Fighting the Kaiserreich – Australia’s epic within the Great War by Bruce Gaunson – Book Review

Dr Bruce Gaunson gives readers a rich new approach to World War I, by combining two great narratives: the vast war itself and the saga of Australia’s volunteer forces.

From the sources of 13 countries, the reader becomes privy to the grand schemes of the Kaiser’s paladins and the other Great Power players, the ensuing decisions and actions, the ordeals of fighting units in the field, and a wide range of fascinating individuals. [Comparable to being able to ‘zoom in and out’ on a map on the internet.]

On the declaration of war in August 1914, Australia was instantly involved, and there was a considerable risk for her in the South West Pacific – Admiral von Spee’s cruisers and Germany’s close island bases. And here is the book’s second special feature: the untold story of a German espionage network in major Australian ports, providing Spee with vital naval intelligence. Though never detected, the network was nullified by Australia’s new warships, whose swift action put an end to Spee’s threat. This ensured the safe passage of our troops by sea to the major war zone and preserved our vital trade links with the Northern hemisphere.

There is close scrutiny of the strategies of the belligerent nations, the planning (too often sketchy) for military operations, and the frequent lack of resources to achieve military objectives. There was a sense of frustration among good officers expected to sacrifice their men for unattainable or futile objectives (like Bullecourt and Mouquet Farm). And by mid-1917, AIF units were struggling to be viable, due to inadequate reinforcements. Yet many Diggers shunned conscription as a solution. As they often put it: ‘Do you really want an unwilling conscript beside you in battle?’.

Dr Gaunson writes in an easy-to-read style, giving readers the fruit of authentic sources, from enemy archives to eyewitness experiences of allied troops, Diggers and their great foe ‘Fritz’. In the epic 1918 battles, and a post-armistice epilogue, he also shows us potential options. The maps provided are specific to purpose, and uncluttered. Extremely high quality photographs of people, places and events are included as a central insert. Thirty pages of Endnotes, two appendices and an excellent index round out the work.

This impressive work provides a clear picture of Australia’s own Great War, fought within the mighty war of our allies against a truly formidable adversary. It would certainly provide a welcome addition to any library’s military history collection.


Reviewed for RUSIV by Neville Taylor, September 2018

Hybrid Publishers, Ormond 2018
Paperback 526pp RRP: $35.00

Contact Royal United Services Institute about this article.

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