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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Brief History of the Bosnian Civil War

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3 April, 1992- Kupres

May 1992- Serbia vs Bosnia

22 May, 1992- Bosnia in UN

7 January, 1993- Kravica ambush by Bosniaks

April 1993- Croatia vs Bosnia

5 February, 1993- Markale Massacre

4 August, 1994- Operation Storm

July 1995- Srebrenica Massacre

September 1995- NATO bomb runs

21 November, 1995- Dayton Peace Agreement

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.

HMS Macedonian vs USS United States

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.

Capture of H.B.M. Frigate Macedonian by U.S. Frigate United States, October 25, 1812

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.

Carden and the Macedonian

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.

USS United States

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.

Brief History of the Croatian War of Independence

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1990- SAO Krajina formed

July 1991- Independence

August 1991- Vukovar

Sept. 1991- Battle of the Barracks

Oct. 1991- Dubrovnik

Oct. 1991- Zagreb TV bombed

Nov. 1991- Vukovar massacre

1992- UN intervenes

Jan 1993- Operation Maslenica

Sept 1993- Operation Medak Pocket

1994- Siege of Bihać

1995- Operation Flash

1995- Zagreb attacked

Aug. 1995- Operation Storm

Nov. 1995- Erdut Agreement

Bernardo O’Higgins: Chile’s Finest General

O’Higgins was born on August 20, 1778 to an Irish father and a Spanish mother. His father, Ambrose, was elected Prime Minister of Chile in 1788, paving the way for his son to become an important figure in Chile’s history. Bernardo left for Peru to attend college, later travelling to England and Spain. By 1801, he returned to Chile after his father’s death. When he returned, he became involved in politics and was a key member of the nationalist movement.

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Bernardo O’Higgins

In 1808, Spain was in turmoil as French armies swept through the country. Seeing their opportunity, many South Americans rose up against imperial rule. Two years later, politicians in Santiago announced independence and elected new leaders of the rebelling nation. The initial process was peaceful, as Chilean nationalists did not bother with relations to the Viceroyalty of Peru (one of Spain’s two American colonial regions). However, Spain returned with force in 1814 and attempted to reclaim Chile and other rebellious nations. At the Battle of Rancagua on Oct 1-2, Bernardo O’Higgins led Chilean troops against veteran Spanish forces of the Napoleonic Wars. O’Higgins was crushed. Without reinforcements from Santiago, the Chileans suffered some 1,000 casualties out of an initial force of 2,000. This battle marked the beginning of the Reconquista of America.

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The Battle of Chacabuco

O’Higgins fled to neighbouring Argentina where he and Argentine nationalist, Jose de San Martin, began forming a new army. In January 1817, the two returned to Chile with their new force, the Army of the Andes. San Martin’s tactical genius and O’Higgins’ decisiveness won the Battle of Chacabuco. The Battle of Maipu was on April 5, 1818 near Santiago. The 5,000-strong Army of the Andes attacked Manuel Osorio’s Spanish force. Using his grenadiers and cazadores to his advantage, O’Higgins countered Spanish attacks while San Martin attacked with the main force and artillery. The victory at Maipu is viewed as the decisive battle for Chile’s independence.

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O’Higgins (left without the bicorne) speaking with San Martin at the Battle of Maipu

O’Higgins went on to create the Chilean Navy later that year, as well as becoming the leader of Chile itself. While in power, he tried removing power of the oligarchy, but failed to do so. Regular attacks on Spanish Royalists and other supporters tainted his reign, as his campaigns became known as the Guerra de Muerte. O’Higgins abdicated in 1823 after losing popular support, and was exiled to Argentina. Years later, O’Higgins and his family were allowed to return but cardiac issues caused him many problems. He became an avid supporter of the navy and colonization before his death in 1842. His last words were “Magallanes…magallanes” which showed his pro-colonisation ideals. Chile did control the Strait of Magellan later on after his death.

O’Higgins is revered in Chile to this day. Massive celebrations occurred on the bicentenary of his birth in 1978, and a Chilean football team is named in his honour. While not as remembered as Bolivar, O’Higgins was an advocat of Latin American independence, one of Chile’s most important founding fathers, and a bold general to be remembered.