TOC – Journal of Military History, Vol. 75, No. 2

The latest edition of the Journal of Military History has just been published. Some interesting articles this time around.

Hew Strachan, ‘Clausewitz and the First World War

English-language authors have blamed Clausewitz twice over for his part in the First World War. Liddell Hart attributed to him a doctrine of “absolute war,” embraced by European general staffs and emulated by the British. More recent scholars have seen the war as lacking a political rationale and so contradicting what is today the best-known of the nostrums of On War. But that was not the case before 1914, when Clausewitz’s text was interpreted in different but equally valid lights. This article analyses how On War was read by the principal belligerents both during the war and in its immediate aftermath.

David S. Bachrach, ‘Early Ottonian Warfare: The Perspective from Corvey’

Traditionally, scholarly works focusing on warfare in tenth-century Germany have depicted Ottonian armies as consisting of small bands of heavily armed, mounted warriors who raided their enemies in the hope of gaining plunder and glory. This model has been based on a selective reading of a small corpus of narrative texts, including Widukind of Corvey’s Res gestae Saxonicae. This image of Ottonian warfare, however, is at odds not only with vast and growing corpus of information about tenth century fortifications that has been developed by archaeologists, but also with the discussions by the authors of contemporary narrative sources, including Widukind. Indeed, a careful reading of the Corvey monk’s work as a whole makes clear that he depicts sieges conducted by large armies as the dominant form of warfare conducted by Henry I (919-936) and Otto I (936-973), the first two kings of the Ottonian dynasty.

Kevin J. Weddle, ‘ ‘The Fall of Satan’s Kingdom’:Civil-Military Relations and the Union Navy’s Attack on Charleston, April 1863’

During the American Civil War (1861–65) a crisis in civil-military relations culminated in the U.S. Navy’s disastrous April 1863 attack by an all-ironclad fleet on the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina. This article examines the serious differences between Union Rear Admiral Samuel Francis Du Pont and Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles and his assistant Gustavus Fox and sheds light on the relief of a senior military commander and on questionable decisions by key civilian leaders. While Welles and Fox—both highly competent administrators—do not emerge untarnished from this episode, Du Pont must take the lion’s share of the blame for the battle’s outcome.

Christopher Martin, ‘The Complexity of Strategy: ‘Jackie’ Fisher and the Trouble with Submarines’

By utilising original memoranda, letters, and notes, this article illustrates the destabilising effect that new technology can have on naval strategic thinking. Correspondence between Admiral Sir “Jackie” Fisher, the Unionist Prime Minister A. J. Balfour, the naval historian and strategist Julian Corbett, and others before the First World War (1914–18) demonstrates the confusion and uncertainty that the submarine’s development brought to the British naval establishment. It follows a year-long debate concerning the submarine’s impact on Britain and its traditional naval strategy. It shows what motivated the participants, why they held divergent views, and why “consensus” was reached by relying on established paradigms.

Robert T. Foley, ‘Learning War’s Lessons: The German Army and the Battle of the Somme 1916

At the beginning of July 1916, the British and French armies launched a massive offensive against the Germans along the Somme River. Surprised by both the intensity and ferocity of the Entente battle of material on the Somme, the German army was caught completely off guard and suffered high casualties, if not great loss of terrain. Over the course of the battle, the Germans were forced by superior Anglo-French weaponry and tactics to improvise a new defensive tactical doctrine. This article makes use of contemporary German “lessons-learned” reports to explore the development of these new defensive tactics and show that the lessons-learned system refined during the battle allowed the German army to stay intellectually flexible despite the overwhelming pressures of the battle.

Keith Neilson, ‘The Royal Navy, Japan, and British Strategic Foreign Policy, 1932–1934’

British strategic foreign policy was in disarray between 1932 and 1934, when Japan was the major concern for British strategic planners. Japan’s challenge to British interests affected British policy generally, and particularly Anglo-American relations. British departments had differing views: the Treasury preferred improved Anglo-Japanese relations, the Admiralty wanted a fleet sufficiently large to deal with both Japan and Europe, and the Foreign Office rejected the Treasury’s position as naïve, preferring to work with the United States to check Japan as much as possible. The cut and thrust among the various departments underlined the matter’s complexity and the difficulty of deciding British policy at this juncture.

Jeff Reardon, ‘Breaking the U.S. Navy’s ‘Gun Club’ Mentality in the South Pacific’

In the 1920s and 1930s U.S. naval planners expected that a war against Japan would involve a grand, daylight fleet engagement that would be dominated by large caliber gunfire. When war broke out and American admirals found themselves fighting small-scale nighttime battles in the confined waters of the Solomon Sea in late 1942, they chose to employ their gun-oriented daytime tactics, resulting in numerous tactical defeats. Not until U.S. commanders learned to respect the power of the surface-launched torpedo—both as an offensive weapon and as a threat to be guarded against—would the U.S. Navy enjoy success in nighttime combat.

Danny Orbach, ‘Criticism Reconsidered: The German Resistance to Hitler in Critical German Scholarship’

The German opposition to Hitler, especially the armed resistance inside the Wehrmacht, always has been a subject of lively debate. Public and scholarly opinion especially has been divided over assessment of the “20 July 1944 Conspiracy,” the failed attempt to assassinate Hitler and the abortive coup d’état that followed. Some consider this attempted overthrow as the greatest moral achievement of the German resistance to Hitler, while others regard it mainly as an effort by opportunistic officers to save their own skins when Germany’s defeat was looming on the horizon. The following essay critically reexamines some of the newer, so-called “critical” historiography of the German resistance, written since the 1960s, which tends to question the motives and moral integrity of the 20 July 1944 conspirators. It will argue that much of this historiography suffers from erroneous reading of the sources, one-sided evaluations, moral condescension, and rhetorical manipulation.

Peter Paret, ‘Clausewitz: ‘Half against my will, I have become a Professor’ ‘

Clausewitz’s lectures on the “Little War” during the Prussian reform era have been interpreted as preparations for military and popular insurrection. But they barely mention irregular warfare. Instead they discuss the methods the little war employs to protect close formations and increase their effectiveness. The lectures have the further purpose of supporting a main concern of the Prussian reform program, the replacement of the old linear system of infantry combat with a combination of close and open tactics. Although the lectures are one of Clausewitz’s few specifically didactic works, they are based on an effort to understand war as such, and include concepts and formulations that reappear in his major theoretical work. They are historically significant as a document of the Prussian reform program, as well as for their place in the development of Clausewitz’s theories.

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