BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Hindenburg Line’

117.

Reviewer: Michael  Keith

Title:  The Hindenburg Line

Author:  Peter Oldham

Total Number of Pages: 208

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 7

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A note on the rear cover of this volume states that this book forms part of a series titled Battleground Europe and is ‘…Designed for both the battlefield visitor and the armchair traveller’. It provides ‘Extensive guidance on how to make the most of [a] battlefield visit and describes ‘The historical significance of each site…in detail with the aid of maps and photographs’.  In this volume specifically, ‘Peter Oldham [the book’s author] looks at the area under discussion, dividing it into manageable sections and explains its importance’. It is an accurate precis of the volume.

Within the book itself, an Acknowledgments section placed immediately after the Contents page thanks those who have assisted in the preparation of the volume. This is followed in turn by a section titled Series Introduction; the title being self-explanatory. The volume’s actual Introduction follows. This summarises the book’s content while also reinforcing its purpose; namely to be ‘…A general guide to the region in which…British troops had some major trials and tribulations’. This is in turn followed by a section titled Advice to Travellers, the title of which is also self-explanatory.  The four Chapters which form the main part of the book now appear. Chapters 1-3 are devoted to military activities around, under and over the line of defence commonly known as the Hindenburg Line during the 1917-1918 period. Chapter 4 however is intended for the visitor. Titled Driving The Hindenburg Line and described as a ‘Sectioned guide to the location of the Hindenburg Line and actions and battles in every sector’, it consists of 20 subsections (titled A-T) each of which is devoted to a particular section of the Hindenburg line. It should however be noted that Sections S and T have been combined, the nominal Section T consisting of a single Map without any supporting, section-specific and clearly-defined text. Within each section, a standardised format is followed, and consists of two clearly-defined subsections. Within the first, several pages of historical notes are provided, together with at least one contemporary area-specific map and photographs of various military fortifications, both as they were when in military use and as they currently appear. Within the section, bracketed numeric references direct the reader toward specific locations within the adjacent map. These numbers are however Volume rather than Chapter sequential. Noticeably, these Maps do not carry titles; it being evidently assumed that the reader will know to what they refer. Where appropriate, portraits of individuals mentioned within the adjacent narrative are provided. As with all images within the volume, these are monochrome in format.With the exception of that of that of Citation-winner Second Lieutenant Rambo on page 162, these are all Victoria Cross Winners. Where appropriate, additional subsections provide more detail concerning significant military operations within the specific area. The historical background thus defined, the second section (titled variously The Area Today or XX Area Today) describes what military-based remains can be seen within the area under discussion. As already noted, the volume contains both Maps and Photographs and in addition Plans and Diagrams also appear within its pages. However, neither the Contents nor Index sections carry references to the existence of any of these items.  While informatively captioned, no source-related information is provided. Where necessary, additional information is provided through end-note citations. These are volume-sequential, with the citations themselves appearing in a References section placed towards the rear of the volume. A small section titled Further Reading follows Chapter 4’s Section S/T and is in turn followed by the previously-mentioned References section. The book’s Index follows; it is the volume’s last section.

Although this volume is well-written and researched, for this this reviewer it was let down by its Index. Random searching for Index entries for (for example), Canal du Nord Line (page 94); Francilly-Selency (page 78) and Battle Nomenclature Committee (page 142) found nothing, while that for  Mt Metier, although indicating that pages 79 and 83 contained the necessary information, omitted an entry on page 80. Why this should be is unknown, but when combined with the previously-mentioned omitted entries (and others of a similar nature) did nothing to engender confidence in the Index’s authority or veracity. The lack of a large-scale general-ordnance map of France was also unfortunate as without it, it is difficult to determine the Hindenburg Line’s geographical relationship with the rest of France.

Due to its nature, this volume may appeal to a variety of readers. Military Historians and readers with an interest In World War I may find it of interest. The ‘military’ images may also be of interest to military modellers, while wargamers with an interest in World War I may find the fortification details both useful and informative.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume a 7.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Hindenburg Line’