REVIEW: Collision of Empires – The War on the Eastern Front in 1914 (2014)

A Book by Prit Buttar

One of the things that always bothers me about historical scholarship is that everyone seems to focus in on certain aspects of larger topic and relentlessly publish materials based on that one thing till the end of time. Readers of mine can attest that I get rather annoyed when books that talk about the American Civil War seemingly pretend that The Battle of Gettysburg was one of the few battles worth discussing in the entirety of the war. Anyone with one brain cell will understand that that is not true, and that there are MANY topics worthy of discussion, but the sheer volume of books, videos, movies, and other material about that one moment in time is somewhat ridiculous. Another great example is the endless discussion of Roman History when I can’t imagine there being that much more to say that hasn’t already been said about it!

World War I has its own set of issues in this regard, considering most of the material that one finds on the war is generally about prominent Western Front battles such as Verdun or The Somme, or The US entry into the war itself. So, imagine my surprise when I was scrolling through my library list for books on World War I, and noticed this book specifically about The Eastern Front. I jumped at the chance to dig into it. Usually seen as the long forgotten era of the war, finally someone in The West was taking notice! Unfortunately, despite the quality of the material, this book is not the sort of history book that I enjoy for reasons you’ll soon find out.

“With the centenary of the start of World War I in 2014, Collision of Empires is a timely re-discovery of the bitter fighting on this forgotten front. The fighting that raged from East Prussia, through occupied Poland, to Galicia and the Carpathian Mountains was every bit as bloody as comparable battles in Flanders and France, but – with the exception of Tannenberg – remains relatively unknown. As was the case in the West, generals struggled to reconcile their pre-war views on the conduct of operations and how to execute their intricate strategic plans with the reality of war. Lessons were learned slowly while the core of trained personnel, particularly officers and NCOs, in the armies of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russia suffered catastrophic losses throughout 1914. Inadequacies in supply and support arrangements, together with a failure to plan for a long war, left all three powers struggling to keep up with events. In addition, the Central Powers had to come to terms with the dreaded reality of a war on two fronts: a war that was initially seen by all three powers as a welcome opportunity to address both internal and external issues, would ultimately bring about the downfall of them all. Prit Buttar, author of Battleground Prussia, provides a magisterial account of the chaos and destruction that reigned when three powerful empires collided.”

The type of history book that I enjoy is more of a look at the socio-political tensions in any sort of conflict, not the kind that meticulously hits you with a tsunami of data including various dates, regiment numbers, miles walked, supplies totaled, and bullets shot. This is exactly the sort of book this is in every way possible. I’m sure that there are those out there that enjoy this sort of history analysis, but I feel like when looking at historical events in this sort of way one loses the overall picture of what’s happening when one focuses in on minor details such as serial numbers on equipment and other bits and bobs that I’m being a bit facetious about in this review.

I will hand it to the author, that he has taken a portion of World War I scholarship that is completely ignored in The West, when speaking of the Eastern Front, and has written easily the best-researched book I have ever read about that particular war theater. That said, I wish the author would have taken a more “pop history” or journalistic approach to his writings as books like this are only going to really fascinate people that love numbers and statistics, and that is undoubtedly NOT me. Collision of Empires – The War on the Eastern Front in 1914 is a beast in terms of research and detailed writing, but be warned that this writing style is not for everyone.


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