Published on 30 Jul 2015
After Russia’s Great Retreat and the defeat on the Eastern Front, the Russian Army is demoralized and even revolution is in the air. Germany is fanning the revolutionary flames by sending Bolshevik prisoners of war back to Russia – equipped with money to support the Bolshevik cause. Meanwhile, the the war is continuing on the Western Front. Even small skirmishes are turning into atrocious battles with little gain for either side. A great offensive is not in sight.
July 31, 2015
July 28, 2015
Published on 27 Jul 2015
It’s been a year, since we started following the First World War, and still no end of the bloodshed is in sight. “A year of battles“ had begun and total war had commenced and was spreading around the world. Russia was no longer gaining ground on the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Armies, instead it was fighting on its own territory, constantly under fire and forced to retreat. The allies had hoped for a quick win after storming Gallipoli, instead the catastrophical fighting was dragging on. Constantly being at the Germans mercy in the skies and on the sea. Daily men and means were lost, while the hope of developing an innovation, that would gain a decisive advantage still lingered. For all of you who joined The Great War recently, or you who would like a summary to recall the last six months, this is part two of our Recap reaching from February to July 1915.
India spent a lot of time and money to develop an arms industry that could supply the Indian army with Indian-made weapons. One of these weapons is the INSAS rifle. Unfortunately. Strategy Page reports on the resurrection of the INSAS despite its many failings in combat conditions:
In early 2015 India seemed to be finally responding to complaints from soldiers and other security personnel fed up with the poor performance of the locally made INSAS (Indian Small Arms System) 5.56mm assault rifle. The government recently reneged on that promise and announced that the despised INSAS would be replaced, in two years, by the MIR (Modified INSAS Rifle). On paper there are some improvements, like full auto-fire (INSAS can only do single shot or three round bursts), folding butt stock, Picatinny rail (for all manner of accessories), more reliable and effective magazines and more ergonomic design (making MIR easier to handle, clean and use). The government also revealed that recent firing tests have shown only two jams after 24,000 rounds fired by MIRs. There will also be a MIR 2 that is chambered to fire the AK-47 (7.62×39) round. Despite all that, to the current unhappy INSAS users the promise of the MIR comes as a huge disappointment. The government weapons design capability has a long and consistent history of failure and disappointing promises. Few INSAS users believe MIR will be much of an improvement over INSAS and will serve more as another source of cash for corrupt officials. While buying foreign weapons uses a lot of valuable foreign exchange it is more closely monitored and has proven to be less corrupt. In 2010 the government had agreed to allow the military to get a rifle that works and that meant a foreign rifle. The leading candidate was Israeli. But now that competition has been cancelled and many troops believe it is all about corruption, not getting the best weapons for the military.
This sad situation began in the 1980s when there was growing clamor for India to design and build its own weapons. This included something as basic as the standard infantry rifle. At that time soldiers and paramilitary-police units were equipped with a mixture of old British Lee-Enfield bolt action (but still quite effective) rifles and newer Belgian FALs (sort of a semi-automatic Lee-Enfield) plus a growing number of Russian AK-47s. The rugged, easy to use and reliable Russian assault rifle was most popular with its users.
In the late 1980s India began developing a family of 5.56mm infantry weapons (rifle, light machine-gun and carbine). Called the INSAS, the state owned factories were unable to produce the quantities required (and agreed to). Worse, the rifles proved fragile and unreliable. The design was poorly thought out and it was believed corruption played a part because the INSAS had more parts than it needed and cost over twice as much to produce as the AK-47.
July 27, 2015
Strategy Page charts the increasing pace of change to the US army’s combat headgear:
Since 2000 combat helmet design has made enormous advances. The new helmets have increased protection (often against rifle bullets as employed by snipers) while becoming more comfortable to wear, more accommodating of accessories (especially personal radios and night vision gear) without becoming heavier. Combat helmets were long considered low-tech but that has changed since the 1980s. Creation of new materials plus advances in the design and construction of helmets have been accelerating, especially in the last decade. For example, the American ACH (Advanced Combat Helmet), as popular as it was after appearing in the 1990s, soon underwent tweaks to make it more stable. That was required because more troops were being equipped with a flip down (over one eye) transparent computer screen. The device is close to the eye, so it looks like a laptop computer display to the soldier and can display maps, orders, troop locations, or whatever. If the helmet jumps around too much it’s difficult for the solider to make out what’s on the display. This can be dangerous in combat.
The first modern combat helmets appeared during World War I (1914-18), with the U.S. adopting the flat, British design steel model and using it for 25 years. This was replaced by the M1 helmet in the early 1940s. This was the “steel pot” and liner system that lasted over four decades. The PASGT (Personnel Armor System for Ground Troops) replaced the M1 in the early 1980s and lasted twenty years. The ACH replaced PASGT by 2007 but by 2012 the ECH (Enhanced Combat Helmet) began appearing as a replacement. ECH, like ACH is built to take lots of accessories and is the version bought by police and emergency service organizations.
It was only in 2005 that the ACH began entering service. The Kevlar PASGT design was a third generation combat helmet, nicknamed the “Fritz” after its resemblance to the German helmets used in both World Wars. That German World War I design, which was based on an analysis of where troops were being hit by fragments and bullets in combat, was the most successful combat helmet in both world wars. This basic design was finally adopted by most other nations after the American PASGT helmet appeared in the 1980s. Most of the second generation helmets, which appeared largely during World War II, were similar to the old American M1 design. The fourth generation helmets, currently in service, use better synthetic materials and more comfortable design.
July 25, 2015
Strategy Page on the (long overdue) inclusion of Gurkha troops in the British army’s elite Special Air Services (SAS) units:
It was recently revealed that the British SAS commandos have, since about 2010 recruited a dozen Gurkhas. The SAS, who were the original modern commandos and were first formed during World War II, are a very selective and elite organization. There are only about 200-300 SAS operators active and several years ago it was decided to recruit some Gurkhas. What was unusual about this was that the Gurkhas are not British and it is very rare for commando organizations to recruit foreigners. The Gurkhas are different in that they have served Britain loyally for a long time. While the Gurkhas are native to Nepal (a small country north of India) for two centuries Britain has recruited Gurkhas from the Gurkha tribes. This was mainly because Gurkhas have an outstanding reputation for military skills including discipline, bravery and all round kick-ass soldiering. Having served in the British Army, most can speak good English and all are familiar with British weapons, tactics and military customs.
There are currently 3,500 Gurkhas serving in the British army, and recruiting more is not a problem. Because of high unemployment in Nepal, a job in the British army is like winning the lottery. British military pay is more than 30 times what a good job in Nepal will get you. There are over sixty applicants for each of the few hundred openings each year. The men who don’t make it into the British army, can try getting into the Indian Army Gurkha units. There are about ten times as many Gurkhas in the Indian army, but the pay is only a few times what one could make in Nepal, and the fringe benefits are not nearly as good. Then again, you’re closer to home.
When the SAS quietly sought Gurkha recruits they found fifty willing to try out. A dozen of these passed the screening and survived the training. That’s a slightly higher pass rate than the usual SAS volunteers (British citizens serving in the army or Royal Marines). This was not surprising because Gurkhas have an outstanding military record. Such mercenary duty is now a tradition in the Gurkha tribes, where warriors, and things like loyalty and courage, have been held in high esteem for centuries. Nepal was never conquered by the British, although they did fight a war with the colonial British army in the early 19th century.
July 24, 2015
Published on 23 Jul 2015
This week Russia premieres her tactics of “Scorched Earth”. A new strategy of burning their own land is to avoid enemies profiting from their conquests. Russia had been retreating from the German and Austro-Hungarian armies for nearly three months now. Continuously losing huge areas of land and hundreds of thousands of men on the Eastern Front. As a consequence, millions of civilians had to flee their homes. At the same time allied troops at Gallipoli are weakened by infections and disease due to lack of hygiene and heat while Italy repeatedly failed to take out Austrian strongpoints.
July 23, 2015
L. Neil Smith grew up on and around US Air Force bases, and explains at least some of the reason for the government requiring military installations to be gun-free:
One reason, of course, for military gun-free killing zones is the dire need the military experienced during the 1960s for conscriptees — for which read military slaves. Almost any scum were gratefully-accepted. Judges regularly sentenced car thieves and other such criminals with “go to jail or join the Army”. Would you really like to issue guns to society’s dregs like that? My dad, who ran Vehicle Maintenance Departments in Newfoundland and in Florida, was always having to get his younger men out of jail on various charges. Sometimes, in Florida, it was simply because the Sheriff’s deputies were moronic redneck thugs and many of Dad’s men were black. The uniform made them “uppity.” Sometimes it resembled the Jerry Springer show, one of his Airmen got his wife and mother-in-law pregnant simultaneously. And they say incest is a game the whole family can enjoy.
As a teenager, I was taught to throw a knife and an axe to good effect by a youngish Lieutenant Colonel in the First Air Commando Group who’d remarkably earned his Master’s degree in Anthropology by making and learning to use primitive weapons. He spent his spare time in Vietnam teaching airplane mechanics on the maintenance line to throw a two-foot screwdriver like a knife whenever the Viet Cong came marauding around. But when your enemy is armed with an AK-47 and half a dozen hand grenades, a screwdriver must seem like a pretty frail reed. If possible, it’s even worse than bringing a knife to a gun fight.
So, am I saying that Air Police and Military Police (and Shore Patrols) should be fully armed at all times? Not at all. I’m saying that all military personnel should be armed at all times. A soldier is a guy (or a gal) with a gun. You can’t have it two ways. An unarmed soldier is a joke — and potentially a corpse. Officers should wear their sidearms publicly and proudly; a democratic republic should issue equally-effective sidearms to all of its enlisted personnel as well.
Pentagon officials and other military bigwigs who oppose this principle, which would put an immediate stop to base-shootings like the one in Chattanooga that happened today are criminally negligent. A very big part of the problem is corruption or stupidity in high places. Shamefully, the U.S.government treats its soldiers very badly and without respect. The lower ranks are forced to go on welfare to feed their families, and seek food stamps. The sleazy, sloppy treatment they receive in Veterans’ Administration hospitals closely resembles being sentenced to a Third World prison. Incompetent, uncaring doctors don’t listen and have to be argued into doing what is required of them.
Years ago, I prescribed, in an article for Reason/Frontlines that the raw numbers of American military personnel be reduced, that it should become very difficult to join the military, and that military personnel receive a tenfold raise in wages. Now I say, arm them, as well, and allow them to defend themselves as they defend our country.
The alternative is more death.
July 21, 2015
Published on 20 Jul 2015
After a small hiatus it’s time for another episode of OUT OF THE TRENCHES where Indy answers your questions. This time Indy explains two of the main types of artillery shells: Explosive and Shrapnel Ammunition. Also what was the role of Papua New Guinea in WW1 and why does he like Smurfs?
July 19, 2015
Visit a British air show before September and it’s possible you’ll get the opportunity to witness the last Vulcan bomber in flight — and this is definitely the last year you’ll get the chance, this time.
Alongside the staple leather-clad wing-walking ladies, the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, simulated Apache attack-chopper scenarios and Red Arrows displays, you may find XH558 — now owned and flown by charity Vulcan to the Sky Trust, funded by charitable donations and Lottery cash.
The Vulcan holds a very special place in the hearts of many, not just for that unmistakable shape but because it functioned as a basic but wholly British nuclear deterrent early on in the Cold War.
Such was its frontline status and iconic image, the Vulcan was used by James Bond scriptwriters and given generous screen time in Thunderball (1965) — in which the V-bomber is hijacked by SPECTRE resulting in the loss of two nukes, which Commander Bond must then retrieve.
In the real world the Vulcan’s only combat action came in 1982, as part of the Falklands War. The “Black Buck” raids in which Vulcans — supported by a large fleet of aerial tankers — travelled all the way from Ascension Island to attack the Falklands held the longest-distance combat bombing record for nine years until the USAF took the top spot with B-52 raids in the 1991 Gulf War.
Standing as I did at the Cosford Airshow — one of those last displays — just few hundred yards from XH558, with its engines running at full tilt, you knew it was something special. The ground shook and your stomach throbbed as this mighty aircraft passed overhead.
To understand the reasoning behind the creation of the Vulcan you need to know the backstory about the freezing of the nuclear relationship between the UK and the US after World War II. When the bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the war entered its final phase. Unfortunately, so did the nuclear relationship between the UK and the US.
The US, wanting to keep all the nuclear toys for itself, passed the McMahon Act — officially the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 — forbidding the transfer of nuclear knowledge or technology to any country, even those former allies (Britain and Canada) that helped develop the bombs which had been dropped on Japan.
July 18, 2015
If so, you’ll want to read all of Shashank Joshi‘s recommendations (full disclosure … I haven’t actually read any of the linked sites myself):
Peter Mattis’ explanation of what one should read to be an expert on China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) made me wonder: What might a similar list look like for India-watchers? Western interest in India’s armed forces is considerably slighter, largely because India looms far smaller in U.S. strategic thinking and is viewed as a potential partner rather than probable military adversary. But there’s a large and growing volume of writing on Indian military affairs, almost all of it in English, with cutting-edge books or articles appearing every month. So where should one begin?
Each service has its own doctrine and/or strategy — most recently the army in 2004, the navy in 2009 (remarkably, it is not available online), and the air force in 2012 (the official link is — perhaps aptly — perpetually broken, but you can get it here) — but these are of limited use, not least because they’re not written in close coordination with other services or with a coherent national military strategy in mind. So most analyses depend on secondary texts, occasional statements by serving officers, and writing by retirees.
Southerners grew confident that the besieger Sherman would become the besieged in Atlanta after the election, as his long supply lines back to Tennessee would be cut and a number of Confederate forces might converge to keep him locked up behind Confederate lines.
Instead, Sherman cut loose on November 15, 1864 — despite Grant’s worries and Lincoln’s bewilderment — and headed to the Atlantic Coast in what would soon be known as “The March to the Sea,” itself a prelude to an even more daring winter march through the Carolinas to arrive at the rear of Robert E. Lee’s army, trapped in Virginia at war’s end.
After daring Sherman to leave Atlanta, and declaring that he would suffer the fate of Napoleon in Russia, Confederate forces wilted. The luminaries of the Confederacy — Generals Bragg, Hardee, and Hood — pled numerical inferiority and usually avoided the long Northern snake that wound through the Georgia heartland. Sherman’s army had been pared down of its sick and auxiliaries, but was still huge, composed of Midwestern yeomen who liked camping out and were used to living off the land. Post-harvest Georgia was indeed rich, and Sherman’s more than 60,000 marchers soon learned that they could live off the land in richer style than they ever had while occupying Atlanta. In their wake, they left a 300 mile-long, 60 mile-wide swath of looting and destruction from Atlanta to Savannah.
Yet there was a method to Sherman’s mad five-week march. He burned plantations, freed slaves, destroyed factories, and tore up railroads — but more or less left alone the farms and small towns of ordinary Southerners. His purposes were threefold: to punish the plantation class, the small minority of Confederates who owned slaves, as the culprits for the war; to destroy the Southern economy and remind the general population, as Sherman put it, “that war and individual ruin were now to be synonymous”; and to humiliate the Confederate military, especially what he called the cavalier classes that boasted of their martial audacity but would not dare confront such a huge army of battle-hardened troopers from Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, and other Midwestern states. In this context, the message was not lost: Unionists were not just New England Yankee manufacturers, but farmers who did their own hard work in harsh, cold lands more challenging than temperate Georgia; material advantages and repeating rifles were not antithetical to martial audacity, as a Michigan farmer with a Sharps rifle was more than a match for a plumed Southern cavalryman who boasted of killing Yankees.
Victor Davis Hanson, “Sherman at 150″, Victor Davis Hanson’s Private Papers, 2014-08-06.
July 17, 2015
Published on 16 Jul 2015
The German-Austrian offensive on the Eastern Front had undone all of Russia’s territorial gains in the last weeks. Lemberg had fallen and the German troops were at the gates of Warsaw. The Russian casualties were in the millions, especially equipment and officers were becoming scarce. And exactly now, the German high command (OHL) prepared an all-out offensive along the entire frontline. At the same time in Gallipoli, one failure followed the other. How long would the Entente be able to continue this exercise in butchery?
July 14, 2015
Published on 13 Jul 2015
Italy was a major European country that joined World War 1 almost a year after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo. Initially, Italy actually had an alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary called the Triple Alliance, but Italy decided to back the Entente powers instead because they were promised disputed land in the Alps and near Trieste. Find out all about Italy in World War 1 in our new special.
July 10, 2015
Published on 9 Jul 2015
The Great Retreat of the Russians during the last weeks has shown one thing: Artillery is the key to success. More specifically, a new kind of artillery tactic called the artillery barrage which focuses shelling on one part of the front. August von Mackensen had actually stolen this approach from John French. The Entente tried to use it on the Western Front a few months earlier without the expected breakthrough.
July 8, 2015
Published on 6 Jul 2015
Louis Barthas was a French soldier who served on the Western Front for 54 months. He served in the Battle of Verdun and other major battles of World War 1. His War Diary gave a voice to the senselessness of war. As a socialist, Barthas was a supporter of the French mutinies of 1917 and a vocal enemy of the war. All about Louis Barthas in our biography.