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The Western Front evokes images of mud-spattered men in waterlogged trenches, shielded from artillery blasts and machine-gun fire by a few feet of dirt. This iconic setting was the most critical arena of the Great War, a 400-mile combat zone stretching from Belgium to Switzerland where more than three million Allied and German soldiers struggled during four years of almost continuous combat. It has persisted in our collective memory as a tragic waste of human life and a symbol of the horrors of industrialized warfare. In this history, military historian Nick Lloyd captures the horrific fighting in The Western Front: A History of the First World War (Liveright, 2021). As Lloyd reveals, far from a site of attrition and stalemate, the Western Front was dynamic and defined by extraordinary scientific and tactical innovation. It was on the Western Front that the modern technologies—machine guns, mortars, grenades, and howitzers—were refined and developed into effective killing machines. It was on the Western Front that chemical warfare, in the form of poison gas, was first unleashed. And it was on the Western Front that tanks and aircraft were introduced, causing a dramatic shift away from nineteenth-century bayonet tactics toward modern combined arms, reinforced by heavy artillery, that forever changed the face of war.
Douglas Bell received his PhD in history at Texas A&M University and was recently the Postdoctoral Fellow at the US Army Heritage an Education Center.
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