Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Concrete Hell - Louis A DiMarco

The information presented was written by Chris Buckham; however, it was published in The Canadian Army Journal. Therefore, the material is reproduced here by the author with the permission of the journal. If you would like to republish this information or refer to excerpts please contact the Editor Canadian Army Journal ( Website for the Journal is:

Title: Concrete Hell: Urban Warfare From Stalingrad to Iraq
Author: Louis A DiMarco
ISBN: 978-1-84908-792-6
Pages: 232
Illustrations: 47 B/W, 19 Colour
Publisher: Osprey Publishing

                An element of warfare that rarely receives the degree of attention warranted is fighting in built up areas. Historians tracing the unfolding of a campaign will talk about fighting in Caen, Krakov or Warsaw but don’t delve into the details. Louis DiMarco’s book looks to address this oversight through an analysis of city fighting over the last century. His stated intention with this book is threefold: provide the reader with an overall understanding of the urban battlespace, analyse doctrinal insights – based on case studies – into factors affecting the execution of urban operations, and trace the evolution of urban warfare from the 20th and early 21st century. He undertakes this effort through a series of case studies of urban conflicts commencing with World War 2 and running through to Iraq.

                DiMarco’s work is interesting and useful in that it spends a great deal of effort providing a strategic and operational level (‘big hand/small map’) overview of the conflict and the events leading up to it. The challenge with this is that the degree of analysis of the evolution of urban warfare is somewhat limited. I would have anticipated a greater attention and focus on the actual development and execution of urban doctrine. Additionally, DiMarco’s premise (identified in Chapter 1) that ‘warfare’s historically traditional locale’ is the urban battle space is, in my opinion, not accurate. One does not have to look very hard to find innumerable historical examples of field combat, siege warfare and, least of all, fighting in urban settings that underscore the multi-facetted nature of war.
              Nevertheless, DiMarco’s work does have some very valuable analysis associated with it. He does identify a number of consistent themes associated with success in urban combat. Intelligence, isolating the environment from reinforcement, specialized weapon systems and joint operating teams as well as working to separate the combatants (both conventional and asymmetric) from their civilian population support base all retain resonance. Additionally, the failure of many nations to remember and learn the lessons from the past (therefore failing to apply them) proved to be both costly and time-consuming.   

                DiMarco has produced a worthy product but it attempts to address too many issues that are secondary to, and have little bearing on, his stated primary focus. A good example of this was his discussion of the use of Republic of South Korean forces in the retaking of Seoul during the Korean War. The author’s outline of their involvement, while interesting, adds nothing to the discussion of how urban warfare was undertaken and developed.

                I enjoyed his work as a general analysis of the battlefields that he reviews but the book left me somewhat underwhelmed. I had anticipated, given his introduction, much more effort to be given to the how’s and why’s of urban conflict itself. Also I think that a number of his premises, while not completely incorrect, are somewhat skewed. The book is worth a read but with a critical eye.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

The Daring Dozen - Gavin Mortimer

The information presented was written by Chris Buckham; however, it was published in Sabretache Journal. Therefore, the material is reproduced here by the author with the permission of the Journal. If you would like to republish this information or refer to excerpts please contact:  Website for the Journal is:

Title: The Daring Dozen
Author: Gavin Mortimer
ISBN: 978-1-84908-842-8
Pages: 303
Photographs: 14 b/w

It has been commonly said that necessity is the mother of invention, certainly in the case of warfare many obstacles are removed as the operational need outweighs tradition and convention. Mortimer's book The Daring Dozen, tells the story about twelve unconventional warriors and the impact that they made on the outcome of the Second World War. His approach is to provide an overall introduction to the nature of and what contitutes special operations followed by twelve chapters each dedicated to an individual and their exploits. He focuses upon the UK, Italy, US and Germany and it is interesting (and somewhat telling) that the USSR and Japan do not have any additions.

What is fascinating about the book is the similarity of challenges faced by Special Forces' advocates in each of the countries and also the common personality threads that each of the national advocates shared. In almost every case, the individuals behind the creation of these organizations were considered to be poor traditional soldiers (not in terms of ability but in terms of acceptance of status quo) and faced significant resistance to their “out of the box thinking”. They also tended to have a short fuse when it came to dealing with conventional chains of command.

Mortimer has not provided a conclusion with his work. This is not a significant issue in my opinion as his focus is upon the individual leaders not the concept of special forces themselves. What is noteworthy to be gleaned from the studies is insight into why some countries were more successful than others regarding the development of special operations. For example, the question relating to why the Germans never developed an equivalent force to the UK’s Long Range Desert Patrol is interesting. After all, they both operated in the same environment and the Germans had shown a marked ability to think non-traditionally (note the airborne glider attack on Eben Emael). It would appear that the appetite for the development of operations outside of the conventional envelope was much more limited within Germany than in the UK.

The author approaches his subjects as unique chapters. Therefore the book may be read in individual chunks without losing any of the flow or content. This is beneficial if you have an interest in the subject but little time to read. The approach and layout is similar for each; topics are traced from their pre-spec ops period and followed as they developed into the driving force behind their nations’ operational development. Through this, challenges, operations and successes are identified and discussed. Additionally, the difficulty many had in the post war period is also discussed in some detail. One can imagine the shock of trying to transition from a semi-autonomous fighting commander involved in high risk, high adrenaline activities to suddenly finding oneself once again under the scrutiny of conventional forces in a peace time environment; many, understandably, had significant difficulty transitioning. Also of interest was the change in attitude of the Governments towards the post war maintenance of special ops forces. In many cases units were summarily disbanded (such as the SAS) as Governments and conventional militaries could not appreciate a continued requirement for their skill sets.

Overall, this was an informative and well researched book. It was not a difficult read and serves as a good introduction to the major players of the early special operations communities. What we take for granted today regarding the use of special forces in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan owes its conception to those pioneers reviewed in this book. Naturally, the degree of detail for each individual is limited due to the amount of space allotted to them; nevertheless, I would recommend this book as a solid general history of the inception of Special Forces.