Journalist and historian Jean-Claude Delhez announces the color: the history of the Great War has been mythologized and the images we have of it are sometimes far from reality. Through this work, he intends to return to twelve myths of the year 1914. Stirring up certainties, this book invites us to deepen our knowledge on a subject often not as mastered as we imagined.
Myths of the Great War
What are these myths that the author wants to defeat? The famous red pants, Franco-German otherness, the forts of Lièges, the outrageous offensive, the fight of bayonets against machine guns, "Joffre le plestiféré", the Marne, the first battle of the war (to the detriment of the des Frontières), the domination of German howitzers, Paris saved by taxis from the Marne, the mass dead, Albert I "the king knight", the trenches ... You will have understood it, it is not well heard to deny the elements quoted here, but to return to the gap between the facts and the image of Épinal that we generally retain.
Bayonets vs machine guns?
Each question is approached in a binary way: first, the author presents the myth, then he sets out to establish "the truth". For example, the author presents the myth of the massive charges of French soldiers, with bayonets, coming to die by the thousand in front of the German machine guns which await them firmly. Then Jean-Claude Delhez greatly relativizes the doctrine of excessive warfare in 1914, recalling that only 2% of the French infantry were engaged in murderous charges against German machine guns on August 22. The German reports underline, contrary to the myth, the weak offensive spirit of the French troops. As for the machine guns themselves, the endowment is the same in the two armies (6 machine guns per regiment, i.e. 5,000 on both sides) and the quality is similar (Saint-Étienne vs MG 08), the only real difference being in the use which is made of them: the Germans creating a company of machine guns (often placed in support to the rear) and the French distributing them in a much more homogeneous way in the sections of infantry. In the end, the French machine gun is always on the front line while the German machine gun, used as a battery, is only used if it receives the order to deploy and if the terrain is practicable enough to deploy when the time comes. .
Jean-Claude Delhez also recalls that in the end the machine gun was a relatively uncommon weapon in 1914, much less than cannons, and that consequently the shell was then much more deadly (3/4 of the victims of the First World War ) than the burst.
Finally, the idea of the Poilus always dying while charging with bayonets is only the reflection of the overrepresentation of these charges, during and after the war, the soldier rushing with his bayonet against a murderous machine with a much more side. heroic that the poor Poilus buried by surprise in his trench by a shell fired by an enemy he has never seen ...
A story to write ...
Finally, a hundred years after the end of the Great War, many people mistakenly think that we have covered the question ... A flagship subject of historiography, nationalism and education in France, the History of the First World War was taught to all the little French people who keep more or less vivid images of it. The author, who questions some of these images also seeks to explain how they were constructed. The last two chapters are therefore devoted to the historiography of the history of the First World War ...
In the end, in a short book (135 pages) and accessible to as many people as possible, Jean-Claude Delhez takes pleasure in throwing cobblestones into the pool of the collective imagination, preventing history lovers from going around in circles and claiming loud and clear that there is still work to do in research and popularization on the First World Conflict!
Jean-Claude DELHEZ, Twelve myths of the year 1914, Economica, 2013.