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  • If Germany Attacks: The Battle in Depth in the West
  • Ian F.W. Beckett
If Germany Attacks: The Battle in Depth in the West. By G. C. Wynne, edited by Robert T. Foley. London: Tom Donovan Editions, 2008. ISBN 978-1-905968-01-5. Maps. Pp., xxx, 261. £75.00.

Following a series of articles on the same theme of the development of German defensive doctrine during the Great War in the pages of the Army Quarterly between 1936 and 1939, Captain G. C. Wynne published If Germany Attacks in 1940. He was singularly unfortunate in his timing, the book being completed in July 1939. Indeed, Wynne's trenchant criticism of the British High Command in the Great War meant that his publisher, Faber & Faber, felt 'it would be inappropriate' to issue such a critique during a new war, for it might 'lead to discouragement and lack of confidence in the army authorities'. Wynne, therefore, was obliged to cut much of the original manuscript after it had already been printed so that only an expurgated version appeared. The latter was reprinted in the U.S. in a facsimile edition in 1976. Later scholars such as Timothy Lupfer, Martin Samuels and Bruce Gudmundsson, however, have seen even the truncated version, as a highly significant contribution to the study of German defensive methods on the Western Front.

Only a handful of copies escaped pulping but, happily, Wynne's son retained a proof copy of the original, from which the abridged published version was prepared. It is this unexpurgated version, therefore, that has now been published for the first time in a limited edition of 300 numbered copies by Tom Donovan, with a new introduction by Robert Foley. For the first time, therefore, it is possible to see the full extent of Wynne's critique of GHQ as in, for example, the accounts of Festubert and, especially, Loos. According to Wynne, the final decision to release gas at Loos resulted from Haig's ADC testing the wind by lighting a cigarette so that the fate of 90,000 men 'rested on the whim of a puff of cigarette smoke outside the porch of a house which was surrounded by poplar trees' (page 43). Similarly, there is Wynne's judgement of Haig's decision to continue the attack on the following day: 'Military history teems with bad orders, but there can be few which display such lack of imagination as this one…' (page 45). The greatest changes to the text, however, occurred in Wynne's concluding chapter on the war's legacy and his view that during the war itself and in subsequent editions of Field Service Regulations, the British had totally failed to understand German methods despite being in possession of their doctrinal documents. In effect, the text covers in detail the period between the British offensive at Neuve Chapelle in March 1915 and the end of the Passchendaele campaign in November 1917.

As Foley shows, drawing upon Wynne's unpublished memoir in the Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives at King's College, London, Wynne's views of the competence of GHQ were coloured to some extent by his own capture at Le Cateau in August 1914 when serving with the 2nd Battalion, King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. Wynne's captivity, which lasted until he was interned through the Netherlands in January 1918, at least enabled him to become fluent in German. Indeed, from 1923 onwards he was employed in the Historical Section of the [End Page 972] Committee of Imperial Defence and translated into English such works as Walter Bloem's The Advance from Mons and the German General Staff 's Ypres, 1914. Famously, he insisted his name be removed from the Passchendaele volume of the British Official History, published in 1948, having had his criticisms of Hubert Gough substantially modified by James Edmonds. Clearly, Wynne was a man of decided opinions though it is highly unlikely that he was the indolent and careless falsifier of documents, and a man bordering on lunacy, that Edmonds claimed.

Foley carefully analyses Wynne's sources, primarily German official and regimental histories, memoirs, and actual doctrinal publications. He suggests that, in focussing...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1543-7795
Print ISSN
0899-3718
Pages
pp. 972-973
Launched on MUSE
2009-08-05
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived 2010
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