Thursday, 31 December 2015

Mussonlini’s Death March: Eyewitness Accounts of Italian Soldiers on the Eastern Front - Nuto Revelli

This review was submitted to Army History Magazine.


Title: Mussonlini’s Death March: Eyewitness Accounts of Italian Soldiers on the Eastern Front
Author: Nuto Revelli
ISBN: 978-0-7006-1908-5
Hardcover
Pages: 540
Illustrations: 2 maps
Publisher: University of Kansas Press

                When one considers the war on the Eastern Front, it is very easy to fall into the trap of assuming that the war was exclusively between the Germans and Soviets (with a smattering of other nations). This is far from the truth; other nations provided significant forces operating under their own command and control, to the struggles in the East. The Italians provided an expeditionary army known as ARMIR (Italian Army in Russia and later the Italian 8th Army) consisting of a total of approximately 230,000 men. A vast majority of them (150,000) operated along the Don River and were thus overwhelmed by the Russian Operation Uranus (the code name for the overall operation in Stalingrad) in Dec 1942; of this total the Italians suffered 85,000 dead or missing and 27,000 wounded or frostbitten. An additional tragedy for the Italian servicemen was that, following the end of the war 10,000 prisoners were returned in either 1945 or 1946 by the Soviets (even though Italy had surrendered in 1943).

                Following the cessation of hostilities, Italy succumbed to a significant amount of internal upheaval as it struggled to emerge from the shadow of fascism and the extensive amount of destruction wrought by the war. Central to this were the struggles between the supporters of communism and capitalism. Veterans were therefore treated with varying degrees of disdain depending upon who they were dealing with in government.

Nuto Revelli was a veteran of the Eastern front; a veteran who escaped capture by the Russians and became a partisan following Italy’s surrender. A resident of the Cuneo region of Northwestern Italy, he was a member of the elite Alpini; divisions trained for conflict in the rugged mountains of Italy’s northern border. He became a professional historian after the war and decided that the story of Italy’s efforts, as related by the soldiers that fought, was lacking. He therefore interviewed 43 veterans of his region, all having experienced combat on the Eastern front and transcribed their stories verbatim. Originally collected and printed in Italian in 1966, the text has been translated by John Penuel for a reissue in English for the first time.

                There are a number of lessons which may be gleaned from the writings provided and it must be emphasized that the texts are all from the perspective of, for the most part, private and junior NCO soldiers (there are two officers, a lieutenant and a captain also included). They therefore did not have access to high level planning, strategy or visibility. Thus their views are quite narrow in keeping with what they were exposed to; but very telling in what they recall and what was of significance to them:

1.       Logistics at most levels of engagement were disastrous. Soldiers did not receive proper food or clothing to the point where, even within the Italian peninsula, there were still multiple cases of having to ‘live off of the land’. Uniforms and footwear were inadequate for conditions and were of poor quality. Mail delivery was inadequate and unreliable. The entire logistics system of the Italian military appears (from the perspective of the soldiers involved) to have been extremely tenuous and quickly failed under the pressure of the Russian campaign.

2.       Utilization of the forces in question was inappropriate. The divisions of the Alpini were trained and equipped to operate in mountainous conditions, not as general infantry. Thus their equipment (ie mountain artillery), training and expertise was not only misapplied but inadequate to deal with the equipment and numbers of the Soviet forces facing them.

3.       Leadership was found wanting within the Italian military as was training. As a general rule, officers did not mix with the soldiers and information regarding locations, destinations and conditions were withheld from the troops. Thus they lacked not only situational awareness but trust in their chains of command.  

4.       There was significant animosity and mistrust between the Germans and the Italians even during the period that they were allies. This perception of being the weaker of the allies and the condescension with which the Germans treated them did not promote harmony or develop common goals and visions. The Italian perception as they deployed for Russia was that Germany will have taken care of a vast majority of the fighting.

5.       Transport was very poor for the Italians. The Germans had requested “truck transported” units. The Italians provided “truck transportable” units meaning that they were trained to move by vehicle but had no integral transport equipment. This resulted in long marches, frostbite and soldiers that were both exhausted and suffering from terrible morale.

6.       Post war Italy was more interested in moving forward then caring for their injured, repatriating soldiers. The soldiers were eligible for multiple war pensions but the process and timeline set up by the government to have them actioned was so convoluted and inefficient that many were still not receiving money ten years following their return.

This is not an easy book to read. Notwithstanding the impact of the raw testimony from the survivors that, in itself, strains one’s ability to comprehend, the reader certainly feels the extent of the resignation to their individual fates. They have lost the passions of youth and have been crushed by fate and circumstance.

This book is also very difficult to read because of the style of the presentation. Because the testimony of the veterans is presented verbatim with very little editing, it is at times hard to follow and understand. This style is a two edged sword as it presents with deep legitimacy but also, lacking in context, it can be somewhat confusing.


Overall, this is a very moving work to the sacrifices of the Italian soldier on the Eastern front. It does not look at strategy or operational success and failure; it serves merely as a medium by which the soldier can tell his story. It provides very interesting insight into the experiences of these men in captivity and their reception upon repatriation and, additionally, what they anticipated going into Russia. The production value of the book is high and the translation from Italian very good. It is a work that should be read in conjunction with an operational history of the Italian Expeditionary Army in order to assist with context. 

Behind the Lines: A Critical Survey of Special Operations in World War II - Michael F. Dilley

This review was submitted to Military History Monthly Magazine.

Title: Behind the Lines: A Critical Survey of Special Operations in World War II
Author: Michael F. Dilley
ISBN: 978-1-61200-183-8
Pages: 262
Publisher: Casemate Harvard University Press
Photos/Maps: 30 b/w

Michael Dilley has drafted an interesting work outlining the role of Special Operations in the execution of tasks during World War II. Utilizing criteria established by spec ops authors William H. McRaven and Lucien S. Vandenbroucke, he drafts a synopsis of an operation and then provides an evaluation of the planning and execution against the identified criteria. Additionally, he has divided his book into two distinct sections; the first relating to operations behind enemy lines and the second referring to operations behind friendly lines.

While Mr Dilley’s book provides some interesting insight into the operations that he has selected and draws attention to previously little known capabilities/units (such as the Japanese ‘Golden Kites’) I felt that his criteria for selection and review left me somewhat confused. Modern criteria will divide forces into Tier 1 and Tier 2 units; Tier 1 being the small unit assault for specific missions and Tier 2 being those units such as Rangers or Parachute regiments that require additional training and specialization. That being the case, his focus, I would suggest, is somewhat broader than Special Operations and more attuned to Special Forces.

A number of his reviews such as that of the Russian ‘Locusts’, Japanese ‘Golden Kites’ and the ‘Triple Nickle’ are confusing as they appear to more along the line of standard parachute unit assaults or, in the case of Triple Nickle, aid to civil power. The exclusion of units such as the Italian Decima Flottiglia mass attack on the port of Alexandria in 1941 was very surprising with its absence. Additionally, I noted that there were no footnotes supporting any of the narratives.

What was positive was the provision of a bibliography at the end of each chapter relating specifically to the missions discussed. Also, I did like the synopsis in the appendices which laid down the evaluation techniques of spec ops in detail.

Overall, a high production value book that sheds light on a number of units and missions that have faded from collective memory; from the perspective of viable case studies however, of limited benefit. I give this an average recommendation.

Barbarossa Unleashed - Craig W H Luther

This review has been submitted to the Journal of the RCAF

Title: Barbarossa Unleashed
Author: Craig W H Luther
ISBN: 978-0-7643-4376-6
Publisher: Schiffer
Year: 2013
Hardcover
Pages: 712
Photographs/maps: 185/23 handout

The number of books written about the German invasion of the Soviet Union on 22 June, 1941 is legion. Thus it is that in order to stand out, a book must have some aspect of it that makes it unique  from the others; Luther's book has two. The first focuses upon the build-up to Barbarossa; not just the political and operational planning - that has been well covered - but the logistical detail and execution. Secondly, he limits (and I use the term loosely given the detail of the book) his narrative to the operations of Army Group Centre and its drive on Moscow. This narrowing of the scope of Luther's book highlights for the reader the immense challenges associated with Barbarossa and, most importantly from a learning perspective, what was done well by both the Soviet's and Germans and what was not.

Logistics is not an exciting field of military operations and planning and many of the histories of Barbarossa, while acknowledging it, pay only a cursory nod to the critical role that it played as well as the amount of work it took to execute as well as plan effectively. Luther does not do this; dedicating a full quarter of his work to the German planning, pre-deployment and deployment phases of the operation. The sheer numbers and complexity of the buildup and movement of the forces involved (for Army Group Centre alone) is staggering: well over 127,000 tons of ammunition, 52,000 tons of fuel, 45,800 tons of rations (these values equated to 20 days of supply only), millions of men and horses, vehicles and equipment from across Europe, in secret, to staging areas along the Soviet/German border. The movement tables for the railway system show hundreds of trains flowing the resources east; a five phased operation over a period February to June and entailing over 220 trains per day at its peak. Luther has done an excellent job highlighting this phenomenal success and providing an appreciation of the scope, distance and complexity of this undertaking.

He also goes beyond simply the reiteration of fact and provides the reader with an analysis of why the Germans arrived at the planning assumptions that they did and how that ultimately affected the outcome of the operation. He draws clear and concise lines of evaluation between a decision at the planning stage and its trickle down effect through the operational and tactical levels of execution. He also emphasizes the flexibility of the German support system with his discussion of the last minute decision to move 8 Air Corps across the lines of deployment. This decision to change the operational area of this massive organization (over 8000 vehicles alone) had the potential to derail the entire eastern deployment; that it did not was testament to the capability of the German logistics system.

Luther has drawn upon an extensive series of sources from both the Soviet and German archives as well as a massive amount of secondary sources. Each chapter is provided with its own end-notes thereby facilitating quick and timely review by the reader. As he transitions from the build-up to the execution phase of the campaign it is interesting that he maintains the balance between the frontline operations, the growing logistical challenges and the impact of the continued dysfunction between the strategic priorities of Hitler and those of OKW. His writing style seamlessly flows between these aspects and he brings a critical eye to his  evaluation of the impacts of these challenges.

His focus is upon the German onslaught to the gates of Moscow but he does incorporate into his study an analysis of the strengths and weakness of the Soviet military and its operational capacities. In doing so he provides a clear control line for the reader in terms of an evaluation of the capabilities of the adversaries.

The book itself is a very healthy tome. Included with it are a series of operational maps (in German) of the various periods leading up to the December battles outside of Moscow. The production value of the book is high and the text easily readable.

Luther has written a comprehensive and deeply analytical study of the lead up, launch and task execution of Army Group Centre in the monumental Barbarossa operation. This could be a very dry and dusty recitation of statistics and movements; however, he avoids this through a dynamic and engaging style that incorporates both an operational canvas and personal facets for the soldiers involved. His review of the logistics challenges married with the flawed intelligence and planning assumptions and evaluations go far in explaining how and why the Germans reached the zenith of their offensive capability literally at the gates of Moscow. Highly recommended as a an addition to any library on the Second World War. 



Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Wars, Pestilence and the Surgeon's Blade - Thomas Scotland and Steven Heys

Chris Buckham (2015) "Wars Pestilence and the Surgeon's Blade (Book Review)" Canadian Military History: Vol 24 Iss 2.

Title: Wars, Pestilence and the Surgeon's Blade

Authors: Thomas Scotland and Steven Heys
ISBN: 978-1-909384-09-5
Publisher: Helion and Company Ltd
Hardback
Pages: 407
Photos: 78

There are two things guaranteed when it comes to warfare: death and injury. The authors, following on their extremely informative first book "War Surgery 1914-1918", have undertaken to shed light upon the development of surgical and medical practices throughout the 19th Century; focussing particularly upon three capstone events: the Peninsular war of 1808 -1814, the Crimean War 1853 -1856 and the Boer War of 1899 -1902. Each is studied in detail with a view towards determining where things had improved, stayed the same or regressed. Concurrent to this they highlight the activities of individuals who made significant contributions in a variety of areas that moved both knowledge and yardsticks relating to medicine and the administration thereof.

Scotland and Heys's evaluation falls into five distinct categories: medical surgery, administration and bureaucracy, logistics, lessons learned and statistical analysis. Each played a significant part in the expansion of knowledge and competency. The approach taken by the authors is to integrate the five together within the narrative in order to facilitate a multi-dimensional picture for the reader of the advancement (and regression) of medical support to the military.

It is both fascinating and disturbing to read about the lack of appreciation by British military (and civilian) leaders of the importance that a sound medical support system had for the successful execution of campaigns. It was only with the Peninsular campaign and the appointment of Dr James McGrigor as Wellington's Chief Medical Officer that the first steps in the formalization of medical care were taken. It was McGrigor who introduced the maintenance of patient records, standardized hospital care and recovery of wounded from the battlefield. He also established basic standards of training and education for those wishing to become military medical officers. Through his efforts, the first steps in the universality of care and the professionalization of the medical branch were taken.

McGrigor and his colleagues are also remembered as the individuals who initiated not only the maintenance of statistics relating to illness, injury and a myriad of other information tracking for the British army but also, and just as critical, the interpretation of those statistics as a means of recognizing efficiencies and deficiencies of care. It is estimated that his ability to track and advise Wellington on the health of his army provided him an additional divisions worth of soldiers at a critical time during the war.

Crimea, which occurred almost fifty years after the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars, was, from a medical perspective, a story of forgotten lessons and needless suffering and loss. A failure of effective reconnaissance, not enough time and effort put into preparation, a continued lack of appreciation of the importance of medical administration and provision and a complex and inefficient command structure all contributed to terrible losses resulting from illness and treatment deficiencies. 

The Boer war continued to be characterized by the shortcomings of the previous conflicts, despite noteworthy advancements in medical intervention techniques, knowledge of hygiene, administrative practices and doctrinal maturity. Death and personnel shortfalls due to illness continued to outnumber those caused by combat by a significant margin; again much of it preventable. For example, despite the fact that a vaccine for typhoid existed and was known to the army, it was decided not to inoculate the soldiers before departure. The net result was that during the Second Boer war 7,782 died of wounds while 13,139 died of disease.
   
The authors also look at smaller wars throughout the 1800's and the impact of operational geography upon death and illness rates (providing copious statistics for deaths per thousand in different regions as examples). They provide outstanding analysis of the complex intersection of scientific advances (such as the discovery of germs, anaesthetic and disinfectant), surgical, statistical and support techniques (of such pioneers as Keough, McGrigor, Ogston, NIghtingale and Guthrie) plus the military and political paradigm changes necessary to enact the changes required to see improvements in support to soldiers well being and health.

The British Army of the 19th century was old and steeped in its own traditions and foibles that set it apart from the civilian community it served. These traditions serves as strengths building regimental loyalties and comradeship; however, the also acted as impediments to change and a bulwark against what many perceived as interference from their political (read civilian) masters. Those promoting change within the medical services had to overcome the bias afforded to 'outsiders' in addition to learning and applying the lessons of hygiene, surgery and long term care. Each of these trials would have been formidable in and of themselves; together, as Scotland and Heys point out, they were decades in overcoming.

One of the real strengths of this book lies in the attention that it draws to the plight of the soldier in undertaking his trade. The average reader can pick up any one of thousands of books written that outline tactics, weapons capabilities, weapons production or any one of the many facets of warfare, but very few discuss the grim details of the human toll of fighting; and they are indeed grim. The present day soldier owes an immeasurable debt to those poor souls who served as the means for learning the art of healing and supporting the recovery of those wounded in combat or ill as a result of geographic location. We owe an equal debt to those doctors and practitioners who through their efforts and study advanced the medical trade in a military context.

The production value of this book is superb. The authors have incorporated a commendable series of endnotes for each chapter for further study but no overall bibliography. They have also provided for each of the focus wars, a brief synopsis of the what transpired. It is not particularly detailed but enough that it provides context without detracting from the focus of the book. I believe that it would have been very beneficial had they provided an organization chart of the command structure of the British military medical services for the periods covered as it was, as previously noted, rather convoluted and difficult to follow. The book is noteworthy however, for how readable and accessible the authors have made this subject to the reading audience.  Scotland and Heys are outstanding medical historians and are to be commended for their work in this book.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Green Leader Operation Gatling - Ian Pringle

This review submitted to the British Army Review.

Title: Green Leader Operation Gatling
Author: Ian Pringle
ISBN: 978-1-909982-93-2
Publisher: Helion
Year: 2015
Hardcover
Pages: 242
Photographs/maps: 37 b/w//31 colour/7

Operation Gatling was the operation name for the Rhodesian government’s response to the shooting down in September, 1978 of an unarmed civilian Rhodesian Air Viscount by a Strela heat-seeking missile fired by a team of Joshua Nkomo’s Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) fighters within Rhodesian airspace. They had infiltrated from bases within Zambia and, following the crash in which 18 passengers and crew survived from the 52 on board, an insurgent ZAPU group came across the crash site and proceeded to machine gun 10 of the survivors (the remaining 8 survived by hiding in the bush). This one act had profound repercussions for not only the Rhodesian people but also the fortunes of ZAPU and Nkomo.

Pringle's book is divided into two distinct parts, the first outlines the circumstances of the Viscount shoot down, the international environment within which Rhodesia found itself and a synopsis of the historical relations between Rhodesia and the world community. The second focusses on the conception, planning and audacious execution of the Rhodesian military’s combined arms operation against Nkomo and ZAPU within the sovereign territory of Zambia (including the internationally famous Green Leader transmission to Lusaka tower).

Notwithstanding the tragic rendition of the plight of the survivors, the main takeaway in the first section of the book was the lukewarm reaction of the international community to the attack on Rhodesian civilians. The fact the Nkomo was welcomed into England and overtly admitted his organizations complicity during an interview with the BBC with no ramifications is clear evidence of the attitude of the period and the environment within which Rhodesian operational decisions were reached.

There are a number of lessons that arise from the second portion narrative and the (overall) success of this mission. First among these is the critical necessity of joint operations. Rhodesia had developed an extremely effective doctrine called Fireforce which facilitated seamless inter-arm cooperation between air, ground and logistics forces. This jointness, arrived at well before many of its international contemporaries, resulted from both its unique operating environment as well as economic and political isolation. 

Secondly, the complexity of the operation from a planning and execution perspective and the extremely narrow margins for error was testament to the degree of expertise that Rhodesian forces had achieved. This speaks to the high level of training and inter service confidence that the various arms developed and maintained. Further evidence of this professionalism was the lack of micro-management from senior staff and government officials. This was critical to mission success as it pushed decision making authorization to the onsite commander thereby ensuring both timeliness and efficiency of command and control (C2). The uncontrovertible requirement for training and maintenance of skill sets prior to need is evident in these pages; like insurance, it is too late to garner it after the need arises.   

Pringle has once again drafted a book that clearly lays out the operational environment (social, international and economic) succinctly and accurately. His assessment of the skills of the Rhodesian military, its weapons innovation (alpha and golf bombs), doctrinal innovation (Fireforce) and command climate reinforces the adaptability of the Rhodesians and clearly identifies it as a standard to be emulated. Pringle's writing style is engaging and fluid and Helion, has published a very high quality book. Rhodesian operations have much to pass on to the modern asymmetric operator for planning, audacity and daring and I strongly recommend this book for both the military and civilian components of any modern military.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

The First Battle of the First World War: Alsace - Lorraine - Karl Deuringer edited by Terence Zuber

This review has been submitted to the British Military History Journal.

Title: The First Battle of the First World War: Alsace - Lorraine
Author: Karl Deuringer
ISBN: 978-0-75246-086-4
Publisher: Trafalgar Press
Year: 2014
Hardcover
Pages: 398
Photos/Maps: 0/38

The original book by this name was drafted by Karl Deuringer in 1929 as part of an effort to capture for posterity the role of the Bavarian Army in the First World War. The Battle of Alsace-Lorraine was unique in that it not only represented the first significant combat of the war, but also the first and only time that the Bavarian Army fought together under a single unified command. In its original form it was over 893 pages with 74 maps; to reproduce a modern copy of this would be impossible and so it was edited and translated by Terence Zuber into a more manageable form and length. In doing so, Zuber has maintained both the flavour and the intent of the author's original work.

It is important to realize at the outset that this book represents a tactical analysis of the first month of the war running between 11 Aug to 14 September, 1914. Dueringer provides a brief introduction outlining the strategic plan within which the Bavarian's (designated the German 6th Army) undertook their tasks. Specifically, they were to pin in place as many French soldiers as possible while upholding the German left flank in the region of Alsace-Lorraine. All of their subsequent actions focused on achieving Moltke's (the German overall commander) Commander's Intent.

The detail associated with the narrative is more than impressive. It is extremely detailed and really does require the provided maps in order to accurately follow the convoluted movements of the units involved. There are however, numerous maps included that are reproductions of the originals from Deuringer's 1929 work. These included maps are referenced to in the narrative and, while beneficial are somewhat hard to follow. There are an additional nine large situational maps and thirty regional maps (some in colour) which may be accessed online; however, it is necessary to join The History Press newsletter in order to access. They are, nevertheless, very helpful.

Zuber's translation is excellent and the degree of detail provided by Deuringer is both outstanding and daunting; the book is not for the faint of heart. It is extremely easy to get lost in the myriad of minor movements described. The operational unit of discussion is as small as platoon and company level and so maintenance of the big picture is easily lost. This is done deliberately and as long as the reader is aware before they dive in, it does not detract from the overall impact of the book. Deuringer also acknowledges that the sources used for the book are predominantly from the Bavarian side, as few if any records were kept by the French and the acquisition of personal notes and diaries was extremely difficult.

Despite the detailed style of writing there are significant numbers of lessons to be gleaned especially for those armies experiencing combat operations after a significant period of peace (keep in mind that the German and French armies had not been involved in large scale combat since 1871). Challenges relating to effective movements, resupply, fatigue and the fog of combat are all readily evident. The importance of physical fitness, realistic training, dynamic leadership at the lowest level and effective planning also become obvious. Dueringer weaves these lessons extremely well into his narrative, thus it serves as both a testament to the capability and success of the Bavarian Army but also a treatise on the importance of preparation, training and doctrine. 

This book is of great value although the reader must work for it more so than in other books that I have reviewed. The style is dry and detailed but fascinating to those willing to make the effort. Unlike many other historical renditions of battles, is is easier to visualize and appreciate the terrain and environment when the focus is so narrow. Unfortunately, there is no bibliography included however, there is a short notes section that provides some additional reading recommendations. Overall, I would recommend this book with the one reservation that it is not a quick read and does demand attention in order to get the most out of it.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Hitler's Wave-Breaker Concept: An Analysis of the German End Game in the Baltic - Henrik O Lunde

This review has been submitted to War History Online magazine.

Title: Hitler's Wave-Breaker Concept: An Analysis of the German End Game in the Baltic
Author: Henrik O Lunde
ISBN: 978-1-61200-161-6
Publisher: Casemate
Year: 2013
Hardcover
Pages: 278
Photos/Maps: 16/6

The gradual changing of the fortunes of war for the Germans, starting in late 1942, witnessed the transition from offensive to defensive operations for the Wehrmacht. As the forces allied against them grew in size and capability and the operational space diminished, the Germans were forced into ever more dynamic and reactive defensive measures, demanding decision making at the lowest possible level of command. Fronts had opened in Italy, Normandy, throughout the East, the North and in the air and the capacity for OKW (Oberkoammndo der Wehrmacht) and OKH (Oberkommando des Heeres) to provide timely guidance and evaluation steadily diminished. This book evaluates and analyses one region, the Baltic, and how Hitlers command strategy for this vital region developed, influenced in no small part by his strategic perceptions and bias'. The author incorporates into his study, an operational analysis of the impact of Hitlers command approach on the ability of the German Baltic forces to react to their dynamic environment.

The author maintains a three pronged approah in his evaluation; each was critical to the results for the German Army. First he undertakes a study of Adolf Hitler the man and tactician. Specifically, he looks at Hitlers history as a soldier,his perception of his own capabilities and his relationship with senior Nazi officials and Wehrmacht officers. HIs perceptions resulted in a flawed operational policy that squandered hundreds of thousands of his best soldiers in an effort to sustain a failing strategic policy. Following this he evaluates the political dynamic of the Scandinavian region focussung primarily upon the two main players - Finland and Sweden- and their ongoing relationship with Germany as the war progressed. Lunde incorporates into this the economic, geopolitical and military aspects of these relationships and how they impacted HItler's thinking. Finally, he looks at the relationship between Hitler and his commanders and, more importantly, their ability to influence operational decision-making. It is telling the degree to which, even at the eleventh hour, they acquiesced to his flawed operational logic irrespective of their professional assessment of the situation within their regions.

Lunde's arguments are  both logical and easily followed. He has addressed a series of very complex facets of German leadership dynamics and international relations and presented them in such a way that, while the evident complexity is not lost upon the reader, it is not only comprehendible but also thought provoking. For example, the relationship between Germany and Finland is extremely challenging and nuanced. With a battle-hardened army of over 600,000 soldiers, Finland was a key linch-pin in the potential success of German force of arms in Russia but was also reliant upon German arms to ensure its safety from Russia. This inter-dependence increased as the war continued with Germany doing all it could to retain Finland as an active or at least passive ally in the conflict. The international dance between the two is fascinating to follow and expertly dissected by Lunde.

The lessons for political masters and military commanders in this book are numerous and they speak to the challenges of juggling operational and strategic balls concurrently. Lunde has written a very telling book about a region and a campaign that did not adjust to the changing strategic and operational realities on the ground. Casemate has published a high quality book and I would strongly recommend it for those interested in further appreciating the multi-faceted approach required in the interaction between international relations and military operations.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Crisis on the Mediterranean: Naval Competition and Great Power Politics, 1904-1914 - Jon K Hendrickson


This review has been published in the Journal of the RCAF.

Title: Crisis on the Mediterranean: Naval Competition and Great Power Politics, 1904-1914
Author: Jon K Hendrickson
Publisher: Naval Institute Press
ISBN: 978-1-61251-475-8
Year: 2014
Hardcover
Pages: 219 

The world of today is so radically different from that of pre-World War 1 that it is difficult to even appreciate the challenges and concerns that nations of that period faced as they struggled with international relations. Central to this, the Mediterranean Sea, represented for many nations a key transport and security concern as well as a common border between many of the (then) worlds leading powers: Italy, France, the British Empire, the Ottoman Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Each of these had its own agendas and visions of the region and, in many cases, these were at odds with the desires of their neighbours. Hendrickson's book traces the convoluted lines of international naval diplomacy between the nations of the Mediterranean during the period 1904-1914. It reinforces the fact that the consistent underlying theme in international relations is the fact that nations are never altruistic in their dealings with each other and that these relationships are nothing if not flexible.  

The author takes a chronological approach to the period, each chapter focussing upon a specific component of the interactions. This follows an initial synopsis of the environment and history of the region in order to set the tone for the reader as well as providing a start point from which to move forwards. His contention is that the natural state of affairs for the Med is anarchistic with no clear player holding a dominant position for an extended period of time; thus the British presence, controlling the Med for the last quarter of the 19th century, was a deviation from and not the norm. The start point for the books narrative is 1904 and the recognition by the British that they are no longer able to retain their naval hegemony in the Mediterranean. This has a series of knock-on effects for them including but not limited to: their ability to retain influence over the Ottomon's, the requirement for additional ground forces in order to retain control of their territories in Malta, Egypt and Gibraltar and the necessity to proactively seek allies with whom to share the burden of 'presence'. 

Hendrickson then goes on to trace and analyze the key milestones that delineated the relations between the international players as the Med came into play once again. Thus chapters are assigned for the rise of the Italian and Austro-Hungarian navies during their war scare between 1909 and 1911, their ultimate raproachment and the impact that this had on their strength in the Med. Following this, the decision by the Italians, bolstered by their confidence in their relations with Austro-Hungary and desirous of a greater influence in Med affairs, to invade Libya. The unanticipated impact of this was profound for Italy's relationship with both the Alliance countries and France. He then looks to the reaction of Britain and France to these unfolding events and how the international situation with Germany forced Britain to adopt agreements that were counter to her natural inclinations. The author goes on to shed light on the deepening relationship between Italy and the Alliance as a result of the reaction of the Entente nations to her expansionism. He then closes the main narrative with a discussion on the strategic impact to Frances war plans of the 19th Corps. Composed of the most most hardened and battle experienced soldiers in the French arsenal, it was stationed in Algeria and needed to be transported to France in order to fulfil its role in the Western campaign plan. The importance of this unit to France and the Entente is underscored by Hendrickson dedicating his final chapter to how France and Britain grappled with this problem.
Hendrickson masterfully balances technical analysis of fleet capabilities with a broader study of the operational and strategic implications of the political maneuverings being undertaken by the key players. His narrative style is clear, concise and facilitates an easy understanding of the complex issues facing the different dancers at the 'Med' Ball. He provides a comprehensive bibliography for further research and at the end of each chapter, a synopsis of the events covered. A fascinating and thoroughly researched book. Provides an in-depth look at the role of Italy and Austro-Hungary in the lead up to the First World War, covering areas normally lost in the German/British Naval race and the emphasis on the armies. An outstanding book.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Predator: The Secret Origins of the Drone Revolution - Richard Whittle

Published in "Warhistoryonline".

Title: Predator: The Secret Origins of the Drone Revolution
Author: Richard Whittle
ISBN: 978-0-8050-9964-5
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company
Year: 2014
Hardcover
Pages: 353
Photos: 26

Predator missions and strike footage is today considered to be rather mundane in the world of news media; real time video of ‘bad guys’ being struck by hellfire missiles or smart bombs is no longer the stuff of science fiction. However, it was not that long ago that this level of technological sophistication left its viewers incredulous. Whittle’s book traces the history not only of the development of the UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle), its transition from a purely reconnaissance to a weapons platform and  ultimately its adoption and employment in operations throughout the world. He also discusses the challenges related to UAV operations, especially with the addition of weapons to its arsenal and specifically command and control and legal hurdles that had to be dealt with. 

Whittle’s premise, that the UAV was a revolutionary surveillance and weapons platform that changed the very nature of warfare, is justified by the end of the book but is also tempered by the degree of difficulty that the UAV program faced by conventional thinking and bureaucratic inertia. Like many breakthrough technologies, it was envisioned and developed by civilian companies who found it very difficult to convince the government and military of its relevance on the modern battlefield. 
 
The book highlights a number of interesting consequences of the UAV program and the advent of new technology onto the battlefield: 

a.       The marked increase in the challenges of micro-management as senior officers used the ‘real time’ technology to provide oversight, advice and assistance well below their traditional span of control;

b.      The challenges of bureaucracy as an impediment to change and, concurrently, what can be accomplished in incredibly short periods given the right motivation and backing (referring here to the success of the Big Safari organization in implementing technological advances in the UAV and communications systems);

c.       The challenge of command and control when multiple agencies operate within the same (developmental or operational) battle space. In the case of the Predator, various agencies such as the USAF, CIA US Army and Navy all had proverbial fingers in the pie thereby frustrating clear lines of authority;

d.      The time delay relating to authority for launch when it is centralized at the most senior levels; and

e.      The legal confusion related to what kind of weapon was represented by the Predator UAV. For example, could it be controlled and launched on third party soil, did it violate international treaties and did it represent a violation of Federal law with regard to CIA oversight?
 
Like most revolutionary programs, the UAV (Predator) project was replete with examples of incredible brilliance and breath-taking myopia. Whittle has translated the convoluted development of the UAV into a very readable and engaging book. There are many lessons to be derived from this experience for any entrepreneur or capital procurement program officer. It is very true the adage presented in the book that change requires a ‘seminal’ event to break comfort zones. The UAV project benefitted from one such event in the form of the September 11 attacks and has not looked back.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Give Me Tomorrow: The Epic Stand of the Marines of George Company - Patrick K O’Donnell

Title: Give Me Tomorrow
Author: Patrick K O’Donnell
ISBN: 978-0-306-82044-1
Publisher: DaCapo
Year: 2010
Softvcover
Pages: 261
Photos/Maps: 28/4

O’Donnell’s book, while touching upon the grander strategies of the Korean War – mainly for context – is not about the larger picture. Rather it is a testament to the resilience and endurance of the soldiers at the coal face of battle. It is the story of the soldiers of the 1st Marine Division and, more specifically, George Company (the 3/1st – 3rd Battalion/1st Marines) and their epic, horrific retreat from the Chosin Resevoir in 1950. Indirectly, it is also the story of the Chinese and North Korean soldiers that they fought against and their tenacity in the face of horrible firepower and conditions.

Sound tactical and operational planning and effective logistics are the building blocks of military success; however, the absolute foundation is represented by esprit de corps, leadership and training. This is the message of this book. The author has gathered first-hand accounts of the individual soldiers, senior NCO’s and officers of the 1/3rd and has produced a fine rendition of their experiences and motivations. Korea was unique in that, despite the lessons of the recently finished Second World War, America and the West had very few resources to draw upon to meet the North Korean threat and thus had to scramble to reactivate and train units. Therefore, many of the Marines of the 3/1st had only the most basic of training and had to rely very heavily of a small cadre of officers and senior NCO’s to season them in the field (and very quickly). It was this common experience glue and the reliance each had upon the other that enabled these marines to overcome odds of greater than 10:1 and winter weather that was the coldest in living memory for the region.

O’Donnell’s narrative emphasizes the role of the professional NCO and officer cadre. They are there not only to ensure the baseline training and professionalism of the troops, but also that they stay focussed on the task at hand when everything about them is coming apart. The example and standards set and enforced by these individuals instilled the men with the capacity to endure the severe conditions that they were faced with. It becomes quite evident as the Chosin battle unfolded that it was not belief in the ‘cause’ but the desire to support one another and the pride at being a marine that carried the day.

Another aspect of leadership that was well conveyed in this book were the roles of the officers and NCO’s. The officer’s role was to plan and fight the Company; the First Sergeant and his NCO’s managed the men. These roles overlapped yet were distinct and it is this delineation that is most difficult for junior officers and NCO’s to learn and exercise comfortably. In the case of George Company, the example and experience of the First Sergeant Zullo was critical to the continued effectiveness of the Company.

Give Me Tomorrow is an excellent example of what can be achieved with proper training and leadership. It is also an excellent example of what can go wrong when intelligence and advice is ignored at the more senior levels. At the end of the day, it falls upon the lowest tactical level units to either carry the day or collapse. In the case of 3/1st, they rose to the challenge and overcame the odds. The book is well researched and clearly expresses the sentiments of the men involved. The Korean War may be one that has been largely lost between World War 2 and Vietnam but the lessons are as relevant today as they were then. The men of George Company have been well served by O’Donnell’s work.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Guerrillas of Tsavo: The East African Campaign of the Great War in British East Africa 1914-1916 - James G Willson


Title: Guerrillas of Tsavo: The East African Campaign of the Great War in British East Africa 1914-1916
Author: James G Willson
ISBN: 978-9966-7571-3-5
Publisher: Self-published by James Wilson
Year: 2014
Softcover
Pages: 356
Photos/Maps: 511/28 

The campaign that was fought in Africa during WW1 has been largely overshadowed by every other theatre but was extremely significant in the lessons that were (or were not) learned, the operational doctrine developed and the new paradigm that it left the Africans involved. Wilson, a local Kenyan businessman and historian, has become an expert on the Tsavo region and the fighting that took place there and his passion and deep knowledge of what transpired is patently evident in this book. 

It is important to realize that for the major combatants, Britain and Germany, Africa represented very different fields of effort. The one area of common ground was that neither side envisioned Africa being anything more than a brief sideshow to the major efforts on the Western Front: Germany seeing no way of defending/supporting its colonies given the strength of the Royal Navy and Britain simply assuming that the German colonies would capitulate given their isolation. It is interesting that the civilian leadership in both locations preferred to avoid any form of conflict altogether and it was the military contingents that drove the recruitment, planning and execution of operations. 

Notwithstanding geography, Africa was unique in the fact that, in no other theatre was the influence of a single commander more keenly felt. In this case, Gen Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, commanding the German forces throughout the campaign, developed doctrine and an operational appreciation that effectively prevented the vastly superior Allied forces from ever assuming the initiative. Lettow-Vorbeck correctly determined that his Centre of Gravity/Effort was the tying down of as many allied forces as possible, thereby preventing them from being utilized elsewhere. In this approach, he was successful beyond anyone’s wildest estimations. German forces at their peak numbered 3,007 European Officers and 12,100 Askari (locally trained soldiers) as well as several thousand carriers/porters. Conversely, Allied forces (British, Portuguese and Belgian) numbered in the region of 137 Generals, over 300,000 soldiers and many hundreds of thousands of porters. The scope of success of the German effort in Africa may be recognized by the fact that they did not surrender until a week following the armistice in Europe and when they did, it was as an undefeated, still operationally effective force.  

Wilson has authored a very interesting book. He provides an analysis of the social and political situation in Africa at the time of the commencement of hostilities and also provides the reader with detailed maps and geographic information. He then follows the campaign in a daily format tracing the activities of both contingents throughout the 1914, 15 and 16 campaigning season. As he does so, he emphasizes different doctrines and methodologies used by each side and to what degree they were effective. This is especially telling as the German asymmetric approach, while unique at the time, will be seen as very familiar to subsequent armies and campaigners. The lessons that Lettow-Vorbeck taught in his approach to warfare were decades ahead of his time but they have not been studied by modern military scholars and as a result, remain largely forgotten. They form, however, the basis for most subsequent asymmetric conflicts.  

This is a well-researched and engaging book. I would strongly recommend that it be reviewed and studied by any student of military history wishing to understand how the correct application of limited force can have far-reaching consequences.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Dancing in the Glory of Monsters - Jason K Stearns


Title: Dancing in the Glory of Monsters
Author: Jason K Stearns
Publisher: PublicAffairs
ISBN: 978-1-61039-1078
Year: 2012
Softcover
Pages: 380 

The West is very aware of the horror of the Rwandan genocide that took place between April and July, 1994; over 800,000 people (mainly Tutsi's) were slaughtered. What is not well known, indeed hardly commented or reported upon, was the follow-on war and genocide that took place in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) between 1995-2001. This 'Great War' of Africa involved 5 countries and resulted in an estimated 1.7 million dead, untold wounded, millions displaced and hundreds of thousands raped and ravaged. Stearns book is an effort to redress this shortfall and it makes for dark and difficult reading.  

Stearns contends that the fundamental reasons for the lack of interest on the part of the West to this agony in Africa centres upon two main themes: one represents the complexity of the war and the causes thereof and two is the fact that it was far away from the West and of little immediate impact. The first cause is indicative, the author contends, of a modern world interested in quick and simple explanations and the second, a media that both recognizes and enables that simplistic approach. 

He is absolutely correct in his contention that the underlying causes of the war were complex; indeed, there were no clear 'good guys' or 'bad guys'; all players were both. Sadly, the one consistency were the victims of personal, national and tribal greed. Commencing with a history of the region, Stearns takes the reader through the tangle of the ensuing years with candid interviews of key players and evaluations of the political and societal conditions that enabled the tragedy to unfold. His eye for detail and the human condition paint, for the reader, a depressingly predictable pattern of idealism, corruption and acceptance.

This is a very disturbing rendition of the events of this period, made all the more so by the complete indifference of the West. The West does play a key role in developing the historical conditions for the tragedy; however, responsibility lies equally with the Africans in taking advantage of those vulnerable members of their societies. There does exist some aspects however, that leave the reader with cause for hope, primarily centring upon the resilience of the human spirit. The Africans repeatedly move forward, not without rancour or memory, but in recognition of the need to rebuild.  

The complexity of the causes and unfolding of this war are indeed manifest. Stearns has done an outstanding  job of presenting the drama with clarity and accuracy without diminishing impact or 'dumbing down' the story. He has a strong eye for the human condition and is able to translate the visual to the written with subtlety and frankness. This book is uncomfortable to read as it cracks the vault on aspects of the human psyche rarely seen on such vast scales. It is nevertheless, extremely educational for Western readers to begin the process of understanding the tragedy and complexity of Africa. Especially recommended for those who may find themselves preparing for deployments or jobs in Africa.