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Posted on Jan 2, 2007 in Books and Movies, Front Page Features

Battlefields of the First World War – Book Review

By Stewart Cattroll

botfww.jpgBook Review: Battlefields of the First World War
Peter Barton

Peter Barton, a respected British historian, has added an invaluable piece of work to the volume of books dealing with the First World War on the Western Front. The Battlefields of the First World War uses previously unseen panoramas of the British sector of the Western Front that offer a completely new perspective of the battlefields, from the eyes of the men who fought in the trenches.

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Mr. Barton’s extensive research has resulted in a panoramic collection that, if laid end to end, would allow the reader to view the battlefields starting from the Belgian coast and traveling to the very end of the British lines at the Somme. All of the panoramas have been digitalized and can be viewed with amazing quality on the two CDs that come with the book. By examining these panoramas the reader will be shocked by the type of land that British and Commonwealth soldiers fought over. Despite popular belief, the battlefields of the Western Front were not continuously inundated by mud and as the panoramas show, often ran through beaches, sand dunes, forests, farmers’ fields, and in some cases right through the middle of towns where house to house fighting was common. The panoramas will allow First World War enthusiasts to gain a new appreciation of the importance of battles like Vimy Ridge when they see the incredible panoramas taken from the crest of the ridge. They will also allow readers to understand the devastation caused by such infamous battles as the Somme when they see the hundreds of dead British soldiers lying in No-Man’s Land in a panorama taken a few days after the beginning of the battle.

Mr. Barton also takes a close look at the war that was raging underneath the battlefields, the miners’ war. The unique nature of the First World War forced all armies to resort to using the medieval tactic of tunnelling under the enemy’s trenches and attempting to collapse them through the use of explosives. In The Battlefields of the First World War the reader will be fascinated by the captivating tales of underground battles between the Royal Engineers and the German Pionieres as each tried to destroy each other’s tunnels with small explosives detonated under No Man’s Land. Mr. Barton also discusses how the unique geology of each individual sector of the Western Front affected the miners’ war and analyses rather or not the tactic of using mines was successful.

Finally, in each sector of the British front Mr. Barton discusses how the trenches were constructed in relation to geology, with particular attention paid to the water table and drainage. He examines how in the Ypres sector of the Western Front the trenches could not be dug more than a few feet into the ground because of the high water table and were actually composed mainly of breastworks. While farther south, where the chalk allowed for easy drainage, trenches could be dug almost indefinitely. The role of geology in First World War battlefields is often overlooked and Mr. Barton does an excellent job of bringing this factor to light.

The Battlefields of the First World War is an incredible book and a must have for any one who is interested in the First World War. The incredible panoramas and research that Mr. Barton has included in his book will allow for readers to understand the battlefields of the Western Front like never before.

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