Tag Archives: Ministry of Defence

Book Review – The Stress of Battle by David Rowland (Part 1)

Real shooting tactical exercises in Smardan sh...
Real shooting tactical exercises in Smardan shooting-range with the 100 mm anti-tank gun M1977. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Not exactly a book review, more of a synopsis of a great work of Operational Research by David Rowland. The Stress of Battle: Quantifying Human Performance in Combat is the end result of years of work by David Rowland and his team at the Ministry of Defence. Rowland was the father of historical analysis as a branch of Operational Research.

This particular work looks at a combination of field analysis experiments in the 1980s using lasers, well documented WW2 engagements and a handful of battles from other wars. Almost every page in it is packed with evidence or explanations of the complex methodology used to ensure that you could get controlled results from an otherwise messy and chaotic environment. If you are playing or designing wargames then this is one of the books that you absolutely must have on your book shelves (and have read too).

When I was reading the book I was often underlining or marking sections with post-it flags. In particular I drew the following interesting snippets from the book:

  • Tanks suppress defenders, but you need at least two tanks per defending MG to have any effect;
  • Combat degradation is about a factor of 10 compared to performance on firing ranges
  • Anti-tank guns focus the attention of tanks from suppressing MGs, and the bigger the anti-tank gun the more attention it diverts (unsurprisingly);
  • Fortifications & obstacles (i.e. properly prepared defensive positions) increase defence effectiveness by a factor of 1.65;
  • In defending against a 3:1 attack, the average rifleman will inflict 0.5 casualties on the attackers whereas a MG will inflict 4 casualties;
  • 1 in 8 riflemen will cause 4 casualties, and the other 7 none;
  • MG equivalents for casualty causing are: 9 rifles = 1 MG; 1 medium mortar (81mm) = 3 MG;
  • Combat effectiveness grows with experience, improving the casualty exchange ratio;

This is just a taster of what the book contains. Really worth reading. Not only that it is fantastically well illustrated with loads of graphs, diagrams and pictures from the field exercises to illustrate the points in the text.

Continued in Part 2 – Operational Research on Urban Warfare


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Condor Blues – British soldiers at war

A very interesting book about the British Army experience from the point of view of two platoons embedded in training the Iraqi Civil Defence Corps (ICDC) in the aftermath of the invasion (so the first half of 2004 approximately). Both platoons belonged to the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, but one was on secondment from the PWRR.

From the content of the book it is clear that it was not authorised by MOD as it is highly critical in places. Also none of the main players come out of it looking terribly good, you see their flaws and the bad side as well as the bravery and the compassion in places (as well as other emotions at other points). For example,  after a severe contact two of the Iraqi insurgent casualties were found to be carrying ICDC identity cards – which spelt the end of the Argylls trying to teach them military skills.

It is a warts and all portrayal, which makes it all the more convincing. Life in the camp appears to be well described, and feels honest in its descriptions of what the Jocks get up to in combating the boredom they suffered from. I can’t be sure not having been there myself, but having grown up in the same area as some of the Argylls (with references to places I went to as a teenager myself) I can see some of the soldiers I met as a territorial 20 years ago in these men. The perceived authenticity of the camp life makes the stories of the contacts with insurgents more believable.

However although there are proper war stories in here, the book is as much a lament to the lost opportunity to get a peaceful settlement and a sort of disbelief that the British Army apparently abandoned its own doctrine and instead pursued a heavy metal retaliation to incidents, which drove the locals to be insurgents.

Definitely worth reading.


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