Official Histories of the First World War
Its been more than a hundred years since the First World War started. Its course and outcome defined most of the 20th century. Receding from public memory into history, it is also long enough in the past for the various official histories of the war to go into public domain. These days, most of the official histories are available online.
The Australian involvement in the First World War was published as a series of 12 volumes edited and written by C. E. W. Bean between 1920 and 1942. The series describes operations by the Australian Imperial Force, the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force, the Royal Australian Navy, the Australian Flying Corps and the Home Front in Australia. The complete official History is available at the Australian War Memorial website.
Additionally available are the three volumes of the “Official History of the Australian Army Medical Services, 1914-1918”
The title of the Austrian history of World War One aptly translates to “Austria-Hungary´s last War”. Its official title is “Österreich-Ungarns letzter Krieg 1914–1918”, it was edited by Edmund Glaise-Horstenau and was published in seven volumes, each accompanied by an equally voluminous map volume, at Verlag der Militärwissenschaftlichen Mitteilungen, Wien from 1930–39.
Confusingly, there are several official Canadian histories, published by various authors. The main work was written by written by Colonel G. W. L.Nicholson of the Canadian Army Historical Section. Some monographies about the Medical Services and the major campaigns were lated added.
The official account of the French Army in the First World War was published as a series of 11 “Tomes” further divided into 106 volumes of text, annexes and maps. The official title is “Les Armées Françaises dans la Grande Guerre”, published by Imprimerie Nationale, Paris, 1922-1937. It is currently available online (with a few exceptions) at the Gallica (BNF Bibliothèque Nationale de France).
The German official history of the Imperial German Armies has the official title “Der Weltkrieg 1914-1918”. It was written as a series of 15 volumes and three supplementary volumes and published between 1923 and 1956 at Mittler in Berlin.
The British Official History was published between 1923 and 1949. The formal title of the work is the “History of the Great War Based on Official Documents”. It was produced by the Historical Section of the Committee of Imperial Defence
- The military operations consisted of 28 volumes and the official historian responsible for the compilation of this work was Brigadier-General Sir James Edmonds.
- The naval operations consisted of five volumes by naval historian Sir Julian S. Corbett and Henry Newbolt.
- The air operations consisted of six volumes and appendices by Walter Raleigh and H A Jones.
- The medical history of the war was written by the Colonel-Commandant of the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) Major General Sir William Grant Macpherson
The large Indian participation in the First World War was covered in a single volume entitled India’s Contribution to the Great War published by the Government of India in 1923. The book is available to read on the British Library’s Digitised Manuscripts collection, and as PDF download at archive.org.
Italy, just like Germany, had the publication of its official history interrupted by the Second World War and finished last: In 1988 the last Volume of the “L’Esercito Italiano nella Grande Guerra 1915-1918” was published. The seven-volume work covers the whole of Italy’s involvement in the war and sticks out though its inclusion of unit diaries and the inclusion of tactical studies.
New Zealand published four volumes of campaign descriptions in the twenties, all by participants in the campaigns, but all focused on the operations exclusively, with no considerations of strategy, war production or any of the effects of the war on New Zealands society, economy and culture. To be fair: Even the vast archival volumes of the main combatants paid little thought to the civilian societies on whoms behalf the war was fought. New Zealand folloed up with a smatter of individual unit histories or monographies on various aspects of the war – a collection that has achived half-official status by now.
Ottoman Empire / Turkey
The Turkish General Staff produced an official history of the World War from the perspective of the Osman Empire under the title “Birinci Dünya Harbi’nde Türk Horbi” which has been updated several times and now consists of 27 volumes. Unfortunately, it has never been translated, and access to sources remains limited. A good overview on Turkey’s official military histiography can be found in “The Turkish Official Militray Histories if the First World War: A Bibliograpic Essay” by Edward J Erickson, published in Middle Eastern Studies Vol 39, No.3, July 2003, pp. 190-198, available for pay at the publisher’s website.
Due to the Revolutions in 1917 and 1918, official histories of the Russian or the Ottoman Empire´s war effort are harder to come by. The nacent Soviet Union published an operational history of the First World War right after the end of the civil war.
The official history of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) in the First World War was compiled in 18 volumes prepared by the Historical Section of the Army War College. The volumes were numbered 1-17, with volume 10 split into two parts.