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I have finally moved this site off Automattic’s servers onto servers in Canada. Since I am not a US person, hosting any part of my digital life in the United States was a bad idea, and Automattic’s idea of our relationship is not what I signed up for. I thought they were providing a handy package of (domain registration + web hosting + spam blocking + tech support) and they thought they were a social media company.

https://bookandsword.wordpress.com/ will be deleted at the end of July 2021. All new posts will appear on https://bookandsword.com/ So sorry folks! This is closing time at the bar, and you don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.

Evaluation of the Japanese Armed Forces on the Basis of the Fighting in China since July 1937

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In June 2020, I read my first primary source from WW II in a language other than English. This is a Fremde Heere Ferner Osten “Evaluation of the Japanese Armed Forces on the basis of the fighting in China since July 1937” published in April 1938. Like many German texts from the National Socialist period, this is preserved in a Russian archive. The Soviets kept everything from caches of printed documents to bundles of soldiers’ letters, and many of these no longer exist in Germany, Hungary, Italy, or Romania. It is a clearly written and well-organized report which shows the high standard of thinking expected of officers in the Imperial German Army. The name of the author is not clear, but he states that he was active in the Great War and able to observe the Imperial Japanese Army in the 1910s. So he grew up and was educated long before the Nazi seisure of power, and had probably avoided the new regime by being stationed in East Asia. At one point he implies that he fought the Italians in the Great War, but he also compares the current state of the Imperial Japanese army to its state “25 years ago, when I had the opportunity to thoroughly study it for four years.” That might mean that he was an honoured prisoner of the Imperial Japanese Army after it occupied Germany’s Pacific possessions in 1914.

The author is in no way impressed by the Japanese armed forces. As far as he is concerned, the Japanese army is in no way up to the standards of a major European power and is achieving successes only because of its overwhelming advantage in war materiel over the Chinese (pp. 6, 8). Some of his complaints will be familiar to students of the Pacific War. He says that Japanese artillery are short-ranged and have trouble suppressing enemy artillery or closing roads and railways behind enemy lines. Japanese military planning is rigid and pedantic, and Japanese armour is effective on a small scale but lacks sufficient armour because local conditions only suit very light tanks weighing 3 to 8 tons. The large and small crimes and atrocities committed by Japanese soldiers have never been properly described in the reports which reach Europe.

Likewise, the tactical leadership is also schematic and not at the peak of modern combat leadership. It may be that it is adapted to the characteristics of the opponent, but I really question whether the Japanese know another kind of combat leadership.

Their tactic here consists in the assembly of all combat material in the smallest possible space and the launching of an almost wedge-like thrust (fast keilartiger Stoß), which by the correct disposition of fire against a deep zone must invariably break through. But after a successful breakthrough a quick exploitation and utilization does not just happen by itself, and begins only after tiresome preparations, at which time they naturally find a completely different situation and fail as a result. (pp. 6, 7)

My understanding is that by December 1941, the Japanese army had become much more active but still relied on concentrating its limited material in a sudden overwhelming barrage followed by a concentrated assault. And when Commonwealth and US forces started to learn to fight the Japanese, they found that if some Japanese units sent a platoon down a ravine an hour after sundown and everyone in it was killed, they would try the same thing the next night, and the next night, and the next night. On the other hand, I am surprised to hear that whole Japanese divisions of older conscripts have thrown down their rifles and run away if they do not have sufficient artillery, air, or armoured support!

It is sad to read this report as it warns how the “politicization” and lawlessness of the Japanese army are rotting it from within. Only three years later, the German army would be fully corrupted in the same way. And the report contains some Prussian arrogance:

The significance of the Japanese armed forces does not lie in their quality; measured by the European standard the Japanese army has not yet become anything close to equal to any European, except (on the basis of my experiences in the Great War) the Italian. It lies much more in the reality that the Japanese armed forces have at present no modernly organized and fully trained opponent in the Far East. I do not want to exaggerate, when I express my conviction, that with just two or three German divisions it would be a simple thing to throw the Japanese out of China in a short time. (p. 8)

Most of the Japanese army of 34 divisions was stationed in China and Manchuria, so to defeat them with two or three divisions would have been quite an achievement! Germany had not fought a war since 1918.

The Chinese Nationalist Army pioneered the use of large numbers of machine pistols (Kolbenpistole), mostly based on the Mauser C-96 “broomhandle” and FN Browning M1900 actions. For some reason, the Japanese did not adopt a similar weapon, even though these weapons would have been very useful in the jungles where they ended up fighting. I was surprised to see that the attached report on equipment in the Sino-Japanese War calls the Mausers “not without flaws” and “very inconvenient” and suggests replacing them with the Luger P08! There were versions of the Luger with a shoulder stock and a 32 round drum magazine, but they were inconvenient and unreliable too.

If we are not specialists in the Second World War, it is easy to forget that the alliance system in January 1942 was unguessable in January 1937. Germany armed and trained the government forces in China in the 1930s. Many German and Italian soldiers did not like each other very much. Germany, Italy, and Japan only became allies with the Pact of Steel in 1939, and the USSR only joined with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact later that year. The United Kingdom came very close to bombing the Soviet Union while it was trying to conquer Finland in the winter of 1940/1941. So it is a very good idea to read things written from 1937 to 1945 who did not know the outcome.

Two of the 60 original copies of this report are filed as Bestand 500 Findbuch 12451 Akte 231 by the DEUTSCH-RUSSISCHES PROJEKT ZUR DIGITALISIERUNG DEUTSCHER DOKUMENTE IN ARCHIVEN DER RUSSISCHEN FÖDERATION. I thank the anonymous Austrian vlogger of Military History Not Visualized for linking to a different document in the same folder (“Erfahrungen und Betrachtungen aus dem japanisch-chinesischen Feldzeug 1937/1938,” 15. March 1938).

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(scheduled 16 June 2021)

I Love Giovanni dall’Agocchie

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Marozzo’s version of coda longa stretta as restored and colourized by Heidi Zimmerman of Draupnir Press http://www.draupnirpress.com/CC/marozzosinglehandCC.html

About ten years ago, I discovered that I loved Giovanni dall’Agocchie’s fencing. It seems like people don’t talk very much about why they choose the arts that they do, online I see more accusations that the old masters taught something impractical or complaints that someone today is WRONG IN THE SALLE. So this week, I would like to talk about his gentle and humane approach to the art of defense.

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Did H. Beam Piper Influence The Imagery of Star Trek?

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the cover painting of the novel "Space Viking" from 1968
Another classic Michael Whelan cover for the 1977 Ace edition of H.Beam Piper’s Space Viking c/o SpaceBattles

Watching Star Trek: Discovery, I rediscovered the symbol of the Terran Empire of the Mirror Universe: a planet with a sword behind it. That makes me think of the heraldry of H. Beam Piper’s Sword Worlds.

H. Beam Piper, Space Viking (1963) p. 30 Project Gutenberg

The Nemesis came back to the Gorram yards and settled onto her curved landing legs like a monstrous spider. The Enterprise had borne the Ward sword and atom-symbol; the Nemesis should [page 30] bear his own badge, but the bisonoid head, tawny on green, of Traskon, was no longer his. He chose a skull impaled on an upright sword, and it was blazoned on the ship when he and Harkaman took her out for her shakedown cruise.

The sword-and-planet symbol was introduced in Star Trek #204 “Mirror, Mirror” in 1968 (Wikipedia). Did the novel influence the artists who designed Star Trek: The Original Series? The timing is right but Beam Piper might have been inspired by someone before him.  You can find more of the extraordinary cover art of the 1960s and 1970s on zarthani.net and learn about how ideas flowed between written science fiction, TV shows like Star Trek, and crank theories about ancient astronauts in the YouTube channel for Do Ancient Egyptians Dream of Electric Sheep (warning: YouTube).


People from the mirror universe and people from our universe can be easy to confuse! Prove you are one of the goodies with some shameless charity on Patreon or paypal.me or even liberapay

(scheduled 11 May 2021)

Arms and Armour Society, and the Great Migration

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The Arms and Armour Society in the UK is holding a subscription drive to fund their excellent journal. I am informed that if you put a subscription in your shopping cart, go to the shopping cart and enter code facebook2020 you can subscribe for half off. If self-promotion in front of a camera is not your bowl of wine, then the future of being scholarly and sociable is in societies and newsletters just like it was in the past.

I will be finally moving from Automattic / wordpress.com to a host in Canada in the next week or so. There may be some slight disruptions to the site during the process. bookandsword.wordpress.com should be visible until the end of June 2021, but https://bookandsword.com may briefly go down or appear empty.

Some Thoughts on van Creveld’s “Supplying War”

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Martin van Creveld, Supplying War: Logistics from Wallerstein to Patton (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 2007) ISBN 0-521-21730-X

What John Keegan did to the experience of battle in 1979, Martin van Creveld did to the logistics of modern European warfare two years earlier. I finally read this book in May 2021 and am glad that I did, although its perspective is different than mine.

van Creveld lays out a model of logistics which goes like this. Before the late 19th century, armies could easily carry all the ammunition and spare weapons they needed with them, so the main requirements were food and fodder. As long as an army kept moving and was not too large, it could get these things in the area of operations. The main differences between armies were whether they confiscated supplies or purchased them, and whether they got their food from individual villages and farms, hired contractors to collect and deliver it, or obtained it from local towns and governors. So armies could wander around freely but might get in trouble if they had to stop to besiege a town or because enemies had blocked their path. If an army did not want to pay, then it was better to operate in hostile territory than friendly territory, just as Sun Tzu says. In 1870-1871, the Prussian army only consumed 56 rounds of rifle ammunition per infantryman and 199 rounds per gun (p. 102). This was less than the army carried with it when it set out, so there was no need to bring trains of ammunition from Prussia to the army. Outside of North Africa and some Pacific islands, the Axis still relied on local food and fodder in WW II.

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Some Thoughts on “Cutting with the Medieval Sword”

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The heroine of this Arthurian romance is in peril, and not the sexy kind! The long, slender longsword is typical for the period when Fiore’s art and the Kunst des Fechtens were created. From BNF Nouvelle acquisition française 5243 Guiron le Courtois folio 90r

Michael Edelson, Cutting with the Medieval Sword: Theory and Application (CreateSpace, 2017) ISBN-13 978-0999290385 (hardcover) 978-1979910972 (softcover)

A sharp sword in a skilled hand is a fearsome cutting weapon. When the sword or the swordsman is inadequate, fighters can find themselves helplessly slapping their opponent’s hat or clothing. There is now a book for the historical fencing movement on how to cut through things effectively. This one is by an instructor who teaches at a school in New York City, competes in cutting and fencing tournaments, and used to be quite active and aggressive on forums. In the historical fencing world, his main interest is the art from Central Europe associated with a poem which circulated under the name of Meister Liechtenauer, the Kunst des Fechtens. This art probably emerged in the late 14th century and flourished until there was a ‘martial arts craze’ for Italian fencing in 17th century Germany.

A practical book on the use of weapons raises three basic questions. Can I understand it? Are its teachings something I want to commit to trying? After a substantial period of training, have these teachings made me more effective? When reconstructing historical and prehistorical martial arts like 18th century backsword play or the use of bronze swords, there is a fourth question: how does the book support its claim to describe how things were done back in the day? My first impression is that this book is clear and that probably 80-90% of the theory describes one good way of doing things. The most controversial teaching is the insistence on stepping into range (measure) and then cutting. How to do this without walking into a cut or thrust is “beyond the scope of this book” (p. 57). I don’t have a sharp longsword with me, or money to spend on things to chop up (and my sharp longsword is the long stiff poky kind not the broad flexible choppy kind). So this review will focus on how this book justifies its claims. I am a professional at analyzing arguments, but only a dabbler at fencing.

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Talk by Greek Hoplite Reenactors

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If you like videos, some of the people who are organizing Plataia 2021 (which will probably occur in 2022) and classicist Natasha Bershadsky have given a talk at the Centre for Hellenic Studies in Massachusetts. If you are not familiar with Giannis Kadoglou’s kit, Paul Bardunias’ experiment at Marathon 2015, and the Hoplite Experiment at WMAW 2019, its a handy introduction (and if you are, there are a few video clips which I have not seen before).

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Review: Richard Taylor, “The Macedonian Phalanx”

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Richard Taylor, The Macedonian Phalanx: Equipment, Organization & Tactics from Philip & Alexander to the Roman Conquest (Pen & Sword: Barnsley, 2020) xii + 482 pages ISBN 978-1-52674-815-7

Available from Pen & Sword, biblio.com, and amazon.com

The Macedonian Phalanx is a thoughtful, engaging account of the ancient pike phalanx. By drawing upon literature, inscriptions, archaeology, and comparative evidence it uses the best available methods in ancient history. I am both jealous and relieved that I no longer have to write such a book myself.

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