Current Reading - March 2018

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Current Reading - March 2018

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1jztemple
Mar 4, 2018, 4:43pm

Finished a short but well done The Battle of Koniggratz: Prussia's Victory over Austria, 1866 by Gordon A. Craig, which is not just about the battle but also the war.

2Ammianus
Mar 6, 2018, 12:37am

An oldy but a goody!

3jztemple
Mar 8, 2018, 2:30pm

Completed my latest Kindle book, They Gave Me a Seafire by Commander R 'Mike' Crosley. Rather a mixed bag with exciting stories of aerial combat alternating with the usual first person narratives of drunken sprees, profiles of friends and enemies and a lot of the mundane stuff of life, like lousy food and lots of tussles with authority. Indeed, the book provides a number of examples of the typical British "lions led by donkeys" way of combat. And the book winds up with numerous appendices of aircraft performance, accident reports and the author's evaluation of why the lessons of WW2 were forgotten and had to be relearned in the Falklands War.

4Shrike58
Editado: Mar 17, 2018, 8:25am

It's been a fairly productive month so far (what you get when you're knocking off short monographs), but we'll start by mentioning The Gentlemen and the Roughs on one hand and Combat Ready? on the other. The first is essentially a study of social conflict in the Union army as the the Jacksonian ideal of the equality of all white men ran into both pretensions of social superiority and the demands of military discipline; this is mostly based on a close study of court-martial transcripts. The second argues that for whatever the problems the U.S. Army displayed in Korea in the initial campaigns this doesn't negate that much hard work had been put in a year out from that conflict to the point that you had coherent units that could fight; the basic point being to remind people that the American forces in the Far East were essentially starting from scratch in 1949.

5AndreasJ
Mar 17, 2018, 8:38am

I'm reading Nosworthy's Battle Tactics of Napoleon and His Enemies (also known as With Musket, Cannon and Sword).

6John5918
Editado: Mar 17, 2018, 12:28pm

Just started re-reading Karari : the Sudanese account of the battle of Omdurman by ʿIṣmat Ḥasan Zilfū (in English translation). If history is usually written by the victors, in Africa that usually meant European colonists, so it is very refreshing to read a different perspective.

The Battle of Omdurman was seen as a great victory for the British and Egyptian forces, following their defeat a few years earlier at the hands of Mahdist forces. There was a huge disparity in casualty figures between the Anglo-Egyptian forces on the one hand and the Sudanese on the other. There have been suggestions that the British actually massaged the Sudanese casualty figures downwards, as they were afraid that the British establishment and the public might see it as a massacre rather than a stunning military victory. The book's inside cover quotes Hilaire Belloc, "Whatever happens we have got the Maxim gun, and they have not".

The book has a weath of contextual details and a lot of background information on the Sudanese forces, tactics, weaponry, etc.

About thirty years ago I was part of a small party who got a guided tour of the battlefield on the anniversary of the battle, led by the British colonel in charge of the British Army Training Team who were then training the Sudanese Army. It was very interesting to stand on a hill and have the whole battle explained while overlooking the battlefield, and to explore on foot features such as the scene of the charge by the 21st Lancers in which the young Winston Churchill participated.

Around the same time I also had the chance to visit the less well-known Sheikan (or Shaykan) battlefield where Mahdist forces defeated an Egyptian force under British leadership in 1883. The battle was fought in a forest; desertification has now reduced it to a barren desert - in fact we got lost but fortunately we knew roughly which direction the railway line was in so we drove until we hit that and then followed it back to El Obeid, driving an old Series 3 Land Rover along the railway track itself. However a large baobab tree remains and has on it a plaque saying (from memory), "This is the tree from where General Hicks Pasha directed the battle and where his body hung like a bundle of rags after his defeat".

7John5918
Editado: Mar 26, 2018, 10:11am

With Kitchener to Khartum by G W Steevens

This is a contemporary account, published in 1898, by a journalist who accompanied Kitchener's expedition to Khartoum - I suppose these days we would say an embedded journalist.

Steevens was a man of his times, so the book demonstrates imperialist, jingoist, racist, classist, sexist and other prejudices, assumptions and stereotypes, but if you can get past that it is an enjoyable read. He is a good writer and makes it all very interesting. At times when he is listing regiments, battalions, bimbashis, beys and pashas it gets a little confusing and one could perhaps have asked for a little more editing for clarity in these passages. The maps are good. It was apparently written in haste in order to publish quickly, and the introduction notes that publication was delayed by one week so as to consult certain documents.

Having just read a Sudanese account (>6 John5918:) based in large part on interviews with survivors of the battle (who were still alive in 1971 when that book was published), it is interesting to compare a contemporary account from the British side. A lot of the details of course agree, but Steevens portrays the stereotypical British attitude towards Africans and Arabs, allowing them very little agency, whereas ʿIṣmat Ḥasan Zilfū explores and analyses the Sudanese context, strategy and tactics as well as giving depth and colour to the Sudanese characters. Steevens, on the other hand, definitely gives colour to the British characters, albeit seemingly uncritically positive.

My favourite snippet, I think, was where Steevens admits that he is a newcomer to this type of expedition and lists all the kit he has bought, often on good advice from others, to tide him through his journey, including not only food, tents, furniture, etc but also horses, camels and servants. He gradually discovers that the old campaigner needs only the clothes he stands up in and a tin opener.

8jztemple
Mar 26, 2018, 7:31am

>7 John5918: I've had some interest in 19th Century war journalists and this book is on my wishlists... and I see that it's available on the Kindle for $0.99 USD, so now I have it! I already had From Capetown to Ladysmith An Unfinished Record of the South African War by G. W. Steevens on there.

One obscure book I can recommend is Januarius Macgahan: The Life and Campaigns of an American War Correspondent by Dale L. Walker. He is most famous for coverage of 1877 war between Russia and Turkey, but he had some interesting experiences before then as well. I have the hardcover published by Ohio University Press and it had excellent illustrations and some maps.

And since it's early in the morning and I can't sleep, I'll go ahead and list a few more interesting books I have in this area. There is A Bohemian Brigade: The Civil War Correspondents--Mostly Rough, Sometimes Ready by James M. Perry, which I haven't read yet, and Hell Before Breakfast: America's First War Correspondents Making History and Headlines, from the Battlefields of the Civil War to the Far Reaches of the Ottoman Empire by Robert H. Patton which I just started.

Finally, one that I found very interesting, The Reporter Who Would Be King: A Biography of Richard Harding Davis by Arthur Lubow. Davis was a larger than life figure, war correspondent, playwright, writer, novelist and celebrity. I had never hear about Davis till I got this book and then I was surprised at the number of references to him I have come across in reading and also in older movies.

9John5918
Mar 27, 2018, 5:40am

>8 jztemple:

Thanks for these suggestions. I will follow up some of them.

My copy of With Kitchener to Khartum is the 15th edition so I'm not sure which year it was printed, but it's pretty old. The fold-out maps are beautiful. The last few pages (which are a "Catalogue of Messrs Blackwood & Sons' Publications", not part of the main text) are not yet cut. I can't remember how much it cost me but it has (South African) R 250 written inside the front cover in pencil, which is about USD 21, a bargain when you consider what you pay these days for pulp thrillers in paperback.

10Shrike58
Mar 28, 2018, 7:55am

As for the rest of the month we have How to Plan a Crusade (A-), Withdrawal (A) and Belgium's Dilemma (B). If these books have anything in common it's that they all deal with the "rubber meets the road" moment when politics interacts with military policy. The last might be particularly interesting, even if it suffers from some clunky editing and an eye-watering cover price (...three cheers for inter-library loan!) in that while there are tendencies to treat the Belgians as scapegoats for the debacle of 1940 when dispassionately looking at the situation it would seem that Brussels made the maximum effort that could have been expected of them. Particularly eye-opening is how negative the impact of the French occupation of the Ruhr Valley was for long-term trust of Paris, not to mention that while the Flemish and Walloon elements of Belgian society were not especially fond of each other they were even less fond of French society for its secularizing tendencies.

11jztemple
Mar 28, 2018, 9:58am

>10 Shrike58: That How to Plan a Crusade sounds interesting, I've added it to my wishlist.

12Shrike58
Mar 29, 2018, 8:23am

I thought it was quite good and the only reason that I don't rate it a bit higher is that the more the author deals with actual military matters the less documentation he has to draw upon; as opposed to writing about those matters that the Church was involved in and for which we have more documentation. I wouldn't say the book ends on a whimper but the last few chapters feel a little thin.