Sunday 7 July 2024

Franco-Prussian War. The Destruction of the Imperial Army Vol 4 - Catastrophe: Sedan, Strasbourg and Metz 1870

It is almost with a touch of sadness that I am writing about the final installment in Grenville Bird’s tremendous accomplishment in bringing to life these few weeks in the summer of 1870 that saw the end of the Imperial France  of Napoleon III. I am also very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to review and comment on the entire four-volume series. So, ‘The Destruction of the Imperial Army Volume 4: Catastrophe: Sedan, Strasbourg and Metz 1870’ is another epic, and an absolute whopper of a book (546 pages!), drawing on yet more contemporary documents and correspondence; again, much of which has never been published in English. 

This volume follows the same tried and tested format as the previous three volumes, and is profusely illustrated with 58 images, many of the battlefields, both then, and as they can be seen today, some of the latter annotated with key points of interest from the actual battle. There are also a number of more somber photographs of graves and monuments to the fallen. This tremendous range of illustrations are accompanied by strategic and tactical maps which together with the narrative combine to present a free flowing and detailed account of events.

The book begins at the end so to speak, with an account of the surrender of Sedan, much of which are the letters and reminiscences of those present in the proceedings. The following chapters each focus on one significant event, that is the fall of Strasbourg, Metz and the battle of Servigney, and the siege and fall of Metz.  We then delve into the immediate aftermath of 'La Debacle' , the questions asked of how could this have happened, the recriminations and the bold decision by the new republic to continue the war. Every chapter contains a vast a mount of first-hand experience and contemporary documentation; as always I find the private correspondence especially interesting as a direct window into the thoughts of those caught up in the war.

The final two chapters provide some excellent reading for those wishing to wargame the conflict, as each covers, in some depth, the tactics of both the French and the Germans. I think these will attract a great deal of attention.

As ever, there are numerous appendices (31 in all), providing a vast array of detailed information on subjects such as orders of battle, casualty returns and after action losses. The bulk of the appendices include capitulation treaties and correspondence and reports on  subjects as diverse as the destruction of the French eagles to German siege operations. The best appendices for me are the last four as they examine the effectiveness of French artillery, the Mitrailleuse and a comparison between the French and German weapons.

This is a fitting final volume in what has been for me an absolutely wonderful series. I am now hoping that the author will not rest on his laurels but will now examine the Republican phase of the war in as much detail. Please.....

ISBN 978-1-804514-59-7  softback, 546 pages

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