely new perspective: the thoughts and comments by senior German commanders provide a new and remarkable insight into the battle. Here, we are impressed by the determined professionalism of the German General Staff in the search for detailed lessons learned – a process not reflected to the same extent on the Allied side at that time. Also, this account shows the incredible strength and resilience of the soldiers defending at the Somme - despite the conflict and in-fighting between senior commanders. Their qualitative superiority over especially their British opponents shows through. Even though their morale suffered in the end they still held against an almost indescribable onslaught.
One name appears regularly throughout the text – von Lossberg! The influence of this relatively junior officer was quite remarkable – both during the Somme battle and beyond. Where, at the time, were the British von Lossbergs?

Given that much of the material evidence available to the author came from Bavarian sources one wonders how much more could have been discovered had Prussian archives survived World War 2? Nevertheless, Jack Sheldon has dug out sufficient original material to cause other authors and historians to review their own accounts, and, as usual, re-write history!

Lt Col (Retd) RJ Lawes

Well gang, I am here to report that Jack Sheldon has done it once more. His numerous books on the German army in World War I have almost become the stuff of legends. They are not only jam packed with history, but also have tons of first hand accounts. 'Fighting on The Somme' is no different. There have been tons of books written about the battle from the British side, from paeans of praise for Haig to the more well known 'lions led by donkeys'. But you cannot have a battle with only one side, and this is where Jack Sheldon comes in. We have all read numerous accounts of the battles for the Schwaben redoubt, but now I know exactly why. It was the linchpin of the German defense.

Read the complete review here.

A Wargamers Needful things

An authoritative work. 10/10

The Great War magazine, July 2017 - reviewed by Mark Marsay

There is much to interest the general reader as well as providing a more detailed analysis of how the various command level operated.

Amourer Incorporating Classic Arms and Militaria, July 2017

AS featured on...

The Long, Long Trail

This is an extremely important book on the Battle of the Somme and a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the battle as a whole rather than just the British side of it. Jack Sheldon’s fascinating study of the challenges and dilemmas faced by German commanders, and the solutions they devised, casts a new light on the battle by going behind the events to consider the personalities involved, the stresses and strains they coped with, the additional difficulties caused by the ongoing Battle of Verdun and the profound differences of opinion between senior commanders. The primary sources used, many of which are unpublished, paint a picture of a steep learning curve for men at all levels faced with almost intolerable demands on their mental and physical resilience. Finding solutions to the problems of tactics, manpower and material resources while resisting the enemy and planning for the future must have been almost overwhelming and the fact that they did so at all is extraordinary. The author’s own military experience and his knowledge of German allow him to open a window on aspects of the Somme previously unknown to the general reader and for this he is to be congratulated. It is a first class read and an indispensable addition to the bookshelf for anyone interested in the Western Front.

Christina Holstein, Author and Historian

Through careful research, primary sources and archive records, as it enables the reader to gain a wider understanding of the German defence during the Battle and therefore provides a fresh slant on the Battle.

Jon Sandison, Freelance

This book packs a terrific punch. It succeeds in challenging – indeed, changing – widely held perceptions of the Battle of the Somme, and must be read by anyone who seeks to appreciate how this nightmare impinged on German conduct of battle in the Great War.

Western Front Association

As featured in.

Bulletin, Western Front Assc

After all the books about the Battle of the Somme published for the centenary, there was a gap in the market: the story told from the viewpoint of the German commanders. Jack Sheldon, Britain's unchallenged expert on the German files, has filled it admirably with this book, which is a fascinating read for all those who wondered what was going on on the other side of the wire.

Hugh Sebag-Montefiore, author of Somme - Into the Breach.

Sheldon is a master! Using first person experiences he weaves a spell binding tale which makes the reader understand that in war sometimes the enemy is perceived to be at your own higher or adjacent headquarters. Magnificent application of his significant military experience.

He is a prolific author who has shown his expertise on the German army in the First World War over and over again. It is easy to become a fan of his first person account style using gems that he has uncovered from the archives.

If you do not fully understand the German concept of Schwerpunkt, Jack Sheldon shows how, in this improbable defence, it was used to allocate scarce resources. Spellbinding; and not your standard British side of the story.

Colonel Joe Robinson US Army (Rtd), military historian.

A fascinating examination of the extraordinary strains that the Somme campaign inflicted upon the German Army’s high command and frontline soldiers alike.’

‘Jack Sheldon’s new study of the German conduct of the Somme fighting in 1916 will make uncomfortable reading for those who think that the German Army was in cruise control. This is a story of a command riven with disputes, of frequent defensive crises that brought the German Army to breaking point at least once and left many men at all levels with a haunting sense that an ultimate German victory was no longer possible.

Professor John Bourne

Yet another splendid book by Jack Sheldon. In this valuable and timely examination of the conduct of the German Army's defence on the Somme, he reveals and analyses the tensions which arose between its senior commanders, vividly describes how it responded to successive tactical crises, and once more underlines the courage and endurance of its front-line troops.

Professor Peter Simkins MBE
 Jack Sheldon

About Jack Sheldon

Jack Sheldon is now firmly established as the leading authority on the German Army in the First World War. A retired soldier he lives in France and is fully engaged researching and writing. His German Army on the Somme was a run-away success and he has built on his reputation with The German Army At Passchendael, The German Army at Cambrai,The German Army on Vimy Ridge and The German Army at Ypres 1914. He lives in France.

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