In 1214 John of England, Richard the Lionheart’s brother and successor, engineered a large-scale invasion of France. He drew together a large coalition which included his nephew Otto IV, the Holy Roman emperor, and Count Ferdinand of Flanders to launch a two-front offensive. John was to land in Aquitaine and advance on Paris from the southwest; the others were to march on Paris from the north with a large army of Flemish and Imperial troops. This would either allow one of the two armies to seize the capital, or keep King Philip II’s forces so divided that they could be beaten in detail. It was a textbook, if rudimentary, example of multi-front strategy.Continue reading “Epilogue to ‘Saladin the Strategist’”
An excerpt from Saladin the Strategist: How the Crusaders Lost the Holy Land, a military history of the famous Muslim general. Available on Amazon now.
As the year 1185 drew to a close, a long train of horses, camels, and men trudged through the rainy cold of the upper Mesopotamian plain. The army’s mood was downcast as they headed away from what had promised to be a profitable venture. Seven months earlier, they had set off to capture Mosul, a large and wealthy city which contained enormous loot. After enduring the scorching summer months in a fruitless siege, they left to chase better prospects elsewhere; when these too failed to deliver anything, they returned to Mosul to make another half-hearted attempt on the city. But by that time, winter was approaching and the weather started to get worse. Reluctantly, they began their empty-handed withdrawal.Continue reading “Introduction to ‘Saladin the Strategist’”
European warfare underwent a massive transformation beginning around 1500. Armies from France, Spain, and Germany descended on Italy, fighting for control of Naples, Milan, and other territories in a series of war that lasted most of the century. Not only did this lead to a revolution in tactics, but it drove a massive growth in the size of armies, fueled by a great expansion of credit in the early 16th century. The fragile states of the early modern period were unable to raise, equip, and finance these behemoth armies on their own, forcing them to turn to a wide variety of military enterprisers to meet their shortfalls.
On 12 July 1813, representatives from Austria, Prussia, Sweden, and Russia met at Trachenberg Palace in western Poland to plan their upcoming campaign against Napoleon. The French emperor had been driven from Russia the previous winter. His reverses encouraged Sweden and Prussia to join the war on Russia’s side, and Austria was expected to join them in the autumn. Nevertheless, Napoleon remained a hreat. He had gathered reinforcements in eastern Germany and occupied a strong position over a nearly two-hundred-mile front. Fighting in the spring had shown that his genius was undiminished, and he would be a danger to any army that faced him in the field.Continue reading “Algorithmic Warfare, Part 1: Fighting by a Script”
Below is the editor’s preface to F.L. Taylor’s 1920 classic Art of War in Italy, 1494-1529, published September 2020. It describes the birth of Early Modern warfare during the Italian Wars, and is available to US readers here (international rights pending).
The Italian Wars, which opened with the roar of French cannons knocking down the medieval fortress walls and closed with well-disciplined Spanish tercios standing triumphant on the battlefield, witnessed the birth of modern European warfare. Between Charles VIII’s invasion of 1494 and the 1559 Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis, European armies were completely transformed from cavalry-heavy feudal levies to professional forces of well-drilled infantry.Continue reading ““The Art of War in Italy, 1494-1529 (A Critical Edition)””
The Byzantines, the subjects of the Eastern Roman Empire, were great survivors. They outlasted their cousins in the west by a thousand years, withstanding the great waves of barbarian invasions and even managing to flourish amidst the chaos. Less than a century after the last western emperor was deposed in 476, the Eastern Romans under Justinian reconquered Italy and North Africa, and seemed on their way to restoring the entire Mediterranean to Roman rule.
Yet much of this early good fortune was illusory. More calamities were in store: plague, new waves of invaders, and economic collapse wiped away much of their gains and undermined the foundations of their rule. Amidst this fresh crop of disasters, one challenge above all else threatened to bring down the empire: the rise of Islam.Continue reading “Byzantium’s Eastern Frontier: The Most Sophisticated Defensive System of the Middle Ages”
Hannibal’s great victory at Cannae in 216 BC is famous as a decisive victory by double envelopment. After baiting a much larger Roman army into an attack, he trapped it between the jaws of his wings, which then encircled and annihilated the Romans.
But on closer examination, this traditional account of Cannae doesn’t quite add up. How did Hannibal manage to surround such a large army in the first place? Why didn’t the Romans just roll through his entire line, and surround him? A few modern narratives hint at an explanation, but never quite spell it out.Continue reading “The Battle of Cannae: What Really Happened?”
The spate of impressive drone strikes over the past year has revived talk of the extinction of armored vehicles. Since late 2019, Turkish UAVs in Syria and Libya and now Azerbaijani drones in Nagorno-Karabakh have destroyed a sizable number of tanks, APCs, artillery pieces, and SAMs. Protective armor can only do so much and brings exponential costs with it; against that, swarms of drones are cheap. Is the age of armored military vehicles over?Continue reading “DRONE APOCALYPSE: The End of Warfare As We Know It?!”