Tag Archives: military

Book Review: Training for War (1914)

Quick Training for War

This is a small book, almost a pamphlet, was written for men in Britain joining in the Great War. This is by no means a soldier’s manual, but a book for those joining up and something to ease the anxiousness of joining the military. I remember getting a similar book in the 1980s when I joined the Marines. What is really striking about the book is how wrong it could be for World War I. Baden-Powell (of Boy Scout fame) based much of the information from the Boer War. There is still talk of calvary attacks and small protected trenches– C and S trenches. Called “Common Sense” trenches they were named after the shape trenches. Little did Baden-Powell know just how extensive the trench system would become in the war and it had little to do with common sense. There is some good personal advice in the book particularly about hygiene and confidence.

As a historical document, Quick Training for War demonstrates how ill-prepared in scope and scale the nations of Europe were for the war that developed. Wars never go as planned, but World War I proved to be a war that no one’s plans were executed as expected, and that, in itself, created a huge tragedy.

No star rating because it is a historical document.

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Book Review: The Royal Navy Officer’s Pocket-Book, 1944

The Royal Navy Officer's Pocket-Book by Brian Lavery

The Royal Navy Officer’s Pocket-Book, 1944 with introduction, compiled by Brian Lavery is a reprint of the World War II naval officers pocket-book. Lavery is a leading British naval historian he has also published Churchill’s Navy (2006). 

As a former US Marine, I have read the tomes that are the Marine Corps’ non-commissioned officers and officers handbook and guide. Although it has been well over twenty years since I looked at either book, I remember a great deal from them that applied to my time in the Marines and afterwards. As a student of history and formerly serving under the Department of the Navy, I thought this British naval hand-book would be an make a nice comparison to that I have learned. 

After the introduction by Captain J. N. Pelly, the book begins:

Leadership is the one attribute which is common and necessary to all who wear the uniform of an officer in His Majesty’s Forces, whatever their technical qualifications. 

It is followed by Bearing and Example, Knowledge, Firmness and Fairness, Loyalty, and Smartness. This is much of what I expected; what makes a leader a leader and more importantly an effective leader. This first section of the book is a fairly detailed coverage of what it takes to be an effective leader. Know you men, by name. No one likes to be called “Hey, you.” Address your non-commissioned officers by rank and name. It shows respect for what they have earned and your faith in their abilities. Don’t raise men’s hope of leave or liberty, unless you are one hundred percent sure you can deliver on it. Disappointment makes for poor morale. There is several mentions about conduct of the men and more than a few mentions of dealing with drunkenness (but also the importance of maintaining adequate rum rations for the men). 

The book goes on to more ship related matters and spends a great deal of time on the ship’s medical officers. There is a section on correcting courses, converting magnetic compass readings to true compass readings, and correcting for drift. The ship’s medical officer section is disproportionately large, primarily because doctors serving on ships during the war were civilian doctors and not naval trained doctors. They had a major adjustment to make. Doctors are also told that the navy cannot afford x-ray machine and microscopes for all the ships in the navy and doctors must make use of the medical training and not rely only on technology. The final chapter starts with the warning that this book is to remain locked up when not in use then proceeds to cover the subject of mutiny. I saw that as a little odd to find in a modern democratic nations naval hand-book, but it was on the minds of leaders. WWII pulled many men into the navy who would much rather being doing something else than fighting a global war. There was a realistic concern that some would choose to rebel. The solution basically boils down to good leadership. 

It is interesting to see all the changes in the modern military and how much of this hand-book is now obsolete. One thing that never changes though is leadership and being an effective leader. That leadership also plays a role in the civilian world today’s leaders and supervisors could learn much from this short hand-book. Military leadership is not yelling and screaming. It is building a team, setting the example, and motivating people to complete a task. Militaries know this and it has remained effective over the years. This hand-book may be more in more in line for military historians and naval historians, but it has great advice for all leaders. 

No star rating because this is a historic training manual written for a specific purpose and time, but well worth the read. 

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Book Review: Behind the Lines: A Critical Survey of Special Operations in World War II

Behind the Lines: A Critical Survey of Special Operations in World War II by Michael F. Dilley is a study and critique of the beginnings of special forces operations in World War II. Dilley grew up in a navy family spend his youth in various US and Far East bases. He joined the army in 1964 and served as a counterintelligence agent, interrogator and intelligence analyst. Dilley served two tours in Vietnam and is a master parachutist and graduate of jumpmaster school. He is also the author of two other books on the military.

Dilley starts with an introduction to what make a unit a special purpose or special mission unit:

Units that conduct missions not typical of their branch of service
Units that are formed to conduct a particular mission
Units that receive special training
Units that use specialized equipment of standard equipment in a non-standard role
Units that preform scouting, ranging, raiding, or reconnaissance missions
Units that conduct or train indigenous people in guerrilla warfare or unconventional warfare

This definition is helpful in setting a modern definition of special operations. For example, the US Marine Corps fit this definition in the 18th Century. They were created to to perform roles for the navy not usually assigned sailors. Marines filled the role of infantry for the navy. They were sharpshooters on naval vessels (think of snipers firing ship to ship). Marines conducted amphibious raids and reconnaissance for the navy. Lastly, and most famously, they trained and organized local tribes against the Barbary Pirates of Tripoli. Today, however, the Marines are not considers special forces because they are a branch of the military assigned to these tasks as part of their regular duties.

Once Dilley establishes what a special operations unit is, he gives example of historical missions. The examples used cover a wide variety missions and mission types. Airborne, jeep, and amphibious missions are included with various objectives. Not all missions are successful and those that are successful are successful in varying degrees. Dilley evaluates each mission with his own set of parameters:

Adequate intelligence
Poor Coordination
Provision of faulty information to the national leadership
Wishful thinking
Inappropriate intervention in mission execution

There are many excellent stories in Behind the Lines. From the German rescue of Mussolini to jeep attacks against the Germans in North Africa, the stories hold the reader’s interest. Not every story has something to do with attacking the enemy. The Triple Nickle, 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, America’s first black paratrooper unit was trained as smoke jumpers to combat Japanese incendiary balloons in the Pacific Northwest.

Behind the Lines provides the reader with more than history. The stories of the operations are well written and cover a wide variety of mission types. That alone makes this book well worth reading. Dilley goes a step farther and critiques each mission: what went well, what went wrong. There are failures in the best planned actions and sometimes success by accident. The missions are not restricted to American operations but include British, Russian, Japanese and German. Behind the Lines is a very worthwhile read. It is an excellent history and also a very study into planning and results. It should have a wide appeal beyond historians and World War II students.


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Book Review: Book of Camouflage

Book of Camouflage by Tim Newark is a short history of camouflage. Tim Newark was educated in the History of Art at University College in London and the Warburg Institute. His first book Medieval Warfare was published when he was still a student. Newark also served as editor for Military Illustrated from 1994 until 2011. He has written several books on uniforms and camouflage.

Camouflage is a a short book serving as an introduction to camouflage for the general public. Starting with ancient hunters trying to disguise themselves from their prey and the British dyeing white shirts in tea or curry to create a primitive khaki. The book contains some unusual facts like bright colors used to make the camouflage pattern because overhead (aircraft photos) where taken in black and white and color did not matter. Camouflage from practical to the near psychedelic “dazzle camouflage“ used on British ships are shown in the book. Every other page is is illustrated with examples of the previous pages text. There is a long history camouflage and almost an equally long history of the military rejecting it for a variety of mostly irrational reasons. 

Newark provides what would be a unique coffee table book. The art and pictures are a excellent addition to the history. Although very short, only a hundred pages and half that illustrations, it does a excellent job of condensing a long history. One of Newark’s previous books is an eleven book collection on the history of military uniforms. Camouflage is a very good read and takes the reader through the history of something that anyone with an understanding of the military takes for granted today.

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Book Review: Under the Blue Beret: A U.N. Peacekeeper in the Middle East

Under the Blue Beret: A U.N. Peacekeeper in the Middle East by Terry “Stoney” Burke is one soldier’s story of his army career, centered around United Nations peacekeeping missions in Cyprus and the Middle East. Burke joined the army in 1964 and was posted to the Royal Canadian Regiment. He has served in nine United Nations tours and active in the FLQ crisis in 1970. He is also the author of Cold War Soldier; Life on the Front Lines of the Cold War, a memoir of his military career.

For Americans, the first surprise in the book is that the author is Canadian, and yes, Canada has a n active military (with a proud, long tradition). Any veteran will recognize and relate to Burke’s stories. From standing in the hot Cypress sun in a cold weather jacket and being told to keep the jacket as a matter of uniformity to not having the proper weapon for the job at hand. Many readers will wonder how the military can function at all and veterans will chuckle, not at the misfortune or the danger but at the common ground we all shared. 

The books starts with Burke leaving Germany after his first tour, newly married, and ready to settle down with his new family in Canada and he gets orders to Cypress. He returns after six months only to be almost immediately pulled into duty for the only peacetime War Measures Act in Canadian history. His wife and two children spent there first nine months alone in a new country. 

Under the Blue Beret concentrates mostly on the United Nations missions in Cypress and the Middle East. Cypress has been in dispute since 1800s with fighting between the Greeks and the Ottomans (later the Turks). The United Nations set up the “Green Zone” across the length of the country separating the parties. It was a neutral strip that neither side could enter, lined by Greek and Turkish fortifications. The UN took the middle ground and kept the hostile parties separated. Burke tells of his three tours to the Green Zone and the changes that take place over the years. He has the unique privilege of experiencing Cyprus from the rank private through lieutenant. 

The second half of the book concerns the peace keeping in the Middle East. Burke chronicles the day to day activities of an unarmed peacekeepers in the middle of a shooting war. Burke also had the privilege of serving with Lieutenant Colonel Higgins of the United States Marines. Higgins would become a major news story as he was kidnapped and killed by the Lebanese Hezbollah. There are high and very low points in serving in the middle East.

Under the Blue Beret presents a great deal of information and personal experience in from the little heard of world of UN Peacekeeping. Many readers will be surprised by the size of the commitment of the Canadian armed forces to peacekeeping. Burke weaves together interesting experiences combined with military and international bureaucracy. Under the Blue Beret is a very good read for any one interest in general military service and peacekeeping history and the roles of peacekeepers.

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Book Review: Backbone: History, Traditions, and Leadership Lessons of Marine Corps NCOs

“We sleep safely in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.” – George Orwell (attributed)

Backbone: History, Traditions, and Leadership Lessons of Marine Corps NCOs by Julia Dye is a history lesson of Marine Corps leadership shown by the actions of its Non Commissioned Officers. Dye earned a PhD in Hopology, the anthropology of human conflict. She is a partner in the consulting firm of Warriors, Inc and has worked as a weapons master in and trainer for the movie Alexander. She also oversaw historical accuracy in the HBO series The Pacific

“In the Navy, Sailors wear rating badges that identify their jobs. A Soldier wears branch of service insignia on his collar, with a metal shoulder pins and cloth sleeve patches to identify his unit. Marines, on the other hand, wear only the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor their ribbons, and their marksmanship badges. Just by looking at the uniform you cannot tell what they do each day, nor the unit which they belong. A Marine may drive and AmTrac, program computers, or fly helicopters. The tasks are unimportant. What is important is that the Marine is a Marine.” (page 8)

Marines are different; we are trained to be that way. The Marines have the lowest ratio of officers to enlisted men of the American services. The additional leadership comes from the Non Commissioned Officers (NCOs), the backbone of the Marine Corps: Corporals and the various ranks of sergeants. Attaining the rank of Corporal a Marine is in a leadership position; it actually means something. There is no need for a piece of felt under your rank insignia to show that you are in a leadership position. Dye uses the 14 Leadership Traits to designate each chapter of the book. Marines learn these traits in boot camp. Why does a Marine in boot camp need to learn about leadership he is the lowest ranking member of the Marines? Even as a private, a Marine may find himself in a leadership position by default; Marine Corps history is filled with examples. Being prepared for it is a very good thing. 

Dye delivers a history of excellence. The forward opens with the Marine NCO Creed. Marines portrayed in the book are all real from Dan Daley the Marines that boarded Magellan Star rescuing the ship and crew from Somali pirates. Some of the Marines I recall from Marine Corps history like Dan Daly and Leland Diamond. Some are civilians and and relate how being a Marine helped them, such as Terry Anderson. Terry Anderson was captured by Hezbollah and held hostage for more than six years in Lebanon in the 1980s. He explains how the Marine training helped him survive and gain leverage on his captors. Many of the stories, however, are from combat experiences. 

Marines portrayed in Backbone are far from perfect some went up and down the ranks. Some were offered commissions they all refused except for one. Many left the Marine Corps and went into the business world. Dye shows how the traits that made successful Marines translates to success in the business world. Overall the book is about leadership. Leadership works the same in the military as it does in the civilian world. The difference is that in the Marine Corps, poor leaders do not last. 

I when I first saw this book I knew I wanted to read it. I served in the Marines in the 1980s and earned the rank of Corporal (twice), so my opinion might be a bit biased, but remember Marines have integrity. In the acknowledgments I saw her note to her husband Captain Dale Dye, USMC, Retired. My first thought was “Oh, a book on NCOs by an officer’s wife, too bad.” I was completely wrong in my initial thoughts. Julia Dye does an outstanding job with Backbone and does an excellent job of not only capturing the history, but also the spirit of the Marine Corps and Non Commissioned Officers. She offers an more than adequate bibliography of cited works and interviews. I was so impressed with the book that I shared several quotes with friends including Marines I served with. I highly recommend this book to Marines and everyone else. Semper Fi


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