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 … More after the Jump…

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 … More after the Jump…

Book Review: The Conquest of Gaul by Julius Caesar, translated by S.A. Hanford

The Conquest of Gaul tells the story of the Roman Conquest of what is now France, Switzerland, most of the Low Countries, and parts of present day Germany.   It was written by Julius Caesar, the Governor of the Roman province of Transalpine Gaul from 59 B.C. until he was declared Dictator of Rome in 44 B.C.   He presents a linear account of the conquest of Gaul set forth as a series of books, each book covering one year of his governorship.   The first seven books were written by Caesar himself as yearly reports to Rome.   The seventh book covering 51 B.C. was written after Caesar’s death … More after the Jump…

Combatant Military Strategic Thought in 1914

All classical military theorists point out that military strategy and national policy are intermingled.   Clausewitz devotes a lengthy portion of his treatise to the ways in which military action should serve the needs of the state; indeed, his most famous quote concerns politics and war.   Most of the combatants in World War I seem to have forgotten that policy drives strategy. When the Elder Moltke was Chief of the German General Staff, German war-plans and policy neatly interlinked however, during Schleiffen’s tenure as Chief of the General Staff that link between policy and strategy was lost.   The Great Memorandum of 1905 ignored political reality in favor of … More after the Jump…

Why the Western Front Stalemated in WWI

The conventional explanation for why the Western Front in World War I settled into a stalemate is that the power of defensive weapons was stronger than the offensive methods employed.   The theory is that the defensive potential of machine-guns, artillery, repeating rifles, and trenches was unbreakable with infantry and artillery alone.   This simplistic explanation does not suffice under close scrutiny though.   If this were so, why were the Germans not stopped in France until after they had removed troops to the Eastern front for the Battle of Tannenberg and why were the French stopped cold when they attempted to invade Germany in August 1914? The reasons for … More after the Jump…

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 … More after the Jump…

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 … More after the Jump…

Ancient Roman Military Camp Layout according to Polybius

Polybius provides a detailed description of the layout and organization of a Roman Legionary Camp in Book VI of his Histories. Rather than try to rewrite everything in the section on the layout of a Roman camp contained in Polybius, I have just posted the actual text. I took the text from Bill Thayer’s excellent site at Lacus Curtis. He uses an older translation than the one I have at home, and it differs at some points. The only thing I have done to the text is edit it a little for clarity and added emphasis to some words, mainly putting most of the Latin titles in italics. I also … More after the Jump…

Ancient Roman Military Organization according to Polybius

From reading Polybius, I gather that the basic unit of the Roman Army was not the Legion, at least not in the days of the Republic during Polybius’ lifetime. Instead, it was the Consular Army, which consisted of two Legions. A Legion was commanded by a Consul, who was elected by the people and served for a one-year term. The Consuls each appointed twelve Tribunes who served directly under the Consuls. The Tribunes were distributed six to a Legion. Then began the enrollment process whereby the actual men who would serve in each the Legion were selected by lots from among the tribes and assigned by a rotating order to … More after the Jump…

The Battle of Lake Trasimene- 217 B.C.

I am currently reading Polybius’ Histories, and I have finally gotten to the part where he describes the events during the Second Punic War.   Last night I read his account of the battle of Lake TRasimene in 217 B.C. Trasimene was not the first of the great disasters to befall the Romans in the Second Punic War, but it was the first that really threw the Roman people into a panic. The Romans had been defeated and lost an army at the Battle of the Trebia in December, 218 B.C. the Romans had reacted to that loss by raising another army to face Hannibal led by the Consuls for … More after the Jump…

Book Review: The Storm of Steel by Ernst Junger

Just about everyone has heard of Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, it is the work of fiction about World War I. It has been made into a movie several times and is supposed to represent the inhumanity of the war and the hopelessness felt by its participants in the trenches. Ernst Jünger’s, The Storm of Steel by contrast, is a different sort of World War I book entirely. Where Remarque wrote an anti-war novel based on his experiences in the war, Jünger not only did not write an anti-war account of the war he positively relished his time in the trenches. Jünger was wounded six times during … More after the Jump…

Book Review (sort of): Julius Caesar -The Gallic Wars

Caesar’s Gallic Wars are a series of eight books that Caesar either wrote or had written detailing his actions during the eight years he was the Roman governor in Gaul.   They are best understood as an exercise in propaganda because during the time he was away from Rome the books were an excellent way to keep his name in front of the people in Rome and to enhance his reputation and prestige.   That being said, they are still invaluable as an account of his time there and as a look into the mind of one of the best politicians of the most powerful polity of his age.  It … More after the Jump…

The Transformation of War Wrought by the Armies of the French Revolution and Napoleon

This is the text of a paper I wrote for my undergrad that I found yesterday while looking through the folders on my computer for something else and decided I would post here.   It is not the best writing I have ever done but I like and still agree with the conclusion I came to in it.

In the years before the French Revolution, warfare in Europe was moribund at best.   The wars of the period were dynastic wars fought to maintain the traditional balance of power and were generally limited in scale and scope.   The armies of this era were professional armies with an aristocratic officer class and private soldiers drawn from the lowest segments of society and subject to brutal discipline.   Desertion and looting were rife in the pre-revolutionary or old regime army’s, which partly explains the discipline, the other part of the discipline equation was the need for soldiers to execute their battlefield actions in concert to maximize the effect of their weapons. [1]  Lastly, pre-revolutionary eighteenth century warfare was characterized by small field armies, reliance on depots for supplies, mechanistic battlefield evolutions, and wars for limited gains.

More after the Jump…The Transformation of War Wrought by the Armies of the French Revolution and Napoleon

The Medieval Siege – Part 2

The weapons and techniques used throughout most of siege warfare are remarkably consistent with few innovations.   The notable new weapons were the trebuchet, Greek fire, and Cannons.

            Siege towers or belfries were common if unwieldy weapons used at sieges throughout the medieval period.   They were often made of wood and were built taller than the walls they would be used to assault.   Sometimes towers were wheeled or they could also be built on sleds so that they could be pushed up against the walls.   The most difficult part of using a tower was getting it up to the walls in the first place as most towns and castles were protected by ditches or moats.   These would have to filled in and leveled out before a tower could be moved into position.

More after the Jump…The Medieval Siege – Part 2

Medieval Fortifications

Fortifications have existed since before recorded history and the Middle Ages were no different.   Forts and castles were used throughout the Middle Ages as a means of controlling territory and could even be used in an offensive manner such as the English under Edward I used in the conquest of Wales in the twelfth century.

            Most of the fortifications used in the early medieval period were Roman works that had survived the fall of the empire.   Most surviving Roman fortifications were town walls and even if they did not survive completely they were incorporated into new construction whenever possible.

More after the Jump…Medieval Fortifications