Book Review: Grey Tide in the East
Author: Andrew J. Heller
Publisher: Strict Publishing International
Reviewing Author: Avery Abernethy
Grey Tide in the East is a short (164 page) World War One alternative history book. The movement towards war is unchanged from history up until the day before the German right flank is scheduled to cross the Belgian border in hopes of outflanking the French army and capturing Paris. Kaiser Wilhelm abruptly changes his mind about the war plans due to the almost certainty that the United Kingdom would enter the war if Germany violated Belgian neutrality. Instead, the majority of the Imperial German Army is packed into trains and sent to East Russia to fight the invading Russian army.
Even casual readers of the history of World War One understand that the mobilization timetables of the major armies were almost unstoppable once they were put into action. Those largely unfamiliar with the conflict could read Tuchman’s The Guns of August or Keegan’s The First World War to get an understanding of the importance of pre-war plans and mobilization schedules. The logistical operation to mobilize and move huge Corps on a fixed rail net was massive. In Grey Tide in the East the Kaiser orders Moltke to change the entire pre-war strategy at the almost the last possible moment.
The rest of 1914 in this alternative history goes mostly as it had before. The French follow their pre-war strategy with even less success than they had originally trying to attack in the mountains, forests, and fortresses of South-Western Germany. The Russian Corps invading East Prussia are smashed even more thoroughly than they were at Tannenberg.
What is really interesting about this alternative history is how Mr. Heller follows through on his thesis. The German Fleet is free to leave the North Sea because the British Navy is neutral. How that works out is quite interesting. The war in the East that he plots out is plausible, especially given what actually happened both in 1914-1915, and how Germany treated Russia after they signed a separate peace treaty before the final German offensive in World War One. The situation with the world wide colonies of the empires involved in the conflict is also reasonable.
I can’t go into any more detail without giving away the entire plot. After all, the book is only 164 pages long. A lot of recent alternative history has been extremely long winded taking multi-volume sets to see the conflict to its conclusion (see Harry Turtledove). But this book takes a single change point and draws many reasonable conclusions. The author also avoids grinding annoying political axes and sticks to the main story (see Eric Flint or John Birmingham). A few individuals are discussed in detail, but not to the point where the individuals habits, quirks, and problems with sunburn become highly annoying (again, see Turtledove).
At the end of the book the author gives a long list of references and even suggests how the aftermath of a relatively quick World War One would impact both the major participants in the war, and also the non-participants like the UK and the USA. His guesses on how a brief war would influence the Great Depression were also plausible. In fact, my only real quibble with the book is the near overwhelming use of artillery by the Central Powers throughout 1914. In history all sides suffered severe artillery shell shortages which had a big impact on strategy.
In sum, this book was a fun read. It made a very interesting alt-history change and carried forward on how that change impacted the war for at least thirty years after the conflict. I found the book so compelling that I read it in two days. It is one of the first alt-history books that I have read in a long time that I found hugely difficult to put down so I could get enough sleep to function at work the next day. If you like alt-history or the history of World War One, I think that this book would be an excellent read.
Avery Abernethy is a Professor of Marketing at Auburn University. His grandfather was a blacksmith in France for the USA in World War One. He recommends Strategic Command, WWI if you wish to use a computer war game to test your alt-history WWI theories.