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…

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…

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 Front is … Read more…

Book Review: The Anabasis by Xenophon

The route of Xenophons March Up Country

I read part of this work in High School over twenty years ago and decided a few weeks ago to finish reading it. Now that I am done, I wonder why I waited so long. The book was written by Xenophon, and ancient Greek soldier and general, in the late 4th Century BC. Xenophon’s account in The Anabasis is one of the first true (in several senses of the word) adventure stories to be transmitted from antiquity. There is as much adventure here as will be found in any modern day work of fiction. One of the things that makes this book so great is that as I was reading … Read more…

The Campaign in Central Mexico 1847-1848: In Search of Decision

After the northern campaign of General Zachary Taylor (1784-1850), failed to force the Mexican government to sue for peace, President James Polk (1795-1849) decided on an invasion of central Mexico with the goal of capturing Mexico City.  The planning for an invasion of central Mexico was the brainchild of General Winfield Scott (1786-1866), who prepared a series of three memorandums laying out the case for the operation, which he sent to President Polk in October 1846.[1] Scott had desired a command of his own since the beginning of the war and he felt slighted that he had not been given command of the force in northern Mexico.  Scott was suspicious … Read more…

The Fronts of World War I in 1917 & 1918

The tactical and strategic situation at the beginning of 1917 was little changed from that at the beginning of 1916.  All that the offensives on the Western Front had managed to accomplish the previous year were minor changes in the trace of the trenches and massive loss of life.  Both the British and French planned further offensives in the west during the years but events would intervene to ensure that only the British committed themselves to large-scale offensives on the Western Front in 1917. The spring and summer saw the French army undergo a crisis of confidence that has come to be known as the French mutinies, thought they were … Read more…

Book Review: On Roman Military Matters by Vegetius

This little tome by the Roman scholar Flavius Vegetius Renatus was written sometime in the 5th Century A.D. and is known by several titles, the original Latin title is De re Militari but is variously known as the Epitome of Military Science and On Roman Military Matters, the copy I have uses the latter title. This is one of the few works that survived from antiquity in continuous publication, if you will. It was used as a text on military operations throughout the Middle Ages and has survived to this day. Just about every king, noble, and military leader of the Middle Ages had a copy of this book and … Read more…

The Fronts of World War I in 1915 & 1916

After Turkey’s entry into the war towards the end of 1914, the Dardanelles was closed to allied shipping and thus the only warm water route to Russian ports was closed.  The allied solution to this dilemma was to use the powerful British Navy in concert with a French battle group to force the Dardanelles and reopen the route to the Black Sea.  This operation gained added impetus with the massive Russian losses suffered in the previous year and because of the Turkish opening of a new front against Russia along their common frontier in the Caucasus. The first naval attempt to force the Dardanelles in February 1915 ended inconclusively because … Read more…

The Opening Months of World War I in the East and Elsewhere

The opening months of World War I on the Eastern Front did not proceed at as the German General Staff thought they would.  When General Alfred von Schlieffen (1833-1912) was drawing up the German war plan that would subsequently bear his name, he made several assumptions about the Russian army that would prove to be false. The most glaring incorrect assumption was the Germans estimate of the time it would take the Russian army to take the offensive.  The German General Staff assumed it would the take the Russians at least forty days to complete mobilization and begin their offensive.  This was the amount of time they had to beat … Read more…

Book Review: Fighting the Great War by Michael Neiberg

I originally saw Neiberg’s Fighting the Great War mentioned in a review essay covering recent works on WWI. The essay had good things to say about the work and then I decided to check and yes, the book had been reviewed by the Journal of Military History in the Jan 2007 issue, Vol. 71 no. 1 pg 242. I subscribe to the Journal so I pulled it it out and read the review. The review is generally favorable and recommends the book as a general history of the war. I did not have the same impression of the book as did the reviewer in JMH.I found the book to be … Read more…

Book Review: Empires of the Sea: The Siege of Malta, The Battle of Lepanto, and the Contest for the Center of the World by Roger Crowley

I am planning a vacation trip to Malta this summer with my family and like all vacations I take there will be an element of historical tourism involved.  I have always wanted to visit Malta and I am finally getting a chance.  As preparation for that I am reading a few books with accounts of The Great Siege of 1565, the last battle of the Medieval Crusades.  The first book is Empires of the Sea: The Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto, and the Contest for the Center of the World by Roger Crowley. Crowley does an excellent job of bringing the siege to life and paints a very … Read more…

The Opening Months of World War I in the West

This will be a series of posts laying out the general history of the major Fronts in World War I. The First World War was unnecessary in that if the diplomats of Europe had truly wanted to stop the war there was ample opportunity in the five weeks between the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the start of the fighting.[1] The outbreak of war in 1939 can be directly traced to the terms of the Peace dictated at Versailles in 1919, and World War II was incomparably more destructive than World War I both in terms of lives lost and property destroyed. It was fashionable in the aftermath … Read more…

Book Review: The German Way of War by Robert M. Citino

This book is an interesting read to say the least, Dr. Citino makes the case that there is a specifically German “way of war”. That way, is what he calls operational maneuver. He traces the development of this “way of war” from the 17th century battles of the Frederick William I, the “Great Elector” of electoral Brandenburg and scion of the Hohenzollern Dynasty through to the end of World War II and the final defeat of Nazi Germany. I am not myself so convinced that the discussion should end there based on my experience talking to current German soldiers about war and battle during partnership exercises while I have been … Read more…

Ancient Roman Military Equipment according to Polybius

Polybius provides a detailed description of Roman Legionary equipment in Book VI of his Histories. He begins by describing infantry equipment and then describes the equipment of the cavalry and auxiliaries in turn. This post will concentrate on his description of the equipment worn by the four classes of citizen infantry velites, hastatii, princeps, and triarii. The velites were light troops or skirmishers. They were equipped with a plain helmet, sword, javelins, and a shield called a parma. According to Polybius, the shield was round and about 3 Roman feet in diameter. The javelins were also 3 Roman feet long and had an iron point made such that it was … Read more…