Picture yourself as a soldier in the trenches of World War I. It’s the morning of November 11th, 1918. Word circulates through your unit that the Armistice ending the war will take effect at 11:00am. You glance at your watch and see that the time is 10:55am. What would you do? If you answered “celebrate and breathe a sigh of relief that I’m going to survive”, you might very well be wrong. Instead your unit commander orders you and the rest of the men to go over the top and charge the enemy…
In the last moments of the war, Allied troops took over 11,000 casualties. Why would any sane officer order troops into harm’s way when peace is assured? Was it to punish the enemy as much as possible? Was it to take a little bit more territory? Were most of the officers just following orders? Were they worried that they might look timid and lose out on future promotions if they didn’t order their troops to continue the attack to the last minute? Persico covers the motivations of the men giving the orders at all levels of command. He also tells the story of many individual soldiers in the trenches. And finally he interweaves the text with a general history of the war.
Though the book covers a lot of detail, it does not read like a standard WWI history. There are no footnotes to slow the text down. The chapters are usually broken up into short parts that make the book easy to pick up and put down. And Persico knows the subject well and also knows how to tell a good story. What results is a compelling look at one of the most baffling days in military history.
Check it out here!