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Ring of steel : Germany and Austria-Hungary…

Ring of steel : Germany and Austria-Hungary at war, 1914-1918 (édition 2014)

par Alexander Watson

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A comprehensive analysis of the war efforts of the primary Central Powers, Germany and Austria-Hungary.
Titre:Ring of steel : Germany and Austria-Hungary at war, 1914-1918
Auteurs:Alexander Watson
Info:London : Allen Lane, 2014.
Collections:Owned 2

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Ring of Steel: Germany and Austria-Hungary in World War I par Alexander Watson


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“We began the war, not the Germans and still less the Entente -- I know that.”
~ Baron Leopold von Andrian- Westberg.

Ring of Steel: Germany and Austria-Hungary in World War I by Alexander Watson is the history of World War I from a German and Austrian setting. Watson holds a PhD from Oxford University. He lectures on the social, economic, military and political history of the First World War, the Second World War, and the Habsburg Empire in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He currently teaches at Goldsmiths, University of London. Watson has published and has done extensive research on the history of World War I.

Ring of Steel holds the claim to be the first modern history of the war told from the Axis perspective. The Axis powers mobilized on an unprecedented scale. Germany mobilized almost 13.5 million men, 86% of the male population between the age of 18 and 50 passed through the armed forces between 1914-1918. Austria-Hungary mobilized 78% of its military aged men during the years of the conflict. Watson makes three main points with this work. First the call to war was not just a state command in Germany; support ran throughout the country and at all levels. Secondly, he attempts to explain the growing and escalating violence of a war that was thought to be defensive by all sides. The alliances put both sides on the defensive until the outbreak. The third theme concerns the break up of societies by the war.

Germany and Austria-Hungary were very different countries. Germany became a state in 1871 and accepted a national identity rather smoothly. Austria-Hungary was a dual monarchy with two separate parliaments and a centralized foreign policy, military, and finance under the Habsburg leadership. Austria Hungary was a collection of separate nationalities and eleven spoken languages. Although under a collective empire, there was no ethnic, language, or national unity as in Germany. A modern observer looking in at Austria-Hungary would be curious as to how it held together.

Watson brings a few new thoughts to light in his book. One event took me by surprise. Unrestricted submarine warfare has been debated and is usually regarded as ineffective in the long run. Despite the massive amounts of sunk cargo, it did not help Germany in the end. Watson makes another point, this is the first time I have heard it, that unrestricted submarine warfare was responsible for Germany’s defeat. His argument is that England was going broke. The war was costing England 2 million pounds a day,and England would be bankrupt by March 1917 and out of the war. The United States was at odds with England over its strict contraband definitions and not respecting the rights of neutrals. England effectively prevented trade with Germany. Unrestricted submarine warfare changed the US position and doomed Germany.

Watson also concentrates on the social and economic effects of the war in Germany and Austria-Hungary. Jobs and food became scarce. People began their own gardens and even pets changed. Dogs and cats were replaced with edible pets: rabbits, ducks, and goats. Racial issues played a role in the war too. The Russians began persecution of Jews in conquered lands. The Entente propaganda created German atrocities that did not exist, and Russia’s army actively prosecuted soldiers who raped women in occupied territory. The Austrian public attacked their Croat soldiers for wearing Croat colors on their uniforms -- nationalism was an attack on the empire. Inside Austria-Hungary extreme enforcement of sedition laws were well publicized.

Ring of Steel gives a detailed look inside both Germany and Austria during WWI. Military as well as civilian issues are covered in great detail. Watson goes through great lengths to document all his writing. Nearly one quarter of the book is bibliography and citations. Ring of Steel is more than a war history. It is a social history that not only describes the war, but the war's effect on the people. ( )
  evil_cyclist | Mar 16, 2020 |
What this epic book essentially tries to do is to recapture the psychology of German and Austro-Hungarian society during the Great War and contrasts the relative success of Germany in yoking popular opinion to the war effort as compared to the essential failures of the regimes in Vienna & Budapest; a commentary on the backward political imaginations of the Austrian & Hungarian civilian & military authorities. However, Watson also emphasizes that the Austrian & German claims that they were fighting a strategically defensive war do have some meat on those bones, due to Russian behavior in the lands that they invaded (plans for ethnic cleansing and cultural genocide) and the British treatment of food as contraband, with the tragedy being that the German leadership could only imagine post-war security as a zero-sum game, so that their vision of security was other nations' vision of total defeat. As for the Hapsburg state there would be no future, but the conduct of the war meant that their constituent peoples were given an early taste of what the next war would look like in terms of all-consuming brutality. ( )
  Shrike58 | Jan 11, 2017 |
The Ring of Steel by Alexander Watson (My Review 21 May 2015)
The concerns and heartfelt difficulties experienced by the German and Austro-Hungarian peoples living through the homeland hells of the First World War are magnificently chronicled in this wonderful book written by the Cambridge historian, Watson, and published in late 2014. This academic treatise was personally researched by the author from years recently spent in the archives of Vienna and Berlin and Warsaw. The academic standards are impeccably maintained and all facts are properly documented and moreover the book maintains a very readable textural style. The only difficulty however is how best to maintain ones sanity through 580 pages of narrative supported by 200 pages of bibliography and cross references making this book a weighty tomb. Six very readable maps are grouped together in the forefront of the book. As always however I must find fault with all the publishers I encounter. Namely please use plenty of colors when publishing maps, also somehow ensure that all the place names referenced in the text are included on the maps and possibly grid referenced. In this computer age the extra cost is small. At least have the maps available on line if the printing cost is otherwise prohibited.
The central theme of this book I would maintain is the poor distribution among the Alliance members concerning food stuffs and the impact of the British Naval blockade. The Alliance desperation in January 1917 led to the calamitous decision of the Germans to declare unlimited naval warfare. This upset the US and President Wilson so much that led to the US declaring war on Germany on 17 April 1917.
The two warring factions are one the Alliance Powers and two the Entente Cordiale. The Alliance powers are principally Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. After May 1915 joined by Turkey(the former Ottoman Empire). The Entente Cordiale comprised France, Russia and after 4 August Britain and Belgium. Italy co-joined the Entente in May 1915 and the USA in May 1917.
I have a premise that I must yet find evidence to support, that the main reason that the Alliance powers lost is that once the US declared war, the British and US navies could now enforce a total embargo on goods, as opposed to the partial embargo imposed by the British Navy alone previous to the US war declaration, thus preventing any goods from reaching Germany through supposedly neutral countries such as Holland and Sweden, the so called neutrals. The Ring of Steel implies through its title that a naval blockade had this impact. I am still searching for evidence to support the above premise however.
Watson has unearthed much evidence of the food shortages within the alliance countries but not necessarily all the reasons behind the ensuing food shortages. Naturally with 2 million men away at war the farm labor shortage was immense. The turnip winter of 1916 is covered in some detail. Meat & potatoes and bread had become largely unavailable to both the German troops and even more drastically to the German home population. Difficulties faced by German housewives to shop or barter for none existent supplies is a theme that is well documented by this book. Many tabulations are contained throughout the book listing dates and the limited annual food production of the alliance nations. The loss of Serbian pig husbandry stands above all. Concerning husbandry another interesting factoid uncovered is the employment of 200,000 captured Russian prisoners as unpaid/slave farm laborers and the ensuing birth rate among the previously male deprived Germanic females.
The irony is that Germany declared in January 1917, Unrestricted Naval Warfare, in the belief that since the UK was dependent on 90% of its foodstuffs arriving in the Island nation by boat that the UK would face starvation. Germany had predicted that its submarines would sink so many ships that within six months, namely by July of the same year (1917) that the UK would demand peace on account of the supposed lamentations of its starving populace! The Germans did not foresee the convoy system, a masterpiece of communication at sea that finally outwitted the submarine menace, greatly reducing the former submarine ship sink rates.
The start of the war chronicles the exuberance of the troops racing off for a few good weeks of sport. After sobering up, the German population is consumed in realistic anxieties and no one foresaw or dreamed the war would extend to four plus years.
Overall this is a fine book documenting the mood of the Germans and their allies. After Ludendorff’s total war on the western front with unsustainable advances towards the French capital in early 1918, the amazing total collapse of Germany on both the war and home fronts and the surprised phenomenal advances of the British and French armies just prior to the belated arrival of General Pershing’s mostly inexperienced army, resulted in the Germans calling for and signing an armistice that was agreed upon in late October 1918. The US sustained over 100,000 combat fatalities in a ten week overall campaign duration that also witnessed the US force structure expanding to two million men under arms within a 18 month period from an original standing army of under 100,000 men.
And now for a new topic, yes more math. ( )
1 voter MichaelHodges | May 26, 2015 |
Great exploration on how Germany and its allies went through WW1.
  moncrieff | Mar 13, 2015 |
When I learned that this book was out, I immediately searched the local library web service for a copy. I found one, drove to that library (rather than request it) and borrowed it. I am very interested in the books being released during this the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of WWI. I was not disappointed after finishing the book.

This book is very long...almost 800 pages all in. However, there are many footnotes and an extensive bibliography. The text is 566 pages of very readable and interesting material. Generally books about WWI cover the war, personalities, and the economic impact on the world. This work focuses primarily on the interactions of the people in Germany and Austria-Hungary (AH). How they reacted to the news of the war; how they rallied to the colors; how they rallied against the colors and each other. I found this book fascinating. Very insightful on the interactions of the subjects during the war; particularly within AH with its diverse people and the strange relationship with Hungary.

Without trying to summarize an 800 page book, I will say that at times it appeared that the AH Empire was as much at war with itself as it was with the Entente allies. If you can locate a copy of this book, I strongly suggest you borrow it from the library rather than purchase. However, be prepared to renew it, it is a long, but interesting read. ( )
  douboy50 | Dec 19, 2014 |
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A comprehensive analysis of the war efforts of the primary Central Powers, Germany and Austria-Hungary.

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