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Quest for Decisive Victory

From Stalemate to Blitzkrieg in Europe, 1899–1940

Robert M. Citino

New in Paperback: March 2009
xx, 372 pages, 27 photographs, 6-1⁄8 x 9-1⁄4
Modern War Studies
Paper ISBN 978-0-7006-1655-8, $24.95


Book Cover ImageSince the earliest days of warfare, military operations have followed a predictable formula: after a decisive battle, an army must pursue the enemy and destroy its organization in order to achieve a victorious campaign. But by the mid–nineteenth century, the emergence of massive armies and advanced weaponry--and the concomitant decline in the effectiveness of cavalry--had diminished the practicality of pursuit, producing campaigns that bogged down short of decisive victory. Great battles had become curiously indecisive, decisive campaigns virtually impossible.

Robert Citino now tells how European military leaders analyzed and eventually overcame this problem by restoring pursuit to its rightful place in combat and resurrecting the possibility of decisive warfare on the operational level.

A study of war at the operational level, Quest for Decisive Victory demonstrates the interplay and tension between technology and doctrine in warfare and reveals how problems surrounding mobility--including such factors as supply lines, command and control, and prewar campaign planning--forced armies to find new ways of fighting.

Citino focuses on key campaigns of both major and minor conflicts. Minor wars before 1914 (Boer, Russo-Japanese, and the Balkan Wars of 1912-13) featured instructive examples of operational maneuver; the First World War witnessed the collapse of operations and the rise of attrition warfare; the Italo-Ethiopian and Spanish Civil Wars held some promise for breaking out of stalemate by incorporating such innovations as air and tank warfare. Ultimately, it was Germany's opening blitzkrieg of World War II that resurrected the decisive campaign as an operational possibility. By grafting new technologies--tanks, aircraft, and radio--onto a long tradition of maneuver warfare, the Wehrmacht won decisive victories in the first year of the war and in the process transformed modern military doctrine.

Citino's study is important for shifting the focus from military theory and doctrine to detailed operational analyses of actual campaigns that formed the basis for the revival of military doctrine. Quest for Decisive Victory gives scholars of military history a better grasp of that elusive concept and a more complete understanding of modern warfare.

“In this work a master scholar addresses a controversial subject in an unconventional time frame. Instead of accepting World War I as a watershed in modern warfare, Citino makes a strong case for the continuity of military thought and action from the turn of the century to 1940. . . . Well reasoned and well presented, Citino’s arguments cannot be dismissed.”—Journal of Military History

“A fascinating and challenging book that should be welcomed and applauded by twentieth-century military historians.”—War in History

“In this important book, Citino examines warfare from the Boer War to the Nazis’ defeat of France in 1940 through the crucial prism of ‘operational art’—essentially, the task of turning battlefield tactical success into sustained, decisive victory. This volume succeeds at many levels: it is an erudite summary of some of history’s most complex military campaigns, and, more importantly, it ties together these operations in a coherent way that illustrates why warfare evolved as it did and explains how these events have often been incompletely understood. Specialists will be engaged by Citino’s treatment, especially his rather curt evaluation of Russia’s role in the development of operational art, but this volume will also be of great use for the nonspecialist seeking a coherent interpretation of this period. Highly recommended for all readers and all collections.”—Choice

"An excellent and important contribution to our understanding of twentieth-century Western warfare. Citino's narrative skill and insightful analysis of military battles, operations, and campaigns are especially strong. . . . Should have broad appeal."--James S. Corum, author of The Roots of Blitzkrieg and The Luftwaffe

"Citino's provocative work--with its broad-spectrum coverage and unique time frame--makes a strong case for a continuity of thought and action from the turn of the century to 1940. . . . A fine work from a master scholar."--Dennis E. Showalter, author of Tannenberg: Clash of Empires

ROBERT M. CITINO is professor of history at Eastern Michigan University and, during 2008–2009, holds the Charles Boal Ewing Chair of Military History at West Point. His books include Blitzkrieg to Desert Storm, The German Way of War, and Death of the Wehrmacht.

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