The Second World War
It was possible for me to steer clear of the Great War for many years, but as both a lecturer and a freelance writer it was much less easy to avoid the Second World War and the many conflicts which followed it. I had already visited them in 'Forward Into Battle', during the writing of which I was delighted to encounter the writings of SLA Marshall. His 'Men Against Fire' (New York 1946) is deservedly a military classic (even if it turns out that he lied about his use of scientific methods, as I had discovered by the time I wrote my second edition in 1990). I would return to him and other WW2 battles with profit in 'A Book of Sandhurst Wargames'. I would also find myself writing pot-boiling chapters on 'Stalingrad' and 'Operation Torch' for'World War II Battle on Land', edited by David G Chandler (Colour Library Books, Godalming, and Mallard, New York 1990: ISBN 0 792 45374 3). Equally in 1983 I had assisted the British Army's sound and vision unit with historical background for a film on the 'Battle of the Rhineland', and I believe it was my intervention which provoked the appearance of the widely acclaimed set of WW2 combat memoirs '18 Platoon', by Sidney Jary.
Ever since 'Forward Into Battle' I had been particularly interested in the desert war, and so I was delighted to have the chance to write a chapter entitled 'British Armoured Warfare in the Western Desert 1940-43' for 'Armoured Warfare' edited by J P Harris and F H Toase (Batsford, London 1990: ISBN 0 7134 5962 x). I eventually hope to expand this to a full-length book as 'Battle Tactics of the Western Desert, 1940-43' (for Yale University Press, about 2001?). It is my contention that the technical qualities of the tanks on the two sides were not very greatly different, and German superiority in 1941 stemmed far more from their organisation and tactics than from technology. After O'Connor's armoured force (which defeated the Italians in February '41) had left the desert, the British had little remaining experience of armoured warfare - but an exaggerated awe of the power of tanks. They therefore organised formations that were ridiculously tank-heavy, and charged into action with far too little support from the other arms. Expecting chivalric duels of tank vs tank, they actually encountered concealed anti tank guns which knocked them out with little loss to the Germans. In doctrinal terms this was the result of the over-optimistic futurism and cult of mobility as propagated by JFC Fuller and others between the wars. The cure came only with Montgomery's total rejection of such illusions, and a return to the tried and tested techniques of 1918.
On a related theme I contributed 'The Military Need for Contact Mines' to 'Verification 1996: Arms Control, Peacekeeping and the Envionment', edited by J B Poole and R Guthrie (VERTIC, Westview Press, Boulder CO, and Oxford 1996: ISBN 0 8133 9005 2). In this I demonstrate that the anti-personnel mines that are such a humanitarian problem today originally arose out of the need to protect anti-tank minefields from interference by engineers on foot. The anti-tank minefields were very much the result of the same excessive awe of tanks, around 1940, which had helped to lead the British into false assault tactics: hence the anti-personnel mine itself was the product of a particular psychological 'mine moment'.
'The Third World War Scare'
In the early 1980s the military world was much exercised by the problems of making a non-nuclear defence of West Germany against a possible surprise attack by the Warsaw Pact. It was at this time that I happened to meet the West German Colonel Elmar Dinter (author of 'Hero or Coward?' later published by Frank Cass), and together we went on to study the potential NATO battlefield in Germany, in the light of what we saw as the lessons of history. We were also reacting against the current doctrines which believed that firepower almost alone could solve any problem (I wrote one of the discussion papers for the influential 1982 ESECS conference in Frankfurt, where I was howled down for daring to suggest that this was not necessarily so! The views of this conference were published in 'Strengthening Conventional Deterrence in Europe', Macmillan 1983: ISBN 0333 36024 9).
Our resulting book was 'Not Over by Christmas' (Elmar Dinter and Paddy Griffith, published by Antony Bird, Chichester 1983: ISBN 0 88254 876 x. Elmar later wrote a German version, 'Nie Wieder Verdun', Mittler, Herford: ISBN 3 8132 0219 4), in which we recommended a two-tier conventional defence, with an expanded number of relatively low-technology defensive Divisions in the front line, backed by the most advanced and most mobile Divisions ready to counter-attack. This mixture suggested that the price of freedom from early nuclear use was the politically unpopular course of additional expenditure and increased manpower. It also pre-figured the mid-1980s shift of military fashion away from 'firepower' and towards 'mobility'- a shift which would show the retired generals of ESECS that their era had passed.
'Not Over by Christmas' "...puts the case as well as it can be, and should be read." Mr Silkin, Labour defence spokesman, during a House of Commons debate 19 July 1983, Hansard
"...a very important book, highlighting some important military home truths. Every NATO soldier who takes his profession seriously should read it...a valuable step forward in the right direction." Field Marshal Lord Carver, in the book's Foreword
"...an admirable book, based on a sound view of military history and lucid, reflective and analytic in its approach." Brigadier Bidwell in International Affairs
"...this extremely interesting book...persuasive reading." E R Hooton in Journal of the Royal United Services Institution
My exposure to the debate about future warfare convinced me that its conclusions rested far less on the facts, and far more on political pressures, than did those of any debates I had encountered in the purely historical field (to which I was delighted to return!). I did nevertheless try to keep abreast of contemporary developments, and my writings included an article on 'Countering Surprise by Mobility, a concept for armoured warfare on the Central Front' in 'The Sandhurst Journal' Vol 1 No 1, 1990.
I argued that the increasing power of modern armoured vehicles and command systems made it sensible to think in terms of smaller and handier units than before, so that brigadiers could command 'half brigades' instead of brigades (and so on down the chain of command) with half the logistic drain but no less firepower than before. There were some (by now familiar) excoriations from certain retired or amateur brigadiers, but M Nicklas Carter (in his piece on NATO in 'Armoured Warfare' edited by J P Harris and F H Toase) was kind enough to devote four pages to my concept, concluding that "...it addresses very precisely the important questions... There is much in this paper to recommend... the Countering Surprise by Mobility concept deserves serious attention."
My last trip into the future illustrated some more of the pitfalls to be expected in all such voyages. This was when I agreed to write an analysis not of 'weaponry' (due to my reservations about hardware freaks), but of 'The Ultimate Battlefield'. The book was half finished when the Cold War suddenly ended and I was hastily called in to see the publisher. He believed that there would never be any more wars, and so the whole idea of a book about future warfare was seriously misplaced. He was eventually persuaded to go ahead, however, although it duly materialised as (ugh) 'The Ultimate Weaponry' (edited by John Pimlott: Sidgwick & Jackson, London February 1991: ISBN 0 283 06022 0). Yet even that was not the end of the pitfalls, since it was eventually published right in the middle of the Gulf War, which instantly made it at least a little obsolete. I can only hope that its readers were so impressed by its soaring and wide-ranging prose - or at least by its multiple layers of illustration - that they failed to notice it mentioned neither the Scud missile nor the Patriot...
Real Wars Since 1945
The 1991 Gulf War was actually the only war in which - in a sense - I personally participated, since I gave regular commentaries on its military aspects to listeners to the BBC's local radio station in Coventry (Having been hit badly by the Luftwaffe in 1940, they now wanted to be reassured that they were beyond the range of Iraqi rockets). This 'participatory' experience served me well when I was asked to write an 'ISIS' parliamentary briefing paper on 'Military Lessons for the UK of the Second Gulf War, 16th January to 28th February 1991' (later used in a Commons defence debate). I argued that it was all very well to have superior technology to an unsophisticated enemy, equivalent to the British Maxim guns at Omdurman in 1898; but the real trick was to make sure you had counter-measures ready for the day when the enemy would catch up. On 1st July 1916 on the Somme the British suffered a disaster when they found the Germans also had Maxim guns, but no effective counter-measures were immediately to hand.
Also affected by the Gulf War was my book 'America Invades' (BDD - Mallard, New York 1991: ISBN 0 7924 5377 8), an illustrated discussion of the wars fought by USA during the twentieth century. It includes the Great War from Belleau Wood to the Argonne; WW2 from Pearl Harbor to Nagasaki; Korea; Vietnam; and post-Vietnam conflicts from Grenada to the Gulf (Publication was in fact delayed while we waited for the result of Operation 'Desert Storm'). From 1815 to 1959 the USA enjoyed 'free (or practically free) security', so it is interesting to see how she used that rare advantage on the international stage - and then how she reacted to its removal.
In a similar area were two articles I wrote on the general theme of how the perception of casualties has changed in recent times, from being accepted as a normal part of warfare in WW2 - and inseparable from the idea of having an army at all - to being a terrible infringement of the constitution and the individual's right to pursue happiness in the 1990s.
My articles are: 'The Body Bag as Deterrent and Peace Dividend' in 'Verification 1995: Arms Control, Peacekeeping and the Envionment', edited by J B Poole and R Guthrie (VERTIC, Westview Press, Boulder CO, and Oxford 1995: ISBN 0 8133 8945 3), and 'Small Wars and How They Grow in the Telling', in 'Small Wars & Insurgencies', Vol 2 no 2, August 1991, pp.216-229.