Friday, 23 February 2018
Title: Logistics in the Falklands War: A Case Study in Expeditionary Warfare
Author: Kenneth L Privratsky
Publisher: Pen and Sword Books
The Falkland’s War was a conflict that no-one anticipated or effectively planned for. A conventional war fought between two individual nations, one NATO the other South American, had simply not been in the paradigm of western planners for literally decades as focus had remained exclusively on the NATO-Warsaw Pact standoff. That the British prevailed was as much a testament to professionalism and their ability to improvise as it was to a heavy dose of luck. Logistics was the key to success in this conflict; the author, drawing upon interviews and primary source material, paints a vivid picture of the challenges facing the support elements of this force. The lessons that he gleans from his research are many and I have identified some of the more significant ones below, covering a broad spectrum of support doctrine.
Effective control of logistics relies heavily upon a clear delineation of command and responsibility. Give the distances involved and the resultant paucity of resources, it was strange that the overall commander of the British Task Force (Commander South Atlantic Task Force) Admiral Fieldhouse, did not sail with the fleet. This left task force logisticians trying to support four sub-group commanders (Rear Admiral Woodward – Commander Carrier Battle Group, Brig Thompson – Commander Landing Force, Commodore Clapp – Commander Amphibious Task Force and Captain Young – Commander Op Paraquet) who each had equal standing under Fieldhouse. Poor strategic and operational communication ability meant that inevitably conflicts arose relating to priority of support.
Additional challenges identified by the author included the breakdown of logistics discipline during the deployment phase to Ascension Island. Unfortunately, this is not an unusual case and has been repeated many times since the Falklands War. Clear marking, tracking information and prioritization is critical if items are not to be mishandled or misplaced. As soon as tracking control is lost over items, especially during a period of intense throughput, it is like randomly placing a book on a library shelf, the item will be most likely lost for the duration of the operation. The same holds true for inaccurate prioritization. Items are handled and given space on aircraft etc based upon their identified priority. Unfortunately, the old adage holds true: if everything is identified as priority, then nothing is priority. The need to maintain logistics discipline, regardless of the pressure to get things out of the door, is absolutely critical to the effective support of an operation.
Another area that the author discusses in detail is the atrophying of skill sets such as amphibious assaults into austere environments fully supported by logistics. Cost cutting and a paradigm of first world support available through NATO nations sapped the British of experience and knowledge. This reluctance to expend defence dollars on realistic training was not limited to the UK but their experience serves as a warning to other nations that it is “too late to buy insurance once the house is on fire”. Many Western members of the NATO alliance find themselves severely limited in their ability to undertake operations of any significant magnitude unilaterally due to a degradation or atrophying of skills and resources due to a reliance upon others to make up any shortfalls.
British victory in the Falkland’s war was not a foregone conclusion. One of the points that the author makes is that, while the British did lose a significant number of assets during the war, predominantly they were picket ships or combat vessels as opposed to support ships. Argentine orders to their pilots were to target the logistics elements of the fleet thereby crippling the British before they could get a foothold on the ground. The pilots, generally, went after the fighting elements and either consciously or otherwise, disregarded their orders. That they did was exceptionally fortunate for the British.
Sunday, 4 February 2018
Author: Jonathon Walker
Publisher: Pen and Sword
Photos/ Maps: 17/10
Anyone following the news these days will be aware of the ongoing civil/proxy war taking place in Yemen. Regional forces as well as rebel and government elements are locked in a ferocious war where no action, however barbaric by modern standards, appears off-limits. Unfortunately, this is not a new or unique situation for this region of the world as Walker so aptly discusses in his book.
Aden was originally a strategically critical naval station that provided a stop off point midway between the far flung Eastern and Western elements of the British Empire. The region outside of the immediate area of this port was viewed as a semi-autonomous area that was exemplified by brutal tribal conflicts and regional proxy engagements between Egyptian, British and Saudi forces or their client forces.
Walker provides an outstanding baseline analysis of the political and tribal intrigue that permeated the area. Ferociously independent tribes and a brutal, austere environment provided the back drop for ongoing British operations as they attempted to prevent the expansion of Egyptian influence into the region. Walker expertly and concisely navigates the international and political intrigue that typified this conflict. He also provides an adroit analysis of the strain placed upon the British forces as they attempted to maintain stability in newly independent colonies while learning to deal with the unique nature of warfare in the Aden/Yemen region.
Further complicating the issue was the proxy war being assisted by the British between the rebels who had taken control of Yemen (assisted by the Egyptians) and the Yemeni Royalist forces (supported by the British). While on the one hand the British were overtly engaged in operations within the Aden Protectorate, they were also clandestinely working with the Royalists; the complexity of this conflict was truly stunning and could have served as an excellent learning tool for the more recent Afghan conflict.
Drawing upon interviews with the major players in the years following the conflict, the author is able to draw out opinions and observations that uniformed or government service would have prevented. One of the more prevalent of these was the role British domestic politics played in announcing a timeline for British withdrawal. This changed the entire character of the Aden insurgency as groups originally aligned with the British now were forced to look out for their own best interests knowing what fate awaited them with the departure of their erstwhile allies. Another key lesson to be derived from the conflict.
While the gravity and violence of this war has generally been overshadowed by the US engagement in Vietnam, it nevertheless stands as an outstanding school room for future operations within the region. The complex social and political dynamic characterizing Aden serves as both a warning and a lesson for non-regional powers attempting to subdue or influence these peoples. Walker has done a good job at contextualizing the ferocity and complexity of this fight.
Tuesday, 16 January 2018
Title: The Winter Fortress: The Epic Mission to Sabotage Hitler’s Atomic Bomb
Author: Neal Bascomb
Following the invasion and capitulation of Norway in 1940, as a theatre of operations the region became a sideshow, overshadowed by the massive conflagration being played out in mainland Europe, Russia and the Far East; however, despite the focus elsewhere, perhaps one of the most important dramas of the war was being played out in the quiet, snow covered but brutal region of the Norwegian interior. Few people have heard of Kompani Linge and the heavy water production plant at Vemork (the only plant of its kind in the world); fewer still are aware of the multiple efforts of Allied forces and operatives to destroy the capability of the plant to provide heavy water (critical to the production of an atomic bomb) to the German scientific and war effort and scarcer still are those aware of the success of nine Norwegian operatives who parachuted into the inhospitable Vidda region, survived a crushingly hostile environment and succeeded not only in penetrating the plant and destroying critical infrastructure but also escaping with no loss of life (on either side). Bascomb’s book recounts their story.
Deeply researched and written in a style that relates the stress, dangers and profound knowledge and cohesion of the men involved, the author removes any sense of the glamour of covert warfare. Rather, his narrative relates the effects of stress, boredom and fear on the human psyche as well as accurately describing the courage and dedication required to make this mission a success. It is a vivid rendition of the mental and psychological strength required of those undertaking this style of clandestine warfare and should be studied as a case study in special operations.
He does not only focus upon the successful Norwegian led mission but also the numerous efforts of the RAF, USAF and, most noteworthy, of the 261st Company of the Royal Engineers who tried to penetrate the German defences via glider insertion and were lost to a man through accident and execution by the Axis forces. Bascomb provides a very sobering account of their exertions and sacrifices.
The author paints a vivid picture of life in Norway under occupation; the efforts to continue ‘normal’ life or at best moderate co-existence, the impact of collaborators and the challenges of trying to build and maintain an element of resistance to the Axis. Of particular note is the ability of the Norwegians resistance fighters to survive in one of the harshest climates on earth; their capacity to hunt and live off of the land even at the height of winter (albeit on the edge of starvation) is in itself an epic tale.This story is an adventure tale for the ages and the men who undertook to see the sabotage of the German atomic program are as great hero’s as those that fought on the front lines in the major theatres of war. Theirs was a silent, unheralded effort and it is to Bascomb’s credit that their names and achievements have not been forgotten. A well written account that should be part of any library dedicated to special operations of the Second World War.
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
Title: Her Finest Hour: The Heroic Life of Diana Rowden, Wartime Secret Agent
Author: Gabrielle McDonald-Rothwell
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.
Title: The Prisoner in his Palace
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
Title: The Battle of Kursk: Controversial and Neglected Aspects
Author: Valeriy Zamulin
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.
Title: Winning Wars Amongst the People: Case Studies in Asymmetric Conflict
Author: Peter A. Kiss
Publishers: Potomac Books
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.