Destructive and Formidable by David Blackmore is a quantitative look at British infantry doctrine using period sources from the British Civil Wars of the seventeenth century up to just before the Napoleonic wars. If anything you can see the constancy, which drove the success in battle of British forces, even when outnumbered.
Development of British Infantry Doctrine
This has got a lot of the detail you need to model infantry battles in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It’s not quite at the level of the WW2 operational research, but it’s good enough. There are comparative weights and rates of fire. Measured hit rates based on range, and commentary on doctrine and how certain tactics worked in certain situations but not others. In short everything you need to design a game (although there’s clearly a morale factor, which Destructive and Formidable covers but makes no attempt to quantify).
There’s a fairly readable style, and the book isn’t long. The examples are of individual battles and focus only on what the British infantry did, their immediate context and the doctrine/tactics of their immediate enemy. The only place there’s anything more in context, and discussion of the commanders impact, is the chapter on the North American irregular wars. This latter chapter also touches on failures of leadership, and shows that there is an effect of good leadership on the successful application of doctrine. The defeats are more attributable to poor leadership and lack of confidence than to failure of doctrine.
Core Infantry Doctrine
The core of British infantry doctrine was to reserve fire until they were close enough to ensure that it was effective. Once fired from close range the British infantry then closed to hand to hand, with clubbed muskets in the early period and bayonets later. Only one or two round were fired, often from a salvee or volley. This kept the effect concentrated, which increased the shock value.
Why didn’t British infantry doctrine spread?
If British infantry doctrine was so successful why did other nations not copy it? Blackmore shows a relative isolation in the British officer corps from the debate of firepower vs shock which European armies seem to have spent the period arguing about. British infantry doctrine seems to have developed by trial and error during the British civil wars to get decisive battles based on the available people and technology. Early civil war battles were inconclusive, yet the British on both sides strove to improve effectiveness. They got closer before opening fire, massed to fire salvos and closed with the enemy to finish them off. Europe spent the same period in the Thirty Years War yet never came to the same conclusion. Drill manuals from the period emphasise fire, the cavalry doctrine shows shock of impact is what works.
What made the British successful?
My suspicion is one of the main things that keeps the British Army successful in this period is a continuity of experience. From the civil wars there is a near continuous presence of warfare. More importantly the outcome of the civil war is the establishment of a standing army. Even though this is supposed to be temporary, Parliament needs to renew it every year, it remains continuously in being. This means that soldiers pass on their experience to the new recruits, and many officers are professionals. Serving in one war as juniors and returning to later wars as commanders of battalions and armies.
Designing a game
My copy of this is flagged in many places, and there are a lot of marginal notations. I fully expect to use it as the core of an infantry combat model for one or more games. There’s a good model explained in the book. Maximum effective range is about 80 yards, at 100 yards less than 1% of shots result in a casualty. At 25-30 yards about a quarter of shots cause casualties. Closing with the enemy is pretty much always decisive (they either break or die). Infantry firing by platoon can stop cavalry with firepower alone if they reserve fire until the cavalry is about 30 yards away. Similarly if you fire at charging Highlanders at about 10 yards (or less) then it ends the charge…
For his 70th birthday Dave Boundy decided to run his Washington Conference Megagame again. It’s at least the fourth time Washington Conference has been run as a Megagame. I’ve previously played as a Japanese Admiral, although this time I was one of the press team. Also, unlike recent megagames the entire cast list were veteran megagamers, most of us in the 50 to 100 range, with a core coming close to double that.
So it was rather old school as recent megagames go, not to mention that this was a different sort of megagame from the recent experiences, being all about negotiations. There were no mechanisms or control in the megagame, just players.
Just in case you’ve stumbled here, the game was about the 1921 Washington Conference which was aimed at naval arms limitations, primarily focused on the Pacific. The main countries involved were the US, the British Empire, France, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands and China. The key flashpoint is the Western Pacific and China. Notably only the victors of the first world war are present, and they’re setting the rules.
The other main thing on the agenda is China. China helped the allies during the war and is looking for them to meet their promises and establish a single Chinese state that can bring stability. There are internal problems with warlords and some Soviet sponsored communist rebels.
Historically the conference established size limits on battleships of 35,000 tonnes displacement. It also limited the main world navies to a ratio of 5:5:3 for the UK:US:JP and the French & Italians at 1.8.
Washington Conference Megagame
We had five members of the Baltimore Sun press team. We were playing real reporters from the period with their own agendas. I was Hector Bywater, a military journalist.
We all wrote articles on different parts of the Washington Conference. There was a political track and a military one and a number of subcommittees. I followed the main military committee, and spoke to others between meetings.
Every hour of game time was a week of the conference. We put out a physical paper (one or two sides of three column A4 in 11 point) every hour. I ended up physically collating the paper every time because that’s a real life skill that I have. So I have a copy of all the issues we produced.
For the most part all the stories were written during the game. There are four that were pre-generated and those can be identified from the fact that they are the only ones with pictures.
I only realised after the game that there were a load of period photos, adverts and some more articles that we could also have used to add to the material that we produced.
Overall I enjoyed being a press player at Washington Conference. It was engaging, entertaining and also I felt I had an impact on the game, even if it was only about prompting the complaints the editor got about my articles!
Alexander and I played arms merchants in the Blood and Thunder 4 pirate megagame on Saturday. It was mostly a fun game, although there were a couple of sticky points for us as merchants.
I was cast as Theophilus Blodwell, a Glaswegian on the run from the British Authorities. As well as being an arms trader with a fine grasp of the importance of economics (i.e. that the money should end up with me) I was also a member of the ‘Protectors of the Seas’. The Protectors were a secret society opposed to the ‘Sons of the Sea’. The latter group were collecting ancient magical artefacts and intending to use them to bring about the end of days. So I had a side mission to identify and stop the Sons of the Sea.
Alexander was the owner of Weygand and Sons, and his side mission was to find six model ships and then to play a wargame with them involving at least four other people. He had to write the wargame rules himself, which he did right at the beginning of the day. I suspect we’ll need to bring them to Chestnut Lodge Wargames Group the next time we go so that he can try them out to see if they would have worked had he found sufficient model ships.
Blood and Thunder 4
I’ve lost count of how many megagames I’ve played or been control for. This was badged as Blood and Thunder 4, but I don’t recall the first three.
Blood and Thunder is set on an unspecified Caribbean island under Spanish governance in the early 18th Century. There were a number of pirate ships, each with a crew of about 15 players. When at sea they worked cooperatively to find and board merchant ships. The faster they did this the more they can do in their sea time.
Every ship had scheduled port time. During this time they could sell things they’d captured, replenish consumables and effect repairs. They could also carouse in the taverns and pursue plot points with people from the town or from other vessels.
Welcome to San Serif
My role in Blood and Thunder 4 was as the salesman for Weygand and Sons. Weygand and Sons was one of three large merchant companies on the island of San Serif. We all sold arms and ammunition, as well as acting as buyers for cargo. Alexander was the owner of Weygand and Sons, so he was my boss for the megagame.
For me the game fell into three quite distinct phases, all of which had different challenges. These were:
The first hour or so, where the pirates weren’t in port at all
The early trading period, where we were still finding out how it worked
The end game, where I mostly did other things than sell stuff
Blood and Thunder – beginning
Although the game properly started at 10, we had a whole hour as traders with pretty much nothing to do. None of the ships came into port until 11. We needed a little bit of time to shake out, and talk amongst ourselves, but a whole hour was too much. It was also too early in the game to be able to start the side plots. That said Alexander used the time productively to write the naval wargame rules he’d need with six ship models.
I did do a bit of negotiation around supplying the town’s shore battery with powder and shot in return for tax exemption. It almost worked, but the mayor vetoed it because he needed a source of income and exempting us from cash payments would have eaten into that. In the end I got undercut on the supply contract by one of the other merchants who decided to sell it at cost.
Blood and Thunder – the ships come in
At 11 the first two ships came in. However the pickings were slim. Inexperienced crews had (correctly for them) chosen the lower risk routes to raid. This got them less cargo. Also what they did pick up wasn’t that valuable. We also suffered a bit as merchants because our warehouses were at the back of the room from the pirate ships. They had to get past the street traders and the taverns to reach us. By the time we saw them some of the valuable (to us, but not to the pirates) cargo had been bartered with the street traders.
We had another problem at this point too. We didn’t have much cash by way of a float, and the locals taxed us before the trading was complete, making it thinner still. So we weren’t in a position to buy cargo for cash. There were three traders, and two pirate ships. By chance I got missed by the main officers buying for the ships. I did do some trading with individual pirates, but it was almost all barter and for low value items. It was at this time that I picked up a strange eldritch item that glowed in the dark. I recognised it as an item of power and gave the pirate who offered it to me a blunderbuss in exchange.
The bartering continued, between attempts to convert newly acquired stock to cash within the townsfolk. I picked up several bottles of wine, a couple of snuff boxes, anf a valuable necklace that turned out not to be convertible into cash that reflected the barter value. I’d expected a bit of this, but I was surprised at the scale.
The wine came with a quality rating. All the ones I handled had ratings between 1 and 10. However I’m assured by one of my customers that there were bottles up to 12 in quality.
My expectation had been that lower quality wine would be essentially worth the same as rum. That is it would have a use to players, but would be worth more than one gold per bottle (maybe multiples per gold). The higher value stuff would have a value above that of the standard, and the top values would attract a premium.
As far as I could tell only one player had an interest in wine. I sold him an 8 for 10 gold early in the game. So I valued the rest accordingly. I never sold another bottle because he raised the bar to a minimum of 10. I didn’t count, but I had over a dozen bottles at the end of the game, most between 4 and 8 in quality. My estimation is that there were over a hundred bottles in circulation based on the amount the merchants held and the number of times we turned down offers to trade wine.
As a fix to this there ought to have been a bit in the social reputation rules about consuming wine. It would have driven a bigger market which would have made the many bottles in circulation valuable for both us and the pirates. I’d have given a point for publicly consuming a bottle (per person you supplied). I’d give another point of the quality of the wine was higher than the person’s social standing. This would have made the quality people drink the nicer stuff.
There was an entry in the player guide about valuable items. The suggestion was that they should be worth a minimum of 5 gold. I accepted a few in barter before I realised that they had no value. Not one of the players I encountered wanted one of these, and I could only convert them to cash for 3 gold each.
The idea in the game rules was that players would want these inherently valuable items. However there was no game purpose to them and no-one seemed to have them for a side plot, unlike the strange coins, model ships and the scraps of paper.
Everything needs to have a game purpose, even if just to soak money out of the game. However that latter purpose needs to be driven by people wanting them to meet personal objectives rather than as cruft.
There was a point about half twelve when I hadn’t sold anything for cash and had run out of money. My personal morale plummeted to the point where I was about to ask to be re-roled. I couldn’t quite see the value of trading as none of the pirate ships could afford our big ticket items, and the individual pirates didn’t have enough cash to pay for the replacement values of the goods O could sell them.
I wallowed a little, for maybe five minutes, and spoke to my trade control about it. Particularly the feedback on the so-called ‘valuable’ items. He was sympathetic, and I know he spoke to Jim about it.
Thankfully I held my nerve on the roling. I’m a veteran megagamer, I lost count some years ago. One thing I’ve learnt, and remembered on Saturday, was that player morale personally is often the difference between success and failure.
At that point a pirate bought a rapier from me for 25 gold and the Governor’s secretary paid 30 gold for some medical instruments. Even though I had to buy the medical instruments I was solvent again.
The next wave of pirate ships that came into port were cash rich. Morale soared, and trading resumed in earnest. I lost track of all the individual trades, several times I acquired merchandise after selling it. This practice saved me from large losses when the cost of powder and cannonballs doubled. I was able to renegotiate those before the deal was finalised. My biggest deal was with the captain of the Queen’s Revenge. She bought a heavy cannon and some powder and ball for it with 100 gold in cash.
In the space of less than four hours we’d gone from being insolvent to being cash rich, with over 300 gold in the company treasury. I had 23 gold personally (from a 10% commission on sales), along with a stock of interesting items (I’d bought the valuable items and some of the better wine from the company).
Blood and Thunder end game
Towards the end of the game, when I was happy that we’d traded enough to see us solvent to the end, I started to worry about my side plot as a Protector of the Sea.
The Governor’s secretary had finished his obsession with dissecting animals and was now looking out for strange items. I found this suspicious, suggesting that he might be one of the Sons of the Sea that I was supposed to stop.
I hatched a backup plan to stash some gunpowder at his house to blow him up. Before carrying it out though I had a chat with him about these items he was looking for, under the pretext of having been offered one earlier and that I could possibly get him one. I said that I collected antiquarian artefacts, older than the colony.
He decided to risk it and asked me if I’d heard of the secret societies. I confirmed that I knew of them, but thought them somewhat shady. He outed himself as a Protector, so I confirmed that I was too. By chance he’d infiltrated the Sons of the Sea. I was able to do so too and compiled a list of members. I also discovered that they were about to conduct a ritual, although it wouldn’t work because they’d been misled about what they needed for it. The Governor’s secretary and I also had some of the components.
So we told the Colonel that there was a treasonous plot going on in the tavern. I went along with a couple of loaded blunderbusses to support the police action. As it happened I only needed to provide moral support. The regular troops easily subdued the Sons of the Sea and they were taken to prison pending execution.
The game ended there, not because of us busting the Sons of the Sea, but because it was 1630 and The Rackham’s Ghost had just been sunk!
I played the leader of a terrorist organisation in the Divided Land megagame. Divided Land was about the situation in Palestine in 1947, we played from March through to an agreement on partition in August 1947. We then made plans on what would happen when the agreement came into force at 00:01 on 1st January 1948. Predictably there was an Arab invasion….
I was cast as Menachem Begin, the leader of Irgun and a future Prime Minister of Israel. Begin described himself as a terrorist in his autobiography, he made no bones about ensuring a viable Jewish state in the land of Israel. Irgun were extremists, they wanted all of the biblical lands of Israel, including Judea and Samaria (including some of present day Jordan). Begin also blamed the British for not rescuing Jews from the Holocaust by failing to grant visas in sufficient numbers before the war, and failing to act to interdict the railways carrying Jews to be murdered by the Nazis.
Irgun were a breakaway faction and outside the Jewish assembly. The British had a price on Begin’s head of £25,000 (about the same as the US offered for bin Laden). So Irgun are on the outside and hiding. But there are a lot of angry Jews who agree with the view of never again will Jews rely on others for their protection, nor for retaliation against wrongs to the Jewish people.
We started with a brief discussion on policy. We decided that we needed to keep up the pressure on the British, and that we only needed to act against the Arabs in retaliation to attacks on Jews. We had 15 active cells of about 20 people (we recruited women as well as men). We could afford to run half of these every fortnight to give people time to rest between operations. We also needed to find arms and money to sustain operations.
In March 1947 we ran a campaign of bank robberies and also a planned kidnapping of a British Staff officer. The first campaign wasn’t without setbacks, we did do some banks, but some of our guys got arrested. The second was better, we netted an Intelligence Corps Colonel. We decided to pass him on to the Palmach for interrogation because we didn’t have that skillset.
It was about this point that the Jordanians approached us off the record. Through back channels we agreed to work against the Grand Mufti in return for arms and other support. I was suspicious, but the arms were supplied without strings and I had wanted to kill the Grand Mufti anyway.
The British decided almost immediately to reinforce Palestine and started to make arrangements to bring in a Mechanised Brigade. I left my partner in crime to arrange some weapons smuggling from Europe while I went off into Gaza to blow up the railway line and lay an ambush for the repair crews. My thought process here was that if we ambushed them it would increase the impact and make the British deploy more troops on protecting very long lines of communication.
Surprisingly I wasn’t the only one acting against the railway in Gaza. Adherents of the Grand Mufti were also doing the same thing a couple of miles up the track. It also turned out that there were no immediate repair attempts.
Today I played in Undeniable Victory, Ben Moore’s megagame of the Iran Iraq War. I was an Iranian Radical and a member of the Council, starting off as the Procurement Minister responsible for buying military kit.
I was a late entrant to Undeniable Victory, getting a place because someone else couldn’t make it. That said I was pretty happy with being cast as a radical Iranian. I like political roles, and being just off the side of the main targets.
Procurement Minister was senior enough to be interesting, yet junior enough not to be an automatic target. I was one of three radicals in the seven member Council. There was always going to be a move to displace one of us to change the balance of power.
The Conservatives had the First Minister and Interior Minister to start with. My fellow Radicals were the Defence Minister and the Infrastructure Minister. The Moderates had the Finance and Foreign Ministries. Ayatollah Khomeini was umpire controlled and mostly absent dealing with religious matters.
Undeniable Victory – Procurement
As a radical council member I deliberately skipped over some of the military bits of the briefing for Undeniable Victory. I didn’t think it would be right for me to have a detailed understanding of the combat system when there were players in the military HQs responsible for briefing me on what they needed. I started off with a straightforward policy of equipping the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps with good quality equipment so that they were at least as good as the army.
My chief procurement officer in the military high command (Tim) was a moderate. We had a bit of conflict sorting out how to work things, but we came to a workable agreement. I became aware very early on that he was doing his own deals to get kit as stuff I hadn’t ordered was appearing. Also kit I’d ordered for the IRGC was going to the regular army.
I didn’t bother doing anything about this as I was spending more time involved in setting political leadership in the Council. There were several interesting reminders of the fundamentals of the revolution when we were dealing with events. (As an aside the events were really very well scripted and also had clear game impacts whenever we chose an option.)
Trial & Exoneration
This almost became my undoing. The Radicals, under the august leadership of the Defence Minister, narrowly failed to boot a moderate off the Council and replace them with a fourth Radical. This was followed by us swapping me with the Interior Minister (pictured above). The latter immediately brought a case against me for corruption and treason by way of evidence he’d collected of dealings with the Israelis.
I denied this vehemently and blamed Tim for any transgressions, mentioning that he’d been acting without authorisation on other matters. Witnesses were called and my version got some corroboration. So Tim was sent for and he immediately confessed to getting kit off the Israelis for free. His testimony was very eloquent and I would have applauded if I’d not been so relieved that I wasn’t going to end up on a lamppost. The Council accepted Tim had acted in the best interests of the revolution and he was warned not to act without authorisation from the Procurement Minister again. He was also sent to a re-education retreat to contemplate the error of his ways. (OOC he was told to go stand on Anerley Station platform for a minute before returning to the game).
If I ever had to give advice to another megagamer it would be that you don’t want to let me be Interior Minister unless you’ve got a lot of people you want to see dead. Dave, our radical leader and a veteran megagamer, was well aware of this when he organised the swap. He also managed to change the form of the government to advantage the radical position. This sowed the seed for our Undeniable Victory.
Sadly for Dave he was the victim of a council reorgisation in the following season. We’d been too successful too early, and as the faction leader he got hit. He was swapped out with the Chief of the Army. Alex, a Conservative became the new Defence Minister and lasted there to almost the end of the game. I let the other Radical, Callum, take leadership in the Council for a bit.
Touring the Front
I went on a tour of the front to audit players and procurement to make sure there were no chemical weapons in play. This was in response to allegations that we had used them. The front line visit was an eye opener, I’d previously had no real idea how things were going because the reports back were vague at best.
Back in the Council we’d suffered a massive funding cut for the Interior Ministry. All the money was going into procurement and social support. The latter was something I was strongly in favour of, and I’d rather not repress the people unless they were acting against the spirit of the revolution.
I made the political dissidents kick off by blaming them for everything. This played out well because they blew up a military HQ player and got him out of my beard.
At this point the war was going very favourably for us. Militarily it really was looking like an undeniable victory. However the Ayatollah intervened because he didn’t think we were playing nicely enough with each other. He was assuredly correct. Some subtle agreement and positive suggestions couched in suitably revolutionary language helped manoeuvre others into actions that suited my agenda. I also did a deal with the Conservative First Minister to try and position the Moderates to take the fall when the time came.
The radicals got the Iranian war goal shifted to total war and we also promoted obedience to the Ayatollah’s desires to strike hard at the little satan. An election also happened at this time and the Moderates campaigned on an anti-Arab platform. The Conservative faction Wendy anti-colonial and we chose anti-imperial. We also chose to lose the vote, playing out worst card. It didn’t make any difference to the Council freedom of action and we came out with our radical credentials intact and a better chance of winning another crucial vote (I kept back the Ace, which was the highest card possible for resolving votes, this was very useful later).
The Council buckled down and focused on the war. We came under increasing pressure from the USA, via the Foreign Minister (Bernie) to end the war. Bernie was a moderate and had taken a very technocratic position, acting in the best interests of the foreign relations agenda throughout. It was clear he had a specific agenda, but as far as I could tell it broadly matched mine, so I supported him. I even did so when the Conservative faction tried to swap him off the Council. He was someone we could work with.
Undeniable Victory – ‘Peace’
Shortly after this we suffered a massive cruise missile strike against the southern oil terminals. This was the US deadline to negotiate running out. Our undeniable victory forced them to act directly. We’d also lost half our revenue because the oil price had collapsed. So it was time to sue for peace. But this needed careful handling, we still needed the undeniable victory for the home front.
The Council discussion was interesting. Ollie and I saw the inevitable, as did Bernie. Others were for continuing to spend scarce funds on procurement at the cost of social support. At this point there was another bomb in the Council. Chris, the Procurement Minister, was killed but the rest of us were fine. He was rapidly replaced by another Conservative from Army HQ. I later discovered that Tim, the procurement officer, had been behind the bomb as revenge for beingput on trial for dealing with the Israelis.
We then got informed that Ayatollah Khomeini was gravely unwell and believed that he was dying. It was time to pick a successor. Callum and I had a quick chat, I over-ruled him as the Radical choice on the grounds that he’d been happy, as Finance Minister, to cut social support and buy tanks when the war was effectively over.
The Moderates surprised me at this point. Rather than nominating a Council member Bernie went off and found the Air Marshal and spoke eloquently about all his many successes and sacrifices for the revolution. It looked like he might actually get picked without a vote. So I also praised him and said that he was a true hero and should absolutely definitely replace on the Cpuncil. whoever might be chosen as the successor to Ayatollah Khomeini. I also prayed that it might be some time before the successor need take up post as the new Ayatollah.
So it went to a vote. I played the Ace I’d kept earlier. Thankfully Allah was great and saw that I submitted to his wisdom.
Ending the War
It wasn’t quite over yet. Although on his sick bed we managed to present a united front and persuade the Ayatollah that the surest way to safeguard the revolution was to discuss peace with the Iraqis. He agreed and a peace conference was set up. Head of State, First Minister and Foreign Ministers were invited. As the designated successor I tagged along. Mostly I stood at the edge and listened.
In the background news of the peace had spread. My fellow Radicals in the army were upset and worried that the Moderates had sold out the revolution. They marched on Teheran with a Division of the IRGC. I took time away from the peace conference to deal with the purge. One of the arrested Moderates (the previous Finance Minister) confessed to being involved in a plot to assassinate Ayatollah Khomeini just before the Americans had forced the peace conference. He was promptly sent for a show trial. The Radical Generals were told not to be too indiscriminate and to make sure there was some sort of evidence against the people they were arresting. It was clear I wasn’t going to be able to stop them completely.
I then got a call from the Ayatollah. He was very worried about all the shooting he could hear. Was a counter revolution under way? I reassured him that there was evidence that the Moderates had been planning to kill him, and that we were reinforcing the revolution by arresting those involved.
That was where the game ended. A tentative peace deal underway and a second revolution in Iran to strengthen the radical position. Certainly the Radicals appear to be in the ascendancy for the next few years. Iran will rise rebuilt as a shining example of radical Islam.
I went to see Dunkirk with my 11 year old son last week. I’d read some reviews beforehand and chose the IMAX version. It’s an amazing movie that I think will bear watching again. I’ll try to avoid spoilers.
The movie focuses on three stories, one on Land (over a week), one on the Sea (a day) and in the Air (an hour). The three stories are very personal perspectives and are interwoven, coming together near the end of the movie.
There’s no overview, or explanation of how the British and French Armies ended up at Dunkirk. We never see the Germans, other than a couple of ME109s, a Heinkel bomber and a flight of Stukas.
There’s also almost no blood and definitely no gore. Nolan is on record as saying that he consciously avoided effects that distracted viewers from the story. Throughout the Dunkirk movie men are shot and blown up, but the casualties are very much people lying around and not the bloody lumps of meat we’ve got used to seeing since Saving Private Ryan.
Dunkirk on Land
The key viewpoint is an unnamed private soldier played by Harry Styles. He soon collects a couple of friends while on the beach. There’s very little dialogue, the story speaks of the desperation and the frantic attempts to escape. What dialogue there is keeps to the point, and there are no explanations.
The soldiers first attempt to get a ship is through picking up a wounded man on a stretcher. They’ve seen that the wounded are getting priority, and when some stretcher bearers are killed in a Stuka attack Styles and his friend pick up the wounded man and run down the mole. They make the ship, but are ordered back off to collect more wounded.
Each further attempt to escape meets with obstacles, they end up on a destroyer which is promptly torpedoed. They get back to the beach for another go. We’re left in suspense on whether or not they will escape.
Dunkirk by Sea
This strand follows one of the small boats from Devon. The crew are a father and his two sons. The youngest is 15 and jumps on as the boat pulls away. En route they pass the stern of a sunken ship with a shivering second lieutenant sitting on it. The stricken 2Lt clearly had a bad case of battle fatigue as they would have called it then. Not surprisingly given what he’d have gone through. It’s very well treated.
The little ship passes more and more evidence of the scale of the evacuation as it sails to Dunkirk. As it gets closer the smoke and fire on the horizon becomes clearer, and air attacks on other ships get seen.
Dunkirk in the Air
Probably the more spectacular element is the air component. This shows a flight of three spitfires setting out on a combat air patrol over the evacuation routes. In the first scene they’re in we get a pilot pov dogfight where a ME109 goes down. Then the triumphant pilot gets shot out of the sky without even seeing his attacker.
Several more dogfights occur, and eventually we see the little ship under the spitfires as the threads are tied together.
The last part of the air component is the most spectacular. A fantastically well shot descent without fuel, and some frantic hand cranking of undercarriage, to land on the beach.
What this aspect of the movie does tell us is that the RAF were there and that they made a difference, even if they weren’t often seen from the beaches.
Mass mobilisation for a world war level conflict would need the country to repeat what it did for WW1 & WW2.
Discussion I’ve read on twitter amongst those interested and knowledgable about defence (a mixture of serving officers, military historians and political observers) suggests that Britain has a real problem with the level of defence spending and decaying of capability for mass mobilisation to support a world war level conflict.
Years of small wars on the back of the 1990s ‘peace dividend’ has prevented major equipment changes. The British Army is still using many of the same armoured vehicles that it had in 1989. They’ve had internal upgrades, and improved control systems. The lighter vehicles have fared better because there were urgent operational requirements for Iraq and Afghanistan.
Britain was in a similar state to now in the early 30s. After WW1 we didn’t want to go to war again. The army was small and didn’t have any of their kit replaced. With few exceptions in 1933, when Hitler came to power, the British Army was using the same kit that it had ended the world war with in 1918. The recognition of the nazi threat lead to an abandoning of the ten year rule (where we funded our armed forces on the assumption there would be no major war for at least ten years).
Appeasement was a policy not of keeping Hitler happy, but of buying us time to re-equip and expand our armed forces in preparation for mass mobilisation. Through the late thirties a massive programme of expansion and re-equipment went on. In 1938 Britain spent 7.4% of GDP on Defence , which is three and a half times what we are spending now. This doubled in 1939 to 15.3% – not all of which was after the declaration of war in September. By 1941 it was above 50% and it stayed there for the duration.
The nazis were seen as an existential threat, so the public were willing to support mass mobilisation for world war two and accept the sacrifice of additional taxes to pay for the war. Income tax doubled from a basic rate of 25%, which is similar to the current level. I think it would be fair to say that Britain could only afford mass mobilisation for world war three if we could see an existential threat to the country.
Without an existential threat, today we could field one armoured Division with air and naval support. We can’t move it anywhere in a hurry without hiring civilian cargo vessels. Against certain countries that division would be an annoyance, but it certainly wouldn’t stop them doing what they wanted, just impose a stiff price.
Once it was destroyed, we’d be at their mercy. Either that or we’d be strongly considering our nuclear options. That said, anything that caused us to commit the 21st century British Expeditionary Force would almost certainly trigger the NATO mutual defence clauses. So there would be more than just the UK involved.
What does 2% Buy in Defence?
Britain is signed up to the NATO commitment to spend 2% of our GDP on Defence. Through some accounting adjustments we spend almost exactly 2% including some overseas aid. The actual defence budget of £38bn for MoD is likely to be about 1.9% of GDP this year. Almost 40% of that is spent on acquiring equipment, notably the aircraft carriers, trident submarines and F-35s. Between these three huge ticket items there isn’t much capital left.
As at 1 April 2016, the British Army had a trained strength of 79,750 regular personnel and 23,030 reserves, lower than it has ever been since before the start of the 20th Century. The Royal Navy and RAF both had slightly over 32k each, for a total armed forces trained strength of 168k personnel (very few of whom are reserves).
MOD reported that in 2015-16 it spent the following on each of the services:
You’ll notice that the totals don’t add up to the whole Defence budget, but that’s because I’ve left out the civilian elements and the long-term strategic acquisitions.
Mass Mobilisation of Our Armed Forces
There’s two ways to look at this, one is a simple uprating of what we currently have by the amount of extra money we might be able to spend and decide whether that would be effective. The other is to look at what we might need and then see if we can afford it.
For either of these tests you need to have an adversary in mind. When you get into it, quality and will to fight affect the answer. It’s not completely about raw numbers. Maybe someone somewhere has done the work to compare the economic strengths of warring powers and what that tells you about outcomes. I doubt it’s clear cut that the bigger economy always wins, but as a general rule it works.
What could we afford?
Britain is currently the 5th biggest spender on Defence worldwide, and our economy is 5th or 6th dependent on currency fluctuations and Brexit impacts. So there aren’t many countries that ought to be able to scare us, even if we can’t field enough troops to round up their military.
The UK GDP in 2016 is around £1.9 trillion. During WW2 we spent over 50% of GDP on the war effort. We taxed people more, borrowed heavily, and the economy also grew significantly from the war expenditure. I’m not sure that we could quite get to 55% on Defence, we’d still have the welfare state to fund, albeit some of it could be diverted to the war effort. We could also up the total tax share from around 37% (according to Treasury’s analysis the public sector spent £713bn in 2015-16) to match that WW2 55%. That could bring Defence spending to 20% of GDP.
Other sources of funding:
The Welfare budget The UK spends about £250bn on welfare, over a third of our public expenditure. Most of it is on pensions and disability, neither of which would reduce as a result of a world war. We do spend £3bn of it on unemployment benefits, and another £27bn on Housing Benefit, both of which might come down a little if there was mass mobilisation. We could perhaps squeeze 0.1% of GDP out of the UK welfare budget.
The NHS At £162bn annually this is the next largest chunk of public expenditure. At best some of the NHS will become defence medical assets, and the people will transfer to support those we’ve mobilised. Not to mention the inevitable casualties. In practice we’d probably need to spend more on the NHS, or make some really tough choices about priorities.
Borrowing – in 2015-16 we spent £45bn on debt interest. If we borrowed enough to capitalise the interest for the duration of the war then we could add this amount to Defence budget.
Efficiency Gains If the rest of government was asked to cut around 10% of their budgets then we could perhaps add another 3% of GDP to the war budget.
So where does all this get us to? About twelve times the current defence budget, so we could significantly increase the size of our armed forces. On a straight multiple that would give us about two million all ranks from mass mobilisation. However I expect more of them would go into the army than either the RN or RAF for the simple reason that it will take longer to produce ships and aircraft to support that level of expansion than it would to produce army equipment.
Britain’s approach to World Wars
Historically we have form. Britain doesn’t maintain its armed forces between major wars. We keep a training cadre and enough to cope with the various small wars we get involved in. When the big war happens we do mass mobilisation of reserves and recruit anyone we can find. Typically it takes 18 months for us to form the million plus citizen armies we need to stand alongside our allies.
Many people (especially civilian politicians and voters) probably consider the idea of a major war very unlikely. We felt the same in the 1920s. Further, they probably also consider that if one did start that it would go nuclear (or find a diplomatic peace) well before we could train and equip the recruits to expand our armed forces. During the Cold War this was almost certainly true.
What it means is that we’ve given up on necessary infrastructure to do mass mobilisation. We’ve stopped building military aircraft and tanks in the UK. We’d also struggle with a lot of other equipment, like small arms. Our wider manufacturing base is also shot, so the scope for repurposing factories to scale up production is also limited.
As an example, the British Army writes off small arms on a 10 to 15 year period. That means that normal production will be about a tenth of the current size of the armed forces need. So if everyone needs a rifle then we need 200k rifles for the regular and reserve. Let’s say we have a factory that makes 20k rifles a year, just to replace worn out stocks. When you scale up your armed forces through mass mobilisation to 2 million trained personnel then you suddenly need to build 1.8m extra rifles in under six months, and increase replacement levels to cover expected losses from accidents and combat.
We’d also need to find plant, machinery and skilled people to set up factories to produce gun barrels, armour, heavy vehicles, jet engines, aircraft and the complex electronics that make them all work. We’ve got some capacity just now, but it’s all based on small orders delivered over a decade and sharing with other states.
Unlike WW2 the UK doesn’t have broad manufacturing capacity that can be diverted to war production. The UK economy is dominated by service industries, mainly banking. Manufacturing accounts for less than 10% of the UK economy (compared to almost 80% from services).
The extra kit would be a 50% growth in total manufacturing capacity, more like 10-15 times in the specific industries that could produce it. There would also need to be a massive upgrade to chemical & electronics plants to produce military ordnance. It would need to do this almost overnight, we’d need more kit for training people, never mind fighting a war.
There’s room in the British economy for a significant increase in military spending if we faced an existential threat. There’s no political will to spend more than the 2% we’ve committed to via NATO.
The UK doesn’t have the economic base to support significantly increasing manufacturing to equip a scaled up armed force. Nor do we appear to have sufficient spare kit in stock.
Overall, I’d say that we’d need at least a couple of years run up to mass mobilisation. If it ever happens then I hope we get that long. In the meantime, we could do with investing in our manufacturing base. That would make it easier to gear up, and also grow our economy. A strong economy is a better indicator of strength than defence spending.
Davis became a Gurkha officers almost straight out of school in WW2. A Child At Arms should be on reading lists for junior officers and anyone involved in military policy. It compares well to Sydney Jary’s 18 Platoon, which was held up as an excellent example of a platoon commander’s war by the British Army.
A Child At Arms – review
In A Child At Arms Patrick Davis gives a his imperfect memory of his time in the army. Davis came straight out of school into officer training, and volunteered to join the Gurkhas in the Far East. At the age of 19 he joined 4/8th Gurkhas at Kohima just as they were withdrawn to rest.
Davis is very honest in his account. He accepts that memory is imperfect, and even though he kept a journal sporadically during his service he doesn’t recall things he wrote at the time, and other times he has memories that conflict with the notes. This honesty extends to his emotional commentary on how he felt about things.
Serving as the Battalion Intelligence Officer he lead a lot of patrols. He pinpoints the day when he’d finally got beyond what he could cope with and no longer had enthusiasm for taking risks or anything beyond coming back home safely. Despite this he carried on, and went on to become a Company 2ic and then Company Commander just before the end of the war.
The move to the front, and the rebuilding of the battalion is well described, especially the getting to know his Gurkhas and their personalities. Davis gives a good insight into learning Gurkhali and his limitations with it. He also paints a great picture of the men he served with, without presaging their fates.
The patrols, the battles and the country are all written with care. The situations clear, even when confused by the fog if war. Davis gives us only his perspective, he doesn’t try and tell the bits he didn’t see, or can’t remember. There’s just enough context, and a few sketch maps, so that we can follow him through the campaign.
I’ve read many first hand accounts from men that went to war. I don’t recall any being quite this honest, although a few others have mentioned their mental health, not enough do. For that reason alone it should be read widely. On top of that, there aren’t many of these accounts in English from the war in the Far East. So there are more reasons to read it.
I was recommended Dominion by a couple of friends after my review of the TV version of SS-GB. Dominion is a huge tome, it’s 700 pages long, and my first thought was that it probably needed some more editing. However I found it an easy and compelling read. Sansom’s style is more descriptive than others I’ve read, but the extra detail adds to the flavour of the story. The title has multiple interpretations. Britain is a Dominion of nazi Germany, the key protagonist works for the Colonial Office liaising with the Dominions.
Dominion – the review
Dominion takes a far more believable point of departure for its alternate history than SS-GB does. In Dominion Lord Halifax takes over from Neville Chamberlain as Prime Minister on 10 May 1940. Without Churchill the UK also makes peace with Germany in 1940. By the time Dominion is set in 1952 we have a much different Britain, it was never bombed and there is no rationing. Yet we’ve slid into being an authoritarian state with a fascist as Home Secretary in a coalition government. Rigged elections have driven Churchill, Attlee and Bevan underground.
There are several intertwined threads in the story, which gradually come together into the final scene in the book. They’re woven skillfully together in a manner that still leaves room for some surprises when each of the joins come.
I particularly liked the way the key antagonist is written, it would have been so easy to have made him a stereotype bully boy Gestapo thug. Instead he’s a frail human, lost and alone with his twin brother dead on the Russian steppe and his wife left him and taken their son away. Inspector Hoth uses his intelligence and cunning to catch Jews and ship them off, before coming to the UK to try and catch our protagonists. He’s way more sympathetic than the British Special Branch sidekick he picks up, which makes him all the scarier.
The main characters are all different, yet well observed to feel very real. They have more than one dimension to them. More than stereotypes. The central characters are pre-war university friends thrown together by circumstances. Two are civil servants and spying for the Resistance. The third (Frank Muncaster) is a scientist working at Birmingham University with a brother working for the US Government who gets sectioned after an argument with his brother.
David, one of the principal point of view characters, is a grammar school boy weighed down by the hopes of his family. After university, where he roomed with Muncaster, he joins the colonial office. There’s a brief spell in the army in 1939-40 where he serves in the Norway campaign. After the peace he returns to the Colonial Office. We find him ten years later married to Sarah, the daughter of an active pacifist. Both are still mourning the loss of their young son. David also carries secrets, and bitterness about the Nazi influence on Britain. There’s a marriage in trouble alongside the weightier affairs of state. All of this colours what happens.
Story line – no spoilers
The story revolves around helping Frank escape from the Germans with his terrible secret intact. His brother has been working on the atomic bomb for the American government. Frank has learnt something that would make it easier for others to practically?build their own bomb.
There are two parallel attempts to get Frank out of the mental hospital that he’s been placed in. One by the resistance and the other by the Germans. The Germans are constrained by the niceties of Britain being notionally independent.
If you are a fan of alternative history this is definitely a must read. There’s a stack of research underpinning the book, and I didn’t spot anything that felt wrong to me.
Is Archer of the Yard just doing his civil police job or is he a Nazi collaborator?
I have a fascination with the moral dilemma of being a collaborator or changing sides in civil wars and occupations. None more so than the situation that Archer of the Yard finds himself in with SS-GB.
Let’s unpack Archer’s moral dilemma a little, and see whether we think he’s just doing the job, or whether he’s facilitating the worst excesses of Nazism by being a collaborator.
Archer as Loyal Policeman
The oath of a constable hasn’t changed much over the centuries. It’s had an update earlier this century to add fairness, but essentially it’s the same as the oath of office Archer would have taken when he joined the Met Police.
To serve the King and “…to the best of my power cause the peace to be kept and preserved, and prevent all offences against the persons and properties of His Majesty’s subjects…”
That’s the core of the constable’s oath. He’s promising to uphold the law and keep the peace. The constable is doing it on behalf of the King, but his duty is to the law.
Unlike soldiers, who promise loyalty to the King, his heirs and successors and the officers appointed above them, there is no explicit duty to serve the King or government. In fact this independence of the constabulary to uphold the law, against the government if need be, sets them apart.
Archer has no oath of loyalty that says he must oppose the Germans. In staying in his job and catching criminals he’s displaying his loyalty to his country’s law.
Archer as a Collaborator
The niceties of law and oaths of office aside, Archer is working with Germans. For some this alone marks Archer as a Collaborator. We see this in the comments and attitudes of many of the other characters. Even his son asks this.
The mere fact if having a German boss is compounded when Dr Huth arrives. Archer is seen in company of SS troops, often rounding up people and taking them away. Despite his best efforts wherever he goes the SS follow and arrest people. Even at his son’s school a master and several older boys are taken in for questioning.
Archer, his son and household directly benefit from him keeping his job. As well as pay he gets extra rations and has access to a car.
While in the job he gets to influence what the Germans are doing. His influence is low, but not nonexistent. He facilitates the escape of his erstwhile secretary and also turns a blind eye to other resistance activity. Where he can he frustrates the occupation forces in small ways.
Archer isn’t stupid. He’s well aware of how others see him. He knows there are people that would kill him given an opportunity. When he talks to the press he stresses the apolitical nature of his work and non involvement in doing the Germans dirty work.
Archer has seen the Germans at first hand. He’s met the SS and Gestapo that chase the resistance, they work in the building next door. He knows that they are brutal and inhuman. Archer is also aware that they’re the people that would replace him and his colleagues if they quit.
There’s also the fact that the war is pretty much over. There isn’t a prospect of the US launching a cross-atlantic assault to free Britain. The only real hope Britain might have is that the Germans decide to go home in a couple of years having installed a friendly puppet government. That’s the point Britain might restore itself the way Germany did after WW1.
In the meantime Archer believes that staying in post and maintaining the standards and forms of the prewar ways is the best hope to enable return. Giving up and letting the Germans take over will lead to anarchy, brutality and many avoidable British deaths.
He might be wrong. He might be dragged into helping the Germans with their brutality and rounding up of British patriots.
That’s Archer’s dilemma. Be thought a collaborator but prevent a more excessive regime, or escape and let the excesses happen.