Saturday, September 20, 2014

Collision of Empires

Collision of Empires
488 pages
© 2014 Prit Buttar


       A quirk of the Great War is that its initial contestants usually cease to be subjects of interest to the historical imagination once Europe’s titans are involved.   The Great War conjures up images of the western front, of  France and the United Kingdom in a bloody grapple with Germany, dug into the fields of Belgium.  The war began, however, in the east, ‘over some damn foolish thing in the Balkans’ – over Austria’s reaction to the assassination of its heir by a Serbian national. Collision of Empires looks at the war where it started – Austria.  Covering only the war’s beginning in 1914,  Pritt Buttar examines the brutal, clumsy opening to the conflict between Austria-Hungary and Germany against Russia and Serbia. 

The author's title is well-chosen, for despite the intricate timetables developed by the respective' empires general staffs,  the powers involved were plainly not ready for modern war.   Austria's commander worshiped the indomitable Spirit of the Offensive, just as Italy's commander did. That attitude, which led to twelve Battles of the Insonzo on the Italian front, is similarly productive here. Some problems, like a mass of men with repeating rifles, machine guns, and solidly defensible territory, cannot be solved simply by throwing another mass of men at them.  From the Baltic to Serbia, here mighty armies are thrown at each other and rebound with sickening thumps. Such was the advantage of defensive combat that the Dual Monarchy failed even to subdue tiny Serbia.  The attack at all costs mentality failed across the front, from plains and lake country to the hills and mountains of the Austrian invasion routes. At the year's end, the only power capable of feeling remotely capable of its accomplishments would again be little Serbia.

Collision of Empires is highly detailed, as one might suspect considering its sharp focus on the first few months of the war. The author begins with respective chapters on Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Russia's political and military cultures before covering the opening campaigns.  Illustrations are generous, but the maps leave one wanting;  there are precious few of them, they only show attack routes, and they're so zoomed in that an atlas is in order to get a reader's bearings.  There's no faulting the overall narrative, though, which combines a seasoned east-European historian's commentaries with a fast retelling of the war.  According to an interview with Buttar, this is the first part of a trilogy. I look forward to the rest.

"Ten Things You Probably Didn't Know about the Eastern Front", Prit Buttar. 
The White War, Mark Thompson


  1. There does seem to be a concentration on the Western Front (no pun intended!) doesn't there? I suppose that it's understandable in a way. It's good though to remember that it was called a world war for a reason. Looking at the Eastern European angle more is definitely a start!

    I have some more WW1 books coming up and will try to get away from the trenches in Flanders from time to time.

    Thanks for pointing this book out. It looks interesting.

  2. Considering how much closer American ties are with Britain and France, it's not surprising that in the US we give the western front more attention. (Besides, that's where American troops were most deployed...not counting the invasion of revolutionary Russia.) The sheer variety of battlegrounds was most striking in this text.

  3. Having a butterfly mind my focus is elsewhere ATM (presently reading another book on the French Occupation) but when I get back to WW1, as I will, I'm going to dig into the origins as I'm not exactly sure how it all kicked off in the first place.

    I also have a few interesting (and out of print) books on the naval war which I'm looking forward to....


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