Book Review: The Last Battle

Peter Hart’s new book, The Last Battle, is a study of the concluding months of the First World War. Beginning at the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, Hart takes readers through the dying days of the war and reveals its ferocity and brutality even with hours before armistice. I was wildly impressed with this book and enjoyed it much more than I originally thought.

Praise:

Hart’s use of quotes is fantastic and there is rarely a page without one. The large number of quotes paint a great picture of the soldiers’ experiences. Many of the quotes are from British troops, but it includes a number of Commonwealth troops. American, French, and German perspectives also add to the book. Since Hart is an oral historian, he knows how to use quotations perfectly in his books. If you have read Gallipoli, you will not be dissapointed. here are a few maps included of certain battles as well as an overview of Flanders in Sept. 1918. Hart includes the sectors of each individual army and breaks it down by division. Chapter 1 is very useful since it reviews the effects of Operation Michael (Kaiserschlacht) on the Western Front. A casualty list gives readers an idea of how costly this war has proven. A lot of people would assume this book is about the infantry. The book includes a large number of sources from artillery and air units, including vivid descriptions of dogfights and devastating air crashes. This book gives you a feeling, something not many history books do. When you know a war is drawing to an end, each lost life you read about hurts just a bit more. Men die with weeks, days, hours, even minutes before peace. It feels horrible when you know somebody is so close to being safe and returning home to their mothers, wives, and children.

Criticism:

I have little criticism about this book, but the main thing is the lack of German or French sources. There are a decent number, but a few more wouldn’t hurt at all. The maps were VERY confusing at first thanks to complex objective lines, but there’s a key so it’s not as bad as it sounds.

Rating:

5/5

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Greek Propaganda of WW1

The World Wars were full of colorful propaganda posters urging people to buy bonds or enlist to serve their respective nations. Minor nations continued to galvanize their populations for war, so this is an exploration of Greece’s propaganda. Greece, originally split by a pro-Germany monarch and a pro-Entente parliament, hosted the Salonika front and fought in her fair share of battles after joining in 1917. Their famous evzones and crack mountain troops proved capable in the First World War thanks to the Balkan Wars of 1912-13.

  1. Greeks! Enlist!
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“Greeks! Enlist! The barbarians slaughter our brothers, our villages, old men and women? What are you waiting for? To arms!”

This poster shows a Greek soldier in a drab coat holding his hand out to the countryside where we see a group of dead citizens, one of which is a baby. The trees are cut down and the village is blazing in the background while thick black smoke curls around the soldier. He shouts, raising his Greek Mauser to the sky, and beckons the reader to enlist and prevent the “barbarous” Turks and Austrians from destroying their home. If you pay close attention, you can see the Orthodox Church on fire in the town. This man is an evzone, an elite Greek infantryman perfect for fighting in the rocky hills. The classic tasseled fez is a giveaway, as are the pants. Evzones and other Greeks usually did not wear puttees- preferring long socks or stockings over the leg wraps.

2. Balkan Wars

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“5 October, 1912. The Balkans against tyranny!”

Yes, this is not technically a First World War poster, but I find it’s meaning fits comfortably for that. This depicts the situation in the Balkans in October 1912, just two years before Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination. Two days later than the date (Oct. 5) on the poster, the nations above declared war on the “sick man of Europe”- the Ottoman Empire. The Turks are shown as a hideous dragon-like creature surrounded by bones. The nations (from left to right) of Bulgaria, Greece, Serbia, and Russia are all slicing the monster in quarters. Behind them is an angel wielding a cross. This poster shows the extreme anti-Turkish sentiment of Greeks at this time. The Greek soldier wears much more traditional dress, showing us the pre-war styles of these four nations. Again, note the stockings and fez. Of course, the Turks are not monsters as this pictures- this is simply outdated wartime propaganda.

 

3. The White Tower

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“White Tower of Thessaloniki…but what hard stone!”

Salonika is the northern region of Greece over which all of the Central Powers and the majority of Entente members clashed with one another. The city of Thessaloniki sits in this region, and standing proud is the White Tower. In this poster, a German officer charges headfirst into the tower, cracking his head repeatedly while a Greek peers over the edge. Greek, British, Russian, French, Serbian, and Romanian forces held Salonika for the duration of the campaign in bitter sieges, but the Germans and Bulgarians were unable to defeat them. This is a perfect symbol! An image of Thessaloniki stopping the invaders.

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The White Tower

 

Though Greece played a minor role in the Great War, she still produced a collection of colorful propaganda posters.

Movie Review: 7 Days in Entebbe

7 Days in Entebbe recounts the events of the 1976 Israeli Operation Thunderbolt to rescue over 100 passengers from a hijacked Air France flight. The film, directed by Jose Padilha, came to theatres in mid-March and stars Daniel Bruhl, Rosamund Pike, Eddie Marsan, and Lior Ashkenazi. I saw the movie last weekend and felt I should review it, since a lot of critics have been saying it does not live up to its expectations.

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Wilfried Bose (Bruhl) and Brigitte Kuhlmann (Pike) in front of the plane at Entebbe Airport

THERE WILL BE SOME SPOILERS IN THIS POST

First, we need to know a very basic background to Operation Thunderbolt. Air France flight 139 was hijacked by members of the PFLP (People’s Front for the Liberation of Palestine) on its way to Paris from Tel Aviv, Israel via Athens. Two Germans, Brigitte Kuhlmann and Wilfried Bose, assisted in the hijack. The plane was taken to Benghazi and refueled, before arriving in Entebbe, Uganda. A large portion of the passengers were Israelis, prompting worry from Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Over a period of 7 days, Israel teetered over whether to negotiate with the terrorists or not. Rabin launched Operation Thunderbolt in which Israeli commandos and IDF paratroopers landed at Entebbe and rescued the captives while killing all of the terrorists and a number of Ugandan soldiers sent by Idi Amin to help guard the airport.

Praise:

The variety of foreign languages in this film is fantastic. We hear Greek at the Athens Airport where the hijackers boarded the plane. Bose and Kuhlmann speak German throughout the film. The French pilots and stewardesses speak French. Palestinians speak Arabic. Israelis speak Hebrew. While this is not a major part of the film, it gives a great asthetic to it and helps convey the global reach of the incident. The personal motives of the terrorists are all explored separately; the Germans have their ideals, the other terrorists have theirs. The film jumps from a variety of points-of-view as we see Rabin’s, Defense Minister Shimon Peres’, and the view of an Israeli commando. This was a little confusing at parts, but the jumps back and forth help you understand each person clearly and what they feel. There is a lot of period style in this movie and everybody smokes. The font style, camera lighting, and other aspects all scream 1970s. The movie is also accurate. A British-Israeli is let off the plane after faking a miscarriage, just like in real life. The raid itself is not very long, just as it was in real life. Israeli commandos use AK-47s and -74s as they did in the actual raid. The portrayal of Idi Amin as a lunatic obsessed with hunting and saying he is sent from God is all true. The casting is also very well done, especially for Israelis. Yoni Netanyahu, elder brother of Benjamin, looks extremely similar to his real-life counterpart. Rabin and Peres are also very well casted. The emotional tension of both sides is captured in great detail in the film as well. Another thing I specifically liked was the use of newscasts and historical film blended into the movie to help demonstrate the raid better.

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Israeli commandos on a practice run of the Operation in “7 Days in Entebbe”

Criticism:

There are a number of things left out of this movie, notably the rest of the Israeli paratroopers. The only troops shown are just commandos, but that makes sense since we are mostly focused on the main terminal. There is also an obsession with interpretive dance for some reason in the movie. The commando we meet, played by Ben Schnetzer, has a girlfriend who dances and there are a lot of scenes about her. I tried to find some reason for this, but I can’t really think of any good theories to say about it. At some points, I felt the movie was trying to change your opinion on the German hijackers, making them seem much more sorry for their choices. Yes, this does show we’re all human, but they did hijack an airplane and threaten to kill 106 people. It could have done a bit better of a job on the raid itself, and not put some random dancing in it, since that sorta killed the mood.

All in all, I don’t think this movie deserves the amount of criticism it gets. I really enjoyed it, and while it is not an extremely violent and explosion-filled film, it shows the abruptness of the raid itself and focuses a lot on the motivations behind each personality involved. I would highly recommend seeing it.

Rating: 4/5

 

Grenada 1983: The Overlooked Invasion

Grenada- a small island nation near Venezuela which only gained her independence in 1974. In the early 1980s, the tiny country was the subject of immense controversy after a US-led invasion and disposal of the new Cuban-supported government. Grenada was headed by Prime Minister Maurice Bishop ever since he led a revolution to establish a People’s Government. Bishop was assassinated in a military coup a week before the invasion, and the nation was thrown into disarray. The US invaded to fulfill the Truman Doctrine and prevent the USSR from building airstrips on the island, but the invasion itself gained global attention since Grenada was a former British colony.

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American paratroopers leading away captured Grenadans.

President Ronald Reagan ordered a force of 2,000 troops to invade the island on October 26th in what is called Operation ‘Urgent Fury’. The USSR immediately jumped in on the situation, saying the US attack was a breach of international law and an act of terrorism. Grenada’s army was small and armed with little anti-air weaponry. They had a few BTR-60 APCs but no tanks. The 82nd Airborne landed and captured a large portion of their objectives, while the 75th Rangers captured and secured a LZ. The 8th Marines Regiment attacked and captured another airport and helped the US forces claim victory on the first day of the invasion. 2 Americans were killed and another 23 were wounded.

US troops had little intelligence and had to improvise constantly in order to secure positions against the Grenadan and Cuban forces. US Navy SEALS failed to take their objectives, attacking wrong buildings and becoming mixed up due to a lack of maps. The advancing American troops had no idea of the number of forces they were facing, and assumed they were heavily outnumbered by Cuban troops.

On the 27th, the US 2/325th attacked Cuban positions at Calliste, where they managed to capture a large number of weapons. This ended the Cuban forces’ ability to counter the American invaders since a large portion of their equipment was lost. Meanwhile, US Rangers safely transported over 200 American students offshore in fear of the citizens getting killed in the fighting. Marines continued to push inland the next morning and pushed Grenadan troops back while bombing runs from planes of the USS Independence strafed the enemy positions. Missiles from the USS Clifton Sprague and support from the destroyers USS Caron, Koontz, and Moosbrugger ended the resistance from Grenadan forces. 19 Americans were killed.

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American MPs standing over captured weapons.

The United Kingdon, headed by Margaret Thatcher, was furious that Reagan had attacked a member of the Commonwealth without consent. Democrat members of the US Congress disagreed with Reagan. Sen. Lawton Chiles asked if the US was “looking for a war to win?” While Democrats primarily disagreed with the invasion, Republicans supported it. Senator John Tower said “the island is strategically located and a Marxist presence there is not in our national interest.” Conflict in Congress and pressure from the UK for an explanation prompted Reagan to apologize to Thatcher later as a result of miscommunication on his part. Grenada still celebrates the invasion to this day, even though most Americans don’t remember nor learn about it.

This is a list of the American servicemen who died in Grenada:

Kenneth J. Butcher                                     Mark A. Rademacher

Randy Cline                                                 Michael F. Ritz

Gary L. Epps                                                Russell L. Robinson

John P. Giguere                                           Robert R. Schamberger

Philip S. Grenier                                         Jeb F. Seagle

Kevin J. Lannon                                          J.R. Sharver

Keith J. Lucas                                              Stephen E. Slater

Keven E. Lundberg                                    Stephen L. Morris

Marlin R. Maynard

Book Review: Ramillies 1706

Ramillies, by Michael McNally, is not a recent book from Osprey Publishing, but I purchased it relatively recently and felt reviewing it would be fine. Published in 2014, this book recounts the Duke of Marlborough’s victory over a Franco-Spanish-Bavarian force in the Flanders campaign of the War of Spanish Succession. “Marlborough’s tactical masterpiece” according to the subtitle, is arguably more important than the 1704 Battle of Blenheim since Ramillies effectively destroyed all resistance of Bourbon forces in the Low Countries in a spectacular battle with wonderful tactics by Marlborough’s Allied force.

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Praise

McNally does a fantastic job with the ORBAT in this book, listing the origins of each regiment in the battle and the number of battalions. Each brigade and division lists the number of troops in the formation as well as divisional and brigade commanders. The illustrations by Sean O’Brogain are wonderful and very dynamic, showing all aspects of the battle and are placed very appropriately in accordance with the text. Sometimes Osprey doesn’t do this well, but it is spot on with Ramillies. The pictures always show what is going on during the battle and reflect specific events talked about, like the routing Bourbon right or the wounding of James Gardiner. There are some very nice prints put in the book as well as some really nice photographs of the Ramillies battlefield. The maps in this book are very well done too.

Criticism

The chronology section is lacking and quite complex, so I was dissapointed in that. The book also makes a big deal out of the battlefield being less flat than you’d expect, but the maps are still really flat. It’s just contradicting. Apart from that, there really aren’t any problems with this.

I enjoyed this book, especially since I don’t know too much about the War of Spanish Succession. Osprey does a good job with this one, and McNally also does a good job, especially with the order of battle. There’s a lot of interesting tactics and descriptions of the contrasting styles of warfare from the French and Allied forces.

Rating: 4.5/5

Also, if you want to see the illustrator, Sean O’Brogain, travelling around Ramillies, please visit his blog here.

The War of Bavarian Succession

The common theme of “Wars of Succession” in the 18th century affected Spain, Austria, and even Poland. However, the War of Bavarian Succession (1778-79) is widely overlooked by most. It did shape the basis for Napoleonic Central Europe in the upcoming years of turmoil on the Continent.

The Austrians had suffered defeat in their own War of Succession in the 1740s, but Maria Theresa still kept her throne. One of the main parts of Austrian lands they lost was Silesia, a strip of modern-day Poland which belonged to Prussia. When Maria Theresa gave up her title as Holy Roman Empress, the throne passed to her son Joseph II, who wanted to revive Austrian influence in Germany. His reforms of the Austrian military cast a shadow over his reign, as many Austrians were filled with discontent. The situation in the Empire was tense: they wanted to restate their claim as the most important German nation and also reclaim land lost in the Seven Years’ War and War of Austrian Succession.

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Prussian soldiers circa 1778

In December of 1777, the Elector of Bavaria, Maximilian III, died and caused a power vacuum akin to previous problems of succession. Charles Theodore became the new ruler and ceded Bavaria to the Austrians in exchange for the Austrian Netherlands. Joseph II’s pressure on Charles caused the deal to go through, much to Prussia’s disgust. Prussia backed Charles August, Duke of Zweibrucken, and countered the Austrians. When Imperial troops occupied Bavaria, Frederick II declared war. Joseph II led his troops against the Prussians, but no real engagements were fought. Most were simple supply raids through the winter, which led the war to be known as either the “Potato War” or the “Plum Scrum.” Many soldiers on both sides died of starvation in the frigid winters or of diseases which ravaged camps. The Austrians and Prussians lost a combined 39,000 men and 5,000 horses in a war with no major battles.In May of 1779, the aging Maria Theresa intervened, as she was still ‘King’ of Bohemia and Hungary (the throne was legally supposed to be occupied by a man). She organised a separate peace with Frederick, and the war came to a close. Charles Theodore was kept on the throne of Bohemia but Austria would renounce her claims to Bavaria.

Flags of the French Ancien Regime

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.

Line Regiments

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.

Flag of Auvergne

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.

Royal Marines Flag

Irish

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.

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The Flag of the Bulkeley Regiment

Guards

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.

 

Swiss

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.

Boccard Regiment Flag

Others

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.

Royal Polish Regiment

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!