Sunday, 30 September 2018

On Tactics: A Theory of Victory in Battle - B.A. Friedman


This review has been submitted to Strategy and Tactics Magazine.

Title: On Tactics: A Theory of Victory in Battle
Author: B.A. Friedman
ISBN: 978-1-682471-63-0
Publisher: Naval Institute Press
Year: 2017
Hardcover
Pages: 241

The authors starts this work with the premise that Tactics, as a concept of war fighting, requires a reanalysis in light of the changes that have occurred in both the nature and execution of warfare. The re-examination focuses upon the elevation of tactics to a level that supplants the ‘operational’ level of command and a discussion on the traditional principles of warfare and their application to the modern battlefield.  

The book is not an easy read and requires patience to really glean what the author is looking to achieve. That is not to say that it is not well written but doctrine in and of itself requires thought and focus. In that light, this book demands considered deliberation.

He starts from the Clauswitzian school of the principles of war and decries the standard scholastic approach of rote learning and application. He emphasizes the need to avoid the trap of doctrine and its principles becoming dogma. Notwithstanding this position, Friedman does suggest an abridged, updated version that he identifies as being Tenets of War vice Principles. He postulates the difference as being one where Principles are rigid whereas Tenets are not. It is somewhat challenging to see where the line between the two is drawn but certainly, his suggestion is a good place for discussion and engagement. He divides his Tenets into three distinct categories: Physical, Mental and Moral. Follow-on chapters address each in more detail.

A central aspect of his analysis is his rejection of the Operational level of war. His position is that anything involving operations below the level of strategy is in fact tactics. To define an intermediary level is to inject un-necessary friction and confusion in the application of the Tenets. He does however, readily acknowledge the utility of an operational designation for those aspects that do not have a clear ‘home’ within the tactical or strategic levels (logistics, cyber, asymmetric, etc).

His assertion that those areas outside of the strategic/tactical sphere are in fact elements of operational art but not strategy or tactics in and of themselves is somewhat confusing. After all, in the modern age, cyber warfare for example, has become a means of engaging ones adversaries without any physical interaction and could therefore be defined as a method of achieving strategic aims.

The main body of the book is followed by a series of appendices that expand upon his positions vis-à-vis asymmetric warfare, the operational level of war, centre of gravity, training and structure. These are very helpful in clarifying how these various elements are incorporated (or not) into his assertion that Strategy and Tactics are the only two viable levels of war.

Overall, this work is an interesting salvo into an area that does deserve review. His position is certainly understandable; however, rejection of an operational level of command does run the risk of muddying the delineation of responsibility between commanders. Changes in capability, technology and methodology certainly underscore the need to look at how militaries control and command in war. This work suggests some interesting proposals.

From Victory to Stalemate: The Western Front, Summer 1944 - C J Dick



This review has been submitted to the British Army Review.

Title: From Victory to Stalemate: The Western Front, Summer 1944
Author: C J Dick
ISBN: 978-0-7006-2293-1
Publisher: Kansas UP
Year: 2016
Hardcover
Pages: 465
Maps: 14
Photos: 0

In this, the first of a two volume set, the author has undertaken to ascertain the causes behind the Western Allied forces failure in their efforts to knock Germany out of the war in 1944. Certainly, there was every reason for confidence that this was attainable once Allies had overcome the German defences at Normandy and broken out into the French interior. The re-establishment of maneuver warfare against a greatly degraded German military should have sounded the death knell for Axis defensive efforts in the West.

While the author does discuss in detail the elements of the Western Campaign, starting with the invasion of Normandy, he is clear that the focus of the book is not another rendition of that series of battles. Rather, he uses the campaign as a means of facilitating his analysis of where, how and why the Allies diverged from a focussed drive at the destruction the Wehrmacht and its combat capability into a series of costly (in terms of time, effort and logistics) secondary and tertiary efforts that ultimately diluted their operational effectiveness. Thereby enabling the Germans to retain a defensive capability and thus prolong the war.

Dick looks at the foundations of the operational level of war and how these building blocks were applied in the development of and the execution of doctrine in the different Allied nations (in this case American, British and Canadian). Given the lack of experience amongst senior Allied commanders under combat conditions, he further discusses the strengths and weaknesses of each of the army’s as they undertook the buildup and follow-on operations in Normandy and beyond. He follows this with a detailed discussion and analysis of national logistics capabilities and their performance under operational conditions. His book winds up with a comprehensive review of each of the senior (Army and Army Group) commanders performance through the lens of the relative doctrine each was operating under.

This is a particularly strong book in that explains in clear, concise terms the reasons behind the Allies failure to effectively overcome a drastically weakening Wehrmacht for 11 months, despite their unchallenged command of the air and logistic dominance. His balanced examination is uncompromising in its conclusions. It provides the reader with an outstanding assessment of the influences that coloured the Allies decision making. Focussing on elements such as divergent doctrine, media critique, political interference, hubris (an assumption that the collapse of German resistance was imminent), an application of doctrine as dogma vice guidance, failure of effective command, inter-service rivalry and a failure to oversee and plan for the efficient execution of logistics support, Dick’s work underscores challenges that transcend World War 2 and are as applicable today as they were in 1944. Very strongly recommended for the senior commander regardless of element.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Breakout At Stalingrad - Heinrich Gerlach

This review has been submitted to British Army Review.

Title: Breakout At Stalingrad
Author: Heinrich Gerlach
ISBN: 978-1-7866-9062-3
Publisher: Apollo
Year: 2018
Hardcover
Pages: 707

The story behind the writing and publication of this novel is in fact a story unto itself. The author, Heinrich Gerlach, was a German soldier captured after the surrender of Stalingrad in February, 1943. He remained in Soviet captivity until 1950. During that time he gathered the stories of a number of fellow Stalingrad survivors including some of the most senior ranking officers. He then drafted his 600 page manuscript in secret between 1943-1945 while in captivity. The novel is not an autobiography but he is represented in the book as Lt Breuer, an Intelligence Officer with an armoured unit.

Gerlach wrote this book as a testament to the German Landser (soldier) and their experiences in the Stalingrad pocket. It is an intimate and raw narrative. Every aspect of their lives and trials is articulated through the books characters. This is not about strategy, tactics or the good or bad elements of the war; it is a story about men trapped in a tightening noose and their reactions to that environment. He is able to accurately relate, to those who may only appreciate the reflection of the horrors of Stalingrad, the agony of the 6th Army as it gradually but inexorably deteriorated from a professional fighting force into a starving mob, scrabbling for survival. Gerlach is able to relate the best and worst of the human condition, stressed beyond imagination.

The author drafted his manuscript as a means of dealing with the nightmare that he and hundreds of thousands of his comrades had endured; that he was able to undertake this task so soon after the event further enhances the poignancy of the account. While the characters may be amalgamations of numerous people, the environment is accurate and horrific.

The story itself follows a section of soldiers, each with their own perspective on the war and the Nazi regime. Each character is well developed within the context of the Stalingrad environs and the struggle each has internally and externally; as the battle unfolds and becomes more desperate, this struggle is both realistic and thought provoking. The reader can easily find themselves psychologically embedded with the characters in the book.

This was fascinating book to read, coming from an author who personally experienced the narrative he created. It flows well and it is easy to lose track of time as one becomes drawn into the story. The addition of the addendum explaining the background of the novel and its transition from Soviet hands back into German in 2011 is very unique. This is a strong story with an affecting narrative that reminds one of Guy Sajer’s: The Forgotten Soldier. It is well worth an in-depth read.

Friday, 14 September 2018

The Causes of War and the Spread of Peace - Azar Gat

This review has been submitted to Soldier Magazine.

Title: The Causes of War and the Spread of Peace
Author: Azar Gat
ISBN: 978-0-19-879502-5
Publisher: Oxford UP
Year: 2017
Hardcover
Pages: 303

The author has undertaken an analysis of war as a fundamental aspect of man’s psychological development. He suggests that conflict is in fact a manifestation of societies need for: culling of the weak, power, resources and space. The first world has developed to the point where these needs have been met without the need to resort to physical violence; diminishing the requirement for war. Non-first world countries do not have this level of development and are still subject to the more basic needs. Globalization means that the challenges of these countries cannot be contained within their boundaries. A thoughtful and well balanced analysis of modern international challenges.

East of Chosin: Entrapment and Breakout in Korea, 1950 - Roy E Appleman

Title: East of Chosin: Entrapment and Breakout in Korea, 1950
Author: Roy E Appleman
ISBN: 978-0890962831
Publisher: Texas A & M UP
Year: 1987
Hardcover
Pages: 361
Maps:  11
Photos: 41

The advance of UN forces into North Korea and the region of the Yalu River following the landing at Inchon in 1950 is well known and studied. The subsequent surprise attack by overwhelming Chinese infantry forces and the collapse of the UN drive followed by the desperate fighting retreat of the Marines of X Corps from around the Chosin Reservoir stands as one of the defining moments of the Korean Conflict. Lesser known but no less dramatic was the tragedy of the Army’s 31 Regimental Combat Team (RCT), destroyed while attempting to retreat after defending the 7th Marines Eastern flank.

The author has drawn upon the first hand recollections of survivors as well as declassified documents from the Army and Marines to paint a comprehensive picture of a unit that circumstance, hubris and poor planning had destined for disaster. Additionally, he also relates a story of individual courage, tenacity and will on the part of individual soldiers and officers. Make no mistake however, Appleman pulls no punches in his rendition of selfishness and appalling leadership collapse.

It is a maxim that one’s true nature is revealed during times of intense stress and hardship; the experience of 31 RCT highlights this fact in glaring detail. If nothing else, this tragedy serves as a teaching tool on leadership under adverse conditions. The collapse of the command structure and the subsequent deterioration of the 31 RCT from a military unit into a mob of individuals within a matter of hours is a harsh testament to the necessity of maintenance of unit cohesion and discipline and the critical roles of the NCO’s and Officers to that effect

There are many lessons to be gleaned from this work:

1.    The critical necessity of maintaining communications;
2.    The role of the Commander and where they need to be in order to ensure accessibility and the maintenance of operational control;
3.    Clear planning and ensuring that sub-units understand their roles and responsibilities;
4.    Anticipation of requirements. Commanders must not micromanage but focus on what is required next;
5.    Logistics: the need to identify critical requirements and the absolute necessity for the Command to deliver based upon those requirements
6.    The critical role of junior Officers and NCO’s in maintaining unit cohesion and discipline; and
7.    The need for inter-service cooperation and a common operating environment.

The experience of the 31st RCT in Chosin should be studied by leadership academies and used a teaching tool for how not to undertake an operation. Individuals involved within the 7th Marines and the RCT certainly rose to the challenge of the occasion and serve as examples for others to emulate; however, overall, the lessons of this tragedy are more akin to what not to do rather than the opposite.

Monday, 20 August 2018

Whispers Across The Atlantick - David Smith


This review has been submitted to the Canadian Army Journal. 

Title: Whispers Across The Atlantick
Author: David Smith
ISBN: 978-1-4728-2795-1
Publisher: Osprey
Year: 2017
Hardcover
Pages: 292
Maps:  5
Photos: 15

General William Howe was appointed the Commander of the Crown forces deployed to crush the rebellion that had broken out in the United States in 1776. The British Navy had unchallenged control of the seas and its land forces a heavy professional advantage over the American rebels. Things unfortunately did not go nearly as planned for the British; hampered by hubris, personal animosity between the commanders of the different British and German (the British Crown had hired German mercenaries) units, a failure to prioritize and focus on the primary task of destroying the rebel army and a marked failure to undertake operations with drive and urgency resulted in a growing dissatisfaction and a loss of confidence with Howe by the British Government. His resignation after the 1777 campaign season and the subsequent public enquiry in the House of Commons form the basis of the book.

I particularly enjoyed Smith’s approach to his narrative. Each chapter commences with the pertinent element of Howe’s speech to the House followed by an evaluation of the contents by the author (taking advantage of the benefit of hindsight). The chapter that follows expands upon the actions of the various antagonists during the period covered. This approach makes for a much clearer understanding of what the perceptions of Howe were at the time as compared to the reality of his actions on the ground.

The degree to which commanders relied upon the initiative of their subordinates during this period is clear. Limitations in communications and the challenges of operating along very limited axis’s of advance (in many cases consisting of rivers or game tracks) resulted in decisions being made based upon information that had been overtaken by events. More to the point though an explanation of the failure of the British to attain victory during these critical early years, lies in the authors analysis of Howe as a commander and his failure to grasp the operational and strategic options that would have destroyed the capacity of the Americans to continue the war. It is clear that Howe was not an incompetent General but that he was a man out of his depth in the combined symmetric and asymmetric styles of warfare that constituted the Revolution.

Additionally, Howe’s efforts were impeded by the inflexible position assumed by the British government in relation to the demands of the American colonists. His orders to destroy the various colony’s infrastructure as a means of undermining the will of the revolutionaries combined with a refusal to even acknowledge their grievances, ensured a steady and growing level of support for the insurrection. Smith discusses this challenge in some detail.   

Osprey has published a very good quality book. The main drawback to the content of the book itself is the quality of the maps. They are reproductions of the original maps produced at the time for the consumption of the British public and are, unfortunately, difficult to read and follow. Otherwise the narrative is excellent, the bibliography extensive and the font large enough to read easily. I very much enjoyed this book as it shed light upon the nature of 18th century command as well as the challenge of conducting a war from a distance. Recommended.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

A Genius for War: The German Army and General Staff 1807-1945 - Col T.N. Dupuy

Title: A Genius for War: The German Army and General Staff 1807-1945
Author: Col T.N. Dupuy
ISBN: 0-13-351114-6
Publisher: Prentice Hall
Year: 1977
Hardcover
Pages: 363
Maps:  19
Photos: 74

 Students of modern military history will agree that one of the most influential elements of the modern command system in most if not all countries has been the legacy of the German General Staff System, developed under the auspices of The Reformers (Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, Clausewitz, Grolman and Boyen) following the collapse of the Prussian military at the Battles of Jena and Auerstadt in 1807. Dupuy’s work traces the development, institutionalization and influence of this system on the German military and, by extension, State up to the end of 1945.

This is a brilliant analysis of the staff system. Revolutionary in scope and visionary in implementation; it served to transform the Prussian and German States from a third rate power to the standard by which other militaries were measured. While the narrative is clear and logical, there are three elements which stand out as being key to the success and ultimate failure of the German military.

The first two and the foundation of the system (and that which gave it such resiliency and capacity) was the Founders success at “Institutionalizing Military Excellence”. This entailed ensuring the development and maintenance of a military as free as possible from the ‘vagaries of change’ resultant from human fallibility. In effect ensuring military excellence regardless of the influence of changing leadership. Dupuy provides an insightful and concise discourse on how the Germans developed a process of ensuring an Army of consistent and reliable ‘Organizational Genius’ while concurrently providing the structure within which leaders of ‘Operational Genius’ were developed. Additionally, the military leadership was to remain aloof and disconnected to the political machinations of the State.

The third aspect that they endeavoured to implement, but were ultimately unsuccessful, was ensuring that the military and its leadership were seen and understood to be tools of and accountable to the people of Prussia and ultimately, Germany. Where this failed was in the relationship between the Kaiser and the Reichstag (or Parliament). The Kaiser insisted upon an Army that was loyal to and controlled by Him. Thus it was that the leadership and the Army swore fealty to the Kaiser and not to Germany (as represented by the people).

The book goes a long way towards providing an explanation as to why the German Army remained an effective, focussed fighting force right up until the last days of the Second World War. It also, by extension, explains why the military did not intervene with the rise of Hitler and also swore an oath to him. Dupuy’s analysis shows the strength of the system that the Germans had created and how it translated into such an effective military force. Additionally, the dangers of providing such an effective tool to an individual as opposed to an accountable entity is also made abundantly clear.

This is a great book, logically laid out and comprehensive in its scope. It serves as an outstanding review of the strengths and weaknesses of the German Staff system.