The Battle of the River Plate

Graf Spee

The Battle of the River Plate was the first naval battle of World War II and the only battle of World War II to take place in South America or its waters.  The Graf Spee was one of three Deutschland Class “pocket battleships” built by the Germans in the interwar period to get around treaty restrictions imposed after World War I.  The three ships were the Deutschland, Admiral Scheer, and Admiral Graf Spee.  All three ships were to be destroyed during the course of the war. The ship was designate to act as a commerce raider and was at sea when the war began.  After getting new orders she began … Read more…

Book Review: SHOT DOWN: The true story of pilot Howard Snyder and the crew of the B-17 Susan Ruth by Steve Snyder

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[FULL DISCLOSURE: I received my copy of this book free from the author and/or publisher. I was not paid for this review and the opinion expressed is purely my own] SHOT DOWN: The true story of pilot Howard Snyder and the crew of the B-17 Susan Ruthis the story of the author’s Father in World War II as a B-17 bomber pilot and his ordeals after being shot down over the Franco-Belgian border in February 1944. The book itself is 335 pages of text with an extensive sources list and index.  The text is divided into 40, mostly short, topical chapters. The narrative describes the journey of the author’s father to … Read more…

Book Review: Waterloo: Book One of the Great Battles Series by Alan Forrest

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Waterloo: Book One of the Great Battles Series by Alan Forrest is not your typical military history. Therefore it is a good thing that the author admits in the preface that he is not a military historian because it shows. If you expect a book called Great Battles to be about the itself then prepare to be disappointed because this book is not so much about Waterloo as its aftermath./ First the book itself. It is 180 pages of text divided into 9 roughly thematic chapters including an introduction and postscript. There is a list of figures, list of maps, notes, bibliography and an index. This is not a campaign … Read more…

The Battle of Berlin – 16 April – 2 May, 1945

Brandenburger Tor in einer Trümmerlandschaft am Ende des Zweiten Weltkrieges (Mai 1945).

Throughout 1944 the German armies on the Eastern Front had been pushed westward across Poland and into Germany proper.  During the winter of 1944-1945 the front had stabilized roughly along the river Oder and inside historically German territory.  In front of Berlin three Russian Fronts (1st & 2nd Byelorussian plus 21st Ukrainian) faced two greatly understrength German Army Groups (Army Group Vistula & Army Group Center).  A Russian Front and German Army Group are roughly synonymous units within the army structure although at this point in the war German Army Groups were pretty much army groups in name only often being the size of reinforced Corps or even divisions due … Read more…

Book Review: Ring of Steel by Alexander Watson

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[FULL DISCLOSURE: I received my copy of this book free from the author and/or publisher. I was not paid for this review and the opinion expressed is purely my own] Ring of Steel: Germany and Austria-Hungary in World War I does for the Germany and Austria-Hungary what Niall Ferguson’s The Pity Of War did for the Allies in WWI.  It explains the war through the lens of the people that participated both at home and at the front and explores the ways in which the experience of war shaped the perception of the war and led to the dissolution of both empires. The book itself is a hefty tome at first … Read more…

Book Review: The Longest Afternoon by Brendan Simms

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[FULL DISCLOSURE: I received my copy of this book free from the author and/or publisher. I was not paid for this review and the opinion expressed is purely my own] There have been hundreds of books written about the battle of Waterloo in the last two centuries.  Most acknowledge that the defense of the two farms at La Haye Saint and Hougemont were decisive in the allied victory.  Curiously, to my knowledge there has not been a microhistory written of the actions in and around the farmhouse of La Haye Saint.  Brendan Simms has rectified that era in his new work The Longest Afternoon: The 400 Men Who Decided the … Read more…

Gallipoli, 1915: Analysis of a Glorious Failure

Anzac Cove shortly after the Start of the Dardanelles Operation

The Allied invasion of Gallipoli and its subsequent failure represented perhaps the greatest lost opportunity of the First World War.  There is every reason to expect that if the invasion of Turkey had been successful then much the same results would have accrued to the Allies then as were to accrue twenty-eight years later when the Allies successfully invaded Italy in the Second World War.  The tangible results of the Allied invasion of Italy in 1943 was the capitulation of the government of Mussolini, and the diversion of up to sixteen German divisions in Italy that could have been more profitably used in France.  Additionally, one of Germany’s most capable … Read more…

CSA PRL Book Review: The Utility of Force by Rupert Smith

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The new 2014 US Army Chief of Staff Professional Reading List (PRL) was released in the Summer of 2014 and I was relieved in the extreme to see that there was only one novel on the list, Once an Eagle by Anton Myrer.  The list is different than earlier lists because it is organized topically instead of by position as earlier lists were.  I have read many of the books on the list already and decided to read the ones I have not and post my thoughts on the books on the list.  This review is the third in that series. The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World is … Read more…

Reading and Military Service

There is an interesting piece on recently about basic training and encouraging new soldiers to read.  I read, and read a lot, and have always tried to encourage others to read, not only my fellow soldiers when I was in the Army, but people in general. I find that the idea of having a reading list and free copies of said books available to basic trainees to read in their less-than-copious free time is an awesome idea and I am chagrined that I did not do it when I was a Drill Sergeant at Fort Knox many years ago. I don’t necessarily agree with all the titles on the … Read more…

Slideshow of pictures from WWI

If you have 6 minutes to kill this is an excellent slideshow of some of the mos profound pictures from WWI.  There is n context given just a running slideshow of images from soldiers standing around doing what they do most often in war,waiting, to a mass grave for horses, to battlefield scenes in No Man’s Land.

The Battle of the Nations – 16-19 October, 1813

The Battlefield at Leipzig

The October, 1813 Battle of the Nations in Leipzig was arguably as important as the 1814 Battle of Waterloo.  In English language historiography of the Napoleonic Wars it is often downplayed or only briefly mentioned however.  This is mainly because no English speaking armies fought in the battle.  The lions share of the fighting at Leipzig was done by Austrian and Russian armies and thus the English speaking world tries to ignore this decisive battle in which almost 50,000 men died. After Napoleons’ defeat in the Russian Campaign of 1812 and the concurrent French defeat in the Peninsular Campaign the Allied nations of Europe joined together once again in the … Read more…

Book Review: House of War by James Carroll

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House of War: The Pentagon and the Disastrous Rise of American Power is one of those books that when you are done reading it you cannot quite decide if it was worth reading or not. If you want to know what history looks like, particularly American history, from the perspective of someone who sees evil and nefarious dealings in just about every single action taken by the United States then this is the book for you. I never thought I would see the day when the Marshall Plan would be described as economic warfare but it is in this book and that is just one example. I found it difficult to … Read more…

In Flanders Fields

Given that 100 years ago men were fighting and dying in the opening months of what they would come to call the Great War and we call WWI, I decided to post one of the most famous and memorable poems to come out of that war.  This poem is one of the reasons that the VFW sells Poppies today in their fundraisers.  It really is true that the fields of Flanders are covered with Poppies in spring and summer.  Every time I visit Flanders the poppies serve as a reminder of the slaughter that took place there.

In Flanders Fields
By John McRae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Some backstory on the Poem and Remembrance Poppies can be found on the In Flanders Fields page of

The First Battle of Manassas – 21 July, 1861

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First Manassas or First Bull Run as it was called in the North was the first major battle between land forces of the Civil War.  The outcome of the battle also set the general pattern for battles in the first two years of the war. That pattern being tactical Union defeats with the Confederacy being incapable of following up on the strategic opportunities presented by their victories. Forces Involved: Union – 28,450 troops under BG Irvin McDowell Confederate – 32,230 under BG Joseph Johnston and BG P.G.T. Beauregard A key point is to remember that uniforms were not standardized on either side this early in the war. Both armies looked … Read more…

Periodic World Craziness Update # 32

The latest month’s wackiness in the world of international relations, politics, and  brinkmanship.   Iraqi Military Makes Gains North of Baghdad in Conflict With ISIS:  It will be interesting to see how the response to the ISIS offensive plays out both in Iraq and in the wider world.  The INA is a broken reed and any gains they make will be fleeting.  I fully expect a stalemate to ensue shortly wherein Iraq is effectively partitioned.  We are saying the beginning of bloody fighting.  Think of it as Sunni Triangle II. Ukraine Says Russia Has 38,000 Troops on Border Amid ‘Invasion’:  The biggest news out of this story is not that … Read more…