The Foundation Book Club

Annual RLC Foundation Review

The annual RLC Foundation Review is now open to accept article submissions for the 2024 publication.  The Review offers prospective authors the opportunity to publish an article under one of four broad categories of Professional/Personal Development, Historical, Operations and Training or General Interest.  The opportunity also exists to win one or more generous cash prizes from across a number of entry categories. Submissions should be cleared for publication by the author's parent unit and submitted to the RLC Foundation NLT 15 Sep 2023.  The Foundation has published a guide for submissions which details the article requirements and also offers advice on article structure, copyright infringement, referencing and where to get further support.  The RLC Foundation Review Submission Guide can be found below.

Current and Previous RLC Foundation Review Magazines

The Foundation Book Club

Air Marshall, Sir Arthur Tedder, Eisenhower’s deputy commander in the North West European campaign of 1944-45, advocated that military professionals should embark on a programme of self-education, focusing primarily on the early phases of past conflicts. Recognising that reading is not a passive undertaking, it is one that can be conducted successfully in every environment, normally at a pace dictated by the reader whose rewards can come in unanticipated ways and often at unexpected times.  What is sometimes challenging, is finding the time and space to corral a reading list that offers the opportunity to gain insightful lessons which can only otherwise be experienced by participation.  A logistician needs to read widely and sometimes in depth.  Such an eclectic library can be challenging (and expensive) to identify and access.

The Foundation Book Club has a number of objectives to aid with professional self-education.  Firstly, the Club offers reviews which provide a synopsis of what the Chairman believes offers pertinent and interesting reading from the latest publications to significant out-of-print volumes.  The selected themes are deliberately broad, from historical analysis to international relations and potentially some cutting-edge technical innovations.  Secondly, whilst the Club encourages reading from across a wide spectrum of topics, its main intent is to foster broader professional understanding and communication by seeking volunteer reviewers who have specialist knowledge from which they believe a wide Foundation audience would benefit.  There are no rank restrictions to participate and proposals should be sent to Lt Col (Retd) Alan Woods who will maintain an active reviewers list.  I would encourage you to volunteer your services, the book(s)/journals can be provided gratis and the reviews themselves are relatively short.  The final objective of the Club is to gather a repository of reviews which can be utilised to assemble an authoritative MGL Reading List.  This list will be administered by the Foundation on behalf of the Corps and routinely issued to all ranks.

Review by Colonel (Ret'd) Neil Llewellyn

Modern Warfare: Lessons from Ukraine, A Lowry Institute Paper

Lawrence Freedman, Penguin Random House, Sydney, 2023.

Although the war in Ukraine has moved on since Freedman wrote his Lowry Institute Paper (August 2023), there is still much to learn and analyse in what is a well-structured observation of the war.  From the outset, Freedman rightly highlights that the war started in March 2014 and not February 2022. Whilst he recognises the scale of the human tragedy that has unfolded (and continues to unfold), he also identifies that the conflict presents a learning opportunity for decision makers and military forces.  The thread of his examination hinges on the proposition that both sides have engaged in armed conflict using distinct approaches to war.  Russia, building on its experiences in Chechnya, Georgia and Syria, has adopted a ‘total war’ methodology, where military resources are directed at winning battles whilst concurrently targeting civil society through various lines of development.  By contrast, Ukraine has implemented a ‘classical’ approach to the war, which is largely restricted to fighting and winning battles.  These two diametrically opposed theories have resulted in some stark contrasts in the character of what seems like a war that still has some course yet to run.

This is not a cold examination of a contemporary war by one of Britain’s eminent strategists, Freedman makes it clear from the outset that he believes that Russia (Putin) is the aggressor and has, and continues to, behave criminally.  That is not to say that Russia will not win, whatever winning looks like.  He is keen to point out that, thus far, little has gone right for the Kremlin planners and even if they achieved some sort of neutralisation of Kyiv a follow-on insurgency could well emerge.  Like western forces who recently defeated weaker opponents in the early stages of interventions in wars of choice, ultimate victory proved elusive when contending with insurgencies.  Something that Russia has experienced.

Freedman leads the reader through the strategic choices of the belligerents, examining actions that align to total war theory and the weaknesses that are inherent in military force.  Ends, ways and means come to the fore and as this review is written, it seems that much hangs in the balance for Ukraine as the US and other NATO members commit further national defence spending to the war.  Many readers will also find Freedman’s observations on the potential limitations and use of nuclear weapons thought provoking, and his point of view on this aspect of total war is likely to form the basis of syndicate discussions at staff colleges for some time.  From drone technology to cyber-attacks, the war offers some insights into how future conflicts between two modern armed forces may be conducted, but what seems to be playing out on the ground is that whilst we must remain conscious of credible logistics, emerging technology and strategic partnerships, ‘mass’ remains a vital and constant metric in war.  Both belligerents have experienced fatigue in mobilising and training their available human resources, but one must wonder whether the dictator in the Kremlin will be allowed to keep committing flesh to a conflict that, even in Moscow, is now recognised as escalating from a ‘special military operation’ to a ‘war.’  Time will tell, but ‘total war’ theory may initially triumph, only to be defeated by a persistent insurgency supported by the west.

At a 168 pages, Modern Warfare is likely to become directed reading for those attending formal training courses.  Whilst not easy to source, this Lowry Institute Paper provides some clear insights into the character of the war in Ukraine.

Review by Andy Cox RLC, Army Headquarters

Desert Armour: Tank Warfare in North Africa, Beda Fomm to Operation CRUSADER, 1940-1941

Desert Armour: Tank Warfare in North Africa, Gazala to Tunisia, 1942-1943

Robert Forczyk, Oxford: Osprey, 2023

Much ink has been spilled over the North African Campaign (1940-1943) and so anyone writing on the subject will have their work cut out to produce a new and unique contribution. Fortunately, Robert Forczyk has achieved this in his two-volume work. Forczyk has set out to create an analytical account of the operational and tactical levels of the North African campaign with a focus on aspects of armoured warfare. This by itself would not be particularly unusual in the historiography of the campaign, but what he has delivered is much deeper, with the text frequently deep-diving into leadership behaviours, technology, and logistics.  Forczyk is keen throughout to show not only the importance of the conduct of the campaign’s Generals, but also how the performance of junior commanders shaped the outcome of events when the Generals were unable, or unwilling, to do so.

Unusually for such studies, logistics gets significant attention and is signposted as a key arbiter of success in the campaign.  There are many illustrations of how mechanised forces on both sides rapidly exploited success when adequately supported, or rapidly culminated when their logistical tails were too stretched. There are also several stark illustrations of the effects of combat formations on logistic troops when battle lines become more fluid. A logistician comes away from reading these books thinking not only of how they could successfully supply such a rapid, long-ranged battle; but how they could destroy their own assets quickly enough to stop them from falling into enemy hands if necessary.

Forczyk looks at the campaign and its belligerents with a critical eye and passes his acidic judgements objectively. Even the performance of Italian forces, which is much maligned in other works, is given the same harsh but fair treatment as the British and Germans. A refreshing approach in a campaign that is beset with national bias and mythology. Both volumes are demonstrably well researched and referenced but are laid out more like battle guides than an academic text with a great deal of space given over to photographs, illustrations, and maps. This results in an academically credible work which engages the reader on multiple levels. The fact that Forczyk is an ex-armour commander comes out throughout the text for both good and ill, as he delivers useful technical insights with one hand and throws damning indictments about the conduct of tank crews with the other; usually based on a single photograph without any context.

Overall, these books come highly recommended.  They are especially useful to those who wish to understand armoured warfare in austere environments, the variables of command and control in a fluid battlespace and the vagaries of mission command principles. The logistician would especially benefit from studying the price of failing to plan and anticipate; for not only the catastrophic success we are accustomed to assume, but also the possibility of catastrophic failure.

Review by Colonel (Ret'd) Neil Llewellyn

Battleground: Ten Conflicts that Explain the New Middle East

Christopher Phillips, Yale University Press, 2024.

Readers who’ve enjoyed Tim Marshall’s geopolitical guides (Prisoners of Geography, The Power of Geography, Divided and The Future of Geography) will, no doubt, also welcome Christopher Phillips’ study of one of the most complex regions on the planet.  For those embarking on any course or self-study in conflict studies, Battleground provides a broad introduction to a region that can quickly overawe those wishing to gain knowledge of the use and abuse of hard power.  Focussed on the last 15 years, ten locations are chosen to examine a broad range of conflict case studies, involving state and non-state actors.  Each study is covered in twenty or so pages – including the start of the war in Gaza.  No prior reader knowledge is assumed, as Phillips skilfully engages his audience by distilling some of the complex issues that persist in the region.    Many readers are likely to reach the conclusion that the Middle East will remain unstable for some considerable time, as much of the region remains stubbornly ambivalent to the western dominated rules based international system.   A valuable publication for dipping into or reading from cover-to-cover.

Review by Colonel (Ret'd) Neil Llewellyn

The Achillies Trap: Saddam Hussein, the US and the Middle-East, 1979-2003

Steve Coll, Allen Lane, Penguin Press, 2024

An interesting study of four US presidents (Reagan, Bush (HW), Clinton and Bush (GW)) and their flawed policies in what is recognised as one of the most complex and challenging regions of the world.  With the benefit of hindsight, Coll examines the motives, intelligence gathering, and decisions made by the Whitehouse and unwittingly shines some light on the likely decision process in Biden’s administration today.   It’s uncomfortable to think that Saddam’s governance was so chaotic that even when the WMD inspection regime was a success, a lack of central Iraqi government record-keeping undermined the West’s belief in the WMD programmes’ demise.  Readers should not be surprised at this so-called lack of definitive evidence – as the Covid-19 Enquiry has shown, there are still significant ‘gaps’ in the UK Government’s contemporary record, despite comprehensive digital recording mediums.  In Iraq however, this lack of credible proof added to the Bush/Blair claim that Saddam posed an immediate existential threat to the West – with disastrous consequences.  Coll’s work adds another layer to our understanding of the aftermath of the 2003 invasion (liberation!) of Iraq and underlines how difficult any future involvement by the West in the region is likely to be.

Reviews by Colonel (Ret'd) Neil Llewellyn

RLC Foundation - Autumn Book Club 2023

This season’s Foundation Book Club focuses on the complex theme that has the potential to influence every global political and business decision; the climate emergency and its relationship with global trade and security.  Selected publications, supporting articles and media have been carefully chosen to explain not only how the environment is changing, but why the debate has taken so long to convince government decision makers and business leaders to take action.  The dichotomy of taking bold mitigation steps, by attempting to reduce fossil fuel emissions, have abutted the increased competition for critical commodities and the dangers are exposed through a number of compelling narratives.  An overview of some of the climate naysayers and deep dives into the oil and mineral industries throw up some intriguing endemic dilemmas for those working in supply chains.  The implications for defence, security and business are profound, perhaps explaining why the UK’s Integrated Review stresses the competitive global environment in which Britain is compelled to compete and operate.  Finally, for some variety, a recently published book on the citizen soldiers of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight is reviewed.  This publication not only offers some context to the vital role that Army reserves, in their various guises, have played in Britain’s emergencies, but how reliant the country has been and is likely to remain so in the nation’s ability to generate credible trained mass. Books reviewed are:

  • The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert
  • A Message from Martha by Mark Avery
  • Oil and War: How the Deadly Struggle for Fuel in WWII Meant Victory or Defeat by Garalski and Freeburg
  • Profits and Power: Navigating the Politics and Geopolitics of Oil by David Detomasi
  • Material World: A Substantial Story of Our Past and Future by Ed Conway
  • Why the World Still Needs Trade; The Case for Reimaging - Not Abandoning - Globalization by Okinjo-Iweala
  • Rose, Castle and Crown: Hampshire and the Isle of Wight's Citizen Soldiers by Patrick Crowley

Review by Colonel (Ret'd) Neil Llewellyn

It's all a matter of perspective - History for a New Audience

Pick up any UK national newspaper and you might be forgiven for thinking that Britain is in unprecedented dire straits.  Unprecedented is fast becoming an overused word in our national vocabulary but considering the myriad of challenges that the country faces, one could be convinced that the modern era is different, dangerous and unlikely to be temporal.  A brief synopsis of the state of the UK’s affairs and the immediate challenges adds some weight to the negative reports in our endless news cycles.

Who would have thought that during 2023-25 Germany would plan to commit spending more on its defence than Global Britain?  It seems plausible that over the next three years Germany will double its defence spending to circa €100Bn, overtaking Britain as Europe’s biggest NATO defence spender for the first time since the 1950s (Grylls, The Times, 17 May 2023, p.4).  Whether Germany actually reaches or surpasses its defence spending goal of 2% of GDP (€75Bn), remains to be seen, but for the first time it does have a national security strategy underpinning its new-found defence ambitions (Stelzenmüller, Financial Times, 17/18 June 2023, p.11).  Just to maintain defence spending at 2.5% of GDP, Britain will need to raise taxes by £42Bn, a rise of £11Bn over the next five years (£9Bn of which is earmarked for Trident).  This is a big call for a country challenged economically, with the IMF forecasting that UK GDP will fall by 0.3% in 2023, the lowest figure in the G7 (House of Commons Library, 19 May 2023).  Alarmingly, these are not the only stagnation challenges facing Britain.  Stubbornly high inflation with public confidence in the Bank of England’s ability to control the interest rate reported to be at its lowest level in twenty years (Giles, Financial Times, 17/18 June 2023, p.2) combined with lagging wages, high energy prices and a taut labour market, all exacerbate what is generally referred to as a national cost-of-living crisis.

Let’s face it, when push-comes-to-shove, it’s not about politics, culture, security, religion or issues over equality.  James Carville was right when he said, ‘It’s the economy stupid.’  Every facet of British society seems to be under pressure because of Government fiscal policies geared to an unstable global economy.  It’s argued that this is why underfunding in Britain’s NHS and transport services are being constantly debated.  No growth in national output has been recorded since July 2022 which is now no higher than in October 2019 (Giles and Strauss, Financial Times, 17/18 June 2023, p.9).  In fact, national productivity is at its lowest level in a decade (outside of COVID) and Government investment, even for green initiatives, look insignificant in relation to the future global climate trials we face.  When budgets are overly tight, concerns such as migrant numbers, may warrant extraordinary attention but they also consume valuable governance time and space.  The simplistic cry for ‘Stop the Boats,’ devours valuable national air space, with the current PM stating that net legal migration of 606,000 people is too much, despite the fact that certain UK labour sectors are undersubscribed.  In a period of economic uncertainty, wider security initiatives, especially those abroad, could be viewed as luxuries when considered against closer-to-home challenges.  Take the recent Government defence commitment package to Japan, part of the UK’s ‘tilt’ to the Indo-Pacific.  This is planned to include what the PM describes as a carrier strike group, tasked to patrol in 2025 to, “help defend peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific,” (Defence News Online, 18 May 2023).  Even the wording may seem strange to some; to defend peace, rather than sustain it.  It could be argued that such rhetoric acknowledges that peace is under imminent threat – presumably from China, who may see itself threatened regionally by what it believes is a Western-led encirclement in the Indo-Pacific region.  Again, the fragile state of the global economy affects China’s authoritarian view of the world.  Challenged to maintain the magical annual 8% growth in GDP, on its current trajectory China will not close the race with the US if its productivity remains low and is undermined further by a decline of circa 25% of the working age population within the next 25 years.  Given the fragile global economy, economists are predicting that even the Chinese Government’s target of 5% economic growth could be optimistic (Leahy, Hale and Lin, Financial Times, 17/18 June 2023, p.6).  If this is the case, then the Belt and Road Initiative is likely to stall, with potentially negative effects on Chinese development plans.

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Review by Colonel (Ret'd) Neil Llewellyn

The Future of Geography; How Power and Politics in Space Will Change Our World

Tim Marshall, London, Elliot and Thompson Ltd, 2023

The UK Integrated Review (IR) 2021, Global Britain in a Competitive Age (Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy), formally recognised space as an environmental domain.  To be frank, space has always been out there, but thankfully less than two years ago HMG officially recognised it!  Now that it is captured in the IR, we can all officially start worrying about it as the scramble for space begins.  King’s College London regard this new recognition and assessment of space as vital, because the, “ increasing reliance on space assets has developed into a critical infrastructure in need of adequate defence and a strategy that befits the mercurial environment of UK space power today.  The inclusion of space in the [IR] indicates a significant and growing commitment to include space as a critical operational domain.” (Julia Balm, King’s College, online Oct 2021).  Alarm bells ringing yet? Well, the words reliance, critical infrastructure, need for defence, space power and operational domain should at least draw some attention.  To help categorise what we in the UK are likely talking about here is near space, where access to deploying communication systems can be guaranteed rather than placing a PJHQ forward team of J3 wallers on mars.  Only nations with deep pockets are in the game of deep space exploration and potential exploitation.

It is unlikely that the release of Marshall’s latest book is just a happy coincidence with the 2021 IR.  Arguably the UK’s most popular writer of geopolitics – certainly one of the most successful this side of the pond, he has identified that there is a need for explaining why space could literally change how the world functions and the implications for all of us left stuck on terrafirma.  Having sold over a million copies of his Prisoners of Geography (previously reviewed in the RLC Foundation Book Club and included in MGL’s Professional Reading List), members should not be surprised that this is another thought-provoking, if somewhat alarming read.

Uncharacteristically, Marshall makes a mistake in the first line of his introduction when he posits that, “We explored the world and discovered that it is finite.”  In fact, a number of authorities insist that circa 80% of the ocean remains unexplored or even charted.  So, why the rush to include space as an operational domain when potentially we have so much more to do on earth?  Simply put, Marshall convincingly explains that nation states believe that they need it, or at least a fair share of it, and so we find ourselves in a highly competitive and expensive race.  As with all of his books, what Marshall does well is to provide an easy route into what, at first, seems an impenetrable subject.  The good news is that you don’t have to be Stephen Hawking to absorb and understand Marshall’s 238-page analysis and explanation of the challenges.  He argues that space can now be considered as an extension of our terrestrial geography, and like our earth-bound global commons (sea, air, Antarctica etc), the space domain can be exploited by those who have the will and resources to develop the technologies to allow them to dominate – in fact, he argues that some are already doing it.

What Marshall outlines makes eminent sense.  With the threat of a Sixth Extinction event, why wouldn’t the human race seek new resources, new worlds, even new beginnings? The hope is that by recognising all of our mistakes, we might make a better go if we can access and share some of the potential offered by space.  Marshall argues that the problem is not so much the challenges of accessing space (although there is no underestimating the technological difficulties, risks and rewards), but the nature of human competitiveness in space, based currently on three nation states (China, Russia and the US).  In the scramble to secure some of the riches found in the space domain, some states could undermine the advantages for the rest of us.  As Marshall states, “The rest of the nations know they can’t compete with the Big Three, but they still want to have a say in what goes up and what comes down.”  Without some genuine cooperation, it is hard to imagine how the human race can optimise space at an optimal cost for all of humanity.  Marshall’s The Future of Geography might not make the cut for MGL’s reissued 2023 Professional Reading List, but if you’re interested in the future of the human species, or Homo Spacians as Marshall calls us, it’s certainly worth a read.

Balm, Julia, ‘A Meaningful Space’ in the Integrated Review, King’s College London, 11 Oct 2021, Online, A 'Meaningful Space' in the Integrated Review | Feature from King's College London ( [Accessed 7 May 2023].

Review by Colonel (Ret'd) Neil Llewellyn

Flow: How the best supply chains survive

Rob Handfield and Tom Linton, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 2022

For those currently studying supply chain management or attempting to practice it, these must be testing times. In the narrow sphere of defence logistics, a gaping paradox has emerged. The current general analysis is focused on resilience, stockpiles, industry latency and ramp-up options. Just over a year ago, defence industries closely mirrored commercial models; just-in-time, farshoreing/offshoreing, velocity optimization and stockpiling for contingency was seem as sub-optimal, an economic anathema and/or completely wasteful (to customers and shareholders). How the supply chain world has changed. Whilst commercial customers have learnt that you can’t have everything you want when you want it all the time, satisfying military dependencies when in a desperate contact battle is a little different.

Flow offers a fresh look at maintaining supply chains, albeit much of what Handfield and Linton covers is not new. The authors advocate shifting the balance of supply chains utilising nearshoreing/onshoreing, establishing predictive logistics based on potential and actual development of world events and monopolizing on the data flow for decision making. The good news for British military logisticians is that the first two phenomena, onshoreing and forecasting, have been staple ingredients in defence contingency planning and their resulting inventories since the New Model Army. That’s not to say that Defence has been allowed to adhere to them. The most interesting section of Flow is the case studies that the authors analyse where there are some valuable sustainment insights for military decision makers. For those involved in articulating and contracting for industry ramp-up, Flow may support where some significant reinvestment might be warranted – back to the future some may say.

Review by Colonel (Ret'd) Neil Llewellyn

Blood and Ruins: The Great Imperial War 1931-1945

Richard Overy, Allen Lane, Penguin Random House UK, 2021

For fans of Richard Overy, you are in for a rare treat. Whilst many will be familiar with his other major works; Why the Allies Won, The Bombing War, The Dictators, The Battle of Britain and The Origins of the Second World War (now standard text for the study of WW2), Blood and Ruins probably stands as his opus magnus. Readers will note that Overy analyses the Second World War from its genesis in 1931. Rather than a contest between emerging Japanese Imperialism, Italian Fascism, German Nazism, communism and liberal democracies, he recasts the historical record where the Second World War was the culmination of a hundred years of global imperial expansion fought within a fragile international system ripe for manipulation.

Although history is generally regarded as a continuum, Overy choses the year 1931 as a stepping-on point to describe the costliest global war (so far) in history. The invasion of Manchuria in September 1931 provides the author’s start point, although Overy recognises that Japan had placed increased pressure on China since the 1920s. Overy describes what the war meant to the belligerents and the lingering effect it had on each participants national consciousness. For logisticians, Overy is one of the very few modern writers immune from logistical blindness. He describes how private and national industry responded (ramp up), how global economics was temporarily redesigned, albeit with lasting consequences, how materiel output had to be closely fused with mass mobilisation (both military and civilian) and the effect of technological advances. For those reading Overy for the first time, it is worth searching out his numerous journal articles on war economics and selected industries. A superb piece of writing throughout, Blood and Ruin will likely question how we view WW2, it will certainly feature on MGL’s Professional Reading List in 2023.

Review by Jacob Thomas-Llewellyn, BA (Hons), MA

Supplying the Troops: General Somervell and American Logistics in WWII

Professor John Kennedy Ohl, DeKalb: North Illinois University Press, 1994

In the realm of unusual books, the late Professor John Kennedy Ohl was an author who excelled in shinning a light on unique aspects of military history and the individuals who played a role in shaping them. Alongside his other biographical studies, which include Old Iron Pants: The Wartime Career of General Hugh S. Johnson (1971), Hugh S. Johnson and the New Deal (1985) and Minuteman: The Military Career of General Robert S. Beightler (2000), Ohl displays an uncanny ability to place the reader in a world where they can marvel at the achievements of the people being studied.  At the same time, readers are often left utterly frustrated by the petty rivalries, manipulations and the flagrant disregard for the chain of command which, all too frequently, run through these accounts of extraordinary times. In Supplying the Troops, the reader cannot help recognising the political savvy and commercial and engineering knowledge which General Brehon Somervell displayed in a career where he was an active participant in WWI, experienced the Great Depression and President Roosevelt’s 1930’s New Deal projects, helped drive American mobilisation for WWII and played a part in the establishment of the post-war Marshall Aid program. As the US Army’s chief logistician during WWII, Somervell was perhaps the perfect fit for his appointment. Not afraid to circumnavigate the chain of command and more than willing to exploit his unfettered access to the Whitehouse, he succeeded in stretching America’s wartime arsenal to the maximum.

Born in Tennessee, Ohl explains that Somervell was a product of his time. By modern standards he was extremely bigoted, placing a low value on the ability of the African American population and, owing to his privileged birth, was in a perfect position to manipulate his opportunities in the elite ranks of America’s Officer Corps. His arrogant nature and inability to forgive rivals and critics would come to haunt him in later years, particularly during WWII, where his personal ambitions brought him into direct conflict with the future US president, Harry S. Truman. By utilising a rich source of primary material, Ohl illustrates how, in every posting, Somervell made it his mission to create his own personal freedom, isolated from what he saw as disruptive influences, regardless of cost, and certainly with little regard to the interests of other departments and services. The primary stain on Somervell’s record, which he failed to remove, was his indulgence in a major wartime engineering project, codenamed CANOL. Ohl illustrated how the project was originally intended to serve as a fuel pipeline and overland highway network across Canada, which would allow the US to rapidly deliver logistical support to their bases in Alaska. CANOL would eventually result in gross overspending and was proven to rest upon unrealistic delivery dates. In early 1945, the final death nail for CANOL came with the War Investing Committee under Senator James Mead, who accused the US Navy, in particular Admiral Ernest King, of shielding the project, “for the purpose of preventing the Congress and the people from requiring the discontinuance of a costly blunder by a fellow officer who was unwilling to admit his mistake and who was stubbornly insistent upon completing the project regardless of cost.”

The book goes on to explore Somervell’s considerable contribution to the build-up for the Allied invasion of Europe, the controversy surrounding the persistent shortage of shipping and the eventual roll-out of the post-war Marshall Aid program. Somervell’s story concludes with him transitioning into the world of private business and his eventual appointment as president of the Koppers Company. As a major industrial group which specialised in the production of chemicals, steel and fuel, Somervell, now free of inter-service feuding, found himself navigating through commercial rivalries and bureaucracy to bring order out of chaos.

Somervell’s direct contact with some of the twentieth centuries most influential politicians, service chiefs and captains of industry, meant that he had first-hand experience in navigating the halls of power in Washington, the boardrooms of the Allied High Command in WWII and Cold War American industry where Ohl provides a fascinating insight into this hidden environment. This is a highly recommended study for anyone interested in social science; military leadership and/or business management.  Anyone who is currently working on a large and complex infrastructure program or equipment project may empathise with Somervell who had to deal not only with technical program/project management issues but the highly politicised nature of such work.  Whilst technology might change, Ohl demonstrates that human nature is basically the same in pressure environments.

Review by Colonel (Ret'd) Neil Llewellyn

How To Read Numbers; A Guide to Stats in the News (and Knowing When to Trust Them)

Tom Chivers and David Chivers, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2021

Don’t be turned off by this title, this is a gem of a book for logisticians.  You may think that you have poor numeracy skills but so do many scientists, university lecturers and students, in fact many of those with an A- level in mathematics – according to the authors.  In less than 200 pages, readers are shown why numbers are important and why recognising which ones are relevant can change our lives.

Like everything else in the modern world, some numbers are more important than others.  Tom and David Chivers help readers navigate through the statistical swamp which needs some serious draining.  What at first sight seems a dry subject is brought to life by the clever use of real life situations.  The lessons from each contemporary case study are easily translatable into business and military scenarios where numbers are used (or abused) on an unsuspecting audience.  Business and the military have literally lived or died on the acceptance of numbers; this is why some numbers are essential for survival.   Numbers are so important however that a warning should be issued with every number – READER BEWARE!

Numbers can and are frequently manipulated and readers are taken through the use of anecdotal evidence, normal distribution, statistical sampling, biased sampling, statistical significance, outliers and coincidence.  A lot of statistics jargon is debunked and how numbers are marshalled by lobby groups throws a different light on the so called evidence often presented to persuade.  The next time you read a number scribed artfully by a pressure group on the side of a London bus, you might have a better chance of deciphering how useful (or accurate) the number is as you will have a greater understanding of how it was constructed.  This is a clever book which many organisations hope will never get read – ultimately, readers are likely to come away with a healthy dose of skepticism that numbers need to be proved (or disproved) before they are accepted or ignored.

Review by Colonel (Ret'd) Neil Llewellyn

Behemoth: A History of the Factory and the Making of the Modern World

Joshua B. Freeman, W.W. Norton and Co Inc, New York, 2018

When readers look around the home they live in, literally every object they see or touch will have been made in a factory.  Perhaps this is not surprising, but Freeman explains the extent to which the factory has shaped our lives and the society we live in - not only in capitalist democracies but everywhere.  This is not a dry social history of mass production but a heady mix of geopolitics, nationalism and increasing global competition.  Whilst the author does explain how factories developed and why the giant organisations that run them are now largely invisible in the West, he goes on to illustrate how and why they operate the way they do.  That smartphone pulsing quietly next to you has a compelling tale to tell.

Some of the aspects that Freeman explores we are subconsciously aware of.  The labour conditions in many of the giant factories that churn out our consumer must haves are discussed but also the ongoing contest between workers, the giant corporations that employ them and the states that they operate in are scrutinised.  It may surprise readers how militant the workers are in China and Vietnam and how conditions and terms of service are generally far better in the bigger factories than locally administered ones.  For those seeking to understand global supply chains, what affects them and how they are likely to develop in the near future, Behemoth is worth a read.

Review by Major Andrew Cox

Logistics in the Falklands War: A Case Study in Expeditionary Warfare

Kenneth L Privratsky, Pen and Sword, 2016

As an event which is commonly seen as a triumph of British arms, it may seem strange that the first person to dedicate a whole book to the logistics of the Falklands War was an American. However, as a retired Major General of the US Army and logistic specialist, Kenneth L Privratsky is well qualified and has been an intermittent student of the warfare throughout his career.  Around 25 years in the making, this book is a narrative of the British conduct of the Falklands War viewed from a logistics angle. It offers the most dedicated account of the logistic aspects of the conflict found within a single volume and covers the whole campaign from origins to aftermath.

The book begins with the force build-up and its voyage south. The account of the task force’s formation and the enormously complex support activity on Ascension Island highlights the practical application of a ‘whole force approach’ to a crisis; not merely the abstract benefits but the challenges, pressures and tensions that must be faced. The chapters on the amphibious landing operations at Ajax Bay and the subsequent landings around Fitzroy give a stark account of the complexities of amphibious operations, the need for inter-service understanding and the severe effects that a determined enemy can have on rear operations.  The true impact of the loss of the MV Atlantic Conveyor and the damage to the various Round Table Class Landing Ships from Argentine air attacks is made very apparent throughout and offer a warning about what form logistic resilience must take.

The chapters on the land campaign offers insight into the practical difficulties of providing even the logistical basics in an environment so austere and lacking in infrastructure.  The account ends with a chapter on the logistic aspects of the post-conflict activity, giving a detailed narrative of the plethora of challenges faced to return the Falkland Islands to functioning normality.  It concludes with a challenge to the typical narrative of the Falklands War, arguing convincingly that the British centre of gravity was not the two aircraft carriers as is so often said, but the logistic platforms of the task force. The book is supported with well-selected photographs that capture the feel of the logistic efforts together with maps that illustrate the complex geographical challenge that the British faced.

From the outset readers will discern that Privratsky is a fan of the way in which the British conducted themselves in the Falklands War. However, he does not allow this to cloud his views and what follows is a balanced, ‘warts and all’ account of the conflict from a logistical angle. The coverage of the whole crisis, from the origins right through to the post-conflict activity provides a useful perspective and serves to highlight some important themes, such as readiness, home base activity, interaction with the ‘whole force’ and post-conflict recovery. The book is not technically focussed, so anyone expecting appendices crammed with tables of logistic data is going to be disappointed. It also means that the book wanders from purely logistic matters; at times lingering perhaps too much on combat, medical and operational planning aspects which may be better served under another title. However this adds to the overall picture and gives the book more of a Rear Operations scope.

Overall, this book is a welcome addition to the historiographies of both the Falklands War and military logistics in general. It is a must-read for professional military logisticians, particularly those who would benefit from an understanding of power projection, amphibious operations and the practical workings of the whole force approach.

Review by Jacob Thomas-Llewellyn, BA (Hons), MA

War: A Genealogy of Western Ideas and Practices

Professor Beatruce Heuser, Oxford University Press (2022)

Many readers will be familiar with Professor Beatrice Heuser who has presented on a recent RLC Foundation seminar.  She is also one of the authors featured on MGL’s Professional Reading List – for good reason.  With over eighty publications to date, in her latest work Professor Heuser has produced an indispensable codex which brings together the legal, strategic, religious and theoretical strands which have created what we recognise today as the Western Way of Warfare. By tracing the origins of this concept from the literature of the ancients through to the modern age, the reader is treated to a lavish and detailed study covering over 2500 years of conflict history. For those unfamiliar with the study of warfare, Heuser’s earlier works including, The Evolution of Strategy: Thinking War from Antiquity to the Present and The Strategy Makers: Thoughts on War and Society from Machiavelli to Clausewitz, provide the basic tools for understanding how strategy, the operational art and tactics have developed across the ages. The author’s latest work is effectively an advanced guide for understanding how religion, politics, culture, law, technology and geography have all interacted to create different forms of warfare, from revolutions to nuclear holocaust.  Regardless of whether you are operating at the higher levels of command or simply wish to understand the causes of war and how conflicts have manifested in different ways, this book is a valuable resource for understanding how history has influenced the way in which states engage with one another and potentially how historic events can influence contemporary thinking.  Like Heuser’s earlier works, this publication warrants serious reflection. It is well stocked with primary source material and readers will certainly find themselves re-reading chapters in order to digest the wealth of information presented – so budget some serious reading time.

The Habit of Excellence: Why British Army Leadership Works

Langley Sharp, Penguin Random House (2021)

Publicised as the official British Army book on leadership, it attempts to reveal what makes the Service so successful - there is therefore a lot to live up to in less than 250 pages of The Habit of Excellence.  Langley Sharp is a credible author who, at the time of writing, was the military head of the Centre of Army Leadership (CAL) based in the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.  Sharpe, a gifted storyteller, covers the selected ground well, with insights into the unique nature of Army leadership in peace and war, using enduring tenets of leadership and the complex relationship between leaders and those they lead.  As expected, leadership models are discussed (what book on leadership is complete without Adair’s balls?) and some excellent vignettes are chosen to illustrate selected leadership principles.  Considered together, these aspects provide context and help outline the broadening spectrum of conflict which is likely to influence how leadership is instilled and practiced in the near future.

There are however some issues with this official publication, not so much with what Sharp has written but rather with what has been omitted.  This oversight could of course be down to the restricted publishing space available in one volume, and perhaps this is just the first edition in a series detailing how British Army leadership can be cultivated, maintained and constructively critiqued before being promoted for emulation.  Readers may therefore be left with the impression that there is more to come on this important subject.  As it stands, this single volume is likely to leave the reader with an unbalanced view of Army leadership and how it measures itself.  Primarily, there are two critical aspects that are absent from the narrative and, as a consequence, these oversights bestow an opaque impression of Army leadership in a state of continuous development and how its performance can be credibly assured.

Firstly, any national institution that self declares on a book slipcase that its outputs are successful, leaves itself open to criticism – a blatant case of marking your own homework.  The CAL is an integral part of the RMAS establishment, commanded by a two star general whose remit is to train future junior officers and offer broader leadership guidance for the whole of the British Army.  In practice, the Commandant at Sandhurst (currently a late RLC general) is the British Army’s leadership Tsar.  With this in mind, how critical an insider can be of their own institution’s overall performance becomes a topic of debate.  Should a reading public expect serious discussion over shortfalls in leadership from within a revered national institution?  Well, actually, yes and the very best institutions not only encourage it, but they also have an open, trusted, formalised process for doing so (more on this below).  In fairness, Sharp does give a general overview of toxic leadership and mentions Baha Mousa but there is little else to support the largely accepted maxim that organisations learn more from their mistakes rather than their successes (refer to the Foundation interview with Major General Duncan Capps in the 2022 Foundation Review or on the Foundation website for more depth on challenging leadership weaknesses).  The ringing endorsements on the book’s slipcase, rather than reassure readers, may also add to this sense of skepticism.  Former heads of the British Army are hardly likely to be critical of an institution that they have helped forge and personally benefitted from.  Bold declarations therefore need to be verified if they are to be accepted as being credible.  The question over leadership assurance opens a broader debate on what credible metrics can be used to measure the performance of British Army leadership across the ranks.  Sharp actually provides the answer to this conundrum; performance in War (operations)

In identifying that, ‘War presents the Army’s leaders with unique practical and psychological difficulties [because] operational conditions are galvanizing, [and offer] an opportunity for leaders to demonstrate their worth and exercise meaningful influence’ (p.193), Sharp gives us a clear metric for benchmarking.  He also rightly identifies that there is a considerable difference in exercising leadership across the levels of command; strategic, operational and tactical.  His selected evidence that at the lower levels, the British Army has some gifted leaders, as good as, if not better than their opponents and coalition peers, is convincing.  This however is where the evidence starts to run out.  Accepting war (operations) as the acid test for the measurement of leadership, and focusing at the operational and strategic levels, the inconvenient truth is that few would measure the final end states in Iraq and Afghanistan as campaign successes.   One could of course argue that both outcomes were more a measure of the inadequacies of the external components of grand strategies, formulated in the corridors of executive power across coalition capitals, rather than in military headquarters – perhaps a consequence of and hostage to our contemporary overly bureaucratic democracy.  This may be the case, but on the one hand that would mean admitting that military commanders have zero authority or influence which allows them to operate across the upper command levels effectively (strategic and/or grand strategic) or alternatively, that there were some critical shortfalls in senior military leadership.  General Graham Lamb in his chapter in British Generals in Blair’s Wars (2013), gives a hard hitting personal insight into the state of British Army generalship around the time of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.  Lamb’s declaration that there were some British generals he would not follow to the latrine (p.144), judging that, ‘too few…are of the right stuff’ (p.146), raises a doubt over senior British Army leadership which the CAL discounts.  We should not be surprised that there has always been (and is likely to always be) some shortfalls in military leadership in peace and war and perhaps now is the time to acknowledge weaknesses and learn from them.  To a degree, to falter (especially under significant pressure) is human.  Even General Wavell in his seminal lecture series on generalship recognised that, ‘many are likely to suffer under generals’ (The Lees Knowles Lectures, Cambridge, 1939, p.13).  Underperformance at the very top was partially recognised by General Carter in his interview with Alan Mallinson where it was acknowledged that the British Army was slow to adapt in Iraq and Afghanistan (The Times, 25 June 2016, Register Military, p.82) – a reference perhaps to the Army’s tendency towards neophobia.  This lack of serious critique is what unbalances The Habit of Excellence.  Perhaps in the next CAL volume we should expect some constructive criticism, in line perhaps with the US Army who, after significant navel gazing from serving members, recognised some uncomfortable truths in their leadership performance in Vietnam and Somalia.  The outcome from each of these cases was a reshaping and re-evaluation of leadership tenets and their future measurement.  It seems that after only 377 years, the British Army is not yet confident and comfortable enough to do this – at least in public.

In many ways, Sharp breaks new ground and this is always challenging for the British Army - especially with a subject on which many influencers have formed an opinion based on relatively narrow personal experiences.  The fact that the book is unlikely to upset veterans or those currently serving in the upper echelons of the Army exposes its omissions.  In a world on fire, Britain’s reliance on its ever shrinking Army has never been greater.  There is no doubt that the necessity for the Service to keep turning out leaders that can overmatch their opponents remains extant – greater critical analysis can only make it stronger and ensure its currency.  Perhaps in future editions, one of the major tenets of effective leadership needs to be brought to the fore – honesty.  If this were the case, Sharpe, or his successor, will have a broader playing field in which to chronicle why British Army leadership, although far from perfect, may still be widely revered.  To reach this point however, a thorough and balanced review of strengths and weaknesses needs to be analysed, ideally under the auspices of a credible assurance regime.  Until that day…

Madhouse at the end of the Earth: The Belgica’s Journey into the dark Antarctic night

Julian Sancton, Penguin Random House (2022)

If you only read one book in 2022, make it Madhouse, it will not take you long to finish. Although probably apocryphal, The Times in circa 1900 issued an advertisement attributed to Ernest Shackleton, which sums up the challenges described by Sancton in his superb book; “MEN WANTED for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.”  If you are thinking that this might be a line from a post Victorian army recruitment campaign, you would be wrong. It describes what was arguably the most demanding environment humans could experience outside of prolonged close combat – polar exploration in the early 20th Century.

Sancton, a talented journalist, tells the little known true story of the Belgica’s nightmare 1897-8 expedition to Antarctica. Whilst it is doubtful many readers will have heard of the expedition, many will recognise the name of the Belgica’s First Officer – Roald Amundson, the first man to reach the South Pole and return. In the annals of polar exploration, few would connect Belgium with the race to be the first to make significant discoveries in Antarctica. When the Belgica set sail however, only three expeditions had sailed south of the 70th parallel and none had ventured out for fifty years. The grueling expedition is described primarily from firsthand accounts thoroughly researched by Sancton who vividly portrays the discomfort, boredom and eventual madness of many of the crew who, like Shackleton’s Endurance nineteen years later, became trapped in the ice for a whole winter. This is not a spoiler alert, readers will be mesmerised by the bleak landscape, the courage and foolhardiness of individuals – but be aware that the tale is a disturbing one. Hundreds of books are published on leadership every year, many focus on military leaders and how they have successfully navigated the pitfalls of their particular environment – few, if any, will have come close to the deprivations and challenges experienced by the leaders and crew of the Belgica. If readers enjoy this book (what’s not to like?), then they may wish to take a look at MGL’s Professional Reading list on the RLCF website – note that Shackleton’s South features. Madhouse is a serious contender for joining it later this year.

Review by WO2 Anthony Brown - HQ 1st (UK) Division

When the Tempest Gathers: From Mogadishu to the Fight Against ISIS, a Marine Special Operations Commander at War

Andrew Milburn

The author, Andrew Milburn is a raconteur, with charisma and character splashed across every page. His ability to craft enthralling encounters and experiences is the bedrock of this highly engaging memoir, which has broad accessibility. His chronical offers a unique perspective of the United States Marine Corps, US foreign policy and combat operations in the world’s most volatile hotspots over the past 20+ years.

The author, a recently retired Colonel in the USMC, approaches events with deep introspection. The action sequences are well balanced with a golden strand of personal and often humorous stories. The book is imbued with a broad spectrum of heroes and villains, making for highly entertaining and educational reading.  His unique perspective as an English-American, shaped by his time as a student in London, travelling across Iran as a backpacker, qualifying as a lawyer, his journey to becoming an enlisted marine and later an officer; all make for highly enthralling story telling. Some of the experiences he shares from his time as the Joint Special Operations Task Force commander in Iraq, provide a glimpse into a world very few have seen. It is obvious his experiences have very much shaped his changing views on the importance of leadership throughout his career. He is also not shy in commenting on the missteps in US foreign policy, military doctrine in the post 9/11 world and the role of strong leadership in war.  Of the military memoirs I have read, this was a stand-out book for me. The lessons and experiences Andrew Milburn shares into the US approach to recent joint operations and foreign policy are extremely insightful. A great read and an essential resource for aspiring leaders.

Review by Colonel (Ret'd) Neil Llewellyn

Dark Continent: Europe’s Twentieth Century

Mark Mazower, Penguin Books, London, 1999

Heard the one about the pessimist and the optimist? The pessimist bemoans that, ‘the system is falling apart, things can’t get any worse.’ The optimist responds, ‘Oh, I’m pretty confident they can!’

For those pessimists amongst you, perhaps Mazower’s exposé on twentieth century Europe will offer some semblance of comfort about contemporary geopolitical events – they can’t get any worse because they’ve always been bad!  Far from democracy triumphing and creating the institutions which form the enduring bedrock of global liberal values and freedoms, Dark Continent convincingly illustrates that what emerged from the ashes of two total wars, and countless other hard-to-categorise conflicts, was a fragile new world order founded on a heady mix of nationalism, racial discord and religious struggles – all against a backdrop of a Europe that was fast losing its centrality in world affairs.  Mazower argues that what really emerged was an antagonistic competition between New Orders.  Communism might have been usurped by liberal democracy but autocracy now comes in a more nuanced (and some may argue more aggressive) competitive guise.  Mazower goes on to state that Europe might be suffering from ideological exhaustion.  He declares that what binds Europe together is not a broadly accepted belief in integrated politics, but the pursuance of capitalism, which may, through unified economics, lead to integrated political and judicial systems.  After 1989, what liberal democracies lacked was a foe to focus on – perhaps pessimists can be more optimistic in 2022 – there might be a foe emerging that unifies European liberal democracies and things won’t get any worse.  Of course, this can only be a real boon for the pessimists if the emerging foe doesn’t upset the vision for an expansion of liberal democratic values intertwined with capitalism.  If the foe triumphs however, the optimists might be right – things can get worse and the dreams of perpetual European peace are just that; dreams.  Dark Continent will certainly make readers think about the direction that Europe may take.  Are global affairs likely to be exercised in an increasingly competitive manner or will an acceptable form of cooperation prevail?  If cooperation is restricted to liberal democracies, should western nations recognise that sooner or later a clash is coming – the question is not therefore if but when and at what scale?

From a related but different perspective, Hathaway and Shapiro posit in The Internationalists that rules, diplomacy and growing common understanding are just some of the vital elements that have built and sustained an international system which has generally made war an unacceptable option – in their words, ‘’almost outlawed.’  This system has been dominated since 1945 by liberal democracies and the supporting institutions that they created, but threats still exist.  How these democracies respond to these threats without being goaded into increasingly violent responses which undermine their legitimacy is the test for the liberal dominated rules-based system.  The Internationalists explains how the system was built, its weaknesses and how transgressions can be punished by outcasting (e.g. sanctions).  The optimists’ opinion above can be rebuffed if, according to the authors, one important condition is met - the system will only work if the US leads in policing it.  Watch this space. Like Dark Continent, The Internationalists is compelling reading and deserves a place on every Foundation members’ bookshelf.

Studied in unison, these are two books that one hopes are being read and reread in every capital in the world by those that wield some semblance of executive power. After studying both books, readers will no doubt ask themselves, do I feel comforted?

Review by Colonel (Ret'd) Neil Llewellyn

Brothers in Arms

James Holland, Penguin Random House, London, 2021

For those contemplating studying the campaign in North West Europe during WW2 or wishing to expand their knowledge of unit levels actions, Brothers in Arms is an excellent entry point.  From the expanding stable of James Holland, the author follows the fortunes and tragedies of the Sherwood Rangers, a battle-hardened tank regiment.  Blooded in North Africa, the regiment was committed to the Normandy landings on D-Day, fought as part of the Allied northern sweep in Operation Market-Garden and finally into Germany.

Readers are introduced to the random nature of close combat as experienced by the armoured crews.  As with all the author’s publications, the narrative is forceful and the reader is quickly drawn into the highs and lows of the participants.  Unlike many unit accounts, Holland uses a clever combination of first-hand accounts and maps (black and white) supported with aerial photographs, overlayed with friendly/enemy forces’ symbols for clarity. There is also a diagram illustrating the organisation of a Sherman tank regiment together with a few cut-away drawings of a Sherman tank in the appendices.  Using a single unit to explain a broader campaign is not new ground however and readers may also wish to consider perusing offerings from Patrick Delaforce, or a jewel of an autobiographical novel, David Holbrook’s Flesh Wounds (1966).

Review by Colonel (Ret'd) Neil Llewellyn

The Changing of the Guard: The British Army since 9/11

Simon Akam - Scribe Publications, London, 2021.

Whilst the RLCF 2022 Review highlights the pending publication of many books which examine the withdrawal of coalition forces from Afghanistan, this offering by Akam is different.  The author, a journalist who had a fleeting experience with the British Army on a one year Short Service (Limited) Commission, has used the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns as case studies to analyse a concerning phenomenon – the British Army was not ready to participate in these conflicts of choice post 9/11.  Akam posits that the reason for this failure was largely due to weaknesses in organisational structure, service ethos and wider aspects of the Army’s conceptual component.  Alarmingly, it might still be.  From circa 260 interviews conducted between 2015-18, Akam constructs his argument using selected key decision points and corresponding actions from both campaigns.  He benchmarks the performance of the Army (there is little examination of ‘Jointery’, so for the ‘wider Land Environment’ read Army) in Iraq and Afghanistan against some other operational excursions, Northern Ireland, the Balkans and Sierra Leone, to provide a rough comparative metric for measurement of military competency.

Those that have served in either of the Iraq or Afghanistan theatres will no doubt find the interviews with some of the senior and mid-ranking commanders thought provoking and probably disheartening.  Whilst readers need to be weary of blindingly obvious conclusions delivered with the benefit of hindsight, Akam convincingly evidences that the flaws in the strategic planning and the Army’s conceptual weaknesses were there before UK forces were committed.  Depressingly, many commanders were clearly aware of these shortcomings.  The narrative is purposefully controversial, occasionally sentimental (especially when examining the post-conflict experiences of some soldiers), sometimes explained with selective evidence, but overall convincing.  The book’s big idea is that the Army is a monolith, commanded by generals who, propelled by a self-serving system, could not adapt to changes in circumstance.  Whilst readers may agree with Akam’s thesis, there were of course wider contributing factors at play; political, economic and cultural – Akam does not delve into these in the same level of detail and as a consequence the narrative is sometimes unbalanced.

The book’s take-away is that Britain needs to be concerned about how competent the British Army might be when committed to competing across the spectrum of future conflict.  It might be time to dust off Rupert Smith’s The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World.  Whilst Smith’s findings chime with Akam to a degree, the former not only offers an explanation of the failures of armies but also some remedies.  Perhaps an afterthought from The Changing of the Guard can be best explained using an old boxing analogy.  In the 1970s, a world heavyweight champion was asked if he really believed that he could beat every fighter on the planet in his weight.  His response was that he didn’t have to.  He explained that you can only fight the opponent in front of you.  Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you get to choose your opponent.  Most of the time however, your management endeavors to at least level your odds of winning by picking the venue, getting the best support staff and close to the fight itself, carefully tailoring your training to expose your opponent’s weaknesses.  The worst scenario is that you have little control over any of the factors which may affect the fight – in this case you have to go toe-to-toe, learning as you fight and hopefully faster than your opponent.  Invariably, it’s the fighter who wants it the most that avoids defeat.  Perhaps Akam is trying subliminally to say that if future conflict is inevitable, the British Army needs to pick its opponents carefully, choose the venue and time, and make sure you have a proven management and support team that understands its fighters’ strengths and weaknesses.  Before the fight starts, management (read political and military) also need to understand what is at stake – is the risk worth the title.  Once defeated, few former champions are ever the same fighter again.

Worth a read, The Changing of the Guard is enhanced if studied in parallel with Rupert Smith and The Good War by Jack Fairweather (see the RLCF 2022 Review for a bookclub appraisal).

Review by Colonel (Ret'd) Neil Llewellyn

Pacific Crucible

Ian Toll

Ian Toll’s Pacific Crucible is the first book of his award-winning Pacific War trilogy which currently features on MGL’s Professional Reading List.  Many will be familiar with Roosevelt’s day of infamy speech after the Imperial Japanese Navy’s surprise raid on Pearl Harbour, but Toll provides the historic context by vividly describing the volatile geo-political situation in the 1930s which ultimately led to the attack.  Pacific Crucible reads like a novel with all the main characters described in detail (including their personality flaws) together with a broad supporting troupe composed of politicians, civil servants, soldiers, sailors and air personnel of all ranks.

This is no sentimental history of the Pacific War.  The narrative switches constantly from the political debates in Tokyo and Washington, to the life and death consequences for the troops engaged in combat.  In many ways Toll’s analysis of the 1930s to the Battle of Medway sets the scene for what is to come later in the war.  Both Japan’s and America’s tentative and often floundering Pacific strategies are exposed with initial Allied ignorance of the potency of carrier-based aircraft and Imperial Japan’s overextension of their lines of communication to their perimeter defence.  With a contemporary pivot to Asia now being played out, and in the knowledge that Britain intends to once again send a carrier group into the theatre, the book offers some startling parallels for professionals contemplating the potential effects of demonstrating sea power on future international relations across the region.

Review by WO2 A. Brown


John G. Sullivan

For any avid reader studying the European theatre in WW2, this recounting of how a small band of innovative engineers and logisticians kept the allied forces moving is a must.  The book, which is a love letter by the author to his former comrades, their sacrifice and achievements is packed with anecdotes, third party accounts, easily understood engineering and a personalised narrative.  The author sets the scene well, beginning in the USA in the late 30s, to early on in WW2 with the USA’s rapid transformation into the huge fighting force it became. Sullivan describes the challenge of keeping an Army of such size and reliance on technology on the move as it inevitably sprawls across Europe.

This captivating retelling from a logistician's perspective of some of the largest campaigns and footnotes from the European theatre, gives the reader a real sense of the challenge experienced by the 698th during the Allied march to victory.  As much as the landmark events, unit exploits, expertise and operations of the 698th EPD Coy are equally interesting. The most captivating element of this book is reading about the unit’s characters, their escapades and the selfless contribution of some of the “Greatest Generation”.  Any reader who has a real passion for logistics or a specific professional interest will find the book highly readable. To fully appreciate the impact that the 698th EPD Coy had on modern military logistics, Sullivan’s book should be read in conjunction with Petroleum Operations in the Gulf War Operation Desert Storm, a Personal Experience by Lieutenant Colonel Joseph T. Thomas United States Army.

Review by Brig J. Blair-Tidewell


Jonathan Fennell

Fighting the People's War by Jonathan Fennell ambitiously views the performance of the British and Commonwealth armies in WW2 through a socio-political lens, placing them in their national context and exploring the relationship between the state and the mass armies they created to fight the war. Drawing on a wide range of primary sources he exposes the tensions that existed within Britain, India and the Dominions that defined their war-effort and how the experience of the soldiers themselves influenced the societies from which they came and shaped the post-war political environment.

His analysis of their performance across all theatres of the war highlights how the articulation of a legitimate war aim was essential for the morale and effectiveness of the citizen-soldiers of the Commonwealth. Surprisingly, Fennell's two references to Clausewitz are not in connection to his famous trinity and by focusing on armies the book inevitably overlooks the experience and influence of the other Services. Nevertheless, Fennells's book is tightly written, powerfully argued and a professionally rewarding read.

Review by Colonel (Ret'd) Neil Llewellyn


Meredith Butterton - Moore Publishing Company, Durham, North Carolina, 1972

This mysterious title refers to the unit tactical road sign adopted by the US 126th Ordnance Company whilst they supported the 9th Infantry Division from Normandy to Lobejun in Germany during WW2.  Although published twenty-seven years after the events, the book was written over a long period of time by a member of the company.  The 126th was a multifaceted logistic sub-unit, consisting of recovery, repair, technical spares and ammunition supply platoons – a forerunner in miniature perhaps of the British Army’s envisaged composite logistic regiments.

Thankfully, the advance across North West Europe is not narrated as a monotonous technical explanation of land logistics.  Instead, Butterton provides a lively commentary (sometimes sentimental) of the soldiers who enabled the armoured and mechanized infantry divisions to achieve consecutive mission successes against a determined enemy in a hostile environment.  Whilst a myriad of characters are the focus of the story, various logistic functions are carefully woven into the narrative and even readers heavily steeped in Normandy literature will find some interesting and little known aspects to the campaign.  The author sets the scene with the American’s arrival in war-wary Britain.  From metropolitan New York and Chicago, the Mid-West and the deep South to the exotic South West of England, the author describes the seemingly alien nature of 1940s Britain and the preparations for D-Day.  Once in Normandy, the psychological effects of the ‘hedgerow war’ fought in the bocage are explained through the eyes of a logistician together with the peculiar supply challenges that resulted.  The eventual breakout in July 1944 (Operation COBRA) is well covered with some additional explanations as to why the Allied supply problems arose in August.  Most readers will be aware of the problematic extended lines of communication which were reliant on cross beach and small port operations.  Less well recounted is the effect of the inclement weather and the subsequent dependence on manual cross-loading methods at the roadside to sustain the fighting echelons where, ‘The entire area…had turned into a mass of almost gelatin-like sloshy mud that…could mire halfway to…knees’ [Butterton, Metric 16, p.259].  Interspersed with the descriptions of the challenges and deprivations experienced by all the belligerents are rarely, if ever, reported logistic insights.  The effects of mobile bath and laundry units and the intermittent availability of fresh rations on morale are well documented as are the opposite effects of falling flak debris and waterlogged foxholes.

Ultimately, Metric 16 is a story of the ordinary, great, deprived, petrified, anonymous soldier masses that experienced the misery and euphoria of the liberation of Europe.  There is one problem with the book, it was only published in hardback in the US and copies can prove difficult to find – the search however is worth pursuing.

Review by Colonel (Ret'd) Neil Llewellyn


Ernie Pyle

For those unfamiliar with the name Ernie Pyle you are in for a rare treat.  Pyle was regarded as the pre-eminent war reporter of his era, writing between 1942 and 1945 his portfolio covered North Africa, Sicily, Italy, France and the Pacific campaigns before his untimely death in a Japanese ambush in April 1945.  His writing success was built on his simple, often brutally honest, writing style which resulted in his columns appearing in 400 daily, 300 weekly and numerous service newspapers.  Pyle focused on the ‘lot’ of the rank and file, primarily those routinely engaged in close combat.

Brave Men covers Pyle’s reporting from the Allies invasion of Sicily in June 1943 to the liberation of France in September 1944.  His most famous column, The Death of Captain Waskow, was written during the mud soaked Italian Campaign.  His short sentences, written in darkness, describe the funeral mule trail which brought the deceased down from the mountains and the initial processing of the bodies.  One of these casualties was Captain Waskow.  Pyle’s description of the somber procession emphasises in microcosm the belittling aspects of war where, ‘You feel small in the presence of dead men, and you don’t ask silly questions’ (Pyle, Brave Men, 1944, p.154).  Pyle was one of 28 reporters who embedded themselves with the troops on D-Day.  His coverage of the hedgerow fighting in the Normandy bocage is memorable where he, ‘squatted there, just a bewildered guy in brown, part of a thin line of other bewildered guys as far up and down the ditch as the eye could see’ (p.445).  The terror, fatigue and euphoria experienced by the Americans are explored without sentiment and Pyle, who experienced the heavy bomber fratricide during Operation COBRA, has an eye for detail rarely found in other narratives of the war. Whilst his focus was the infantry, Pyle reported on all of the arms and services, including a selection of composite logistic units.  Perhaps his greatest achievement however might not have been his war reporting but his successful lobbying of Congress who sanctioned a Bill in early 1944 to provide a 50% increase in pay for combat service – known as the Ernie Pyle Act.

Brave Men is a collection of Pyle’s newspaper columns, presented chronologically, they are easy to dip into, covering major events in bite sized chunks with a deceptive level of rarely reported detail.  Pyle’s ability to nurture an empathy between belligerents and readers is legion and his gift for developing human interest stories from across the services remains a poignant and enthralling read.

Review by Colonel (Ret'd) Neil Llewellyn


James Barr

For those posted to the Middle East or covering the region in some formal capacity, Barr’s coverage of the personalities, events and competing government policies that shaped contemporary politics, economics and social divisions in the region make compelling reading.  Written in a highly engaging style, the stories unfold like a thriller rather than a regional historiography.  As his evidence base, Barr uses declassified government files combined with long forgotten biographies and the intricate geographic mosaic he paints reveals some intriguing and equally disappointing truths of the great power politics that played out after the fall of the Ottoman Empire.  With hindsight, Britain’s reluctant collusion with France over the parceling up of Syria and Lebanon, described in A line in the Sand, is depressing and embarrassing in equal measure.  The driving force that was imperialism is blamed for the arbitrary partitioning of social groups that resulted in some bizarre international borders which fester in social and economic unrest today.  Barr’s second book, Lords of the Desert, should be directed reading for anyone studying modern international relations.  Despite Britain’s debilitated state post-WW2, he describes Whitehall’s intent to remain a dominant force in the region, a desire that directly abutted a growing US interest in the Arab world, focused on supporting Zionism and liberal democracy whilst also securing access to strategic petroleum resources.

The global implications to what have played out in the Middle East can be viewed with a new perspective after reading Barr.  As Britain advocates a change of global approach, described in the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy, where strategic advantage is to be sought in a world of systemic competition, there will undoubtedly be some insightful comparisons to the experiences of what has transpired in the Middle East.  Barr’s compelling understanding of the region offers a natural springboard to examining the closely related geopolitical issues explained in the seminal works of Peter Hopkirk (The Great Game, 1990), Niall Ferguson (Colossus; The Rise and Fall of the American Empire, 2004) and Peter Frankopan (The Silk Road, 2015 and The New Silk Road, 2018).  Whilst Barr’s analysis offers an intriguing perspective on the contemporary Middle East, he also presents a look into the deliberately murky world of international diplomacy, national rivalries between allies and the social consequences of decisions made thousands of miles away from unsuspecting cultural communities.  Perhaps the Integrated Review is a break from the coercive methods described by Barr or merely a blueprint for more of the same.

Review by Colonel (Ret'd) Neil Llewellyn


Deborah Cowen - University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis and London, Published 2014

Published in 2014, much of Cowen’s observations and assertions hold true as the global supply chains that the world’s economies rely on are reset after significant dislocating events.  Through a number of case studies, Cowen demonstrates that there is nothing new under the logistic sun.  The now fashionable pseudo-scientific buzzword of resilience was identified by Cowen in the early 2000s, as was much of the logistic nomenclature now in use by business, academia and the military.  Specialist techno-babble is important to organisations, it makes them feel important and it adds a degree of mystery to the forms and functions that controlling bodies advocate as being imperative to efficient logistics.  Cowen demystifies much of the guff that has enveloped logistics through a chronological study of its development from military art to its current scientific stewardship under business management practitioners.

Cowen sets the scene by illustrating the historiography of logistics, from the ancient exponents of the art to its contemporary adoption as a business management discipline on deployed operations.  Cowen posits that it was initially the military who established the logistic processes that we would recognise today as powerful states developed global solutions for sustaining their empires and imperialist policies.  Case studies are then employed including Desert Storm, an operation, ‘widely heralded as a logistical war par excellence’, achieved according to Cowen (p.51), using commercial practices.  How these commercial practices became dominant is explained through a lineage whose influence starts in the 1960s where initially hybrid commercial-military logistic practices emerged.  Cowen identifies that global logistics has never been a benign activity and supply chains have always constituted contested space where successful flows offer significant advantage over competitors.  The development of nominated flows of commodities is described using the Asia-Pacific Gateway and Corridor Initiative – in some ways the precursor of the much debated Chinese Belt and Road Initiative.  Along these corridors Cowen describes how securitization issues have developed where the value stream is king and deregulation, infrastructure development, ease of multimodal distribution, bar-coding and asset tracking are often the driving influences above human resource (which is sometimes regarded as a threat to flows). Cowen highlights that a whole subsidiary industry has grown up around logistics with academia and consultants reinforcing the belief that these corridors of flow have to be secured with a continuous outpouring of new modelling, concepts, and of course, revised management nomenclature.

Military logisticians will find the Deadly Life of Logistics thought provoking.  As the UK develops its contemporary global strategies out to 2035, much of what Cowen has identified will need to be considered if resilience is to be realised. The cost of this security in ethical and commercial terms however is likely to be high as the corridors of logistic flow do not necessarily recognise national borders, social niceties or regional/international agreements – how to secure them will remain an area for debate.  Military logisticians will need to grapple with these complex and often contradictory considerations - before the first boots step foot into an operational area.


Review by Colonel (Ret'd) Neil Llewellyn



Max Hastings - William Collins, 2016

A quality narrative of the last period of World War 2.  One expects excellence from the stable of Max Hastings and following a successful formula of divulging the strategies and personal thoughts of the belligerent high commands and interspersing them with the experiences of the enlisted men, a menacing picture of the Pacific War is revealed.  The monsoons, typhoons, debilitating environment, boredom and relentless mud are interspersed with graphic descriptions of the frequent periods of terrifying close combat.  The challenges of providing effective logistical support to the fighting echelons are analysed against the backdrop of the vastness of the distances involved with little or no infrastructure.

Hastings writes in his usual engaging style which only helps to emphasis the arbitrary nature of life and death across 2000 miles of limestone, coral encrusted islands and oppressive jungle.  As with many modern campaign studies however, the publisher’s cartography does not match the quality of the writing.  Readers are advised to obtain a selection of clear maps to follow the twists and turns of the war; David Smurthwaite’s Pacific War Atlas or copies of the insert maps from the relevant Images of War series of magazines would enhance an appreciation of the challenges of the campaigns.  Nemesis offers an excellent introduction to the Pacific War, leading perhaps to Ian Toll’s superb trilogy.


Review by Rob Ladell



George MacDonald Fraser - HarperCollins Publishers 2009

This book is a memoire of the author’s time as a nineteen-year-old Scotsman freshly arrived at the War in Burma during the latter stages of World War II. It is a gripping personal account that tells the story of ‘Jock’ and his predominantly Cumbrian born fellow soldiers that made up the ranks of the lowest common denominator of soldiering – the section.  In this case, the section Jock serves in is Nine Section, but the reader is left in no doubt that it could constitute any section fighting in South-East Asia. This is not a dehumanised historical account of the War in Burma that talks about battles, dates, objectives and casualties as nothing more than marks on a page. It is in fact the author’s recollection of events through the eyes of a junior soldier, far removed from the ‘big picture’ and solely concerned with the trials and tribulations that followed the men of Nine Section.

Except for the Cumbrian dialect used in the dialogue, the book is written in a simple language and interspersed with a soldier’s dark humour making it a hard book to put down. The honest, matter of fact description of Nine Section and the events that unfold around them will resonate with anyone who has served in the armed forces. We all know a ‘Jock’, ‘Parker’, ‘Grandarse’ and ‘Forster’ and we all, most certainly have our own, equally embarrassing incident equivalent to the author’s falling down a well mid contact. Whilst many of the thoughts and opinions within the book do not align to current day thinking, when considered through the eyes of the author, they are understandable if not entirely agreeable.

The book provides a rare insight into life as a front-line soldier during the lesser known and documented World War II campaign in Burma. Although it is primarily an account of the life and relationships of Nine Section there are still a few lessons that will ring true with any modern-day Logistician. If the reader learns nothing else, it is made clear why you must always studiously supervise any resupply that involves soldiers’ direct access to stores.


Review by Jon Symon RLC



Owen Sheers

I had previously read Resistance and I Saw a Man, two novels by Owen Sheers, and I was aware that he was an accomplished and award-winning poet and playwright. Pink Mist was originally written as a poem but has been skilfully composed into a poignant and dramatic account of three young Bristolian lads who join the Army, deploy to Afghanistan, and are consequently physically and mentally affected by their experiences.

Using interviews of soldiers who had served in Afghanistan, this relatively short book is compelling, intense and never shirks from the uncomfortable aspects and brutality of modern warfare. Importantly, it clearly articulates the devastation that families face with agonising loss or the shock of dealing with those affected by the trauma of conflict. This book is not a glorification of war but a chronicle of the commitment and torment of individuals overlaid with the impact on those left at home.

Pink Mist is a book of real depth and has a genuine connectivity to the demands and, at times, harrowing realities of conflict. The author uses the main characters well, highlighting their regional narrative and use of everyday language, whilst expertly providing a vivid image of young boys turning into men and then into soldiers.  The community they are recruited from and the emotional tsunami experienced at the sharp end soldiering in one of the most inhospitable theatres of war makes for a candid if somewhat uncomfortable read. I feel this book is essential reading for those wanting to understand the visceral ruthlessness of war and the effect it can have on all those associated or involved with it.


Review by Peter Hanley
Historical Research Analyst
Development, Doctrine and Concepts Centre (DCDC)



Marcus Dubois King (Ed) - Hurst Publishing, September 2020

This publication adds to the established literature on water conflict and its effects across multiple interrelated security areas. It identifies how the Middle East will be adversely affected by several compounding factors - water being one of the crucial points of potential conflict. The essays, by well-established authorities and regional commentators, dissect the issues in detail, not only analysing examples of future water crisis, but the contemporary political, economic and social issues that are likely to shape the future polarised international system. The issues are placed in context, helping the reader understand how water has historically shaped competition and conflicts over millennia. The book explores the human security imperative through the complex conundrum of how water resources are controlled across geo-political fracture lines. The authors debate and explain the legacy left by colonial powers, who generally established international borders without consideration of the wider religious, ethnic, cultural and economic realities – exacerbating the potential for future conflict when water is added to a volatile situation.

The case study of Egypt and Ethiopia whilst stark, is depressingly familiar. The continuing confrontation over the hydro-electric Grand Renaissance Dam and its disruption of the Blue Nile river, highlights the acute frictions that can occur over water access. When considered against several interrelated, aggravating security factors, Egypt’s continuing instability is magnified. Buffeted by internal security concerns, Egypt’s dependency on its agricultural sector is vital for its long-term stability. Its reliance upon large quantities of clean water, not only for domestic food supply, but also foreign exchange food exports, is quickly exposed. The substantial increase in Egypt’s urban populations, centered along the Nile and Nile Delta, adds to the growing pressure on existing water infrastructure and severely restricts its potential for economic diversification. In similar terms, Turkey’s, hydro-electric energy strategy is also covered in depth with the implications for other nations and communities downstream explored. The development of Turkey’s water strategy, as a key component of its regional power projection and increasingly assertive foreign policy, is also clearly explained. The geo-political importance of Turkey is highlighted, together with some of the future implications for neighbouring states and wider Europe. The case studies expand upon the ‘spiral’ effects of water scarcity and its associated tenets such as population growth, political instability and climate change as elements driving future mass migration challenges. The pressures upon traditional communities, tribal societies, pastoralists, farming and subsistence farming in the Tigris and Euphrates regions amongst many others, is well covered, as are the further levels of instability wrought by food scarcity as a direct result of water competition.

Examined as a collective, the essays establish the imperative of constructive international engagement over water issues as a matter of global urgency, not only for the Middle East, but other regions. Considered as a whole, the book introduces a vital security research area, explaining the increasingly contentious area of water control and dominance and its potential for escalating competition into conflict within the so called ‘grey zone’ of ‘hybrid warfare’.

Another Bloody Century

Review by Major General Darrell Amison
Director DCDC


Professor Colin S. Gray

In Another Bloody Century (2005), Professor Colin Gray explores future warfare. He does so not through a crystal ball – he warns the reader of the perils of prediction – but through the empirical lens of history and as a classical realist and acolyte of Clausewitz. Gray believes history is, ‘…the best available, actually the only, source of education on the future’. Writing in the midst of ‘the global war on terror’, when a number of eminent theorists and practitioners were promoting insurgency and terrorism as dominant future threats, Gray displays clear-eyed purpose and confidence arguing, convincingly, that the future of war will be very much like its past. As the title of the book suggests, Gray’s central argument is that the 21st Century will be strategically unremarkable – it will be ‘yet another bloody era’.

With noteworthy prescience, a full decade before the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review hailed the return of state threats, Gray challenges what he regards as ‘the fallacious view’ that major war between states is obsolete. Drawing from the course of strategic history, Gray believes ‘war is integral to the human social and political condition’ and that future war, as with past war, will be primed by Thucydides’ fear, honour and interest. Critically, Gray recognises that war and warfare will frequently fuse what he calls regular and irregular forms – ‘warfare is complex, multidimensional and somewhat non-linear’. Indeed, Gray warns us of the tyranny of categories – a Western tendency – as it may ‘constrict the imagination and impede understanding’. And, being Clausewitzian to his fingertips, Gray stresses there is far more to war than combat. The latter is about defeating the forces of the foe; the former is about using that defeat to advance the goals of policy – ‘war is about politics’.

At a time when the ‘hardware’ of future warfare can appear dominant – such as the digital technologies associated with the shift from an industrial age to an information age – Gray reminds us that technology is important but ‘shrinks in significance’ when set against the continuities that bind the future to the past and present of warfare. Such continuities include the vital importance of the human dimension and the political and social contexts within which war and warfare play out. So while technology can change the character or ‘grammar’ of warfare, Gray argues it cannot transform war and strategy. War’s nature is, and in Gray’s view must remain, organised violence threatened or waged for political purposes.

Another Bloody Century is an important book that remains as relevant today as it was when published 16 years ago. This is due to the breadth and depth of Gray’s historical, empirical method - his ‘goldmine’ - that illuminates the future of warfare. Perhaps its most significant contribution at a time of seemingly inexorable change is to remind us of war’s enduring nature as well as warfare’s changing character. Gray recognises the role of technology in war and warfare but sets it within the context of critical human, political and social dimensions. The book provides something of an antidote to a growing techno-centric approach to military affairs; warns of the danger of the ‘crystal ball’; and reminds us to respect history’s ability to encourage understanding of the unity of our past, present and future. For all these reasons, and many more, Another Bloody Century has become a well-thumbed and highly valued companion – more so than any other book on international affairs I have read during upwards of thirty years of service.

Review by Colonel (Ret'd) Neil Llewellyn


Lieutenant General Larry Wyche

The author, a logistics practitioner in the US Army for the best part of four decades offers a form of codex for supply specialists. Intermixing personal experience as he progressed through the ranks from private soldier to three-star general, each chapter focuses on selected situations which allow technical/functional and leadership takeaways to be identified. Much of the E2E process will be familiar to readers, albeit seen through a US prism. It is comforting to know that despite (or because of) the size of the US forces, the logistic challenges are similar to those experienced on UK deployments.

The author unwittingly highlights this aspect when the historic distribution challenges of operating through Pakistan are described. The importance of contingency planning, knowledge of contracting in the home base and management of personnel are all explored with the reoccurring realisation that leadership is ultimately the decisive factor in delivering results. The author concludes his leadership assessment with a thought provoking ‘mirror test’.

The interface between the commercial sector and the military is the most interesting aspect of his analysis, not for any unique revelations but because the habitual adoption of commercial best-practices with the knowledge of Covid-19 contingency arrangements places many of our assumptions firmly into a question four category. What General Wyche terms ‘precise support’ might be the answer to the accountants prayers in balancing the pre-virus books but given the tribulations of global supply chains since February 2020 much may be revisited in strategic and operational provisioning cells across the UK’s global commitments over the next twelve months.

In summary, a rare and personal insight into US logistics from an expert who has experienced good, bad and indifferent logistic provision from the tactical to the strategic level. How much our commercial confidence and adoption of what was pre-virus contingency assumptions will change will be interesting to benchmark against the post-Corvid-19 world.

Review by Colonel (Ret'd) Neil Llewellyn


Major A.D. Bolland

For those interested in studying the campaign in North-West Europe in WW2, this is a gem of a booklet.  Last printed in the 1950s as a limited edition, the booklet, at less than a hundred pages, is packed with logistic data, easily understood graphs and a personalised narrative.  The sole focus is a single infantry division; 53rd Welsh Division, whose progress is reported over ten months on its 2000-mile journey from its arrival in Normandy on D+27 until VE Day in Hamburg.

To gain the full benefit of its logistic insights, the booklet should be read in conjunction with a broad campaign history such as John North’s, North-West Europe 1944-45, The Achievement of 21st Army Group.  From the data provided, the reader will be able to discern the demand patterns of certain commodities by type of operation as the division transitioned from beach assault through general advance to opposed crossings.  Whilst C-Sups and maintenance are covered in some detail, other, little reported facts relating to divisional operations, are also provided from casualties by type, to prisoner of war handling and even totals issued by the Field Cash Office.  One of those little-known postscripts to history which can add so much to a detailed campaign study.

Review by Major General (Ret'd) David Shouesmith


James Garvey

Farm Publications 2019

This is a story that is long overdue the telling -  of the logistics effort that supported the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943, immediately after the conclusion of the Allies’ North African campaign.  The author contrasts the attention that the invasion of NW Europe (Operation Overlord) and its accompanying logistic effort has received, but Husky was in fact a larger and more complex undertaking, especially logistically.  It comprised 176000 troops, landing across a hundred mile beachfront, compared to Overlord’s 156,000 troops and a beachfront half the breadth.  It was mounted at much shorter notice (barely five months, compared to Overlord’s sixteen) and amidst considerable operational and strategic uncertainty.   Husky was able to draw on invaluable lessons from the Operation Torch landings in North Africa barely six months previously, and Husky provided further lessons without which it is questionable whether Overlord could have succeeded logistically.

There are some themes which the book highlights which will be familiar to logisticians and which endure to this day.  Firstly, logistic decisions often need to be made in the absence of clear operational plans – and sometimes these are big decisions.  Secondly, logisticians need to have the immutable trust of and credibility with their commander.  In Husky’s case Maj Gen (later Lt Gen) Sir Humfrey Gale was Eisenhower’s trusted chief administrative officer and Eisenhower trusted him to drive the logistic planning around which the operational plan eventually coalesced.  Third, capable logisticians on the ground, empowered to make decisions as events unfold, are critical.  Some things cannot be determined back in HQ, however good the data feed.  Fourth, understanding the logistic and operational plans and having the situational awareness to adjust logistics on the hoof remains a cornerstone of military logistics and Husky is replete with examples of how this was done – from the switching of beach landing sites to the rapid in-country acquisition of alternative transportation means.  And the book makes the reader ponder what skills may have been lost by operating at such (relatively) small scale in recent decades; the ability to plan and execute the movement of huge numbers of people and materiel, the importance of transportation and supply as separate disciplines – discuss!

The book provides plenty of statistics and planning detail, extracted from original sources.  While it is more academic thesis than classic military history, and therefore lacks the prose and penetrating insights of a Max Hastings or Andrew  Roberts, its central thesis - that the success of Husky was due to clear logistic foresight and flexibility based around a robust logistic plan – is difficult to argue with.

Review by Major General (Ret'd) David Shouesmith

DEEP SEA AND FOREIGN GOING - Inside shipping, the invisible industry that brings you 90% of everything

By Rose George

Portobello Books, 2013

This book reads as a series of journalistic feature articles, taking the reader through the complexities and realities of the global container shipping industry, which accounts for some 90% of the world’s physical trade movements.  The analysis is set in the context of the historic romanticism, and hardships, of maritime life and sets out how the shipping container, in the space of a short few years in the late 1960s, came to dominate the global freight industry.  It illustrates how the industry’s infrastructure (ships, ports, inland transport systems and global data networks) also transformed to enable shipments to be executed and tracked through multiple customs points, shipping agents and merchants were transformed in response.

The author also exposes a darker side to this industry; though sitting at the heart of the global trading network it is unseen by most; seafaring standards have dropped and the opacity of ownership, flags of convenience and the multi-tiered charters combine to make apportioning responsibility and accountability something of a challenge.  She writes of the two ships lost each week through poor maintenance, and the two thousand lives lost annually through accident, sinking and negligence. The contrast with the much more visible air freight sector is stark.  Also unseen is the pollution (which dwarfs that emitted by the airline industry) and the physical impact on sea-life – notably to whales in the North Atlantic.

There are some interesting ‘so whats’ for the military logistician in this book.  Firstly, whilst technology often brings rapid and disruptive change and benefits, some of the longer term costs and risks are harder to discern.  Alongside the cost, velocity and precision benefits the container has heralded have we fully understood the longer term network risks and the impact on people and the environment?  Have we opted for quick cost savings and convenience but ignored the more complicated downsides?   None of this is a reason not to adopt technology, but we need to do so mindful of all the costs and risks over time, especially when our nation’s strategic commercial and defence interests are at stake and especially so as the UK forges its post-Brexit economic future.

How do we ensure the quality and reliability of our maritime network?  While the Royal Navy’s protective presence is one aspect, what measures are needed to preserve UK access to the civilian shipping needed to support future expeditionary operations at scale?  What is the role of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary in all this?  Air transport is highly responsive but cannot shift volume when needed.  And what of China’s pivotal role in driving the global shipping economic model?

Has the UK adapted to these changes commercially or militarily, or are we just holding our breath that all will be ok on the day?


Reviewd by Colonel (Ret'd) Neil Llewellyn

The Liberation Trilogy – An Army at Dawn (1942-1943), The Day of Battle (1943-1944) and The Guns at Last Light (1944-1945)

Rick Atkinson

At circa 1800 total pages, you might think that these books represent painful WW2 attritional reading – think again.  Every book of the US military’s role in the liberation of Europe is superbly written, a page turner in every sense.  Generally described as ‘narrative history,’ the books are an easy read, full of what first appears to be superfluous detail which is then cleverly wrapped together to present a vivid picture of debilitating combat.  It is unlikely that even readers with a thorough knowledge of WW2 will recognise some of the detailed research which Atkinson has uncovered.  In addition, the trilogy is one of the few offerings from general booksellers which actually contains significant amounts of logistic considerations.

Atkinson tells the story from several levels, from executive command and the consequences of their decision making, to those fighting the contact battles.  As one US general explains, ‘history with a soldier’s face’.  Whilst the narrative is easy to read, there are no compromises made on accuracy and each book contains clear maps (although not in colour – even in hardback), which allows the campaigns to be followed without referring to additional diagrams.

Perhaps the reason that these books are so readable is largely due to the author’s background; Atkinson’s writing pedigree is steeped in journalism rather than as an academic.  For twenty-five years he worked for the majority of the time as an investigative journalist for the Washington Post.  His first book in the trilogy won the Pulitzer Prize for history but he actually has three Pulitzers, his first two for reporting.  If you are about to embark on a six-month+ tour, are dislocated from your normal post for any reason or wish to obtain an understanding of broad campaign analysis and effects, then any one of these books is worth a read.  Whilst you do not have to start at, ‘The Army at Dawn’, it does stand out as the best of the bunch and after completion, you are one-third of the way to a better understanding of the history of the last total war.