Clash of the Gods of War: Australian Artillery and the Firepower Lessons of the Great War

August 18, 2020

William Westerman and Nicholas Floyd, (eds.).  Big Sky Publishing. 2020. $34.99

When Stalin described artillery as the ‘god of war’ he knew what he was talking about. More than anything else, artillery firepower shaped the combat experience of soldiers on industrialised battlefields of the world wars. Yet artillery has been a much less popular topic for historians than tanks and aircraft, and even today, we know comparatively little about the gunners’ war. That’s why this bookis very welcome. The product of seminars held by the Royal Australian Artillery Historical Company to commemorate the First World War centenary, it is a rich and diverse collection of essays on various aspect of artillery in 1914-18.

Although the emphasis is firmly on the Australian experience, with chapters (among others) on Anzac (Chris Roberts), Pozieres (Darryl Kelly) and Hamel (two actually, by Ellen Cresswell and Meleah Hampton respectively), the book ranges more widely. Among the non-Australian pieces are a chapter on an Indian unit at Gallipoli (Muhammad Asghar), one on Ottoman artillery (Mesut Uyar), and discussions of French artillery at Verdun (Roger Lee), and in 1918 (Elizabeth Greenhalgh). Entirely appropriately, ‘Australian’ pieces are located in the context of the British Empire’s armies. There are also pieces on the ‘firepower lessons of the Great War’, to quote the book’s subtitle: Nick Floyd’s chapter should be required reading for modern soldiers. The chapters range from fairly broad overviews (David Stevens’ ‘Naval Gunfire Support at Gallipoli is a good example) to extremely specialist studies, such as a piece on the incorporation of howitzer batteries into the Australian Field Artillery by Keith Glyde. Both types are valuable, and the balance between them is about right.

The editors, William Westerman and Nick Floyd, have done a tremendous job. This is an extremely important contribution, not just to Australian military history, but to the history of the First World War. It will become a standard work and surprisingly, given the technical nature of the subject, it is very readable.   

Gary Sheffield University of Wolverhampton, UK

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