With Our Backs to the Wall: Victory and Defeat in 1918 by David Stevenson - review by Max Egremont

Max Egremont

General Incompetence

With Our Backs to the Wall: Victory and Defeat in 1918


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It is often said that the Germans came nearest to winning the First World War twice – at the start in 1914 and near the end in 1918. In his new book, David Stevenson turns this on its head. He contends that the huge German offensives in the west that began in March 1918 set off a process that led to Germany’s defeat later that year. He also makes clear that when, with their ally Austria–Hungary, the Germans started the war in 1914, they took a terrific gamble the odds of which were already against them. So a predictable result was merely delayed by four years and the deaths of millions. The predictability, however, was obscured by the often poor generalship of Germany’s enemies.

What happened on the battlefields was only one part of the war. Stevenson’s detailed examination of each belligerent in 1918 makes it plain how much was owed to the efficiency of the factories and transport systems, the morale on the home fronts and the character and abilities of

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