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Sunday, 07 February 2010


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Perhaps Trevor Dupuy is the man you are trying to remember (

Perhaps this may be the book you're looking for; I've lost my copy too!

Dirty Little Secrets Of WWII by James Dunnigan and Albert Nofi


One thing that is sometimes commented on is that historically the “authoritarian” German/Prussian Army encouraged low level initiative to a an extent that the American, British, and French Armies did not. One reason put forward was that being more authoritative German Army, if authority was delegated it could easily be recovered when necessary, but in the more “democratic” armies there was a fear that authority delegated would be a precedent that could not be easily recovered. I think that there is an element of truth in the explanation but it is overstated.

Another problem at least for the American Army was the WW II decision in moving from a very small Regular Army/National Guard to an 8 million man force to make heavy use of rote training methods, useful for speed and consistency but there was a price to be paid when small unit initiative was needed. A mind set that when in place was not broken until the 1970’s. You can see the difference in reading history between earlier wars especially small pre wwii Regular Army actions and WWII.

Those are of course rather large generalizations to which there are many exceptions.

Pre-war, the American army was about as useful as the Boy Scouts - and probably not much bigger!

It is still a joke in the Army to ask ‘what is the difference between the Army and the Boy Scouts”
The answer: “The Boy Scouts have adult leadership.”

Actually the Army in the interwar period put a very large amount of resources into the school system, and did a lot of innovative thinking. The best example was the Artillery, which was not satisfied with the allied systems of controlling artillery fires it learned in WWI. It developed a snew system that was far superior to the previous system and in use in the Western Armies at least until guided munitions are changing the technology. But this was done in the schools professional journals and tested by ad hoc reorganizing of units for a test. In 1939 if you looked at the actual organization it looked ready to refight WWI with the same howitzers (literally), but when money and time to reorganize a major transformation took place. To varing extents this happened across the board.

As has been sugggested, it is probably Col. T.N. Dupuy's book Numbers Prediction and War that you were trying to recall. See

The low quality of our recent military leadership and procurement is excoriated in Ministry of Defeat by C. Booker and R. North

and in many of the articles and comments in previous months (before Climate became the hot topic) on North's EU Referendum blog at and it's Umbrella blog forum

Probably you've been given enough links, but I think you may enjoy this book:

PS: I've got Hasting´s on my reading list. Thanks to you, he's gonna jump the queue.

Brian and 'OR', yes - Dupuy! - that was the name, many thanks. Can I look to you for assistance when I mislay my specs, or the TV 'do-flicker-thingie' which I swear has legs, or the half-finished book I put down somewhere when the 'Memsahib' summoned me for shopping duties? I'd be awfully grateful!

'GD', don't know that book but I might look it up one day.

Hank, it is a constant wonder to me how America transformed itself from passive, un-armed, sleeping giant to the Goliath it became - in just a couple of years. Incredible!

Ortega, I had a quick look at the summary of that book and I am not convinced at first glance. The point that Hastings (and Dupuy) made was the extreme reluctance of our 'citizen soldiers' to actually kill others in relatively cold blood. Of course, there were a minority only too willing and able but they were a minority. I guess that that type of personality is the type who now enlists in the regular army (as I did - oh dear!). I do think you will find Hastings' book intensely interesting.

Thanks, Gentlemen.

As Monty said during the campaign 'the trouble with our British lads is that they are not natural killers'.

There were some useful inter-war theorists in the British Army - Basil Liddell Hart and (particularly) JFC Fuller spring to mind. In Fuller's case his ideas were adopted by the Germans !

Jumping from Roman times to modern times rather passes over all the duffing-up the Germans received in the Thirty Years War, from Louis XIV, from Napoleon - where were their warlike proclivities then? Good God, in the Thirty Years War they needed to be rescued by Swedes!!!!!

P.S. It was the British Army that first mastered all-arms warfare, in WWI. And as for returning to cavalry, our cavalry regiments in WWI were trained to fight as mounted infantry, not as classical cavalry. In other words, you used your horses to get about quickly then fought dismounted, using the infantry rifles with which you were equipped.

Laban, you are quite right concerning Liddell Hart and Fuller but both were to a considerable extent 'outsiders' in the sense that the military establishment did little to encourage their ideas. They were, so to speak, the exceptions that proved the rule of military incompetence by the 'Brass'.

'DM', I hope I didn't suggest that they were always and everywhere successful, I merely pointed out that their geopolitics led to a certain aggressive mental outlook on military affairs not necessarilly shared by others.

Also, in a blog post there isn't the space to dwell on the differences between 'Germany', which for the past 1000 years up to the late 19th century has been a mish-mash of smaller states and principalities, and Brandenburg/Prussia (B/P). The southern and western German states were, so to speak, more 'civilised' over time but not so, I suggest, the north eastern states of 'B/P' which was the main aim of my remarks. The geography of these states is such that there are no natural defences and in European terms 'B/P' was a small player. Their entire history is one of fighting off Russians/Poles/Swedes/French/Austrians (delete according to date!)

The Great Elector Frederick William did a pretty good job during the 17th c. and Frederick the Great repeated the exercise during the 18th c. There-after his immediate successors fell into the trap of worshiping and preserving every single detail of Frederickian military practice and thus in the early 19th c. 'Boney' thrashed them. This only made Scharnhost and his young 'Turks' even more determined to apply their considerable intellects to military matters - and thus was born the Prussian General Staff, later to become the German General Staff. All of them imbued with the notion that the best form of defence, and the Prussians were always fearful of being attacked, was to attack first!

It is true that the British (mostly the newly formed Tank Regiment - considered rather infra dig by the old style cavalry - did feel their way towards a proper use of tanks but, alas, the war ended and despite the best efforts of Liddell Hart and Fuller, they were never pursued - except by Guderian!

The use of cavalry as mounted infantry is older than WWI. The first Dragoon regiments were formed for that purpose back in the 18th c. and 19th c.

Just a thought, but wasn't the British view of armies and their usefulness coloured by the excellence of the Royal Navy? The horrors of the rule of the major-generals (or should that be majors-general?) under the Commonwealth produced a lasting distaste in the UK for both standing armies and their personnel. Kipling's "Tommy" of 1890 is probably an accurate illustration of the general attitude to soldiers pre the Boer and First World wars. The large conscript citizen armies of WW1 and WW2 were unprecedented in British history (unlike those of Germany and France). So, compared to the German army, it's not surprising that the British (and everybody else for that matter) don't come off that well. I think I'm right though that Rommel - not a bad judge of fighting men - thought that the New Zealanders he faced in North Africa were the world's best soldiers (and that included the Afrika Korps!)

It seems to me that since the RN was the prime military resource both for defending the homeland and the trade routes (and the Empire), most of the thought (as well as most of the money) pre-1914 went into naval development. As to "initiative", that could safely be left to the ship's captains (as did Nelson): there was (and is?) little need for an able seaman to practise or be expected to practise any initiative. As to the use of the British Army on the continent pre-Napoleon and the campaigns of Marlborough, wasn't much of the manpower raised in Hanover? Also any initiative in the highly formalised warfare of the 18th century could be left to the commanders who actually fought alongside their men. Sensibly the major British weapon of the Napoleonic War was the real British strength - money. The British financed every country prepared to fight against - or not fight alongside - Napoleon. Napoleon's Continental System (created as a counter to the British naval blockade of Napoleonic Europe) was systematically undermined by British gold and British trade with the continent. In the same way, the mobilised industrial might of the US in WW2 was decisive. It's not necessarily armies or navies that are decisive in war.

Thanks to the restrictions placed on the Germans by Versailles, the traditional training methods were disrupted in the 1920s. It is testimony to the strength of "folk memory", I think, that the traditions of low level initiative and high quality NCOs were revived so quickly with the restoration of conscription in the 1930s. Also, the Germans retained many skilled junior officers in the regular army who were able to rise quickly once the limits were lifted; this is surely a hallmark of their professionalism. (I think the British have quite liked to have a professional navy, but have been much less keen on a professional army). Arguably, this permitted the Germans to continue to fight effectively even when not all was well at the top, which was clearly the case by 1944 if not earlier.

The point about British caution is well made and goes some way to explaining why Churchill was no fan of the Normandy invasion until almost the last minute. He and other British commanders were all too aware that almost any British defeat might mean the end and so feared defeat more than they sought victory.

You're absolutely right, 'Bongers', small volunteer armies were the order of the day in Britain and they were usually spread thinly all over the empire so that large-scale operations were not high on the list of priorities. That is, I suppose, a slight plea in mitigation for the lack of pre-WWI preparation but it hardly stands up in WWII for which there was plenty of warning.

Oddly enough, whilst the navy did, indeed, get most of the money during the 19th c., they too fell into the 'Prussian trap' of idolising a great hero whilst ignoring changes in technology. I know you enjoy a good read, 'Bongers',and I would urge you to try Dreadnought by Robert Massie - if you haven't read it already. One of the best history books I have ever read.

Sorry, 'H', your comment crossed with mine to 'Bongers'. What impresses me about German (Prussian) military history is the way they always return to tried and tested methods. Move with utmost speed; always attack first; if outnumbered, still attack in order to pin the enemy and seek for an open flank upon which you fling your reinforcements; if pushed off a position always counter-attack; never wait for orders, use your initiative ... and so on.

"when not all was well at the top". There's an understatement! I sometimes think Hitler was worth a couple of army groups to us!

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