Monday 25 September 2023

The Destruction of the Imperial Army vol 1 - A superb addition to the collection.

This is one of those books that makes a very loud thump as it hits the doormat. At just short of 540 pages it is big. I am prone to devour anything and everything that hits my radar relating to Bismarck’s wars, in particular the Franco-German War, so I was very keen to get my head into this new publication from Helion in their ‘from Musket to Maxim’ series. ‘The Destruction of the Imperial Army, Volume 1: The Opening Engagements of the Franco-German War 1870-1871’by Grenville Bird is an absolute gem.

This volume covers the first two weeks of the war, up to 12 August 1870, in an amazing level of detail. In addition to the normal German sources which have been referenced many times before, the author has used a vast amount of previously unused material written from the French perspective, La Guerre de 1870-1871, published by the French General Staff’s Section historique around the turn of the 20th Century, together with many other official and semi-official Staff studies. Much of the detail in this book derives from these aforementioned sources, and more, many of which had previously never been translated into English.

As I mentioned earlier this volume covers a little under the first two weeks of the war, but begins with chapters on the causes of the war, on the Imperial French and German armies, and the French and German plans and mobilisation. I am familiar with the clockwork-like nature of the German mobilisation and equally with the less than effective French mobilisation, but found there was still a great deal more written in these pages that was new to me.

What then follows are absorbing chapters covering the battles of Saarbrucken, Wissembourg, Froschweiller and Forbach, followed by the French retreat and German advance on the Moselle.

There are a 16 very detailed colour maps showing the topography and the troops involved, which are very handy when following the strategic and tactical movements of the armies. There also lots of colour and black and white illustrations. In quite a few cases we are presented with an image of an aspect of a particular battle as it was in 1870 alongside a present day photograph of the same location which I always find interesting and very useful. I’d not come across quite a number of these illustrations before so this was an added bonus. The book is also well provided for in extracts from the memoirs of many participants, which always fascinate me, as not only do these passages contextualise much of the narrative but also humanise it.

The appendices, all 17 of them, provide detailed orders of battle for both the French and German armies at the start of the campaign and then for each of the battles covered in this volume. There are also casualty returns which illustrate the ferocity of the fighting and the disparity in losses received.

So, a fantastic book, one that has been painstakingly researched; and don’t forget this is the first of FOUR volumes on the subject! To say I am looking forward to the next one is an understatement.

Now I really must get some more FPW figures from the boxes of doom into production. 


  1. Great review! I will have to pick this up. Thank you

  2. A book that contains a very complete story of the conflict. Thanks for your review.