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Book Review of The Business of War: Military Enterprise and Military Revolution in Early Modern Europe

Posted by William Young on August 31, 2012

David Parrott. The Business of War: Military Enterprise and Military Revolution in Early Modern Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012. ISBN 978-0-521-51483-5. Figures. Maps. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xvii, 429. $80.00.

Originally posted in International History (28 August 2012)

Dr David Parrott, a Fellow and Lecturer at New College, University of Oxford, provides a revisionist study concerning private contractors or military enterprisers and their role in early modern warfare. He is known for articles on the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), the Military Revolution in Early Modern Europe, and his outstanding study Richelieu’s Army: War, Government and Society in France, 1624-1642 (2001).

Early modern historians have traditionally stressed the transition from rulers and warlords relying on military contractors and mercenaries in the fifteenth century to the establishment of state-recruited and state-administered standing armies in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This has been seen as part of the Military Revolution in early modern Europe. Parrott, however, challenges this accepted viewpoint.  He shows through meticulous research that rulers and warlords in western Europe continuously relied on military enterprisers (private contractors that organized and waged warfare) throughout the early modern era.  Military enterprisers played a major role in the recruitment, organization, and deployment of military forces.  Rulers and warlords, however, kept control of the military might to meet their ultimate aims and objectives.

Parrott breaks down this analytical study into two parts.  In the first part, the author examines the foundations and expansion of military enterprise.  He begins by looking at military resources for hire, including the Italian condottieri, Swiss infantry, as well as German Landsknechte and Reiters from 1450 to the end of the Habsburg-Valois Wars (1559).  The author then focuses on military contracting in the galley squadrons of the Mediterranean, the French Wars of Religion (1562-1598), Dutch Revolt (1568-1609), and the Long Turkish War (1593-1606), before concentrating on the Thirty Years War.  This long-lasting conflict, fought by numerous belligerents, over a large geographic area focused mainly on Germany, was the proving ground for the further development of military enterprise.  Parrott discusses the military enterprising of Bernhard von Saxe-Weimar, Albrecht von Wallenstein, and others.  The author clearly shows that there was no single model for the organization of military might.  He proves that there was no inevitable development towards a state-run, state-controlled army during the Thirty Years War.  States, by themselves, lacked the financial resources and organization to create a large army and sustain it in the field.

In the second part of this study, Parrott explores the operations of military contractors at war.  He shows, contrary to what many historians believe, that contracted armies were experienced and effective in the field.  They were the quality forces that were usually the focal point of one’s military capability.  The author goes on to show the importance and effectiveness of private contractors that equipped and supplied armies and navies in the early modern era.  Parrott professes that military enterprisers were usually highly motivated in wartime to receive rewards, including lands, titles, and money.

Parrott stresses the long-lasting influence of the military enterpriser.  The author disagrees with Fritz Redlich’s German Military Enterpriser and His Work Force (1964-65) and stresses the importance military enterprise past the Thirty Years War to the Wars of Louis XIV and beyond.  He calls for historians to examine more closely the role of military enterprisers in future studies.  Parrott believes: “The devolution of military organization and control into the hands of private contractors was hugely more diverse, effective and adaptable as a means to organize and deploy military force than previous historical accounts have indicated.  Far from being a marginal and transient phenomenon in the history of European warfare, it was a lasting and successful set of mechanisms which, in various relations with rulers and their authority, lay at the heart of war-waging for centuries” (p.308).

Dr William Young
University of North Dakota
Grand Forks, North Dakota

Posted in Book Reviews, Early Modern European (1494-1648), Early Modern European (1648-1792), General, Military Revolution | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Book Review of Empire and Military Revolution in Eastern Europe: Russia’s Turkish Wars in the Eighteenth Century

Posted by William Young on July 27, 2012

Brian L. Davies. Empire and Military Revolution in Eastern Europe: Russia’s Turkish Wars in the Eighteenth Century. Continuum Studies in Military History. London and New York: Continuum International, 2011. ISBN 978-1-4411-7004-0. Map. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. ix, 364. $120.00.

In this study, Dr Brian L. Davies, a Professor of History at the University of Texas at San Antonio, examines Russia’s wars and military campaigns against the Ottoman Empire during the eighteenth century.  The author stresses Russian military reforms from Peter I of Russia through the early reign of Catherine II.  Moreover, the author devotes detailed attention to the players involved in Russian foreign affairs, including the Ottoman Turks, Crimean Khanate, Ukrainian Cossacks, Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Sweden, and others.  His previous works include State Power and Community in Early Modern Russia: The Case of Kozlov, 1635-1649 (2004) and Warfare, State and Society on the Black Sea Steppe, 1500-1700 (2007).  He has also recently edited Warfare in Eastern Europe, 1500-1800 (2012).

In 1686, Russia (Muscovy) joined the alliance of the Holy Roman Empire, Poland-Lithuania, Venice, and the Papacy, against the Ottoman Turks.  The War of the Holy League (1683-99) had begun with the Turkish invasion of Austrian Habsburg territories and the siege of Vienna in 1683.  As part of this alliance, Russia launched unsuccessful campaigns against the Crimean Tatars in 1687 and 1689.  After taking control of Russia from his half-sister Sophia, Peter I sought expansion south towards the Black Sea.  As such, Russia came into conflict with the Crimean Tatars and the Ottoman Turks.  His first military campaign to capture the Ottoman fortress of Azov in 1695 failed, but the following campaign, employing ships, captured Azov in 1696, and Russia founded the first Russian naval base at Taganrog.  The first phase of Peter I’s struggle against the Ottoman Turks ended with the Peace of Constantinople (1700).

Davies describes Peter I’s foreign policy, the Russian army, and military events dealing with the Sweden in the Baltic Region and the Ottoman Turks in the south.  In 1700, Peter I allied with Denmark, Saxony, and Poland-Lithuania in an attack on the Swedish Empire, beginning the Great Northern War (1700-1721).  But, Sweden, led by Charles XII, defeated the Danes (1700) and then the Russians at Narva (1700), followed by an invasion of Poland-Lithuania in 1701.  This gave Russia the opportunity to recover from defeat and begin reforming the army.  Therefore, when the Swedish army turned and invaded the Ukraine several years later, the tsar commanded a rebuilt military reformed and trained along western lines.  Peter I defeated Charles XII at the battle of Poltava in 1709, forcing the Swedish king to retreat to the Ottoman Empire.  Subsequently, Sultan Ahmed III declared war against Russia in 1710, leading to Peter I’s disastrous Pruth Campaign.  In this campaign the Russians attempted to invade Moldavia but were surrounded and defeated in the decisive battle of Stanileşti in July 1711.  In the Treaty of Pruth (1711), Peter I was forced to give up Azov and several fortresses, including Taganrog, were to be demolished.

Davies provides a valuable depiction of Russian military operations during the Russo-Turkish War of 1736-1739.  He argues that Field Marshal Burckhard Christoph von Münnich and General Peter Lacy gained valuable experience during each annual military campaign and gradually improved the military effectiveness of the Russian army.  This included finding revenue sources as well as increasing military discipline, logistics, and experimenting with new tactics.  The first campaign, in 1736, resulted in Münnich capturing the Turkish fortifications at Perekop and then occupying the Crimean capital of Bakhchisarai.  But, the lack of supplies and the outbreak of disease forced the Russians to retreat to the Ukraine.  Lacy, however, employed a flotilla to assist his army in capturing the fortress of Azov.  Then, in 1737, Münnich captured the Ottoman fortress of Ochakov while Lacy invaded the Crimea and captured Karasubazar.  The author points out that the Russians once again had to withdraw from the Crimea because of the lack of supplies.  In the meantime, in 1737, Habsburg Austria, allied to Russia, went to war against the Ottoman Turks (the Austro-Turkish War of 1737-1739).  Ottoman forces, however, defeated the Austrians at Banja Luka (1737) and Grocka (1739), and then besieged and captured Belgrade (1739).  In the meantime, Münnich defeated the Turks at Stavuchany and occupied the fortress of Khotin in Moldavia in 1739.  The Turkish defeat of Austria at the battle of Grocka and the capture of Belgrade resulted in the Habsburgs negotiating a separate peace in the Treaty of Belgrade (1739).  The loss of the Austrian alliance, along with the threat of a Swedish invasion in the north, forced Russia to agree to end the conflict in the Peace of Niš.  Russia had to give up its claims to the Crimea and Moldavia.

In the next few decades Russia became the strongest power in southeastern Europe.  The Russian Empire expanded through the employment of military power.  Russian military power as the author shows had been strengthened by an improved military administration, tighter central control over military finances, and an improved logistical system.  The Austrian Empire was weakened by the expense of the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748) and Seven Years War (1756-1763).  The Ottoman Empire was destabilized by widespread revolts and the Persian threat.  War between Catherine II’s Russia and the Ottomans (the Russo-Turkish War of 1668-1774) broke out after several border clashes.  In 1769, the Russian army, commanded by Field Marshal A.M. Golitsyn, invaded Moldavia and captured the fortress at Khotin and the capital of Iasi (Jassy).  Then, as Davies stresses, the Russian army, under the command of Peter Aleksandrovich Rumiantsev, won a “series of victories over much larger Ottoman and Tatar forces, victories more decisive and lopsided than had ever occurred before” (p.267).  The Russians marched south and occupied the Wallachian capital of Bucharest.  The Russians defeated the Turks at Larga, captured the fortress at Bender, won a victory at Kagul, and routed the Turks at Kartala.  Meanwhile, in 1770, the Russian Baltic Sea fleet sailed from northern Europe to the Aegean Sea and defeated an Ottoman fleet at Chesme off the coast of Asia Minor.  Next, in 1771, the Russian army under V.M. Dolgorukov invaded, captured, and held the Crimean Peninsula, including the capital Bakhchisari.  This campaign ended the threat of the Crimean Khanate to Russia’s southern frontier that had existed for 260 years (p.271).  Meanwhile, Rumiantsev captured the Ottoman fortresses in the eastern Danubian Region.

At this point, in 1772, Sultan Mustapha III of the Ottoman Empire opened up peace talks with Russia.  The Turks stretched out the peace negotiations with Russia.  The Sublime Porte realized that Austria, Prussia, and Britain feared Russian territorial expansion and the disruption of the European balance of power.  Austria was concerned about the growth of Russian power in Moldavia and Wallachia and the threat to the Austrian sphere of influence in the region.  In fact, in 1771, Emperor Joseph II of Austria had deployed troops to Hungary to restrain Russia in Moldavia and Wallachia.  He even began to negotiate an Austro-Turkish alliance against Russia.  An Austro-Russian war was avoided by Catherine II agreeing to Frederick II of Prussia’s proposal for the First Partition of Poland (1772) to satisfy Austrian and Prussian demands for territorial expansion as compensation for Russian territorial aggrandizement.  Then, to force the Sultan to come to terms, Catherine II sent Rumiantsev’s army across the Danube River into Silistria in 1773-1774.  Major General Aleksandr Suvorov defeated the Turks at Turtukai in 1773 and Kozluji in 1774.  As a result, the Sublime Porte agreed to the Peace of Kuchuk-Kainarji in Bulgaria.  In this settlement, Russia agreed to withdraw from Moldavia and Wallachia.  However, Russia gained some territory in the southern Ukraine, northern Caucasus, and the Crimea.  Russia regained Azov and the seaports of Kerch and Enikale, thus allowing Russian merchant and naval ships access to the Black Sea and the ability to pass through the Turkish Straits into the Mediterranean.  Moreover, the Crimea became a Russian protectorate, and would be annexed by Russia in 1783.

Davies asks was there a Russian military revolution during the eighteenth century that led to Russia’s success against the Ottoman Empire in the Russo-Turkish War of 1768-1774?  The author points out that most historians believe that the new tactical and strategic thinking displayed by Rumiantsev, Potemkin, and Suvorov during the conflict marked a radical change from the military doctrine of the Seven Years War.  But Davies thinks that the so-called Russian military revolution in tactics and strategy has been overstated (p.279).  Russia did adopt recent innovations in military technique from the West.  Even so, another reason for the overwhelming Russian military victory is the relative decline of Ottoman military power in the late eighteenth century.  Davies also considers as important “the long-term accumulation of strategic advantage from Russia’s more flexible taxation and military finance practices and her more aggressive and opportunistic exploitation of the weakness of frontier politics.  [T]he end of the war did mark a geopolitical ‘revolution’ in the sense that it reversed power relations in Pontic and Danubian Europe” (p.283).

Davies provides a detailed study of Russian mobilization of military resources for expansion to the southern steppe frontier and how Russian army rolled back the power of competitors, such as the independent Cossack hosts, Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Crimean Khanate, Ottoman Empire, and others in the region.  Russian military operations grew in size and success against the Ottoman Empire in the eighteenth century.  This reader is looking forward to a promised subsequent volume that will discuss Catherine II’s later wars against the Ottoman Turks.  The present study is recommended to those students and scholars interested in the military history of East Europe.

Dr William Young
University of North Dakota
Grand Forks, North Dakota

Posted in Book Reviews, Early Modern European (1648-1792), Military Revolution, World Military History (1700-1900) | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Book Review of The Dutch Army and the Military Revolutions, 1588-1688

Posted by William Young on May 20, 2012

Olaf van Nimwegen. The Dutch Army and the Military Revolutions, 1588-1688. Translated by Andrew May. Warfare in History series. Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2010. ISBN 978-1-84383-575-2. Illustrations. Maps. Appendices. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xx, 577. $130.00.

Dr Olaf van Nimwegen, an Affiliated Researcher in International and Political History at the Research Institute for History and Culture at the University of Utrecht, is quickly making a name for himself in Dutch military history in the early modern era.  He is the author of De Republiek der Verenigde Nederlanden als grote mogendheid [The Republic of the United Netherlands as a Great Power] (2004) which examines the role of the Dutch Republic in the European states system from 1713 to 1756.  Now he gives us an important study of the Dutch army from the late sixteenth to the late seventeenth centuries.  This work on the Dutch army was originally published in the Dutch language as “Deser landen crijchsvolck”: Het Staatse leger en de militaire revoluties 1588-1688 in 2006.

In this study Nimwegen argues that the Dutch army is paramount to all discussions on the so-called Military Revolution concerning tactical, strategic, and organizational changes during Early Modern Europe.  His work examines the changes in tactics and organization of the Dutch army over a century.  The author stresses that the Dutch army underwent two military revolutions from 1588 to 1688.  As such, he breaks up his work into two parts that contain both chronological and thematic discussions.

The first part looks at the Dutch military during its struggle for independence from Spain in the late sixteenth century to the end of the Eighty Years’ War (1568-1648).  Nimwegen examines the organization of the Dutch army, the revolution in infantry tactics (the development of an orderly volley fire with firearms), field operations (including logistics and siege warfare), and military operations against Spain in the Low Countries.  The author depicts how the Dutch army transformed from an unreliable band of mercenaries into a disciplined military that held its own against the power of Spain.  Under the leadership of Maurits of Nassau and his cousin Willem Lodewijk, a tactical revolution, concerning the use of volley fire, was achieved that had a profound impact on battle.  But, the author points out the mutual distrust between the government and the Dutch army over military finances, which greatly hampered the recruitment, payment, and provisioning of troops. The lack of trust contributed to the inadequate organization structure of the Dutch army, the small size of the army, and the limited deployment of military forces.  Troop concentrations rarely reached a maximum of 25,000 to 30,000 men within the Dutch borders (p.294).  The Dutch Republic continued to rely on mercenaries and military entrepreneurs throughout the Eighty Years’ War.

In the second part of this study, Nimwegen addresses the Dutch army from the Peace of Westphalia (1648) to the outbreak of conflict with France in the Nine Years’ War (1688-97).  He notes that in the 1660s France underwent developments that led to a revolution in military organization, resulting in a massive expansion of the French army and its military potential.  Louis XIV’s France was the leading military power in Europe.  This military might was used against coalitions in the Wars of Louis XIV (1667-1713).  In the first conflict, the War of Devolution (1667-68), France quickly conquered most of the Spanish Netherlands.  In the second conflict, the Dutch War (1672-78), Louis XIV led the French army that invaded and promptly occupied half of the Dutch Republic.  The French threat and invasion led to the Dutch Republic making numerous changes.  Nimwegen shows that the Dutch army had to undergo its own organizational revolution to defend itself against the military might of France.  He writes: “It was not until the ‘struggle for survival’ (Existenzkampf), in which the Republic became entangled because of the French invasion in 1672, that a climate was created which made far-reaching structural reforms in the Dutch army possible.  At an astonishing speed the Republic’s land forces were then transformed from an army of mercenaries into a standing army of professional soldiers” (p.518).  The Dutch government, with the Province of Holland taking the lead, provided the financial resources to recruit, equip, pay, and feed a large-scale, professional standing army under the command of Prince William III of Orange.  This army adopted French innovations, including the establishment and use of supply magazines, advanced techniques in siege warfare, and the employment of modern military arms and equipment, resulting in an “organizational revolution” in the conduct of war.  The Dutch army, along with other coalition operations against Louis XIV, forced France to withdraw from the United Provinces in 1673.  The Dutch Republic kept and improved its standing army after the conflict because it could not afford to fight another lengthy war against Louis XIV without being prepared.

Nimwegen’s study is the first major work on the Dutch army during the Military Revolution of Early Modern Europe in the English language.  It is based largely on primary sources from various archives throughout the Netherlands.  The work is well-written and will be the definitive study on the Dutch army during this period for a long time to come.  This study is highly recommended for individuals interested in the Eighty Years’ War, Dutch War, and the military history of Early Modern Europe.

Dr William Young
University of North Dakota
Grand Forks, North Dakota

Posted in Book Reviews, Early Modern European (1494-1648), Early Modern European (1648-1792), General, Military Revolution | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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