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"The ultimate determinate in the struggle now going on for the world will not be bombs and rockets but a test of wills and ideas - a trial of spiritual resolve; the values we hold, the beliefs we cherish and the ideas to which we are dedicated."― Ronald Reagan

Monday, September 1, 2014

A somewhat defensive view of Monty and his men.

World War 2 history is one of my favorite things...right up with Bacon, John Wayne movies, and eating bacon while watching John Wayne movies.

Recently I have tried to broaden my research to some of those roads less traveled in my library, so to speak, and finally got around to reading this Christmas present...yes, it has been that kind of year.

Mr. Buckley, a true and loyal subject of the Queen, tries to disprove the generally, but not universally, held view among military pundits that the British army was not up to tactical snuff, as it were, when compared to their Wehrmacht counterparts in World War II.  Numerous critiques have been written by highly regarded military historians such as Max Hastings and Carlos D'Este that postulate that the British army was rigid, plodding, and not suited to the high speed mechanized warfare characteristic of World War II.

Mr. Buckley takes strong exception to this, noting quite correctly that the British (and Americans, and Russians) did win the war after all, so they must have been doing a lot right.  However, he seems very defensive in his thesis and quite frankly, has a difficult time making his case.

He makes two interesting observations from the top British leadership that, in his opinion, drove ALL British operational and tactical thinking leading up to June 6, 1944 and beyond...which as he rightly notes, caused a bit of schizophrenia in conducting military operations.  First, Britain had to make a contribution to the Allied victory be engaging and defeating the German military...however, it had to do so with minimal casualties so Britain had an army left after the fighting to keep a seat at the peace table.

By 1944, the American ascendancy in the Western Alliance was pretty much complete, with Ike at the top and the ratio of American to British divisions getting more pronounced every month.  The British, after nearly 5 years of war, were literally running out to troops and needed to preserve as much military power as possible to not only get a seat at the peace table, but ensure the maintenance of the Empire.  This led to an emphasis on firepower over manpower, the dominance of logistics, and the aversion to risky battles that would remind senior leaders of their time at Passchendaele and Ypres in World War One.

AND, of course, there was the influence of Field Marshal Montgomery,  Britain's most influential and notable soldier since Wellington.  Interestingly the author doesn't seem to be enamored with ol' Monty and shows many times how his ego and quest for glory clashed with this American counterparts and put severe strains on the alliance.

Mr. Buckley defends British actions in an interesting manner.  While the British seemed to get bogged down opposite Caen in the weeks following D-Day...launching several futile offensives that usual ended in a bloody slog, he states that the British caused many German casualties (and British ones too) and paved the way for the eventual American breakout and the defeat of the German army in Normandy and subsequent dash across France.  His points about the almost, sorta kinda, successes of attacks such as Operations Goodwood and Epsom seem a little weird, frankly...clearly Monty intended them to be fully successful, not half successful and trying to defend them as anything other than failures seems disingenuous.

Mr. Buckley does offer a blistering critique of Market-Garden which is pithy and well deserved.  The Allies got victory fever in the fall of 1944, and Monty's desire to out-do his American counterparts and march the British into Berlin seems as nuts now as it should have then.  Monty's ego and Ike's wishy-washiness combined to wreck three good airborne divisions and restore German confidence in the fall of 1944.  As Mr. Buckley does correctly point out, logistics alone would have prevented the war from ending in 1944, even before the short-sighted decision to launch Market-Garden instead of clearing the approaches to Antwerp.

Finally, Mr. Buckley tries to offer a balanced assessment of how well the British mastered the modern art of combined arms warfare, with mixed results.  Very often it seems, at least from my reading between the lines, that the British still loved their World War I doctrine of using artillery to clear a path through the enemy for the infantry to follow with their support tanks.  Clearly American generals like Patton understood the cavalry aspects of armored formations as did the Germans, while the British just seemed uncomfortable from departing from their artillery security blanket...so to speak.

As Mr. Buckley points out...Monty could fight a set piece battle better than anyone, and his crossing of the Rhine was probably his magnum opus of the war....yet the Americans hurled themselves headlong over the bridge at Remagen and got over the Rhine with much less fuss.

I actually liked this book, understanding the bi-polar needs of the British army from a political need to minimize casualties versus the military need to win the war makes a lot of decisions more understandable.  I am NOT convinced that the British Army become some tactically adept force, rather I think, as does Mr. Buckley, that the British won through superior firepower and logistics to try and play to their strengths will minimizing their opponents.  While not always elegant or dashing, their army did win and contributed mightily to the final Allied victory.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

A book that tries too hard....

This book was highly recommended on Amazon and since I take a keen interest in all things dealing with strategy, thinking about strategy, and thinking about how to think about strategy, I picked it up.

It was good but not great, offered some interesting insights, but no huge revelations, and overall didn't really wow me as much as I thought it would.

In the end, I would say I think the author tries too hard to take a good 100 page doctoral thesis and stretch it out to a 200 page book.

So, what insights does the book offer?  Well, the one that really caught my "hmmmm" was the critique on Clausewitz (cuz you know how I love me some Clausewitz) and how the binary model of Clausewitzian warfare is no longer really applicable.  Fortunately for this author he pays due homage to the masterpiece that is On War...unlike some other poltroons that I have critiqued, but he does raise some very fine points about how warfare is waged today within the overall context of waging war.  AND no, the two are not synonymous.

Mr. Simpson's primary point is that in a world of global media and interconnectedness, two parties waging war are not merely waging combat on each other, they are creating two different narratives of the conflict and then trying to sell them, as it were, to many different audiences, whether it's domestic populations, international organizations, or other countries.  This may seem intuitive on the surface, however, it is a subtle distinction lost on many Western militaries designed to smash the opponent and win military victories.  While this is indeed the job of military forces, in today's world, it's not enough. 

Witness the recent conflict between Hamas and Israel.  Hamas, a terrorist organization, labeled even by THIS administration as a terrorist organization, launches waves of rockets and missiles at Israel.  Israel uses its superior technology to shoot down these weapons, sparing their civilian population and launches a punitive expedition (my term, which I really like!) to wipe out these missile launchers, kill Hamas fighters and leaders, and send a political message to stop launching missiles into Israel. 

From a military point of view, this is a magnificent victory, the Israel Defense Forces protect their people and counter-attack against their enemies.  Sounds logical right?  BUT, in the weird world of leftist, socialist, terrorist loving politics of the UN and far too many useful idiots in America---ISRAEL is the aggressor bombing the poor, helpless Palestinian people.

Why is this so?  Messaging...and the West better wake the hell up because we are doing a horrible job defending Western Civilization and pointing out loud and clear what an evil Islamo-fascist groups like Hamas and ISIS murdering thugs are...but I digress.

Mr. Simpson makes some other interesting points that all orbit around this main thesis, but the book becomes somewhat repetitive and redundant and even the case study he uses seems somewhat contrived.

It was a good book, not as good as the recent work by Hew Strachan, but it has some valid points...fortunately I am good at skimming!

Monday, August 25, 2014

A marvelous mix of science fiction and alternate history

Allen Steele is one of my short list of favorite sci-fi authors.  I read a number of his early works, which were a marvelous mixture of Robert Heinlein and Ben Bova.  One of his earlier short stories was an excellent "what-if" story of the space race occurring not between the Soviet Union and the U.S., but the U.S. and Nazi Germany during World War II...the ultimate space contest between Robert Goddard and Werner Von Braun...space geek fantasy football, as it were.

As Steele explains in the afterword to this book, he tried to make this short story into a movie, which didn't work out, so he wisely decided to make it into a full length novel.   This short and intense read is an excellent combination of sci-fi and alternate history, two of my favorite fiction categories.

Blending real people like Robert Goddard and Werner Von Braun with lots of outstanding fictional characters, Steele also does an excellent job of integrating Nazi visions of technology and gadgetry, and they were far, far ahead of
anything the Allies had in almost every category:  jet planes, rockets, missiles, tanks..you name it, German engineering had a "super-weapon" and Steele seamlessly blends the technology into the story all the way.  

Told in a blend of flashback and current times, it is an excellent summer read...light, fun, and totally engaging...almost, I say ALMOST as good as my favorite Monster Hunter books.  How good was this book?  Well, I pretty much devoured it like a bag of Fritos..reading it in about 2 days.

If you like science fiction, read this book..even though you already kinda know how it will end, the journey is still well worth the trip.