A moonlight massacre
The night operation on the Passchendaele Ridge, 2 December 1917
by Michael LoCicero
published by Helion & Company, 2014
ISBN 978 1 909982 92 5
cover price – not stated
Hardback, 380pp plus notes, bibliography and index bringing it to 517pp. Illustrated.
reviewed by Chris Baker
This is a mightily impressive book. It sets a standard for anyone wishing to describe and analyse a military operation. Michael LoCicero is to be congratulated for what is clearly the product of deep and lengthy research. Despite being set out in a rigorous academic style with masses of technical detail, many original sources referenced and incidental information being included, his writing makes it easy to read. And well done to the publisher – page footnotes in such a work are so much easier for the reader than end notes: I wish some other publishers would do the same.
‘A moonlight massacre’ not only impressed me, it left me angry and sad. The limited operation which it describes, coming after what is normally considered the end of the dreadful Third Ypres offensive of 1917, was an appalling mess. The loss of life was very considerable and all too predictable. Men were asked to move into their position of attack by crossing miles of shattered ground; to attack in bright moonlight; to attack despite a key German strongpoint which was meant to have been already captured remaining in enemy hands; to attack in the knowledge that the enemy was alert and expecting it; and the infantry were to advance for five minutes without a shred of British artillery fire to cover it. In those few minutes, the battle was lost although inevitably the fighting went on and the enemy counter-attacked soon afterwards. Little wonder that many accounts reveal that British morale was at its lowest ebb around this time. The author’s calm, measured and factual narrative tells us exactly how this all came to be and how so many men were killed or disabled in the attempt. Even the most hardened military historian surely cannot fail to be emotionally affected by the human consequences of such affairs. And above all, was this relatively minor operation necessary or needed at all? I know what I think: I leave the readers to judge for themselves.
The book will be of specific value to those who have an interest in the British 8th and 32nd Divisions, German 38th Division, the Third Ypres offensive or the Passchendaele area in general. It will also be of lasting value as an exemplary work for budding historians.
A final word. Helion & Company has produced a very nice artefact in this book. It is printed on high quality paper, with clear maps and photographs. There are a few minor typographical errors but nothing to complain about. I have today seen the book on sale for as little as £13 – a ridiculously low price. It seems that readers will certainly be able to buy it for less than £30, and for a work of this quality that is a snip. Take note, academic publishers: this is how to do it.