Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Concrete Hell - Louis A DiMarco

The information presented was written by Chris Buckham; however, it was published in The Canadian Army Journal. Therefore, the material is reproduced here by the author with the permission of the journal. If you would like to republish this information or refer to excerpts please contact the Editor Canadian Army Journal ( Website for the Journal is:

Title: Concrete Hell: Urban Warfare From Stalingrad to Iraq
Author: Louis A DiMarco
ISBN: 978-1-84908-792-6
Pages: 232
Illustrations: 47 B/W, 19 Colour
Publisher: Osprey Publishing

                An element of warfare that rarely receives the degree of attention warranted is fighting in built up areas. Historians tracing the unfolding of a campaign will talk about fighting in Caen, Krakov or Warsaw but don’t delve into the details. Louis DiMarco’s book looks to address this oversight through an analysis of city fighting over the last century. His stated intention with this book is threefold: provide the reader with an overall understanding of the urban battlespace, analyse doctrinal insights – based on case studies – into factors affecting the execution of urban operations, and trace the evolution of urban warfare from the 20th and early 21st century. He undertakes this effort through a series of case studies of urban conflicts commencing with World War 2 and running through to Iraq.

                DiMarco’s work is interesting and useful in that it spends a great deal of effort providing a strategic and operational level (‘big hand/small map’) overview of the conflict and the events leading up to it. The challenge with this is that the degree of analysis of the evolution of urban warfare is somewhat limited. I would have anticipated a greater attention and focus on the actual development and execution of urban doctrine. Additionally, DiMarco’s premise (identified in Chapter 1) that ‘warfare’s historically traditional locale’ is the urban battle space is, in my opinion, not accurate. One does not have to look very hard to find innumerable historical examples of field combat, siege warfare and, least of all, fighting in urban settings that underscore the multi-facetted nature of war.
              Nevertheless, DiMarco’s work does have some very valuable analysis associated with it. He does identify a number of consistent themes associated with success in urban combat. Intelligence, isolating the environment from reinforcement, specialized weapon systems and joint operating teams as well as working to separate the combatants (both conventional and asymmetric) from their civilian population support base all retain resonance. Additionally, the failure of many nations to remember and learn the lessons from the past (therefore failing to apply them) proved to be both costly and time-consuming.   

                DiMarco has produced a worthy product but it attempts to address too many issues that are secondary to, and have little bearing on, his stated primary focus. A good example of this was his discussion of the use of Republic of South Korean forces in the retaking of Seoul during the Korean War. The author’s outline of their involvement, while interesting, adds nothing to the discussion of how urban warfare was undertaken and developed.

                I enjoyed his work as a general analysis of the battlefields that he reviews but the book left me somewhat underwhelmed. I had anticipated, given his introduction, much more effort to be given to the how’s and why’s of urban conflict itself. Also I think that a number of his premises, while not completely incorrect, are somewhat skewed. The book is worth a read but with a critical eye.

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