Book Review: Storming the City: U.S. Military Performance in Urban Warfare from World War II to Vietnam by Alec Wahlman

Storming the City: U.S. Military Performance in Urban Warfare from World War II to Vietnam by Alec Wahlman is a study of the 20th Century United States experience in urban warfare. It examines four urban battles fought by US forces from World War II to Vietnam. The focus of the study are the operational effectiveness of US forces and how well US troops faced urban combat given the relative dearth of US doctrine on city fighting.

The book itself is 261 pages of text divided into 6 topical chapters plus an introduction and conclusion. There are 63 pages of endnotes, a short glossary, and a 35 page bibliography. There is a chapter for each of the four battles covered while the other two chapters discuss the development of American military doctrine on urban combat pre and post-World War II.

The four battles covered in the book are Aachen in 1944, Manila in 1945, Seoul in 1950, and Hue in 1968. I found it curious that the book was not extended to cover the Marine fight for Fallujah in 2004 but it was not. This is essentially an operational history and analysis of each battle. There is no detailed tactical description of the way the battles were fought. The narrative portion of each chapter is brief and does not get down to tactical descriptions of specific incidents as do most campaign histories. What the narrative does do is paint the outlines of the action with a fairly broad brush.

The details are somewhat filled in during the analysis portion of each chapter as specific aspects of the battle such as tactics, equipment, logistics, fire support, and use of doctrine are discussed. Analysis is the larger part of each chapter and the analyses is first rate. The methods and pros and cons of those methods used in each fight are discussed in detail with an astute logic as to why these methods were positive or negative.

The chapters on urban warfare doctrine are mainly interesting because they highlight how ignored this aspect of warfare has been in American military thought. Of course the author’s conclusions demonstrate that a lack of doctrinal rigor with regards to urban combat has not really hurt the American military because of the American fighting man’s ability to innovate on the battlefield and the applications of lessons learned from other combat situations to operations in urban terrain.

This book similar to other studies of in urban warfare such as City Fights and Concrete Hell. The difference between this book and earlier studies is the level of analysis on the battles studied. This is not campaign history but campaign analysis, and excellent analysis at that.

If you are interested in how modern armies have responded to main force combat in urban terrain then this is the book for you. It has some first rate analysis of what has worked in the past and shows how urban warfare has been largely ignored by US military planners. This is an excellent book and it should be read by doctrine thinkers and people that think all city fights are slow motion slugfests with an invisible enemy as has been the contemporary norm. That last is one reason I think Fallujah should have been included as that battle shows that hard core urban combat can happen even with non-state actors as they are called. A great book that I highly recommend.