‘War is too important to be left to the generals’ snapped future French prime minister Georges Clemenceau on learning of yet another bloody and futile offensive on the Western Front.
One of the great questions in the ongoing discussions and debate about the First World War is why did winning take so long and exact so appalling a human cost? After all this was a fight that, we were told, would be over by Christmas.
Now, in his major new history, Allan Mallinson, former professional soldier and author of the acclaimed 1914: Fight the Good Fight, provides answers that are disturbing as well as controversial, and have a contemporary resonance. He disputes the growing consensus among historians that British generals were not to blame for the losses and setbacks in the ‘war to end all wars’ – that, given the magnitude of their task, they did as well anyone could have. He takes issue with the popular view that the ‘amateur’ opinions on strategy of politicians such as Lloyd George and, especially, Winston Churchill, prolonged the war and increased the death toll. On the contrary, he argues, even before the war began Churchill had a far more realistic, intelligent and humane grasp of strategy than any of the admirals or generals, while very few senior officers – including Sir Douglas Haig – were up to the intellectual challenge of waging war on this scale. And he repudiates the received notion that Churchill’s stature as a wartime prime minister after 1940 owes much to the lessons he learned from his First World War ‘mistakes’ – notably the Dardanelles campaign – maintaining that in fact Churchill’s achievement in the Second World War owes much to the thwarting of his better strategic judgement by the ‘professionals’ in the First – and his determination that this would not be repeated.
Mallinson argues that from day one of the war Britain was wrong-footed by absurdly faulty French military doctrine and paid, as a result, an unnecessarily high price in casualties. He shows that Lloyd George understood only too well the catastrophically dysfunctional condition of military policy-making and struggled against the weight of military opposition to fix it. And he asserts that both the British and the French failed to appreciate what the Americans’ contribution to victory could be – and, after the war, to acknowledge fully what it had actually been.
January 1830, and one of the hardest winters in memory . . .
And the prime minister, the Iron Duke, is resisting growing calls for parliamentary reform, provoking scenes of violent unrest in the countryside. But there are no police outside London and most of the yeomanry regiments, to whom the authorities had always turned when disorder threatened, have been disbanded as an economy measure. Against this inflammable backdrop Lieutenant-Colonel Matthew Hervey, recently returned from an assignment in the Balkans, takes command of his regiment, the 6th Light Dragoons. His fears that things might be a little dull are quickly dispelled by the everyday business of vexatious officers, difficult choices over which NCOs to promote not to mention the incendiarists on the doorstep of the King himself. But it’s when the Sixth are sent to Brussels for the fifteenth anniversary celebrations of the battle of Waterloo and find themselves caught up in the Belgian uprising against Dutch rule that the excitement really starts. Will Hervey be able to keep out of the fighting – a war that would lead, nearly a century later, to Britain’s involvement in an altogether different war – while safeguarding his country’s interests? Not likely!
‘No part of the Great War compares in interest with its opening’, wrote Churchill. ‘The measured, silent drawing together of gigantic forces, the uncertainty of their movements and positions, the number of unknown and unknowable facts made the first collision a drama never surpassed…in fact the War was decided in the first twenty days of fighting, and all that happened afterwards consisted in battles which, however formidable and devastating, were but desperate and vain appeals against the decision of fate.’
On of Britain's foremost military historians and defence experts tackles the origins - and the opening first few weeks of fighting - of what would become known as 'the war to end all wars'. Intensely researched and convincingly argued, Allan Mallinson explores and explains the grand strategic shift that occurred in the century before the war, the British Army’s regeneration after its drubbings in its fight against the Boer in South Africa, its almost calamitous experience of the first twenty days’ fighting in Flanders to the point at which the British Expeditionary Force - the 'Old Contemptibles' - took up the spade in the middle of September 1914: for it was then that the war changed from one of rapid and brutal movement into the more familiar vision of trench warfare on Western Front. In this vivid, compelling new history, Malliinson brings his experience as a professional soldier to bear on the circumstances, events, actions and individuals and speculates – tantalizingly – on what might have been...
January 1829: George IV is on the throne, Wellington is England's prime-minister, and snow is falling thickly on the London streets as Lieutenant-Colonel Matthew Hervey is summoned to the Horse Guards in the expectation of command of his regiment, the 6th Light Dragoons.
But the benefits of long-term peace at home mean cuts in the army, and Hervey is told that the Sixth are to be reduced to a single squadron. With his long-term plans in disarray, he undertakes instead a six-month assignment as an observer with the Russian army. Soon Hervey, his friend Edward Fairbrother and his faithful groom, Private Johnson, are sailing north to St Petersburg, and from there to the Eastern Balkans, and the ferocious war between Russia and the Ottoman Empire.
Hervey is meant to be an impartial spectator in the campaign, but soon the circumstances - and his own nature - propel him into a more active role. In the climactic Battle of Kulewtscha, in which more troops were engaged than in any battle since Waterloo, Hervey and Fairbrother find themselves in the thick of the action. For Matthew Hervey, the stakes have never been higher - or more personal.
Edgehill, 1642: Surveying the disastrous scene in the aftermath of the first battle of the English Civil War, Oliver Cromwell realizes that war can no longer be made in the old, feudal way: there has to be system and discipline, and therefore - eventually - a standing professional army.
From the 'New Model Army' of Cromwell's distant vision, former soldier Allan Mallinson shows us the people and events that have shaped the army we know today. How Marlborough's momentous victory at Blenheim is linked to Wellington's at Waterloo; how the desperate fight at Rorke's Drift in 1879 underpinned the heroism of the airborne forces at Arnhem in 1944; and why Montgomery's momentous victory at El Alamein mattered long after the Second World War was over.
From the Army's origins at the battle of Edgehill to our current conflict in Afghanistan, this is history at its most relevant - and most dramatic.
Matthew Hervey of the 6th Light Dragoons is urgently summoned to the Cape Colony when he learns that the Zulu warrior King Shaka is about to wage war.
Soon Hervey, his old friend Eyre Somervile and their escort of dragoons and mounted rifles are riding north. When they arrive at Shaka's kraal it is a horrifying place. The sentinels at the gates are corpses, and it quickly becomes apparent that he has slaughtered thousands of his subjects - warriors and women alike.
When Shaka is killed by his own people, and the region plunged into civil war, Hervey and his men find themselves in the midst of terrible danger.
Yet worse is to come. Separated from his troop, Hervey must lead Shaka's queen across a hostile land where sanctuary has never seemed further away ...
1827: Britain and the Mediterranean
Captain Sir Laughton Peto, recently engaged to Matthew Hervey's sister, is sailing his mighty line-of-battle ship towards Navarino Bay, and war with the Turks.
Six months on, and Matthew Hervey is in London recovering from another bout of malaria and the wound from his battle with the Zulu. All is set fair for his marriage to the eminently suitable Lady Lankester, and his return to active duty at the Cape. But trouble lies ahead as familial commitments clash with affairs of the heart and Hervey finds himself embroiled in a military inquiry that could result in public humiliation.
As the cataclysmic battle of Navarino Bay looms ever closer for Peto and his crew, Hervey faces a crisis that could change both his life and his military career...
1827, and Matthew Hervey is on the look out for a new posting.
He soon finds one in the Cape Colonies, where there is need of a man to re-organise the local forces, and in particular to form a new company of horse.
Accompanied by a mixed-race captain from the disbanded Royal African Corps, Hervey heads out into the great South African plains and towards the territory of the Zulu and their legendary leader, King Shaka.
But it is not till he nears the Umtata River that his fiercest battle really begins. For the Zulus fight like no army he has encountered before. As Hervey and his greenhorn troops are plunged into battle, death is only a heartbeat away...
'Matthew Hervey has now joined Sharpe and Jack Aubrey as a creation of superlative skills and character.' Birmingham Post
Badajoz: Christmas 1826
Matthew Hervey of the 6th Light Dragoons is a prisoner of the Spanish, incarcerated in the infamous fortress of Badajoz.
As he plans his escape, his thoughts return to the year 1812 when he was a cornet in Wellington's Peninsular Army. He and the Sixth had survived Corunna to endure three more years of brutal fighting that would culminate in one of the most vital and vicious confrontations of the campaign - the siege of Badajoz.
While Hervey paces his prison cell, and re-lives the bloodshed of battles past, friends from expected quarters rush to his aid ...
'As good on the details of the workings of a cavalry regiment in 1820 as ever Patrick O'Brian was on the workings of an 1820 warship.' Spectator
Newly returned from India, Matthew Hervey joins a party of officers sent to lend support to the Portugese regent. But the Peninsula is a place redolent with memories. For it was here as a seventeen-year-old cornet that Hervey had his first taste of military action. The French had forced the British army into ignominious retreat until, under the leadership of Sir John Moore, they made a defiant stand at Corunna.
As he prepares for battle once more, Hervey finds himself confronting ghosts from his past ...
'Captain Matthew Hervey is as splendid a hero as ever sprang from an
author's pen.' The Times
Matthew Hervey and the 6th Light Dragoons are stationed in India, where conflagration looks set to flair.
The usurper prince, Durjan Sal, has taken refuge in the infamous fortress of Bhurtpore.A deep ditch, which can be flooded at a moment's notice, runs round it - and as its notorious Tower of Victory - built with the skulls of defeated men - bears witness, it has withstood all attacks made on it.
Until now.Hot and dangerous work lies ahead for Matthew Hervey and his courageous troop who know their fortunes will be decided by the sabre's edge.
'Captain Matthew Hervey is as splendid a hero as ever sprang from an author's pen.' The Times
Matthew Hervey is charged with raising a new troop, and organising transport for India - for he, his men and their horses are to set sail with immediate effect.
What Hervey and his greenhorn soldiers cannot know is that in India they will face a trial for which they are ill prepared. A large number of Burmese war-boats are assembled near Chittagong, and the only way to thwart their advance involves a hazardous march through the jungle.Soon Hervey and his troop are in the midst of hot and bloody action once again...
'The book picks up a pace that mirrors a cavalry charge ...Hervey continues to grow in stature, while Mallinson himself continues to delight.' Observer
Captain Matthew Hervey is suffering the effects of unrest within his beloved regiment, the 6th Light Dragoons.
Their new commanding officer - wealthy, arrogant and cruel - has taken an immediate dislike to him. Somehow, Hervey must earn promotion while retaining his integrity and the loyalty of his men.
Then the regiment is sent to Canada where, in the aftermath of war with the United States, Hervey faces danger on two fronts. Murderous native tribes are on the move. While, closer to home, he and his commanding officer have embarked on a collision course - the consequences of which will be devastating...
'A riveting tale of heroism, derring-do and enormous resource in the face of overwhelming adversity.' Birmingham Post
Fresh from the field of Waterloo, Matthew Hervey is dispatched on a mission of the utmost secrecy.
Leaving behind his fiancée, Lady Henrietta Lindsey, he must journey across tempestuous seas to India, an alien, exotic and beguiling land that will test his mettle to the very limit.
For the princely state of Chintal is threatened both by intrigue from within and military might from without, and Hervey - sabre in hand - finds he is once more destined for the field of battle...
'Captain Hervey of the 6th Light Dragoons and ADC to the Duke of Wellington is back in the saddle ...He is as fascinating on horseback as Jack Aubrey is on the quarterdeck.'The Times
As the war against Bonaparte rages to its bloody end upon the field of Waterloo, a young officer goes about his duty in the ranks of Wellington's army. He is Cornet Matthew Hervey of the 6th Light Dragoons - a soldier, gentleman and man or honour, who suddenly finds himself allotted a hero's role ...
Momentous times call for momentous acts: as the Napoleonic Wars escalate, Cornet Hervey faces decisions, both military and romantic, which will change the course of his life, and possibly the outcome of Waterloo...
'I have never read a more enthralling account of a battle ... This is the first in a series of Matthew Hervey adventures. The next can't come soon enough for me'
At seventeen, Allan Mallinson gave up the promise of an exhibition at Brasenose College, Oxford to go instead to theological college. After three years he decided to take a break in training with a short-service commission in the army. He served with the infantry worldwide, and then, on deciding to make the army a career, transferred to the cavalry.
He began writing while still serving – first, a history of the antecedent regiments of that which he commanded, and then the Matthew Hervey series of novels chronicling the life of a fictitious officer in the cavalry before and after Waterloo. He left the army in 2004 as a brigadier to write full time, including defence comment for the Daily Telegraph and then The Times.
In 2009 his The Making of the British Army, a survey of the army’s history and development since 1660, was shortlisted for several prizes and chosen by Jeremy Paxman for the Observer’s ‘Books of the Year’. An updated edition, with a commentary on the Strategic Defence and Security Review, was published in 2011.
His centenary history, 1914: Fight the Good Fight – Britain, the Army and the Coming of the First World War was shortlisted for the Westminster Medal and won the Army Book of the Year Award 2013. Its sequel, Too Important for the Generals, examines the failure of Allied generals and politicians to find a less bloody strategy for victory in the First World War and was published in June 2016.
Allan Mallinson lives with his wife, Sue, a dressage trainer, on Salisbury Plain.