Friday, 18 April 2014

Medieval Warfare - Bob Carruthers

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

Title: Medieval Warfare
Author: Edited and Introduced by Bob Carruthers
ISBN: 978-1-78159-224-3
Pages: 224
Photographs: 43 b/w sketches

Carruthers has undertaken, with his book Medieval Warfare, to bring the work of 19th century Scottish historian and author James Grant to a new audience. The author provides an introductory chapter and then limits his involvement to editing Grant’s work for a more modern reading culture (while still retaining the flavor of the original work). Thus it is that a number of medieval encounters of limited renown, such as Halidon Hill, Najera and Roverai, are once again brought to light alongside a number of better known encounters such as Agincourt, Bannockburn and Hastings.

Each of the seventeen battles reviewed is outlined and discussed in such a manner that the reader is provided an adequate explanation of the background to the conflict and how the engagement unfolded. Each chapter represents an individual battle and each may be read independently without having to refer to earlier parts. This makes for a book that may easily be picked after a period on the shelf and restarted from where one left off.

Along with a discussion of how the battle unfolded, Grant (the original author) provides images of the weapons from the period and explanations of how they were used in combat. He also discusses tactics and planning methods that commanders exercised. These tactics extended to both land and sea borne battles. Thus, for example, the reader is introduced to the use of unslaked lime being thrown from English to French ships during the Battle of Dover in order to blind and burn their adversaries as the English boarded the French ships. Additionally, he also provides fascinating insights into the methods and requirements for the levies that made up the medieval armies. A typical English (non-noble) soldier was expected to be an expert with the long bow and be able to fire at least twelve times a minute with no misses at 250 yards. Grant also incorporates the politics of the period as part of the explanation behind the instigation of hostilities. This can be rather confusing given the convoluted alliances and titles of the medieval period; notwithstanding the fact that strife was just as likely to be instigated both internally within a household as externally between ‘countries’.

The language used by Grant in describing the engagements does come across as somewhat dated; however, this is to be expected as it is essentially his original articles from the mid 1800’s with minor editorial adjustments. Nevertheless, they remain easily read and followed. Additionally, given the time frame between when Grant wrote his pieces and modern analysis of the battles, new information has come to light that has had a significant impact on what we understand took place. Therefore, items such as numbers of combatants involved and the character of individuals (such as King John) while accurate given the information available in the 19th century are somewhat skewed by 21st century evaluations.

I was somewhat less than impressed with the style of the introduction provided by Mr Carruthers. Specifically, I found it to be grammatically awkward in many places and that there exists a series of typographical errors. It struck me as being hastily and casually drafted. Conversely, the information provided by Carruthers as part of his introduction was beneficial as he provides an educational (albeit truncated) synopsis of siege warfare, fortifications, army organization and recruiting from the period.

The book is not long and it covers a significant period of time. Therefore, the degree of depth and analysis of the combats reviewed is relatively short and superficial. Nevertheless, it does achieve a number of successes in that it brings to light a number of key conflicts through which may be traced the development of weapons and tactics throughout the medieval period. Additionally, by introducing the reader to the conflicts, it serves to act as an engaging doorway to stimulate further study into the periods, especially into those battles that have not had the public exposure of Agincourt or Hastings. Overall, I would say that it is a worthwhile and interesting read but not a critical addition to one’s library.


Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Raid de Dieppe - Nicolas Bucourt, Herve Fihue, Frederick Jeanne, Mathieu Masson

Title: Raid de Dieppe
Author: Nicolas Bucourt, Herve Fihue, Frederick Jeanne, Mathieu Masson
ISBN: 978-2-84048-316-8
Pages: 396
Illustrations: Hundreds
Publisher: Heimdal Publishing

                The raid on Dieppe resonates thoughout the annals of Canadian military history as a tragic example of Canadian valor and determination. There are many books that trace the conception, planning, execution and aftermath of this battle but few are as eye-opening and disturbing as this book from Heimdal publishing.

                The authors have collected a stunning array of photographs (colour and black and white) from the days preceding, during and following the battle from both the Allied and German sides. While some of these photographs are very well known, a vast majority are extremely rare and each tells a story. The commentary accompanying the photographs is equally impressive. They provide extensive background on the units (Canadian, Allied and German) involved and balance between individual and collective narratives. Additionally, in depth detail of the individual battles at Berneval, Pourville, Puys and Varengeville are provided through the reproduction of unit histories, eye witness accounts and after action reports.

                As indicated earlier, I have never seen such a collection of photographs of the engagement. They provide outstanding visual reinforcement of the stories surrounding the obstacles that the Canadians faced as they came ashore and the advantages that the Germans had with their control of the high ground overlooking the beaches; in addition are extensive descriptions of what is being shown. The book can also serve effectively as an excellent reference for the battle as the authors provide comprehensive casualty lists, medal recipient information and pre and post activities of the Germans and Allies.

                It is interesting to see the degree of support provided to the Allied wounded and prisoners by the Germans following the battle. There is evidently a significant degree of professionalism and mutual respect as well as a lack of animosity between the adversaries. It is fascinating what the Germans focused on for propaganda purposes and also the level of interest that this engagement spawned from senior German commanders (as evidenced by visits from Marshall von Rundstedt, Albert Speer and SS-Ogruf Sepp Dietrich). Additionally, the authors outline how the Canadian armoured vehicles were recovered, evaluated and then put into service by the Germans on the Eastern front.

                Aug 19th will continue to be remembered as a black day in the annals of Canadian military history. This book, with its outstanding production value and unprecedented depth and breadth of visual and narrative reconstruction of the battle, is an absolute necessity for any personal library. The book is only available with French text; however, don’t let that dissuade the potential non-French buyer. It is worth every penny.

Killing Sheep: The Righteous Insurgent - Mark Blackard

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

Title: Killing Sheep: The Righteous Insurgent
Author: Mark Blackard
ISBN: 9781936956005
Pages: 299
Illustrations: 17 Colour
Publisher: Morris Publishing

I will say at the outset that when I received this book to review I did not anticipate enjoying it. My initial thought was one of “another author who knows all of the answers better than everyone else”. After reading Blackard’s book I came away with a very different impression. Certainly he is very critical of the US and its policies/procedures/attitudes within Afghanistan and the book is not a balanced evaluation of how things are accomplished (for example, Blackard is not adverse to making very sweeping generalizations critical of the US command structure without trying to understand why some of these things are in place) but he does make some very interesting points/observations from his perspective working with the Afghans directly.

The author, Mark Blackard, arrived in Afghanistan in 2009 for a one year stint, after a twelve year career as a narcotics police officer and two tours embedded with US marines in Fallujah, Iraq. He was employed as a contractor working as an advisor/operator as part of the JIEDDO (Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization). His role in Afghanistan was to act as an advisor to Afghan law enforcement (working in conjunction with, but not for, the US military) to combat the IED (Improvised Explosive Device) threat in the region of Jalalabad. Blackard’s book recounts his experiences over the course of that year. He outlines his team’s successes and failures, the effect of overlaying a US military bureaucracy over operations in the Afghan region, his relationship and respect for his Afghan teammates and his trust and regard for their competency working issues the ‘Afghan’ way versus the western way. He also recounts to a great extent his frustration with the conduct of the Afghan war by senior US military and government agencies. Specifically, he sees them as out of touch with the realities of the Afghan people and racist/intolerant of those who are not ‘western’.

The book is written from a tactical perspective; that is to say that there is no attempt (or intention) of trying to evaluate the conflict beyond the confines of his and his teams immediate experiences. Blackard’s writing style is very informal in keeping with his overall approach to life and operations. He defines things very much in a black and white fashion. That is to say that there is very little room in his evaluations for actions that are not in keeping with his perception of how things should be conducted. For example he is very harsh in his criticism of the death of Afghan civilians resulting from US operations. He views these all as murder and perceives the US as having little to no regard for these actions. If effect, as far as Blackard is concerned, the US military leadership does not care about these losses (referring to them simply as collateral damage).

While Blackard’s observations and arguments are simplistic, he does touch upon a number of valid issues that will continue to affect the conduct and effectiveness of asymmetric (and symmetric) conflicts in the future.

1.       First and foremost, the growing level of risk aversion amongst military and civilian leadership. Without doubt this is one of the greatest challenges facing the west today as it affects every aspect of how operations are conducted from planning to execution. Blackard came face to face with this on a regular basis and his examples are enlightening and disturbing.

2.       The increasing effect that utilizing technology such as drones has on soldiers. In essence these technologies distance them from the effects of their actions thereby enabling them to disassociate themselves from the results. War becomes more of a video game as opposed to a gritty, hands-on experience. This in turn affects mind sets and paradigms surrounding conduct of war. Friendly casualties are less tolerated and there are greater gulfs/distances created between the Afghan population and the Allied forces. This is in turn leads to a lower level of understanding of the different cultures which in turn affects trust and confidence between the Afghan people and the western forces.

3.       The bureaucracy of a modern military regarding administrative oversight and C2 (command and control). Western militaries are becoming more and more regimented and structured such that decision making and administration are no longer timely and efficient. Blackard sites several examples of his inability to fund/execute operations that he was mandated to perform due to convoluted lines of command.

4.       The ethical conflict relating to the realities on the ground to the expectations of the bureaucracy. Blackard writes of undertaking drug interdiction operations where, in order to ensure the literal survival of the families involved, some drugs had to be left behind to provide them income. These are challenges and realities of life in these locations and is reflective of the types of decisions that personal are forced to face and decide upon.
Overall, Blackard’s book is an interesting and engaging read. As stated, he is somewhat simplistic in his views. There is no question that Blackard has no tolerance or time for those he views as bureaucratic ‘company men’ and he thrives in the ‘wild-west’ atmosphere of Afghanistan where he is constrained minimally by regulation and oversight. In my opinion, his book, despite making some very valid points, loses some credibility with his constant criticism of the US military and government thereby undermining some of the strengths of his own arguments.

The Other Side of the Wire Vol 2 - Ralph J. Whitehead

The information presented was written by Chris Buckham; however, it was published in The Canadian Military History 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 CMHJ ( Website for the Journal is:

Title: The Other Side of the Wire Vol 2
Author: Ralph J. Whitehead
ISBN: 978-1-907677-12-0
Pages: 481
Photographs//Maps: 255 b/w, 32 maps

Ralph Whitehead’s seminal work on the experiences of the XIV German Reserve Corps during the first day of the Battle of the Somme (1st July, 1916) is one of the most comprehensive accounts of the German perspective during the fight. The date, which has been connected with the death of the ‘old’ British Army (as a result of the 60,000 casualties sustained in one days operations), has been extensively written about from the perspective of the Allies. Comparatively speaking, very little has been researched or drafted from the side of the Central Powers; this book serves as the “audi alteram partem” (to hear the other side), for the Germans.

The author, while not a professional historian, has an admitted fascination with the First World War and the experiences of the German Army in particular. He has therefore taken it upon himself to research and present the German experience. He has consulted extensively the unit histories and firsthand accounts left by survivors. His attention to the XIV German Reserve Corps has resulted in a level of detail unparalleled in a vast majority of histories. Following on the success of his first volume, which tracked the activities of the Corps from September, 1914 until June 1916, Whitehead has narrowed his focus to a single 24 hour period that has been recognized as a defining interaction between the British and the German armies.
Given that the focus of this book is limited to July 1st, 1916 in the region of the XIV Reserve Corps, it is logical that the primary focus will be tactical with an operational component setting the environment for the reader. Whitehead has taken a very structured approach to outlining the battle space for the reader; this is very helpful given the number of units and locations involved. The battlefield descriptions are  broken down regionally running from the north to the south through the XIV Corps area of operations by German unit (thus commencing in front of Beaumont-Hamel with Regiments 121 and 119). Using German operational maps (either original or reproduced for clarity) he subdivides his narrative into individual company size engagements according to pre-existing delineations identified by the Germans. Further scope and depth are added by the inclusion of photographs, maps and firsthand individual recollections all relating to that particular engagement.

The maps used to illustrate the book are, for the most part, very beneficial. They are all in their original German but are relatively easy to follow. It would have been helpful to have had a single overall ‘control’ map at the beginning of the book in order to provide context. Some unfortunately, are far too detailed and busy and are therefore of questionable benefit to the narrative.

Whitehead provides an excellent chart outlining the German rank structure and there equivalents in the English system. This is of note due to the fact that he refers to soldiers mentioned by their regimental rank affiliation as opposed to a standardized one. Thus a medical captain is not a Hauptmann but a Stabsarzt and a Sergeant Major in the cavalry is identified by his proper Wachtmeister as opposed to the standard Feldwebel. This is indicative of the attention to detail incumbent in this book.

Additionally, through the narration of the British assaults and the German responses, the reader comes to understand in much greater detail the evolution and nature of trench warfare at this stage of the war. How communications were executed, command and control maintained, the immediate response drills of the Germans to breaches in the trench system and the horror and close-in violence of hand grenade, entrenching tool and machine gun engagements are all outlined in explicit detail. Perhaps of a more insidious and psychological nature are the experiences of the soldiers waiting out the prolonged (in this case eight days) British artillery preparation for the assault, waiting in their deep bunkers unable to strike back but focused on the opportunity for payback; having only to endure. This followed by the post battle images and sounds of the thousands of British dead and wounded trapped in no-man’s land, unable to reach safety and succor, doomed in many cases to die alone and in pain; often times meters from the German lines.

The psychology and mental strength of the German soldier under these conditions is also revealed through their personal writings and recollections; Whitehead’s narrative sheds light on some of the  coping mechanisms of the individual soldiers. Given, however, the fact that this narrative centres upon one of the more violent days of the war exclusively, it is easy for the reader to forget that this was an exceptional level of violence and not the norm. Despite the fact that the book focusses almost exclusively on the German experience, the reader cannot help but also be moved by the sheer scope of the British slaughter (on average at least at a ratio of 10:1) and the audacity and courage with which they pressed their attacks.

It must be stressed that this is not a book specifically studying and interpreting strategy or the changing nature of war and its effects upon the individual soldier. Rather, Whitehead has recreated the conditions and experiences of the German units and soldiers as they unfolded on 1 July, 1916. Through his narrative and the narratives of the soldiers themselves, the reader is provided an insight, albeit one bracketed by the limitations of language, into one horrible day. His primary source material (both published and unpublished), drawing upon numerous unit histories and first person recollections, is notably augmented by an extensive secondary source list.

Helion, has produced a first rate book of the highest quality. Ralph Whitehead has written a book that is a critical addition to any aspiring military historian of a professional or casual background. This book is recommended in the strongest possible terms.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Navies of South-East Asia: A Comparative Study - James Goldrick and Jack McCaffrie

The information presented was written by Chris Buckham; however, it was published in The Canadian Naval Review. Therefore, the material is reproduced here by the author with the permission of the Review. If you would like to republish this information or refer to excerpts please contact the Editor CNR (Ann.Griffiths@Dal.Ca). Website for the Review is:

Title: Navies of South-East Asia: A comparative study
Author: James Goldrick and Jack McCaffrie
ISBN: 978-0-4158-09429
Pages: 302

Goldrick and McCaffrie have written an educational and enlightening book on the development and present day level of effectiveness of navies in South-East Asia. They have consciously excluded the larger, more widely known countries of Japan and China in order to focus upon the smaller, developing countries that encompass this region.

The first chapter is used to provide the context within which the national evaluations are undertaken. Therefore the historical influences of colonialism, primary training doctrine and methodology of the UK, US and USSR on long term development, role of the navy within society and the physical requirements (both long and short term) of establishing an independent navy are investigated at length. Additionally, they also define national navies in terms of an easy to follow chart that clearly identifies parameters of capability, developed by Morris/Grove, termed the “Hierarchy of Navies” (HN).

The follow on chapters are specific analysis of individual countries: Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, South Vietnam and the People’s Army of Vietnam Navy are all addressed. Each of the chapters is structured in a similar manner thereby providing for ease of comprehension and a common method of evaluation. The historical development of each of the fleets and the factors affecting them are laid out in an easy to decipher manner. The authors are to be complimented on the way in which they are able to present what, in reality, are very complicated and involved issues. Thus, for example, the unique challenges of Brunei where the limiting factor on the navy is not cost but population as opposed to the Philippines where both internal instability and cost were key factors on development and employment.

Their concluding chapter focuses on the influences of the present and future that will drive development including the diminishment of US regional influence, the quest for disputed resources especially centering upon the Spratly Islands, the growing assertiveness of China and the increasing internal stability of the nations that are the focus of this review. Additionally, the authors provide some very concrete insights for regional progression. These focus on the need for cooperation between the smaller states, a proactive acceptance that naval progression requires not only good governance but also long term commitment and a realization of the critical need for inter-agency operability. They also extrapolate where they anticipate the countries will be in terms of the (HN) in the next few years.

The book itself is of a very high production value. Included in the text is an extensive acronym /abbreviation listing (critical for understanding the jargon associated with each country); in addition to this is a comprehensive bibliography and footnotes. I would have liked to have seen a regional map at the front of the book in order to provide a quick reference of the area.

Goldrick and McCaffrie have produced a stellar reference for the navies of the Far East. What sets this apart is that it looks at the history and factors in development as opposed to a two-dimensional rendition of ship types and capability. They focus on what happens behind the scenes and where they anticipate this is leading to. This book is not for the casual reader but rather for those with a more focused interest in the naval development of the region. Recommended.

Terror in the Balkans: German Armies and Partisan Warfare - Ben Shepherd

The information presented was written by Chris Buckham; however, it was published in The Canadian Military History 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 CMHJ ( Website for the Journal is:

Title: Terror in the Balkans: German Armies and Partisan Warfare
Author: Ben Shepherd
ISBN: 978-0-674-04891-1
Pages: 342
Publisher: Harvard University Press
Photos/Maps: 16 b/w// 6

Ben Shepherd has written an engaging and very thought-provoking book. Given the relatively recent experiences of the western countries involved in the Yugoslav breakup and the subsequent Bosnian War of the early to mid 1990's, his observations and conclusions bridge the historical gap and provide enticing context for the reader. The similarities between the issues of the Austro-Hungarian period and the period of German occupation relating to intercene rivalries are striking in their close relationship to the modern day events in the region.

Shepherd commences his narrative far before the Second World War, during the period leading up to the First World War, analyzing the makeup of the German/Austro-Hungarian Officer corps. He traces the influences and metamorphoses of the leadership of the Army as it is rapidly expanded beyond its traditional recruiting zone to meet the demands of the First World War, contracted again following the defeat of the Central Powers and then expanded once again as WW2 loomed. What is fascinating about the forty year period with which he introduces his book, is the degree to which he shows the army command being dramatically influenced by the fundamental transformational changes within 'German' (read Austrian and German) nation state and the effect that this has upon, the views and conducts of the junior officers of 1914-1918, transformed into the senior officers of 1939-1945.  

Once he has established this framework, he then delves into the nature and environment of the operations themselves; specifically focusing upon the physical and demographic challenges faced by the Germans as well as the shortcomings associated with their evaluation of the regional issues. Shepherd succinctly relates the evolution of the nature of combat within the region from conventional to asymmetric and is able to convey to the reader the convoluted and confusing nature of the conflict. 

For the modern strategist, a number of lessons may be drawn relating to how and why the Germans enjoyed success in some areas and continued frustration in others. Notably:

a.      The development of hunter groups to track and engage insurgents. The Germans, specifically of the 718th ID, recognizing that they, as an occupation Division, did not have the depth of capability that a normal front line division would have, played to their strengths and developed a concept of highly mobile, well-armed units that would take the fight via swift tactical strikes to the enemy;

b.      The Germans had never been faced with insurgent style of warfare on the scale that they were dealing with in Yugoslavia. Doctrinally, they were not well equipped to deal with how to fight a war of this nature. Therefore their reactions tended to be very heavy handed, generalized and brutal which, while successful to a certain degree, did not facilitate a long term pacification program;

c.       Doctrinally, there did not appear to be a common approach to dealing with the rebels. Thus the success of the hunter group tactics of the 718 ID were not mirrored by other divisions operating within the same region;

d.      As stated above, the Germans had not been faced with a concerted program of resistance before Yugoslavia. They therefore underestimated the forces necessary to keep the region pacified. This lack of resources led the Germans to respond in a number of ways: utilizing surrogate forces such as the Ustacha and Chetniks as well as by overreacting to attacks by judging any civilians in the region as guilty by association and therefore subject to summary judgement. This type of behaviour resulting in a further alienation of the population writ large and an undermining of the credibility of the Wehrmacht as it was seen to be abrogating its authority to groups whose actions were nothing if not more brutal and depraved; and

e.      The Germans divided the command and control of their forces between different regional commands resulting in diverging centres of gravity and an inefficient use of scarce resources. This situation was alleviated later on in the conflict but served to dilute their response power for the early years of the war.

Shepherd identifies six major players in the Yugoslav tapestry: Bosians, Chetniks (Serb resistance), Ustacha (Croat government fighters), Partisans (communist rebels), Italians (occupation forces) and the Germans. The convoluted relationship enjoyed by all of these groups was, to say the least, phenomenally confusing. Each had multiple agenda's and one's enemy today may very well be one's ally tomorrow. This precluded the Germans from developing a consistent long term stabilization strategy as a dearth of resources forced them to rely significantly upon one group or another. Shepherd's relating of this ongoing Gordian Knot saga is commendable.

The author shares his focus between the divisional commanders of the primary German divisions engaged in long term operations within Yugoslavia; their individual histories and influences and the general behaviour of the divisions during their tenure in command. This is very interesting for the reader as it studies the influences that the experiences of the commanders had on their responses to these regional crisis. It is a worthy attempt at connecting the psychological histories of these men with  their command actions.

The book has extensive notes section that provides critical additional information for the reader and a somewhat limited bibliography highlighting primary source material on specific Divisional Commanders. One area that was somewhat distracting was the tendency of the author to make observations relating to extreme forms of behaviour or outlook (such as anti-Semitism or the impact of social Darwinism within the officer ranks) only to mitigate the impact in the next sentence with a moderating comment suggesting that the item should not be over-emphasized.  Also his comments relating to the effects of specialization within the officer corps limiting "out of the box" thinking would appear to be contradicted by the fact that the German army of both the First and Second World Wars displayed considerable ability to improvise.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed this book and feel that it is very worthwhile for aspiring leaders to learn from. The challenges of the Yugoslav region have not changed from one hundred years ago and Shepherd has done a praiseworthy job of making sense out of a tremendously complicated region of World War 2.