Thursday, 26 February 2015

Verdun - Brian Mosier

Title: Verdun

Author: Brian Mosier
ISBN: 978-0451414625
Publisher: NAL
Pages: 400
Photos/Maps: 12/3

The author has a history of drafting books that challenge the contemporary historical interpretation of events; Verdun carries on this tradition. Mosier contends that the standard version is far too limited in scope and that the Battle of Verdun was actually a series of independent battles commencing in 1914 between the Germans and French and finishing with the Americans in 1918. Furthermore, he is obviously frustrated by the fact that the version of history most widely known and accepted by nations and the public is the single battle version and is critical of those authors (repeatedly referring to Alistair Horne and his book The Price of Victory) propagating this perspective as one of the main causes of this situation.

It is clear that the author is a Germanophile and exceptionally dismissive and critical of the French General Staff and Government as effective overseers of the French war effort. He pulls no punches when it comes to criticism of the French Commander in Chief, Joffre, and the misinformation/censorship relating to casualties and geographic successes provided to the Government and people of France in order to bolster his position as commander. He backs his contention with numerous examples citing how and where the French military leadership failed in the sense of strategy, vision and leadership. Unfortunately, he undermines his credibility to a certain degree through his use of sarcasm and personal attack as opposed to sticking with fact. This tendency is a significant distraction throughout the book and, while I don't disagree with his assertions, I found his delivery appearing to be, at times, unnecessarily petty.

The author does provide outstanding background on the strategic and emotional importance of Verdun towards the French war effort thereby providing excellent reference on why both the Germans and French focussed on this region. He also does a very credible job of explaining what transpired for both adversaries in terms of political, doctrinal, technical, intelligence and economic development and evaluation during the interwar period between 1870 and 1914 and the first two years of the First World War. Each facet had a huge impact upon the preparations and effectiveness of each side leading into the conflict. Each of those areas could have entire books written about them individually and Mosier provides a solid synopsis without taking away from his primary focus of the battles.

Another area that I enjoyed was his evaluation of the German strategic analysis done by von Falkenhym, the German Commander in Chief following the dismissal of von Moltke in 1914. Von Falkenhym has not been treated kindly by historians as the architect of the 'bleed the French Army white' campaign. However, this dismissal of him as a two dimensional strategist flies in the face of his notable successes in destroying the Russian and Serbian armies during the 1915 campaigning season. Mosier contends that the strategic appreciation drafted by von Falkenhym to the Kaiser where he lays out his long term plans for Verdun has been misunderstood and quoted far too narrowly by historians. Mosier presents a compelling argument to suggest that von Falkenhym was focussed on the domestic audience of France and, more specifically, its civilian leadership, not the French Army, when he was conceiving his plans; his vision and intent was very much strategic and not operational. He deduced that Verdun was both an access point to the interior of France as well as a national symbol that could not be allowed to fall and that the French army could not continue to hide or misrepresent its anticipated losses given the expected degree of focus of the Government.

The book overall is one that should be read as a counterpoint to many of the traditional narratives available on Verdun. He provides a good general bibliography and numerous texts from French and German historians that are worth reading. This book should not however, be read or seen to be a definitive account of the numerous engagements at Verdun. Mosier, in my opinion, presents some very interesting perspectives but undermines himself to a certain degree, with both his controversial style and some of his assertions that I felt should have been credited for source. For the professional officer, it does provide numerous examples of where strategic planning and execution were failed by the French and is outstanding as an example of the challenges of civil/military relations. Finally, I would have like to have seen a better map layout for the reader to follow the battles as the ones provided were of limited value. Worth reading but with caveats.


Stout Hearts: The British and Canadians in Normandy 1944 - Ben Kite

This review was written by Chris Buckham but published in Soldier Magazine. Please contact the editor, Rebecca Clark, at

Title: Stout Hearts: The British and Canadians in Normandy 1944
Author: Ben Kite
ISBN: 978-1-909982-55-0
Publisher: Helion
Pages: 467
Photos/Maps: 55/16 (colour)
Rating: 4.5/5

Kite has produced a stellar book in his first foray as an author. He states that he wanted to contribute to a positive rebalancing of the historical record of the achievements of the Canadians and British who landed in Normandy and he has more than done so. Replete with copious photographs, maps and unit fighting tables, he relates the stories, experiences and challenges of the soldiers driving forward in the face of a determined and experienced foe. HIs narrative sheds light on the interactions of the various combat and support arms and he succeeds handily in giving the reader real insight into the complexity and challenge overcome by these men. Helion has published a top notch book.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Death of the Leaping Horseman - Jason Mark

The following review was written by Chris Buckham but has been published by War History Online Magazine. The e-mail for the editor is The website for the magazine is
Title: Death of the Leaping Horseman
Author: Jason Mark
ISBN: 978-0811714044
Publishers: Stackpole Books
Pages: 560
Photos/Maps: 100’s b/w//100’s 

The surrender of the German 6th Army following the battle of Stalingrad marked not only the end of the myth of German invincibility but also the demise of many noteworthy units of the German Army. This book is the story of the last six months of the storied 24th Panzer Division whose emblem, the leaping horseman, was representative of its roots as the 1st Kavallerie Division. Written at the tactical level with forays into the operational for context, it traces day by day the advance of the 24th across the arid southern steppe of the Soviet Union during the summer of 1942 (Operation Blau) and culminates with the vicious fighting in the fall and early winter in the streets of Stalingrad.  

There are a number lessons that may be drawn from the German experience in Russia, encapsulated in the successes and lost opportunities of the 24th. Mark's provision of daily statistics of soldiers and officers killed and wounded as well as panzers available, booty collected and destroyed and the parade states of the Divisional sub-units shed a great deal of light upon the fortunes of the Germans. A very cursory analysis reveals the following: 

            A. The Germans were not able to make good their personnel losses as the campaign progressed and were forced into using rear echelon troops in combat roles. As an example the ration of strength of Panzer-Grenadier Regt 21 was normally 33 officers and 1342 soldiers, by 31 October it stood at 16 officers and 401 soldiers; 

            B. As the fighting intensified within the city of Stalingrad, panzers were more often being employed piecemeal in inappropriate street-fighting environs than in their traditional armoured punch role. This would suggest that the nature of the fighting was becoming more attritional which was completely contrary to the operational doctrine of the Germans; 

            C. The continued success of the Germans despite these handicaps would serve to reinforce the reputation of the depth of leadership well into the NCO levels; and 

            D. The inability of the Germans to exploit opportunities and to maintain momentum was due to a great extent, to continued failures in the logistical system to provide spares, sufficient ammunition and, above all, fuel in a timely manner . 

Mark has built a reputation for high quality writing and production in his books and this is no exception; copious maps detailing daily movements of the unit, extensive photographs providing visual accounts of written testimonies and a tight writing style that ensures the reader a clear appreciation of the Unit's efforts and challenges are provided throughout. There are some minor observations that I would make such as an overall photographic map of Stalingrad, scales for the individual maps and photographs of the conditions within the Krasny Oktyabr Steel factory would have assisted to better conceptualize the fighting for the reader. 

The author closes his work with a series of appendices that include: biographies of all of the officers of the 24th, a listing of all recipients of the Iron Cross decoration and above, a fascinating account of Panzer IV long-barrel '434's destruction of 11 Russian tanks in close quarter combat (complete with numerous photographs), an in-depth bibliography and a comprehensive listing of the commanders within the panzer division by unit; the appendices are a notable achievement in and of themselves. 

The quality of this book as a reference and a history is simply outstanding. Drawing upon interviews with survivors, firsthand written accounts, an in depth knowledge of the fighting and surviving operational records, Mark has created not just an operational/tactical history of the unit but a testament and a eulogy to the officers and soldiers, lost to history, who served, fought and died for each other and the honour of their Division. I highly recommend this book for anyone wishing to better appreciate the nature and conditions of the war in Russia and, more specifically, within Stalingrad.