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 Neil Llewellyn
SINEWS OF WAR - THE LOGISTICAL BATTLE TO KEEP 53rd WELSH DIVISION ON THE MOVE DURING OPERATION OVERLORD
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
OPERATION HUSKY – THE UNTOLD STORY OF THE LOGISTICS OF THE SICILY INVASION
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)
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.