Quotulatiousness

October 26, 2014

Canadians’ ambivalent views on the Canadian Armed Forces

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

In Maclean’s, Jonathon Gatehouse reflects on the reaction of bystanders just after Corporal Nathan Cirillo was shot while standing guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa, and how Canadians are still uneasy about the role of the military in Canadian society:

They came together with haste and purpose. Three civilians and two members of Canadian Forces, all working frantically to save the life of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo.

In the first minutes after the Hamilton reservist was shot twice at Canada’s National War Memorial on Oct. 22, it was passersby who joined in the challenge of trying to staunch the bleeding and keep his heart beating. Photos captured their desperation. A red-headed woman, her legs stretched out across the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, administering artificial respiration while a uniformed man performs CPR. A man in a dark business suit helping to keep the blood where it was needed by holding the kilted Cirillo’s bare legs in the air. And two more — a grey-haired lady and a man in an army beret — applying pressure to his wounds. All of them as anonymous as the fallen combatant inside the granite sarcophagus that the soldier was guarding.

A discarded backpack leans against the tomb, next to a Thermos mug of morning coffee. A black attaché case has been tossed to the flagstones. Right beside that lie the two military assault rifles—one belonging to Cirillo, the other his regimental partner—perfectly stacked, stocks tucked tight against the brass foot of the monument. By the book, even though they were never loaded, per standard honour detail practice.

[...]

The Canadian public and its military have been out of sync over duties and mission for more than a decade. It is a gap that doesn’t make much sense. In the aftermath of 9/11, we have come to venerate first-responders — those who run toward danger — as local police, the RCMP and Parliament Hill security did in their shoot-out with Zehaf-Bibeau. But we remain slightly suspicious of the motives of people who volunteer to serve in the army, navy and air force, as if there is something nobler — and more Canadian — in playing defence than being on the offensive.

The events of the past week illustrate that we live in an age where such distinctions have been rendered meaningless. First the murder of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, run down by ersatz jihadi Martin Couture-Rouleau in a shopping mall parking lot in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que. And now the death of Cpl. Cirillo at the hands of another “self-radicalized” fellow citizen. Like it or not, Canada is in this fight, abroad and at home. Facing enemies who don’t give credit for past good deeds, and have few, if any scruples about whom they target.

There’s a tradition that has sprung up in Ottawa over the past years. After the conclusion of the official Remembrance Day ceremony, members of the public approach the War Memorial, remove the poppy from their lapels, and lay them on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It’s a small act of respect, and an attempt to connect with our fading, black and white past.

This year will be different. Not just because Nathan Cirillo died at that very spot, but because of what happened in his final moments. When a red-headed lawyer, a grey-haired nurse and a suit-clad government bureaucrat joined with a colonel and a corporal to try and save a soldier’s life, a page turned. The sacrifice, in full colour and public view, can’t be ignored. Everyone has become a witness. It is part of our present, and our uncomfortable future too.

October 14, 2014

Reason.tv – 3 Reasons the US MILITARY Should NOT Fight Ebola

Filed under: Africa, Health, Military, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 17:30

Published on 14 Oct 2014

President Obama is sending thousands of U.S. troops to West Africa to fight the deadly Ebola virus. Their mission will be to construct treatment centers and provide medical training to health-care workers in the local communities.

But is it really a good idea to send soldiers to provide this sort of aid?

Here are 3 reasons why militarizing humanitarian aid is a very bad idea

October 12, 2014

Changes to Canadian Army promotion ladder

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Cancon, Military — Tags: — Nicholas @ 11:43

On the Army News page, this change in policy was posted on October 8:

This fall, the Canadian Army (CA) will implement an innovative program whereby Combat Arms promotions from Corporal to Master Corporal will be managed at the unit – instead of the national – level. This change, a positive outcome of the CA Renewal effort, is expected to save time and money and help the CA accelerate the progression of its “shining stars.”

The drive to work smarter and be more efficient can lead to a fresh examination of why things are done in a certain way. Such a review process may end up standing the status quo on its head, as was the case with Corporal-to-Master Corporal appointments in the Canadian Army (CA) Combat Arms trades.

The CA has four Combat Arms trades: infantry, armoured, artillery, and combat engineers. The majority of the personnel in these trades are privates or corporals located in field units where they perform their baseline jobs.

On the basis that no one knows their soldiers’ strengths and leadership qualities better than their own unit, authority to determine which corporals will be promoted to the appointment of Master Corporal is now given to the unit Commanding Officer (CO). The COs will now also be the ones to select soldiers with leadership potential for Primary Leadership Qualification (PLQ) training, which is a pre-cursor to promotion to Master Corporal.

This was achieved by eliminating the requirement to hold National-level promotion boards for Corporals in the Combat Arms. As a result, the CA will save time, reduce paperwork, simplify the selection process, cut back on costly postings and – most importantly – enhance the process of ensuring the right soldier is in the right place at the right time and with the right qualifications.

I can’t think of a more ridiculous way of managing the promotion process than managing it directly from the national level. The army sets standards for promotion to each rank nationally, and that makes sense, as soldiers can be detached from their parent unit for particular operations or short-term local requirements, so you want to see a certain level of standardization in training and education to make those detachments work as well as possible. But there’s a huge difference between setting standards and actually directly managing the promotions. You could make a case for it with senior NCOs and officers, but for junior ranks that seems an over-abundance of centralization.

October 7, 2014

Israel’s “Battlefield Internet” at work

Filed under: Middle East, Military, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 14:49

Strategy Page talks about the Israeli deployment of the first reliable Battlefield Internet for ground, sea, and air combat:

The July-August 2014 war in Gaza created some very unpleasant surprises for Hamas, which thought it could risk another war with Israel and come out the winner (to the Arab world at least). Hamas knew that Israel had been working at discovering and countering Hamas tactics, but Hamas was confident they had enough new tricks to stay ahead of the Israelis. Hamas quickly discovered that the Israelis were a lot quicker and better coordinated than in the past. This time around the Israelis learned more from their earlier clashes with Hamas and Hezbollah.

This has happened before, to both the Israelis but mainly to the Arabs. It was only after that war ended that Hamas learned details of what they were up against. It turned out that Israel had managed to create an effective and reliable “Battlefield Internet”. This has been the goal of military communications experts for over a decade. The United States was long the leader, but in mid-2014 Israel was the first to demonstrate a Battlefield Internet that consistently worked under combat conditions. This breakthrough development was largely ignored by the media but military leaders worldwide are paying attention.

[...]

What the Israelis have done with the Battlefield Internet is link everyone involved (pilots, UAV operators, tank commanders and infantry unit commander, plus people at C4i Teleprocessing Branch that managed the flow of data) so all can all see was what each other was seeing of the Hamas commandos. These multiple views eliminated the uncertainty often present when only one view was available. It made all the Israelis involved more confident and that led to speedier interpretation of the situation and decisive action to deal with it. This capability also reduces the risk of friendly fire.

September 18, 2014

No women in the infantry, says female USMC officer

Filed under: Military, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:34

You have to admire the courage of Captain Lauren F. Serrano for publishing this opinion article in the Marine Corps Gazette. She clearly states why women do not belong in the infantry, and explains the few exceptions (Israel and the Kurds have female infantry troops). This may mark the moment at which she stopped progressing toward her next promotion, however, as what she says will be incredibly unpopular politically:

While reading the February issue of the Marine Corps Gazette, I skimmed past the “Be Bold” advertisement calling for readers to submit articles that challenge a Marine Corps policy or way of doing business. Immediately a current “hot topic” came to mind, but as usual I quickly discarded it because I have purposely avoided publicly disagreeing with the passionate opinions of many of my female peers and friends. After weeks of contemplation and debate, I am “being bold” and coming clean: I am a female Marine officer and I do not believe women should serve in the infantry. I recognize that this is a strong statement that will be vehemently challenged by many. I have not come to this opinion lightly and I do not take joy in taking a stance that does not support equal opportunity for all. I have spent countless hours discussing this topic with many civilians and Marines and have discovered that a large number of people agree with the arguments in this article but do not wish to get involved in the public discussion. Interestingly, most of the people who want to incorporate women into infantry are civilians or young, inexperienced Marines. Most of the more seasoned Marines with whom I have spoken tend to oppose the idea of women in infantry—perhaps this is failure to adapt or perhaps it is experienced-based reasoning. National Public Radio’s recent segment, “Looking for a Few Good (Combat-Ready) Women,” stated, “Col Weinberg admits there’s anecdotal evidence that female Marines, who make up 7 percent of the force, aren’t rushing to serve in ground combat.” If the infantry had opened to women while I was still a midshipman or second lieutenant I probably would have jumped at the opportunity because of the novelty, excitement, and challenge; but, to my own disappointment, my views have drastically changed with experience and knowledge. Acknowledging that women are different (not just physically) than men is a hard truth that plays an enormous role in this discussion. This article addresses many issues regarding incorporating women into the infantry that have yet to be discussed in much of the current discourse that has focused primarily on the physical standards.

Before you disagree, remember that war is not a fair business. Adversaries attempt to gain an advantage over their enemies by any means possible. Enemies do not necessarily abide by their adversary’s moral standards or rules of engagement. Although in today’s world many gory, violent war tactics are considered immoral, archaic, and banned by international law or the Geneva Conventions, adversaries still must give themselves the greatest advantage possible in order to ensure success. For the Marine Corps, this means ensuring that the infantry grunt (03XX) units are the strongest, most powerful, best trained, and most prepared physically and mentally to fight and win. Although perhaps advantageous to individuals and the national movement for complete gender equality, incorporating women into infantry units is not in the best interest of the Marine Corps or U.S. national security.

Update: Forgot to H/T The Armorer for the link.

September 3, 2014

Britain’s shrinking armed forces

Filed under: Britain, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:30

The Secretary of State for Defence was asked in Parliament for a breakdown of the members of the British army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force. The detailed reply shows some significant changes:

Royal Navy/Royal Marines

Year Total, all ranks
2010 38,730
2011 37,660
2012 35,540
2013 33,960
2014 33,330

Army

Year Total, all ranks
2010 108,920
2011 106,240
2012 104,250
2013 99,730
2014 91,070

Royal Air Force

Year Total, all ranks
2010 44,050
2011 42,460
2012 40,000
2013 37,030
2014 35,230

This may be the only part of British government spending that would actually meet the definition of “austerity”. For reference, the Canadian Armed Forces have about 43,500 regulars across the Canadian Army, Royal Canadian Navy, and Royal Canadian Air Force.

August 28, 2014

Feeding Tommy Atkins – WW1 food for British troops in the trenches

Filed under: Britain, History, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 13:16

In the Express last week, Adrian Lee reports on a new exhibit at the Imperial War Museum in London:

They say an army marches on its stomach, so feeding the two million men who were in the trenches at the height of the First World War was some task. It was a great achievement that in the entire conflict not one British soldier starved to death.

Yet no one should think that the Tommies enjoyed the food that was served up by the military. According to the wags on the frontline, the biggest threat to life was not German bullets but the appalling rations.

Most despised was Maconochie, named after the company in Aberdeen that made this concoction of barely recognisable chunks of fatty meat and vegetables in thin gravy.

When served hot, as per the instructions on the tin, it was said to be barely edible. Eaten cold for days on end in the trenches, where a warm meal was usually no more than a fantasy, it was said to be disgusting.

It was the stated aim of the British Army that each soldier should consume 4,000 calories a day. At the frontline, where conditions were frequently appalling, daily rations comprised 9oz of tinned meat (today it would be known as corned beef but during the First World War it was called bully beef) or the hated Maconochie.

Additionally the men received biscuits (made from salt, flour and water and likened by the long-suffering troops to dog biscuits). They were produced under government contract by Huntley & Palmers, which in 1914 was the world’s largest biscuit manufacturer. The notoriously hard biscuits could crack teeth if they were not first soaked in tea or water.

None dare call it an invasion

Filed under: Europe, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:49

The battles between Ukraine forces and Russian-backed rebels were one thing: you could make a case for it being a “local” issue if you didn’t want to draw attention to it (for fear the Russians might cut off your natural gas supply). It’s quite a different thing when the Ukrainians are fighting Russian soldiers rather than irregulars and paramilitaries:

Russian forces in two armored columns captured a key southeastern coastal town near the Russian border Thursday after Ukrainian forces retreated in the face of superior firepower, a Ukrainian military spokesman said.

The two Russian columns, including tanks and armored fighting vehicles, entered the town of Novoazovsk on the Sea of Azov after a battle in which Ukrainian army positions came under fire from Grad rockets launched from Russian territory, according to the spokesman, Col. Andriy Lysenko.

“Our border servicemen and guardsmen retreated as they did not have heavy equipment,” Lysenko said in a statement.

Ukrainian authorities have denounced the latest fighting as a Russian invasion of their territory, intended to prop up pro-Moscow separatists who have been losing ground to Ukrainian forces and to open a new front in the southeastern corner of Ukraine.

Ukrainian officials said earlier that Ukrainian troops were battling combined Russian and separatist forces on the new southern front around Novoazovsk, about eight miles west of the Russian border. The Ukrainian military also said Russian troops were increasing surveillance from northern Crimea, the autonomous Ukrainian peninsula annexed by Moscow in March.

Among western countries, Canada (of all places) has become snarky about the situation:

August 23, 2014

Defining the “best tank of World War 2″

Filed under: Britain, Europe, History, Military, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:14

Nigel Davies revisits one of the perpetual debates among amateur WW2 historians:

Let us start with the issue of tanks from the perspective of propaganda. More rubbish has been written about who had the best tanks during the Second World War than about any other topic to do with that war. Again and again you get supposedly serious historians talking about how the Germans started the Second World War with overwhelming tank superiority; that the Allies were only brought back into the race by the arrival of the Sherman tank; and how German technology leapt ahead again at the end of the Second World War to give them unrivalled vehicles. All these statements are of course completely incorrect.

One of the problems of course, is ‘best tank when, and for what?’

Comparing what was available in 1939/40 to what was being produced in 1945 (say a Panzer III or Matilda II with a Centurion or Stalin), is worse than useless. There is no comparison. Only the Panzer IV was actually produced throughout the war: and the heavily armoured final version of the tank — with a long barrelled 75mm gun capable of taking on almost every tank yet operational in mid 1945 — bore only a passing resemblance to the lightly armoured tank with a short barrelled infantry support gun — of with minimal ability to do more than scratch the paint of a CharB in 1939/40.

SOMUA 35 tank at Bovington Tank Museum (via Wikipedia)

SOMUA 35 tank at Bovington Tank Museum (via Wikipedia)

It’s relatively easy to do a quick measurables test comparing one tank against another: thickness and location of the armour, size and muzzle velocity of the main gun, engine horsepower, road speed, etc., but the very best tank on all of those measurements could still be beaten by an enemy using better combat tactics: the French SOMUA 35 and the British Matilda II were the best tanks in the world in 1939 and 1940 respectively (according to Davies). In spite of the superior measurables, the SOMUA 35 was incredibly limited by having the tank commander also be the gunner and loader and it lacked a radio for communication (and even if they had been so equipped, the already overworked tank commander would have had to be the radio operator, too). The Matilda was designed as an infantry tank, so it was very heavily armoured, but relatively slow and somewhat undergunned (the 40mm main gun only had solid shot for anti-armour use: there was no high explosive round for softer targets).

Matilda II at Yad la-Shiryon Museum (via Wikipedia)

Matilda II at Yad la-Shiryon Museum (via Wikipedia)

The Matilda and its successor the Valentine would probably still the best Allied tanks in the world in early 1941, when they swept Italian forces before them, and several times fought the German African corps to a standstill. The German response to their shocking failures in 1940, had been to upgrade the Panzer III and IV with slightly improved armour, and the short barreled 50 mm gun. But they were still on a losing wicket engaging the British infantry tanks in any sort of close terrain, such as in the siege of Tobruk. Fortunately for Rommel, out in the open terrain of the desert he could deploy his tanks behind screens of high-powered anti-tank guns, which the British tanks lacked the long-range high explosive shells to engage effectively.

It also helped that too many British cavalry officers in the desert war still had a “tally ho!” attitude and were frequently drawn into unsupported tank charges against German or Italian tanks who were able to draw the fast but lightly armoured British cruisers into easy killing range of their anti-tank guns.

M4A1 Sherman tank at Canadian Forces Base Borden (via Wikipedia)

M4A1 Sherman tank at Canadian Forces Base Borden (via Wikipedia)

This is where the myth of the value of the Sherman tank comes from. The Sherman arrived at a time when it’s armour and weapon were on a par with the Panzer III and IV tanks that it was facing. Despite the fact that its 75 mm gun was greatly inferior as an anti-tank weapon to the new British six pounder guns that were starting to equip British tanks, the high explosive shell that the Sherman could fire was incredibly useful for engaging Rommel’s 88 mm guns at long-distance in the flat desert terrain.

For several months, it seemed as though the mechanically reliable Sherman would be a war winner, despite its notable tendency to explode in flames whenever it was hit. (Allied troops refer to it as a Ronson — “lights first time every time”. German troops just referred to it as a “Tommy Cooker”.) But this concept was fantasy, which could be easily demonstrated within a few months, though it took the US government another two years to admit it.

[...]

T-34/85 at musée des blindés de Saumur (via Wikipedia)

T-34/85 at musée des blindés de Saumur (via Wikipedia)

In all of this so far, I have barely mentioned the Russians at all. Their T34 tank was possibly the single most effective of the war, and was the breakthrough that forced everyone else to rethink their designs. So we can say without a shadow of a doubt that the T34 was the best tank of the war for almost two years — from the time of Barbarossa (June 22, 1941) until the appearance of the Panther at Kursk (July 5, 1943). It certainly held this title unchallenged by the Sherman and Churchill tanks that appeared during its reign, and probably by the Tiger as well.

The Tiger is a problem for this sort of discussion, because it re-introduces the concept of ‘what for’ into the debate. The Tiger was a far superior heavy infantry support or assault tank to the T34, but a far inferior battlefield manoeuvre or pursuit tank. In fact the Tiger was so slow and limited in cross country ability, that it was actually more effective as a defensive weapon once the Germans were thrown back on that approach, than it had been for re-igniting their Blitzkreig glory days.

He sums up the post with a league table of “best tanks” for given years and purposes:

Having noted the necessary division between medium cruisers and heavy assault/infantry support tanks however, we can still make a fair summary.

So, in contrast to what many history books and documentaries will tell you, the French had the best tanks in 1939, and the British had the best tanks of 1940 and 1945. Also in contrast to what many history books will tell you, the Shermans effective front-line role can best be defined as the few months between the battle of Alamein, and the arrival of Tiger tanks in Tunisia. All attempts to use it after that in Italy or northern France just demonstrated how pathetic it was in modern engagements. Even the British Firefly version with the 17 pounder, was extremely vulnerable to any German tank. In fact it is amusing to note, that they came into their own for the blitzkrieg across open country in pursuit of the defeated German armies across France; which has a direct parallel to the inferior German tanks pursuing the defeated French in 1940. (The equally inadequate British Cromwell tanks, being significantly faster, were actually still better at this pursuit than the Shermans.) The best tank of the Sherman’s period of functional use, of course being the T34.

So our list of ‘best tanks’ could go something like this.
1939 — Best cruiser – Somua 35, Best support – CharB.
1940 — Best support becomes Matilda II.
1941 — Best cruiser initially Panzer III/IV with short 50mm guns, becomes T34 when Russia enters the war.
1942 — Best support is Tiger.
1943 — Best cruiser is Panther.
1944 — Best support is Tiger II.
1945 — Best ‘all purpose’ is Centurion.

August 16, 2014

The downfalls of ceremonial guard duties

Filed under: Humour, Military — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:02

Anyone who’s spent time in uniform can probably identify with the victims of gravity, equine misbehaviour, and cussed bad luck in this collection of military pratfalls during ceremonial duties.

H/T to Roger Henry for the link.

August 11, 2014

QotD: The decay of the profession of arms

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Military, Quotations, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:02

We lecture the [West Point] cadets on professionalism but we practice bureaucracy. To summarize the difference, professional cultures debate, discuss, and continually innovate to stay effective in the changing world. Bureaucracies churn out ever-restrictive rules and seek to capture every eventuality in codified routines.

Consider this: From day one at the academy every possible situation that a cadet could conceivably encounter is accounted for by strict regulations. Not sure how many inches should be between your coat hangers, whether you can hold your girlfriend’s hand on campus, or how your socks should be marked? Consult the regulations. Moreover, all activity is subjected to the cadet performance system, which essentially assigns a grade to every measurable event in a cadet’s life (think shoe shines, pushups and pop quizzes) then ruthlessly ranks the entire class from first to last. Cadets at the top of the list get the jobs and postings they want after graduation. Those near the bottom end up driving trucks at Fort Polk, Louisiana.

The result is two-fold: First, cadets have very little experience adapting to unfamiliar environments. After all, what happens when the regulations don’t describe what’s going on around you? Second, cadets devote zero attention to activities that “don’t count.” If it’s not on the syllabus, and it’s not for a grade, the cadets aren’t learning it. Ask a cadet to spend a few minutes writing up a list of the skills, traits, and knowledge that he wishes he’d have when he finally takes over his first platoon in combat. Then compare this to his four-year curriculum and summer training plans. There will be surprisingly little overlap between the two lists, and the cadet has neither the time nor the incentive to learn what’s missing. In the end, we graduate far too many cadets that are more bureaucrat than professional, lacking the expert knowledge of their trade and the flexibility to be effective in the complex environments they’ll soon encounter.

Major Fernando Lujan, U.S. Army, quoted in “West Point faculty member worries it is failing to prepare tomorrow’s officers”, Foreign Policy, 2010-06-11

August 3, 2014

The Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry at 100

Filed under: Cancon, History, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:47

The Ottawa Citizen notes the centennial of one of Canada’s three regular force infantry regiments, the PPCLI:

During four years of war, from August 1914 to November 1918, Canada contributed some 620,000 men to the fight against Germany. By war’s end, 61,000 — about 1o per cent — of those who served in the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force had been killed. Another 172,000 had been wounded, gassed, crippled or psychologically damaged by the war. For a country of not yet eight million, it was an enormous undertaking, and an enormous sacrifice. The proportional loss for Canada a war today, with a population of about 34 million, would be more than 250,000 killed and 550,00 wounded.

The Canadian Corps acquired a reputation for battlefield prowess. British prime minister David Lloyd George referred to the C.E.F. as “the shock army of the British Empire.” This reputation was in some ways the making of the country, historians say. Canada’s contribution to the war effort — men, munitions and food supplies — fostered a deeper sense of national identity and led to greater political sovereignty. Canada went from being a subordinate member of the British Empire to a nation in its own right on the world stage.

[...]

When Britain declared war on Germany on Aug. 4, 1914, Canada, as a Dominion within the Empire, was automatically at war, too. Canadians, by and large, responded with enthusiastic support. Within days of the declaration of war the country was mobilizing. One Montreal businessman, Andrew Hamilton Gault offered $100,000 of his own money — about $2 million in today’s currency — to finance and equip a regiment.

Prime minister Robert Borden’s government was only too happy to accept the offer, having committed itself to raising an army division of 25,000 men as Canada’s initial contribution to the war. The Patricias received their official charter on Aug. 10. Gault, joined by Lt-Col. Francis Farquhar, a British Army veteran and military secretary to the governor-general, the Duke of Connaught, launched a cross-country recruitment campaign.

PPCLI cap badgeMore than 3,000 men responded to the call to arms, and headed for Ottawa. “Prospectors, trappers, guides, cow-punchers, prize-fighters, farmers, professional and businessmen, above all old soldiers, poured into Ottawa by every train,” writes regimental historian, Ralph Hodder-Williams. By Aug. 19, 1,098 men were chosen — the Originals, as they became known —- and Farquhar was named regimental commander.

The PPCLI officially formed up on Aug. 23 at Ottawa’s Lansdowne Park. Gault had asked the governor-general’s daughter, Princess Patricia, if he could name the regiment after her. She agreed and offered to design a regimental Colour. “I have great pleasure in presenting you with these colours, which I have worked myself. I hope they will be associated with what I believe will be a distinguished corps,” the princess told the assembled soldiers. “I shall follow the fortunes of you all with the deepest interest, and I heartily wish every man good luck and a safe return.”

It was a naive hope, as it turned out. The Patricias boarded the R.M.S. Royal George for England in late September 1914. On Dec. 20, after a few months training in Britain, they arrived in Le Havre. Two weeks later, on Jan. 6 and 7, 1915, the Patricias moved into the Ypres Salient, the first Canadian regiment to go into the field.

[...]

The Camp Colour presented by Princess Patricia in August of 1914 was consecrated in a religious ceremony in Belgium in late January 1919. A month later, the princess, who had returned to England in 1916, attached a commemorative silver gilt laurel wreath to the Colour’s staff in a ceremony before the regiment’s return to Canada. “My thoughts have been continually with you during the years of suffering and trial through which you have passed,” she told the assembled regiment, “and I think with mingled sorrow and pride of your many and gallant comrades who so willingly laid down their lives in the greatest of all causes.”

Such sentiments may sound alien to contemporary ears, but to dismiss them as deluded or naive is to presume that those who lived through the Great War couldn’t possibly have understood what they were doing as well as we can with our historical hindsight and sophisticated post-modern worldview.

But that is an arrogant and condescending assumption, as Philip Child, a Canadian army officer who served with a howitzer battery in the trenches, suggests in his 1937 novel, God’s Sparrow. Child tells the story of Daniel Thatcher, a veteran of the trenches. At one point, reflecting on the dead, Thatcher reaches this conclusion: “The thousands went into battle not ignobly, not as driven sheep or hired murderers … but as free men with a corporate if vague feeling of brotherhood because of a tradition they shared and an honest belief that they were doing their duty in a necessary task.”

H/T to Steve Paikin for the link.

July 27, 2014

QotD: Qui veut tout défendre ne sauve rien (Who defends everything defends nothing)

Filed under: Military, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

This is an elementary and self-evident Principle. Indeed, it is so axiomatic that few examples of it will be given in these pages. The only point to stress is that it is useless to hope to obtain complete security in passive defense. It is also unsound. “He who tries to defend everything saves nothing.” declared Marshal Foch, echoing Frederick the Great. It should be noted that the very act of assuming the offensive imparts a certain degree of security. Make as if to strike a man, and he instinctively assumes a defensive attitude. As General Rowan Robinson expresses it in his Imperial Defence, “The highest form of strategic security is that obtained through the imposition of our will upon the enemy, through seizing the initiative and maintaining it by offensive action.” There may sometimes be an element of risk in this, but, as we have seen, war in its nature involves risk.

Lt. Colonel Alfred H. Burne, The Art of War on Land, 1947.

July 24, 2014

The current organization of the Canadian Army

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

Canadian Army Land Force CommandI posted a link about a military exercise to be held next month in the Niagara Peninsula, and it mentioned the 31st Brigade, which reminded me I’d lost track of the current organization of the Canadian Army (which back in my day was still hiding under the name “Mobile Command”). In common with other allied armies, the units and organizations have changed significantly since the end of the Cold War — in the case of the Canadian Army, many of the changes were triggered earlier by unification in 1968. In the case of the regular infantry regiments, Wikipedia has this to say about the post-WW2 era:

(more…)

Niagara Peninsula to host brigade-level military exercise in August

Filed under: Cancon, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

A report in Niagara This Week by Paul Forsyth discusses a major Canadian military exercise to be held in the area next month:

Called Stalwart Guardian 14, the exercise is an annual one for troops across Ontario. But unlike many other training exercises that typically take place on military bases, this one will be much more visible to the public.

Col. Brock Millman, commander of the London, Ont.-based 31 Canadian Brigade Group, said in a letter to Thorold Mayor Ted Luciani earlier this year that the exercise will be “massive,” but will be conducted in a “safe, respectful and environmentally sound manner.”

At the July 15 meeting of Thorold city council, Millman and Maj. Paul Pickering — who is co-ordinating the exercise — said conducting the operation off-base makes it more realistic, because foreign bad guys are likely to hit infrastructure in populated areas.

“The terrain (on bases) is not complex, there are not big buildings, there are not roads, there is not a civilian population,” said Millman. “The training is not as effective as it can be.

“We’re coming here because it’s much more effective.”

Millman’s brigade, which is the reserve Canadian army in southwestern Ontario, is part of the 12,000-strong 4th Canadian division. He said more than 2,000 soldiers — a mix of reservists and veterans of missions in Afghanistan and Bosnia — will descend on Niagara for the exercise running from Aug. 16 to 24.

Back in my day, we’d have a camp established just outside Niagara-on-the-Lake and unless something went wrong, most of the civilian population in the area wouldn’t know we were there except for the unusually high number of short-haired guys in the bars after 6pm. In the mid-1970s, short hair was an unusual fashion statement…

While the soldiers take their soldiering seriously, Millman said there will be civil-military co-operation personnel to arrange interaction between soldiers and Niagara residents.

“Kids will get a chance to climb on their vehicles,” he said. “We’re not going to discourage (residents) from engaging with the soldiers” if it doesn’t conflict with the training, he said.

He told St. Catharines city council on Monday night that people simply find military vehicles fascinating

“There’s a five-year-old child in all of us who thinks…Thomas the Tank (Engine) is pretty cool,” he said. “Thomas the Coyote surveillance vehicle is super cool.”

Thorold city councillor Becky Lott said she hopes there is plenty of publicity about the exercise before soldiers arrive so people don’t fear the worst.

“I can see people calling and saying ‘why is there a tank rolling down my street?’” she said.

Coyotes? In my day we were just getting rid of the Korean War-vintage trucks and jeeps… get off my lawn, you kids!

Coyote Armoured Patrol Vehicle

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