Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Training and Development of German General Staff Officers - Siegfried Westphal

Title: Training and Development of German General Staff Officers
Author: Siegfried Westphal
Publisher: Lightening Source
Year: 2015
Pages: 99
Photos/ Maps:

General der Kavallerie Siegfried Westphal served in the German Army from 1917 until 1945. During that time he was employed in line and staff positions at a variety of levels; specifically Chief of Staff at Divisional, Corps and Army Group level. Following the successful conclusion of the Second World War, the Allied forces under Col SLA Marshall undertook a program of drawing upon German senior officers to draft treatise on their areas of expertise for future generations. Westphal, focused his efforts on the training and professional progression of staff officers within the German General Staff Officer development program.

The book is a reproduction of the original document prepared by Westphal, therefore, while the duplication value is satisfactory, it is not of the highest quality. Nevertheless, the information imparted by Westphal on the German program is of the highest value to both military and civilian agencies. He has divided his report into four distinct parts: The Selection and Education of General Staff Officers in Peace and War, the Organization, Work and Inner Life of the General Staff, the General Staff in WW2 and Basic Problems of the General Staff. Each of these sections is subdivided into areas of detailed study that provide an in-depth analysis based on his personal experience and professional evaluation of these broader headings.

His analysis is insightful and forthright. The recency of his practical experience under high intensity combat operations lends credence to his observations. He emphasizes the necessity to adjust aspects of the training and development of these officers to meet the realities of operations but he identifies key areas which must remain untouched. Additionally, he highlights those aspects of the training that were deficient and had a real time negative effect upon the effectiveness of German combat operations; specifically, he is referring to the logistics and support elements of planning and execution.

This treatise is not long but it is extremely useful in learning from an expert whose has experienced the good and bad of the German General Staff Officer program. That the Germans were well ahead of their counterparts at the time in the development and training of their staff experts is well documented and acknowledged; Westphal’s work provides additional depth and breadth regarding the strengths and weaknesses of this noteworthy organization.     

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

South Pacific Cauldron - Alan Rems

This review was published in the Canadian Naval Review

Title: South Pacific Cauldron
Author: Alan Rems
ISBN: 978-1-61251-470-3
Publisher: Naval Institute Press
Pages: 284
Photos/Maps: 42/16

The public's knowledge of the Pacific Campaign during World War 2 is very limited and focussed. Battles such as Pearl Harbour, Bataan, Singapore, Midway and Iwo Jima come quickly to mind when challenged, but in actual fact, these represent but a few of the myriad of battles fought in the shadows of the European conflict and the Battle of the Atlantic. Rems' intent with this book has been to shed light, in one comprehensive work,  upon those battles fought with no less violence, intensity and anguish in some of the most difficult environments on earth, that have faded from the collective conscience of the world writ large. 

Further marginalizing the history of this conflict was he fact that the South Pacific Campaign served as both a prelude and to secure the southern flank of the much higher profile Central Pacific Offensive launched in late 1943. Maintaining a perspective that incorporates all of the major combatants (US, Japanese, Australian and New Zealand) he has ensured a balanced and studied approach to the successes and failures of the parties  involved and thus an excellent study of lessons for the present.

Commencing with the Battle of Guadalcanal, the author focuses his attention on the operations in the South Pacific chain of island (Primarily the Solomon Islands, New Britain and New Guinea). It is very enlightening and surprising how effective and aggressive the Japanese remained despite an inexorable turning of the tide both in terms of resources and technology. For example, of the twelve naval  battles of the Solomon Island campaign, the Japanese won or drew even in ten of them. Noteworthy technological advantages remained with the Japanese in terms of torpedo and torpedo bomber well into 1944; additionally, superior tactical control of surface assets in combat also remained with the Japanese commanders until the beginning of 1944.

The author undertakes a detailed analysis of the various combatant forces and it is striking the patterns that emerge. For example, it is clear that on the Japanese side, intelligence was woefully inaccurate, repeatedly underestimating Allied forces and intentions. Also, the Japanese were superb jungle fighters able to take advantage of terrain to develop formidable defensive works. As soldiers and aircrew, they were extremely resilient, tough fighters consistently taking horrible casualties compared to the Allies. Additionally, they were often operating under conditions of extreme malnutrition bordering on starvation as well as rampant illness. Logistically, it was evident that the Japanese were operating under extremely adverse conditions and yet, somehow, were able to maintain operational capability despite the incredible shortages. Unfortunately, the author does not provide a great deal of insight into this aspect of the operations limiting his Japanese analysis to the actions of senior officers; this would have been very enlightening and helpful as a counterpoint to the Allied   undertakings.

On the Allied side, his discussions are fascinating. One is struck very early on by the interservice and international rivalries within and between the Allied forces. Resistance to joint operational command was very ingrained and was the cause of a series of losses that could have been avoided. Additionally, the Allies had broken the Japanese codes and were therefore in a much better position to proactively engage. Allied soldiers were equally as tough as their counterparts and a healthy respect for both the climate and between the adversaries was a hallmark of journals and recollections. What was also very interesting, was, especially within the Australian forces, was the employment of Divisions in diametrically opposite environments. Thus the Australian 7th Division, famous for its stand at Tobruk in North Africa was transferred to New Guinea and had to learn from scratch how to become effective jungle fighters. Again, the logistics of the offensives are given scant attention by the author despite the fact that many of the operations were undertaken with the sole purpose of providing operating bases.

Also, in terms of straight numbers, it is easy to understand why these campaigns did not challenge for the limelight in domestic attention. The operations generally involved small numbers of troops when compared with European or even Central Pacific operations) and were long drawn out affairs. Geography and infrastructure ensured that these actions were not quick nor dramatic. The environment was as dangerous and unforgiving as the enemy and was under appreciated at the combatants extreme peril.

Rems provides excellent maps and photographs that serve to reinforce his narrative. Despite the areas of his work that could have been given greater appreciation (the Japanese operational and tactical demands and the logistics of the Allied effort) his writing is strong, his analysis balanced and his style engaging. It is easy to understand, although, unless actually experienced not fully appreciate, the horrible conditions under which these operations took place: determined, unforgiving adversaries, geography that was easily some of the most difficult in the world to operate within and generally ignored in the domestic and world press. A solid bibliography rounds out Rems' work. It serves as a fitting testament to those fighting in a horrific sideline and the challenges that they faced.

The Horns of the Beast - James Stejskal

This review has been submitted to Military History Monthly Magazine.

Title: The Horns of the Beast
Author: James Stejskal
ISBN: 978-1-909982-78-9
Publisher: Helion
Year: 2014
Pages: 140
Photos/ Maps: 64/9

Very few have heard of the Swakop River Campaign in South-West Africa (SWA). Undertaken by South African troops against the forces within the German colony, it was concluded by the Allies in July, 1915. Relatively speaking it was a minor campaign when compared to the European and Turkish conflicts or even, for that matter, the East African campaign in what is today Kenya and Tanzania. Nevertheless, it was important for a number of reasons: it resulted in South Africa being responsible for SWA, it isolated the German surface raiders operating in the Far East and it reduced the German presence overseas.

For the Allies, victory was a forgone conclusion as the German forces were heavily outnumbered and they could not rely upon indigenous forces due to heavy handed policies which had both subdued as well as alienated their relationships. Additionally, German tactics were flawed and poorly executed by their commanders. Psychologically, the German officers were defeated almost immediately and this negativity transferred itself to their responsible forces. Finally, the physical environment in the region was not conducive to guerrilla style warfare being dry and, for the most part, open.

The author has done a good job at analyzing the challenges faced by both adversaries. The South African’s, while heavily outnumbering the Germans, were hampered by poor logistical planning as well as a revolt amongst those Boers who felt that they should not be fighting on behalf of the British Empire. It would have been interesting to have had more information on the nature and extent of this revolt as it was very significant to the timely execution of their mission. The Germans also allowed themselves to be distracted by a confrontation with the Portuguese colony of Angola (with whom they were not even at war). While successful, it removed a significant number of badly needed forces for the period of the three months that these troops were engaged.

Overall, a short but interesting read. The author finishes with photos and notes on the present day conditions of the different battlefields. Recommended for those interested in some of the more peripheral battlefields of WW1. 

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Guns Over Kigali - Henry Kwami Anyidoho

Title: Guns Over Kigali
Author: Henry Kwami Anyidoho
ISBN: 9970-02-143-5
Publisher: Foundation Publishing
Year: 1998
Pages: 131
Photos/ Maps: 34/4

This book is a rendition of the author’s experiences as Deputy Force Commander and Chief of Staff for the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) during the period of the Rwandan Genocide April – July 1994. Brig Anyidoho kept an extensive diary throughout his time with UNAMIR and drew upon these notes and his recollections to draft this treatise on his experiences and to provide a series of lessons learned from the disaster. The accuracy of his observations and recommendations and their relevance to future UN peacekeeping missions was confirmed when many of them were included in the Brahimi Report of 2000 which saw a fundamental overhaul of the UN support and operational ethos.

The author was intimately involved in the period leading up to the civil war and was present throughout the fighting. As such, he was either personally involved or privy to the myriad of challenges relating to negotiations and interactions with Rwandan forces (both Hutu and Tutsi), the international community as well as the UN itself. His insights into the bureaucracies, trials and idiosyncrasies of these organizations and their public and private agendas are extremely enlightening.

Throughout his account, the author comments upon the strengths and weaknesses of the UN system in particular, both logistically and operationally. His views are based on hard operational experience and, being noted at the time of observation, are astute and germane. While it is obvious that he was frustrated by what he perceived as inefficiencies, his approach is not one of blame but of a genuine desire to see the system improved.

He includes in his work an introduction to the causes and history of the Rwandan Crisis, a specific series of recommendations relating to national level command preparation and training, the UN and its policies (politically, operationally and logistically) and the shortcomings in the reactions/capabilities of the Organization of African Unity (precursor to the African Union) and how these may be addressed. Additionally, his work incorporates lessons learned throughout the narrative itself.

Anyidoho is passionate about ensuring that the experiences that he, UNAMIR and the Rwandan people underwent, not be repeated. While many of the lessons and observations that he passes on have been looked at, not all have been effectively addressed. This work is critical reading for those preparing for operations within a UN mission in the African Continent. While much has improved since the days of UNAMIR, there is much that has remained the same and this book provides the reader with an outstanding baseline into UN, African and multinational operational challenges.

Friday, 30 December 2016

The Dark Net - Jamie Bartlett

Title: The Dark Net
Author: Jamie Bartlett
ISBN: 978-1-61219-521-6
Publisher: Melville House
Year: 2014
Pages: 306
Photos/ Maps: 0

One of the most profound initiators of change and social influence for the last two generation has been by far the internet and the reach and access that it provides to society at all levels. More than just a repository of information, it also serves as a platform for anyone, regardless of education, economic stature or social background, to promote their vision of the world and to act as architects of their own brand of change.

Bartlett’s book discusses what he identifies as the Dark Net; “internet underworlds set apart yet connected….worlds of freedom and anonymity, where users say and do what they like, often uncensored, unregulated and outside of society’s norms”. The key here is that it looks at the impact that anonymity has on the behaviours of people. In a world where less and less personal information is perceived to be private, the dark net provides an environment where society’s standards and rules may be cast aside.

Why is this significant? Bartlett’s work at first blush appears to be a rather superficial discussion of the concerns raised periodically by media and governments about the challenges posed by an unregulated body; however, as one moves forward in the book, it is clear that Bartlett’s analysis is both insightful and challenging to conventional thinking. He highlights not just practical questions surrounding issues of Net management and accessibility but also delves into areas with much broader implications; touching upon the fundamentals of our societies and perceptions.

This book is not an esoteric treatise on philosophy, rather a practical and tangible discussion on real world issues being played out online. Questions relating to the use of bitcoin on national economies, amateur pornography as practical revenue generation, sales and marketing of drugs and other items, privacy and government oversight are all discussed using interviews with real world people. Additionally, the ongoing passionate debates between those who feel that technology and the web represent the gateway to the ultimate evolution of man (so called transhumanists) or its downfall (anarcho-primitivists) are presented. Finally, the role that the web plays in facilitating “self-help” in controversial areas such as medicine, suicide, self-mutilation and anorexia is discussed.

The strength of this book lies in its non-judgement of the web, its explanation of the terms and concepts of this aspect of the Net, its balanced presentation of arguments for and against each of its areas of research and finally the questions that it leaves the readers to contemplate. It is for the reader to consider where he or she falls in terms of opinion. This is an excellent introduction and discussion of the challenges and potential existing online. Further, whether one likes it or not, it is the future and what generations of people are being influenced by. In order to better appreciate those things that drive modern decision making and activities, it is critical to understand the motivations and influences accessible to all ages and backgrounds. Not just parents, but leaders in all fields would do well to take the time to acquaint themselves with this world.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Three German Invasions of France – The Summer Campaigns of 1870, 1914 and 1940 - Douglas Fermer

This review has been submitted to the British Military History Journal

Title: Three German Invasions of France – The Summer Campaigns of 1870, 1914 and 1940
Author: Douglas Fermer
ISBN: 978-1-781593-54-7
Publisher: Pen and Sword
Year: 2013
Pages: 273
Photos/ Maps: 30/11

Germany and France have maintained a difficult relationship stemming back to the pre-German unification period of Prussia and Napoleonic France. Three wars were fought between the two nations during the 70 years from 1970 until 1940; each reflecting a period of political, doctrinal and societal change within each nation state. Fermer’s book looks at the root causes and the execution of these wars with a view towards highlighting the impact on these conflicts upon the French army and society primarily and upon Germany secondarily.

Fermer’s analysis is balanced and insightful. Despite the breadth of the topics that he has undertaken to review, he does so in a very succinct manner; the renditions of his observations easy to follow and well developed. His approach is to look at each of the individual engagements as a part of a greater whole. This facilitates a linear examination that clearly identifies the connections and causation's between the wars.

He has divided his book into four distinct parts, each addressing the individual conflicts as well as the precursor period in France leading up to 1870. Each section establishes the environment of the period and the main changes that had occurred as well as the main lessons to be learned from each encounter. Central throughout is the political atmosphere which remains the main cause of the military escalation between the nations. The use of the military as a tool of political gain must be balanced and extremely carefully applied; Fermer shows that, leading to 1870, the Germans were extremely adept at this but that limitations in political acumen by both participants made themselves felt to a greater degree as time went forward. Hubris on the part of both French and German leadership was legion.

Fermer also undertakes a detailed evaluation of the impact of success upon both the victor and vanquished both doctrinally and psychologically. His investigation reveals that the German use of lessons learned following their actions were far more in depth (and taken far more seriously) than their French counterparts. The French were further handicapped by their political instability and ongoing intra-national divergence. This manifested itself in inconsistent recruitment and armament policies as well as challenges in foreign policy.

Also, included in the book is a comprehensive listing of the references that he has utilized; of particular note is the number of primary source documents. Overall this is an outstanding rendition of the turbulent period encompassing these three conflicts. The author has drafted a narrative that recounts the characteristics of the conflicts themselves, the underlying causes (primary, secondary and beyond) and the results politically, militarily and socially thus providing the reader with a complete understanding of this period. Fermer’s book is an excellent account and source. 

Shanghai 1937: Stalingrad on the Yangtze - Peter Harmsen

This review has been submitted to Sabretache Magazine. 

Title: Shanghai 1937: Stalingrad on the Yangtze
Author: Peter Harmsen
ISBN: 978-1-61200-167-8
Publisher: Casemate
Year: 2015
Pages: 310
Photos/Maps: 76/9

The war between Japan and the Chinese has to a great extent been eclipsed by the world conflict in Europe and the Pacific. Nevertheless, the fighting between the two Asian powers was catastrophic to the people of China and a clear precursor to the style of warfare that Japan would undertake in the near future throughout the Pacific. Harmsen’s work on the fighting in Shanghai, a city steeped in intrigue and an international hub, sheds a disturbing and fascinating light onto the nature and dynamic of Far Eastern conflict.

His writing style is easy to follow and encapsulates the strategic and operational focus of operations as well as the experiences of the individual soldiers and officers on each side. He astutely analyzes the doctrinal challenges and strengths of the opposing armies and the role that the international community played as the battle unfolded. Specifically, the role of the German army advisors to the Chinese military is discussed in some detail, shedding light on the challenges and frustrations associated with those working in an advisory capacity.

Additionally, Harmsen discusses the weaknesses of the Japanese and Chinese armies and their slavish adherence to orders and doctrine. Initiative was not a strength that was promoted and this resulted in significant loss of personal and missed opportunity; this was further exacerbated by the nature of the command structure of these armies. The adherence to national doctrine also resulted in each army being able to anticipate exactly how their adversary was going to respond or react to a given situation further aggravating losses.

This weakness was offset by a deep belief in their causes amongst the soldiers. This strength of character of the individual soldiers manifested itself in their incredible ability to overcome adversity and horrific conditions. Despite poor logistics and medical support (and its resultant deprivations), the fighting men on each side continued to undertake operations in horrendous environments, in the full knowledge that surrender or capture by either side was not an option.

Another noteworthy aspect of this work is the study of the lack of empathy and humanity shown by each side in the conduct of operations. Specifically on the Japanese side, this willingness to treat both uniformed adversaries and civilians to the most terrible of atrocities (regardless of their involvement or age) reveals not only a precursor to future behaviours but a weakness in both command and an understanding of the nature of winning the hearts and minds of subdued populations.

Casemate’s publication is of excellent quality with a slightly larger font for easy reading. A comprehensive bibliography and notes section add depth and dimension to the narrative. Harmsen’s book is balanced and very readable; he has ensured a human face to the tragedy that was this battle. There is much to be learned by this insightful work; not the least of which is an appreciation of the psyche of the Chinese and Japanese soldier.