From the opening shots to the signing of the armistice, the First World War lasted almost 52 months. It was fought on, or in the waters of, six of the seven continents, and in all of the Seven Seas. For the first time, the fighting was on land, sea and in the air. It became industrial, and unrestricted: poison gas, aerial bombing of cities, and the sinking without warning of merchantmen and passenger ships by submarines. Military and civilian casualties probably exceeded 40 million. Four empires collapsed during the course of the war – the German, Austro-Hungarian, Russian and Ottoman. In all its military, political, geographical, economic, scientific, technological and above all human complexity, the First World War is almost impossible to comprehend. The day-by-day narratives – excellent reference books – can be dizzying for the reader trying to make sense of the whole. Freer-flowing accounts, while helping to understand the broader trends and factors, can give less of a sense of the human dimension of time. The month is a more digestible gauge. We remember months, because months have names, because they are linked to the seasons, and because they have their own character. Looking at the First World War month by month reveals its complexity while preserving the sense of time.
Based on the author’s monthly commentaries in The Times throughout the centenary, Fight to the Finishis a new and original portrait of “The War to End War.”