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…

The German Way of War?

Is there such a thing? That question hit me this morning as I was reading a book review in an old copy of the Journal of Military History. The book in question was Death of the Wehrmacht: The German Campaigns of 1942 (Modern War Studies), by Robert M. Citino and it was reviewed in the January 2009 issue of the Journal. The reviewer made mention that one of the prevalent theories about the German army is that in World War II they fought a completely different war than the one they were designed for and that goes far to explaining the ultimate German defeat. The argument is that the German … More after the Jump…

Book Review: Panzer Battles by F.W. von Mellenthin

This is one of the most influential memoirs written by a former German Officer. The cover of the copy I own highlights that it “was the book on General Schwarzkopf’s desk during the Gulf War.” I found it to be a well written book with some pretty good accounts of the battles von Mellenthin participated in as a staff officer as well as some battles he did not participate in. I would not go so far as to say that this book is a definitive account of German tank warfare in World War II but it comes very close. Mellenthin does an outstanding job of describing the operational and sometimes … More after the Jump…

What is an Act of War?

In light of the beginning of Attacks against Libya and the UN Security Council Resolution authorizing the establishment of a No-Fly Zone over part of Libya I thought it would be useful to have a post about Acts of War and historically what has been considered a legitimate reason to go to war. I will focus this post on the Westphalian System established in 1648 by the Peace of Westphalia ending the Thirty-Years War that also inaugurated the current system of Sovereign nation-states operative in the world today. The Westphalian System did not spring fully formed in 1648, mainly because it was focused on monarchical and dynastic states and not … 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…

Battle of Carrhae, 53 B.C.

The Battle of Carrhae in 53 B.C. was one of the biggest military disasters Rome ever suffered, ranking right up there with Cannae, The Teutoberg Forest, and Lake Trasimene.   The battle occurred in what is today Syria between a Roman army under Marcus Licinius Crassus and a Parthian (Persian) army under a general Surena.   In the battle, seven legions were destroyed and their Eagles taken and Rome did not trouble the Parthian Empire again for almost 50 years.

The battle was written about by both Livy and Plutarch.   The links are to translations of their texts.

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Are there similarities between the War in Vietnam and the War in Afghanistan? – Part 2

The last question that needs to be answered as concerns the parallels between Afghanistan and Vietnam is why we are not pursuing a campaign of territorial conquest.   In Vietnam, the U.S. did not seek to gain and maintain control of territory; rather they sought to combat only the military forces of the insurgents.   That is why the now legendary “body count” was so important in Vietnam.   The same thing is not happening in Afghanistan, at least to the extent that the “body count” is important.   The metric I see being used to determine progress in Afghanistan in place of the “body count” is tracking how many attacks occur within delineated sectors of territory.   This metric is probably just as useless in determining victory or progress, as was the body count.   So many factors go into determining how many attacks occur in a given region that the actual number of attacks is meaningless.

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The Crimean War part one – The Narrative

This war has always interested me; mainly because of the use of technology and the admittedly fuzzy reasoning for the war in the first place.   The war was probably the last European Great Power War that was fought for limited dynastic and prestige reasons.   The ostensible cause of the war was a dispute in 1852 between the Orthodox and Catholic churches over control and access to some of the shrines in Jerusalem.   The Russians decided to get involved as the self-appointed guardians of Christian places in the Turkish Empire and the French got involved in their self-appointed role as the guardian of Catholics.   At that, war was not declared until October 1853 and the shooting did not really start until November when the Russian Black Sea Fleet decimated the Turkish navy.

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The Thirteenth-Century Crusade Against Novgorod

            Beginning in the thirteenth century the Swedes attempted to continue their expansion to the east into the territory of the Lapp people and the Orthodox Russians of Novgorod.   They harnessed the rhetoric of Crusade as they expanded to the east to gain more control of the Lapp people and exploited the fur trade, hunting, and fishing of the indigenous people.

            It was not just economic concerns that animated the Swedes and Norwegians to expand to control the far-northern trade, religion played a role.   The Catholic Swedes sought to extend the Latin Church’s influence to the east and north while the Orthodox Russians sought to do the same with their brand of Christianity.   Prior to the thirteenth century this impulse had went hand in hand with normal expansion, religious affiliation went hand in hand with political control, indeed religion facilitated control of subject peoples.[1]  Religious uniformity helped mask the differences among the various ethnicities that occupied the far north.

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The Wendish Crusade

            The people of Northern Germany known as the Wends were not one homogenous people but rather organized themselves in a tribal structure.   The tribes from the Saxon border west were the Wagrians, Polabians, Abotrites, Rugians, Liutizians, and Pomeranians.[1]  These tribes were loosely organized under local princes and there was no overall king or authority figure.   The Wends were polytheistic nature worshipers who had many shrines and temples throughout their lands.   The priestly class was the most influential next to the secular lords and the Wends were deeply superstitious even going so far as to avoid battle if the auguries were unfavorable.

            The Wendish Crusades were Crusades in name only, the Danes and Saxons used the Crusading name to mask a naked grab of the territory of the pagan Wends.   The Danes and Saxons had been encroaching on Wendish territory prior to the start of the Wendish crusades in 1147, but their gains had only been short-lived and limited to forcing some of the Wendish nobility to pay tribute.[2]  The Danes and Saxons who had only come to Christianity in the eighth and ninth centuries took wholeheartedly to the message preached by St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) to fight the pagans “until such a time as, by God’s help, they be either converted or deleted.”[3]

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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.

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Are there similarities between the War in Vietnam and the War in Afghanistan? – Part 1

Comparisons of Afghanistan to Vietnam were common during the Bush years but have slowed down considerably since he left office.  Perhaps there are political reasons for this and perhaps there is just comparison fatigue, I am not really which.  I bring this up because I had a conversation about this at lunch the other day and it got me thinking about it.  From a purely military perspective, it strikes me that while the war in Afghanistan is not synonymous with the war in Vietnam there are some parallels that it is perhaps a comparison worth exploring.   The story that brought the topic up is here: U.S., Afghans hope to rout expected Taliban offensive.

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The Fifth Crusade

            Pope Innocent III (p.1198-1216), who was perhaps the most ardent supporter of Crusade to hold the Papacy, issued the Papal Bull Quia maior in April 1213 calling for a new Crusade to recapture Jerusalem.[1]  This Bull set the standard for all future Crusading Bulls; in it, Innocent introduced many new concepts that widened the appeal of Crusading in Christendom.   This was the first time that the indulgence had been expanded to include those who could not go on Crusade, they could gain the indulgence by supporting the Crusade financially.   Innocent intended for this new Crusade to be led by the church and he worked tirelessly to see the Crusade come to fruition.

            The response to the new call for Crusade was tremendous throughout Europe except for France where the nobility was engaged in suppressing the Albigensian heresy.   Duke Leopold VI of Austria (1176-1230) led a large contingent from Austria on Crusade.   In Hungary, Andrew II (1205-1235) had taken the cross during the Fourth Crusade but had not fulfilled his vow so he now joined this new effort in its fulfillment.   A churchman Oliver of Paderborn the Bishop of Cologne gathered a large army in Northwest Germany, Holland, and Flanders, which he then led on the Crusade himself.   Oliver also wrote an account of the Fifth Crusade that is one of the most valuable sources extant.   Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor (1205-1250) also took the cross promising to lead a massive army of Germans but he first had to cement the control of his empire.

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The Medieval Siege

The siege was the most common type of battle fought during the Middle Ages.   Medieval armies and commanders tended to avoid pitched battles unless forced into them by circumstances.   Medieval warfare and its concentration on sieges can thus be considered the ultimate in positional warfare as success usually lay with control of castles and strong points and the terrain they dominated.

In the early medieval period, there was not much in the way of new construction of fortifications and therefore not many examples of siege warfare.   As the peoples of Europe began to organize themselves and nations and strongmen emerged there was a renewed focus on defensive fortifications that led to the castellation of Europe beginning in the tenth century, which was substantially completed by the end of the twelfth century.  

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