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Greg Gatenby

Generals in World War I from My Book

The Book of the Century tells a lot of things about the Generals who led their men into the horrors of the trench war during the World War I and the battles that led to it. Here are some selected few from my Book of the Century.

Emperor Franz Josef of Austro-Hungary
Emperor Franz Josef of Austro-Hungary

Postcard celebrating the 50th anniversary of the reign of Emperor Franz Josef of Austro-Hungary. 

The design was by Koloman Moser, an artist unafraid to use his talents in what were then considered the lesser arts such as interior decoration, haute couture, ceramics, and graphic work for posters and postcards. 

A founder of the world-famous Wiener Werkestatte, Moser today is widely considered one of the most influential graphic artists of the 20th century.

Lord Kitchener
Lord Kitchener

This WWI recruiting poster is interesting on several counts. First, while for some decades it has been one of the prime emblems of the Great War, it seems during the war itself it was little used and hence little known. 

Second, it is one of the earliest instances in the history of marketing where a face is so famous it could be used without identification. 

In 1914 Lord Kitchener was the most renowned soldier in Britain and his call for volunteers to enlist was met with a tsunami of men signing up to fight. Third, while the image was little known to the public in the war’s early stages, it was well known, because of its graphic power, to other artists. 

The USA adapted the image for its needs in 1917, with Uncle Sam famously pointing his index finger at the reader urging him to enlist immediately.

Admiral Togo
Admiral Togo

Though little known today in the West, the naval Battle of Tsushima was by far the most influential maritime conflict on those great navies which, only a decade later, would be adversaries in WWI.

Admiral Togo, seen here in cameo, lured the bulk of the Russian navy into an ambush near Korea so devastating it shocked the world.

The battle destroyed most of the Russian armada in less than a day. The battle also marked the first time a non-white armed force so massively destroyed an assault by a European power.

Togo’s earlier decision to build battleships equipped mostly with huge guns able to fire at long range also affected how all war vessels thereafter were constructed.

General Joffre

When the Franco-Prussian War ended in 1871, a large share of Germany’s war booty consisted of Alsace and Lorraine, two regions unhappily traded over the centuries between the rival powers. 

The provinces were rich in coal and were already the industrial centre of France. 

From 1871 onwards, France was obsessed with regaining these lost territories, so much so that “revanche”, the French word for “revenge”, became synonymous with attacking Germany and reclaiming the orphan states. 

Here a French soldier smashes a border marker at the frontier between France and Germany on his way to victory under the overall command of General Joffre. 

This postcard probably dates from the first days of the war before French optimism about the outcome was dashed by a series of brutal setbacks.

Robert Lee Bullard

In the United States, more than a decade after WWI ended, the nation’s most senior generals in that conflict were revered as heroes whose word could be fully trusted. 

In this instance, one of those commanders, Robert Lee Bullard, lent his name (for a fee, of course) to a campaign urging young men to smoke cigarettes rather than eat candy as an ideal way to stay healthy and be ready to fight in the next war.

Ferdinand Foch

Hard as it is to believe, the forces fighting Germany on the Western Front did not form an alliance under one commander until the war was 3½ years old. 

Egos and differing strategic aims hampered the efforts of France, the USA, and the UK to coordinate their attacks to best effect. Finally, in March 1918 (when this postcard was first issued), the allies agreed to make Ferdinand Foch their Supreme Military Leader. 

Thanks to his often unorthodox approaches to strategic battles, the Allies successfully weathered the final German offensive–then launched a counterstrike that brought Germany to her knees and to ultimate surrender.

Admiral Jackie Fisher

Admiral Jackie Fisher began his career as a teenager aboard a wooden warship not much different from the type used by Nelson at Trafalgar. 

When he retired several decades later, he was the leading commander of a Royal Navy replete with steel-hulled super dreadnoughts, an air arm, and submarines. 

In 1904 he became the top admiral in the UK and used his position to prepare his fleets for what he was sure was imminent war with Germany. 

It can easily be argued that his many innovations in what kinds of ships were built, in what numbers, and how sailors should be trained were factors in permitting the UK to hold its own against the impressive armada newly-constructed by Germany.

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