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The Making of “If Germany Attacks”

The “suppressed” edition of “If Germany Attacks” and the “reconstruction” of the text by Tom Donovan Editions

Some years ago I was discussing If Germany Attacks with a highly respected colleague, Peter T. Scott of Messrs. Bertram Rota. He dropped into conversation the interesting fact that the first edition of Wynne’s book had been pulped in 1940 as the original publisher, Faber & Faber, had decided at the last minute that its contents could affect public confidence in the General Staff. It would not have been patriotic to have published Wynne’s critical text just at that moment. Peter then disappeared for a few minutes and returned brandishing some notes about a copy of the suppressed original, including copies of the expurgated pages, that his firm had handled many years earlier. Their copy included a statement by the original publisher:

 

“This book was written before the outbreak of Hitler’s war. It was scheduled for publication in the spring of 1940, and printed and bound. At the last moment, however, it was decided that it would be inappropriate to issue the volume during hostilities, as the text was highly critical of the British command and would lead to discouragement and lack of confidence in the army authorities (particularly in view of the author’s position as an official historian). The book was withdrawn, and this is one of the four or five original copies not scrapped. All the material in this copy marked [in the margin] was deleted, and a new abridged edition prepared by the author and subsequently published.

Morley Kennerley: Faber & Faber

PS: I gave a copy to John North and to Liddell Hart. The author has a copy. I think I sent a copy to the Imperial War Museum. MK.”

This was, to me, most interesting. I was aware that If Germany Attacks was an important book and had ambitions to republish it, but wanted to “add value” to my edition. To resurrect the original text, with the addition of a scholarly introduction, the whole produced to the highest quality, fitted neatly with my plans to publish a new series of works of historical value to historians of the Great War in a collectable form. The fact that a reprint produced  in the USA in the 1970s was still available (the joys of “print-on-demand”) did not matter – I would be offering something entirely different and of inestimably more value both to the scholar or general reader.

But, the copy that Bertram Rota had sold (to the University of Virginia at Charlottesville) was not available to me. I needed to find a copy to study and compare against the published edition. Also, it was paramount to obtain copyright before making any plans. I knew that Graeme Chamley Wynne’s papers were in the Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives at King’s College London and hoped that King’s might help me contact the family. My luck was in as they sent a letter to G.C. Wynne’s son on my behalf.

Owen Wynne was in favour of the new edition and once again I was in luck: he possessed the original proof copy that his eminent father had marked up with changes, excisions and the replacement text for the abridged edition.


Many of the pages were heavily annotated in several different pens and pencils. It seemed to me that Wynne had used this copy to (a) identify errors in the published text; (b) prepare the “abridged” edition published in 1940 and (c) at some later stage make further suggestions for changes in the event of a second edition.

The decision was made to reproduce Wynne’s complete, fully corrected and unabridged text. As may be seen from the photographs illustrating this essay, it was not always very obvious what was intended, but with diligence and common sense, plus an appreciation of the order in which annotations had been made to the proof copy and constant reference to the published version of 1940 it was possible to achieve this.

First we digitised the 1940 edition and compared it word for word with the original. Then we began the laborious task of reinstating the original text and corrections. At the same time we double-checked references, spellings of German names and terms and so forth. It was surprising how many typographical errors existed in Faber’s 1940 edition – we concluded that many of their proof readers must have been called up! Once we had completed the text we added a comprehensive five-part Index: General Index; Names; Battles and Places; British Formations and Units; German Formations and Units. The original edition was not properly indexed but we felt this was an essential improvement. We added a portrait of the author – again this was provided by Owen Wynne – and our resident artist, John Booth, was tasked with creating a cover that suggested defence in depth, an immoveable, rock-like strength in the landscape. How he succeeded can be seen in the images of the jacket on the website.

Initially we intended to publish the unexpurgated text alongside the expurgated text so that the reader could see where and what changes had been made, but experiments with this were unsatisfactory. When we tried to highlight changes, using bold text, scoring through words and so forth, the intricate nature of some of the alterations made the text difficult to follow, while looking at the typography overall, one’s eye was always drawn to the ‘messy’ parts of the text, interrupting a measured and leisurely reading of the author’s thesis. It seemed, then, that we should let Wynne’s forceful argument speak for itself and explain the changes and the evolution of the text in a Publisher’s Note. As I said in that note: “many of Wynne’s most critical statements, opinions and barbed comments about command decisions and commanders, including Sir Douglas Haig, were removed.” I quoted a passage from the chapter on the Battle of Loos, regarding the controversial release of poison gas, as an example of the sort of material that had been cut:

“The fate of ninety thousand men thus rested on the whim of a puff of cigarette smoke outside the porch of a house which was surrounded by poplar trees.”

And in the same chapter Wynne’s surprise at the choice of Sir Douglas Haig to replace Sir John French as commander-in-chief (in the published version of 1940 the italicized phrases were removed):

“…he believed he had a divine mission to win the war for England. Sophisticated minds might ridicule such a claim. The fact, however, that despite a succession of most expensive tactical blunders he did eventually lead a victorious British Army to the Rhine seems to justify a belief that supreme faith of rock-like substance as his may be as valuable in a commander as any special intellectual gifts.”

But those examples were minor criticisms compared to Wynne’s major complaint that the British General Staff misinterpreted German doctrinal documents which fell into their hands during the 1914-1918 war and continued to fail to appreciate the lessons which they contained and incorporate them in Field Service Regulations. This, the main thrust of his Introduction and Conclusion was removed. For example, in the original Introduction he wrote:

“Three years have passed since the vista of the development of the German defence opened out to me and I realized that the defence doctrine which the British army was being taught according to its latest (1935) Field Service Regulations was founded upon a complete misunderstanding of the German experience. It was also evident that owing probably to that misunderstanding the Regulations had missed the whole point of the battle in depth, both in attack and defence, which is likely to form the basis of future developments.

The historical evidence on this matter was as definite as the sun in a clear midday sky, and I imagined it would be comparatively easy to have the Regulations drastically revised in accordance with it. But persuasion to that end has proved to be a labour of Hercules… Neither the Staff College nor the War Office appeared to be interested in the matter…”

The criticism of the commanders and General Staff is rammed home in such emotive statements as this one, during the chapter on Neuve Chapelle. Again, the italicized part was cut from the published edition:

“…a third battalion was ordered forward by the commander of the 8th Division with orders to close the gap of 500 yards he saw must exist between the leading battalions beyond the village… It was an unnecessary order, for a single machine gun could have effectively covered this gap of flat open ground against any attempt by the few enemy present to enter it in broad daylight, and it is an example of that squandering of manpower, due to the ignorance of the use of firepower, which was to continue to be characteristic of British tactics.

Then during Loos, when Haig committed two untried New Army Divisions, the 21st and 24th, to “break down entirely the tottering German second line of defence (Reserve Line) and press on to objectives beyond it” Wynne concluded:

“Military history teems with bad orders, but there can be few which display such lack of imagination as this one; it completely ignored the probable consequences to two inexperienced divisions if they had been able to walk through the supposed gap in the German Reserve Line and reach their objective three miles beyond it.

The course of the subsequent fighting, apart from the futility of its ultimate purpose, was another instance of attempting to direct a battle with the obsolete chain system of command.”

 

Discovering and resurrecting such passages as these–and there were many–was enjoyable and rewarding. The book became more focused and convincing as the original Introduction, Conclusion and missing passages were reinstated. Reassembling Wynne’s elegant prose was in itself an agreeable pastime. I frequently smiled at his barbed comments and incisive cuts and thrusts.

It is my hope that those who buy our edition, whether they be historians professional or amateur, will feel that this labour has been worthwhile. For although Wynne’s arguments are certainly flawed (Dr. Robert Foley has pointed out the strengths and weaknesses of his work in the Introduction) he deserves his book to be published in the form that he originally intended so that readers can draw their own conclusions. Whether or not they agree with Wynne, they will certainly emerge enriched by the experience of reading his book.

Tom Donovan
June 2009