Brief History of South Africa

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1488- Dias discovers

1652- VOC

1818- Shaka

1830- Great Trek

1847- Cape and Natal

1848- Orange Free State

1852- South African Republic

1869- Diamonds

1879- Zulu War

1880- Boer War 1

1899- Boer War 2

1909- South Africa unites

1948- Apartheid

1966- Border War

1994- Mandela

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Book Review: Dutch Armies of the 80 Years’ War 1568-1648 (2)

Osprey Publishing recently released the second part of their Dutch 80YW Men at Arms Series. I reviewed Bouko de Groot’s first title already, so it’s time to complete the series. Book two covers the cavalry, artillery, and engineers which de Groot mentions were key to the war. The war was full or sieges and a surprising amount of trench warfare. As well as Maurice of Nassau’s infantry reforms, he also changed the cavalry and used much more artillery than his Spanish opponents. The sieges of major cities would require strong artillery, so Maurice made sure his Dutch forces were equipped well. His engineers were also trained in bridging, fieldworks, entrenchments, and more.

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Praise:

de Groot’s previous book was great and sold out on the Osprey Website quickly according to their company blog. This book is reminiscent of his last work. Each of the branches is split up clearly so you can see the evolution form the three stages of conflict. A map showing all of the sieges in the war is provided for you as well to give the reader an idea of how important siege tactics would become during the war. There are some interesting illustrations, one of which is part of the drill manual for firing a pistol on horseback. Many people who study pike & shot era warfare know of the complex manuals of musketeer drills, but this was the first I had seen of a cavalry drill. Bouko de Groot gives specifications of each artillery piece the Dutch used throughout the war and Gerry Embleton’s colour plates are superb, showing limbered artillery. One interesting point the author makes is that “[the] 80 Years’ War changed the craft of war into a science,” and his section on engineering is a proof of that. From an improvised dam made of horses to Friese ruiter, the engineers of Maurice’s army were incredibly capable and quick thinking. There is also a general round up of the whole army towards the back and it talks about weapons, munitions, formations, and command structures which is nice to review.

Criticism:

The map at the beginning is very informative, but extremely jumbled and hard to understand. It takes a while to locate a specific battle you are trying to find. In some of the sections, I was also left with wanting more. I would like to have known what other field fortifications the engineers made, how forts were built, more information on the cavalry such as the horses they used, and more on trench warfare. The notion of Dutch and Spanish soldiers tossing grenades at one another, firing wheelocks at close range, and getting stuck in with a sword is absolutely fantastic, and I was left with a feeling of not being satiated.

The book overall is very good and if you have the infantry book, I would highly recommend this book as a companion. Embleton’s plates do not disappoint, de Groot explains everything a novice would wonder about equipment (improving much on last time), and covers the army as a whole. De Groot also has a Facebook page devoted to the 80 Years War, so why not give it a look here. There is info on flags, reenactments, and some amazing contemporary prints.

Rating: 4/5

The Rif War: Prelude to Spain’s Civil War

Morocco’s horrible political dealings had ended poorly and European nations prayed on the weakened country. In 1912, Spain and France agreed on the creation of a Spanish colony in northern Morocco along the Rif Valley on the Mediterranean. With Spain’s defeat in the Spanish-American War, they were eager to create a new colony. The Rif was occupied by a large, fiercely independent Berber population.

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Berber guerillas in the Rif Mountains

Spanish troops attempted to pacify the Berbers, but Abd El-Krim, a member of the Beni Urriaguel, decided to unite the Berbers against the Spanish. Establishing the Rif Republic in 1920, El-Krim banded together guerillas to resist the Spanish troops in the area. The Berber tribesmen were not numerous at all, but were great at skirmishing against their enemies. They had traditionally repelled Arab invasions of their home in the Rif Mountains. The Spanish would be one of their toughest challenges yet. General Manuel Fernandez Silvestre commanded the Spanish troops at the front, but quick attacks by El-Krim forced him to abandon his position at Anwal on July 22, 1921. The Spaniards were hit quickly and were not prepared whatsoever, suffering staggering casualties. Silvestre was killed along with some 10,000 Spaniards and Spain was smashed back to the coast.

Things stayed the same until 1924 when the Spanish government snapped into action. Miguel Primo de Rivera recalled Spanish troops to form a defensive line at Tetuan and came under major scrutiny. Abd El-Krim and his Muslim Berber army took control of the land the Spanish evacuated and established a law code, built roads, and created trade agreements. He turned towards the French colony in Morocco and decided to unite his Republic with the other Berbers. Attacking Fes, the Berbers caused heavy French casualties in a quick ambush. The French made the decision to ally with the Spanish in order to combat the Berber threats to their colonies. Philippe Petain took control of the French in Morocco and in a collaboration with the Spanish, the French marched 20,000 troops to deal with the threat. Spain landed 18,000 soldiers at Alhucemas Bay in September 1925 and the two sides joined to fight the 10,000 Berbers. Abd El-Krim’s guerillas couldn’t withstand such force and began to be pushed back from the coast. The Spanish captured Ajdir on October 2 and dealt a huge blow to the Riffians.

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Spanish Foreign Legionnaires defending Alhucemas

By March the next year, El-Krim had been so badly defeated that he asked for peace talks with the Europeans. The Spanish refused and continued to hammer Berber troops out of their lands. El-Krim was captured by the French in April and he was forced to unconditionally surrender. He and his family were sent to Reunion in exile and Morocco was reclaimed by Spain and France. The Rif War sparked thoughts of independence in the area and would later spring to life after World War Two. This also marked the beginning of the Spanish problems. Soon, the Spanish Civil War would tear the country in two and serve as the training ground for the European nations before World War Two.

10 Amazing Facts about the Ottoman Janissaries

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  1. Janissaries did not wear as flamboyant clothes as many people illustrate them. They more commonly wore brown robes.
  2. They carried a special sword called a yataghan which was curved, had no guard, and was double-edged.
  3. Janissaries were originally recruited at a young age from Christian families and converted to Islam. This would later change.
  4. There were some 60,000 Janissaries in the Battle of Vienna in 1683.
  5. Janissaries were famed for their close-quarter combat and were some of the best in the world.
  6. They were the one of the first armies to use matchlocks on a large basis. Most janissaries used them.
  7. Janissaries did not have to carry weapons everywhere. It was common for them to be piled on a wagon during a campaign to remove strain during long marches.
  8. Janissaries were expertly trained archers as well.
  1. Janissaries were disbanded in 1826 due to the ongoing Tanzimat Reforms by Mahmud II.
  2. Yanisar is used in Ukraine today as a word meaning “traitor.”

 

Book Review: The Odyssey of Echo Company

The Odyssey of Echo Company by Doug Stanton describes a company of the 101st Airborne Division who are sent to Vietnam in 1968, right at the beginning of the Tet Offensive. Stan Parker, a 19 year old from Indiana, goes against his mother and joins the military. He finds his way into a tight group of young mates united in pain through wounds, loss, and grief. Stan’s rocky relationships with his family and girlfriend affect him and when he returns to America, he is still faced with intense problems and discrimination from those against the war.

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Praise:

One of the more interesting parts of the book is how Stan deals with being home and how cruel the American public was to Vietnam veterans at the time and how emotionally complex it was, and still is, for veterans. The book does draw you in during combat and makes you want to keep reading on. It’s very interesting to see how much emotion is involved in the Vietnam War, and the book definitely captures that.

Criticism:

It was very easy to tell that Doug Stanton is not a historian by some of the ways he describes things. He calls nearly every weapon a gun and it rolls the eyes of historians who don’t want to hear about the “M60 Gun.” The book’s maps are a little child-like and cartoonish as well, and they illustrate things he has already spoken about in the book: they don’t really serve much of a purpose. There is a lot of stereotyping in this book and cliches you hear in nearly every Vietnam story. They’re all just kids, they don’t know where they are, they’re there to kill communists. This is in pretty much every single Vietnam story out there. One of the things that particularly bothered me was a part of the book in which Stan Parker, as a young boy, has to wear metal knee braces. he is chased by some school bullies and he just takes the braces off and runs in an absolute miracle. Allegedly, Stanton heard all of this from Parker himself and that the book is as historically accurate as possible. The scene is exactly the same in the classic movie, Forrest Gump, which makes me really wonder about the book’s authenticity. In another scene, Stan calls the President and speaks to both Robert McNamara and Lyndon B. Johnson. That just seems insanely unlikely. The fact that the book is based around one person doesn’t give as much freedom as I thought. The book is about Stan, not about Echo Company. He knows and interacts with his company, but there is no real story development about them. The writing style of this book also feels really choppy and clumsy. There’s a huge amount of repetition and it just gets to be tiring after a certain point.

The book just doesn’t live up to the comments on the back. Compared to The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, this book is dwarfed. The writing style isn’t as good, and O’Brien has a first hand experience of death and hell in Vietnam. He knows the feeling to kill. It’s hard to live up to some of the Vietnam greats. This book just seems tacky and not really what I expected.

Rating: 1.5/5

“Seemed to arrest fortune with one glance”: The Battle of Monmouth

October 13th marks the birthday of one of America’s most famous folk heroes- Molly Pitcher. Mary Ludwig Hays, as she was really named, is remembered for her alleged actions at the Battle of Monmouth Court House in New Jersey during the American Revolution. How did Hays get her nickname, and why is Monmouth one of the war’s most important battles?

In June 1778, the British army under General Sir Henry Clinton had been ordered to move its troops to New York after spending the winter camped in Philadelphia. After the defeat at Saratoga, the British wanted to secure a position in the north again. Seeing their opportunity, Generals George Washington and Harry Lee launched an attack on the rear of Clinton’s force in Monmouth, New Jersey, on June 28th. The blazing sun beat down on the Continental troops who had been training at Valley Forge to compete as an army on the open field thanks to assistance from Baron von Steuben, a former Prussian officer. Heat was estimated at 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37 Celsius) with high humidity, no weather to fight a battle in.

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Washington ahead of the Continental Line

Lee was ordered to lay in wait along the Middletown Road for the British column to pass by. This would have allowed Washington to assault Clinton’s main force while the reserves were preoccupied. However, Lee’s attack was poorly coordinated and the Americans were smashed back by British forces, outraging Washington. The rest of the Continental troops arrived to support Lee’s broken forces, rallying on the high ridge next to Monmouth Court House. Washington placed Lee’s troops in command of the Marquis de Lafayette. Generals Greene, Wayne, and Sirling’s divisions held the heights while the British forces prepared to attack.

The American artillery stunned the British troops advancing to attack Stirling’s division and they were soon beaten back in a counterattack. An assault on Greene’s troops failed, but Wayne’s division broke. The heat quickly winded many soldiers on both sides as artillery and musketry whizzed back and forth.

As the story goes, William Hays, a member of the 4th Continental Artillery, collapsed of heat exhaustion. His wife, Mary, stepped up and immediately filled his position at the gun, continuing to fire the cannon in his place. Mary was nicknamed “Molly Pitcher” as she and the Continentals kept the battle raging on. A British musket ball zipped through her skirt, missing her body, and she resumed firing. Joseph Plumb Martin, whose diaries survived and recounted the events of an average soldier in the continental army, confirmed the incident. Molly Pitcher went down in history as one of America’s most important and recognizable women.

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Mary Ludwig Hays fighting against the British

By 6PM, the British decided to end the day and fall back. Though a few generals wanted to chase them, George Washington refused and held the heights in case of British attack the next day. The Americans had suffered about 700 casualties and the British, the same number. Washington’s trust in Lee severely deteriorated after the battle, and many called for his sacking. Cries of treason tainted Lee’s reputation.

The question arises who actually won the Battle of Monmouth. While the Americans drove the British from the field, they suffered heavy casualties and their line broke in the centre. The early morning failure of Lee did drag in Washington to fight a different battle that intended, and tainted one of the more important generals in the Continental Army. The British suffered as many casualties, and were forced to march off the field. However, they still made their way towards New York and and also managed to defeat Lee’s initial attack. The battle is certainly up for debate, but most credit the victory to the Americans, as this was their first open battle against the British.

10 Amazing Facts on Alexander the Great

 

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1. Alexander was made King of Macedon at just 20 years old.

2. He was actually afraid of beards.

3. Alexander’s army reached India but his troops refused to march on, reaching the extent of his empire.

4. He was tutored by the Greek philosopher Aristotle.

5. His horse was named Bucephalus, meaning “ox-head.”

6. The wives and children of Darius, Alexander’s most notable enemy, were spared after the Battle of Issus. Darius fled, yet Alexander chose not to harm his family as respect for royalty.

7. The siege of Tyre was conducted because the native Phoenicians chose not to let Alexander commit a sacrifice inside the city temple.

8. Alexander married a Persian even though they were his sworn enemies.

9. Alexander died of a raging fever at just age 33.

10. The Macedonian army traveled over 20,000 miles during Alexander’s reign.