Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Forgotten Victory - Mark Zuehlke

This review has been submitted to War History Online Journal 

Title: Forgotten Victory
Author: Mark Zuehlke
ISBN: 978-1-77162-041-3
Publisher: Douglas and McIntyre
Year: 2014
Pages: 500
Photos/maps: 29/7

The Canadian Army was involved in three major actions during the latter portion of the Second World War: the Normandy Invasion, the Battle of the Scheldt and the operations to clear the west bank of the Rhine and northern Germany: Operations Veritable and Blockbuster. Canadian command and troops undertook key leadership and personnel roles in each of these ops. The authors book, Forgotten Victory, refocuses attention on the critical Canadian role in the final of the three above listed campaigns. Overshadowed by the Battle of the Bulge, the American/British drive in the South and the Soviet juggernaut in the East, the Canadians nevertheless played a decisive in creating the conditions whereby the Allies could drive across the Rhine and into the heart of Germany.

Zuehlke takes a holistic approach to his discussions of the Operations as well as the minor ops leading up to them. Thus the reader is provided with information relating to Command relationships (both formal and interpersonal), logistics demands and concerns, operational considerations and the complexity of combined (what would today be referred to as ‘joint’ operations) involving allied land and air forces (both tactical and strategic). It is worth noting that, for this campaign, the Commander of the First Canadian Army, Gen Crerar commanded an army (comprising mainly Canadians but also allied forces) of 500,000 men – the largest in Canadian history. Additionally, the author paints a vivid picture of the environment within which the Canadians and their Allies were operating. The winter was brutal and made all the more so by the frequent freeze thaw cycles that reduced mobility to a crawl; further hampered by the vast flooding operations by the Germans that limited lines of approach to grimy and barely passable high ground pre-registered by German artillery and machine guns.

Zuehlke has an eminently readable writing style encompassing a vast array of information and data that presents a deep and comprehensive picture for the reader. His books have almost exclusively focused on the role of the Canadian Army in the European theatre of war and his appreciation and depth of knowledge is evident throughout the book. This is a thoroughly enjoyable book that conveys accurately the horrors and challenges of these operations as well as the heroism, competence and drive of the officers and soldiers so engaged.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

The Viaz'ma Catastrophe - Lev Lopukhovsky

This review was submitted to the Global War Studies Journal

Title: The Viaz'ma Catastrophe
Author: Lev Lopukhovsky
ISBN: 978-1-908-91650-1
Pages: 576
Illustrations:  21 B/W, 15 maps
Publisher: Helion Publishing

1941 the armed forces of the USSR were on their heels. Pushed back to the approaches to Moscow they continued to fight a tenacious and increasingly desperate rearguard action against the cream of the German Wehrmacht. Drawing upon seemingly endless resources of men (and material) the Soviets strove to crush the German advance through a series of Army level counterattacks. The Wehrmacht, for their part, continued their grand enveloping maneuvers, encircling and crushing the Russian forces in their path. The Battle of Viaz’ma and Orel-Briansk represented for the Germans what they assumed to be the final barrier to their final advance on Moscow. Between these two battles of encirclement over the first three weeks of October, 1941 the Russians lost between 900,000 and 960,000 men; a crushing defeat by any standard.

​Lopukhovsky is another of the new wave of Russian historians who have taken advantage of the relaxation of the archival access laws in order to draw upon primary source material from the Russian/Soviet perspective. Commencing with a detailed synopsis of the events leading up to the commencement of Operation Typhoon (the final German drive on Moscow), the author provides the reader with a comprehensive baseline of the situation facing the Soviets. This is one of the few histories of this battle written in the post-Soviet era, from the perspective of the Russians. The level of detail is staggering and the accompanying maps and tables add a degree of clarity rarely enjoyed in a book of this complexity. Stuart Britton who has undertaken the translation of this book from its original Russian is to be commended for another outstanding endeavor.

​The author identifies key themes relating to the Soviet performance:

1. The reluctance on the part of senior commanders to both provide and accept factual information thereby undermining decision making and situational awareness;
2. the ferocity and tenacity with which the Soviet soldier defended their positions against overwhelming German superiority; and
3. the reluctance of Soviet commanders to make and take responsibility for decisions.

Additionally, he author interjects into his narrative with personal observations relating to his efforts to clarify questions with the senior Soviet commanders in the postwar Soviet era. It is fascinating the degree to which these efforts were met with official roadblocks whenever any 'questionable' positions were challenged. Notwithstanding this fact, it is also interesting how, despite the position officially of the State, candid ex-senior commanders were willing to be in correspondence with the author.   

Overall, an outstanding book and a highly recommended addition to those seeking to expand their understanding of the challenges that the Soviet's struggled with in trying to contain the German Typhoon of 1941. It is a sobering and humbling rendition of the sacrifice of the Russian soldier and the dysfunction of their leadership.

The Elements of Power - David S Abraham

Title: The Elements of Power
Author: David S Abraham
ISBN: 978-0-300-19679-5
Publisher: Yale UP
Year: 2015
Pages: 319
Photos/maps: 0

The term ‘Rare Earth Metals’ is not widely known. Indeed, for such a significant component of our everyday lives, it is shocking how these metals have continued to be overlooked except by a very few. The seventeen metals that make up the earth metals ‘family’ are perhaps some of the technologically and strategically most critical resources of today. If one owns a cell phone, drives a car, flies in an aircraft, lives in a structure or uses a computer, then you are reliant upon these earth metals. Without them, technology as we understand it would simply vanish.

Abraham’s book looks at the preponderance of rare earth metals from a variety of perspectives; in each case analyzing the potential risks and challenges associated with this facet. Drawing upon a broad range of interviews, primary source material and secondary sources, he clearly lays out his argument for greater attention and forecasting on the part of governments.

The first third of the book discusses the background behind the rise of earth metals, the challenges in finding and mining them and the international ramifications of the scarcity of these production facilities. He outlines the how foreign ownership of some mines (in many cases as a monopoly) increases the risk to national economies reliant upon these metals for many of their production lines. As an example Abraham cites the incident where China cut off exportation of a rare earth metal to Japan in order to pressure Japan into releasing a Chinese fishing captain awaiting trial for illegal fishing.  

He then branches into the environmental  quandary that rare earth metals pose for activists and governments. Rare earth metals are both a ‘green’ commodity as well as a pollutant. Critical for increasing the strength of steel and for producing the arms of the propellers in wind turbines (as just two examples), these metals reduce the weight of cars and facilitate alternate energy production. Conversely, however, the challenges associated with mining these resources require vast amounts of toxic materials to refine and produce them, and, while not impossible, they are extremely difficult to recycle.

Additionally, Abraham provides a comprehensive overview of the breadth of utility of these metals. Ranging from military and defence applications to the vast array of technological applications, the author provides the reader a clear sense of the impact that these items have, unknowingly to most, on our everyday lives. Extrapolating from that, he analyzes the exponential growth in the demand and, by extension, the sustainability of these resources. Given their relative scarcity, he looks at the back-room deals and methods that not only traders but also nations devise to take advantage of the leverage provided from having exclusive access. As an example, China has increased significantly the cost of exporting rare earth metals while keeping the domestic price low in order to bring international industry to the Chinese market.

Abraham’s book outlines the revolution that these earth metals are wreaking upon industry and technological development. His book, written in a convincing and forthright manner, pulls no punches but delivers warning after warning of the dangers of neglecting the development and implementation of a strategic plan to address the international needs of these metals. His thesis is solidly backed by reference material and reveals a thoughtfulness and insight into this relatively unknown subject. Militaries, industry and governments should take notice and develop comprehensive plans to address the issues that Abraham raises before it is too late. Strongly recommended. 

Friday, 5 August 2016

Scout’s Out - Robert Edwards

Tiitle: Scout’s Out
Author: Robert Edwards
Publisher: Stackpole Casemate
ISBN: 978-0-8117-1311-5
Year: 2013
Photo’s: 500+ b/w

Robert Edwards has produced a broad-ranging synopsis of the German reconnaissance force of the Second World War. Knowledge, as any one will confirm, is power and the faster that it can be attained the more effectively it may be used to disrupt or undermine the plans of the enemy.  The German Army recognized the critical importance of this and placed special emphasis on the development of equipment and training to facilitate this area of expertise.

Scout’s Out starts with a history of the German Recce forces and their re-establishment during the interwar period. The reader is not only introduced to the methodology surrounding the doctrinal development of this element but also the iterations that the recce unit structure underwent as it developed. This is important because it shows how the Germans adapted their forces to meet not only the changing nature of their operational environment but also to accommodate the lessons learned as the war progressed.

The author spends a significant amount of the book discussing the equipment that the soldiers used to undertake their tasks. Again, one sees the significant amount of innovation and adaptability that the German forces used to increase their effectiveness. Certainly, the reader is left with a very high impression of the quality of German equipment. Included are colour templates of the different recce vehicles use throughout the war.

The book also discusses at length the operational history of the various Recce Units of the German Armoured Forces. As a reference and synopsis this is very useful. The book represents an excellent history and reference for these forces. The author is himself a retired Armoured Officer and brings a critical and knowledgeable eye to the subject.

This book represents an overview of these forces. It is not a combat history of any one unit but a comprehensive guide to the development, equipment tables, structure and rogue’s gallery of the units that undertook this vital task. Recce has always been a more independent arm of any armoured force with a fierce pride and professionalism. Edwards brings this out in his work. Replete with hundreds of photographs, a very high level of quality in the publication of the book, a clear and concise analysis of all aspects of the recce specialty; Edwards’ book is well worth the money and time to read and enjoy.