The Generals’ War

The Generals’ War

Operational Level Command on the Western Front in 1918
David T. Zabecki, foreword by General Anthony Zinni, USMC (Ret.)
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 09/01/2018
ISBN: 978-0-253-03782-4
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Known as the War to End all Wars and the Great War, World War I introduced new forms of mass destruction and modern technological warfare. When the Bolsheviks pulled Russia out of the war in late 1917, the Germans turned their offensive efforts to the Western Front in an attempt to win the war in 1918. But as fresh American troops entered Europe, the strategic scales tipped against Germany.

Much of how World War I played out turned on the plans and decisions of the senior-most German and Allied commanders. The Generals' War explores the military strategies of those generals during the last year of the Great War. These six very different men included Germany's Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg and General Erich Ludendorff; France's Marshals Ferdinand Foch and Philippe Pétain; Great Britain's Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig; and the United States' General John Pershing. Although history remembers none of them as great captains, these six officers determined for better or worse how World War I was fought on the battlefields of the Western Front between November 1917 and November 1918.

The Generals' War is a landmark exploration of the generalship that shaped the very framework of modern warfare as we know it today and provides a comprehensive and detailed analysis on the senior commanders of the Great War.

Author Bio

David T. Zabecki (Maj. Gen. Ret) is the author, editor, or translator of seventeen military history books and is editor emeritus of Vietnam Magazine. His encyclopedia, Germany at War: 400 Years of Military History, won a Society for Military History Distinguished Book Award in 2016. Zabecki holds a PhD in Military History from Britain’s Royal Military College of Science, Cranfield University and in 2012 was the Shifrin Distinguished Professor of Military History at the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis.


“Thoroughly researched and well written, The Generals' War is without question the finest study of the operational aspects of the five German tactical actions that constituted the 1918 Ludendorff Offensive on the Western Front. Zabecki lays out the strategic decisions that produced the outcome and details the fighting itself, but his chief contribution is in his analysis of the decisions that determined the outcome and turned the tide of the war.”
 — Spencer C. Tucker, author of World War I: The Essential Reference Guide

“David Zabecki offers keen insights into the operational art of the forces, technology, logistics, and military culture of the armies that the six Allied and German generals headed.”
 — Holger Herwig, author of Long Night of the Tankers

“"This meticulously-researched study provides new knowledge and new perspectives about — and gives new insights into — what is known as the war to end all wars. If you ever thought you knew everything or enough about World War I, The Generals’ War will prove you wrong."”
 — The Washington BookReview

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Table of Contents

Foreword by General Anthony Zinni, USMC (Ret)

Table and Maps


I. Generalship in the Great War

II. Battlefield Realities

  • The Calculus of War
  • The Technological Revolution in Military Affairs
  • The Three Paradigm Shifts
  • The Vast New Scope of Warfare
  • Fire, Maneuver, and Combined Arms
  • Tanks
  • Artillery
  • The Defensive
  • The Offensive

III. The Strategic Situation

  • Germany
  • France
  • Britain

IV. The Commanders-in-Chief

  • Reputations One Hundred Years On
  • Powers and Responsibilities
  • Military Concepts
  • Adaptability and Risk
  • Personal Backgrounds
  • Political Supporters and Critics
  • The Political and the Strategic
  • Military Allies and Rivals

V. The Yanks are Coming

VI. Two Conferences in November 1917

  • The Allied Supreme War Council, Rapallo, 7 November
  • The German Planning Conference, Mons, 11 November

VII. The Gathering Storm

  • Vital Arteries and Jugulars
  • Bracing for the Deluge as Pétain and Foch Spar
  • Haig’s Enemies, Front and Rear
  • Pershing Digs in His Heels
  • The Elusive General Reserve
  • Haig Spread Thin
  • Steel Wind Rising


  • MICHAEL: 21 March to 5 April 1918
  • GEORGETTE: 9 to 29 April 1918


  • Ludendorff Gropes for Plan B
  • The Allies Brace for Round Three
  • BLÜCHER: 27 May – 5 June 1918
  • GNEISENAU: 9 – 15 June 1918

X. MARNESCHUTZ-REIMS and the Second Battle of the Marne

  • Ludendorff Attacks Again: MARNESCHUTZ-REIMS (15-18 July 1918)
  • Foch Hits Back Hard: The Second Battle of the Marne (18 July – 5 August 1918)
  • Ludendorff vs. Foch
  • Foch vs Ludendorff

XI. Le Hamel to Mount St. Quentin

  • The Battle of Hamel (4 July 1918)
  • The Battle of Amiens (8-14 August)
  • The Battle of Montdidier (18-30 August)
  • The Second Battle of Bapaume (21 August–1 September)
  • The Battle of the Scarpe (26 August-2 September 1918)
  • The Battle of Péronne--Mont St. Quentin (31 August-4 September)
  • The Withdraw to the Hindenburg Line (2-9 September)

XII. Closing to the Hindenburg Line

  • The Saint-Mihiel Offensive (12-15 September)
  • The Battle of Havrincourt (12 September 1918)
  • The Battle of Épehy (18 September)

XIII. The Allied General Offensive

  • The Meuse-Argonne Offensive, Phase I (26 September-3 October)
  • The Battle of Canal du Nord (27 September-1 October)
  • The Fifth Battle of Ypres (28 September-2 October)
  • The Battles of the St Quentin Canal and the Beaurevoir Line (29 September-6 October)
  • The Meuse-Argonne Offensive, Phase II (4-28 October)
  • The Second Battle of Cambrai (8-10 October)
  • The Battle of Courtrai and the Closure to the Dutch Border (14-27 October)
  • The French First Army Attacks Across the Serre River (15-27 October)
  • The Battle of the Selle (17-27 October)
  • Foch Maps Out Future Allied Operations (19 October-14 November)
  • Exit Ludendorff (26 October)
  • The Battle of Valenciennes (1-3 November)
  • The Second Battle of the Sambre and the Final British Drive (4-11 November)
  • The Final French Drive on the Western Front (1-11 November)
  • The Meuse-Argonne Offensive, Phase III (28 October-11 November)
  • Retrospective

XIV. The Armistice

XV. The Fluctuating Verdict of History

  • Hindenburg
  • Ludendorff
  • Foch
  • Pétain
  • Pershing
  • Haig
  • If Not…Then Who?

Appendix I: Biographical Chronologies

Appendix II: Note on General Officer Ranks