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…

Book Review: Battle Tactics of the Western Front by Paddy Griffith

Battle Tactics of the Western Front: The British Army`s Art of Attack, 1916-18 by Paddy Griffith is a very interesting book. The premise is that despite what many historians have said about the inertia of the British Army in WWI and it’s resistance to tactical change, that is not true and the British were committed to innovation throughout the war in an effort to break the deadlock of the trenches. The book itself is not long, 219 pages of text including appendices. There are extensive endnotes and the bibliography is fairly extensive as well. The book is organized topically and though it purports to only deal with the developments of the … Read more…

Update on SFC Walter Taylor

Saw this update on SFC Taylor’s case yesterday and decided to add it to my page as well.   From the LA Times: Court-martial decision postponed for soldier in Afghan shooting.   His Article 32 hearing, the military equivalent of a Grand Jury, was held last week and now the case in in the hands of the reviewing officer.   She will review the evidence and testimony presented at the hearing and then make a recommendation to Taylor’s Brigade commander who will endorse that recommendation or not and then send it to the JMTC commander in Graf who is the General Court Martial Convening Authority.   The JMTC commander makes the final decision on whether this case should go to trial or if Taylor should face, a lesser Court Martial, administrative punishment, or even no further action.

All that being said, I would guess that at a minimum Taylor faces a Special Court Martial, probably a Special BCD.   The nature of what has been reported so far makes it clear that Taylor is being prosecute as an example to others.   Whether that is good military policy is besides the point, the army does stuff like this sometimes.   I will say that in my experience, if it does go to a Court Martial Taylor will get a fairer hearing than he would in a civilian court.   His CM Panel, the military version of a jury, will consist of people his grade or higher both officer and enlisted if he opts that, and he would be stupid not to.   The panel are people that understand the military and the pressures in combat.

I have no worries that if it goes to trial he will win.   The problem I have is that even if he wins, his career is now damaged because of the massive publicity surrounding the case.   That is something he cannot get away from.   It will also haunt him as he goes in front of a selection board for promotion.   The perception could be that he hurt the army and he could therefor later be denied promotion or even selected for elimination and the case could have nothing overt to do with it but it will always be there.   The army is a small place and institutional memory is long, especially about people who are perceived as tarnishing the Army Reputation.

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…

A Travesty Calling for Action

In today’s edition of Stars and Stripes and the LA Times is an article about a combat engineer facing charges for actions he took in combat in Afghanistan last year.  The gist of the story is that the soldier involved shot an unarmed female in the middle of a firefight who was moving towards the rear of her vehicle.  The description of the incident from the article is here: His convoy was reeling from a roadside bomb, his fellow soldiers were engaged in combat with insurgents and a mysterious black car had just screeched to a stop in the middle of the firefight. Some nine minutes later, a black door opens. Second 1: A … 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…

Given that I generally try to concentrate on the German Wars of Unification when I do any serious research I thought I would toss this link out there.   I ran across the following article about the Battle of Lundby in 1864 today.   It is probably the best description of any single action from the Danish War of 1864 I have ever seen.   What makes it so great for my purposes is that it is in English and I can direct my readers to it.   The first of the German Wars of Unification, the Danish War of 1864, is practically ignored in English scholarship and thus finding something like this is a treasure as it sheds light on the development of Prussian tactical and operational methods that is not generally open to the English speaking world.

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…

Battle Analysis-Sedan, 1870

Map of Battle of Sedan - Image Courtesy: http://www.marxists.org/glossary/events/f/pics/sedan.gif

The Battle of Sedan, fought on 1 September 1870 displayed the superiority the Prussian Army had attained over the French in the nearly sixty years since their devastating defeat at Jena in the Napoleonic wars. The battle was notable for several developments in warfare, which were showcased by the Prussian and French army’s different abilities to effectively utilize the new technologies and methods existing. The most dominant military technologies of the time were railroads, repeating rifles, and modern cannon. While the French had at their disposal the Chassepot rifle which was superior to the Prussian needle-gun, their artillery was inferior in both quantity and quality to the Krupp guns deployed … 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 … 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 … Read more…

Medieval Armor was heavy; Is this a Surprise?

I ran across this article on discovery news today: Heavy Armor Led to French Knights’ Loss.The article immediately irritated me. Perhaps it was the way the article was written or perhaps it was the content of the interviews with the guys who did the study. The gist of the story is that some English researchers had some medieval reenactor volunteers don period medieval armor and do various exercises on a treadmill while their various bodily functions were measured such as breathing, heart rate, etc. The article makes out as if it is a surprise that one, medieval suits of plate mail were heavy and two, that knights tire rapidly while … Read more…

Book Review: The Face of Battle by John Keegan

I have to caveat this review somewhat.   I wrote this book review for an undergrad military history course I took almost six-years ago.   I still think that the The Face of Battle is an excellent book.   I have modified my opinion of Keegan as a historian somewhat though.   I think he is somewhat overrated and he tends to simplistic British-centric judgements in his analysis of military history.   He is a good historian, but sometimes his interpretations of events are not all they could be. “The Face of Battle” by John Keegan has become a classic in the thirty years since it was published.   The … 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…