Published on 25 Jul 2016
Matthew Moss helped us with this episode, check out his website: http://www.historicalfirearms.info
The British Army was probably the best equipped at the beginning of the war. They already transitioned to the more practical khaki colour, faded out the differences between infantry and other branches and developed uniforms for different climates. But of course World War 1 brought its own number of problems for the British Army.
July 26, 2016
One of the most dangerous errors of our time is the belief that human beings are uniquely violent animals, barely restrained from committing atrocities on each other by the constraints of ethics, religion, and the state.
It may seem odd to some to dispute this, given the apparently ceaseless flow of atrocity reports from Bosnia, Somalia, Lebanon and Los Angeles that we suffer every day. But, in fact, a very little study of animal ethology (and some application of ethological methods to human behavior) suffices to show the unbiased mind that human beings are not especially violent animals.
Desmond Morris, in his fascinating book Manwatching, for example, shows that the instinctive fighting style of human beings seems to be rather carefully optimized to keep us from injuring one another. Films of street scuffles show that “instinctive” fighting consists largely of shoving and overhand blows to the head/shoulders/ribcage area.
It is remarkably difficult to seriously injure a human being this way; the preferred target areas are mostly bone, and the instinctive striking style delivers rather little force for given effort. It is enlightening to compare this fumbling behavior to the focussed soft-tissue strike of a martial artist, who (having learned to override instinct) can easily kill with one blow.
It is also a fact, well-known to military planners, that somewhere around 70% of troops in their first combat-fire situation find themselves frozen, unable to trigger lethal weapons at a live enemy. It takes training and intense re-socialization to make soldiers out of raw recruits. And it is a notable point, to which we shall return later, that said socialization has to concentrate on getting a trainee to obey orders and identify with the group. (Major David Pierson of the U.S. Army wrote an illuminating essay on this topic in the June 1999 Military Review).
Criminal violence is strongly correlated with overcrowding and stress, conditions that any biologist knows can make even a laboratory mouse crazy. To see the contrast clearly, compare an urban riot with post-hurricane or -flood responses in rural areas. Faced with common disaster, it is more typical of humans to pull together than pull apart.
Individual human beings, outside of a tiny minority of sociopaths and psychopaths, are simply not natural killers. Why, then, is the belief in innate human viciousness so pervasive in our culture? And what is this belief costing us?
Eric S. Raymond, “The Myth of Man the Killer”, Armed and Dangerous, 2003-07-15.
July 25, 2016
Published on 24 Jul 2016
Indy sits on the Chair of Wisdom and reads out some of the best comments we get every month. This week, we deal with the evolution of German Infantry Tactics.
July 19, 2016
Published on 18 Jul 2016
Francis Pegahmagabow was not only the most successful sniper of World War 1, but he is also among the most decorated aboriginal soldiers in history. He joined the Canadian Army in 1914 and quickly made a name for himself as a sniper during reconnaissance missions.
July 18, 2016
If there’s anyone more qualified than Luttwak (author of Coup d’État: A Practical Handbook (1968)) to discuss the recent coup attempt against President Erdoğan and his government, they must have been participants:
Rule No. 2 in planning a successful military coup is that any mobile forces that are not part of the plot — and that certainly includes any fighter jet squadrons — must be immobilized or too remote to intervene. (Which is why Saudi army units, for example, are based far from the capital.) But the Turkish coup plotters failed to ensure these loyal tanks, helicopters, and jets were rendered inert, so instead of being reinforced as events unfolded, the putschists were increasingly opposed. But perhaps that scarcely mattered because they had already violated Rule No. 1, which is to seize the head of the government before doing anything else, or at least to kill him.
The country’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, was left free to call out his followers to resist the attempted military coup, first by iPhone and then in something resembling a televised press conference at Istanbul’s airport. It was richly ironic that he was speaking under the official portrait of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of Turkey’s modern secular state, because Erdoğan’s overriding aim since entering politics has been to replace it with an Islamic republic by measures across the board: from closing secular high schools so as to drive pupils into Islamic schools to creeping alcohol prohibitions to a frenzied program of mosque-building everywhere — including major ex-church museums and university campuses, where, until recently, headscarves were prohibited.
Televised scenes of the crowds that came out to oppose the coup were extremely revealing: There were only men with mustaches (secular Turks rigorously avoid them) with not one woman in sight. Moreover, their slogans were not patriotic, but Islamic — they kept shouting “Allahu ekber” (the local pronunciation of “akbar”) and breaking out into the Shahada, the declaration of faith.
Richly ironic, too, was the prompt and total support of U.S. President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and the European Union’s hapless would-be foreign minister, Federica Mogherini, in the name of “democracy.” Erdogan has been doing everything possible to dismantle Turkey’s fragile democracy: from ordering the arrest of journalists who criticized him, including the outright seizure and closure of the country’s largest newspaper, Zaman, to the very exercise of presidential power, since Turkey is not a presidential republic like the United States or France, but rather a parliamentary republic like Germany or Italy, with a mostly ceremonial president and the real power left to the prime minister. Unable to change the constitution because his Justice and Development Party (AKP) does not have enough votes in parliament, Erdogan instead installed the slavishly obedient (and mustachioed) Binali Yildirim as prime minister — his predecessor, Ahmet Davutoglu, had been very loyal, but not quite a slave — and further subverted the constitutional order by convening cabinet meetings under his own chairmanship in his new 1,000-room palace: a multibillion-dollar, 3.2 million-square-foot monstrosity (the White House is approximately 55,000 square feet), which was built without authorized funding or legal permits in a nature reserve.
July 16, 2016
Michael van der Galien on the coup attempt against Turkish president Erdoğan:
It’s a done deal: the military coup has failed. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his AK Parti remain in power and vow to take revenge against those behind the coup.
Or, perhaps better said: against those they say are behind it.
Now that the coup has clearly failed, we can conclude that this must have been the most incompetent attempted takeover in Turkey’s troubled history. When part of the military launched their offensive last night (Turkish time), I immediately checked news channels supporting President Erdoğan. Surprisingly, none of them were taken over. The only broadcaster that was taken over was TRT Haber, the state news channel. But NTV and other channels supporting Erdoğan were left alone.
That was remarkable, but what struck me even more was the fact that these channels — especially NTV — were able to talk to the president and the prime minister. That’s strange, to put it mildly. Normally, when the military stages a coup, the civilian rulers are among the first to be arrested. After all, as long as the country’s civilian leadership are free, they can tell forces supportive of them what to do… and they can even tell the people to rise up against the coup.
And that’s exactly what happened. Both Prime Minister Binali Yildirim and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called into news programs and told their supporters to go out on the streets and fight back against the soldiers. A short while later, streets in the big cities (Ankara and Izmir) were flooded with Erdoğan supporters, who even climbed on top of tanks. Fast forward a few hours and it was officially announced that the coup had failed, and that Erdoğan and his AK Party remained in power. About 1500 soldiers were arrested.
As I wrote on Twitter yesterday, there were three options:
- The coup was staged by a small group within the military, which would severely limit their ability to strike.
- The coup was staged by the entire military, which meant Erdoğan’s chances of surviving politically were extremely small.
- The coup was a set-up. Think the Reichstag fire.
The main argument against option number three is that there was some very serious fighting taking place, including massive explosions. Dozens of people have been killed. If this was a fake coup, it probably was the bloodiest one ever. That’s why many people are skeptical about this option, and believe it was just an incompetent attempt at a military takeover.
July 5, 2016
At Samizdata Patrick Crozier points out some things that are necessary to understand why it took so long (relatively speaking) for the “new army” (and the other freshly raised Dominion and Empire forces) to begin winning battles:
First of all, Britain was fighting a war in Western Europe against a large, well-equipped and tactically skillful enemy. That is a recipe for a bloodbath. Britain repeated the exercise twice in the Second World War (May 1940 and June 1944 onwards). They were bloodbaths too. We tend to forget that fact because overall the numbers killed in the Second World War were much lower than than the First and because they achieved a succession of clear victories.
Secondly, Britain began the war with a small army. To make a worthwhile contribution Britain was going to have to raise and train a large army. Soldiering, like any other job, is one where experience counts. Anyone who is familiar with the rapid expansion of an organisation will know that this is a recipe for confusion and chaos. In the case of the British army the inexperience existed at all levels. Corporals were doing the jobs of Sergeant Majors, Captains doing the jobs of Colonels and Colonels doing the jobs of Generals. Haig himself (according to Gary Sheffield) was doing jobs that would be carried out by three men in the Second World War. Talking of the Second World War, it is worth pointing out that it took three years for the British to achieve an offensive victory (Alamein) over the Germans which is much the same as the First (Vimy).
Thirdly, Britain began the war with a small arms industry. Expanding that involved all the problems mentioned above plus the difficulty in building and equipping the factories. It comes as no surprise that many of the shells fired at the Somme were duds and even if they were working they were often of the wrong type: too much shrapnel, not enough high explosive.
Canada’s army in both 1914 and 1939 was a tiny cadre of what the nation would eventually raise, train, equip, and send to foreign shores. The amazing thing is that they managed to become a valuable fighting force to the British army in particular and the allied cause in general from such a tiny, unmilitarized population. Britain’s highly competent regular army was effectively expended to gain enough time for the volunteer forces to train and organize, and even then the early going was far bloodier at least in part because the troops had still not been sufficiently trained and had to be lead in ways that exposed them to higher risks of casualties whenever they were on the attack.
June 28, 2016
Published on 27 Jun 2016
Douglas Haig is usually the centre of the Lions vs. Donkeys debate. Were the British soldiers “Lions led by Donkeys” during World War 1? Douglas Haig, the father of the Battle of the Somme, is often painted as the Butcher of the Somme but is that really the case? We took a closer look.
June 9, 2016
In Foreign Affairs, Elisabeth Braw discusses a problem NATO faces every time there’s a need to move troops across national borders within the alliance:
“NATO’s member states are willing to defend one another, and they have the troops and the equipment to do so. But quickly getting those troops and equipment to their destination is a different matter altogether. In some new NATO member states, bridges and railroads are simply not suitable for large troop movements. But one thing frustrates commanders even more: the arduous process of getting permission to move troops across borders.
“I was probably naïve,” admits Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, the commander of the U.S. Army in Europe. “I assumed that because these were NATO and EU countries we’d just be able to move troops. But ministries of defense are not responsible for borders.”
And there’s the complication. Moving troops across Europe requires permission at each border. “During the Cold War, we had pretty good plans to rapidly move across borders, but until [the 2014 NATO summit in] Wales we didn’t have similar plans for new NATO member states,” says a NATO official knowledgeable with the issue. “Right after Crimea we sent out a questionnaire about [border regulations] to each member states, and the results were pretty scary. Some countries needed to recall parliament in order to let NATO units cross their borders. And one country said, ‘we can only have 1,600 soldiers on our soil.’” In reality, that meant that NATO would be unable to use that member state, which the NATO official declined to identify, for passage.
Since then, NATO has made impressive progress. It has tripled the size of its 13-year-old NATO Response Force (NRF), which can muster up to 40,000 troops and is, at least in theory, able to deploy quickly to new NATO member states as well as old ones. And all of its member states have agreed to pre-clearance—the military version of a green card for troops and equipment—although it is not clear how the system will work in practice. As the NATO official reports, “some countries say ‘we don’t need any advance notice for pre-clearance,’ while others say they need four to five days’ notice.” According to the official, in most of NATO’s eastern-facing countries, getting the clearance would be a matter of five days or fewer, although one country—he declined to specify which one—still requires more time.
And so, although Hodges and his fellow commanders know how fast their troops can physically move, they have little idea whether crossing borders will take five days, two days, or perhaps just hours. “An official [in an eastern European NATO member state] told me, ‘I hope we can get this [clearance] done quickly,’” Hodges reports. “But you can’t plan based on hopes and wishes.”
H/T to Colonel Ted Campbell for the link.
May 31, 2016
Published on 30 May 2016
The German Stormtroops or Sturmbattalions were elite infantry soldiers hand picked to overcome enemy trenches. These men were the creme de la creme of the German Army consisting of Jäger, Pioneer and Mountain troops at first and later on specifically trained in infiltration tactics. They brought changes in the chain of command with them and were the predecessor of modern warfare as we know it.
May 10, 2016
If you want to know what’s happening in the American military, you need to check in with Duffelblog for the straight dope:
The US Army’s ongoing efforts to be more open and accepting has expanded this week to include another historically marginalized group: Furries. According to sources close to acting Army Secretary John McHugh, the Army will soon announce a set of uniform accommodations for these soldiers, who fetishize animal costumes.
“We are committed to allowing these people to follow their religion or their hearts or the voices in their fillings, or whatever the hell it is that drives them to dress and act this way,” said the source, who requested anonymity on the grounds that he didn’t want his name to show up in Google searches for Furries. “I mean, where the hell does it end?”
Sgt. Maj. of the Army Dan Dailey says changes won’t stop with Furries.
“We are considering rules to allow female soldiers who are dominatrixes in their off hours to carry riding crops on duty,” Dailey said. “Shoe fetishists could actually get a new MOS, polishing shoes for other soldiers, as well as super high heeled, platform combat boots.”
“And we’ve already decided uniform tunics for MILFs will now come without top buttons.”
Dailey denied however that Bronies will soon be able to serve openly.
“You have to draw a line somewhere,” he said.
[The movie] Glory, concerning the raising, training, and early combat actions of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, one of the state’s two free – that’s important – black regiments raised for the Civil War. It’s a good movie, in most respects. But it fosters a couple of half truths which, like most half truths, are wholly misleading.
In the first place, the 54th was not a regiment of runaway slaves. Oh, there are some; men who escaped – self-selecting, like William Carney, as they did – at a time when escape was quite difficult and very dangerous. Most of the men of the 54th, however, were born free. Some, indeed, were born free in Canada. Company G, for example, was recruited in Toronto and came south to fight.
What difference does that make? It makes a vast difference. If one were to peruse the accomplishments of the black regiments in the Civil War, one wouldn’t find much to commend or condemn among the regiments composed of freedmen. Oh, they were important to the war effort, but not for fighting so much as for labor, and to guard behind the lines. The couple of occasions they were given the chance to shine, notably at the Petersburg Crater, circumstances, to include some incredibly stupid decisions, tended to screw them.
So the best we can say of the freedmen regiments is that we don’t know. That said, it would be a very surprising thing – an unconscionable defense of slavery, really – to suggest that having been enslaved didn’t do bad things to one’s character, didn’t set one in the mind of being inferior, didn’t strike at one’s self confidence and morale at the very core.
The good regiments, conversely, 54th and 55th Massachusetts, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Louisiana Native Guard, 1st and 2nd Kansas Colored, 20th USCT … some few others … were by and large free born. They did well, fought well, and, in disproportionately large numbers, died well. But they had never, in the main, been subjected to the literal degradation and decay of slavery while, for that fraction which had, they had either self-selected for sheer obstinate courage or could draw considerable moral support from those who had or who had been born free.
And then there’s the other thing that annoyed me about the movie, that scene where the men of the 54th – explicitly, if wrongly, portrayed as runaway slaves – are issued their first uniforms and everything changes in an instant from disorder, indiscipline, and general raggedness to precision, as if the mere symbol could change the reality.
The very idea is nonsense. One doesn’t overcome a lifetime’s conditioning with a symbol. No, not even if you desperately want to. No, not even if you can convince a court and legislature that your fantasy must be given wing. It just doesn’t work like that.
Tom Kratman, “The Amazon’s Right Breast”, Baen Books, 2011.
May 7, 2016
The Canadian military (all branches, but especially the reserve forces) have an obesity problem that needs drastic measures to address. Ted Campbell offers his prescription to trim down the bloat:
Command of the Armed Forces should flow from the Governor General, who is, by the Letters Patent of issued by King George VI in 1947, the Commander in Chief, through the Chief of the Defence Staff who should also, for clarity, be styled “Commander Canadian Armed Forces” (COMCAF) and to four regional joint commanders: Commanders of Pacific, Western, Eastern and Atlantic Commands. Each of those commanders should have subordinate and appropriately ranked Naval, Army and Air “component commanders.” (Appropriately means according to the size and scope of the forces in their commands. The Naval Component Commander in Western Command, which has only a handful of Naval Reserve Divisions, might be a Navy Captain while the Army Component Commander in each of Pacific and Atlantic Commands might be an Army colonel or, at best, a brigadier general.)
Staffs should be lower ranked and as [a] firm, absolutely inviolable rule no staff officer in any headquarters may outrank the principal commanders who are directly subordinate to the commander that staff officer serves. In some, rare, cases principal staff officers might be equal in rank to subordinate commanders so that the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff and the officer who heads the national Joint Staff might both be three star officers (vice admirals/lieutenant generals) as would be the commanders of the four Joint Commands. But in an army brigade group, which, given its size and combat power, ought to be commanded by a brigadier general (not by a colonel), where the principal subordinate commanders are lieutenant colonels, the principle operations and support staff officers ought to be majors.
In short almost every staff officer currently serving in almost every HQ, large and small, high and low, in the Canadian Armed Forces is, right now, one (in a few cases two) rank higher than (s)he needs to be. This (over-ranking) is a serious problem because it contributes to HQ bloat and it clouds what should be a very, very clear “chain of command.” It should change, soon. Change would be unpopular and moderately difficult but not, at all, impossible.
Fewer, smaller, leaner and meaner, and lower ranked HQs will, I am 99.99% certain, be more efficient and effective and they might be forced to actually understand the unique pressures that face reserve force members ~ most of whom have full time, civilian jobs (or are full time students) and who do their reserve force work after the “bankers’ hours” that almost all Canadian Armed Forces HQs work. (If I had a penny for every horror story I have heard about army staff officers who know far, far too little about the reserve force units in their areas and who give, sometimes just silly but often quite stupidly impossible
ordersguidance or tasks, that cannot possibly be met on time, if at all, I would be a wealthy man. Now, it may not be clear that lower ranks will solve that, but I believe that lower ranked officers are more likely to work harder (as all staff officers should) and, in an effort to impress their commanders (and his subordinate commanders, too), work smarter, too, which will alleviate many of the problems that are the result of useless HQ “busy work.”
Less money spent on useless, over-ranked staff officers in redundant HQs would mean that equipment and support personnel could be found for the Army Reserve. Minister Harjit Sajjan knows the problem … all he needs to do is to push General Jon Vance in the right (unpopular but right) direction. They are both new enough on the job and each brings to it well known sense of “operational” soldiering that they could make unpopular decisions, give unpopular orders and shake up the comfortable, somnolent, entrenched uniformed bureaucracy, especially in the Canadian Army, and, thereby, reinvigorate the Canadian Army Reserve, using the Auditor General’s damning report as a catalyst for change.
March 29, 2016
That is how the logic of strategy works. Its different levels might be thought of as the floors of a building. Nothing can be achieved at the operational level of strategy without adequate tactical capacity below it — there’s no point in moving units around in clever manoeuvres if they cannot fight at all — just as there is no capacity at the tactical level if there are no supplies and no weapons. The technical level of strategy is just as essential, for all its simplicity as compared to the mysteries of unit cohesion, morale and leadership which largely determine tactical strength. But this edifice of several stories has a most peculiar feature: there are no stairs or elevators from the operational level, where battles are fought, up to the level of grand strategy, where entire wars are fought with every political and material strength or weakness in play, including alliances and enmities. Absent overwhelming superiority to begin with, no war fought with the wrong allies against the wrong enemies can yield victory, even if a hundred battles are won. By 1814, that was Napoleon’s predicament, as it would be for Germany in both world wars: German forces fought skilfully and often ferociously to win again and again in battles large and small, but nothing could overcome the consequences of siding with the decrepit Ottoman and Habsburg Empires against the British, French, Japanese and Russian empires the first time around, or with Bulgaria and Italy against all the Great Powers but Japan the second time.
Edward Luttwak, “A Damned Nice Thing”, London Review of Books, 2014-12-18.
March 9, 2016
Published on 7 Mar 2016
Indy and Flo sat down for one of our live streams about historical firearms again. Othais from C&Rsenal explained the various Austro-Hungarian rifles and pistols of the First World War. Among them of course the famous Mannlicher rifles. In our next episode we will also have a look at the iconic Austro-Hungarian pistols.