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 28, 2016
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.
March 7, 2016
Published on 6 Mar 2016
A promotional and informational short produced by New Horizon Films (with support from the NFB) for the Department of National Defense. The film follows a set of new recruits through officer training at the facility in Chilliwack B.C. Directed and photographed by Robert S. Rodvik; sound recording and editing by Michael J. Collier; technical advisors: Captain Stu Harper and Captain Grant Russell; music composed by Captain John Montminy; Narrated by Chad Miller; music performed by Canadian Forces Naden Band; Esquimalt B.C. “Can you be a leader?” won a Certificate of Excellence – Training at the U.S. Industrial Film Festival.
This film has been made available courtesy the City of Vancouver Archives at http://vancouver.ca/your-government/city-of-vancouver-archives.aspx Reference code: AM1553-2-S2-: MI-272
March 2, 2016
Published on 29 Feb 2016
Erwin Rommel’s book Infantry Attacks in our Amazon Store: http://bit.ly/RommelAttacks (Affiliate Link)
Erwin Rommel had his baptism of fire during the initial offensives of World War 1 on the Western Front. His fearlessness and daring actions made him rise through the ranks quickly. When the German infantry tactics changed and the new Stormtrooper regiments were built, Rommel was the kind of officer needed. During the war in Romania and the battles of Italy he distinguished himself and already started building his legendary reputation that followed him into World War 2 as the Desert Fox.
February 22, 2016
Published on 20 Feb 2016
Check out Ian and Karl’s video about WW1 melee weapons: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EIGIBJeRfnQ
Check out Ian’s and Karl’s channel: https://www.youtube.com/c/inrangetvshow
Trench raids resulted in the most brutal form of close quarter combat in World War 1. Armed with melee weapons and hand grenades, soldiers would fight each other to the death. But raiding parties and their tactics soon became more sophisticated and changed the conduct of war dramatically. This is the first part of a small series of the evolution of combat in the trenches for the centennial of the Battle of Verdun.
January 21, 2016
Ted Campbell outlines the most likely tasks and approximate organization of the Canadian Armed Forces, regardless of the political or ideological stripe of the government of the day:
- To maintain active military forces to share in the continental defence of the North American homelands, of the maritime approaches to them and of the airspace over both.
- To maintain a global, blue water fleet, supported by air forces, that is able to, simultaneously, maintain a constant Canadian presence in at least two different theatres.
- To maintain trained, disciplined military units that can, on very short notice, give effective “aid to the civil power” here in Canada.
- To maintain combat naval, land and air forces and a full range of strategic and tactical support services, able to conduct low to mid intensity operations anywhere in Canada on short notice.
Those tasks, both explicitly and implicitly, call for:
- A surveillance and warning system ~ which, I think, to be really useful must cover all of the Canadian landmass, the maritimes approaches to it and the airspace over both and, probably, needs to have terrestrial, underwater, airborne (aircraft mounted) and space based (satellite) sensors.
- A command and control communications (C³) system to interconnect all those sensors and the various command agencies ~ Canadian, US and combined.
- A full fledged Navy able to operate in 9and under) coastal waters and anywhere in the world.
- A full fledged Air Force able to conduct air and joint operations in Canada and to conduct joint naval-air operations anywhere in the world.
- An Army for domestic, territorial defence of Canada.
- The full fledged Navy and Air Force and limited Army also, in their turn, call for medical, logistical, administrative and financial support systems: hospitals, supply depots and warehouses, and people working away in offices, far away from the action, keeping services flowing to the people who need them.
What about forces for the next Afghanistan or UN peacekeeping mission or Korea or, heaven forbid, another world war?
That would be an Expeditionary Force.
January 20, 2016
Published on 18 Jan 2016
From the iconic Pickelhaube to the almost legendary Stahlhelm and the field grey colour, German military uniforms of World War 1 are instantly recognisable. But there is more to them than just the spiky leather helmet that was often used in enemy propaganda. In our new special episode we are talking about the details of the German uniforms in the First World War.
January 14, 2016
Published on 17 Apr 2014
An army is as good as the kit its soldiers use. In 1914, which army was the best equipped? Historian Dan Snow finds out.
They were not, as The Times correspondent claims, there to protect the wearer from rifle or machine-gun bullets. Indeed, as I understand it, even modern helmets are not always proof against high-velocity rounds. What they were there to do was to protect soldiers from shrapnel. Shrapnel, in case you didn’t already know, is the collective noun for steel balls being expelled from an air-bursting (or Shrapnel) shell. It was a huge killer in the First World War and the steel helmet did a great deal to save lives.
One of the good things about the Brodie helmet – as it sometimes known – is that it had an internal harness. This meant that if the helmet was dented the dent was not necessarily reproduced in the wearer’s skull.
On the shape, however, with a wide brim and no neck protection, I have always been in two minds. On the one hand, if the threat is from above you would have thought the shape was a good thing as it covers a large part of the wearer’s body. It is also easy to make. On the other hand, British helmets over the last 100 years have progressively given more neck protection which sounds like the British Army’s way of saying they got it wrong.
By the way, in my limited experience both steel and more modern Kevlar helmets are a pain in the arse to wear. You either can’t see anything from a prone position or you can’t see anything from a prone position and get a headache.
Patrick Crozier, “The British army gets steel helmets”, Samizdata, 2015-12-02.