France’s Ancien Regime (France with kings) lasted for thousands of years, but when most people talk about it, they refer to the 18th century. Since flags were such an important part of the 18th century battlefield, I will be exploring the French infantry flags of this period.
The majority of infantry during the 17th century was line infantry. These regiments had the most men and were recruited from all over France. The French had two flags for their regiments: the colonel’s colour and the regimental colour. The colonel’s flag was all white, with a cross in the middle of it. White was the main colour of the Bourbon dynasty of France, so their flags reflected this. The regimental flag was the same except each canton on the side was colored in different shades. Normandy’s regiment had yellow on all four. Auvergne had black and purple cantons; black was in the top left and bottom right.
Some regiments had more complex designs on their flags with zigzagged lines, fleurs-de-lys, or other markings. Nice’s regiment had waved blue lines on a red background, symbolizing its proximity with the sea. Many regiments that were named after the Bourbons or kings had fleurs-de-lys on their cross. The Du Roi Infantrie had 48 gold fleurs on their flag as well as “Per Dercori Virtus” written on it. The Soissonais had yellow diagonal lines in each of its blue cantons, while the Ile-de-France regiment had black triangles facing outward on a light brown background.
The French Irish Brigade had their own characteristic flags with the traditional French style. The main flag had two red cantons running top right to bottom left. Each canton had a large gold crown and a harp in the join of the cross. The flags said “Hoc in Signo Vinces” (With this sign, we conquer) in gold lettering on the red cross. The other cantons would be regimental. The Rooth Regiment was simply a cross of St. George with a golden lion and crown in the centre. The Duke of Berwicks’ had no crowns, but 4 green cantons with red diagonal lines. The colonel’s flag was the same as the other flags except in white.
The Flag of the Bulkeley Regiment
The Gardes Françaises were the ultimate regiment of French guards, founded in the mid 16th century. Their dark blue coats had red facings and were commanded by a French Lt.-General. The colonel colour was the simple, white French pattern but on each branch of the cross, there was a golden crown. Their regular colour was blue with a white cross akin to the colonel’s one, except there were 180 small fleurs-de-lys.
The Swiss Guards followed the Franco-Swiss format of flags. The colonel’s colour was all white, as per usual, except in the regimental one, there was a collection of rays on each canton. They were orange, purple-blue, black, and red. These bright flags were used by all other Swiss units, but their regimental colours were different colours.
The 10 Swiss regiments all used the same design as the Swiss Guards, but some were more complex. The Diesbach regiment had “Fidelite et Honeur” on their black, yellow, and red flags. Their colonel’s colour had many small fleurs de lys on it. Others had slogans or crowns on their colonel’s colours.
The French had many other foreign regiments with interesting colours. The Royal Bavarian Regiment’s regimental flag had a white and red border with a smaller cross in white on a light blue field. Inside the cross were fleurs-de-lys. The colonel’s colour had the Virgin Mary in the centre. The La Marck Regiment had wite and red checkers surrounding a blue square with three fleurs, a crown, and golden laurels.
There are so many other French flags, but of course, I cannot describe them all. I encourage you to look up more of these flags, because they are so interesting!
The turn of the 18th century brought an end to the era of matchlock muskets and the flintlock arrived to reign for over 100 years. Most historians accept the fact that the flintlock was a vastly superior weapon, but how much of an edge did the musket really have?
First let’s look at the basic concept of the matchlock musket. Matchlocks evolved throughout multiple wars, but the first of them were operated by a lever. The lever would trigger the pin with attached match cord to move down and light the powder in the pan. Later, matchlocks developed to have a trigger. The muskets were usually at the shoulder of the musketeer, measuring 140 cm (4’5). To load a matchlock, you would pour some powder in the pan, close the pan and blow off the loose powder, pour powder and ball down the barrel, ram the charge, light the match, and fire. The process would usually take a minute for inexperienced musketeers, but many could fire twice per minute.
Now let’s look at the flintlock. The flintlock operated with a simple system with a hammer, frizzen, and pan. The musket was similar in length and weight to a matchlock and were used in the latter 17th century and continued to be used throughout the 18th century and even through the Napoleonic Wars, ending in 1815. Loading a flintlock was easy to learn for common infantrymen. The soldier would pour some powder into the pan and close the frizzen over it. Then, he would charge the musket by pouring the ball and powder into the barrel from a cartridge. The bullet would be rammed and then he would pull back the hammer. The flint would strike the pan and spark the powder, firing the musket.
Many would label the flintlock as the superior weapon immediately since it clearly arrived on the battlefield after the development of matchlock muskets. However, the flintlock did not have much of an edge at all. Loading times were staggeringly similar. Trained musketeers in the 1680s and 90s fired flintlocks in 30 seconds, just two seconds less than the average time to fire a matchlock (according to John Tincey in Osprey MAA 267). The weight and lengths of these muskets were comparably the same, too. Both weapons would frequently misfire due to problems with their pans and damp powder would not fire from either musket. Many musketeers continued to use the matchlock into the very early 18th century. So why was it replaced?
Matchlock musketeers carried their powder in wooden cartridges slung around their shoulders, nicknamed ‘apostles.’ Musketballs were carried in a pouch, and powder for their pans was in a horn. Including this, the musketeer had wadding in a separate pouch. These were very fiddly to operate, and would waste time. In the heat of battle, a musketeer may forget which ‘apostle’ he used and may forget wadding, causing a muzzle flash but no shot. Musketeers in the flintlock-era solved this problem by using paper cartridges, which were quicker to load and more effective. Flintlock muskets also had the ability to attach bayonets to them. The plug bayonet could be used by matchlocks, but this prevented firing, and many matchlock musketeers relied on swords or their regiment’s pikemen to defend them. Socket and plug bayonets were more common for the flintlock, and when Louis XIV first introduced the socket bayonet, it was exclusive to flintlock muskets. Flintlocks also removed the problems with matchcords, which would fizzle out on many occasions and cause uncoordinated firing from companies. Flintlocks were perfect for volleys and therefore suited the evolving style of European armies.
The advantage is taken by the flintlock thanks to technological advances away from the musket itself. When presented head-to-head, these muskets were not much different from one another. Mass production in the Industrial Revolution played a large role in the flintlock overtaking the matchlock as the primary weapon on the battlefield, as well as the disappearance of pikes and the evolution of the Marlburian-Era tactics.
The War of the Quadruple Alliance began in 1717 in the hopes of defeating Spanish power in Europe post-succession. The alliance of Great Britain, France, the Dutch, and the Holy Roman Empire united to prevent Spain under Philip V from breaking the Treaty of Utrecht (1713). The treaty gave Austria the Spanish Netherlands and parts of Italy while England controlled Gibraltar and parts of the Americas from France. Cardinal Giulio Alberoni, reminiscent of the legendary Richelieu, controlled the Spanish king and convinced him into marriages and the rebuilding of a navy. The Quadruple Alliance began to worry, and rightfully so, as Spain was preparing for war. Most battles were fought throughout Italy in 1718 and 1719, but the Spanish created a plan to invade the British Isles.
Irish exile James Butler, Duke of Ormonde, created the idea to overthrow King George I in favour of James “the Pretender”, son of James II. Catholic Spain supported the invasion and began gathering troops to send over to Ireland. With Spanish troops ready to sail for Britain, Butler dispatched his fleet. Just like the Spanish Armada of 1588, a massive storm destroyed the ships off the coast of Galicia. Just 300 Spaniards managed to arrive in Scotland after being blown off course. George Keith and his Spanish troops landed in County Ross where they managed to get the support of Jacobite highlanders. At Eilean Donan Castle, Jacobites learned of British ships sent to attack them.
HMS Worcester, HMS Enterprise, and HMS Flamborough; the strongest of the ships; arrived near Eilean Donan and sent a parlay ashore to negotiate. When the highlanders opened fire, the British rushed back to their ships and began pounding the castle with shell. British Marines snuck ashore on the night of May 10 and caught the defenders by surpise, forcing their surrender. With a good portion of their support gone, Keith was struggling to keep his operations going. The Spaniards and Jacobites fell back to a mountain pass- Glenn Sheil.
The Spaniards and Jacobites created defenses at Glen Shiel that bisected the road. 200 men of the Galicia Regiment were supported by members of the Clans Mackenzie, MacKinnon, Cameron, McGregor, Murray, and Keith. The entire force numbered about 1,000 men. British forces under the command of Gen. Joseph Wightman arrived on June 10. Montagu’s Regiment and Clayton’s Regiment were sent to defeat the Jacobites along with the Huttel Dutch Regiment, a company of grenadiers, 120 dragoons, and four mortars. The Galicians were positioned on a hill overlooking the enemy while Scottish troops manned the barricades on the road. Murray’s troops were mortared and then charged by the British, cracking after an hour of fighting. George Seaforth attacked the Jacobite left, but he was wounded in the arm by the Galicians in the assault. The flanks began to crumble and the Spanish line caved in, routing uphill away from the deadly fire of the British troops. The Spanish were captured and imprisoned in Edinburgh till the end of the war in early 1720. Keith later became Prussian ambassador to Spain, but the Spanish attacks on Scotland failed spectacularly in a widely overlooked conflict of the early 18th century.
To view a map of the battle drawn by Lt. John Bastide at the National Library of Scotland, click here.
The Thirty Years War raged across Europe in the 17th century with the Habsburg powers of Spain and the Holy Roman Empire clashing with Saxony, Sweden, France, and many others. While many place Albrecht von Wallenstein at the height of Habsburg strength, one commander of the Catholic League forces is overlooked- Johann Tserclaes, count von Tilly.
Tilly was born in the Spanish Netherlands in 1559 to Jesuits, the “warriors” of the Catholic Church. Tilly’s first combat experiences were in the 80 Years War against the Dutch with the Spanish. When Tilly was 35, he joined the Habsburg forces to fight the Turks in the Hungarian plains.
In 1609, Maximilian I of Bavaria created the Catholic League as opposition to the Protestant Union and Tilly was called upon to reform the Bavarian forces. The league would offer military support to any of its allies when provoked, and in 1618, the Holy Roman Empire called upon the League for aid. Ferdinand II claimed to own Bohemia & the Palatinate, ruled over by Frederick V, since his father had previously ruled the land. In an attempt to reclaim their lands, the Habsburg monarch turned to his Catholic allies to the west. Tilly’s forces combined in 1619 at Wurzburg, where the entire force numbered around 20,000. 7,000 of these men were Bavarian soldiers whom Tilly had previously commanded. The Bohemian revolt spread into Moravia, Styria, the Tyrol, and other parts of the Holy Roman Empire.
On November 8, 1620, Tilly’s Catholic forces clashed with the Czechs at the Battle of White Mountain. Outnumbering his opponent by almost 10,000 men, Tilly knew this battle would clear the way to Prague and it was imperative for him to win. The Czech forces of the Bohemian Estates (hereby known as the Estates) positioned themselves on high ground overlooking a valley. Artillery was places throughout the Estates’ lines while the middle was populated by Czechs and Austrian mercenaries. The Imperial forces under Count von Tilly were set in three lines with Cossacks from Poland and Spanish cavalry on the flanks. Imperial cavalry on the right wing charged the Estate positions to which their commander, Christian Anhalt, could not respond to. The left collapsed as the Estate infantry and cavalry routed. Anhalt commanded his middle to attack the Imperial forces but Tilly absorbed these assaults and managed to surround the Czech, who was captured. Irish Catholic Henry Fitzsimon led his troops to crush the rest of the Estate forces and Tilly achieved a stunning victory. Tilly continued past Prague and into Germany where he continued his string of impressive victories, much to the admiration of Ferdinand II.
By 1625, Christian IV of Denmark sought ambitions to the south in the ever expanding 30 Years War. Tilly and Albrecht von Wallenstein led their forces north in order to confront the Protestant forces and in 1626, Tilly confronted the enemy at the Battle of Lutter. Tilly’s artillery was used to a massive advantage and when they repulsed a Danish assault, a cavalry charge routed the reorganizing Danes from the battlefield. Lutter cost the Danes some 6,000 men out of their 20,000; Tilly lost 200 men. With the Imperials in Jutland, Christian IV was forced to sign the Treaty of Lubeck which made him abandon support to the German Protestants.
Tilly was appointed commander of the Imperial Army afterthe Wallenstein debacle. Wallenstein’s power hungry manner and ignorance toward the Emperor cost Wallenstein his life. With Count von Tilly in command, Ferdinand II ordered him to move against the Swedish forces of Gustavus Adolphus who had invaded Germany in 1630. The Swedes had adopted Maurician tactics of the 80 Years War and created arguably the best fighting force of the pike and shot era. Tilly’s siege of Magdeburg ended in a victory, but his invasion of Saxony cost him an important ally. At Breitenfeld in 1631, Gustavus Adolphus’ forces devastated Tilly as his flank attempt was refused and eventually slaughtered by the Swedish-Saxon force. Tilly was forced to retreat back to Bohemia after losing 27,000 soldiers. Tilly positioned his troops on the River Lech and Gustavus Adolphus attacked rapidly. Tilly was wounded and died two weeks later.
While not the most notable general of the 30 Years War, Johann von Tilly remains an intriguing man whom we do not explore often. From being a Flemish soldier in the armies of the Holy Roman Empire to fighting off Czechs in the Bohemian Estate Wars, Tilly proved to be a major player of early 17th century warfare. His quick and comitted decisions led to many victories, but also drastic defeat at Breitenfeld. His quick death in a minor engagement really puts a stamp on his life and makes one realise how quickly even a general can fall from grace.
Painters have a fascination with the ocean. Monet’s “La Terasse de St.-Adresse”, Gericault’s “Raft of the Medusa”, and Turner’s “The Fighting Temerarie” all illustrate the sea’s crashing waves, ships tossing about, and the serenity of the water. Some paintings are of war, and the combination of these two themes create masterpieces. This painting, by Thomas Chambers, is “Capture of H.B.M Frigate Macedonian by U.S. Firgate United States, October 25, 1812.” It is time to explore both the art and the history behind Chambers’ piece.
The painting is in the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington D.C. on a wall in the second floor corridor. Painted in 1852, the image shows a duel between HMS Macedonian and the USS United States, early in the War of 1812. First we must understand the background to the piece. The War of 1812 began on the seas as the US and Britain became involved in a series of disputes over impressment. The United States’ claims to parts of Canada and the Franco-American sympathies helped turn the tide and war was declared in 1812. The USS United States was the first American frigate ever built, ordered in March of 1794. The ship’s captain, Stephen Decatur, allegedly made a bet with the commander of the Macedonian, John Carden, in Norfolk, Virginia. If the two were to meet in battle, Carden owed Decatur his beaver-felt hat. The United States was sent to patrol North Africa where it came into contact with the Macedonian off the Azores.
USS United States had a strong advantage over HMSMacedonian in its firepower. Most of the United States’ guns were 24-pounders, while HMS Macedonian was equipped with primarily 18-pounders. The United States also had six more guns and was a larger, more-powerful ship. The United States‘ broadsides riddled the British frigate at a long range and demasted the ship. Carden surrendered his ship after suffering some 100 casualties. The Macedonian was the first British ship to be bested by an American ship and the first to be returned to an American port (Newport, Rhode Island). HMS Macedonian was recommissioned as USS Macedonian and served until 1824.
The close-up above shows Capt. John Carden of HMS Macedonian announcing his surrender to the United States with a loudhailer as the American ship fires a broadside into the Macedonian‘s hull. The sails next to him are covered in holes from the shot. It is important to note the damages around the ship as the USS United States fired about seventy broadsides. Chambers’ painting shows the ship in a much better state than it would have been. Many of the crew on both side are on deck, but on the United States, they would have been below decks firing the broadside illustrated.
The whisps of smoke are my favourite part of this painting. Think how difficult it is to paint smoke and even show the wooden hull behind it. The American crew cheers from the deck and further to the right stands Decatur, responding to Carden over the roar of the cannon. Notice how the American ship is in the light of victory. Chambers was born in England, but moved to the United States where he would paint this in 1852. It is interesting to see where his loyalties lie.
While this painting is not as famous as “The Coronation of Napoleon” which I previously reviewed , it is still a very intriguing painting as it shows the different aspects of naval combat and the differences between each nation’s ships in one of the first naval engagements of the War of 1812.
This was a paper that I wrote last year for school but I have edited it to suit the blog better. I hope you enjoy it because I spent around two months researching:
The great European powers had fought a bloody struggle for three years prior to the United States joined the First World War. When the US declared war in 1917, their military was in a shambles and was completely unprepared for a modern war. In 1916, their army numbered around 100,000 men, an insignificant number compared to the European nations. However, the US’ involvement in the First World War allowed them to complete a necessary transition to modern war by learning lessons they would implement in later conflicts.
The last major war the United States had been involved in before 1914 was the Civil War, which cost the country around 600,000 lives. The tactics of that time were up-to-date for the Crimean War (1853-56) and were of ‘Napoleonic’ style. meaning troops would march in long lines towards one another and pour volleys into each other. These battles were preferably fought on open ground and discipline of formation was crucial. These tactics were severely outdated by World War 1.
By 1914, the US had been involved in two small wars: the Spanish-American War and the Philippine Insurrection. The Spanish-American War ended quickly, as the US defeated both the Spanish Army and Navy in Cuba and the Philippines. However, most fighting was conducted by the US Navy, so the infantry gained little experience. On the battlefields of France in 1917, an experienced navy would provide no advantage. A Filipino named Emilio Aguinaldo led a rebellion in the US-occupied Philippines, and the war lasted from 1899 to 1902. The US Army finally had its chance, but was shockingly defeated in the jungles in one of the most brutal wars in American history.
In 1914, Gavrilo Princip, a young Serbian student, assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Hercegovina, sparking a conflict that would span the globe. The US tried her best to avoid war, but John Keegan describes what forced a break in their neutrality:
“Two events changed America’s outlook. The first was a German clumsy approach to Mexico, proposing an alliance, baited with the offer to return Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico, if America went to war against Germany; this [was the] ‘Zimmerman Telegram’ […] The second was Germany’s decision to resume the unrestricted U-Boat campaign: sinking merchant shipping without warning in international waters.”
On April 6th, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress to declare war on Germany; the US had officially entered World War I. Wilson was reluctant to join the Entente after the American debacle in the Philippines, but he was eventually forced into doing so as a way to ‘preserve democracy.’ Yet Germany had little reason to be afraid of the US since the American forces were lacking drastically in quality compared to the German war machine.
German suspicions were right; the US Army was in no position to fight a European war. The German Naval Minister, Eduard von Capelle, derided the US by saying, “They will not even come because our submarines will sink them. Thus from a military point of view means nothing, and again nothing, and for a third time nothing.” The Americans mustered in just 107,641 men in 1917, surmounting to the 17th smallest army in the world. Their army was less in number than Belgium, who had been wiped aside by the Schlieffen Plan in 1914. The Germans had twenty times that number on the Western Front alone, with more arriving in late 1917 thanks to the Russian Civil War and the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. The only American troops of quality were the Marine Corps, spread thinly across Central America, Cuba, the Phillippines, and Guam. They only numbered 15,000 men.
Wilson appointed John J. Pershing as commander of the new American Expeditionary Force (AEF), but even Pershing’s tactics were outdated, as he had graduated from West Point in 1886. The tactics he had learned were of the Civil War, and would be of no use in Europe. If American troops had gone into the First World War like this, they would have suffered tremendously. In 1914, French troops tried this tactic at Mulhouse, suffering horrifying casualties and in just two months, had lost 200,000 men. Pershing’s needs for the AEF were simple: he wanted 3 million men in France, to fight on the offensive, and absolutely no Anglo-French intervention.
When the first American troops arrived in France in June 1917, the Entente forces had varying opinions of the men who had come to their aid. Lieutenant R.G. Dixon of the British Army first spotted the American troops and recalled them as being “infantry, all wearing very broad-brimmed hats, and marching in a very sloppy manner from Poperinghe. We sat up and gawped at them.” Dixon’s first encounter with an American officer did not impress either, as the attitude of the Americans was far from what they expected. The American is quoted as scoffing “Say Buddy, how far is it to this lil’ old shootin’ gallery of yours?” The French, on the other hand, were more welcoming to the AEF. Lieutenant Charles Chenu lauded “we fought alongside them, admired them, loved them.”
The Entente powers influenced America to adopt new uniforms. The US Army in the Spanish-American War wore a blue tunic with khaki or light-blue pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and leather boots. By WW1, the uniform had changed drastically to conform to modern styles. They wore an olive-drab tunic and pants, puttees, a steel helmet, and leather boots. The new uniform provided better camouflage than the blue Americans had worn since the Continental Army of 1776, and the helmet protected the wearer from shrapnel. The US also changed their weaponry and technology prior to the war. The M1903 Springfield was sent into action, replacing the complex breech-loaders that preceded them. Machine guns were also produced. They used the French Chauchat, the US-made Hotchkiss, and sometimes Lewis guns. Artillery also underwent drastic changed, as the French 75mm field gun replaced muzzle-loading cannon. Tanks and airplanes came into production as well, and some American pilots, like Eddie Rickenbacker, made their names as aces on the Western Front.
The Americans began fighting in Eastern France in 1918 at the Battle of Belleau Wood, with the USMC leading the attack. On September 10, the US fought independently against German forces at St. Mihiel. Their combined army assault on Pannes ant Bois de Thiacourt ended superbly with the Renault tanks and American infantry capturing their objectives with ease. Their final major test was the Battle of Meuse-Argonne which lasted from September 26, to November 11 , 1918. The battle began with a 3,980-gun barrage, inspired by the British. The terrain was horrific and a nightmare for organisation, as some pockets of American troops (ex. ‘The Lost Battalion’) became cut off in the brush. The flexibility of US troops in the Argonne was key, and if they had not been able to adapt, it is certainly possible they would have suffered a defeat. Hunter Liggett’s I Corps pushed German forces across the Meuse River, allowing the troops time to lick their wounds. 50,300 men lost their lives and 65,000 died of disease in the campaign. The First World War had given America a costly, yet necessary, experience of modern war.
Thanks to the technology and tactics that had been developed in WW1, the US had a much better grasp of the realities of modern war. In 1926, the US invaded Nicaragua and had a chance to flaunt their new strategies in the field. The USMC was used to begin an attack, just like in Belleau Wood. The key to success in Nicaragua was flexibility, which had been developed in the Argonne forest. One US company managed to march around 30 miles in one day. The fighting in the jungles of Nicaragua was a direct result of the style of warfare that developed in the Battle of Meuse-Argonne, and it would be implemented again in Melanesia, Guadalcanal, and Vietnam.
In 1939, World War II broke out, but this time, America was prepared to be involved. President Franklin D. Roosevelt passed the Selective Service Act in 1940 in an attempt to gather more forces in case of involvement. In 1940, the army numbered 269,000 men, and the next year, the ranks swelled to 1.4 million. US troops engaged enemy forces in small squads, utilizing machine guns to increase firepower. Combined arms attacks in Italy and France proved to be very successful, as were the USMC in the Pacific. WWII also saw a great increase in tanks and aircraft in lieu of their resounding success in the First World War.
The US involvement in the First World War allowed them to undergo a major transition from the old 19th century style of warfare to the style of modern war. The uniforms of American troops changed drastically from a traditional blue to a practical drab. Helmets and new weapons were introduced as well altered tactics with more stringent rules on formations which maximized the soldier’s effectiveness. The involvement also was important in saving the lives of millions of young American men. The truth is that the Americans would have been butchered in France if they had not adapted to modern war. Though thousands gave their lives for their country, the involvement in the First World War changed warfare for the United States and later led to the saving of millions of lives.
Bonk, David. St. Mihiel 1918. Long Island, NY: Osprey Publishing. 2011.
Boot, Max. The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power. New York. Basic Books, 2002.
Farwell, Byron. Over There: The United States in the Great War, 1917-18. New York: W.W. Norton, 2000.
Keegan, John. The First World War. New York: Vintage Books, 1998.
Lloyd, Nick. Hundred Days: The Campaign that Ended World War I. New York: Basic Books, 2014.
Neidell, Indiana. “The USA Before Joining World War 1: The Great War Special.” Youtube. Nov. 9 206. Web. Jan. 26, 2017.
Osburn, Patrick and Marc Romanych. The Hindenburg Line. New York: Osprey Pulishing, 2016
Yockelson, Mitchell. Forty-Seven Days. New York: New American Library, 2016.
Votaw, John. The American Expeditionary Forces in World War I. Long Island, NY: Osprey Publshing, 2005.
Osprey Publishing continues its “Combat” series with a study on the Soviet Afghan War (1979-89). A Soviet invasion intended to simply pacify the nation ended ten years later with thousands of dead on both sides and an overlooked war which shaped the modern situation in the Middle East. Soviet operations were widely led by their paratroopers, whom were mostly 18 year old conscripts far from home. The Mujahideen, Afghanistan’s anti-communist rebels, fought to reclaim their home and both sides committed atrocious crimes upon one another’s troops in battles through valleys, snowy mountains, and rocky outcrops for years.
The “Combat” series is one of my favourites because it covers so much information. The book is full of photographs of both armies and is accompanied by plates of two soldiers, a split-screen picture, and an excellent illustration of the battle for Hill 3234 by 9th company. The book contains a helpful map of Afghanistan in the introduction with each of the provinces labelled. There are plenty of explanations on the Soviet paras which are very interesting. Lots of quotes reveal the attitude of these young men and illustrates the fear of going to Afghanistan. One of the most harrowing is of Vladislav Tarasov- “when I was in my second year of college they changed the law and took me. ‘Anywhere but Afghanistan’ my mother said.” The book has plenty of descriptions of the brutality on both sides. From Russian hazing of their own recruits, to the Mujahideen human puppets they made out of captured soldiers. There are plenty of photos covering both sides of the war, which is surprising but also quite interesting.
My first and primary concern is a lack of background information on the Mujahideen. The author, David Campbell, has written another book about the Soviets in this series (Soviet vs Finnish Soldier in the Winter War, which is a great read), so it’s clear he prefers writing about the Soviets more. I still could have used some more information on the Afghanis. Major leaders, international support, and certain strongholds would have been very welcome. Yes, it is an introductory book to the subject, but I like balance in books, and compared to other “Combat” books, this one was not as such. The map for Hill 3234 is missing the unit numbers which bothered me. The commanding officers are all present, but I would have liked the unit designation. My last minor concern is the shoes in the Russian plate. I would have loved them to be in sneakers because many soldiers used them instead of boots on the mountains.
This book is a really interesting idea, but in practice, it fell short of expectations. The artwork, photos, and quotes are superb; but a lot feels as if it is missing. This definitely expands horizons and makes me want to explore the Soviet-Afghan War in depth, and I hope you do too.