We thought we’d launch the new week with a new feature, calling attention a stack of new books — some, just new to the Unconventional Warfare Reference Library but others new on the market. These are not reviews per se as some of these books are lined up to be read, and others are in process. (It’s not unusual for two dozen books to be ongoing at a time). As befits our interests, some books dwell on weapons and others dwell on unconventional, guerilla, or clandestine warfare. We think they’re all good enough to have spent our own money on them, and think if you like this blog you might find something of interest here.
Engineers of Victory by Paul Kennedy
Kennedy, a Yale historian, is an eminent modern historical writer, and he’s tackled a subject near and dear to our hearts: the scientists and engineers that develop war-winning weapons. His subtitle is The Problem Solvers Who Turned the Tide in the Second World War, so as you might expect, focus is on Allied scientists and engineers in the criticial middle and climactic years of World War II. Feats like the rapid design and manufacture of the Grumman F6F, the arduous development of the problem-plagued B-29, and rapid developments in antisubmarine warfare are the stories told here. Small arms don’t much enter into it, as the Allies’ only real feats were of industrial production, but the tank production of the Allies, which buried their opponents quantitatively and qualitatively, does come in for study.
From a review in the New York Times by Presidential hagiographer Michael Beschloss, one of the more controversial assertions by Kennedy is that Allied codebreaking, while beneficial to their cause, was not decisive. This is closely in keeping with a thesis advanced in the next volume.
Intelligence in War by John Keegan
This is a remarkable 2003 book by the late author of several landmark works of mlitary history (The Face of Battle, The Price of Admiralty, The Mask of Command). Keegan tries to address what wartime intelligence is and what is in not, and produces a work suitable for students of history on the one hand, and for producers and consumers of intelligence on the other.
Perhaps the most powerful argument we took away from this book is that Intelligence is seldom decisive in itself. Keegan, too, centers this argument on codebreaking, and one of his key examples is the sad case of Poland, perennial doormat of European conquerors. At the outbreak of World War II, the Poles had accomplished the greatest imaginable intelligence breakthrough: using sheer intellectual effort and mathematical skill, they cracked the “unbreakable” German Enigma cipher machine. As a result, they had remarkably complete and deep knowledge of German dispositions, plans and intentions. It availed them nought; they were still a welterweight in the ring with the Heavyweight Champion of the World, and a perfect understanding of the heavyweight’s boxing style was small succor against his advantage in reach and strength.
We have long observed that every war can be analyzed as a bilateral (or multilateral, in some of your more complex conflicts) laundry list of errors and screwups, and the side with the lesser weighted total of screwups prevails. But what a Marxist historian would call a “correlation of forces” is rather important: strategically, the American Indians were going to lose the wars for the plains, and not much they could have done, and little they might have known, about their white opponents could have brought them victory. In a 20th Century, industrial war, Germany and Japan could not successfully take on the US, let alone the US, USSR, and UK simultaneously; too much hinged on production of trained men and serviceable equipment.
Road of 10,000 Pains by Otto J. Lehrack
This has actually been sitting in the queue since its release in 2010, and we’re just now getting to it. And now that we’re reading it, we regret the delay. Unlike Kennedy and Keegan, or even Beschloss, Lehrack is not a name all history buffs have heard. Whilst Kennedy and Beschloss were punching their tickets at Ivy League institutions, Lehrack was punching his as a Marine, serving two tours in Vietnam. Not surprisingly, the blurb quotes on his book come not from journalists and Ivy League opinion makers, but from fellow Marines, mostly very distinguished ones who fought in the battles at hand. The Marines, more than any American service, love and cherish, and try to learn, from history, theirs and others’, and Lehrack is an exemplar of that movement. He has written on Vietnam and subsequent conflicts, always from the Marine’s point of view, and the book in hand is, for all intents and purposes, an oral history of the epic infantry battle waged across I Corps in Vietnam by the Marines and the nearest thing the enemy had to a large-scale corps d’elite, the 2nd NVA Division.
This book does indeed have plenty about the usage and employment of small arms. One interesting fact is that these Marines were among the Corps units that were issued the XM16E1/M16A1 with very minimal training, and some of them had poor experiences with it. As Lt. Frank Teague remembered (page 12):
About a week before [being sent into enemy territory in search of a lost, cut-off Marine company] we were issued the M16 rifle. It was a nightmare. Mine jammed all the time. Everybody had been trained on the M14, which was like your right arm, and we got this Tinker Toy that didn’t work. I remember thinking that I’m a college grad, and I’m having trouble with this friggin’ thing. Some of my men just don’t get this shit. This thing doesn’t work. So I was off on the Bald Eagle [codeword for a heliborne reaction force -Ed.] with my M16 in a garbage bag to keep the dirt out. My platoon was going to be first in the LZ, and I was afraid it was gonna be hot.
Teague was right about that; his platoon walked into a meatgrinder and he was caught up in the whirlwind of command, and doesn’t appear to have ever fired the troublesome M16. His recollections continue:
The next thing I knew, one shot rang out from across the paddy, and it nailed one of my guys. In my experience of four months, the one thing I knew was that the gooks couldn’t shoot, especially from four hundred meters. I was thinking someone was shooting at us with a sniper scope. And somebody just wiped out a Marine company. There had to be a big-mother unit over there in those trees.
There surely was, and soon Teague’s part in the operation ended when he was wounded recovering one of his own wounded men. He was medevaced, triaged as “expectant,” and given extreme unction by a priest; but it time the docs caught up, and he lived to contribute his tale to this remarkable history (and to receive the Bronze Star for Valor). But Lt. Teague’s contribution in its immediacy and power is a glimpse of what the whole book has in store for a reader.
Even though it is primarily an oral history, Lehrack does reference NVA sources, particularly when assessing the consequences of the months of fighting (to which he attributes the 2nd NVA Division’s failure to reconstitute in time and achieve its mission in the Jan-Feb 1968 Tet Offensive).
Invisible Armies by Max Boot
We shan’t go into depth on this because we’ve just recently covered a Boot appearance promoting the book in the WSJ, and his own five-book GW “must read” list, but this is Boot’s new history of Guerilla Warfare. Boot is a must-read historian and an experienced officer as well.
Anyway, those are a few of the general UW/GW books that have crossed our desk recently. Looking back at this post, it’s rather long on UW and short on hardware-specific books, so we promise more of books about clever devices for maiming people and breaking things, in the next edition of New in the UW Reference Library.