Saturday, 23 October 2021

COSSAC: Lt.Gen. Sir Frederick Morgan and the Genesis of Operation Overlord - Stephen C Kepher

This review has been submitted to the Journal of the Society for 

Army Historical Research

Title: COSSAC: Lt.Gen. Sir Frederick Morgan and the Genesis of Operation Overlord
Author: Stephen C Kepher
ISBN: 978-1-68247-508-9
Publisher: Naval Institute Press
Year: 2020
Pages: 300
Photos/Maps: 16/3

The development of the plan for the Allied invasion of the European mainland (Op Overlord) remains as one of the most complex military operations in history. Much has been written and studied relating to the actual invasion itself; however, the effort that went into the conceptualization and development of the plan itself has been generally overlooked in the discussion. Kepher’s book sheds light not only on the method by which the plan unfolded but also the myriad of other factors that had to be taken into account that were unique to this operation: the amphibious element, the multinational C2 issues, the integration of naval, air and land elements, the political facets and, central throughout, the role of LGen Morgan to the success of the project. 

This is the authors first book and he does an admirable job of recreating the environment within which Morgan was to operate. The author undertakes a noteworthy discussion and analysis of perhaps the greatest obstacle facing Morgan, in explaining to his readership, who have grown up in the era of multinational operations and NATO, what it was like for the Allies to create, from scratch and with little to no precedence, a planning team for the invasion. Exacerbating this challenge was that while Morgan as COSSAC (Chief of Staff Supreme Allied Commander) was expected to develop and plan the operation, there was no Supreme Allied Commander appointed. Thus he had no ‘top cover; for the decisions that he was making, nor guidance on the myriad of questions to be answered. Kepher’s liberal use of Morgan’s diaries of the period add additional depth and resonance to the narrative. 

This work serves as an excellent reference for anyone (military or civilian) undertaking a role in which they are working with a consortium of different nationalities, industries or political affiliations. Morgan’s experiences and those of his staff, highlight the benefits and pitfalls associated with these kinds of interactions. What serves as the best means of interaction, how does one undertake conflict resolution, what is the method to best address accusations of external favoritism by ones own government and military? All these examples, and more, are discussed at length through Morgan, and his staffs, own words and experiences. 

The author has included significant additional data in the annexes, thus providing the reader with tangible references covering command structures and relationships, force structures, actual documentation from Morgan providing synopsis of his planning as well as selected abbreviations and acronyms. Kepher deliberately refrains from excessive use of military acronyms and slang in an effort to keep the narrative accessible to the average reader. Additionally, he provides comprehensive endnotes and bibliography that serve to suggest additional avenues of inquiry for the reader. 

The Naval Institute Press have published a high quality book that is both an outstanding rendition of the staff and planning work behind one of the most complex military operations in recent times as well as an excellent professional development tool. Highly recommended for the casual and professional historian alike. 

Thursday, 16 September 2021

Paramilitarism – Mass Violence in the Shadow of the State - Ugur Umit Ungor

 This review has been submitted to Soldier Magazine. 

Title: Paramilitarism – Mass Violence in the Shadow of the State
Author: Ugur Umit Ungor
ISBN: 978-0-19-882524-1
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Year: 2020
Pages: 208 

In this short but enlightening treatise, the author addresses the issues surrounding why States utilize the services of paramilitary organizations, what are the common relationships that exists between them, and what is the effect upon societies within which these organizations operate (specifically as it relates to crime and the State). The analytical approach taken avoids idealised visions of these groups and focuses upon discussion and assessment based upon their observed actions. This work is an excellent study of para militaristic activity, within the context of the modern world, that encompasses the breadth of geographic environments within which they operate.

Monday, 30 August 2021

With Eagles to Glory: Napoleon and His German Allies in the 1809 Campaign - John H Gill

This review has been submitted to Strategy and Tactics Magazine. 

Title: With Eagles to Glory: Napoleon and His German Allies in the 1809 Campaign
Author: John H Gill
ISBN: 978-1-78438-309-1
Publisher: Pen and Sword Books
Year: 2018
Pages: 542
Photos/Maps: 40/50

Napoleon and his Grande Armee have been written about in countless books and studies; however, attention on those Allies that contributed forces and the role that those forces played has been noticeably absent from the literature of the period. Forged out of the success of the 1805 French Campaigns, 36 small German States bound themselves through treaty to France under the Confederation of the Rhine (Rheinbund). Under the terms of the treaty, they would be obliged to provide a certain percentage of men and equipment when called upon by the French Emperor. Saxon Artillery, Hessian Fusiliers, Jagers and Dragoons from Baden and Infantry from Bavaria are representative of a portion of the myriad of forces made available to Napoleon by the Germans. In total, 123,081 soldiers representing all 36 German States participated in the 1809 Campaign against Austria. Gill’s work seeks to address the lack of recognition of the contribution that these member States made to Napoleon’s success. 

This is truly a comprehensive examination of the Germans, encompassing detailed descriptions and analysis of tactics, uniforms, weaponry, units, training and discussions of the regions from which the soldiers came. Additionally, Gill sheds light on how they were integrated into the French Armies and chain of command. Balancing the needs and sensitivities of this myriad of forces was no easy task and it is quite enlightening how it was undertaken. Appreciating that it is very easy for the historian to get caught up in the miasma of detail that always has the potential to severely degrade the reading experience, Gill adroitly balances the requirements of explanation with the realities of flow and engagement of the reader. He provides enough of the former to provide for the scope and story without getting bogged down. Additional detail is provided at the end of each chapter in the form of copious and comprehensive notes sections.   

Gill’s descriptions of the participation of the German contingents in the 1809 campaign takes the same approach as his analysis of the background: insightful, detailed enough while maintaining reader engagement and comprehensive. Not all contingents participated to the same degree but each is given its due by the author. The reader is left with a much better appreciation of the degree of complexity associated with how armies moved, deployed, fought and were supported during this period. 

The publication quality of the book is good although one of map synopsis pages is missing from the front of this edition. Additionally, the maps themselves leave something to be desired as they do not have the any indications of the movements of the units identified. Nevertheless, the information provided through various tables, unit organization charts, numerous appendices and a comprehensive bibliography is truly outstanding. 1809 is generally recognized as the beginning of the descent of Napoleon and the Grande Armee as both were beginning to exhibit the initial signs of a degradation of the quality previously ascribed to them. Thus it was that the participation and support of the Rheinbund Allies was all the more critical to its continued success. This is an excellent work for both the casual and serious historian and is a recommended addition to anyone’s library.  

Saturday, 28 August 2021

The History of the Panzerwaffe Vol 1 1939-1942 - Thomas Anderson

 This review has been submitted to Iron Cross magazine.

Title: The History of the Panzerwaffe Vol 1 1939-1942
Author: Thomas Anderson
ISBN: 978-1-4728-0812-7
Publisher: Osprey Publishing
Year: 2015
Pages: 304
Photos/Maps: 100’s/0

Military historians interested in the development, from its very earliest stages, of the German Panzer forces, will be drawn to this work. Going back to the very first tanks utilized by the Germans (captured British Mark IV’s), Anderson traces the concurrent development of both the physical and doctrinal elements of the Panzer. Included in this analysis is the effect of defeat in the World War One on the mindset of the German military leadership. As Anderson discusses, defeat, while nationally tragic for the Germans, opened them to the revolutionary changes that the Panzer brought to the doctrinal table. 

Anderson’s book may be broken down into roughly three sections: the introduction of the tank and the recognition of its impact on the battlefield of World War One, the interwar period where the doctrine of panzer operations advanced (even without actual tanks in the early postwar period) concurrent with technical innovation, and the transition from concept to reality in the first three years of World War Two. The author draws from and refers to a myriad of relevant primary source material (lessons learned, after-action reports and combat reports etc) in order to facilitate the readers understanding of how the Germans arrived at the revolutionary concept of the Panzer Division and its role in Blitzkrieg. It is noteworthy that the development of this doctrine and the tool to execute it was not a direct line but entailed a significant amount of testing and development. What is critical to appreciate however, is that the Germans were much more open to the potential of the Panzer than were their adversaries. 

Anderson also ensures that the reader is made aware of the variety of technical innovations that the Germans undertook in order to recognize the widest possible use of the panzer and its ancillary support elements. Thus it was that developers and engineers were given full support by the armed forces in improving the effectiveness of the tank. Additionally, captured Allied equipment was quickly analyzed and innovations incorporating or countering their design advantages were efficiently integrated into German designs and doctrine. 

The author looks at the effectiveness and role of the Panzerwaffe in the Polish, Norwegian, Western Desert and Eastern Campaigns. His analysis is concise, insightful and relevant as the Panzer Division takes it final form prior to Operation Barbarossa. The nature of the authors discussion is not steeped in technical verbiage but in a manner that the layman may appreciate. In addition to the formal documentation reviewed by the author, inclusion of first person recollections of combat as well as life in the tanks, adds depth and a ‘personal’ edge to the book. 

Overall, this is an excellent visual as well as narrative work. Replete with photographs and technical charts on the tanks themselves, it contains a trove of useful information. Osprey has published a book of the highest quality. Unfortunately, no bibliography has been provided; however, this does not negate the utility of this work as an excellent study of the early development and use of the armoured forces of Germany.

Tuesday, 17 August 2021

The Canal Line: France and Flanders Campaign 1940 - Jerry Murland

This review has been submitted to Soldier Magazine.

Title: The Canal Line: France and Flanders Campaign 1940
Author: Jerry Murland
ISBN: 978-1-473-85219-8
Publisher: Pen and Sword
Year: 2018
Pages: 205
Photos/Maps: 100’s/12

This combination battlefield history and guided tour book provides an excellent synopsis of the events surrounding the fighting in the low countries leading up to Dunkirk. The included driving and walking tours are very well laid out with photographs and detailed directions. The maps provided, as support to the narrative, are average. The publication is of high quality and an appropriate size for ‘pocket travel’. Overall, a recommended purchase for those wishing to follow the course of the battles with additional, in-depth, information that adds colour and personality to the experience.

Thursday, 17 June 2021

General Erich Hoepner: A Military Biography - W Chales de Beaulieu translated by Linden Lyons

This review has been submitted to Iron Cross Magazine. 

Title: General Erich Hoepner: A Military Biography
Author: W Chales de Beaulieu trans Linden Lyons
ISBN: 978-1-612-00976-6
Publisher: Casemate Publishing
Year: 2021
Pages: 252
Photos/Maps: 2/4 

De Beaulieu served as Hoepner’s first general staff officer during his campaign in Poland (1939) and then as his Chief of Staff during Hoepner’s campaigns in France and Russia. He therefore gained a deep insight and appreciation of both the personality and leadership style of this superb officer and panzer commander. Erich Hoepner’s career was characterized by his unwavering loyalty to the soldiers under his command, his duty to his country and the dictates of his conscience. Thus it was that he fulfilled the former with an aficionado’s skill in leading his panzers to Prague, Warsaw, Leningrad and the gates of Moscow and the latter by sacrificing his career for the welfare of his men before Moscow and his life in an effort to rid his country of Hitler. 

The author examens each of Hoepner’s campaigns individually by chapter. His focus is not simply upon the physical execution of the operations themselves but also the influence and affect of Hoepner’s personality on both the battlespace and the execution of his orders. De Beaulieu is a great admirer of Hoepners and this comes across in his evaluations; however, he is not an impartial sycophant. He is, for the most part, quite balanced in his assessment of Hoepner’s decisions; for example he discusses at some length the challenges that Hoepner faced during his drive into Belgium and makes note of errors made during the critical encounter with the Allies during the initial assault of the Dyle Line. Conversely, the author is too generous in his praise of German success against the French Cavalry Corps during the Battle of Hannut. While Hoepner prevailed in the battle, he did not succeed in destroying the French, enabling them to fight another day before Dunkirk. 

Along with Guderian, Hoepner was one of the very early proponents of an independent, self contained Panzer arm capable of deep, dramatic drives into the rear echelons of the enemy. He viewed this as the best way to unbalance and, more importantly, maintain the unbalance, of his adversaries. The author’s analysis of Hoepners drive towards Leningrad serve as perhaps the penultimate example of the effective operational use of the Panzer Arm in the hands of an expert at the peak of his prowess. 

The narrative of the book focuses upon Hoepner as leader and commander and the operational role that his forces undertook in the campaigns presented. The writing style and flow of the author makes for an easy grasp of the context. The work is lacking in sufficient maps that would have greatly facilitated the following of the operations as they unfolded. Although the narrative does give the reader a definite appreciation of the challenges of the terrain, distances, enemy forces and logistics that needed to be overcome, additional maps would have been very useful. The author undertakes, throughout the book, to present Hoepner as a real person, complete with flaws and errors. It is through this lens that the true strengths of Hoepner as both a military professional and quintessential leader are actually emphasized. That Hoepner is an exceptional commander and leader is beyond question; however, it is his willingness to assume responsibility for his decisions, despite the potential consequences, that serves to separate him from an already deep bench of competency. His actions before Moscow in January, 1942 and his willingness to support the July Plot against Hitler (for which he was tried and executed) are evidence of his moral strength and sound ethical grounding.  

The translation from the original German is excellent and there are ample footnotes that serve to expand upon more complicated portions of the operational narrative. Casemate has published a book of high quality. I would strongly recommend this work both as a reference for German operations from the period 1939-1941 and as an excellent study of a lesser known but equally impressive German Officer and Commander.

Friday, 4 June 2021

Narvik: The Struggle of Battle Group Dietl in the Spring of 1940 - Alex Buchner (Translated by Janice Ancker)

This review has been submitted to Air Force

Title: Narvik: The Struggle of Battle Group Dietl in the Spring of 1940
Author: Alex Buchner (Translated by Janice Ancker)
ISBN: 978-1-61200-917-9
Publisher: Casemate Publishing
Year: 2020
Pages: 218
Photos/Maps: 0/9 

The German invasion of Norway, in April/May 1940, is viewed by many as another example of German military prowess and the Allied response one of incompetence and vacillation. In many respects that is true, however, the battle that took place over the Northern port of Narvik stands out as a particularly vivid example of missed opportunity by the Allies and a mixture of tenacity and great luck on the part of the Germans. 

This work, part of “Die Wehrmacht im Kampf” series from Casemate, was originally published in the late 1950’s by Buchner who was present at the battle as part of the German Mountain Troops. He was thus able to draw upon not only the recollections of his compatriots but also his own experiences during the fighting. Written solely from the perspective of the German forces present, it is the first time in English that a narrative of the fighting has been available exclusively from that viewpoint. 

Originally deployed as the most northern element of the invasion forces, a convoy made up of ten destroyers ferried at high speed, 2,700 German Mountain troops with only their personal kit and a minimum of additional supplies to Narvik in order to seize this key port for the export of Swedish ore. All of their follow-on supplies, specialized winter warfare kit and heavy weapons were to follow in a second echelon of support ships expected within 48 hours of their arrival. Unfortunately for the Germans, while their seizure of Narvik and its surrounding area went generally as planned, the Royal Navy succeeded in surprising and sinking all 10 of the German destroyers as well as all save one of the follow-on support ships. Thereby isolated and cut off from support, the Germans, numbering 2,700 Mountain Troops and 2,600 Naval personnel, were faced with holding off at least five times as many Allied soldiers, readily supplied by the Royal Navy who controlled the sea access. However, under the inspired leadership of Generalleutnant Dietl, the Germans, utilizing audacity, initiative, skill and daring (and enjoying more than a fair degree of luck) managed to hold off the more pedestrian efforts on the part of the Allies to oust them from their tenuous hold on Narvik. 

What stands out in this narrative are the critical roles that leadership and morale played in the German success. Buchner relates, in very telling prose, the incredibly debilitating environment within which the Germans had to operate. Northern Norway in April and May is a very hostile winter climate which would have challenged the finest of troops let alone a force that was comprised half of Naval personnel now being used in a Mountain Infantry role. The author describes the methods the German leadership took to both integrate these men into infantry roles and also to fully utilize the specialist skills that they possessed (communications, support and small watercraft control). The Germans showed great skill at taking full advantage of the resources that were available to them.

The writing style of the author is surprisingly engaging. The reader is able to fully appreciate not only the challenges of the environment but of the formidable skill of the German soldiers and officers in adjusting to a fluid and dynamic combat environment. One is left with a distinct appreciation of the benefits of hard training, audacious leadership throughout the chain of command and a deep-rooted belief by the Germans in competency of their Commanders. 

The book is a good quality publication although pictures would have added to the general presentation. The maps provided at the front were in German from the original publication but are able to be used to follow the unfolding events. A series of appendices outline orders of battle at various points for the opposing forces, orders and directives and timelines for the reinforcement of the German forces. The author has also included a comprehensive bibliography (utilizing German primary source material) as well as thorough notes section. Overall, a well written and very interesting book that would serve as an excellent counter point to publications of Allied efforts in Norway.