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War from the perspectives of its instigators and losers the Germans and Austro Hungarians This is the story not just of their leaders in Berlin and Vienna but above all of the people Only through their unprecedented mobilisation could the conflict last so long and be so bitterly fought and only with the waning of their commitment did it end The war shattered their societies destroyed their states and beueathed to east central Europe a poisonous legacy of unredeemed sacrifice suffering race hatred and violence A major re evaluation of the First World War Ring of Steel is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the last century of European histor. An excellent and comprehensive history of the Austrian and German war effort during the First World War One of Watson s main arguments is that the history of these nations from 1914 1918 played a major role in Europe s later catastrophe in the 1930s and 1940s The great material and emotional investment of Germany and Austria Hungary he writes ensured that defeat when it came would have a catastrophic impact on their societies Germany s defeat was to a large degree psychologicalWatson describes all of the ill formulated decisions made by the governments in Berlin and Vienna governments that Watson argues knew little about their society s suitability for total war or lack thereof For example the crisis atmosphere in Vienna before the war was to some degree justified by problems related to its ethnic diversity but most of these ethnic groups simply wanted autonomy rather than full independence and were willing to compromise one of many distinctions that Vienna failed to appreciate At the same time the disconnect between German diplomacy and military strategy was one of the causes for the war s outbreak and one of the causes for America s entry into the war Watson does a great job showing these two powers at war from their initial victories to their eventual defeat He describes the ebb and flow of the Central Powers fortunes and the impact it had on the civilian population His depiction of Germanya powerful modern nation state and Austria Hungary a backward multi ethnic melting pot held together by flimsy compromises was very interesting He also explores many related issues that other histories tend to overlook like how the people of both nations reacted to inept leadership and how the war prompted invasions and forced migrations that led to considerable ethnic tensions later The Central Powers administration of the territory they conuered is also given good treatment Watson shows how both powers were surrounded on all sides by hostile nations with superior forces and stronger economies and how this influenced their decision to try for a uick victory in the west before bringing overwhelming strength to bear on the east But of course 1914 turned out to be disappointment and they were stuck with a costly eastern front and the eventual intervention of the US forced by German ham handedness into a war it wanted to avoid which blocked any hopes of any kind of victory on the western front They were able to keep fighting for so long or less because they simply had no choice and because they were successful in stirring up their populations against the enemy although this was easier done in Germany than in Austria HungaryA great history of these nations war efforts Much of the book s perspective deals with the Central Powers military and population meaning we get little regarding their intellectuals or the German politics of the war still Watson does an admirable job explaining this from Austria Hungary s perspective since that side of the issue is so much complicated

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Ring of Steel Germany and Austria Hungary in World War I

An award winning historian presents a groundbreaking new history of World War I from the perspective of the Central Powers showing how wartime suffering led not only to the fall of an empire but also to a fundamental breakdown of societyFor Germany and Austria Hungary the First World War started with high hopes for a rapid decisive outcome Convinced that right was on their side and fearful of the enemies that encircled them they threw themselves resolutely into battle Yet despite the initial halting of a brutal Russian invasion the Central Powers' war plans soon unravelled Germany's attack on France failed Austria Hungary's armies suffered catastrophic los. If you ve run across any of my other reviews of World War I related books you will know that I have spent approximately the last three and a half years trying to learn everything I can about the Great War I can pinpoint the date because this was a conscious decision I made when I learned that my wife with pregnant with our first kid I thought to myself Self you re about to lose a bunch of your free time You better choose one thing besides wine as a hobby and go with it I chose WWI for a couple reasons One the centenary was coming up now of course we re in the midst of it and two I didn t know anything about it Also I had been told that World War I pairs well with Yellow Tail chardonnay Things I knew about WWI three and a half years ago 1 It started because one guy shot another guy in Sarajevo 2 Snoopy shot down the Red Baron thereby assuring Allied supremacy of the blue yonder and 3 The Americans won it because AMERICA You re welcome as always Europe It s taken awhile and a lot of books a lot of wine a lot of money spent on books and wine and a lot of time reading those books and drinking that wine but I ve just started to grasp how that Sarajevo assassination precipitated a world crisis and a bit about how that crisis played out As we all know a little bit of knowledge and that s what I have a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing It has me putting on airs I now have strong opinions on things that I never knew existed only a short while ago It has given me a bit of a contrarian streak And in that spirit I purchased Alexander Watson s Ring of Steel This small child of a book 566 pages of text another hundred plus pages of notes this book is nothing if not well cited not only tells the story of the First World War from the perspective of Germany and Austria Hungary but it dares to take an apologist s stand At every point where Germany and Austria Hungary are to blame Watson offers up a defense Well at just about every point There is no one on earth who can logically defend Austria Hungary s bungled diplomacy following Franz Ferdinand s assassination It was just so bad This is one of the strong and obvious opinions I have formed Ring of Steel starts where every WWI book is legally obligated to begin with the July Crisis Austria Hungary attempted to use the death of its unloved heir as a pretext for going to war with Serbia which had been fomenting a dangerous pan Serbian nationalism that threatened the integrity of the Habsburg Empire But instead of just going to war Austria Hungary tripped over its untied shoelaces and fell flat on its face Germany needing to prop up its main ally gave Austria the infamous blank check a historical moment that feels like one frat boy accepting a dare from another frat boy than it resembles dead serious international diplomacy In any event Austria Hungary proceeded with extreme self defeating slowness assured of Germany s support while Germany s bellicose bipolar Kaiser tried to shove all the toothpaste back into the tube The end result obviously was Germany invading France via Belgium After the July Crisis Ring of Steel moves onto the war itself But it does this in a uniue way It does not present a chronology of battles battlefields and overmatched generals It is not interested in the positioning of Army A vis vis Army B Instead Ring of Steel tackles the war using a topical thematic approach The chapters present a series of discussions rather than a series of seuential events The chapter on the opening stages of the war for instance does not present the usual narrative It does not move methodically from the siege of Liege to the Battles of the Frontier to the climactic conflict on the Marne Instead it devotes a great deal of time to examining claims of German atrocities Contemporary Allied propaganda depicted the Germans as Huns bent on rape murder and the bayoneting of infants Directly after the war many of these claims were debunked and thus German brutality came to be seen as mostly myth Recently there has been a pushback against this position with certain historians I m thinking of Max Hastings here treating the Imperial German Army as proto Nazis engaged in a dry run of World War II war crimes Watson pushes back against the pushback in a somewhat but not entirely successful effort to re contextualize alleged atrocities Similarly in the chapter on the war on the Eastern Front Watson steers clear of recapitulating the mistakes and movements that led to the crushing defeat of the Russians at the Battle of Tannenberg Instead Watson focuses on the invasion of Prussia by Russian troops I thought this was a neat inversion of the typical WWI narrative which focuses on the victimization of Russian and French civilians Here you see things from the point of view of a German civilian just as innocent and shabbily treated as their Allied counterparts Later sections of the book detail the plight of German civilians as a result of the Allied blockade a blockade that considered food to be contraband One of the most interesting chapters takes on the notion of German plans for Europe following victory against the Allies As Watson writes Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg s war aims programStated boldly that the general aim of the war was securityfor all imaginable time This disarmingly simple aim was to be the basis of German policy throughout hostilities While it was defensive in conception the intention to achieve everlasting security was extraordinarily ambitious When combined with a world view that regarded security as a zero sum game to be won through domination not cooperation it soon slid into aggression To secure Germany for all imaginable time could not even in Bethmann s mind and certainly not for the hawkish elites around him mean merely a return to the unstable status uo of the last peacetime years Instead it reuired permanent control of invasion routes and the subjection of dangerous neighbors France must be so weakened as to make her revival as a great power impossible for all time Russia must be thrust as far as possible from Germany s eastern frontier and her domination over the non Russian vassal peoples broken Watson notes rightly that German war aims were not the cause of the war That is Germany did not go to war in 1914 to secure these goals Rather they developed uickly as the war progressed It is also worth noting that while Germany s goals seem on paper to be the working paper of a DC Comics supervillain they are exactly what the Allies did to Germany once they won the war What the Germans planned the Allies did with only an arguable difference in magnitude Redrawing of national frontiers Check Creation of demilitarized buffer zones Check People forced from their homes or forced to get a new passport Check Reduction to a non great power Checkmate In all my reviews of WWI books I make reference to the fact that I m on a literary journey It s my way of leaving bread crumbs for those who are also interested in this mammoth subject and want some ideas about where to start or where to go next To that end I should note that this is second or third level reading It operates under the assumption that you have some structural framework in your mind that outlines the broad parameters of the war Watson does not take any time to catch you up to speed He writes as though you already know the general history of WWI and proceeds to give you the GermanAustria Hungarian version of it This is a dense book Watson imparts of a lot of information Fortunately Watson is a decent writer For the most part he clearly expresses his thoughts and ideas and he never bogs down in subjects that are objectively uninteresting I m thinking of the chapter in Hew Strachan s book To Arms that is devoted to financing the war and spends time on bond yields than I m comfortable with He s a PhD but I never felt like he was trying to keep me at arm s length as a reader Every once in awhile Watson will write one of those uintessentially British sentences that go on for a paragraph are dreadfully passive and are studded with clauses But for the most part I have no strong comments about the style which means that it imparted information without either frustrating me or causing my heart so soar at the poetry of its prose I think the highest accolade I can give is that a book with such complex arguments and nuance was such a breeze to get through A book like this with such a clear point of view can t help but go too far Does Watson oversell the Germans and Austro Hungarians Sure This would be a problem if it was the only book on World War I that existed It s not though and so it is an excellent way to balance the scales The Triple Alliance was not comprised solely of saints martyrs and lovers of small animals But neither was it the second coming of a barbarian horde It was a collection of people and Watson gives them their due as people

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Ses at Russian and Serbian hands Hopes of a uick victory lay in ruinsFor the Central Powers the war now became a siege on a monstrous scale Britain's ruthless intervention cut sea routes to central Europe and mobilised the world against them Germany and Austria Hungary were to be strangled of war supplies and food their soldiers overwhelmed by better armed enemies and their civilians brought to the brink of starvation Conuest and plunder land offensives and submarine warfare all proved powerless to counter or break the blockade The Central Powers were trapped in the Allies' ever tightening ring of steel Alexander Watson's compelling new history retells the. Ring Of Steel Germany and Austria Hungary in World War I by Alexander Watson is just as it sounds A gigantic tome of information on the life and times of the Central Powers excluding Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire as they fought in World War I Germany and Austria Hungary are often maligned as the evil empires that started WWI I much of the Anglo Saxon world and as both powers lost the war history continues to be written mostly by the victors Watson takes the opposite approach looking at the Central Powers perceptions of the war and its beginnings To be sure the Austro Hungarian and German governments did wish a war to commence especially against the alarmingly powerful Tsarist Russia Germany also had a bit of a grudge against France which had been ongoing for than a century Austria Hungary had a beef with Serbia as wellSo when the Archduke Franz Ferdinand heir to the throne of Austria Hungary was assassinated by a terrorist group with either tacit or explicit support from the Serbian government and the Russians began to mobilize a bit to much for their liking the German and Austrian high command thought it a good opportunity to act France and Russia themselves seemed to want a war as each coveted territory held by Germany or Austria Hungary Britain became involved as the narrative goes after the implementation of the Schliffen plan a German offensive through neutral Belgium that would circumvent the massive fortifications on the German France border However Britain seemed poised to attack Germany at any time as well calling on their age old policy of divide and conuer in Europe to keep any one nation from getting to big This book follows these issues from the German and Austrian perspective Serbia had a long history of antagonism toward Austria and vice versa and France had been looking for white hot revenge on Germany for the latters victories in 1871 and 1898 Russia had racially motivated claims on Austrian Galicia Britain wanted to contain German power on the continent and expand its colonial holdings at both Germany and the Ottomans expanse Clearly the evil empire theory can be expanded to include all combatants Watson also examines the viewpoint of the German and Austro Hungarian people at this time The food shortages that hit the Central Powers due to mismanagement hostile blockade and poor yields was devastating for most people War fervour loyalty and national hegemony are examined This period also saw the rise of racially motivated cleansings perpetrated by the central powers and a few of the Entente members as well targeting those deemed disloyal Predictably Jews Polish Ruthenian and Czech subjects of both Empires were targeted with deportation and sometimes martial violence often unfairly Watson notes that Jewish volunteers in both Empires came out in droves at the beginning of the conflict and racial minorities in the Hapsburg domains often came out to try and curry favour for greater autonomy This autonomy was suspect to the ruling German and Hungarian landed gentry and was often met with outright hostility later in the warThe soldiers on the front line and the war are also examined in detail German soldiers faced the same hardships as those they fought with terrifying artillery bombardments suicidal charges into machine gun fire and trench life dominating Psychological strain and physical harm befell them everyday and many fought bravely in a conflict that was deemed to be defensive by the citizens of the Central Powers The war aims of the Central Powers are also examined They originally started off as small with Austria wishing to teach Serbia a lesson and possibly set up a puppet government or even directly annex the state German war aims were much modest off the bat however Germany originally wanted France to destroy her border fortresses and possibly set up a puppet state in Belgium They also wanted to move Russia as far away from our borders as possible which was ambiguous enough but probably entailed freeing the Baltic states and possibly creating a sovereign state of Russian controlled Congress Poland However as the war expanded their war aims grew Security became the watchword and Germany wanted to dismember both France and Russia to ensure security for all time Watson takes a look at all of these things using an unbiased lens and tone He does not fall for the history of the victors but looks at the Central Powers for what they were European states that had their own aspirations insecurities and social racial and class issues This can be said of all powers at the time including Entente Russia who collapsed in 1917 due to class strife France with its multi ethnic colonial Empires and class issues and Britain ditto with France Watson s take on this is refreshing The book itself is an interesting social history of the Central Powers during WWI It is a side of the conflict that is rarely scene and the deep examination of German and especially Austro Hungarian society is fascinating as it is rare in modern history books A small criticism would be the lack of economic information on the Empires at this time Although Watson examines the crop yields of Germany and Austria Hungary and comments briefly on the inflation experienced during the war he does not go into detail on the economic background of these issues Although some would find that dry it would have tied the whole book together neatly and would have helped to offer a background on some of the monetary issues faced by the Central Powers Alas another book maybeAll in all a great read and a refreshing take on WWI that is often unheard of in Western historical literature Worth a read for WWI buffs and those interested in Germany and Eastern Europe

10 thoughts on “Ring of Steel Germany and Austria Hungary in World War I

  1. says:

    If you’ve run across any of my other reviews of World War I related books you will know that I have spent approximately the last three and a half years trying to learn everything I can about the Great War I can pinpoint the date because this was a conscious decision I made when I learned that my wife with pregnant with our first kid I thought to myself “Self you’re about to lose a bunch of your free time You better

  2. says:

    I thought this would be a slog at 800 pages but found it a surprisingly readable and a thought provoking bookRing of Steel tells the story of World War 1 from the other side of the hill and claims to be the first modern history from this viewpointBeing a World War 2 devotee this book really opened my eyes to the GermanAustro Hungarian viewpoint and decision making in World War 1 It really is a fascinating read telling the story o

  3. says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book even though the subject material was a little dry I particularly enjoyed the use of diary entries and letters from homethe front which the author used to illustrate his points with a

  4. says:

    Inside this giant of a tome is an average sized book crying to be freedI'm fond of saying nobody cares about World War I That's because it's true Only strange people like me would first learn about the war at ten years old from a book

  5. says:

    Ring Of Steel Germany and Austria Hungary in World War I by Alexander Watson is just as it sounds A gigantic tome of information on the life and times of the Central Powers excluding Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire as they fought in World War I Germany and Austria Hungary are often maligned as the evil empires that star

  6. says:

    Most books about the First World War are in one thing clear Germany and Austro Hungarians were the bad guys and their opp

  7. says:

    This is an outstanding work It speaks of Germany and Austria Hungary as surrounded by a ring of steel in World War I Great Britain France Russia Italy later the United States and some smaller countries They were outnumberedThis story is told from the perspective of Germany and Austria Hungary It is the story of government and the people It i

  8. says:

    An excellent and comprehensive history of the Austrian and German war effort during the First World War One of Watson’s main arguments is that the history of these nations from 1914 1918 played a major role in Europe’s later catastrophe in the 1930s and 1940s “The great material and emotional investment” of German

  9. says:

    There isn't much popular history available which provides an internal view of the Central Powers during WW1 so this book is a worth

  10. says:

    History is written by the victors This is why I found the idea of ​​writing about World War I from the point of view of the losers Germany and Austria Hungary fascinating by its uniueness Ring of Steel is one of the best history books I have ever read Watson's elouent writing and his intellectually satisfying analys