The Problem with Elite Units? Or is there a Problem?

I was thinking about this the other day while watching The Pacific on DVD. The Pacific is a pretty good series although I found Band of Brothers to be better based on pure entertainment value. What made me think about elite units was a short piece in one of the episodes where they show a picture of what to me looked like some Marine Raiders. That got to me to thinking about Rangers, Green Berets, SAS/SBS, Commandos, UDT, Spetznaz, and other historical elites and whether they represented a good investment for the militaries that create them. My gut reaction is that in general they are not although there is a role for such … Read more…

The First Battle of the Marne & the End of the Schlieffen Plan

Combatants at 1st Marne-2

The first Battle of the Marne was fought from 5-12 September, 1914.  It was the turning point of the opening campaign in what would be known as the Western Front during World War I.  First Marne represented the death of German hopes for a repeat of 1870 and ensured that Germany would have to face every German planner’s nightmare for over a century, a two front war. The Schlieffen Plan was supposed to allow Germany to defeat her two great enemies, France and Russia, one after the other in sequence.  The greatest flaw in the Schlieffen Plan was actually the plan itself.  It was an attempt to move huge masses … Read more…

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

Book Review Featured Image

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…

The Battle of Antietam – 17 September, 1862

Photo of the Antietam battlefield taken on the day of the battle by Alexander Gardner

The Battle of Antietam is interesting for several reasons the most important of which for me is that it is the single bloodiest day in American military history. There have been bloodier battles in American wars but no single day matches the blood spilled on those Maryland fields that early day in 1862. The Union victory at Antietam, if you can call it a victory, also provided Abe Lincoln with the opportunity to promulgate the Emancipation Proclamation. An executive act that was totally unconstitutional but that he did anyway for domestic and foreign political reasons. Antietam was the final battle of Lee’s first invasion of the North and while it … Read more…

Von Saucken – The Last Aristocrat

Today’s generation can be forgiven for seeing the Second World War’s common participants as engaging in a battle of ideologies. That being said, the Waffen SS were the ultimate outsiders who became the ultimate insiders. During the blitzkrieg into Poland the Wehrmacht saw them as little more than auxiliaries, along for the ride. It is therefore interesting to appreciate the fact that the majority of the Heer were not ideologues, and therefore why they were capable of constantly putting up amazing fronts against an opponent (Russia) that outnumbered them 13:1. The German military predated the rise of national socialism and shared few values with the Fuhrer and his henchmen. German … Read more…

The Christ of Nations, 1920

In Polish history, war usually comes down to two conflicting scripts. From the Polish side, pushing geographical boundaries out in all directions, as far as possible. From the opposing side: eliminating the irritating roadblock begrudgingly acknowledged as “Poland.” This theme is perennial. It has not only been steel and fire that has determined if the land of the White Eagle was to be a flesh and blood state, or merely a state of mind; it was also the petitioning of the fighting spirit through ideological appeal. Literature in Poland has served such a purpose. Polish literature is not meant to appeal to outsiders. It is generally so nationalistic that neighboring … Read more…

Barbarossa/Eatern Front Timeline in WWII

Berlin-1945

Over the past few days I have had an email conversation with Mr. George Toomes, one of my readers, and he brought up a very interesting question. It started with asking if I had or knew where to find a map of the Russian counter-attack outside Moscow in the winter of 1941. In a follow up he mentioned that he was trying to get an idea of when and where the Germans and Russians stopped in their various offensives and counter-offensives in the war in the East. I don’t think I have ever seen a video or graphic that lays out the back and forth of the eastern front in … Read more…

“Middle War”: The new normal going forward

The face of Middle War: documents and weapons sized in raid in Al-Alam, Iraq.
Photo by Uathor

The Center for Strategic and International Studies has just released Beyond the Last War: Balancing Ground Forces and Future Challenges Risk in USCENTCOM and USPACOM.  The report makes for interesting reading.  What I found the most interesting aside from the scenarios considered was the realization that air power and spec-ops troops cannot win wars by themselves.  Conventional military forces will be required into the foreseeable future.  That view alone is a breath of fresh air given the Pentagon’s lamentable tendency over the past few years to tour both types of forces while the simple ground-pounders are out there doing Yeoman’s work trying to make an unstable world more stable.  High profile raids and airstrikes do not … Read more…

Victory, what is it?

This question came up for several reasons mainly because of the news out of Afghanistan and Iran plus the book I am currently reading about the Second World War . Victory is an elusive thing because in war defining victory is perhaps the major strategic goal of the belligerents. I suppose that one could take the Clausewitzean the ideal of destroying the enemy’s force or means to fight  as victory but that really isn’t it. As we saw in Iraq the destruction of the enemy army does not necessarily mean that the war is over.   Unless the population of The enemy country, nation, or tribe is convinced that they … Read more…

Book Review: The Last Full Measure: How Soldiers Die in Battle by Michael Stephenson

[FULL DISCLOSURE: I received my copy of this book free from the publisher for purposes of reviewing it. I was not paid for this review and the opinion expressed is purely my own] Michael Stephenson’s work The Last Full Measure: How Soldiers Die in Battle follows somewhat in the tradition of classics such a Keegan’s The Face of Battle and Victor David Hanson’s The Western Way of War. Where it differs from these two works as that while Keegan and Hanson focus on specific battles or time periods this book aims to be a more general description of the experience of combat throughout recorded history.   In that, the book is … Read more…

Book Review: Why Germany Nearly Won: A New History of the Second World War in Europe by Steven D. Mercatante

[FULL DISCLOSURE: I received my copy of this book free from the author. I was not paid for this review and the opinion expressed is purely my own] At first glance Why Germany Nearly Won: A New History of the Second World War in Europe is another of the rehashing’s of WWII in the East and West that have become so popular since the fall of communism in the 1990’s and the opening of previously closed Russian archives.   That first glance would be wrong.   Steven Mercatante has produced a very well written history of the war in the East that goes to the heart of why the Eastern … Read more…

The Marian Legion

I haven’t touched on anything about antiquity for a while so I thought I would put this up as I have been thinking about this for the last week or two. This is the Marian Legion or the Reforms of Marius, whichever you choose to call it. These reforms are important because they set the stage for the Legion of the period of the Civil War and early Imperium, especially the time of the Pax Romana.   These reforms are probably not a direct result of the genius of Gaius Marius, he just gets credit for implementing them.   That being said, he is the one who implemented them and … Read more…

The Moral Quandary?

Lately I have been somewhat preoccupied thinking about the geostrategic position the US and even the wider Western world find themselves in.  While I do not believe that the world is on the cusp of some massive catastrophe, it does seem to me that the rise of Militant Islam in the last ten years presents problems that are new or that at least have not been faced on such a scale by Western countries since before the rise of the modern nation state. Essentially, I think that Islam is facing the West with a crucial choice, one the West would rather not have to make as it goes against all … Read more…

Honey or Salt?

There is an old adage that “you can catch more flies with honey than with salt.” The truth of that adage is being put to the test daily in Afghanistan and being to shown to be false under certain circumstances at least. ISAF is not winning currently, but they are not exactly losing either. At best from what I read, see, and hear ISAF is fighting a delaying action against the inevitable fall of the central government and rise of whatever Islamic extremist group bubbles up out of the morass of internal Afghan politics. I can almost guarantee it won´t be the Taliban, but probably someone very much like them. … Read more…

Tactical Aspects of Battle: A Discussion

Image from the Broadside Blog at http://www.militarytimes.com/blogs/broadside/2011/11/01/halloween-and-military-tactics/

There is a very interesting pair of essays in the Baen free non-fiction compendium for 2011. The essence of these two pieces is the geo-strategic position of the United States in the early 21st Century and what the American prospects for maintaining global dominance are. This piece is not necessarily about geopolitics but it did get me thinking about another idea I have been tossing around in my head for the past few years, and that is tactics. Specifically tactics and the way their use affects the course of battles both classical and contemporary. Too often, tactical considerations are given short shrift in accounts of battle. For example, it is … Read more…