Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Her Finest Hour: The Heroic Life of Diana Rowden, Wartime Secret Agent - Gabrielle McDonald-Rothwell

This review submitted to Soldier magazine.

Title: Her Finest Hour: The Heroic Life of Diana Rowden, Wartime Secret Agent
Author:   Gabrielle McDonald-Rothwell
ISBN: 978-1445661643
Publisher: Amberley
Year: 2017
Hardcover
Pages: 336

This book is a fascinating account of a courageous heroine who, with courage, cunning and tenacity, chose to serve her country behind enemy lines in occupied France as an SOE agent. Betrayed and imprisoned in a concentration camp, she paid the ultimate price for her dedication to duty. The author has crafted an excellent history of the woman, her motivations and her achievements; without embellishment or undo fanfare. It also sheds light on the methods used for interrogation and their effect upon the strength of the psyche. A true hero, this work does her credit and sheds light upon the critical operational role that women played in the Second World War. 

The Prisoner in his Palace - Will Bardenwerper

This review submitted to Soldier magazine.

Title: The Prisoner in his Palace
Author:   
ISBN: 978-1-50111-783-1
Publisher: Scribner
Year: 2017
Hardcover
Pages: 201


This book focuses on the experiences of the US Marines who were responsible for guarding Saddam Hussein during the final 6 months of his life and the struggle that they had with the deep contrast between the Saddam they knew and the public perception of the world at large. The author paints a vivid and compelling picture of a kind and thoughtful prisoner that the guards saw and the ruthless killer that was his public face and legacy. Well written and researched, this book speaks volumes about the challenge of trying to paint an individual in terms of absolutes when we are, in fact, varying shades of grey.

Thursday, 30 November 2017

The Battle of Kursk: Controversial and Neglected Aspects - Valeriy Zamulin

This review was submitted to War History Online Magazine.

Title: The Battle of Kursk: Controversial and Neglected Aspects
Author: Valeriy Zamulin
ISBN: 978-1-911512-37-0
Publisher: Helion
Hardcover
Pages: 404
Photos/Maps: 89/8

The author, a Russian national, has written a number of very high quality books relating to the Battle of Kursk. This book carries on his tradition of in depth research coupled with a wealth of on-site knowledge. A professional historian and researcher, Zamulin excels at finding facets of the battle that a more generalist would have overlooked.

This book is a compendium of a series of expanded articles and publications that he has presented over the years relating to little known questions regarding Kursk. His work is predominantly from the Russian perspective and he is extremely balanced in his presentation of the facts. Drawing upon declassified material from the Russian, American and German archives, he challenges a number of the traditional Russian perspectives and does not hesitate to refute them. He also puts a very human face on the Russian commanders and leadership, regaling the reader with anecdotes of error, humanity, weakness and competence. It is clear that the Russians, despite two years of combat were still learning the difficult profession of arms, specifically in the areas of joint operations, counter-battery fire and security discipline; but they were learning and getting progressively better.

Zamulin commences his work with a comprehensive review of the Russian works on Kursk, their strengths, shortfalls and the impact of the state upon their accuracy. Each of his succeeding chapters deals with isolated aspects of Kursk and the development of the Kursk Bulge. Each is standalone and may be read independently; however, each provide insight into the nature of the battle and answer questions that might not occur to the casual reader. Such aspects as the effectiveness of the Russian counter-artillery preparation, the potential for the Germans to have won Kursk had they struck earlier, the Kasternoe Cauldron (where an additional 10 German and Hungarian divisions were destroyed in January 1943 during the realignment of the front lines) and a deep analysis of two of the little known but key Russian tank commanders at Kursk (Marshal of Armoured Forces Katukov and Chief Marshal of Armoured Forces Rotmistrov – identified with later ranks) are examined.

For those seeking an overall synopsis of the Battle of Kursk, this is not the book for you. For those students of history that wish to delve deeper into some of the lesser known aspects of the battle, read on! Helion has maintained its extremely high quality of publications and Stuart Britton has once again translated and edited a deeply engaging and readable work.

Winning Wars Amongst the People: Case Studies in Asymmetric Conflict - Peter A. Kiss

This review was submitted to Army History magazine.

Title: Winning Wars Amongst the People: Case Studies in Asymmetric Conflict
Author: Peter A. Kiss
ISBN: 978-1612-347-004
Softcover
Publishers: Potomac Books
Pages: 289
Maps: 5

Asymmetric conflict is the modus operandi of the modern insurgent fighter and the Wests traditional methods of addressing using conventional forces has proven challenging in the extreme. The author has endeavoured to outline through an analysis of a series of unique, but related (insofar as asymmetric warfare has a common methodology), engagements, the characteristics of what he refers to as 4th generational (4G) warfare. He uses the examples as case studies in order to facilitate explanation of the causes, means of response and how successful (or not) authorities  were in both containing and reversing the insurgencies/instabilities. 

Each case study: Rhodesia 1962-1980, Punjab 1980-1994, Kosovo 1996-1999, France 2005 and modern day Hungary is broken down and analyzed using the criteria of response outlined in the beginning chapters of the book. These criteria relate to the paradigm shift required to address the characteristics of 4th generational warfare. Kiss spends the initial part of the book outlining what constitutes the shifts between generations of war, paying particular attention to the nature and characteristics of 4G. Thus, the 1st to 3rd generations have their origins in the Westphalian school where conflict centres upon the nation state and inter-national conflict. This represents the more traditional view of warfare.

Conversely, fourth generational warfare is defined by a series of traits that stand in unique contrast to the previous generations:

            1. sovereignty is limited;
            2. state loses monopoly over war;
            3. a majority of the population is neutral;
     4. belligerents behaviour is not constrained by the               responsibilities inherent in state existence                         because they are not a state;
            5. there is no clear victory or defeat;
            6. the conflict is more a clash of wills than a trial of                      strength; and
     7. belligerents will utilize means that are not                         considered to be military in nature (ie                               street politics and riots).                                                                                    

Kiss outlines that the people are medium within which the conflict between the government and non-government belligerents unfolds. The use of military force, as opposed to its traditional role of being the final arbiter, is now merely one of a series of supporting means utilized to reach each sides goals. 

He then goes on to outline how it has come to pass that the State, as the final international structure of interaction, has diminished in stature and influence. He focuses on two distinct areas of development: economic and political integration as well as eroding sovereignty. The first comes as the result of the transfer of state authority to supranational organizations such as the UN, the rise of international business and criminal organizations (who do not owe their existence to a particular nation) and newly accepted theories of international conduct (ie the Right to Protect) that supersedes national authority. Additionally, Kiss makes very lucid and telling observations regarding the diminishment of the state due to the internet, ease of international travel, the failure of the state to guarantee the security of its citizens, demographic changes and the failure of minorities/immigrants to accept the values and standards of the host nation. 

What all of this is leading to is a growing challenge to the States effectiveness at being able to overcome 4G insurgencies. The State, regardless of the nature of its leadership, is forced by its very existence to operate within a series of guidelines and limitations that the 4G insurgent is not. However, Kiss also advances the notion that pure terrorism (defined as being violence without goal) does not exist and therefore, terrorists/insurgents will always have an end state that they are working towards. Thus it becomes the challenge of each side to best determine how they are going to tailor their challenge/response in order to outlast the other.

The author's real world examples emphasize the timelines, complexities and uniqueness of 4G conflict. Each is representative of a different facet of this warfare and displays methods that were military successes but political failures (Rhodesia), asymmetric successes (Kosovo) and counterinsurgency successes (Punjab). He concludes each example with an outline of the lessons to be learned. His study of the outbreak of French minority violence is particularly sobering as it serves both as a lesson in response techniques and a cautionary tale for the future of intra-state relations.

Kiss's book is a thoughtful and insightful look into a mode of warfare that is rapidly becoming the norm for traditional nation states to address. It is a style not confined by borders, ethnicity, religion nor economy but is influenced by all. His style is clear and lucid and his arguments for the future convincing. His work is well worth studying for those involved with developing policies that will serve as the framework of responses for nation states in future conflicts.

The Tigers of Bastogne: Voices of the 10th Armored Division in the Battle of the Bulge - Michael Collins and Martin King

Title: The Tigers of Bastogne: Voices of the 10th Armored Division in the Battle of the Bulge
Author: Michael Collins and Martin King
ISBN: 9781612001814
Hardcover
Pages: 271
Illustrations/Maps/Appendices: 47 B/W 10 maps 5 Appendices
Publisher: Casemate Publishing, Philadelphia, 2013

                The Battle of the Bulge has rightly been considered one of the defining moments of the Second World War; desperate yet still powerful German forces achieved complete surprise against a notably weak point in the allied lines in the region of the Ardennes. For the last two weeks of December, 1945, American land units engaged in frantic and determined fighting, culminating in the defense of Bastogne. Traditionally, the unit most associated with this combat was the 101st Airborne “The Screaming Eagles”; however, there were other key contributors that held the line along with the 101st. This book is about one of these units: the 10th Armored Division, “The Tiger Division”, and its vital role in halting the onslaught of four German armies in the freezing cold and without air support.

                The chapters are broken out to represent a day in the battle; each commencing with a weather report. The text itself is a mix of firsthand accounts in italics, copies of the narratives for the commendations received by individuals for actions on that particular day, unit after action reports and a narrative from the authors providing context and continuity. Taken together, it is a somewhat unique but effective rendition of the events of the period and it provides the reader with different perspectives from the official to the personal. Also provided are numerous appendices that provide the reader with reference material summarizing which American units were involved in the Battle, the command structure of the 10th Armored and a synopsis of individual commendations.

                What was fascinating and telling about this Battle was the inability of the allied air forces to engage the Germans due to weather conditions. Thus from 15 to 23 December, the allied armies were without fighter, bomber and, most importantly for those surrounded in Bastogne, aerial resupply capability. The impact of this situation is clearly articulated in the recollections of the survivors as ammunition, medical supplies, fuel and food became scarce. The authors have done a commendable job presenting the tenacity with which the 10th Armored defended the approaches to and, ultimately, assisted in the defense of Bastogne itself.

                I was however, somewhat disappointed with certain aspects of this book. Grammatically, there are a significant number of awkward sentences and glaring typographical errors in the text (I am referring here to the author’s narrative, not the first hand accounts). Additionally, the authors make claims in their narrative that are diametrically opposed to the conventional wisdom of this period and a vast array of expert historical literature written about the German army. In two places, Collins and King make the blanket statement that German forces were not known for flexibility or initiative and were actually renowned for their inability to operate autonomously below the regimental level (pages 30 and 168). While they are more than welcome to make these observations, they provide no references to back up their position. Given the fact that a preponderance of literature on World War 2 acknowledges the fact that the Germans, while not effective in all areas, were in reality one of the most capable armies at the operational and tactical levels, their comments are, to say the least, perplexing. Nevertheless, the production value of the book is high and the maps and photos are excellent.


                Books preserving the recollections and memories of those who participated in the war are worth owning. However, this book is not inexpensive and is weak in terms of narrative and some content. Therefore, while it is important to recognize the role of the 10th Armored Division in the Battle of the Bulge and to preserve their memory, this must be balanced against the overall quality of the book itself. This book is average and I cannot strongly recommend it. 

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Operation Telic: The British Campaign in Iraq 2003-2009 - Tim Ripley

This review has been submitted to the British Army review.

Title: Operation Telic: The British Campaign in Iraq 2003-2009
Author: Tim Ripley
ISBN: 978-0-9929458-0-0
Publisher: Telic-Herrick Publications
Year: 2016
Softcover
Pages: 470
Photos/ Maps: 35/6

The War in Iraq was not popular nor was it clean. After Afghanistan, it seemed to many that the challenges of asymmetric warfare would be left behind in Iraq; a second rate conventional army led by an unpopular, sociopath would be a relatively easy adversary after the Taliban. The British led by Prime Minister Tony Blair, joined the United States as its primary ally, for a number of reasons, not the least of which was continued influence in the Middle East as well as a key position at the ‘table’. The war was not popular with the British people and PM Blair expended a significant amount of political capital to win over Parliament. What was to be however, a short, sharp engagement and a victory for democracy turned into a six year war of nerves and attrition between the allies and the factional forces of post Saddam Iraq. Op Telic the book, iterates the challenges, successes, shortfalls and frustrations encountered by the UK forces from a political, doctrinal, inter-ally and CIMIC perspective.

That it is able to cover such ground effectively is testament to its brevity and accuracy. The author was able to draw upon the recollections of the key players down to platoon level as well as the primary documentation of the various units engaged in Iraq over the period of the conflict. The author was also able to display the level of complexity associated with warfare of this nature. What is evident is the degree to which government engagement and planning did not appear to extend beyond the military defeat of the Iraqi’s. The US has been correctly criticized for its failure to plan beyond the fighting, but the British government was not clear of this failure either.

It is clear that the West had very little appreciation of what would result once the strongman and his henchmen had been removed and the traditional animosities and hatreds, suppressed for so long, allowed to burst forth. Ripley does an excellent job of tracing the rapid onslaught of internal dissent focussed on the UK forces as well as factional fighting within the Basra region. Caught in a spiral of unanticipated violence, political turmoil at home and divergent priorities amongst the Allied forces, Ripley describes a UK force struggling to deal with retraining, internal shortfalls, pressure to downsize and engaging in public works that it had never trained for. It became obvious very quickly that the lessons learned against the IRA did not have relevance in the Iraqi theatre many assumed they would.

The UK Forces showed considerable capacity for adaption and improvisation as the later years of the conflict illustrated. Nevertheless, Ripley’s book describes a military left, to a significant degree, at odds with its political masters in the UK and with a marked sense of cynicism and resentment amongst its soldiers and airmen. It also describes a society and force out of step with the realities of combat and the dangers associated with them. That the UK forces were brave and dedicated is beyond question, but the appetite for casualties and risk as well as the domestic and media attention paid to the slightest level of collateral damage has changed the nature of warfare for the West.


Ripley has crafted an excellent, balanced account of the British experiences in Iraq. He draws attention to a significant number of issues and challenges that have still not been resolved involving the soldier and their battlefields. His book is key to understanding the complexities of the modern theatre of operations and the issues that influence them. It is critical that training reflect the lessons learned, not the least of which is that the government that you may be fighting to support may be actively working against you. Based upon the conclusions of Ripley’s book, the term 360 degree battlefield may now be applied to not only to the physical fighting space, but also the domestic and international political realm as well as the media and legal spaces. The soldiers of today do not have a benign operating environment as Op Telic aptly shows. 

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History - John M Barry

Title: The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History
Author: John M Barry
ISBN: 978-0-143036-49-4
Publisher: Penguin
Year: 2004
Softcover
Pages: 546

The Great Influenza of the immediate post WW1 years claimed the lives of between 20-40 million people worldwide before it had run its course. The author has drafted a comprehensive study encompassing not only the spread and morbidity of the Great Influenza of 1918-1920 but also the means by which scientists and medical staff endeavoured to combat it. Most interestingly, he also looks at the role government played in failing to both recognize, despite copious amounts of evidence, and assist in combatting the disease through education and leadership. Barry has focussed upon the impact that the disease had on the United States while referring obliquely to its impact internationally.

His discussion and analysis of the disease itself is concise and clear; he provides the reader with a detailed understanding of what constitutes the influenza as well as its characteristics. This is key to understanding nature of illness and how it mutates and spreads. He also discusses the means and individuals who were on the front line trying to understand and isolate the virus. The aggressive nature of the influenza virus was unlike anything that had been experienced before and the scientific and medical knowledge needed to effectively counter it was in its infancy.

What is noteworthy in the book is the author’s analysis of the US Federal Government’s response, or lack thereof, to the crisis. President Wilson’s administration was focussed on the war and the US’s role in it. As such, he would not allow for any discussion, publication or central coordination of a response to the pandemic as being a negative influence on the war effort. Thus it was that while people were literally dying in the streets, the Government offices of Public Health were issuing statements indicating that there was no cause for alarm. Barry discusses in detail the impact of denial on the population and the panic that it caused.

This is an excellent account of this event and a timely reminder of the precarious relationship that we maintain with nature. It is also a notice to the importance of effective planning and preparation for future events. Hubris will lead to our downfall and the Great Influenza serves as a reminder of what can occur if we allow our guard to slip.

Monday, 30 October 2017

The Hill - Ray Rigby

Title: The Hill
Author: Ray Rigby
Publisher: Endeavour Press
Year: 2015
E-book
Pages: 201

The story of The Hill unfolds in a British detention barracks somewhere in the desert mid-way through World War II. This is a story of the dynamics of interaction between the staff members, the prisoners and the environment within which they find themselves set against the artificial backdrop of the war itself. A simple narrative on the surface belies an incredibly complex storyline with deep nuance and shade. This is concurrently a story of human survival, leadership and the psychology of control and power.

It is not simply a story of the abuse of that power however, but also a study in the use of coercion, discipline and motivation to mold soldiers and men. Enforced with a steady and guided hand, the techniques used by the camp Sergeant-Major and his NCO’s are efficient and very effective. However, the line that is walked is a narrow one and it is very easy to slide into destructive behaviours. The book is a treatise on the critical importance of professionalism and unit discipline and the pitfalls of allowing complacency to take hold.

The novel is written such that the perspective of the prisoners as well as the staff are revealed. Within an environment of controllers and controlees, there is a unique dynamic that exists where each side has a defined role to play, within set guidelines, some written and some simply understood. Rigby has done an outstanding job at recreating that balance and iterating what happens when there is a flaw or weakness in the fabric of the relationship.

The story really is a study of the human condition within the controlled environment of a wartime military prison. The reader is able to study and examine the interaction of the participants from a third person perspective and one readily comes to the conclusion that each of the protagonists are prisoners in their own unique way. It is in this way that the brilliance of Rigby’s narrative shines through; the characters are a reflection of the good and bad in each of us.


This is a gripping story and an outstanding cerebral study. To be truly appreciated it must be read with an open mind and a critical eye. This book should be studied by students of leadership, the military arts and psychologists. It is a very thought -provoking and challenging work.  

Sunday, 29 October 2017

The Battle of Copenhagen 1801 - Ole Feldbaek

This review has been submitted to Strategy and Tactics magazine.

Title: The Battle of Copenhagen 1801
Author: Ole Feldbaek
ISBN: 978-1-47388-661-2
Publisher: Pen and Sword
Year: 2016
Softcover
Pages: 270
Photos/ Maps: 23/5

There is an African proverb which says: “When two elephants fight, it is the grass that gets hurt”; such was the situation that tiny Denmark found itself as it hurtled towards a war that it knew it could not win against the British Empire. Faced with participating in an alliance between Russia and France on the one side demanding that Denmark live up to its obligations as part of the Alliance of Armed Neutrals against Britain, and the weight of the Royal Navy on the other demanding that it sever all ties with the Alliance and form a bond with the UK – Denmark, in the full knowledge that it was doomed, had to choose. Obliteration as a state should it defy France and Russia, or defeat and reduction to a third or fourth rate power should it stand up to Admiral Nelson and the Royal Navy; consciously, but with a deep sense of resignation and pride, it chose the latter.

Feldbaek has produced a book drawing upon primary source material from Danish as well as the UK archives; however, the book is drafted with a significant emphasis from the Danish perspective. He has provided the reader with a comprehensive understanding of the political and economic drivers and influencers of the period as well as the real politique decision making that typified these years. One appreciates the very fine line that Denmark tried to walk diplomatically between the international heavy weights of Russia, France and Britain.

The author presents an excellent analysis of a Danish government that tried to follow a diplomatic line that it had no chance of backing up by force. A failure in undertaking long term investment in the defences of Copenhagen and its environs left it particularly vulnerable to sea borne attack. Nevertheless, Feldbaek shows clearly that, once war was inevitable, the Danish leadership did all that it could to prepare and that the people of Denmark, from professional sailor to craftsman, responded to the call to arms, undertaking gunnery drills right up to the morning of the day of battle (with the British fleet a few hundred yards distant).

This was an interesting and unique naval fight as it did not require any movement between the adversaries; both sides were, for the most part, stationary. This was a brutal, slogging match where gunnery speed and accuracy were the defining factors. The British acknowledged after the fact that the Danes requited themselves very well despite their lack of expertise. The author also provided a fascinating study regarding the concurrent activities as the battle raged such as the hundreds of small boats plying the waters between the battle lines carrying boarding parties, prisoners and rescue parties (all subject the rifle and cannon fire blasting across this naval no man’s land) and the land resupply of the Danish fleet.

The book is very well researched and written. It is not a dry historical rendition of the past but a vibrant and engaging account of a defining moment of the Napoleonic wars. It puts a human face on the cross section of protagonists from the lowest of the seamen to the most senior of leadership. For naval enthusiasts as well as those followers of the Napoleonic period this book provides an excellent account of a naval battle often times lost in the emphasis placed upon the Battle of the Nile and Trafalgar.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

A War of Logistics – Parachutes and Porters in Indochina, 1945-1954 - Charles R Shrader

This review has been submitted to Army History Magazine.

Title: A War of Logistics – Parachutes and Porters in Indochina, 1945-1954
Author: Charles R Shrader
ISBN: 978-0-8131-6575-2
Publisher: University Press of Kentucky
Year: 2015
Hardcover
Pages: 488
Photos/Maps: 15/13

The War in Indochina is best remembered today for the decisive French defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954; however, the conflict that led up to that was protracted, brutal and new. New in terms of the style of warfare being fought and the impact that the result would have well beyond the borders of Indochina. The author has approached the war from an unconventional perspective, one that has been heretofore a facet but not a central theme of works on the war; that of logistics and its role in the victory of the Viet Minh and the loss of the French. This was a war won and lost entirely on the strength and weakness of the respective logistics capabilities and doctrine of the adversaries.

Shrader has effectively woven an insightful evaluation and analysis of the operational doctrine of both parties while maintaining his central theme of the key impact of logistics. Commencing with a strategic view of the conflict, he looks at the psychology and hubris of the post war French and their assumption of superiority over the Viet Minh. This, combined with an unstable national approach from France, precluded the resources from being assigned in terms of manpower as well as material that ultimately was needed for success.

He leads into the successful recognition by the Viet Minh of the necessity to not only outfight but also to outlast the French. The three stage operational approach combined with a successful utilization of the strengths of the Viet people – human capital – enabled for a flexible and dynamic asymmetric approach to conflict that the European approach of the French struggled to counter.

Shrader discusses at length how, from the French approach, heavy weapons and combined arms operations heavily based upon the lessons learned during the European conflict served as the central method of engagement. Artillery, armour, aircraft and naval contingents enabled the French to control set points but surrendered the countryside to the more mobile and agile Viet Minh and by extension, the initiative. The nature of the French approach to warfare resulted in a heavy logistics bill that had difficulty being met. Strategically, long lines of support stretching back to France or Japan due to a lack of an integral industrial capability in Indochina meant long delays in the meeting of demands. Operationally, the necessity of the French to establish isolated forward operating bases in order to counter the inflow of the Viet Minh forces and supplies required a reliance upon air or naval resupply methods that were costly, inefficient and resource intensive themselves.

Conversely, the Viet Minh acknowledged their inability to counter the French in set piece battles and, for the most part, did not allow themselves to be drawn into fights where they may be subjected to superior French armament. Shrader identifies how the Viet Minh leaders played a superior international hand by securing their lines of support from China. In addition, their requirements were far less extensive. The author has undertaken extensive in-depth research that backs up his conclusions. The typical Viet Minh soldier, for example only required approximately half of the daily weight of requirements compared with his French counterpart. The depth to which the author goes in his analysis of the typical demands of the respective forces is highly educational and telling for the reader; the French demands far outstripped their capability while the Viet Minh adjusted their tactics in line with their logistics capability and expertise.

The book also illustrates the flexibility of the Viet Minh logistics methodology compared to the French. Being far less technologically encumbered, they were significantly more agile in their mobility and much less rigid in their operational doctrine; thereby being able to manipulate their procedures far faster than the French. Unlike the French who were, for the most part, confined to pre-existing Indochinese transport infrastructure and vehicles, the Viet Minh developed a national level mobilization process whereby non-combatants were obliged to support operations through their use as porters. Regional command structures were created that facilitated the uninterrupted flow of supplies from one section to the next through its transfer between regionally assigned porters. They also developed the science of camouflage to previously unseen levels and maintained field craft discipline rigidly. The French were never able to develop a counter strategy to effectively undermine this tactic.

Shrader makes it clear that the French were not incompetent, merely hamstrung through a lack of logistics flexibility, non-responsive doctrine, a paradigm of their adversary based upon pre-existing hubris, a non-supportive National Government and a logistics dogma rooted in a European operational theatre. They were able to achieve some successes against the Viet Minh and their use of air and riverine resupply systems supported off road operations well. Unfortunately, the depth of capacity was heavily in favour of the Viet Minh as theirs was viewed as a national struggle and, consequently, given the support required through a more universally supported approach. The French certainly had the upper hand during periods of the conflict such as when they cut off Viet Minh access to critical rice growing regions (which served as a trade currency as well as supply for the Viet Minh). The logistics limitations suffered by the French were simply too great to enable them to follow up on their local successes.


Shrader’s book is an excellent study of the critical importance that logistics plays in the effective execution of tactical operations and strategic campaigns. For a vast majority of the conflict French technology heavily outweighed the Viet Minh; that they were unable to defeat them is testament to the ability of the Viet Minh to offset French advantage through non-traditional tactics and supply doctrine. The author has presented a balanced and in-depth study of this conflict and his conclusions are well supported through the use of primary source material from both sides. This is a book well worth reading for operators and supporters alike.  

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Wenn alle Bruder schweigen-When All Our Brothers Are Silent - Waffen SS Association

Title: Wenn alle Bruder schweigen-When All Our Brothers Are Silent
Author: Waffen SS Association
ISBN: 9-783-9-42145-00-8
Publisher: Edition Zeitgeschichte
Year: 2014
Hardcover
Pages: 592
Photos/Maps: 100’s/7

The Waffen SS has left an indelible mark and paradigm amongst historians and the casual followers of the Second World War. Whatever one might feel about their political philosophy and activities during the war, the fact remains that, as a fighting force, they were recognized by their adversaries as some of the most professional, tough soldiers of the German forces. Used as a ‘fire fighters’ as the war progressed, they were involved in all of the major campaigns and frontiers throughout the conflict.

When the war ended they were treated as pariahs by the new German State and neither veterans nor veteran’s families were entitled to any form of wartime compensation or recognition. As a result, the Waffen SS Association stepped in to provide some degree of assistance to the families of the soldiers as well as to provide support to one another. In early 1972, the Waffen SS Association called upon their members to provide photographs and recollections to put together a history of the SS in pictures of both wartime and prewar experiences.

The result is a remarkable book; written in German with full English subtitles. Many of the photographs are extremely rare and have been used in this book only. It provides a deep, visual history of the SS, the conditions under which they trained and fought, and the close bonds of comradeship that bound them together. There is a synopsis of the history provided in the beginning of the book that provides a good overall picture of the SS, their operational history and a discussion (albeit very brief) of some of the accusations raised against them. Further, the book provides a collection of unit emblems, renditions of uniforms and detailed rank insignia as well as regional maps of SS operational theatres. The clear focus of the book are the photographs and each is provided with an explanation. This book is an outstanding addition to any collection relating to the German Army of World War 2.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Royal Betrayal: The Great Baccarat Scandal of 1890 - Michael Scott

Title: Royal Betrayal: The Great Baccarat Scandal of 1890
Author: Michael Scott
Publisher: Endeavour Press
Year: 2017
E-Book
Pages: 190

Endeavour Press is a publishing house specializing in digital or e-publishing. It makes for a very efficient way to access and enjoy their works. Royal Betrayal is a narrative relating to a scandal that, by modern standards, would appear to be of the utmost triviality but, when placed in the context of the 1890’s, threatened to undermine the very foundation of English society.

The book entails an allegation of cheating at a popular upper class parlour game called baccarat at a time where personal honour counted for everything within the closed ranks of London society. Present at the game when the assertion was suggested was the Prince of Wales, himself the subject of a series of questionable activities and public scandal in the media. The book traces the machinations of the participants through attempted cover-up, media intrigue, public trial (where the Prince of Wales himself was forced to testify) and finally the fall out.

In order to fully appreciate the magnitude of the indignity and public humiliation of this event and its potential ramifications for the Royal Household, one must understand the degree to which the public was becoming fatigued with the hypocrisy and double standards of the period between the privileged and not; also the role of the media in spreading salacious gossip about the Royals. Scott has done a commendable job at highlighting the vast gulf that existed between the classes in Victorian England.


The story is a fascinating and engaging one as much for the intrigue as for the potential consequences of the event. The narrative is somewhat awkward at points and the author has a distracting habit of injecting questions into the storyline that serve to break the flow of the tale. Nevertheless, it is gripping account that might be mistaken for a good fictional yarn if it was not credited as fact. A keen example of the shallowness, crass and petty politics of the Victorian age.  

Hitler’s Fremde Heere Ost: German Military Intelligence on the Eastern Front 1942-1945 - Magnus Pahl (translated by Derik Hammond)

This review has been submitted to the British Army Review.

Title: Hitler’s Fremde Heere Ost: German Military Intelligence on the Eastern Front 1942-1945
Author: Magnus Pahl (translated by Derik Hammond)
ISBN: 978-1-910777-08-4
Publisher: Helion
Year: 2016
Hardcover
Pages: 410
Photos/ Maps: 28/4

Many questions remain about the decision of Germany to attack the Soviet Union in 1941; one of the most compelling was how did the Germans underestimate so significantly the size and depth of the Soviet industrial as well as military capability? Accusatory fingers have traditionally been leveled at a failure on the part of the military intelligence organization to accurately predict this. Pahl’s book addresses this and many other questions by analyzing the German military intelligence organization from the ground up; its strengths, weaknesses, operating environment (political and operational), leadership and mandate.

There are two concurrent tracks that the author follows in his analysis. The first focuses upon the establishment and development of the intelligence service within the German military and the State and its relationship with the RHSA (Reichssicherheitshauptamt – Senior Bureau of Reich Security) and the Abwher. Compartmentalisation was one of the means by which Hitler maintained control over the Nazi state/war machine and intelligence was no exception. Thus it was that although given a mandate to undertake all forms of intelligence gathering including strategic, the FHO was never given the resources nor access to undertake the strategic level effectively; nor did the various elements of the intelligence services (state and Nazi party) cooperate willingly.

The second element that the author traces is the role of MGen Reinhard Gehlen in professionalizing and developing the effectiveness of the FHO. He commanded the organization from 1942 onwards and was instrumental in transitioning it from an ad hoc to a structured and far more proactive and engaged organization. Pahl clearly shows the role that Gehlan played in this as well as his vision of the future. Such was his impact that, as the author relates, he was able to not only maintain the integrity of his organization as the war effort collapsed, but was also able to ensure that the most effective members, gathered information and networks developed against the Soviets were able to be made available to the Americans and the German state following the surrender. That this was accomplished within weeks of the end of the war is testament to his vision, preparation and organizational skills.

This is a comprehensively researched book that paints a picture for the reader of the deep competence as well as structural and ideological weakness of the wartime German state. It contains many lessons for modern intelligence organizations relating to development, interoperability and doctrinal requirements to meet mandate. Pahl’s work delves into both the complex structure but also the doctrine related to the German intelligence services and the challenges that it faced. Within the German military there was a professional bias against the kind of clandestine work associated with spying and it was only with great difficulty was Gehlen able to recruit and establish a formal training regime to meet the needs of the military. However, as Pahl clearly shows, while Gehlen was able to very effectively provide for the operational and tactical needs of the military, he was never able to overcome the bureaucratic friction inherent in the structure of the State.


Pahl’s work provides an outstanding bibliography and notes section offering a plethora of additional reading material and sources. There is an error in the publication of the book where a map is reproduced in place of the FHO structure; however, this is minor when taken as a whole. It is also somewhat of a technical read more geared toward the ardent historian or those with an interest in the intelligence services during the war. Nevertheless, Pahl’s work definitively answers the questions of how and why the Germans had such difficulty building an in-depth appreciation of the Soviets and is well worth the time to read. 

Friday, 15 September 2017

The Sword Behind the Shield - Norbert Szamveber

This review has been submitted to Strategy and Tactics magazine.

Title: The Sword Behind the Shield
Author: Norbert Szamveber
ISBN: 978-1-909982-19-2
Publisher: Helion
Year: 2015
Hardcover
Pages: 491
Photos/ Maps: 0/16

In early 1945 the world’s attention was focused on the tightening vice on Berlin as the US and British drove in from the west and the Soviets from the East, relatively little attention was given to the fighting in the southeastern region around the besieged Hungarian capital of Budapest. It was in this region that, in an effort to both relieve the garrison as well as keep Hungary in the war, that the Germans (with Hungarian forces) launched a series of operations dubbed Konrad I, II, III. Ultimately they proved to be unsuccessful at relieving Budapest but not for operational or tactical reasons; it was the strategic decisions made in Berlin that ultimately undermined the ability of the Axis to succeed. While the Axis came close to succeeding, the direction that the garrison was not to attempt a breakout to meet up with the relief efforts as well as Soviet pressure in the direction of Berlin that resulting in forces being withdrawn that ultimately prevented operational success.

It is the attention that the book brings to the continued operational effectiveness of the German forces even as late as February, 1945 that stands as one of the most interesting aspects of the narrative. The German ability to continue to plan and execute combined operations effectively is underscored, as an example, by the fact that the Luftwaffe and Hungarian air force was flying up to 455 sorties per day in ground attack and air interdiction operations in support of Konrad. This at a time when it was assumed that the Luftwaffe was a spent force. Szamveber shows through his use of combat reports and other primary source material that, despite logistical as well as material shortages that the Axis were able to execute deep penetration operations against the opposing Soviet forces.

He balances his narrative very effectively by analyzing Soviet capabilities and efforts to block the German advances. The Soviet forces continue to prove themselves masters at the art of battlefield camouflage as well as the use of prepared defensive positions (anti-tanks nests had multiple overlapping weapon systems for example). The author notes that the Germans still felt themselves to be more than equal to the Russians in weaponry and operational/tactical skill sets but that there was a definite improvement in the Soviet capability at the junior and senior officer level; the mid-level officers still were a weakness. Also, it is interesting to see that the Soviets were also suffering significant challenges as the quality of their infantry was markedly lower as the war progressed; a result, no doubt, of the appalling casualties of the previous three years.


Szamveber’s work is an outstanding operational and tactical analysis of the German efforts outside of Budapest and the Soviets determination to thwart them. A detailed map section helps to visualize the operations (although a separate map book would have been better). The author has provide detailed summaries of tables of equipment and casualty rates to show the deltas under which the units were operating. This is a book for the reader with an eye for operational and tactical detail. Helion continues to provide outstanding quality in its book production.