Medieval Warfare Magazine

I wanted to keep everyone posted when I came across a cool new book or magazine. Medieval Warfare is the real deal. A sister publication of Ancient Warfare, which I have also reviewed, this beautiful bimonthly covers war from the fall of Rome to the beginning of the Renaissance. That is a good millennium of battles and other stuff, which Medieval Warfare handles very well. It is a Dutch-produced – Karwansaray Publishers – but its language is English. The current issue – Vol. II, Issue 6 – is themed to the Byzantine Empire of the tenth and eleventh centuries, a golden age for Byzantium and an era of military resurgence on all fronts.

My personal favorite is Raffaele d’Amato’s look at the equipment of the kataphraktoi, the heavy armored cavalry of the Byzantine Empire. I like d’Amato’s work very much, he is a real scholar, and knows how to make good use of his sources. Medieval Warfare also contains stunning color artwork and great photographs. It is the kind of magazine that insists that you take it off the rack and look it over. Give it a look yourself. It is available at Barnes & Noble.

I also highly recommend Byzantine Imperial Guardsman 925-1025 by Raffaele d’Amato.  My review of it is in the back of this particular Medieval Warfare issue.  Check it out!

Marc DeSantis

Ancient Warfare Dacia Issue

Ancient Warfare, an English-language publication from the Netherlands, is a true gem.  The magazine is full of scholarly articles on ancient military topics, which you will bet I love.  The latest issue’s focus is on the Dacian wars of Emperor Trajan.  These efforts deserve to be better known.  Unfortunately, we lack a good literary source from ancient times that deals specifically with them.  There must have been histories of this kind made, but they have been lost to posterity.

Fortunately, we have one of the best archaeological sources of all – the famed Trajan’s Column – which still stands in Rome.  It depicts the entire Roman army of the first years of the second century A.D. on campaign against the Dacians.  Much of what we know of the appearance of Roman soldiers of the early Empire derives from this monument.

There are top-notch people behind Ancient Warfare.  They also put together fantastic podcasts which you should immediately download from iTunes.  All of them!  I wish that we could have an American version of this journal.  Lucky for us that the magazine is available at Barnes & Noble.

Take a look at the dude below.  Awesome, right?  This is what a legionary – really! – derived from the Adamklissi monument in Romania – looked like.  Very different from what you expected, I’ll bet.  He was likely serving with a legion stationed in the east of the Empire, and fought in Dacia with Trajan.  He has already acquired something of a “Byzantine” appearance.  His spangenhelm helmet was based upon Iranian models.  Great job by the author, Raffaele D’Amato, and the artist, Johnny Shumate!

Marc De Santis

The Desert Fox at MHQ

Erwin Rommel was one of the most interesting figures of WW2.  For a long time there has been talk that he was really only a great divisional commander who was promoted beyond his level of true competency.  Talking about the relative merits of generals is always fun, and incapable of being proven.  Rommel’s achievements in North Africa are undeniable, even though he never had enough men or equipment to do as much as he wanted.  On the other hand, the British siphoned troops from that front to send elsewhere on more than one occasion.  Rommel grabbing the Suez Canal or going even further afield is one of the great “what ifs?” of the war.   Read the fine article by Robert Citino in the Summer issue of MHQ, and take a look at some Rommel and Afrika Korps photos here.  Also, take a look at this article by Professor Citino about the German airborne attack on Crete in 1941.



I saw Ridley Scott’s latest movie, Prometheus, which is a prequel of sorts to his 1979 masterpiece, Alien.  I thought that Prometheus was a good film, not a great one.  As with many other films these days, you should not tug too hard on any one of the plot threads, or it will all unravel.

Even if you don’t see Prometheus, you should check out Govindini Murty’s fantastic examination in The Atlantic Monthly of the cultural tropes and influences in it.  This might be one of the few times that an article about a film is more interesting than the film itself.


My Old Enemy and the Former Friend of My Possible Future Enemy is Kind of My New Friend

China’s rise, and resulting territorial and maritime ambitions, have caused a number of other Asian nations to look to the United States for backup.  One of these countries is none other than Vietnam.  You all remember Vietnam, don’t you?

Yes, that Vietnam.  Robert D. Kaplan has a lengthy article in the current The Atlantic Monthly.  Apart from highlighting the strategic difficulties that China’s power has caused it – it is scaring other countries into the U.S. “camp”- it contains an illuminating explanation as to why the Vietnamese have gotten past the war, which FYI, they call the “American War.”

Nutshell:  They believe that they won it.


Japan’s Armament and China’s Rise

Michael Auslin in his piece Japan Awakens in Foreign Policy captures well the strategic predicament of modern China.  Japan is increasing its military capability, with an eye toward deterring Chinese moves in the East China Sea and elsewhere.  A cursory glance at the map of East Asia will reveal that China, a continental power, is surrounded all along its maritime periphery by islands or other territories under the control of states that are not friendly to it.  The sea lanes around China are intensely vulnerable to disruption.  The Chinese navy, without significant overseas bases, is effectively boxed in by its prospective opponents, just as Imperial Germany’s High Seas Fleet was cornered by the Royal Navy before and during the First World War.

MHQ Spring 2012 – Now for Kindle!

MHQ Magazine has been the nation’s foremost journal of scholarly military history for more than two decades.  Its authors are all professionally published, and typically are noted authorities on the topics about which they write.  MHQ has been available for years in a glossy, perfect-bound format, appearing four times a year.  It has always been known for its elegant layout and wonderful artwork, in addition to its top-notch writing.  Now it is available as a download for Amazon’s Kindle family, and I decided to take a look at how the magazine translates to the electronic e-reader format.

Happily, it looks great, especially on the Kindle Fire, which is full color, and so does not lose any of the rich, vibrant hues found in the print magazine.  Navigation is relatively simple – nothing electronic will be so easy as thumbing through a print edition of course, but if you have used an e-reader before, such as the Fire, an older version of the Kindle, or the Nook, for that matter, you will quickly pick up the tricks of moving through the electronic edition.

The articles are the same as those that you would find in the print journal, and have not been abridged in any way.  Each article averages between three and four thousand words, and can be comfortably read in about twenty minutes.  This is important, as I envision that most will read the magazine on their Kindles an article or feature at a time, perhaps while on the train to work, or over a lunch break, not cover to cover.

Features new to the magazine with this issue include Weapons Check, which is a look at an individual weapon of significance in military history.  I enjoyed this very much – an examination of the Danish “Viking” axe of around 950 A.D.  These were devastating weapons, and it is said, a wielder could fell a rider and his horse with one in a single blow.  That sounds pretty potent to me, but these big axes disappeared from European warfare, for the most part, by the end of the eleventh century.  In my previous reading the reason for this was never truly answered.  Was it simply fashion, or was it something more substantive?  The Normans came in for a big shock at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 when the Anglo-Danish huscarls of King Harold Godwinson showed up carrying these man-killers.  The author, Chris McNab, helpfully suggests that the introduction of longer swords, poleaxes, and halberds made the use of the axe inadvisable.  It simply lacked the reach to cope.

The old standby, Fighting Words, by Christine Ammer, which examines the development of military terminology, is also in the Kindle edition.  Did you know that “belfry” was originally a movable siege tower with a pivoting ramp at the top?  Later, it became the term for the church tower where bats hang out.  Also, a constable was a high-ranking official who held command of a castle, but when the title was switched to the civilian realm, it received a demotion, and a constable ranked below that of sheriff.  Today, it signifies a policeman in the United Kingdom.

The cover article is “The 27-Day Secret War,” which relates the remarkable achievements of a handful of American special forces who guided precision airstrikes against Taliban targets in late-2001. The rapidity of the fall of the Taliban regime was stunning, and only throws into stark relief the difficulties that allied forces have encountered since then, now that the Taliban have regrouped. The photograph of the commando on the cover, “Cowboy,” true name and rank unknown, is almost worth the price of the issue.

“Payback” is Alistair Horne’s telling of the Doolittle Raid on Japan in April 1942. Seventy years have passed since eighty American airmen in sixteen B-25 bombers took off from the deck of the USS Hornet on a one-way mission. They lacked the fuel to return to the Hornet, and even if they had carried it, they could not have landed their big aircraft on its deck. The actual damage that they inflicted on Japan was minimal, but the psychological impact of their raid was enormous. The Japanese would overreach themselves in trying to plug the gap in their defenses through which the Hornet had slipped, and lose four aircraft carriers at the Battle of Midway less than two months later.

“The Fireball at Zonchio” is the story of a Venetian-Ottoman Turkish naval battle of 1499. One of the many things that I enjoy about MHQ is that I learn something new with every issue. At Zonchio, the Turks sailed with two large carracks – think a primitive version of one of Nelson’s ships-of-the-line.  It was armed with cannon, but also, in a nod to the Mediterranean’s fickle winds, could deploy oars for use when the wind failed. I had never read of these Turkish ships before, which must have stood out from the great mass of low-slung war galleys that were the mainstays of Mediterranean naval tactics.  As you probably have guessed, the fireball of Zonchio was caused by the detonation of the gunpowder stored aboard one of these vessels in a truly horrific explosion that, in the fifteenth century, truly was something new under the sun.

But the Venetians had little to cheer after Zonchio. The civic spirit that had made Venice a medieval maritime great power was not in evidence in the battle, and internal rivalries hampered the Venetian battle plan. They failed to capitalize on their initial successes, not least of which was the destruction of the Turkish carrack, and the Turks not only survived the battle, which might otherwise have proved a crushing Venetian victory, but went on to win the war.

Joseph E. Persico has contributed an opinion piece, “Did Roosevelt Doom Us to a Longer War?” in which he takes President Roosevelt to task for unnecessarily delaying the invasion of Europe. Persico makes some valid points, but I think that all second-guessing of Allied military strategy in the Second World War tends to overlook or undervalue the crucial role played by the Soviets in breaking the back of the German Wehrmacht. The German army of June 1944 was powerful, but it was nothing compared to the mighty force that could have, and would have, been deployed to France if the Western Allies had opted to land there in the summer of 1943. Instead, the panzer troops, as well as dozens of crack infantry divisions, were decimated in the brutal 1943 combat at Kursk and elsewhere that eventually saw the Germans thrown back all along the eastern front. About 80% of all German losses occurred in the East. That just about says it all.

MHQ for Kindle is available from Amazon’s Kindle Store by subscription for $2.99 a month, or $11.99 per single issue. The Kindle is a fine way to enjoy the magazine, possessing all of the advantages of portability found in an e-reader, without sacrificing the visual appeal of the print issue.  I recommend the Kindle Fire, on account of its color screen, but the electronic edition looked great on my older e-ink model too.