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The Catastrophe of 8 August 1918 – the German Perspective of the Battle of Amiens –

November 19, 2019

from the translators David Pearson and Paul Thost with Tony Cowan.

The Catastrophe of 8 August 1918 is a translation of the German semi-official history of the battle of Amiens, the ‘black day of the German Army’, in which the Australian Corps played a leading role.  Indeed, C. E. W. Bean described it as the greatest Australian set-piece attack of the war.  The Australian Army History Unit is therefore proud to present this account of what happened on the other side of the hill in a seminal battle which paved the way for the end of the First World War just a hundred days later.

The book was the 36th and last volume in a series of popular German histories of the war.  The author, retired general staff Major Thilo von Bose, focused on the opening day of the battle, 8 August.  So he was able to describe the fighting in great detail.  His account makes clear the poor state of the German units facing a combined force of Australian, Canadian, French and British troops.  By drawing on a variety of sources, he paints this picture as seen by headquarters and also at a more human level.  He describes one division as ‘utterly burnt out’ after more than 50 days in the line without break.  And he quotes a battalion commander saying that his men looked like ghosts – pale, hungry, in torn uniforms, louse-ridden and dragging themselves along.  This extensive use of reports by lower-level participants in the battle and their dramatic descriptions help portray German soldiers as individuals rather than an anonymous field-grey mass.

Bose makes clear that the German army largely lost the battle in the first few minutes as its weakened forces were overwhelmed by a combination of surprise, dense fog, devastating artillery fire and the massed and rapid infantry advance supported by tanks.  No question here of a ‘stab in the back’, and indeed Bose shows moral courage in the degree of historical objectivity he was able to achieve explaining the causes of the defeat.

This book is the most detailed account of the battle from German official and semi-official sources, and is therefore an important contribution to understanding the history.  But it is also important as an example of the highly political struggle in Germany after 1918 to control the history of the war.  Well supported by the official military history machine, the series of which Catastrophe forms part was wildly successful, selling on average 40-50,000 copies per volume.  This undoubtedly helped right-wing nationalist accounts of the war triumph over the left-wing version.

Catastrophe is therefore significant to both the history and the historiography of the First World War.  This new edition will do it justice.  It presents the original German text in parallel with the first ever English translation.  The foreword by Professor Gary Sheffield, the introduction, appendices, maps and photographs explain and illustrate the historical and military context.  Together, they allow the reader easily to follow Bose’s account.  Strikingly, they exploit different types of evidence, linking up Bose’s text with archaeological investigations on the battlefield and artefacts such as guns, medals and documents which readers can view in Australia.

This combination of content makes the book a key source in introducing a new audience to scholarship on the First World War and will also help students who want to research the German side in more depth.

Purchase your copy here and at all good bookstores.

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