October 21, 2016

French Plans For Glory At Verdun – Romania Stops The Germans I THE GREAT WAR Week 117

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 20 Oct 2016

The front at Verdun has been quieter in recent weeks because the French are planing to retake all the lost ground and most importantly Fort Douaumont. Improved supplies, detailed planning and training give hope to the Poilus. The Germans on the other hand know that something is coming for them and when the morale couldn’t get much lower, the Romanians stop Erich von Falkenhayn in the Carpathians.

October 20, 2016

Sea power and land power

Filed under: Britain, History, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

At Samizdata, Brian Micklethwait has an interesting essay, including this discussion of the historical differences between naval and land powers (Athens and Sparta, Greece and Persia, Britain and France, etc.) and an insight into the odd growth pattern of the British empire after the introduction of steam power:

This contrast, between seafaring and land-based powers, has dominated political and military history, both ancient and modern. Conflicts like that between Athens and Sparta, and then between all of Greece and Persia, and the later conflicts between the British – before, during and since the time of the British Empire – and the succession of land-based continental powers whom we British have quarrelled with over the centuries, have shaped the entire world. Such differences in political mentality continue to matter a lot.

Throughout most of modern human history, despots could completely command the land, including all inland waterways. but they could not command the oceans nearly so completely. Wherever the resources found in the oceans or out there beyond them loomed large in the life and the economy of a country or empire, there was likely to be a certain sort of political atmosphere. In places where the land and its productivity counted for pretty much everything, and where all communications were land-based, a very different political atmosphere prevailed.

You see this contrast in the difficulties that Napoleon had when squaring up to the British, and to the British Royal Navy. Napoleon planned his land campaigns in minute detail, like a chess grandmaster, and he played most of his military chess games on a board that could be depended on to behave itself. But you couldn’t plan a sea-based campaign in this way, because the sea had a mind of its own. You couldn’t march ships across the sea the way you can march men across a parade ground, or a continent. At sea, the man on the spot had to be allowed to improvise, to have a mind of his own. He had to be able to exercise initiative, in accordance with overall strategic guidance, yes, but based on his own understanding of the particular circumstances he faced. There was no tyranny like that of the captain of a ship, when it was at sea. But sea-based powers had many ships, so navies (particularly merchant navies), by their nature dispersed power. In a true political tyranny, there can be only one tyrant.

More fundamentally, the sea provided freedom, because it provided an abundance of places to escape to, should the tyranny of a would-be tyrant become too irksome and life-threatening. Coastal communities had other sources of wealth and power besides those derived from inland, and could hide in their boats from tyrants. Drive a sea captain and his crew mad with hatred for you and for your tyrannical commands and demands, and he and his ship might just disappear over the horizon and never be seen again. Good luck trying to capture him. If you did seriously attempt this, you would need other equally strong-minded and improvisationally adept sea captains whom you had managed to keep on your side, willing to do your bidding even when they were far beyond the reach of your direct power. One way or another, your tyranny ebbed away.

Other kinds of tyranny, or the more puritanical sort, were also typically made a nonsense of by seagoing folk, whenever they enjoyed a spot of shore leave.


The development of mechanically powered ships, since Napoleon’s time, served to make the deployment of ships at sea a lot more like marching them about on a parade ground. First, the significance of the wind and its often unpredictable direction is pretty much negated. And mechanically powered ships are also, especially in the days of coal power, much more dependent upon land-based installations, the arrangement of which demanded Napoleonic logistical virtuosity. Much of late British imperial politics only makes sense if you factor in the compelling need for coaling stations to feed ships. Sailing ships don’t run out of fuel. Modern ships do.

October 18, 2016

Mimi, Toutou and Fifi – The Utterly Bizarre Battle for Lake Tanganyika I THE GREAT WAR Special

Filed under: Africa, Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on 17 Oct 2016

Check out http://audible.com/thegreatwar for a free trial and a free audiobook from the great selection that Audible has to offer.

This episodes contains images that are orphaned works for which the copyright holder is not known.

The Battle for Lake Tanganyika in German East Africa was one of the most bizarre battles of World War 1. It only really started once the Royal Navy had carried two boats through the jungle and the mountains from Capetown. Their names: Mimi and Toutou. Their commander: Geoffrey Spicer-Simson, probably the weirdest high ranking officer in the entire war.

October 16, 2016

Soldiers With Glasses – Industrial Centres – Frontline Generals I OUT OF THE TRENCHES

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 15 Oct 2016

Indy is answering your questions about the First World War again. This time we talk about:
– soldiers wearing glasses
– the different industrial centres of the major nations
– generals leading from the frontline and from the rear

October 14, 2016

Deadly Routine On The Italian Front – The 8th Battle Of The Isonzo I THE GREAT WAR – Week 116

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:38

Published on Oct 13, 2016

While the 7th Battle of the Isonzo River was still raging, Italian chief of staff Luigi Cadorna was already planning the 8th. The war of attrition was going in his favour even though the Italian losses began to mount too. But how long could Austria-Hungary keep up against the constant pressure?

October 11, 2016

The Game Of Thrones in Albania During World War 1 I THE GREAT WAR Special

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on 10 Oct 2016

One of Indy’s favourite historical characters is actually King Zog of Albania. History’s heaviest smoker and probably the only monarch to pull out his gun and shoot at his own assassins. But King Zog is not the only reason why the story of Albania before and during World War 1 is so fascinating and complicated.

October 9, 2016

The Chinese Labour Corps in Russia During World War 1 I OUT OF THE ETHER

Filed under: China, Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 8 Oct 2016

In another exiting episode of Out Of The Ether, Indy reads a great comment by a Russian fan about the situation of Chinese workers in Russia.

October 7, 2016

Douglas Haig’s Fantasies Drown In Mud I THE GREAT WAR Week 115

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 6 Oct 2016

Even though his troops are drowning in mud, Douglas Haig is still sketching grandiose plans for the breakthrough at the Somme. At the same time, the German Ambassador is recalled from Constantinople because he spoke out against the Armenian Genocide and with a clever offensive the Romanians harass August von Mackensen on the new Romanian Front.

October 4, 2016

Russian Uniforms of WW1 I THE GREAT WAR Special

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:07

Published on 3 Oct 2016

The Russian Army of World War 1 fielded a great variety of troops and equipment. This was especially true for the different uniforms. In our special episode, we will talk about some of the most common items, tunics and gear the soldiers would wear into battle.

October 2, 2016

Indirect Machinegun-Fire – Welfare Facilities I OUT OF THE TRENCHES

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on 1 Oct 2016

In this slightly shorter episode, Indy talks about indirect machinegun-fire and welfare facilities for children.

October 1, 2016

Falkenhayn Crosses The Carpathians – The Battle of Sibiu I THE GREAT WAR Week 114

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on 29 Sep 2016

Erich von Falkenhayn had been fired from his position as Chief-of-Staff but he had a new task: Leading the combined Austro-German forces into Romania. So, this week 100 years ago Falkenhayn crosses the Carpathian mountains into Transylvania where they met fierce Romanian resistance. At the same time the British attacked at the Somme again and failed to utilise their new weapon: the tank.

September 27, 2016

The Lion Of Verdun – Philippe Pétain I WHO DID WHAT IN WW1?

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 26 Sep 2016

Philippe Pétain already had a long military career when World War 1 broke out. And even during his peacetime service, his ideas were not always popular because they went against the old doctrines of the French Army. But during World War 1 he proofed his critiques wrong and became the Lion of Verdun who halted the German advance.

September 25, 2016

The Lorne Scots 150th anniversary

Filed under: Cancon, Military, Personal — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Yesterday I drove out to the wilds of Brampton to attend the Trooping of the Colours for the Lorne Scots (Peel, Dufferin and Halton Regiment). Given how hot this summer has been, they had a great day for the event. I’m sporting a bit of a sunburn on the right side of my head, but the temperatures were much more comfortable than they’d have been on pretty much any weekend since June. Elizabeth and I sat in the second row of seats, which meant that a lot of my photos were constrained (or even bookended) by the heads and shoulders of the folks sitting immediately in front of us. It was still a great trip down memory lane.


If you’re on Facebook, you can see a selection of photos from the event here (unless Facebook is making it awkward for non-members to see albums posted as “public”, which is always a consideration). If you can’t see ’em, let me know in the comments and I’ll repost at least a few of them here.

Galicia’s role in WWI (Live from Lviv) – Handguns for Pilots – Fight or run I OUT OF THE TRENCHES

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 24 Sep 2016

Sitting in the Chair of Temporary Insanity, Indy talks about Galicia’s big role in war on Location, if Pilots were issued guns, and a story from a viewers great grandpa.

QotD: Canada’s “Potemkin village” tactics

Filed under: Cancon, History, Military, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Some of us, in another forum, were discussing why UN peacekeeping seems to go so very wrong, so very often ~ not always, I hasten to add, just usually ~ and I quipped, with just a wee bit of hyperbole, that “Simple human decency says that a country like Canada should have dropped a light brigade into South Sudan and destroyed the South Sudanese Army in a short, brutal campaign of exemplary speed and violence … should have if we could have, but, of course, the Canadian Army is a fat, overstaffed, poorly managed corporal’s guard, that cannot deploy any brigade anywhere because we don’t have any nearly fully staffed brigades and even if we did they don’t have enough logistical “lift,” so they are useless once they have marched more than 15 km out of the camp gate … unless a country with a real army (you know, one with trucks and people a to drive them) decides to support and sustain us.

Sadly no one, not even officers who have, fairly recently, commanded brigades in the regular army, challenged my assertion that the Canadian Army has been hollowed out until, now, it is a sort of military Potemkin village in which bits and pieces are deployed and redeployed to create the (entirely false) impression that we, Canadians, are getting a real army for the $20 billion or so that we spend, year after year after year, on out national defences.

The process began, in earnest, in about 1970, when, in response to quite draconian cuts imposed by Pierre Trudeau (but not, it has been suggested, as deep as he wished) the Canadian Forces began to try to “make do” with a “pint sized” brigade in Germany ~ when a full sized (6,500± soldiers) one was need by promising (and practising) to augment it with “fly-over” troops from Canada who were trained and equipped and could move, fairly quickly on to “pre-positioned” equipment … if it was properly maintained. It worked well enough, in a peacetime/training situation, except for the fact that we, eventually (early 1980s), understood that we could not sustain a brigade in Germany with “fly overs” when we needed the same troops to “fly over” to Norway to keep another promise, made to try to placate our allies about our deep defence cuts, and by the late 1980s the Norway task (promise) was quietly shelved (broken) about twenty years after it was started, and after a quite disastrous “test” (Exercise BRAVE LION) proved to civilian planners and military commanders alike that the Canadian Army (which was much larger than it is today) simply did not have the where-with-all (especially the logistical “tail”) needed to sustain “fly over” missions to Europe. But the damage was done … in twenty years, almost a generation, the Army, especially, had gotten used to “faking” its combat effectiveness with Potemkin village tactics.

Ted Campbell, “A Canadian Potemkin Village”, Ted Campbell’s Point of View, 2016-09-15.

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