Skip to content


Holding Out: The German Army and Operational Command in 1917

Holding Out was published by Cambridge University Press in April 2023, in both hardback and electronic formats; a paperback edition will follow in early 2025.

The book analyses the German army and its operational command in the First World War through a case study of the major Entente Western Front offensive of spring 1917 (the battle of Arras and Nivelle offensive). It shows how German command worked by identifying five main tasks in early 1917. In assessing how well the army fulfilled these tasks, the book systematically compares pre-war thinking and developments in the early war period with events in 1917; and it distinguishes the German army’s doctrine and reputation from what actually happened.

This approach produces new insights on German command including the complex interrelationship between traditional principles, military organisation and personal factors; the increasing role of intelligence in operations; the difficulty of converting lessons learned into practice and the resulting persistence of certain tactical problems; and the system for mitigating the effects of attrition.

The book’s findings are relevant to other periods and fronts of the First World War. It therefore illustrates the story of the German army throughout the war, and so contributes to the key debate on how Germany was able to hold out for so long.

Reviews of Holding Out

John Spencer in Stand To! (the journal of the Western Front Association), No. 131 (August 2023), 53-4.

The Catastrophe of 8 August 1918 (Big Sky, 2019)

This is a translation of Thilo von Bose’s 1930 book Die Katastrophe des 8. August 1918, which was Volume 36 in the German semi-official Schlachten des Weltkrieges (Battles of the World War) series.  The translation is by David Pearson and Paul Thost, edited and with an introduction by me.

Catastrophe is significant to both the history and the historiography of the First World War.  This edition presents the original German text in parallel with the first ever English translation.  The foreword by Professor Gary Sheffield, the introduction, appendices, maps and photographs explain and illustrate the historical and military context.  Together, they allow the reader easily to follow Bose’s account.  They exploit different types of evidence, linking up Bose’s text with archaeological investigations on the battlefield and artefacts such as guns, medals and documents which readers can still view.

Articles, book chapters, papers and podcasts

Military Historians are People, Too podcast, 23 January 2024,

‘A Precondition of Success: the German air force and combined arms battle, 1916-1917’, paper to the Centre for War and Diplomacy, Lancaster University, and the RAF Museum, 16 November 2023.

The German Army in 1917‘, podcast for the Western Front Association, 15 September 2023.

The German Army in 1917‘, paper to the Antrim & Down branch of the Western Front Association and the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, 12 April 2023. There were one or two technical problems with screen sharing which delayed the start of the slideshow, but here it begins at minute 3.34.

‘The Introduction of New German Defensive Tactics in 1916-1917’, British Journal for Military History, vol. 5, no. 2 (October 2019), 81–99.

‘Muddy Grave? The German Army at the End of 1916’, in Spencer Jones, ed., At All Costs: The British Army on the Western Front 1916 (Warwick: Helion & Company Limited, 2018), 451–73.

‘A Picture of German Unity? Federal Contingents in the German Army, 1916-1917’, in Jonathan Krause, ed., The Greater War: Other Combatants and Other Fronts, 1914–1918 (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), 141–60. You can read the chapter here.

‘German Army Command and Control in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries’, unpublished research paper, 2010. The paper is available here.