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The Literary Digest History of the World War - Volume Nine

Francis Whiting Halsey
In Print
Funk & Wagnalls Company (1920)

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The Literary Digest History of the World War - Volume Nine

Italy; Submarine Warfare; August 1914, November 1918

Rating: gold star gold star gold star gold star no star no star no star no star no star no star (4.00)

400 pages. Color maps (endpapers). 70 black-and-white photos. 13 maps.

My normal instinct, when trying to learn more about a particular historical period or conflict, is to look for the best recent work on the subject - in order to benefit from the latest research and analysis.

However, when visiting a used bookstore the other day, I chanced upon several volumes - in excellent condition - of a history of WWI published in 1919/1920. The books were quite inexpensive, so I took them home with me.

What I've learned since is that The Literary Digest was a major American magazine of news and opinion in the early 20th Century, and that they published this history in ten volumes in several editions. Because the series was popular, it is easy to find inexpensive copies today. (And, since the series is no longer in copyright, it is also available in its entirety online, in many formats.)

My interest at the moment is the Italian Front, so I skipped straight to Volume Nine...




I. The Seizure of Valona and the Declaration of War Against Austria (November, 1914 — May 25, 1915)
II. The First Year of War in the Trentino and on the Isonzo (May 23, 1915 — November 15, 1915)
III. Austrians Repulsed in the Trentino and Gorizia Taken — The War in the Dolomites (May 14, 1916 — December 31, 1916)
IV. Austrians East of Gorizia Lose Monte Santo and Monte St. Gabrielle (May 12, 1917 — October 1, 1917)
V. The Italian Disaster at Caporetto, and the Retreat Across the Tagliamento to the Piave (October 23, 1917 — February 1, 1918)
VI. Austria's Debacle on the Piave — Italian Naval Exploits (May 1, 1918— November 3, 1918)



I. The Colonies that Germany Had
II. The Siege and Fall of Tsingtau in Kiaochow and the Taking of Samoa (September 18, 1917 — November 7, 1917)
III. The Boer Rebellion Quelled and German Southwest Africa, Togoland and Kamerun Taken (October 13, 1914 —November 30, 1914)
IV. Germany's Loss of East Africa; Her Last Colony (August, 1914—1918)


I. German Successes and Failures in the First Year - British Successes in Scandinavian Waters (September 22, 1914 — October 10, 1915)
II. British and German War Zone Decrees — Von Tirpitz Threatens Savage Submarine Warfare (December 8, 1914 — April 15, 1915)
III. Sinkings That Involved American Rights — The "Lusitania" and "Arabic" Cases (May 1, 1915 — September 15, 1915)
IV. American Munition Plant Explosions and the Anglo-French Loan (July 1, 1915 — April 6, 1916)
V. Increased Submarine Activity, British, German, and Austrian — The Coming of the "Deutschland," and the Case of Captain Fryatt (October 14, 1915 — May 31, 1916)
VI. The "Ancona" and "Sussex" Cases and Germany's Conditional Promise to the United States (November 8, 1915 — October 28, 1916)
VII. Germany's First Year of "Frightfulness" and the American Declaration of a State of War (February 1, 1917 — February 1, 1918)
VIII. In the Second Year of "Frightfulness" — The Zeebrugge and Ostend Exploits — Net Losses of Ships and Submarines (February 1, 1918 — November 11, 1918)

I didn't know what to expect from a book written so close after the war. Unlike later authors, Halsey tends to provide the details of each offensive rather than the "big picture" summary. There is less analysis and more reportage. The writing style is also crisp and readable.

Sample page

What is also preserved in this book is a sense of the times. The Italians are seen as our brave allies; the German generals are shrewd; there is a tone of outrage as submarine warfare breaks the established rules of war.

Sample map

A few quotes will illustrate this point best:

II. The First Year of War in the Trentino and on the Isonzo (May 23, 1915 — November 15, 1915) (p. 46):

The battle reached its height on October 24 when the attacks against the Doberdo ceased, only to begin against the Monte San Michele and the San Martino. On October 26 it seemed for a moment that the struggle was coming to an end. But on October 28 the titanic conflict assumed a still more desperate character. This time the bridgehead of Tolmino bore the brunt of the attack for three days. In the first days of November the bridgehead of Gorizia was the goal of Italian endeavor, not only because its capture would be a visible symbol of Italian success, but because it formed a gap between the mountainous region and the sea, and on a front of almost twenty miles contained six excellent roads leading from Italy to Austria. The attacks delivered here were the most furious, and the losses inflicted the greatest.
II. The Siege and Fall of Tsingtau in Kiaochow and the Taking of Samoa (September 18, 1917 — November 7, 1917) (p.172):

Jefferson Jones, who witnessed the bombardment, said he had never before heard of the possibility of seeing, in one modern battle, "the attack cf warships, the fire of infantry and artillery, the maneuvering of airships over the enemy's lines, and the rolling up from the rear of reinforcements and supplies, all at one sweep of the eye." But after he had watched for three days the siege of Tsingtau from a position on Prinz Heinrich Berg, one thousand feet above the level, and only three miles from the beleaguered city, he was sure there was actually such a thing as a "theater of war."...
II. British and German War Zone Decrees — Von Tirpitz Threatens Savage Submarine Warfare (December 8, 1914 — April 15, 1915) (p.235):

On December 8, 1914, the outer world first heard of Germany's intention to declare a war-zone around the British Isles, as a rejoinder to a similar declaration made by England at an earlier date and affecting the North Sea. An American newspaper correspondent, Karl H. Von Wiegand, writing from Berlin, reported Admiral von Tirpitz, the German Minister of Marine, as saying: "England wants to starve us! We can play the same game. We can bottle her up and torpedo every English or Allied ship which nears any harbor in Great Britain, thereby cutting off large food supplies. Would not such action only be the meting out to England of what she is doing to us?" After spending several days at the Prussian Crown Prince's headquarters in eastern France, Mr. von Wiegand had motored to the Kaiser's field capital in France, where all the ministries and departments of the German Government were then assembled. Here Tirpitz received him in a private house, the home of a French banker who had fled before the German advance. Mentally and physically Tirpitz was described as a "magnificent Teuton, with a mind of steel-trap order, a marvelous organizer" and with "more Bismarckian force and iron in his nature than any other German official" Mr. von Wiegand had met....

While I will continue to look for recent scholarship with researching my wargame campaigns, I now know not to neglect those books written from a contemporaneous perspective.

The pictures shown here are from the PDF version of this book, available through Google.

Reviewed by Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian.