Saturday, 31 December 2016

Guns Over Kigali - Henry Kwami Anyidoho

Title: Guns Over Kigali
Author: Henry Kwami Anyidoho
ISBN: 9970-02-143-5
Publisher: Foundation Publishing
Year: 1998
Pages: 131
Photos/ Maps: 34/4

This book is a rendition of the author’s experiences as Deputy Force Commander and Chief of Staff for the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) during the period of the Rwandan Genocide April – July 1994. Brig Anyidoho kept an extensive diary throughout his time with UNAMIR and drew upon these notes and his recollections to draft this treatise on his experiences and to provide a series of lessons learned from the disaster. The accuracy of his observations and recommendations and their relevance to future UN peacekeeping missions was confirmed when many of them were included in the Brahimi Report of 2000 which saw a fundamental overhaul of the UN support and operational ethos.

The author was intimately involved in the period leading up to the civil war and was present throughout the fighting. As such, he was either personally involved or privy to the myriad of challenges relating to negotiations and interactions with Rwandan forces (both Hutu and Tutsi), the international community as well as the UN itself. His insights into the bureaucracies, trials and idiosyncrasies of these organizations and their public and private agendas are extremely enlightening.

Throughout his account, the author comments upon the strengths and weaknesses of the UN system in particular, both logistically and operationally. His views are based on hard operational experience and, being noted at the time of observation, are astute and germane. While it is obvious that he was frustrated by what he perceived as inefficiencies, his approach is not one of blame but of a genuine desire to see the system improved.

He includes in his work an introduction to the causes and history of the Rwandan Crisis, a specific series of recommendations relating to national level command preparation and training, the UN and its policies (politically, operationally and logistically) and the shortcomings in the reactions/capabilities of the Organization of African Unity (precursor to the African Union) and how these may be addressed. Additionally, his work incorporates lessons learned throughout the narrative itself.

Anyidoho is passionate about ensuring that the experiences that he, UNAMIR and the Rwandan people underwent, not be repeated. While many of the lessons and observations that he passes on have been looked at, not all have been effectively addressed. This work is critical reading for those preparing for operations within a UN mission in the African Continent. While much has improved since the days of UNAMIR, there is much that has remained the same and this book provides the reader with an outstanding baseline into UN, African and multinational operational challenges.

Friday, 30 December 2016

The Dark Net - Jamie Bartlett

Title: The Dark Net
Author: Jamie Bartlett
ISBN: 978-1-61219-521-6
Publisher: Melville House
Year: 2014
Pages: 306
Photos/ Maps: 0

One of the most profound initiators of change and social influence for the last two generation has been by far the internet and the reach and access that it provides to society at all levels. More than just a repository of information, it also serves as a platform for anyone, regardless of education, economic stature or social background, to promote their vision of the world and to act as architects of their own brand of change.

Bartlett’s book discusses what he identifies as the Dark Net; “internet underworlds set apart yet connected….worlds of freedom and anonymity, where users say and do what they like, often uncensored, unregulated and outside of society’s norms”. The key here is that it looks at the impact that anonymity has on the behaviours of people. In a world where less and less personal information is perceived to be private, the dark net provides an environment where society’s standards and rules may be cast aside.

Why is this significant? Bartlett’s work at first blush appears to be a rather superficial discussion of the concerns raised periodically by media and governments about the challenges posed by an unregulated body; however, as one moves forward in the book, it is clear that Bartlett’s analysis is both insightful and challenging to conventional thinking. He highlights not just practical questions surrounding issues of Net management and accessibility but also delves into areas with much broader implications; touching upon the fundamentals of our societies and perceptions.

This book is not an esoteric treatise on philosophy, rather a practical and tangible discussion on real world issues being played out online. Questions relating to the use of bitcoin on national economies, amateur pornography as practical revenue generation, sales and marketing of drugs and other items, privacy and government oversight are all discussed using interviews with real world people. Additionally, the ongoing passionate debates between those who feel that technology and the web represent the gateway to the ultimate evolution of man (so called transhumanists) or its downfall (anarcho-primitivists) are presented. Finally, the role that the web plays in facilitating “self-help” in controversial areas such as medicine, suicide, self-mutilation and anorexia is discussed.

The strength of this book lies in its non-judgement of the web, its explanation of the terms and concepts of this aspect of the Net, its balanced presentation of arguments for and against each of its areas of research and finally the questions that it leaves the readers to contemplate. It is for the reader to consider where he or she falls in terms of opinion. This is an excellent introduction and discussion of the challenges and potential existing online. Further, whether one likes it or not, it is the future and what generations of people are being influenced by. In order to better appreciate those things that drive modern decision making and activities, it is critical to understand the motivations and influences accessible to all ages and backgrounds. Not just parents, but leaders in all fields would do well to take the time to acquaint themselves with this world.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Three German Invasions of France – The Summer Campaigns of 1870, 1914 and 1940 - Douglas Fermer

This review has been submitted to the British Military History Journal

Title: Three German Invasions of France – The Summer Campaigns of 1870, 1914 and 1940
Author: Douglas Fermer
ISBN: 978-1-781593-54-7
Publisher: Pen and Sword
Year: 2013
Pages: 273
Photos/ Maps: 30/11

Germany and France have maintained a difficult relationship stemming back to the pre-German unification period of Prussia and Napoleonic France. Three wars were fought between the two nations during the 70 years from 1970 until 1940; each reflecting a period of political, doctrinal and societal change within each nation state. Fermer’s book looks at the root causes and the execution of these wars with a view towards highlighting the impact on these conflicts upon the French army and society primarily and upon Germany secondarily.

Fermer’s analysis is balanced and insightful. Despite the breadth of the topics that he has undertaken to review, he does so in a very succinct manner; the renditions of his observations easy to follow and well developed. His approach is to look at each of the individual engagements as a part of a greater whole. This facilitates a linear examination that clearly identifies the connections and causation's between the wars.

He has divided his book into four distinct parts, each addressing the individual conflicts as well as the precursor period in France leading up to 1870. Each section establishes the environment of the period and the main changes that had occurred as well as the main lessons to be learned from each encounter. Central throughout is the political atmosphere which remains the main cause of the military escalation between the nations. The use of the military as a tool of political gain must be balanced and extremely carefully applied; Fermer shows that, leading to 1870, the Germans were extremely adept at this but that limitations in political acumen by both participants made themselves felt to a greater degree as time went forward. Hubris on the part of both French and German leadership was legion.

Fermer also undertakes a detailed evaluation of the impact of success upon both the victor and vanquished both doctrinally and psychologically. His investigation reveals that the German use of lessons learned following their actions were far more in depth (and taken far more seriously) than their French counterparts. The French were further handicapped by their political instability and ongoing intra-national divergence. This manifested itself in inconsistent recruitment and armament policies as well as challenges in foreign policy.

Also, included in the book is a comprehensive listing of the references that he has utilized; of particular note is the number of primary source documents. Overall this is an outstanding rendition of the turbulent period encompassing these three conflicts. The author has drafted a narrative that recounts the characteristics of the conflicts themselves, the underlying causes (primary, secondary and beyond) and the results politically, militarily and socially thus providing the reader with a complete understanding of this period. Fermer’s book is an excellent account and source. 

Shanghai 1937: Stalingrad on the Yangtze - Peter Harmsen

This review has been submitted to Sabretache Magazine. 

Title: Shanghai 1937: Stalingrad on the Yangtze
Author: Peter Harmsen
ISBN: 978-1-61200-167-8
Publisher: Casemate
Year: 2015
Pages: 310
Photos/Maps: 76/9

The war between Japan and the Chinese has to a great extent been eclipsed by the world conflict in Europe and the Pacific. Nevertheless, the fighting between the two Asian powers was catastrophic to the people of China and a clear precursor to the style of warfare that Japan would undertake in the near future throughout the Pacific. Harmsen’s work on the fighting in Shanghai, a city steeped in intrigue and an international hub, sheds a disturbing and fascinating light onto the nature and dynamic of Far Eastern conflict.

His writing style is easy to follow and encapsulates the strategic and operational focus of operations as well as the experiences of the individual soldiers and officers on each side. He astutely analyzes the doctrinal challenges and strengths of the opposing armies and the role that the international community played as the battle unfolded. Specifically, the role of the German army advisors to the Chinese military is discussed in some detail, shedding light on the challenges and frustrations associated with those working in an advisory capacity.

Additionally, Harmsen discusses the weaknesses of the Japanese and Chinese armies and their slavish adherence to orders and doctrine. Initiative was not a strength that was promoted and this resulted in significant loss of personal and missed opportunity; this was further exacerbated by the nature of the command structure of these armies. The adherence to national doctrine also resulted in each army being able to anticipate exactly how their adversary was going to respond or react to a given situation further aggravating losses.

This weakness was offset by a deep belief in their causes amongst the soldiers. This strength of character of the individual soldiers manifested itself in their incredible ability to overcome adversity and horrific conditions. Despite poor logistics and medical support (and its resultant deprivations), the fighting men on each side continued to undertake operations in horrendous environments, in the full knowledge that surrender or capture by either side was not an option.

Another noteworthy aspect of this work is the study of the lack of empathy and humanity shown by each side in the conduct of operations. Specifically on the Japanese side, this willingness to treat both uniformed adversaries and civilians to the most terrible of atrocities (regardless of their involvement or age) reveals not only a precursor to future behaviours but a weakness in both command and an understanding of the nature of winning the hearts and minds of subdued populations.

Casemate’s publication is of excellent quality with a slightly larger font for easy reading. A comprehensive bibliography and notes section add depth and dimension to the narrative. Harmsen’s book is balanced and very readable; he has ensured a human face to the tragedy that was this battle. There is much to be learned by this insightful work; not the least of which is an appreciation of the psyche of the Chinese and Japanese soldier.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Three Sips of Gin – Dominating the Battlespace with Rhodesia’s Elite Selous Scouts - Tim Bax

This review has been submitted to British Army Review. 

Title: Three Sips of Gin – Dominating the Battlespace with Rhodesia’s Elite Selous Scouts
Author: Tim Bax
ISBN: 978-1-909384-29-3
Publisher: Helion and Company
Year: 2014
Pages: 423
Photos/ Maps: 134/1

The Selous Scouts were an organization that acted as the forward eyes and ears of the Rhodesian military during their long and brutal bush war with the ZIPRA and ZANLA revolutionary groups. This autobiography of the experiences of the author as he made his way into the Rhodesian military first as a member of the Rhodesian Light Infantry (RLI) and then as a member of the Selous Scouts is multifaceted as he discusses his personal experiences, the doctrine of the two units in which he served, the larger challenges of the national and international environment during this period and the leadership styles of those with whom and for whom he served and their immediate effect upon his life and character.

One of the key themes that runs throughout the book is the paradigm with which the RLI and Selous Scouts approached their operations. Dynamic, out of the box thinking and a recognition of the need for leadership that could make decisions at the very lowest level combined with a high degree of aggression and expertise were hallmarks of these Rhodesian units. Bax recounts numerous operations that were successful due to the unorthodox nature of their execution and the confidence of the command structure in allowing for a broad span of independence amongst members. His willingness to relate tales of failure and embarrassment about himself and those who were seen to be some of the finest leaders within the RLI and Selous Scouts, provide balance and recognition that even the best will not succeed at times; lessons in humility that are never reiterated enough.

His discussions about particularly successful commanders reinforce both the primary strength and weakness of these asymmetric units – that being the extremely rare number of individuals who can truly lead in these environments and the critical loss of capability when they are not present. His narrative also reveals the challenge that governments and conventional forces have in fully appreciating and utilizing these units to their full potential.

Bax also provides excellent descriptions and analysis of the effectiveness of the ‘fire-force’ doctrine built around the Alouette 3 helicopter and the four man tactical unit or ‘stick’. His discussion about the international embargo necessitating Rhodesia’s unique tactical and operational doctrine clearly displays the influence of external factors on capability. His discussion plainly show that Rhodesia’s dominance lay not in equipment but the training of its soldiers and the methodologies developed to use the equipment that it had to greatest advantage.

His numerous renditions of the hijinks and trouble that he and his fellow soldiers got into while off-duty and the results would never be tolerated in today’s more politically correct militaries but they speak to an issue that has been subsumed beneath the mantle of acceptable behaviour; this is the nature of esprit des corps and morale. An entertaining and useful book.   

Monday, 5 December 2016

Moltke and His Generals – A Study in Leadership - Quintin Barry

This review has been submitted to the Canadian
Army Journal.

Title: Moltke and His Generals – A Study in Leadership
Author: Quintin Barry
ISBN: 978-1-910294-41-3
Publisher: Helion and Company
Year: 2015
Pages: 304
Photos/ Maps: 20/9

Helmut von Moltke was one of the most influential military commanders of the 19th century. During his tenure as first Chief of the Prussian General Staff followed by Chief the Great General Staff, Moltke oversaw the strategic success of the Prussian/German forces in three major conflicts: Denmark (1864), Austro-Prussian (1866) and Franco-Prussian (1870-1871). His vision and drive created a military command structure that was unparalleled in the European theatre in the form of the Great General Staff. He was supported by a senior strategic and operational staff that was developed through this system and therefore had a common understanding of expectations.

Barry’s work undertakes a study in detail of the personality and influence that Moltke and his senior officers had on the period. His analysis is balanced, critical and insightful. His observations on the challenges of personality upon the effective execution of the mission is instructive, emphasizing that despite a common training regime and mission, allowance for and encouragement of independent action must be grounded in solid discipline and command maturity.

The author dedicates a chapter to each of the major commanders reporting into Moltke. It is very instructive that not all are seen as effective; indeed his analysis is critical of many of them as the impact of personality and hubris made themselves felt. It is revealing however, just how effective was the Prussian/German command structure in minimizing the short comings of individual commanders via the strengths of the Chief of Staff appointed to that commander. The Prussian system, refined and enhanced by Moltke, deliberately assigned ‘teams’ of Commanders and Chiefs of Staff that offset the other’s weaknesses. Strength was thus a product of the whole as opposed to the individual.

Additionally, Barry reviews the development of the ‘Commanders Intent’ as a foundation of the German command system. During a period of difficult and unreliable communications, this provided Army and Unit commanders with the parameters within which they could exercise individual initiative in order to achieve Moltke’s stated aim. Barry looks at what are the training and developmental requirements needed to effectively develop the trust and understanding in order to ensure the effectiveness of this command style.

This work is an excellent analysis of the personality and impact that Moltke’s initiatives brought to the German General staff. Beyond that, it discusses at length the methodologies needed to build and lead the command environment created by this decentralized style. Moltke’s confidence in his subordinates and his innate ability to understand when to not intervene are traits modern commanders should be striving to emulate. This book is both an insightful and worthwhile read; interesting while avoiding the pitfalls of an excessive ‘academic’ style. The production quality of the book is high with Helion’s standard attention to detail. As well, Barry provides the reader with an extensive bibliography on Moltke himself as well as the three major conflicts that he acted as overall commander of.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Blockade: Cruiser Warfare and the Starvation of Germany in World War One - Steve R Dunn

This review has been submitted to War History Online Magazine.

Title: Blockade: Cruiser Warfare and the Starvation of Germany in World War One
Author: Steve R Dunn
ISBN: 978-1-84832-340-7
Publisher: Pena and Sword//Seaforth
Year: 2016
Pages: 208
Photos/Maps: 15/1

One of the least appreciated battlegrounds of the First World War was the ocean. The Battle of Jutland has been well documented as has been the fact that Germany was subject to a very effective naval blockade; however, the details of that blockade and its actual effect are at best superficially known to the reading public. Blockade seeks to redress that delta with its discussion of the methodology of the blockade, focusing upon the actions of the 10th Cruiser Squadron covering the ‘Northern Approaches” and renditions of noteworthy individual ship actions. Further, he touches upon little known German efforts to both break the blockade and effect a similar style of blockade on the British Islands.

Dunn begins his work with a look at the impact of the German surface raider’s and the u-boat campaign. He additionally looks at the challenges of the Law of the Sea as it pertains to submarine warfare (so-called ‘unrestricted warfare’). His analysis is succinct and easily grasped and enables the reader to comprehend the difficulty and potential of this new form of warfare both doctrinally and practically. Additionally, his narrative clearly shows the effect that individual commerce raiders had when released upon merchant fleets unprotected on the vast oceans.

He also discusses the legality (and superficially, the morality) of a universal blockade not specifically aimed at military resources but Germany writ large and the doctrinal transition from close to distant blockade. The legality of the blockade as a method of warfare is interesting in that it highlights the hypocrisy of the international and historical discussion of this period. Much was made (especially amongst neutrals) of the illegality of unrestricted seaborne warfare to the point where calls were made by the British to declare submarine warfare a war crime. Yet, the dubious legality of the general blockade of Germany was never questioned despite the fact that over 750,000 German civilian deaths may be directly attributable to a lack of food during the war.

The 10th Cruiser Squadron, comprising obsolete cruisers and armed merchant vessels (AMC’s), was responsible for an inverted triangle running from Iceland to Norway with its southern point on the Orkney’s. The deeply hostile environment and hardships that these sailors suffered and their unacknowledged triumph at denying the Germans merchant access is recounted by Dunn in a gripping narrative of courage and endurance. He focusses on the human face of this campaign as opposed to a stark rendition of dates and numbers. The statistics serve to reinforce the significance of the accomplishments of the officers and sailors themselves. Dunn’s account of the unsung heroes and combatants of this region is not limited to the Allies but also encompasses the German officers and sailors who constantly strove to break the 10th Cruiser Sqn’s stranglehold on this region.

This book serves as an excellent introduction into the details of the blockade; its history, evolution and effect. It touches upon themes that should be discussed in more detail such as the morality and legality of the blockade and the stigma of German attempts at unrestricted warfare; however, these are not pursued in any real analytical depth. Dunn’s work is solid and very readable and is recommended for those seeking to gain insight into the nature of this kind of warfare and its impact upon the Allied war effort in 1914-1918.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Enemy in the East - Rolf-Dieter Muller

This review has been submitted to Strategy and Tactics Magazine

Title: Enemy in the East
Author: Rolf-Dieter Muller
ISBN: 978-1-78076-829-8
Publisher: IB Taurus/Raincoast Books
Year: 2015
Pages: 316
Photos/Maps: 22/7

There has been much speculation on the degree of proactive involvement the military leadership of the German Armed Forces had in the conception and planning of the attack on Russia. During the trials following the war, it was consistently suggested that the conception for the idea of the attack was Hitler’s alone and that the military’s role in this was that of following the orders of a legitimate government. Muller seeks to undermine that theory by proving that the military was both a proactive and willing partner in the conception and development of the attack on Russia contrary to long held belief.

This was a very interesting and enjoyable book to read. The author has done a noteworthy job at shedding light upon a period of intense international lobbying and exchange. Perhaps the most fascinating part of this was his discussion and analysis of the close relationship that existed between the Germans and Poles right up until the last few months before war broke out. Poland and Germany held a common view of the threat posed by Russia and were very active partners in planning and executing the breakup of Czechslovakia as well as planning for the further redistribution of Ukrainian land and the resettlement of any Jews in their territory. Muller has painted a very clear picture of two nations with very common interests; further reinforced by the extent to which Germany tried to accommodate Poland’s wishes.

He also clearly relates the rapidly changing international situation that necessitated continuous and re-prioritization of planning by the German military. Additionally, the rapid pace of operations precluded addressing many of the shortfalls recognized by the German military commanders in their equipment and doctrine. It is not clear; however, that the German military proactively worked at pushing political policy East. It is true and is proven by the author that the military was not at all happy with the prospect of striking at the West but, while more confident of their chances with Russia, they were still seeking time and delay in order to build up their experience and capabilities.

The author has also been successful with his analysis of Stalin’s adept handling of the international uncertainty leading up to the outbreak of hostilities. He played Germany for incredible accommodations in spheres of interest and positioning that significantly diminished Germany’s advantages when war came two years later. Not the least of these involved pushing the German start line for an attack into Russian hundreds of kilometers to the west. It is very clear from Muller’s study that the German military and leadership chaffed under this imposed cooperation.

A very well researched and insightful study of the international twists and turns leading up to war in the East. What is patently obvious is that Hitler maintained a clear but consistently frustrated focus on attacking Russia at the earliest opportunity and that the Polish leadership, while tragically misreading German intent and Western capability, inadvertently prevented a German victory in Russia while concurrently sacrificing its territory and populations to the ravages of both German and Russia forces. An interesting book that does much to dispel the myth of a Germany bent on crushing a helpless Poland but does not succeed in proving the case that the German military was any more complicit in pushing for an attack on Russia.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Ostland - David Thomas

Title: Ostland
Author: David Thomas
ISBN: 978-162-3-65849-6
Publisher: Quercus
Year: 2015
Pages: 400

David Thomas’s novel is an in-depth psychological analysis of how an individual is able to be manipulated and, by extension, enable themselves to be manipulated thereby adjusting their moral compass in a justifiable manner. It is a study of transformation facilitated by duty, circumstance, training and conditioning.

Commencing in pre-war Germany, the author traces the career of a brilliant young police detective as he commences his profession with one of the elite crime squad units in Berlin. What starts as an idealistic, somewhat na├»ve approach to the harsh realities of police work undergoes a gradual but inexorable change as his success results in promotion and additional responsibilities concurrent with the rise of Nazism and the outbreak of war. This entails a commission in the SS, a transfer to Minsk and an expanding task of dealing with partisans and other undesirables (namely Jews). The narrative flips between the pre-war and war period to the early 1960’s when another idealist undertakes the prosecution of one of West Germany’s greatest police officers for war crimes (the self-same young police detective).

The author has created a fascinating and disturbing analysis of human nature and its strength and vulnerability. Looked at with the benefit of hindsight it is easy to condemn in the strongest terms and with broad strokes the behaviours of those responsible for the slaughter of so many. Yet, examined in greater detail it becomes apparent that the activities of these individuals may in fact be far more nuanced than the black and white that society wishes.

This book is not an apology or an excuse for the appalling activities of the SS, Gestapo and the police forces who carried out the policies of the WW2 German government but neither is it a blanket condemnation. Like all great books, the author sets out to force the readers, through the medium of a story, to challenge paradigms, cause to reflect and to think. Thomas succeeds in this endeavour extremely well.  His story telling is factual and tight, the pace, while not dynamic is nonetheless engaging. This is a well written, disturbing narrative of a cast of characters and their society in a struggle that transcends the sounds of the guns and strikes at the very nature of who we are and how we deal with unimaginable circumstances. 

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Mountain Warfare and Other Lofty Problems - Lester Grau and Charles Bartles

This review has been submitted to the British Military History Journal

Title: Mountain Warfare and Other Lofty Problems
Author: Edited by Lester Grau and Charles Bartles
ISBN: 978-1-909982-07-9
Pages: 246
Illustrations:  40 B/W, 11 maps
Publisher: Helion Publishing

Warfare requires numerous specialist elements in order for armies to function effectively in the myriad of environments within which they may have cause to operate. Maintenance of these skills requires equipment, time and constant practice; resources that are usually in chronically short supply. For this reason, it is incumbent upon leaders to look for ways to avoid having to 'reinvent the wheel' and to ensure that doctrine and methodologies are grounded in the expensive lessons of others.

The authors have put together an amalgamation of lessons and articles published in a variety of international professional journals specifically related to operations in a mountainous environment. The authors of these articles are professional military members hailing from numerous countries presently or recently engaged in mountain combat. Represented are Pakistan, the US, Russia, Argentina and numerous professional ex-military training cadres in Tashkent and Uzbekistan.

The articles themselves cover every aspect of operations including: communications, logistics, medical, training, artillery, small arms fire, aviation, reconnaissance, small and large unit tactics and generalized mountain combat techniques. The authors are all writing from firsthand experience and with the intent to pass on the valuable lessons that they have learned. The book is replete with tables outlying such things as pre-deployment timelines, effective lifting capacities of pack animals, soldiers and rotary wing and images illustrating tactical positioning for mountain shooting and movement. The information is practical and presented in a logical and useful manner; clear and concise.

At the conclusion of the book, the editors provide a section of additional reading resources for those interested in further expansion of their knowledge; they also make available information relating to the Journals within which the articles were originally printed, In addition each article provides a footnotes section with substantial expansion on the main themes of the body.

The information provided in this book is critical to enabling nations who do not have dedicated or only sporadic mountain deployments the chance to quickly establish a baseline of knowledge for their planners. The lessons of others are the cornerstone of effective future operations. The input of a cross-section of nations encompassing a wide expanse of geographical locations further enhances the utility and relevance of this work.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Forgotten Victory - Mark Zuehlke

This review has been submitted to War History Online Journal 

Title: Forgotten Victory
Author: Mark Zuehlke
ISBN: 978-1-77162-041-3
Publisher: Douglas and McIntyre
Year: 2014
Pages: 500
Photos/maps: 29/7

The Canadian Army was involved in three major actions during the latter portion of the Second World War: the Normandy Invasion, the Battle of the Scheldt and the operations to clear the west bank of the Rhine and northern Germany: Operations Veritable and Blockbuster. Canadian command and troops undertook key leadership and personnel roles in each of these ops. The authors book, Forgotten Victory, refocuses attention on the critical Canadian role in the final of the three above listed campaigns. Overshadowed by the Battle of the Bulge, the American/British drive in the South and the Soviet juggernaut in the East, the Canadians nevertheless played a decisive in creating the conditions whereby the Allies could drive across the Rhine and into the heart of Germany.

Zuehlke takes a holistic approach to his discussions of the Operations as well as the minor ops leading up to them. Thus the reader is provided with information relating to Command relationships (both formal and interpersonal), logistics demands and concerns, operational considerations and the complexity of combined (what would today be referred to as ‘joint’ operations) involving allied land and air forces (both tactical and strategic). It is worth noting that, for this campaign, the Commander of the First Canadian Army, Gen Crerar commanded an army (comprising mainly Canadians but also allied forces) of 500,000 men – the largest in Canadian history. Additionally, the author paints a vivid picture of the environment within which the Canadians and their Allies were operating. The winter was brutal and made all the more so by the frequent freeze thaw cycles that reduced mobility to a crawl; further hampered by the vast flooding operations by the Germans that limited lines of approach to grimy and barely passable high ground pre-registered by German artillery and machine guns.

Zuehlke has an eminently readable writing style encompassing a vast array of information and data that presents a deep and comprehensive picture for the reader. His books have almost exclusively focused on the role of the Canadian Army in the European theatre of war and his appreciation and depth of knowledge is evident throughout the book. This is a thoroughly enjoyable book that conveys accurately the horrors and challenges of these operations as well as the heroism, competence and drive of the officers and soldiers so engaged.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

The Viaz'ma Catastrophe - Lev Lopukhovsky

This review was submitted to the Global War Studies Journal

Title: The Viaz'ma Catastrophe
Author: Lev Lopukhovsky
ISBN: 978-1-908-91650-1
Pages: 576
Illustrations:  21 B/W, 15 maps
Publisher: Helion Publishing

1941 the armed forces of the USSR were on their heels. Pushed back to the approaches to Moscow they continued to fight a tenacious and increasingly desperate rearguard action against the cream of the German Wehrmacht. Drawing upon seemingly endless resources of men (and material) the Soviets strove to crush the German advance through a series of Army level counterattacks. The Wehrmacht, for their part, continued their grand enveloping maneuvers, encircling and crushing the Russian forces in their path. The Battle of Viaz’ma and Orel-Briansk represented for the Germans what they assumed to be the final barrier to their final advance on Moscow. Between these two battles of encirclement over the first three weeks of October, 1941 the Russians lost between 900,000 and 960,000 men; a crushing defeat by any standard.

​Lopukhovsky is another of the new wave of Russian historians who have taken advantage of the relaxation of the archival access laws in order to draw upon primary source material from the Russian/Soviet perspective. Commencing with a detailed synopsis of the events leading up to the commencement of Operation Typhoon (the final German drive on Moscow), the author provides the reader with a comprehensive baseline of the situation facing the Soviets. This is one of the few histories of this battle written in the post-Soviet era, from the perspective of the Russians. The level of detail is staggering and the accompanying maps and tables add a degree of clarity rarely enjoyed in a book of this complexity. Stuart Britton who has undertaken the translation of this book from its original Russian is to be commended for another outstanding endeavor.

​The author identifies key themes relating to the Soviet performance:

1. The reluctance on the part of senior commanders to both provide and accept factual information thereby undermining decision making and situational awareness;
2. the ferocity and tenacity with which the Soviet soldier defended their positions against overwhelming German superiority; and
3. the reluctance of Soviet commanders to make and take responsibility for decisions.

Additionally, he author interjects into his narrative with personal observations relating to his efforts to clarify questions with the senior Soviet commanders in the postwar Soviet era. It is fascinating the degree to which these efforts were met with official roadblocks whenever any 'questionable' positions were challenged. Notwithstanding this fact, it is also interesting how, despite the position officially of the State, candid ex-senior commanders were willing to be in correspondence with the author.   

Overall, an outstanding book and a highly recommended addition to those seeking to expand their understanding of the challenges that the Soviet's struggled with in trying to contain the German Typhoon of 1941. It is a sobering and humbling rendition of the sacrifice of the Russian soldier and the dysfunction of their leadership.

The Elements of Power - David S Abraham

Title: The Elements of Power
Author: David S Abraham
ISBN: 978-0-300-19679-5
Publisher: Yale UP
Year: 2015
Pages: 319
Photos/maps: 0

The term ‘Rare Earth Metals’ is not widely known. Indeed, for such a significant component of our everyday lives, it is shocking how these metals have continued to be overlooked except by a very few. The seventeen metals that make up the earth metals ‘family’ are perhaps some of the technologically and strategically most critical resources of today. If one owns a cell phone, drives a car, flies in an aircraft, lives in a structure or uses a computer, then you are reliant upon these earth metals. Without them, technology as we understand it would simply vanish.

Abraham’s book looks at the preponderance of rare earth metals from a variety of perspectives; in each case analyzing the potential risks and challenges associated with this facet. Drawing upon a broad range of interviews, primary source material and secondary sources, he clearly lays out his argument for greater attention and forecasting on the part of governments.

The first third of the book discusses the background behind the rise of earth metals, the challenges in finding and mining them and the international ramifications of the scarcity of these production facilities. He outlines the how foreign ownership of some mines (in many cases as a monopoly) increases the risk to national economies reliant upon these metals for many of their production lines. As an example Abraham cites the incident where China cut off exportation of a rare earth metal to Japan in order to pressure Japan into releasing a Chinese fishing captain awaiting trial for illegal fishing.  

He then branches into the environmental  quandary that rare earth metals pose for activists and governments. Rare earth metals are both a ‘green’ commodity as well as a pollutant. Critical for increasing the strength of steel and for producing the arms of the propellers in wind turbines (as just two examples), these metals reduce the weight of cars and facilitate alternate energy production. Conversely, however, the challenges associated with mining these resources require vast amounts of toxic materials to refine and produce them, and, while not impossible, they are extremely difficult to recycle.

Additionally, Abraham provides a comprehensive overview of the breadth of utility of these metals. Ranging from military and defence applications to the vast array of technological applications, the author provides the reader a clear sense of the impact that these items have, unknowingly to most, on our everyday lives. Extrapolating from that, he analyzes the exponential growth in the demand and, by extension, the sustainability of these resources. Given their relative scarcity, he looks at the back-room deals and methods that not only traders but also nations devise to take advantage of the leverage provided from having exclusive access. As an example, China has increased significantly the cost of exporting rare earth metals while keeping the domestic price low in order to bring international industry to the Chinese market.

Abraham’s book outlines the revolution that these earth metals are wreaking upon industry and technological development. His book, written in a convincing and forthright manner, pulls no punches but delivers warning after warning of the dangers of neglecting the development and implementation of a strategic plan to address the international needs of these metals. His thesis is solidly backed by reference material and reveals a thoughtfulness and insight into this relatively unknown subject. Militaries, industry and governments should take notice and develop comprehensive plans to address the issues that Abraham raises before it is too late. Strongly recommended. 

Friday, 5 August 2016

Scout’s Out - Robert Edwards

Tiitle: Scout’s Out
Author: Robert Edwards
Publisher: Stackpole Casemate
ISBN: 978-0-8117-1311-5
Year: 2013
Photo’s: 500+ b/w

Robert Edwards has produced a broad-ranging synopsis of the German reconnaissance force of the Second World War. Knowledge, as any one will confirm, is power and the faster that it can be attained the more effectively it may be used to disrupt or undermine the plans of the enemy.  The German Army recognized the critical importance of this and placed special emphasis on the development of equipment and training to facilitate this area of expertise.

Scout’s Out starts with a history of the German Recce forces and their re-establishment during the interwar period. The reader is not only introduced to the methodology surrounding the doctrinal development of this element but also the iterations that the recce unit structure underwent as it developed. This is important because it shows how the Germans adapted their forces to meet not only the changing nature of their operational environment but also to accommodate the lessons learned as the war progressed.

The author spends a significant amount of the book discussing the equipment that the soldiers used to undertake their tasks. Again, one sees the significant amount of innovation and adaptability that the German forces used to increase their effectiveness. Certainly, the reader is left with a very high impression of the quality of German equipment. Included are colour templates of the different recce vehicles use throughout the war.

The book also discusses at length the operational history of the various Recce Units of the German Armoured Forces. As a reference and synopsis this is very useful. The book represents an excellent history and reference for these forces. The author is himself a retired Armoured Officer and brings a critical and knowledgeable eye to the subject.

This book represents an overview of these forces. It is not a combat history of any one unit but a comprehensive guide to the development, equipment tables, structure and rogue’s gallery of the units that undertook this vital task. Recce has always been a more independent arm of any armoured force with a fierce pride and professionalism. Edwards brings this out in his work. Replete with hundreds of photographs, a very high level of quality in the publication of the book, a clear and concise analysis of all aspects of the recce specialty; Edwards’ book is well worth the money and time to read and enjoy.

Saturday, 30 July 2016

D Day Through German Eyes Vol 1 and 2 - Holger Eckhertz

Title: D Day Through German Eyes Vol 1 and 2
Author: Holger Eckhertz
Publisher: DTZ History Publications
Year: 2015
E Book
Pages: 141/168
Photos/Maps: 0

I have made the decision to review Herr Eckhertz’s two books together as they are of the same theme and presentation. During WW2, the author’s grandfather, Dieter Eckhertz, was a military journalist for the German military publications ‘Die Wehrmacht’ and ‘Signal’.  In 1944, he was tasked with writing a series of articles on the Atlantic Wall in the West and, in the process of preparing, visited many of the units stationed in that region. Following the war, in 1954, while no longer a reporter, he decided to follow up with individuals from those units he had visited in order to capture their recollections and experiences of D-Day now that the passage of time had provided some distance between the events. The results are testimonials that are still raw, disturbing, enlightening, brutally honest and at the same time deeply thought provoking. The interviews were never published until they came into the hands of Dieter’s grandson who has done an excellent job of presenting them to the modern audience.

Each interview is presented as a series of questions relating to the interviewees experience primarily on the day of 6 June; thus the narrative is more of a discussion vice a story. Additionally, a majority of the men interviewed are private soldiers, not senior officers or Non-commissioned ranks and therefore the reader begins to appreciate these ‘lower level’ responses and perspectives.

There are a number of themes which I found very interesting that came out of these interviews as the men looked back on their experiences. These included a sense that they were defending a ‘United Europe’, frustration that the Allies were distracting them from the real threat which was communism, an initial confidence in their ability to hold the line, shock at the capability of the Allies to bring armour in such large numbers across the channel and disbelief at the violence of the air and sea assault.

Additionally, the testimonies bring up a number of other extremely interesting subjects such as the Allies use of phosphorous weapons and its impact upon the defenders, the Allied ‘flame tank’, the German use of the ‘Goliath’, the use of foreign workers in the building the Western Wall, the extensive appearance of Russian and Polish soldiers fighting for the Germans and what happened to them following capture and the interaction between the German soldiers and the French population.

Perhaps the most remarkable interview was with a specialist weapons officer who discussed in detail the development of a weapon by the Germans that would be categorized today as a FAE (fuel air explosive). This weapon has enormous destructive power mainly centered upon the massive shock wave that it generates when detonated. The German system, code named Taifun (Typhoon) B, was deployed to Normandy and was to be utilized against the Allied armour concentration at St Lo but was fortunately destroyed by a random artillery barrage just before it was launched. 

There are some questions that would be worthwhile following up for clarification and accuracy. One centres upon the interviewees use of the term 'Tobruk' bunker to describe their 2 man prefabricated machine gun posts; the use of this term was not a German but an Allied one. Additionally, while I have found reference to German development and practice of coal-dust and fuel mixtures on the Eastern front, this book was the only reference that I have found that refers to a FAE style weapon deployed at D-Day. These two books are only available as e-books but I would recommend them both for their content and presentation. I found them to be not only highly informative but also forthright depictions of these soldier’s experiences. Certainly, a guide for further discussion.