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BOOK REVIEW: Artilleries Francaises: De la Revolution et du Premier Empire

Posted By Russ Lockwood, Friday, June 28, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: Artilleries Francaises: De la Revolution et du Premier Empire

by Ludovic Letrun and Jean-Marie Mongin

ALL IN FRENCH TEXT.

Oversized at 8.4x12 inches, this 240-page volume covers artillery uniforms, equipment, flags, limbers, and guns of the French Revolution and Napoleonic period. Field guns of various sizes, siege guns, naval guns (le canon de marine), pontoons, and more get the full color treatment. You don't have to read French to take advantage of this exceptional uniform resource, but it helps. Enjoyed it.

Tags:  Napoleonic 

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BOOK REVIEW: Dixie Betrayed: How the South Really Lost the War

Posted By Russ Lockwood, Friday, June 28, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: Dixie Betrayed: How the South Really Lost the War

by David J Eicher.

For a book that purports to explain the Southern loss of the ACW, it contains plenty of well-researched leader profiles and the backstabbing among them, but remarkably little analysis. Horne's How Far From Austerlitz? is a better role-model for the sort of analytical work Dixie Betrayed could have been.

Nonetheless, make your own conclusions as you watch the disintegration of unity of purpose as the war drags on -- governors pled self-defense and refused to provide troops, politics centered on rivalries, and Jefferson Davis presided over a system prided on individuality instead of common struggle. The less you know about the internal political workings of the CSA, the more you'll appreciate the book.

Enjoyed it, if only to discover that CSA VP Stephens spent a couple days in July 1863 in Washington DC trying to secure a prisoner exchange as a way of opening peace talks (p191).

Tags:  American Civil War 

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BOOK REVIEW: The German High Command at War: Hindenburg and Ludendorff Conduct World War I

Posted By Russ Lockwood, Friday, June 28, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: The German High Command at War: Hindenburg and Ludendorff Conduct World War I

by Robert B Asprey.

Actually, the book starts just before the Schlieffen Plan and analyses the German command structure through all four years of WWI. At turns fascinating and revolting, plans and decisions flow from incredible infighting among the top German staff officers as they react to Central Powers successes and failures.

The 'Duo' ultimately take center stage with victories and failures, all the while resisting any peace efforts until the very end in October 1918. It's well written, well researched, and spot on target of the exercise of ultimate command in war. Enjoyed it.

Tags:  WWI 

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BOOK REVIEW: How Far From Austerlitz? Napoleon 1805-1815

Posted By Russ Lockwood, Friday, June 28, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: How Far From Austerlitz? Napoleon 1805-1815

by Alistair Horne.

Another mis-titled book, especially when the dust jacket blurb says "chronicles Napoleon's rise and fall." Yes, the title's a play on a quote, but the dates should be 1792-1815.

That said, this well-written overview of, ahem, Napoleon's rise and fall, shines on every page. Mixing the political with the military, Horne's analytical approach to the officer turned Emperor provides a an easily understandable study of how an obscure fellow became ruler of Europe stretching from Lisbon to Moscow...and how he lost it all. Even though I knew the general outline of events, I was always fascinated by Horne's ability to explain events and influences as they merged together. Sometimes, a general history book is exactly what we need to see the strategic forest from all the tactical trees.

I wasn't that keen on the comparisons with Hitler, as these seemed out of place and unnecessary. That said, I'd read a Horne book analyzing how an obscure fellow from Austria became ruler of Europe stretching from Pyrenees to almost Moscow, and, Narvik to almost Alexandria. Horne's written quite a few books, not about Hitler per se, but this is a 1996 book, so he may have gotten around to it.

Note that the battles are not covered in great detail. Austerlitz is probably the best covered (pages 133-190 out of 398). You get the gist of all the great campaigns and the significant battles, but the book is about how Napoleon generated successes and failures and how he handled the repercussions of each.

Enjoyed it.

Tags:  Napoleonic 

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BOOK REVIEW: One-Hour Skirmish Wargames: Fast Play Diceless Rules for Small Unit Actions from Napoleonics to Sci-Fi

Posted By Russ Lockwood, Friday, June 28, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: One-Hour Skirmish Wargames: Fast Play Diceless Rules for Small Unit Actions from Napoleonics to Sci-Fi

by John Lambshead.

Full disclosure: I did not play a game with the system prior to writing this up. Consider this a first look, not a review.

Apparently a sequel of sorts, the 'diceless' part refers to using a deck of cards (including jokers). Marketing calls it 'innovative' -- buuuut ..... The Sword and the Flame (TSATF) predated its use of cards by decades, not to mention magazine articles by the hundreds.

Be that as it may, and grognards can argue this for hours, this basically uses a variation of the kids game War to resolve combat. When shooting (page 10), each player turns over a 'Resolution Card' (fancy term for playing card), and if the shooter has the high card, then the target is 'Downed' -- draw a damage card to see how bad, if at all.

Figures move/fire using Action Points, with the phasing player turning over a card for the number of APs. Movement is a flat 6 inches for infantry, with 1AP spent to move a figure once, 3 AP to move it a second time, and 5 AP for a third time in a turn. Firing is 1AP, although reloading muskets costs 1AP. Obviously, if you draw a 2, your side has quite limited actions.

Mechanics wise, a deck of cards is not truly random unless you reshuffle after every card draw, which would defeat the goal of speedy play. A single unmodified die, of course, gives equal odds each time it's rolled.

On the flip side, OHSW's advantage is ease of learning and speed of play. If you can flip and compare cards, you've got 80% of the system down. That's a little bit simplistic, but not entirely inaccurate. I dare say it may be better for enticing kids or eurogamers into miniatures wargaming than grizzled ol' grognards. For the record, I consider myself grizzled enough but not so much as to stick a fork in me.

I can visualize this system used as a quick gladiatorial bash or a medieval melee (the organized version like a joust, not two sides fighting each other on a battlefield) to introduce new gamers into miniature wargaming.

OHSW also includes squad on squad scenarios, campaign ideas, and a points system.

Tags:  Rules 

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BOOK REVIEW: Knight's Cross: A Life of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel

Posted By Russ Lockwood, Monday, June 24, 2019

One from the MagWeb archive...



Knight's Cross: A Life of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel provides a biography of the acclaimed German officer, from his humble beginnings in a section of Germany called Swabia, through his rise in the German army during and between the world wars, to his death at the close of 1944. It exposes Rommel's character strengths and flaws, his actions and reactions to political events, and upholds as well as punctures the various myths surrounding his combat leadership.

It is the latter that draws us to the book, and author David Fraser centers on Rommel's uncanny ability to discern and exploit tactical advantages. The chapters covering his World War I service are particularly enlightening, detailing his actions in France at the opening of the war, a particularly good chapter about his efforts in the Romanian mountains, and his victories in the mountains of Italy. Fraser portrays Rommel as a shrewd judge of tactical maneuvers, being able to penetrate seemingly solid trench lines and working into the rear areas, demoralizing the enemy with speed and position as much as shot and shell. Rommel is a commander who leads from the front and excels in tight tactical situations, and anecdote after anecdote of wartime maneuverings dot the pages of the biography, making for a fascinating and quick read.

On occasion, this hard-charging attitude would generate trouble, as operating behind enemy lines had the tendency to get cut off and force a fighting withdrawal. Yet, as Fraser shows, Rommel could improvise with the best of commanders past and present, and the results were more often a success than a failure.

The Rommel Detachment

For example, during the overall series of battles we know as Caporetto, the "Rommel Detachment" of the 124th Wurttemberg Regiment participated in the attack, driving the Italian army and capturing prisoners as it went. Over the course of several pages, Fraser delivers a concise and fast-moving narrative of the Rommel Detachment--three mountain companies and a machine gun company, and later expanded with an additional two machine gun companies--sneaking through the lines up a ridge near Luico and then overrunning Italian formations from behind.

    "This was fun!" Rommel wrote, "and no shooting! We had over 100 prisoners and 50 vehicles. Business was flourishing!" (p.70)

Soon, he outran even part of his command. With only 150 men, he then persuaded an Italian column (part of the Bersaglieri brigade) to surrender after a short, sharp firefight--another 50 officers and 2,000 men captured. Reinforced, he moved to the next hill, called for artillery fire, and grabbed 1,500 more prisoners from the Salerno brigade. After another firefight, his command nabbed another 1,200 prisoners off the final objective, Mt. Matajur. All told, the Rommel Detachment nabbed 9,000 prisoners at a cost of six dead and 30 wounded. After similar exploits on the Piave River, Rommel was awarded the Pour le Merite and posted as a junior staff officer at LXIV (Wurttemberg) Army Corps. A

lthough wounded, that Rommel survived WWI trench fighting on three fronts is testament to his skill and luck. Of the 46,000 regular German army officers, nearly 11,500 were killed in action. After WWI, the treaty limited the German army to 100,000 men, of which 4,000 were officers. Rommel, thanks in large part to his Italian successes, became one of those officers.

Post World War I

Fraser switches easily and generally effectively between the details of Rommel's life and the narrative of history. However, the author goes overboard on occasion, especially covering the years between the world wars. Fraser devotes much space to generic political turmoil and Rommel drops out of the book for too many pages at a time. Although generally covering Rommel's increasing admiration for Hitler with a skillful touch, Fraser at times loses control of the biographical narrative in favor of general history.

Fortunately, this minor faux pas ends with the beginning of World War II, with Rommel as head of Hitler's security detachment during the invasion of Poland. Here, Rommel attended daily briefings and gained an eagle's eye view of blitzkrieg in action. And here, he caught Hitler's eye once again, and became division commander of the 7th Panzer in time for the 1940 invasion of France.

Fraser cleverly develops the character of Rommel, letting it unfold against the tactical marvels of crossing the Meuse, leading supply columns, and pressing the attack. He integrates the enormous energy needed by Rommel to direct from the front with the authoritarian manner in which he deals with other officers, especially superiors. The mystique becomes more fragile than before, as a strong streak of vanity begins to appear, coupled with ambition and borderline arrogance--a part of Rommel that extends into his desert duty. Yet, he is still the master tactician, leading from the top of a tank and personally directing troop deployments while under fire.

On command of the 7th Panzer, Fraser writes:

    "What should be aimed for, as Rommel perceived very plainly and at every level, was paralysis of the enemy's will and of his capacity of clear thought and measured response, not simply or even primarily by physical destruction of his communications and threat to his headquarters..." (p. 159)

Afrika Korps and D-Day

With so many books written about WWII and the desert war, Fraser successfully resists the temptation to simply repeat history without insight. He delves into the minutiae of Rommel's habits and actions, starting with the heady days of advance using a hodge podge of German, Italian, and captured British (and Soviet!) equipment, through the retreat, counteroffensive, and seizure of Tobruk. There is a good analysis of how Rommel planned his maneuvers, in part from information gleaned from his intelligence-gathering sources: including captured prisoners and especially decoded messages from an American officer attached as an observer to the British. Discussions of supply, the breakdown of Rommel's health, and the battles of El Alamein, the long retreat, and the offensive against the Americans in Tunisia are well tracked.

Fraser shows Rommel's consistency in the face of the enemy, intermixed with growing doubts about the political situation and a growing awareness of Germany's worsening military situation. Fraser touches, albeit briefly in various parts of the biography, on the Holocaust, and Hitler's chilling reference to SS atrocities in Poland: "One does not make war with the methods of the Salvation Army."

Yet it is also his visit with Hitler in 1943 that revives his enthusiasm--"under a sunray lamp," as Rommel puts it. Still, he understands the military array against Germany is too great. Coupled with reverses at Stalingrad and El Alamein, and Hitler's own melancholy pronouncement, "Nobody will make peace with me," Rommel knows the war is lost, but he still harbored hopes that the Anglo-Americans would hold the line against the Soviets.

But if 1943 was bad, 1944 was worse. Fraser reveals the depth of Rommel's pessimism in a July 15, 1944 exchange with Colonel Warning, then a liaison officer to the Luftwaffe but also a staff officer of his during the African campaign. Warning asked how 12 German divisions were going to contain the entire Allied Invasion. "I'll tell you something," Rommel replied. "Field Marshal von Kluge and I have sent the Fuhrer an ultimatum. Militarily, the war can't be won and he must make a political decision." Warning looked at Rommel with astonished disbelief. "And what if the Fuhrer refuses?"

"Then," Rommel said, "I open the west front. There will only be one important matter left--that the Anglo-Americans reach Berlin before the Russians." (p.507)

Plot to Kill Hitler

Fraser spins the tale of Rommel's life through his wounding in an air attack, the increasing signs that the western front would collapse, and the conspiracy to kill Hitler. Fraser notes that while Rommel was sympathetic to the attempt, he disapproved of the assassination plan, fearing it would cause a civil war and make Hitler a martyr. Far better to proceed legally against Hitler, for he understood that the German Army must surrender to end the war--and the rank and file would not support a coup attempt in order to surrender. The entirety of chapter 23, "What Did Rommel Know?", analyzes the evidence for and against Rommel's participation in the assassination and projected coup--and is quite effective in doing so.

The last chapter, "A Necessary End," details the last day of Rommel's life, where Generals Burgdorf and Maisel delivered Hitler's own ultimatum: arrest and trial on charges of high treason, or, "the officer's way" with a full state funeral and statement that he died of natural causes. Rommel chose the latter, convinced that he would be killed before he could make any statements at a trial and assured that his family would remain untouched if he took the poison.

Overall

Fraser performs admirably in analyzing the character of Rommel through the years. He examines the myths that surround the Field Marshal's qualities of command without succumbing to hero-worshiping--indeed it is to Fraser's credit that he exposes the positive and negative sides of Rommel's actions. As Fraser puts it:

    Genius may sometimes break rules and evade the consequences. Rommel had genius. He broke rules. Sometimes, but not always, he evaded consequences. (p. 275)

That Rommel was shrewd and practical, thrifty and energetic, and a genius for improvisation are detailed as well as his ambition, vanity, and self-deception. Yet it is the imperfections coupled with the combat successes and ultimate failure that make Rommel as a biographical subject so interesting, and Fraser's deft touch that makes Knight's Cross: A Life of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel a fascinating read.

Photos from back jacket
Rommel with Colonel von Bismarck during First World War.
Middle: Rommel with Colonel Fritz Bayerlein in North African desert.
Bottom: Rommel with General Gause, his chief of staff, in the desert.

Published by HarperCollins Publishers, 1993.
hardbound, ISBN: 0-06-018222-9
601 pages, plus 16 pages containing 32 B&W photos, 20 Maps, one appendix (Chronology of Rommel's Life), Bibliography, End notes, Index.

 Attached Thumbnails:

Tags:  WW2  WWI  WWII 

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BOOK REVIEW: Fallschirmjager: German Paratroopers 1937-1941

Posted By Russ Lockwood, Wednesday, June 19, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: Fallschirmjager: German Paratroopers 1937-1941

by Francois Cochet

Another volume in the popular Images at War series. Like the other volumes, this contains black and white photos with captions. Covers the formation of the corps and operations up through early Barbarossa, with each chapter starting with a couple pages of organization and then proceeding with photo after photo. If you are looking for detailed information about Fallschirmjager organization, operations, and tactics, this isn't it, but if you're looking for a visual reference, this is another fine volume in the Images at War series. Enjoyed it.

Tags:  WW2  WWII 

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BOOK REVIEW: The Battle That Stopped Rome: Emperor Augustus, Arminius, and the Slaughter of the Legions in the Teutoburg Forest

Posted By Russ Lockwood, Wednesday, June 19, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: The Battle That Stopped Rome: Emperor Augustus, Arminius, and the Slaughter of the Legions in the Teutoburg Forest

by Peter S. Wells. Another mis-titled book that actually covers Roman and Germanic societies before finally getting to the battle on page 161 of a 256-page book. The battle itself lasts only one chapter, with another chapter on the archeology of the place that goes until page 186. So, the battle is only 25 pages.

That said, it's a nice introductory book to the period, but if you've got dozens of books of that type already on the shelf, it doesn't particularly add much to the knowledge base.

The battle itself is described and explains the deviousness of the German ambush quite nicely. Records from that long ago and current archeology (book came out in 2003) being what they are, maybe that's all the battle needs. Enjoyed the two chapters.

Tags:  Ancient 

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BOOK REVIEW: Riflemen: The History of the 5th Battalion 60th (Royal American) Regiment 1797-1818

Posted By Russ Lockwood, Wednesday, June 19, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: Riflemen: The History of the 5th Battalion 60th (Royal American) Regiment 1797-1818

by Robert Griffith

Although not as famous as the 95th Rifles, aka Sharpe's rifles, the 5th served in most of the Peninsula during the Napoleonic wars. If you want an in-depth look at a battalion on campaign across years, often down to individual soldiers, this is it. This also covers the battalion's tour of duty in Ireland and Caribbean.

This includes a general history of the battles, including Oporto, Talavera, Bussaco, Fuentes de Onoro, Albuerra, Vittoria, and across Pyrenees and into France. The level of detail is quite amazing.

Includes black and white maps and illustrations and some color plates. Enjoyed it.

Tags:  Napoleonic 

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BOOK REVIEW: Red Storm on the Reich: The Soviet March on Germany 1945

Posted By Russ Lockwood, Thursday, June 13, 2019

by Christopher Duffy. Good operational overview of the Soviet attacks from the Vistula River to the Oder River in early 1945 peppered with first-hand anecdotes.

One thing wargamers rarely do, but Duffy explains well, is the pre-attack artillery bombardments. For example, Konev's 1st Ukrainian Front first prep fire used 300 medium and heavy artillery guns -- PER KILOMETER – at 0435 for about five or so minutes to cover infantry probes of the German outposts. The second prep fire at 1000 lasted 107 minutes, ranged behind German lines to depth of 10km, and destroyed 2/3 of German artillery and 1/4 of German infantry (pgs. 67-71). The main attack started at 11:30, the 2000 (two thousand) tanks went in at 1500 and by 1700 the tanks were 20km (about 12 miles) behind German lines.

Numbers intermixed with analysis and anecdotes make this a fascinating book. Enjoyed it.

Tags:  Eastern Front  WW2  WWII 

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