Category Archives: History

The Beginning of the End

On this day in 1914 Gavrilo Princip assassinated the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and his wife, Sophie, on the streets of Sarajevo. Princip and his co-conspirators were recruited and organized by the “Black Hand,” an organization headed by the Chief of Serbian Military Intelligence.

Gavrilo Princip during his imprisonment. Too young to receive the death sentence in Austria, he was instead sentenced to 25 years. He died of tuberculosis in 1918.

The Austro-Hungarian empire responded with an ultimatum to the government of the Kingdom of Serbia. The demands made in this ultimatum were impossible for the government of Serbia to meet (likely by design), and so after a month of desperate diplomatic wrangling and confusion between the great powers, the Empire declared war on July 28. Russia, as protector of the Slavic people and unwilling to see the Empire expand its power in what was viewed as Russia’s sphere of influence, began to mobilize.

A day later, Germany began to mobilize in support of their Austrian allies and in anticipation of the intervention of Russia’s ally, France. Germany invaded Belgium on August 2 as part of their planned outflanking of the French, and two days later Great Britain declared war on Germany in response to their violation of Belgian neutrality. The Great War had begun.

It is darkly amusing in hindsight that Franz Ferdinand was unpopular with the government of his uncle, Emperor Franz Joseph I, partly on the grounds that he favored a more cautious approach to the Empire’s relations with Serbia.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir presumptive to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

 

Sophie, Dutchess of Hohenburg and wife of Franz Ferdinand.
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Mechanical Principles of Small Arms

This Army Pictorial Service training films does an excellent job of explaining the fundamental mechanical principles of small arms through the use of oversized physical models, not unlike the Hamilton Watch Company film I referenced in an earlier post.

The first half takes us through all the basic operations of a single-shot magazine-fed firearm like a bolt-action rifle.


While the second and third cover semi-automatic and fully-automatic actions.


Tip ‘o the helmet to Isegoria.

Memorial Day

Our story begins with a citizens militia standing their ground at Lexington and Concord in 1775.

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In Fact, You Will Not Be Saved

Nightmare With Angels

by Steven Vincent Benet (1935)

An angel came to me and stood by my bedside,
Remarking in a professional-historical-economic and irritated voice,
“If the Romans had only invented a decent explosion-engine!
Not even the best, not even a Ford V-8
But, say, a Model-T or even an early Napier,
They’d have built good enough roads for it (they knew how to build roads)
From Cape Wrath to Cape St. Vincent, Susa, Babylon and Moscow.
And the motorized legions never would have fallen,
And Peace, in the shape of a giant eagle, would brood over the entire Western World!”

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Victory Day

Happy victory day!

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Victorian Warfare Supplemental: Scots Guards Lead the Royal Review

Victorian Warfare 1

I came across this video showing 5 companies of the Household Division reviewing for Queen Elizabeth’s annual birthday parade. Starting at around 1:12:00, the march around the parade ground is the most perfect visual illustration of Napoleonic battlefield maneuvering I could hope for. This is a column one company in frontage with each company formed in two ranks. At 1:20:30 you can see them deploy from column into line, and at 1:25:00, the Household Cavalry (cuirassiers) begin their march-past in full kit. I would point out that British heavy cavalry did not actually wear a cuirass during the Napoleonic period, though those of other nations generally did.

What you see in the video was the standard battalion column setup for the British army in the Napoleonic wars, though occasionally they would form four ranks deep if extra staying power was required (against a cavalry charge, for instance). A period battalion would also have an additional 5 companies for a total of 10, including one of grenadiers and one of light infantry. As stated in the previous post, they would deploy into line just out of range of enemy musketry.

These are not reenactors but actual fighting troops. The Scots Guards (who contributed the lead company) shipped out for Afghanistan just a few weeks after this was taken.

Victorian Warfare 1: Heirs of Napoleon

Introduction

This will be the first in a series of posts on the evolution of warfare in the Victorian Period. While Queen Victoria actually reigned from 1837 to 1901, we will be more generally considering the period which began immediately after the Napoleonic Wars (1815) and came to a close with the First World War (1914). This relatively peaceful century may not have known the sort of continent-shattering wars that characterized adjacent eras, but it was a vital link in the chain of strategic, tactical, and technological evolutions which brought about the forms of modern warfare. Furthermore, the military affairs of the period are still commonly misunderstood. When referred to at all, the tactical systems in particular are referred to as “Napoleonic,” used in the sense of a derisive sneer synonymous with unthinking butchery of the common soldier.

The truth is not so simple. A more studied appraisal must conclude that Victorian military methods adapted to changing technological and social conditions no slower than those of any other period and, to make a more general point, that proposed revolutions in military matters should be greeted with skepticism. We are biased towards remembering the ideas like tanks or screw-propelled ships, that worked despite skepticism, over those like the all torpedo-boat navy concepts of the Jeune-École in France that failed despite institutional enthusiasm. Many new ideas sound better than they work when put to the ultimate test.

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