Russia’s Last Gasp, The Eastern Front 1916 – 17
By Prit Buttar
Osprey Publishing 2016
Reviewed by Jim Graham
“Russia’s Last Gasp, The Eastern Front 1916 – 17” by Prit Buttar is a considerable book, running to 472 pages, and follows on from the author’s previous Great War books “Collision of Empires, the war on the Eastern front in 1914” and “Germany Ascendant, the Eastern Front 1915”. As trilogies go it is an epic, covering all of human ambition and emotion, folly and courage. This book stands alone but it is hard to see why any reader wouldn’t follow through and read all of them, and the hopefully soon to be published final volume(s) covering the end of the war. Do not let the size fool you, this is an easy read and interesting from cover to cover.
This book does exactly what it says on the tin, setting out the position at the start of the year, explaining what happened, why it happened and what the effects of this were. Buttar takes up the story at the beginning of 1916 with both sides having had their triumphs and failures in the preceding seventeen months as the front line ebbed and flowed. Both sides began the year optimistically, the Central Powers because they had plans to knock France, and then Britain, out of the war at Verdun while the Russians hoped that Italy’s entry into the war would draw sufficient Austrian divisions to that front to allow them to prosper in their planned offensives.
Buttar covers the various successes and failures of the Brusilov Offensive, the Austro-Hungarian campaigns and the German drive into Romania at the end of the year. With the ebb and flow of the Austrian army on the Italian Front and the need to support both Turkey and Bulgaria it becomes increasingly clear that far from her allies propping up Germany, German strength is dissipated supporting them. The book ends in early 1917 with (SPOILER ALERT) continuing stalemate as the war lurched on despite the best efforts of the generals on both sides.
The author covers the battles and campaigns of the period in great detail as well as delving into the political machinations of the various countries and alliances. Buttar even covers the abortive peace negotiations with the US presidential involvement. This is not a book which simply narrates the events, the author has command of his subject and can explain it in a clear, concise way. My one gripe is that the maps are not always of the same quality as the writing and the book could do with a few more.
At four hundred and seventy two pages including index this is a comprehensive work covering the Eastern Front during the climactic period of the war. It is an essential read for any gamer with an interest in the period, while remaining accessible enough for the more casual reader. I cannot recommend this book, and its companions, too highly. Prit Buttar has recently retired from his day job and it is to be hoped that this will free him up to write many, many more books.