“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Thursday, February 09, 2012

The Wrong Horseshoe

If only he had brought Jeeps

Napoleon's failure: For the want of a winter horseshoe

Of all the challenges faced by generals through history, moving armies has been one of the greatest - and Napoleon Bonaparte's invasion of Russia 200 years ago illustrates just how badly things can go wrong when it is underestimated.

It is not enough just to get your forces from A to B - you have to keep them fed and watered as they go. The art of movement, therefore, is one of the most complex and vital that any commander must master, if he is going to win.
In 1812, his armies having swept all before them, Napoleon was at the zenith of his power (shades of another invader of Russia 129 years later). His Grand Armee of 400,000 men was thought to be unbeatable and he himself anticipated a rapid victory.
Yet within six months his huge force had been reduced to a straggling band of ragged fugitives, and fewer than one in 20 of his soldiers would ever see their homes again. How had it come to this?
During previous campaigns in Western Europe, Napoleon had solved the problem of feeding his armies by letting them "live off the land" - either by pillaging or buying up supplies as they advanced.
But aware that such an expedient would not be possible in "the wastelands of the Ukraine", he planned to take his supplies with him.
This was a logistical operation of quite staggering proportions, requiring a wagon train of no fewer than 26 battalions - eight equipped with 600 light and medium wagons each, and the rest with 252 four-horse wagons capable of carrying 1.36 tonnes (a grand total of 9,300 wagons).
To pull these wagons and to transport his cavalry and artillery he had gathered 250,000 horses, all of which required 9kg (20lbs) of forage a day.
And yet the figures did not add up.
Had Napoleon arrived in Moscow in two months, and with only half his original 400,000 men, he would still have required total supplies of 16,330 tonnes, which was almost double the capacity of his supply trains.
Instead he advanced with just 24 days rations. Clearly he was gambling on a rapid victory and a campaign that would not last longer than three weeks. It was wishful thinking.
The Russians refused to stand and fight and destroyed crops and supplies as they withdrew, luring Napoleon ever further across forests, marshes and steppes.
Meanwhile the Grand Armee was losing 5,000 men a day thanks to desertion, disease and suicide and horses perished at a rate of 50 per kilometre (80 per mile) most from eating an unhealthy diet of freshly cut green fodder.
There were only two significant battles - at Smolensk, where the Russians were defeated, and at Borodino, near Moscow, a bloody and inconclusive contest that resulted in combined casualties of 80,000 men (44,000 of them Russian).
As the withdrawal continued, Napoleon entered Moscow in mid-September with only a quarter of his original strength. But Tsar Alexander I's refusal to sue for peace, and the problems of supply caused by his "scorched earth" policy, gave Napoleon little option but to retreat.
His troubles, however, were just beginning. Having entered Russia in June, and anticipating a short campaign, his horses were still shod with summer shoes.
But with the brutal Russian winter fast approaching, this tiny logistical oversight was to cost him dear. Winter horseshoes are equipped with little spikes that give a horse traction on snow and ice, and prevent it from slipping.
Without them, a horse can neither tow a wagon uphill, nor use them as brakes on the way down.
In the Russian winter of 1812, this spelt disaster for Napoleon's reduced force. Horses in summer shoes would have "fallen down underneath whatever it was they were towing", in the words of Bernie Tidmarsh, one of Britain's leading farriers.
"They wouldn't have got any grip going down hill any more than they would have going up," he says. "The end result would have been broken legs and mutilated limbs."
Assailed by hunger, the cold and Russian cavalry, the Grand Armee wasted away.
By the time Napoleon abandoned his army to its fate in Poland - arriving back in Paris on 5 December - it numbered fewer than 10,000 effectives. It was a disaster from which he would never recover.
His long retreat from Moscow has gone down in history as one of the greatest logistical disasters of all time. Without adequate horse transport, 2,400km (1,500 miles) from home, his army had no chance.
If a general gets his logistical preparation right, however, he can literally steal a march on the enemy.
Perhaps the greatest recent example of this was during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 when the Prussian commander Helmuth von Moltke used the efficiency of German railways to concentrate his troops before the French could.
Having gained the initiative, he did not relinquish it until Prussia had won the war, a victory that would usher in German unification.
Horses, however, remained all armies chief means of moving men and supplies over difficult terrain until the Jeep was introduced by the United States military in World War II.
Jeeps were durable, reliable and flexible.
They could be used for almost anything - towing, cable-laying, transporting casualties and supplies, and with the right wheels they could even drive on railway tracks.
Every regiment in the US Army was supplied with 145 Jeeps, and 640,000 were built between the years 1941 and 1945 (18% of all wheeled vehicles).
By Vietnam, the Jeep had given way to the helicopter, and it is hard to imagine a modern army fighting a war without this supremely adaptable workhorse.
Yet as recently as the Falklands War of 1982, when helicopters were in short supply, many British soldiers had to "yomp" for three weeks across the barren heath of East Falkland before fighting a battle on the outskirts of Port Stanley. Some things never change.
Saul David is Professor of War Studies at the University of Buckingham and the presenter of 
BBC Four's Bullets, Boots and Bandages.

"The naked masses of dead and dying men. The mangled carcasses of 10,000 horses which had in some cases been cut for food before life had ceased.
"The craving of famine at other points forming groups of cannibals. The air enveloped in flame and smoke. The prayers of hundreds of naked wretches flying from the peasantry, whose shouts of vengeance echoed incessantly through the woods.
"The wrecks of cannon, powder-waggons, all stores of every description: it formed such a scene as probably was never witnessed in the history of the world."_________________


  1. Patton wanted to follow on with a War in Russia. MacArthur wanted to nuke the Chinese. ALL "Great" Generals are quite mad.

  2. We were lucky to have two of the great logisticians of all time - Eisenhower, and Marshall - and, yet, we got caught with summer uniforms at Bastogne.

  3. Our first war of the 21st Century commenced with a cavalry attack.

  4. I think it was Eisenhower that said, "War will always surprise you."

  5. I got caught in a G-String with Clay Aiken, but what do I care?
    The Dude is cool.
    ...ask Adam Carolla.

  6. Rufus is gonna get caught holding Ethanol Futures when it becomes common knowledge that North America has more than a Century's worth of economically viable petroleum.

  7. Anybody that knows shit about Americana knows that it's pronounced "calvary"

  8. Keep drinkin' that koolaid, massa.

  9. re: The Great Doug Mac:


    Us versus the Japs,
    or us versus the Chi-Coms
    in an Economic War to the

    You Decide

  10. Costco has Sierra Nevada Torpedo Cases for sale for 24 bucks a case!

    12 percent real BEER!

  11. That's some ethanol I can get behind.

    ...and vice versa.

  12. Before Hurricane Katrina we were producing 5.4 Million Barrels of Oil/Day.

    Today, we're producing 5.6 Million Barrels of Oil/Day.

    An increase of 0.2 Million Barrels of Oil/Day.

    Did I mention that we're Importing 8.6 Million Barrels of Oil/Day?

  13. Crap, it's 7.2
    ...I have a dream, tho.

  14. Minas Crude (Indonesia) was selling for $128.00/Barrel, yesterday.

  15. Every gallon of ethanol wasted on a motor vehicle is one less gallon of beverage for the masses.

  16. We're big into Minas Crude in Parodise, but who's counting?

  17. The point is: Crude is priced, now, on China. The closer to China, the higher the price.

  18. ...currently hauling a second crop of windmills stored where the kid works to the hill where we'll produce a higher percentage of our e-lec-tricity than Rufus's beloved California.

  19. Point is, Minas is top quality stuff.

  20. Your prices in Paradise are probably closer to the Minas Price than the Brent Price ($117.00/bbl,) and waaaay apart from WTI.

  21. Minas is basically the same as what comes out of the Bakken, and Texas - Light Sweet.

  22. ...and another reason we need a Navy to keep what isn't theirs, not theirs.

  23. I don't "love" California, Doug. I live in Mississip. I just believe in giving every debil his due.

  24. Yeah, a race between CA and Illinois to see who goes bankrupt first.

  25. Yeah, I told you when this deal started that we'd heard it all, before. Every recession, "California's going to go bankrupt." But, it never quite happens, does it?

  26. Doug: Rufus is gonna get caught holding Ethanol Futures when it becomes common knowledge that North America has more than a Century's worth of economically viable petroleum.

    They could announce a new technology based on Tesla's work allowing appliances to be plugged directly into the ground, and Obama would stop it because it affects the navigation system of the Gypsy moth.

  27. Doug: Anybody that knows shit about Americana knows that it's pronounced "calvary"

    An anyone who says different must be one of those secular humanist librals.

  28. Rufus: Did I mention that we're Importing 8.6 Million Barrels of Oil/Day?

    But we're set to become a net exporter of refined petroleum products in a few years. So it's like the Swedes lamenting the difference between their raw lumber imports relative to home-grown, all the while they are exporting all that IKEA.

  29. Naw, T; we're importing 8.6 Million Barrels of Crude, and we're looking at being a Net Exporter of Products to the tune of, perhaps, a couple of hundred thousand barrels.

  30. “Governor Romney is the candidate who will stand up for the conservative principles that we hold dear,” Rick Santorum said, in 2008.

  31. ...them secular humanist librals.

  32. Our Gasoline Demand is Down 6.8% from last year, and falling.

    However, we have some refineries down on the Gulf Coast that can refine some horrible, nasty shit that, virtually, no one else in the world can refine.

  33. Rufus: ...we're looking at being a Net Exporter of Products to the tune of, perhaps, a couple of hundred thousand barrels.

    Difficult to see. Always in motion, the future. Coal exports are up 50% in just one year, thanks to falling natural gas prices relieving our use of that resource here.

  34. SanSnorum:

    I did NOT equate homos with beastiality!

  35. Napoleon thought it was a slam dunk.

  36. There are no slam dunks "on the road."

  37. The "Home - Dog" has always been a good bet.

  38. 'Specially when the Home/Dog is a Northern Country that covers 11 Time Zones. :)

  39. American flag is now banned in Haiti. I guess all those aid packages to them will have to be flagless, to comply with the law.

  40. Caterpillar nixes new 1,000 worker manufacturing plant in IL on account of a bad business climate -- plant going to NC

  41. Santorum donation surge crashes his website (needs a webmaster that knows about scaling up)

    Ron Paul received 87% of the active duty military donations because Ron Paul will not send them off to die protecting the Moose Limb warlord's poppy fields from other Moose Limbs.

  42. For what it's worth:

    DEBKAfile’s military sources report that flight after flight of US warplanes and transports were to be seen this week cutting eastward through the skies of Sinai on their way to Gulf destinations, presumably Saudi Arabia, at a frequency not seen in the Middle East for many years.

  43. Democrats to sell $1 million golden tickets for their convention in Charlotte. How 1% is that?

  44. It's time to nuke Iran's under the mountain sites.

    Sunday, Feb. 5, Alireza Forghani, head of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's strategic team, was quoted as remarking, "It would only take nine minutes to wipe out Israel."

    Notice i did not advocate genocide.

    I am advocating the complete destruction of Iran's weapons of mass destruction program, it's oil refineries, it's power grid, it's water and sewage infrastructure, it's ports, it's revolutionary guard barracks, it's runways and it's oil wells.

    Once those 1st round of destruction occurs?

    ANYTHING that is military should be struck.

    Any Iranian governmental employee should be targeted for liquidation anywhere in the world.

    Round 3?

    Any rally against the Jews calling for their genocide? Should be clusterbombed.

    Yeah I know the world will get pissy in public.

    I know the retarded bar flies here will condemn me for being a maniac and a murderer...

    It's war folks...

    They win or we win

    We die or they die.

    I choose they die.

    Of course any rockets from Hezbollah or hamas?

    Should be responded to as an act of war.

    The populations of both should be driven several hundred miles back and then the empty lands should be salted and made unlivable.

    No occupation here folks...

    Do what the Romans did...

    Salt the ground..

    Make it barren

    Teach them a lesson...

    Dont Tread on me...

    Good night

  45. Whom are you advocating doing the Nuking WiO - The US or Israel?

  46. Santorum blames "culture" for pedophile priests... how about blaming the damn priests?

  47. How do you square your "blame the Priests" with your view of Islam?

  48. Ash: How do you square your "blame the Priests" with your view of Islam?

    What is it you take to be my view of Islam?

  49. Army let Ft. Hood Hassan actively promote jihad/sharia but will not let Catholic Chaplains read Bishop's HHS statement. Go figure.

  50. Ash: That it is bad.

    Islam is a belief system. I believe it is wrong. Some Islamic believers are really death worshipers. They are bad.

  51. Ash said...
    Whom are you advocating doing the Nuking WiO - The US or Israel?

    Certainly not America.

    If Israel does it Obama cant take the credit and get re-elected on it

  52. Wasp said...
    Ash: That it is bad.

    Islam is a belief system. I believe it is wrong. Some Islamic believers are really death worshipers. They are bad.

    And yet doing something that would force them to amend their beliefs like taking out/nuking/vaporizing/shooting to the sun/kidnapping the Rock of Mecca you are all against...

    I guess it's that multiple personality thing you got going...

  53. WASP could then say:

    "Catholicism is a belief system. I believe it is wrong. Some Catholic Priests are really pedophiles. They are bad."

  54. First things first, of course-----

    Madonna fans beg Netanyahu to hold off strike on Iran until after Tel Aviv show in May...

  55. The end of the day of the warhorse - Picasso's Guernica.

  56. This comment has been removed by the author.

  57. Ash: WASP could then say:

    "Catholicism is a belief system. I believe it is wrong. Some Catholic Priests are really pedophiles. They are bad."

    Except that I would say I would believe Catholicism is correct. Understandable, since I am Catholic.

    Westboro Baptist Church will be picketing the funeral of Josh and Susan Powell's two murdered sons, because they say God is punishing Washington State for passing a marriage equality bill. THAT is wrong.

    Ron Paul can't do yoga because his positions never change.

  58. The world's greatest snow-capped peaks, which run in a chain from the Himalayas to Tian Shan on the border of China and Kyrgyzstan, have lost no ice over the last decade, new research shows.

    Today's national debt: $15,335,666,215,381.09. Your share as a citizen: $48,997.20.

  59. Madonna just announced her 1st islamic world tour!

    the Whitehouse, to Newark NJ, to Detroit, MI, to Dearborn MI to Chicago's Southside!

  60. Khamenei said Israel was a “cancerous tumor that should be cut and will be cut,” and added that the U.S. would suffer defeat and lose standing in the region if it decides to use military force to stop the country’s nuclear program.

    So tell us Ash, who's going to do the cutting that Khameini is speaking of?

  61. He has managed to turn small contingents of Marine guards into occupying armies and waste dumps into military bases.

    Ron Paul Full Of It As Usual

  62. I have no idea anon. Who do you think will attempt that cut?

  63. Of all the miserable specimens on this planet, no category repels me quite so much as those parasites involved with the great renewables boondoggle.

    Windfarms Suck

  64. As for the next-generation iPad itself, sources say it will be pretty much what we’ve been led to expect by the innumerable reports leading up to its release: A device similar in form factor to the iPad 2, but running a much faster chip, sporting an improved graphics processing unit, and featuring a 2048×1536 Retina Display — or something close to it.

    If 2011 was the year of the iPad 2, will 2012 be the year of the iPad 3? Said a source familiar with the device: “What do you think?”

    An Apple spokeswoman declined comment on the timing of the event, saying the company does not comment on rumors and speculation.

  65. Today, the Gallup national tracking poll of Republican voters has Santorum catching Gingrich at 20 percent apiece. This is a five-day rolling average.


    And in the ur-swing state of Ohio, Rasmussen (in the field Wednesday) has Obama and Santorum tied at 44, while Romney trails Obama 45-41.

    The next polls to watch for? How Romney and Santorum (and Gingrich) are doing in the states that will vote February 28, Arizona and especially Michigan.

  66. Anonymous: Khamenei said Israel was a “cancerous tumor that should be cut and will be cut,” and added that the U.S. would suffer defeat and lose standing in the region if it decides to use military force to stop the country’s nuclear program.

    The US hasn't suffered a military defeat since the opening days of the Ardennes Operation, Dec 13, 1944. We may leave wars unfinished, but we don't lose battles.

  67. Anonymous: So tell us Ash, who's going to do the cutting that Khameini is speaking of?

    Maybe Iran will buy all their schoolchildren plastic picnic knives and send them into prepared IDF positions. I've heard about those little monsters from certain Zionists on this blog.

  68. On Jan. 31, Baghdad withdrew its opposition to a deal between ExxonMobil and the Kurdistan Regional Government, a move that reflects the conflicts between and among Iraq's various political actors. Energy negotiations with the United States are one arena where the al-Maliki government has been forced to make significant concessions recently.


    Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had been threatening to cut off ExxonMobil's access to Iraq's southern oil fields in response to the company's deal with the KRG, an instance highlighting ongoing tensions between the central government and the autonomous region in Iraq's north. Baghdad's recent reversal illustrates one avenue the United States may use to counter Iran's considerable influence in Iraq.


    Three major conflicts have dominated Iraq's political landscape since the fall of Saddam Hussein. Sunni politicians seek to push back against Shiite dominance; the autonomous Kurdish region wants to assert itself against Baghdad's authority; and Iran and the United States are competing for influence in Baghdad.

    Influence In Iraq

  69. On this day in 1971, Apollo 14 returned to Earth. It was the third space mission that landed a man on the moon.

  70. Sam: On this day in 1971, Apollo 14 returned to Earth. It was the third space mission that landed a man on the moon.

    It was also the first time humans golfed on the moon.




  72. An Egyptian judge involved in the investigation of foreign nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operating in Egypt indicated Feb. 8 that Cairo intends to try the 43 NGO workers indicted Feb. 5, many of whom are Americans. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces is using the NGO investigation to signal to Washington that the council wants to manage Egypt's transition to democracy without foreign interference.


    Egypt's official charge against the NGOs is that they were not registered to operate in the country (which violates taxation laws) and were using large sums of foreign money to train Egyptian political parties how to participate in the electoral process. The unspoken charge, however, is that Washington is using these NGOs to try to destabilize the Egyptian regime.


    The U.S.-Egyptian alliance primarily dates back to the signing of the Camp David Accords in 1979, when U.S. military aid to Egypt began. That agreement allowed Washington to secure a valuable peace treaty between Egypt and Israel to maintain a crucial balance of power in the region, secure the safety of ships transiting the Suez Canal, build leverage with a key Arab state in the region and access intelligence provided by the Egyptians, upon whom Washington relies to act as its eyes and ears across much of the Middle East.

    Disouraging U.S. Efforts

  73. Assemblyman Brian Nestande (R-Palm Desert) remarked, "I'm sure each bill is important to each author," Nestande said, "but when you add it up, it's just too much.... It almost seems like some people are straining to have a bill."

    California's economy has already been in a very poor state. Did the County consider that fewer tourists will be inclined to visit their area beaches after they have effectively banned many of the fun activities that beach goers enjoy?

    This ordinance seems to showcase a deep lack of common sense.

    Sand Digging Banned

  74. Paul said he didn’t mean to “impute bad intentions” of the president, but slammed the idea of a “fairness czar” imposing equality on America.

    “Is anyone out there tired of hearing about Warren Buffett’s secretary?’ he said to cheers.

    As if the stress of not hearing Paul Family Themes was too much for the gathered supporters of the presidential candidate, one audience member spontaneously shouted “Ron Paul!”

    CPAC Speech

  75. Cain said there were two reasons he dropped out of the contest for the presidential nomination. “Gutter politics” was the first reason — which received only a handful of claps and lots of uncomfortable silence — “and No. 2, I chose to put family first.”


    Cain urged audience members to contact their lawmakers — before the election — and talk them into adopting his 9-9-9 economic plan. A bus with Cain’s face emblazoned on the side was parked outside the Marriott early in the morning, representative of the mission he’s taking on the road.

    He pointed out one guy in the audience who is running for Congress, has endorsed Cain’s 9-9-9 plan, and has earned Cain’s endorsement: “Joe the Plumber” Wurzelbacher.

    Gutter Politics