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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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

 

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!

 

 

Matchlocks versus Flintlocks

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.

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Part of a 17th century French drill manual on firing a matchlock musket

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?

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British musketeers at Blenheim, 1704 – The War of Spanish Succession was the first war in which the matchlock truly was replaced on the battlefield. It was still used, however, by some Russians in the Great Northern War.

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.

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The pan of a matchlock musket

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.

Wargame Figures: Ottomans in the Crimean War

One of the four allied countries to send troops to fight the Russians, the Ottoman Empire sent a large army to Crimea. Their westernized uniforms with fezzes were a common sight on the battlefields, as over 140,000 Ottoman soldiers fought in the war. 45,000 of these soldiers would lose their lives, more than even the British forces in the war. To use my Ottoman troops in your Crimean War wargames, click here.

Ottoman Contingent

Wargame Figures: Prussian Uhlans of the Franco-Prussian War 1870-71

Uhlans, the lancers of the Prussian Army, were a large portion of the cavalry during the Franco-Prussian War. Each was armed with a long lance and a sword. Many carried pistols as well. The czapka was the most recognizable uniform item of the uhlan, and many lancers of other nations had used the flat-topped helmet for years. Uhlans wore Prussian blue and came from all reaches of the Prussian Empire. Included in the set I have made are the Guard Uhlans. Click here to go to Junior General and view my miniatures.

Prussian Uhlans