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Archive for the ‘Conflict’ Category

Articles dealing with conflict in general.

Review of Ostfront: Barbarossa to Berlin-Wargaming World War II on the Eastern Front and Beyond

Posted by Daniel Sauerwein on September 7, 2015

Chambers, Andy. Bolt Action. Vol. 10, Ostfront: Barbarossa to Berlin. Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2015. 112pp. Illustrations, Photographs. $29.95 (Paperback), $15.95 (e-book and PDF).

Wargaming is a growing hobby, coupled with a resurgence in tabletop gaming, that is popular across the world, but particularly in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and in the U.S. There are many periods represented in both historical and fantasy, and even more options for rules and miniatures, allowing players to dream of elaborate tables, with flocked terrain and immaculate buildings, as well as beautifully painted miniature soldiers and vehicles.

One such game, Bolt Action, allows players to simulate squad-level combat in World War II. Created by Warlord Games and authored by Rick Priestley, of Warhammer fame, Bolt Action offers players a multitude of options for recreating World War II fights in miniature. In addition to the main rulebook, one option for Bolt Action players seeking to take on the Eastern Front is the book Ostfront: Barbarossa to Berlin, written by Andy Chambers.

Ostfront takes players from the Far East conflict between the Soviets and Japanese to the Winter War, the various operations that revolved around Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union, and the Soviet counter-attack that led to the capture of Berlin. Available armies include German forces, Finnish, Soviet, and Japanese, while theater-specific rules provide interesting opportunities for varying scenarios, including night fighting, mud, ice, and snow.

The book does an excellent job of discussing the intricacies of the individual scenarios, including objectives and various vehicle options. It covered the background history of the broad campaigns and the specific battles.  Featuring exquisite artwork that is customary for Osprey-published works, this book is a must for those who seek to game with German and Soviet forces. It is important to note that it is not a stand-alone set of rules, but a supplement to the main Bolt Action rules.

Having played Bolt Action, I’ve enjoyed the mechanics of the game and the smaller, squad-based, scale. This book is one of several theater-specific supplements that allow players to customize their gaming experiences even more than with the main rules. A well-organized, beautifully-illustrated book, Ostfront will delight gamers seeking to either take on the Soviet Union, or defend the Motherland at all costs. For experienced players seeking to expand their Bolt Action offerings and go in a different direction by fighting the Soviets versus Japan, or Soviets versus Finland, Ostfront should be on your shelf next to the main rulebook.

For more information on the game, please visit their webstore and check out this video.

You can also watch a demo game here.

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Posted in 20th Century Military History, Book Reviews, Conflict, Other military history, World War II | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Lion’s Gate by Steven Pressfield–Examining the Six-Day War from the Frontlines

Posted by Daniel Sauerwein on July 7, 2015

Pressfield, Steven. The Lion’s Gate: On the Front Lines of the Six Day War. New York: Sentinel, 2015. Maps, Photographs, Index. 448pp. $18.00.

The Six-Day War is a conflict full of controversy and strong opinions on both sides. It has also garnered much interest in military history circles. Even wargaming has ventured into recreating the battles of the war, as Battlefront miniatures has a variant of their popular World War II game Flames of War, called Fate of a Nation. There have been many books written on this conflict and even more articles examining the various facets of the conflict, from weaponry used, to tactics, and the political considerations behind this war.

Steven Pressfield has written a new popular history on the war that draws upon accounts from veterans of the war. His new book The Lion’s Gate: On the Front Lines of the Six Day War covers the war through the experiences of men from select units in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). While not a comprehensive history of the conflict, the book does an excellent job of discussing the war from the ground up, which reflects the general trends in military history and conflict studies to study wars from the common soldiers instead of major leaders.

The organization is quite good, divided into six “books” that cover a particular section of the war, including the Sinai, Jerusalem, and the lead up to the conflict. The prose is accessible to general readers and does not come across too academic in tone. While not meant to be an academic history, this work is a good resource for examining the war in detail for those seeking to start studying the war. The book also features several maps and photographs to aid in understanding the scope and reality of the war. Praised by The Wall Street Journal, Marine Corps Times, and Los Angeles Times, Steven Pressfield’s The Lion’s Gate is a great new work on an important conflict in Middle East history.

Posted in Book Reviews, Conflict, Other military history | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Remember the Alamo!-even 179 years later

Posted by Daniel Sauerwein on March 6, 2015

Today, March 6, marks the 179th anniversary of the ending of the siege at the Alamo in Texas. This event has gone down in American mythology as a stirring sacrifice for liberty against a repressive Mexican government. The battle and site are etched in Texas memory, being regarded as the cradle of Texas liberty, akin to the Battles of Lexington and Concord. The siege lasted about two weeks, with a handful of Texans (numbers vary from 185-260) battling the Mexican army, led by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, who commanded 1800 men. The Texans held out against the odds as long as they could, until the Mexican forces finally stormed the mission, at present-day San Antonio, killing the defenders, including William Travis, Davey Crockett, and Jim Bowie, among the well-known defenders.

The Texans had come to settle under provisions of the General Colonization Law, which allowed foreigners to acquire land in Texas and be exempt from taxes for four years, with no requirement to become a Mexican citizen, or Catholic, which was the state religion. Mexico had reasons for attempting to attract settlers to Texas, as the land was sparsely populated and they hoped that settlement would spur economic growth in the area. Immigrants enjoyed a federalist system of government under Mexico’s Constitution of 1824. However, the growing American population eventually alarmed the Mexican government, who began efforts to restrict such immigration and eventually rescinded the law, and Santa Anna’s centralist government and its policies, which angered Texans, used to federalism from previous governments and the United States, chose to revolt and fight for independence.

With the small force at the Alamo engaged, attempts were made by Travis to get reinforcements from Col. James Fannin, but failed, leaving the force to face off against Santa Anna’s army, which was a formidable force. After several days, Santa Anna overwhelmed the garrison and captured the Alamo, with the loss of all Texan soldiers. After the battle, the Texas army faced a brief panic, but soon rallied around the battle cry of “Remember the Alamo” and defeated Santa Anna on April 21 at the Battle of San Jacinto, which forced Mexico to recognize the independence of the Republic of Texas.

This event has been commemorated in many ways since its actual occurrence, including a song by Marty Robbins, the series Davey Crockett, which inspired a coonskin cap craze among baby boomer children in the 1950s, and the John Wayne movie The Alamo (1960). These portrayals often jarred with reality, and, recent attempts to dramatize the battle in the movie The Alamo (2004) have garnered great praise. The Alamo has sparked controversy as well, including whether or not all the combatants were killed, and the nature of Texas as a state.

However, one thing is certain. the defenders fought against long odds and went to their graves defending in a cause they believed in. They gave their lives to maintain the way of life they had known and to resist attempts to curtail their freedom. For that, the siege of the Alamo and its fall must be remembered for their influence on the eventual creation of one of our largest states, as well as their impact on the long history of Mexican-American relations. The Alamo remains the largest tourist attraction in Texas and a reminder to succeeding generations to remember what happened there.

Remember the Alamo!

Posted in 19th Century Military History, Conflict, Other military history | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Hagel cancels new drone medal | Nation & World | The Seattle Times

Posted by Daniel Sauerwein on April 15, 2013

Author’s Note:  This is an update based on the story posted here. Despite disagreeing with Mr. Hagel on several positions, I applaud this decision.

Hagel cancels new drone medal | Nation & World | The Seattle Times.

WASHINGTON — The special medal for the Pentagon’s drone operators and cyberwarriors didn’t last long.

Two months after the military rolled out the Distinguished Warfare Medal for troops who don’t set foot on the battlefield, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has concluded it was a bad idea. Some veterans and some lawmakers spoke out against the award, arguing that it was unfair to make the medal a higher honor than some issued for valor on the battlefield.

The controversy echoed a broader debate over defense policy, irking those who feel uneasy about the extent to which remote-controlled aircraft have become the tip of America’s spear in the war against extremists abroad.

After ordering a review of a policy that was one of his predecessor’s last official moves, Hagel said Monday that he concluded no such medal was needed. Instead, he said, a “device” will be affixed to existing medals to recognize those who fly and operate drones, whom he described as “critical to our military’s mission of safeguarding the nation.”

Devices are used by the Pentagon to add a specific form of additional recognition when troops are lauded for exceptional performance.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars, one of the groups that had been critical of the medal, praised Hagel for promptly taking on the issue.

Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced the award on Feb. 13, one of his last days in office, saying that the evolution of combat warranted a new inclusion for men and women who perform game-changing acts remotely.

The Pentagon said no service members had been nominated for the new medal.

Posted in 21st Century Military History, American Military History, Conflict, US military | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

They shoot horses, don’t they?

Posted by Daniel Sauerwein on April 2, 2013

They shoot horses, don’t they?

By Dan Wilson

There is a battle scene in the movie “Braveheart” in which a mounted English soldier is charging Mel Gibson’s character, William Wallace, sword in hand, with the clear intent of delivering a killing blow to Wallace when we see Wallace duck, swing his broadsword parallel to the ground, unhorsing his antagonist who is quickly killed by Wallace.

What we are spared from seeing by the careful editing is the amputation of the foreleg of the charging horse which allowed horse and rider to be brought to the ground. The scene allows the viewer to interpret the event without the graphic image of the amputation, this, in a movie in which the viewer is treated to dozens of images of human decapitation and loss of body parts.

As a kid growing up the in the fifties and sixties I had a steady diet of cowboy movies and there is one staple of most of those movies—a group of menacing Indians on horseback circling a fortification, group of settlers, a wagon train or dismounted cavalry, and we see many of the Indians falling neatly from their horses as they are picked off by their besiegers. The horses of course, run off, riderless.

This is the image that perhaps most, if not all people, have of mounted warfare. But at some point, logic must intervene. In actual battle, it was the horse more often than the rider, that got shot, not only because of their much larger mass, hence providing a much larger target, but the kind of marksmanship required to hit the much smaller rider would be beyond the skill level of the average soldier.

But, that doesn’t make for good cinema and moreover, viewers would avoid any movie that showed carnage to animals.

I would argue that squeamishness has distorted our view of history as well, especially the history of mounted warfare. I would venture a guess that I could ask any number of historians how many soldiers were killed in the American Civil War and they would all provide the answer of 650,00 to 700,000 but if I would to ask how many horses and mules were killed they would probably draw a blank (1 million or so.)  Or try WWI (about 8 million).

Horses are treated as collateral damage. Even the death of a horse is regarded in dismissive terminology. “He had his horse shot out from under him”  is the common phrase. Napoleon for example, during the course of his military career had numerous “horses shot out from under him.” The very term implies that someone aimed too low and oops, the horse got killed even though that horse acted as a shield and took the bullet, arrow, or projectile instead of its rider.

In reality, horses make for a better target, and unhorsing the rider is just as effective in removing the  threat as killing the rider. Warriors made no distinction between horse and rider in combat. War is brutal and animals suffered from that same brutality.

At the Battle of Agincourt (1415) the English defeated a much larger French force consisting largely of mounted knights. The English longbowmen unleashed volleys of arrows at the knights, who were armored. But their horses were not.

“As always the horses suffered most from the arrows, becoming unmanageable, bolting, while those that did reach English lines were impaled on the six-foot stakes that were at a horse’s breast-high.”[1]

Historians agree that at Agincourt the panicking and injured horses threw their armored riders who, virtually helpless on the ground, were then easy prey for English troops armed with maces and axes. Some accounts describe the horses looking like pincushions from the arrows.

Some historians have raised questions about historical accounts of mounted warfare. J. Edward Chamberlin studied the tactics of ancient war chariots.

“The standard account has it that battle engagement involved chariot charges. But a big question mark  is in order here. As historians who know about horses have pointed out, the clashes that would have been an inevitable—and indeed intentional—part of any chariot (or cavalry) charge would have been devastating for the horses. So why would any serious warrior, unless absolutely required, indulge in them? Horses were too valuable to but put at such risk, and given the number of horses used to pull chariots, the losses would have been catastrophic.”[2]

Chamberlin posits that chariots were most likely used to transport warriors quickly to needed trouble spots to fight as a mobile strike force from a stationary position rather than the images left us in bas relief of an archer firing arrows at an enemy from a moving chariot.

“For the soldier riding “shotgun” with the driver able to fire an arrow or throw a javelin with any accuracy during a charge, the chariots would have to be going at one of two speeds: a full gallop or a slow cantor…Going flat out at a full gallop, a chariot could not turn quickly and avoid a collision. And at a slow canter, it would become an easy target.”[3]

Horses could also sustain more damage and give their riders a greater chance of escaping harm.

Ann Hyland cites numerous graphic examples of horses’ sufferings in medieval warfare among those the Bayeaux Tapestry, the artistic depiction of the Battle of Hastings (1066).

The tapestry “shows three horses being violently overturned. One has an empty saddle as his rider pitches off, another no saddle at all, and the rider of the third has been thrown forward on to his horse’s neck obviously injured, while an Englishman wields a lance against him and at the same time jerks the horses girth loose. Yet another horse, still upright, has his skull cloven by an axe. In the border below two riderless horses gallop away from the conflict. Grouped together, this scene shows more of violence and its costs than the rest of the tapestry, indicates that horse losses were heavy, and illustrates the type of wounds suffered by the animals..”[4]

She describes this engagement from the Crusades.

“In an encounter with a Frank his horse was hit beside the throat-latch and its head skewed to one side, the lance coming out of the lower end of the neck (near the withers) and piercing Kamil al-Mashtub’s thigh. Both horse and rider survived; the horse was again injured severely in a later engagement by a lance thrust into the frontal bone (of the forehead) which forced it inward. Even when healed, the hole was big enough for man’s fist…Other horses suffered mortal wounds. One had its heart pierced in combat at Hims, and while arterial blood was pumping out still carried Usamah out of danger before collapsing and dying.”[5]

She describes another mount in the same action “even with its entrails spilling out, and strapped up by a surcingle to stop it treading on them, it stayed on its feet through the battle.”[6]

The Charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimean War (1854) is illustrative. With the invention of gunpowder cavalry tactics had to adapt, often timing a head-on charge while infantry troops were reloading. But these attacks became more infrequent as the firepower increased. The ill-fated charge of the brigade on an artillery emplacement at Balaclava shows the effect projectiles have on mounted horses.

Thanks to Tennyson’s poem the common belief is that the majority of “The 600” were wiped out, but that was true of the horses, not the riders. Out of 673 men, 113 were killed and about 180 were wounded. However, 460 horses were killed outright or had to be dispatched due to wounds. About one-sixth of the men were lost compared to two-thirds of the horses.

So were horses targeted? We know that it was common knowledge that horse-drawn artillery were always a target, especially the horses, because disabling one horse was enough to disable the team.

But as to battle tactics the historical record is scant.

Robert Watt’s treatise on the Ninth U.S. Cavalry’s campaign against the Apache Indians from 1879 to 1881 reveals horses became the targets as the Apaches, fighting on foot learned that by killing or disabling the cavalry’s horses they could achieve a tactical advantage. Horses were harder to replace than the men.

“The Apaches wrought the most extensive damage by deliberately targeting the regiment’s horses and mules in ambushes. They also led the Ninth Cavalry on long, grueling pursuits across difficult terrain that eventually wore down or killed the unit’s mounts.[7]

Watt writes, “By June 1880, the Apaches had effectively dismounted the Ninth Cavalry.”[8]

Watt was able to utilize the army’s records of animal losses to show the devastating effects of the Apache tactics.

“Approximately 271 of the 395 horses lost by the Ninth Cavalry from 1879 to 1880 can be directly or indirectly credited to hostile Apache action…Indeed, of the 42 horses lost in August 1881, 33 were shot dead by Apaches.”[9]

As a result, the campaign against the Apaches was a failure.

“The regiment faced opponents whose principals of war struck consistently at its weakest point: the ability to supply its companies with sufficient horses and mules and to keep those animals alive in the field.”[10]

Admittedly the historical record on animal casualties is meager and more research needs to be conducted. However, we should not think of horses as bystanders who sometimes get killed by chance. The outcome of battles was measured in human casualties. Although horses were participants and their casualties mattered as to the outcome as well, they are not included in that calculus. They were targeted more often than we care to think because they were instruments of war and those instruments had to be destroyed.

 


[1]    Desmond Seward, “The Hundred Years War”, 1978. P. 166.

[2]    J. Edward Chamberlin, “How the Horse Has Shaped Civilization..” 2006. Pp 151-152.

[3]    Chamberlin, P. 152.

[4]    Ann Hyland, “Medieval Warhorse from Byzantium to the Crusades.” 1996. P. 97.

[5]    Hyland, P. 165.

[6]    Hyland, P. 165

[7]    Robert N. Watt, “Horses worn to mere shadows”, The Ninth U.S. Cavalry’s Campaign Against the Apaches in New Mexico Territory, 1879-1881. The New Mexico Historical Review, Spring 2011. P. 197.

[8]    Watt, p. 201.

[9]    Watt, p. 205.

[10]  Watt., p. 218

Posted in Conflict, Medieval Military History, Other military history, World Military History (1500-1700), World Military History (1700-1900) | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

 
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