Current Reading - June 2020

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Current Reading - June 2020

Jun 18, 2020, 8:01am

So far this month, the most substantive read has been For God and Kaiser, a general history of the Austrian army by an author with a fair amount of admiration for the Habsburgs. The first half, dealing with the Wars of Religion through the Napoleonic period, is the stronger portion of the book.

Jun 18, 2020, 8:33am

Just finished Patrol by Fred Majdalany. It's written as a novel, but based on a lot of his own experience as a front line infantry officer, including being wounded. Set in North Africa in WWII, it tells the story of a night-time patrol ordered by a lightweight intelligence officer back at HQ. Gritty realism, and a sense of the culture and community of different units in different places in the chain of command - London, Algiers, Army, Corps, Division, Brigade, and finally, Battalion, which is "home" for the infantryman. Well worth reading.

Jun 21, 2020, 12:42am

Finished the Kindle version of Amphibious Assault Falklands: The Battle of San Carlos Water by Michael Clapp. This is a very good look at the Falklands War written by the amphibious forces commander and told from his point of view. I have read a number of books about that war and each has presented to me a new perspective on the fighting. The author has concentrated on his role which included command of all ships, aircraft and initially the land forces on and in the immediate vicinity of the Falkland Islands. His focus in the book was more on the command and logistical aspects although he did discuss the fighting as well. Highly recommended, although the Kindle version suffers from a poor job done of proofreading after scanning from a printed version; there are endless examples of "or" used instead of "of", that kind of thing. Annoying but not critical.

Jun 22, 2020, 5:12pm

Completed reading The Dutch in the Medway by P. G. Rogers, concerning a Dutch incursion into the Thames and Medway rivers in England in 1667 during the Second Anglo-Dutch war. Not a bad book, it starts out with a lot of background on both navies and their government, then gets down to the actual campaign. Reading pleasure is a bit put off by the large number of primary source quotes which are often hard to understand due to archaic punctuation and spelling, not to mention grammar and the more technical terms. Overall it is a decent history of the event but not really a must read.

Jun 28, 2020, 7:29am

Will wind up with Crusader: General Donn Starry and the Army of His Times, a pretty good life and times of the man in question, a noted practitioner and theorist of armored warfare in the post-WWII U.S. Army.

Jul 19, 2020, 4:00pm

I finished Strange Defeat: A Statement of Evidence Written in 1940 by Marc Bloch. This is a fascinating testimony about the factors in the French army, government and society in general that, according the author, accounted for the French collapse and premature (in Bloch's opinion) surrender in the face of the German invasion in 1940. Marc Bloch was a veteran of the trenches of World War I and by trade a highly respected historian, so analysis of the type he undertook here was his stock and trade. When war was declared in 1939 with the invasion of Poland, Bloch returned to the military as a reservist, and was set to work as an officer working out the tracking and distribution of petrol supplies for the French First Army. As such, Bloch was in a position to see first-hand the hardening of the arteries that had taken place within the French military, both during the long period of inactivity known as the Phony War and then during the tragically short period of actual fighting once Germany invaded. Bloch describes, here, the scene on the beaches during the Dunkirk escape. Among those taken off the beaches, Bloch spent a short time in England, and then returned to what he thought would be the battle to defend his country.

This book was written in 1940, almost immediately after the French surrender. There are a few footnotes that Bloch entered to amend or add to the information presented in around 1942. Bloch discusses a great many reasons that came together to create a France wholly incapable of fighting off the German Army. A top-heavy military structure with too much jealousy and too little cooperation between branches, a complacency born of a wholesale refusal to take a clear look at the way warfare had changed since the first world war, the widespread loathing for and distrust of the working classes and the democratic process in general among the country's governing and industrial classes, to the extent, Bloch says, that some even thought that not only was it inevitable that Germany's autocratic system would defeat France, but that perhaps it was preferable that they would. In the field, according to Bloch (and he certainly wasn't alone), the French Army was done in by a lack of adequate training and equipment, poor leadership in crucial posts, and the dismay and sometimes even panic derived from the surprising speed and fury of the German attack (which Bloch takes pain to point out should not have been surprising).

Bloch takes the reader on a tour of French pre-war society, taking industrialists, labor leaders and academics (including himself) to task for the ways in which the nation fell short and laid themselves open to defeat. Bloch goes on to provide a more global context with a final section acute and highly readable political philosophy. The combination of Bloch's status as an expert historian and as a first-hand participant in so many of these events, plus Bloch's lucid and enjoyable writing style, makes this an entirely fascinating testimony and analysis of a fascinating if tragic historical saga.