November 2015 reading

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November 2015 reading

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Nov 6, 2015, 2:30pm

Finished, or rather finished skimming, Across the Reef: The Amphibious Tracked Vehicle at War by Victor J. Croizat. I had higher hopes for it, but mostly it's just a retelling of WW2 amphibious operations, not that much about the amtracs.

Nov 11, 2015, 5:46pm

Really good background information about the different national ship building and arming philosophies in The Four Days' Battle of 1666: The Greatest Sea Fight of the Age of Sail - though fans of Lepanto, the Armada and Trafalgar might object to the subtitle. The English essentially filled their ships to the brink with guns and use them as floating batteries whereas the Dutch saw theirs as fast armed merchant escorts.

The Opium War intermingles military history with large doses of well written Qing history, the author's preferred topic. I hope that the engagements will be described in more details than the one-liners/paragraphs on Wikipedia.

Finally, a short read about the Japanese-Soviet encounter in 1939, Nomonhan, 1939. I would have wished a more detailed description of the engagements which are told at a quite abstract level. There must be more eyewitness accounts, or not? One gem is WWII's Forrest Gump, the Korean Yang Kyoungjong who was fighting for the Japanese and captured by the Soviets, then in their army captured by the Germans and later captured by the Americans in Normandy. If he had joined the US military too, he could have completed the round trip in 1950 and be captured again in Korea.

I found the author's claim about the primordial importance of the border clash at Nomonha, better known as the battles of Khalkhin Gol, not really convincing. For both the Soviets, the repeated border engagements were an unnecessary sideshow. In my view, Stalin wanted to gain time to build up his army and maybe even see his opponents in the West kill each other rather than feeling menaced by Japan. At that time, Stalin was basically the only one who propped up the Chinese army. On the Japanese side, it was pure madness (like Pearl Harbour). Given the strains of the war in China, the Japanese could never commit the necessary forces against the Soviets in a full war and had little to gain but a bloody nose.

Nov 11, 2015, 6:22pm

>2 jcbrunner: If you want a bit longer look (like a thousand pages!) at Nomonhan, I can recommend Nomonhan: Japan Against Russia, 1939 by Alvin Coox. Very interesting read and quite in-depth without being tedious.

Editado: Nov 11, 2015, 6:34pm

Thanks, that looks great indeed and goes on my wishlist. I am currently digesting 1500 pages in three books about Marignano 1515. Marignano gave the French Army Museum in Paris a good escape route for an exhibition combining Agincourt to Marignano (French trailer).

The new radio episode of In Our Time is/will be about the battle of Lepanto. Most books about the battle do not go deep as into the tactics and actions of the battle as I wished. Granted the source material is sketchy and fragmented into multiple languages, but one may still hope.

Nov 12, 2015, 11:07am

>4 jcbrunner:

Which Marignano books are you reading?

Nov 12, 2015, 5:47pm

>5 AndreasJ: Three titles that were published in 2014-2015 which I also tagged as "battle of Marignano". Now I have ten books with that tag. I am a bit disappointed to see that the Swiss journalist's popular account does not include a single illustration or map. The French one features maps that were designed in MS Paint under a five minute time limit, grrr. Overall, it would be a very funny article to select and compare all the different maps published for the 500th anniversary in the newspapers and magazines. Maps about medieval battles are sketchy at best but the anniversary has been very inspiring for the graphic designers.

The kind of Festschrift of the Swiss 500th anniversary committee is beautifully illustrated with high quality photographs but mostly kept the 1970s basic maps (at that time, they were ecstatic about having an aerial photo of the battlefield site).

I see on that the Italian conference papers have now been published as well (Atti del simposio 2014 e del congresso «Marignano» 2015), of which I am interested in reading one article about the often neglected Venetian part in the battle. Now only the German Landsknechte (in French service) at the battle still deserve their own coverage.

Editado: Nov 19, 2015, 2:49pm

Two new books for your Xmas gift bags were just published: Hubris: The Tragedy of War in the Twentieth Century by Alistair Horne is a great read about never starting a (land) war in (East) Asia: Russo-Japanese War of 1905 and 1939, Moscow 1941, Midway 1942, Korea and Vietnam. I love the tidbits such as that the Japanese CIC in 1905 happened to be the first Japanese Louis-Vuitton customer ever or the Russian saying of “drinkers to the fleet, dimwits to the infantry.” The joke is in the Venn diagram ...

Die Heere der Hussiten is splendid booklet illustrated in full color and sourced - a German improved take on what a good Osprey should be. A second volume is in preparation. Some small questionable statements occur from time to time such that pinning a handgonne under the arm would not allow for targeted shoots, whereas with practice shooting from the hip, so to say, can be quite accurate as your eye and hand learn to coordinate. Just ask Lucky Luke or any other pistolero (the word pistol has Czech roots).

Nov 20, 2015, 8:18am

I also read Coox's book back in the day and still have fond memories of it.

Just started Lincoln's Autocrat.

Nov 21, 2015, 10:04am

Another plug for Coox -

Nov 21, 2015, 6:55pm

I'm currently reading The Napoleonic Wars: 1803-1815 by David Gates.

Nov 28, 2015, 3:32pm

Today I begin Perish by the Sword: the Czechoslovakian Anabasis and Our Supporting Campaigns in North Russia and Siberia 1918-1920 by R. Ernest Dupuy. This is the history of the 40,000 strong Czech Legion that found itself cut off when the Russian Army collapsed in World War One and, according to the Preface, "marched from the Volga to Vladivostok and back again, fighting both ways, held a new Eastern Front for two years and went home around the world to build a new nation." The history also includes an account of "our {i.e. the United States'} two assisting campaigns in Siberia and North Russia, both fought mainly after the Armistice of November 11, 1918.." All of this is new information for me, and I've been very much looking forward to reading this history since I ordered it online several months ago. I first saw the book years ago at a booksellers convention in San Francisco, but the seller wanted a fortune for it (not that his price was out of line: it was a first edition with dust jacket intact). I brooded over this hole in my military history shelf for several years, and then one day finally went searching online and found a relatively affordable copy (w/o dust jacket, but I want to read the thing, not put it in a museum).

The book was published in 1939, very soon after the Nazi takeover of Czechoslovakia. Dupuy was a U.S. Army major and the publisher was "The Military Service Publishing Company." As Dupuy concludes his Preface, "In the light of what has happened, in the light of what we may be urged to do again, it will be well to recall the past." So the book was certainly timely when published, but it will be interesting to see whether Dupuy had any sort of interventionist point to make mixed in with his history.

The book is listed in only two LT libraries, mine being one.

p.s. I had to look up the word "anabasis," which you all probably know but which was new to me. According to Wikipedia, the word comes from the title of a classic text by the Greek writer Xenophon (431–355 BC), about the expedition of the Persian prince Cyrus the Younger against his brother, King Artaxerxes II. More generally, however it means "an expedition from a coastline up into the interior of a country."

Nov 30, 2015, 5:57pm

>12 rocketjk: Xenophon is a must read and a great story: A mercenary army that marches from Greece to Babylon, wins the key battle but sees its client killed in said battle. Stranded in hostile territory, they have to make their way back to the Black Sea - which they do to the joyous shouts of "the sea, the sea". The dark part of the story is that they then extort and harass the (Greek) Black Sea cities to compensate the otherwise economic failure of their trip. All told by Xenophon, one of the commanders who is a combination of Schwarzenegger and Moses.

HBO should really produce a mini-series about it. It could be filmed cheaply in Spain as there is no need for expensive Rome-style sets. Robin Waterfield has written a good introduction in Xenophon's Retreat but reading the text itself is not difficult (though a commented edition is recommended).

The Czech Legion is featured prominently in the Czech army museum in Prague (highly recommended) and also covered in an Osprey MMA. Post WWI era Russia was a weird jamboree of international forces, like 16th century Italy or Syria today. It is interesting that Osprey has switched the cover from pedestrian WWI troops to Siberian exotics to promote the title.

Alistair Horne's Hubris is a great read of the battles of Tsushima, Nomonhan, Moscow 1941 and Midway with funny character sketches of the foibles of the commanders and a tribute to the enduring soldiers on both sides. Unfortunately, this breaks down completely in the last jumbled part about Korea and Dien Bien Phu where he hardly presents the opposing Asian commanders and their soldiers at all. I would also not classify the Korean, Indochina and Vietnam Wars as hubris. These were blunders in far away places that did not receive the attention they deserved. I would have preferred an account of the Chinese-Japanese War of 1894 but commercial interests probably clamored for more US-centric content.

Dez 1, 2015, 2:43pm

#13> Thanks, Jean-Claude. Good information. I have, in fact, visited Prague, although I did not make it to that museum. I did visit the basement of the church where the two guerrillas who assassinated Reinhard Heydrich holed up awaiting transport out of the country until they were betrayed by, if I remember right, a baker. Fascinating spot that's been turned into a museum.

I finished the Dupuy book Perish by the Sword, last night (see Post 12), by the way. Well worth reading, I thought, although not as in-depth as one would like. Dupuy also spends a good amount of time describing both AEF adventures, in Archangel/Murmansk and in Siberia. The point is made quite strongly that, in Eastern Russia, the ultimate success of the Bolsheviks can be attributed as much to the wanton savagery and sadism of the White Russian generals than to any attraction the populace had to Bolshevism. As to the Northern expedition, the American forces were part of a multi-national force, originally there to try to encourage a second front and keep the Germans from building a submarine base. They stayed after the Armistice, however (as did the Siberian AEF) in part in support of the Czechs and in part in support of the White Russians. The Northern Russian force was under the command of a British general whose doomed attempts to drive south and actually unseat the Bolsheviks Dupuy labels "inane."

The book is clearly written, and as well researched as possible for the time, I guess. At one point Dupuy says that he has no idea how the Czech forces, spread out as the became more or less across the length of the Trans-Siberian rail lines, maintained communication with each other, but evidently they did. There are quite a few fascinating photographs. There are also a couple of maps, but these are much too sketchy to be of much use.