The article by Chris Bambery on the Spanish Civil War (MHM February/March 2023) was, in essence, a one-sided paean of propaganda on behalf of the Republican side, and a retread of all the usual attempts to explain away their defeat by the Nationalists.
His narrative suggests that the war was simply a rising by part of the army, which Franco won only because of massive support from Germany and Italy. This ignores the substantial support provided by Stalin, while overplaying the influence of the fascist regimes. The Condor Legion, for example, was essentially a technical cadre, and the Italian contribution, although impressive in terms of numbers, was – as the Second World War would prove – of little value on the battlefield.
As E R Hooton says in his 2019 book Spain in Arms, the victory for the Nationalists was due to their more effective use of resources. And, although defective in many ways, their army was of higher quality than its enemy, particularly in terms of decision-making. Hooton asserts that ‘the presence of foreign troops on both sides had only a marginal effect on the progress of the war and its outcome.’
These points require emphasis to achieve a more balanced assessment of what was indeed a cruel civil war.
I have renewed my subscription following another great variety of articles in the most recent issue. For instance, I much enjoyed the comment of Lloyd Clark, quoted in the review of his new book The Commanders, on the egotism of Bernard Montgomery. ‘His shallow pool of humility was gradually evaporating under the North African sun.’
THE BRITISH SQUARE
In a recent issue, you had an excellent article about the Battle of Rorke’s Drift in 1879, subtitled ‘Why did the Zulus lose?’ (MHM October/November 2021). There were, of course, many factors involved, for example the use of the Martini-Henry rifle and the bayonet against Zulu spears, not to mention the bravery of the defending troops.
But one tactic is often overlooked: the use of the British Square, an old formation used by the infantry against cavalry which, on the invention of modern rifles, became redundant. In colonial wars, it proved effective however, as portrayed in the films Zulu and the also-great The Four Feathers, which is set in the Sudan. Both films show the formation in action, proving an effective defence against native tribes armed with more primitive weapons.
John R Douglas
The article on the ‘worst commanders in history’ (MHM August/September 2022), an extract from a recently released book edited by John M Jennings and Chuck Steele, was so interesting that I bought a copy. I was disappointed, however, that the editors did not include an article about Field Marshal Douglas Haig.
While there were many reasons for having his headquarters miles from the front, there can be no excuse for not sending capable staff officers to the trenches to evaluate the effectiveness of his decisions.
And by the time Haig was in command it was clear the machine-gun had changed warfare, so his refusal to reconsider his battle plans, even in the face of repeated waves of mass casualties and little progress, was criminal. So too was his insistence on keeping thousands of cavalry officers in reserve, even after it became obvious that the horses could not survive in trench conditions.
LTC (ret’d) Dan Bloodworth
Jr Columbus, Georgia
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