The Dreyse Needle Gun

One of the most consistent features of accounts of the German Wars of Unification are the assertions that the Prussian possession of the Dreyse Needle Gun was decisive in and of itself because of its impact on Prussian tactical formation and the flexibility it gave the average infantryman. Make no mistake, the Dreyse was a technological marvel for its time, it indeed gave the Prussians tactical flexibility and radically increased their rate of fire when compared to muzzleloader equipped armies of the time.  The tactical innovations it allowed were few but important.  Perhaps the single most important innovation it allowed was that it allowed the infantry to reload from the … More after the Jump…

Book Review: The Oxford Illustrated History of the First World War, edited by Hew Strachan


The Oxford Illustrated History of the First World War

The Oxford Illustrated History of the First World War, edited by Hew Strachan,  is one of those rare history books that manages to be both readable scholarly at the same time.   Indeed, it is an even rarer breed of book because it is an anthology and not by a single author.   Where many history books are written for the specialist historical crowd and there is an element of haughtiness in the writing, that condescension is entirely missing here.   This history book does not assume knowledge on the part of the reader, but at the same time does not present its material in such a way that the non-historian would be put off by it.

More after the Jump…Book Review: The Oxford Illustrated History of the First World War, edited by Hew Strachan

Book Review: Decisions for War, 1914-1917


Decisions for War, 1914-1917

In Decisions for War, 1914-1917, Richard Hamilton and Holger Herwig present a new thesis for the origins of World War I.   They argue that in all the belligerent countries the decision for war was made by a one person or at most a small group of individuals regardless of the type of government.   Given the wealth of material written about the origins of the First World War it seems incredible to me that this possibility has, if not been overlooked in all previous scholarship, then certainly ignored, as the authors claim[1].   While Hamilton and Herwig do not entirely discount that other factors than pure national self-interest on the part of the leaders played a role in the decision for war, they do contend that this was the overriding concern in most if not all of the wars belligerents.

            I found the book to be a fairly easy to read, the writing style was not as dry as might be expected given the topic of discussion.   Even though I do not necessarily agree with the authors, the book was fun and captivating to read.   They write with a style similar to what I try to achieve in my own writing.   It is written such that it is simultaneously engaging, factual, and descriptive, just a good read.   I do not have to agree with a book to enjoy it, and the authors certainly made reading this enjoyable.   It was laid out well and the chapters flowed in a logical progression, discussing each country in the order in which it declared war.  

More after the Jump…Book Review: Decisions for War, 1914-1917

Rome and the Battle of Cannae

One of the most talked about battles in military historical circles is the Battle of Cannae between Rome and Carthage on August 2, 216 B.C.[1] Cannae is significant because in military circles it is considered to represent the perfect battle of encirclement if not the perfect battle period.   Another that makes it so significant is that Hannibal, the Carthaginian CDR, managed to defeat a Roman force that outnumbered him while suffering relatively few casualties compared to the damage he did to the Romans.

Cannae is interesting for several reasons.   The most notable for my purposes being that the battle and the way it was fought fascinated 19th century German strategists from Moltke to Schlieffen.   Cannae was held up as the ideal battle from a planning perspective.   All commanders should aim to achieve an annihilating battle of encirclement such as that achieved by Hannibal at Cannae.   Because of this battle’s importance to 19th century German planners, it was the exemplar Schlieffen used when planning the invasion of France, I am going to discuss this battle in fairly great detail.

More after the Jump…Rome and the Battle of Cannae

Military Principles: Britain

To be honest, Britain did not go very far toward developing principles of war during the 19th century.  There were two reasons for this, 1. Britain was heavily committed in fighting small colonial wars such as the Indian Mutiny, and Boer War, not to mention numerous other small conflicts throughout their globe spanning colonial empire; and 2. They did not have a mass army.  In 1914 Britain could only field a small six division expeditionary force compared to the mass armies of Germany, France, and Russia. A short history of the 19th century British Army is probably called for here because it explains much.  After the defeat of Napoleon the British army … More after the Jump…

Königgrätz-The battlefield

I went to Königgrätz this past weekend for one final trip before I start writing my thesis and to refresh my memory about what the terrain looks and feels like.  I have found that is difficult to really understand a battle and the course it took unless I have been to the actual battlefield or seen a very good terrain model.  Terrain determines much more about the course of a battle than many people realize.  Of course, rivers and mountains make a difference but so do small terrain features.  Anyone who has ever visited Ypres and stood on top of Passchendaele Ridge looking into the salient can instantly see why … More after the Jump…

Military Principles: France

Military Principles: France France during the 19th century and until the end of WWI was enthralled with the writings of two authors and naturally the exploits of Napoleon when they developed their principles of military operations. The two authors are Baron Antoine Henri de Jomini and Ardant du Picq, both wrote seminal works that were avidly devoured by French military thinkers but for different reasons. First, and most influential was Jomini, he was a Swiss-born French speaking veteran of the Napoleonic wars who served on the Napoleons staff for much of the Napoleonic wars and wrote The Art of War analyzing Napoleonic tenets and presented what he thought of as the recipe for … More after the Jump…

Military Principles: 1st in a series

There are several things that are important when studying any military battle or campaign.  There are also several versions of this list and which list you use essentially depends on personal preference.  What follows is my personal list of what for lack of a better term can be called Military Principles.  These are things that in my opinion the victorious commander and his army must get right to be victorious.  Let me clarify that, the victorious military force must get more of these right than his opponent to win.  It is rare indeed that any commander or army gets every one of them right every time. If you study military … More after the Jump…

Dating Conventions

I figured that here I would talk about dating conventions because I will eventually be posting about ancient and medieval battles as well. The question is A.D. & B.C. or C.E. & B.C.E.? The current convention says that C.E. & B.C.E standing for Common Era & Before Common Era are what we should use in modern scholarship.  The reasoning is that A.D. & B.C. are religious in nature and therefore exclusionary terms.  Sorry, I call bullshit on that.  A.D. & B.C. may be religious terms, I don’t dispute that, but they are also what people have been using for literally hundreds of years.  Trying to change dating conventions because of … More after the Jump…

BOOK REVIEW: Moltke on the Art of War: Selected Writings

This is the first of a series of book reviews I will put on my blog. Not necessarily because I think anybody cares what I think about a book. The commenters on Amazon certainly don’t. But rather because I think it is helpful for my readers to get an idea of where my knowledge comes from and also because I hope to highlight some great books that are out there that I don’t think a lot of people have read, even history buffs. Most will be good reviews but I do have some books I absolutely think are worthless or despise. I will put those up too. The bottom line … More after the Jump…

Technology and 19th Century War

Here is another subject I was ruminating about this morning and last night. What is the relationship between technology and victory?   This is especially important from the late 18th century forward when the pace of technological innovation in western civilization sped up.  Keep in mind that to the modern mind, change is a constant but that was not always the case, indeed for most of human history it was not the case.  For example, the horse was the main means of transport for 90% of human history, it has only been since the 1840’s since the horse began to be superseded and only really since the 1950’s when the horse … More after the Jump…

The Prussian General Staff

It has often been asserted that one of the things that set the Prussian/German Army apart from others is the General Staff System. I can buy that the Prussian General Staff was the best and has been widely imitated. I don’t know however, if the Staff System itself gave the Germans a decisive edge in warfare. Staff work counts most at the beginning of a conflict and the German experience in WWI shows that even the best staff work and fastest mobilization does not guarantee victory. It can allow a nation to drag a war out but is not a war winning advantage in and of itself. My reading of … More after the Jump…

Still working on an archives write-up

I am still working on putting together a piece about my trip to the Austrian Kriegsarchiv this past spring.  I it will probably not be up until next Tuesday at the earliest.  This is my wife’s birthday weekend so I wont have a lot of time to play with the computer and I usually don’t get online that much during the weekends anyway. It will be coming though, with some images of documents I had copies made of.

My MA Thesis-The Battle of Königgrätz -3 July 1866-Part # 3

the present.  This episode is about my visit to the Königgrätz Battlefield in the fall of 2009.  I had actually been bugging my wife to make this trip since we moved to Europe in the summer of 2008 and she finally relented in August of 2009 and surprised me by giving me the itinerary for the trip on our wedding anniversary.  I have dragged my wife many battlefields in both America and Europe during our marriage but I was triply impressed because she actually volunteered to go on this one. We went to Königgrätz the weekend of 26 September, 2009 and it was an adventure the whole way.  We left … More after the Jump…

My MA Thesis-The Battle of Königgrätz -3 July 1866-Part # 2

One of the things about the battle that got me the most was the terrain. One thing I immediately noticed about Austrian dispositions for the battle was that they had refused both flanks and oriented their position on the main road from Königgrätz to Gitschin. It was only the successive hammer blows of multiple Prussian attacks that defeated the Austrians and not superior Prussian technology.  Below is a map of Austrian dispositions before the battle; I know it is hard to really make anything out but I am having trouble getting the full 3mb file uploaded, when I do I will post it. Map from Österreichisches Staatsarchiv-Kriegsarchiv Accession Information: Karton … More after the Jump…