TOC – War in History, Vol. 20, No. 3

The latest edition of War in History had just been published with some interesting articles ranging from the role of group constituencies and cultural factors in the acquisition of weapons to photographic air reconnaissance in the Spanish Civil War.


Matthew Ford, ‘Towards a Revolution in Firepower? Logistics, Lethality, and the Lee-Metford

This article examines the British army’s decision to adopt the Lee-Metford magazine rifle in 1888. Examining the perspectives of a number of constituencies in the services shows that the magazine arm was not adopted out of an ambition simply to produce greater volumes of fire. Instead a number of factors shaped the decision to abandon the previous service arm, the Martini-Henry, many of which were contingent and reflected the particular attitudes of those groups with an interest in the infantry’s equipment. What ultimately becomes apparent is that the Lee-Metford was embraced primarily because it did not force any one constituency in the army to adopt the tactical preferences of any of the other groups involved.

Rob Johnson, ‘General Roberts, the Occupation of Kabul, and the Problems of Transition, 1879–1880′

In 1879, during the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878–80), General (later Lord) Frederick Roberts found himself in occupation of the defeated sovereign state of Afghanistan. Initially he claimed his authority stemmed from the Afghan amir and that he was acting on his behalf to suppress rebels, but the abdication of the Afghan ruler amid a popular insurgency and pressure from his political masters meant that Roberts had to establish his own military authority and implement martial law. This article examines the liberties and restrictions of occupation forces during protracted insurgencies, the difficulties in making the transfer of military command to political authority, and the tensions between commanders, political advisers, and civilian authorities.

Tim Cook, Fighting Words: Canadian Soldiers’ Slang and Swearing in the Great War’

‘Trench slang is a language all its own. No dictionary will give you the meaning of half its words.’ This claim appeared in the soldiers’ paper The Listening Post, one of the Canadian trench newspapers that was an outlet for soldiers’ writing, cartoons, and culture. Among trench soldiers there was also a vibrant oral culture, which included new slang, words, and phrases. A study of swearing and slang reveals another way to better understand the social and cultural history of soldiers, how they made sense of the war, how they distinguished themselves from civilians, how they provided an outlet for issues of masculinity, and how they unified aspects of their identity.

Diego Navarro Bonilla and Guillermo Vicente Cano, ‘Photographic Air Reconnaissance during the Spanish Civil War, 1936–1939: Doctrine and Operations’

The doctrine and real use of aerial photography in Spain during the Spanish Civil War are studied. Both the Republican and rebel air forces developed their observation, reconnaissance, and aerial photography capacities, resources, and structures, which were generally grouped around the second sections of the air general staff. The successful operational and tactical exploitation of this special information provided to land forces is also examined. Finally, the ways of gathering, processing, analysing, and producing photographic intelligence are identified as decisive elements in the high command’s modern decision-making process.


Christopher M. Bell, ‘On Standards and Scholarship: A Response to Nicholas Lambert’

This article examines Nicholas Lambert’s criticisms of the article ‘Sir John Fisher’s Naval Revolution Reconsidered: Winston Churchill at the Admiralty, 1911–1914’ (War in History 18, 2011), which challenged revisionist claims that in July 1914 the Royal Navy was on the verge of implementing a ‘naval revolution’ based on radical ideas attributed to Admiral Sir John Fisher. It demonstrates that Lambert’s criticisms are unfounded, and provides additional evidence to support an alternative interpretation of British naval policy in the period 1912–14. Important changes were undoubtedly under way on the eve of the First World War, but the revisionists exaggerate Fisher’s influence and oversimplify an inherently complex decision-making process. The Admiralty’s plan to substitute torpedo craft for some of the battleships in its 1914 programme was intended to bolster a conservative strategy, and the changes under consideration were essentially evolutionary in nature.

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