Review: Three Armies on the Somme (Philpott)


Three Armies on the Somme: The First Battle of the Twentieth Century.

The size and presentation of this volume, along with the back cover hype and the author’s credentials, promise much more than they deliver.

What this writer tells about the French army has been equally well told elsewhere; what he contributes about the German army is less than substantial, and he has nothing new to say about the role of the BEF, except to wax snarky about other historians’ work; indeed, he often descends to ad hominem attacks against those authors, a distinctly unprofessional behavior.

Most of the nine maps are drawn to a scale that puts them on the too-busy side, with a plethora of lines and arrows superimposed on a background of largely unnecessary topographical features. The separate sections of photographic plates are printed on glossy paper, which improves their visibility, but several photos have been over-used in the genre, and the photos are minimally credited on the plates, when better identification could have been provided in a separate section. In the back matter, the author indulges in a bit of redundant discussion of military organization, and he includes a list of abbreviations (actually acronyms) at the beginning of the extensive end notes section. An additional section includes remarks about sources and reading recommendations. The index seems to be adequate.

Disappointing, despite its heft.

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