Capsule Review: The Tankies by Ennis and Ezquerra

“The Tankies” is a set of three linked comics from Dead Reckoning Press about a crew of the Royal Tank Regiment (whose motto  “From Mud, Through Blood, to the Green Fields Beyond.” gets regular play in the comic); in the first comic a British tank crew led by corporal Stiles in a Churchill tank fight their way out of Normandy on D-day, outgunned by German Tigers (who they outnumber many times over, but who are not going to give the Brits an easy victory). There is a great cast of characters, including a bird watching colonel, a priest who recovers bodies from destroyed tanks and will not let the tankies help him because he knows how terrible and demoralizing the sight of a tank crew roasted alive inside their tank can be, and corporal Stiles himself, the archetypical “old hand” who knows a trick or two and will not be beaten.

The same crew (now in a Sherman Firefly) star in the second comic in February 1945 as the allies roll across Germany but continue to face more resistance than the circumstances would suggest. This one is a classic one-on-one tank duel as the British crew hunt a King Tiger led by a fanatical SS officer who is still shooting his own men if they refuse to fight on; but the biggest emotional impact comes when German civilians get caught in the middle and a child loses his mother to the British crew while collecting firewood.

The final comic has Stiles (now a Sergeant) commanding a Centurion (at last a tank better than the competition) in Korea as the Chinese attack in the battle of the Imjin river. There is no tank versus tank combat here, just masses of Chinese infantry swarming over the tanks trying to destroy them with primitive pole charges and sticky bombs while the tank crews hunker inside and “de-louse” neighboring tanks with their machine guns.

The comics are fabulously drawn and very well written. And there is an excellent afterword that gives more background about the battles where these comics are set and discusses how and why the Germans fought so hard so late in the war. It also describes the real life events that inspired some of the more unbelievable or strange things described in the comics (the colonel taking a walk in the open under fire, the priest who recovers bodies, the shell down the barrel, the swarming Chinese infantry being “de-loused” off tanks and suchlike). I had not read “war comics” since my teen years, but am thoroughly enjoying the ones I have seen from Dead Reckoning in the last few years. This set by Carlos Ezquerra (a late-great titan of the comics industry) and Garth Ennis captures the horrors of tank warfare in a way that mere prose rarely can. If you are interested in tanks, world war two or just a good war comic, this is well worth a look.

  • Publisher : Dead Reckoning (March 15, 2021)
  • Language : English
  • Paperback : 256 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1682475972
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1682475973
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Brigadier FB Ali; the Man Who Removed Yahya Khan

From Dr Hamid Hussain. Brigadier FB Ali had an important role in two big events: the coup against Yahya Khan in Dec 1971 and a planned/imagined coup against Bhutto in 1973.. Details below..

Obituary of an officer & gentleman of a bygone era.

Brigadier Furrukh Bakht Ali

Hamid Hussain

Brigadier F. B. Ali (February 1929 – February 2021) passed away in Canada.  He was one of the last of the generation of Pakistan army officers commissioned right after the independence in 1947.  He was a highly respected officer of Pakistan army. Continue reading “Brigadier FB Ali; the Man Who Removed Yahya Khan”

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Major Amin’s Summing up of the 3 Major Indo-Pak Wars

From Major Amin’s book on the history of the Pakistan army..

The First 1947-48 Indo-Pak War
The British started with a strategic plan having Britishers dominating the key posts in both the newly created countries! The war was fought largely by individuals on the Pakistani side and by the British Governor General and senior army commanders on the Indian side! Gilgit was won by Pakistan simply because the British officers of Gilgit scouts and the Gilgit Scouts VCOs acted with remarkable unison! No credit to the Pakistani Government, which had no clue about what was happening in Gilgit in September-October 1947. The Indians were doomed in this case since their Dogra Governor made plain his intentions to do away with the Gilgit Scouts! The VCOs of the Gilgit Scouts acted tactically but while doing so achieved a great strategic victory for Pakistan! It was a fairly even contest. There were two non- Muslim Companies in the 6 J and K at Bunji against two non-Muslim Companies! There was an airfield at Gilgit just like there was one at Sringar! The Indians lost the Northern Areas because of outright strategic incompetence! The Pakistanis have proved equally strategically barren! No statue at Islamabad commemorates what the VCOs of the Gilgit Scouts led by the indomitable Scott Major W.A Brown achieved for Pakistan in October November 1947! Without Gilgit or Baltistan what would have been Pakistan’s China policy! There was a Dogra Governor in Gilgit in 1947! Today the Northern Area still does not have a Gilgiti Muslim Governor! Continue reading “Major Amin’s Summing up of the 3 Major Indo-Pak Wars”

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Clash of two Jats in the Indian army

From Dr Hamid Hussain

Many folks asked me about recent news item about conflict between two senior Indian army officers.  It was simply personality clash & nothing significant.  However, pedigree of both officers and some interesting historical facts were too tempting for the story teller like me.

Regards,

Hamid

Clash of Two Jats

Hamid Hussain

Recently, conflict between General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of South- Western Command (Sapta Shakti) of Indian army Lieutenant General Alok Singh Kler and his Chief of Staff (COS) Lieutenant General Kamal Kumar Repswal became public.  Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General M. M. Naravane ordered a Court of Inquiry (COI) and Respwal was posted out as COS of Eastern Command. The nature of conflict is not clear, but some suggest that it relates to command decisions and administrative matters.  There is no evidence that there was any financial irregularity or moral lapse. Continue reading “Clash of two Jats in the Indian army”

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Why Did the Indian and Pakistani Armies fail in 1965?

This is a chapter from Major Amin’s history of the Pakistani army. It is a very long post and there is a lot of repetition (do keep in mind that he wrote it mainly for a Pakistani audience, who may need convincing on some of the points) but I wanted to post it as a historical document and as something  people who are interested in military history may want  to read at leisure. As with any such analysis, there will be no many different opinions.. feel free to add yours in the comments.. Major Amin’s book has some excellent maps and tables that I was unable to transfer successfully. My apologies for that, but the points are pretty clear even without those.

CHAPTER FOURTEEN ANALYSIS – 1965 WAR by Major Agha Humayun Amin

Havelock said that ; “In philosophy, it is not the attainment of the goal that matters, it is the things that are met with by the way”. So it is with war. The most important thing for the student of military history or the art of war is not whether a country lost or won the war but how it was fought, how units performed in action, how decisions were made in face of the stress and strain of battle, the difference between practice and precept in short all matters pertaining to strategy tactics leadership equipment etc. In other words to simply analyze the war to answer the questions like “Whence”? “Whither” ? “Why”? and “How”?

In this analysis of war we have to go beyond probabilities and examine various facets of a particular situation and arrive at conclusions that will assist us in face of a similar crisis situation in future. War is the final audit of an army in which unit efficiency as well as higher and lower leadership is gauged and no book on an army is complete without analyzing in detail the qualitative efficiency of an army in actual War. Unfortunately most books written on both Pakistan and Indian Armies by foreigners and therefore meekly accepted by the subcontinentals who suffer from a subtle inferiority complex; as the final authority; do not discuss the qualitative efficiency of both the Pakistan and Indian Armies in any actual war; both as British Indian Army and as two different armies after 1947!

Instead these books beat round the bush discussing vague and largely irrelevant issues which their authors have decided to highlight, merely because they have decided to write a book and want to write their book without going into the subtleties of actual wars fought by the Indo Pak armies.

In the following paragraphs an attempt has been made to analyze the conduct of 1965 war and to answer certain questions about the qualitative efficiency of the Pakistan Army in a detached manner separating myth from reality and fact from fiction. This analysis is important because a considerable part of Pakistani military history has been deliberately or inadvertently distorted based on nationalistic parochial personal and inter arm prejudices and jealousies.

THE BRITISH COLONIAL LEGACY

We have already discussed in detail the impact of the British military tradition on the Indo Pak armies in our earlier chapters dealing with the armies of the English East India Company and the pre 1947 British Indian Army. This was not something confined to Indo- Pak subcontinent alone but an all Asia trend. From the late eighteenth century the “European Way of Warfare” was generally borrowed and follow as the gospel truth by many East European and Afro-Asian armies. The trend of “importing the European way of war” started around 1600 when the Ottoman Turks came into contact with the European powers in Eastern Europe and Russia.

Till 1500 the Europeans who had as a matter of fact military failed in the Crusades against Asia enjoyed no significant military advantage over Asia. Till the invention of gunpowder the cavalry remained the dominant arm in battle and the infantry was relegated to a secondary role. The ascendancy of European methods of warfare starts with the advent of Gustavus Adolphus(1496- 1560) of Sweden who introduced a renaissance in the art of warfare by “harnessing modern technology to a practical military philosophy” . (1)

Gustavus principal contribution was the introduction of a relatively superior conceptual framework of integrating military organization with weapons and tactics. He created an infantry organized in brigades of two to four regiments each of which had eight battalions of four companies etc. He introduced similar reforms in cavalry and artillery integrating artillery with infantry and cavalry in battle and restructured infantry formations in such a way that their firepower was enhanced. One of his most important reforms was employment of cavalry as a “shock weapon”.

Gustavus’s methods were copied by the French and the British. Gustavus ‘s tactics were improved by Turenne of France and Cromwell and Marlborough of England and were further improved by Napoleon who was able to benefit from the analytical studies of great military thinkers like Gribeauval Maurice de Saxe Bourcet Joseph Du Teil and Guibert. Formal military schools were organized in France where the art of war was studied while similar institutions were founded in Prussian and Sweden.

By 1600 Russia was the first country outside mainland Europe to realize that there was something conceptually and organizationally superior in the West European way of warfare which enabled them to defeat numerically superior but more primitively organized armies. lt may be noted that as late as 1592 the Russians were no match to the Muslim Tartars of the Golden Horde who sacked Moscow in 1571 and managed to penetrate into suburbs of Moscow as late as 1592. 1t may seem unbelievable to many but as late as 1660s the Crimean Muslim Tartars were one of Russia’s most feared enemies.(2)

A similar pattern of imitation was followed in the Ottoman Turk Army fromapproximately 1750 to 1914 when the Ottomans discovered that medieval tactics of cavalry assault were of little utility against relatively numerically superior or equal strength European armies with superior organization’.(3) Continue reading “Why Did the Indian and Pakistani Armies fail in 1965?”

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The Qualitative Destruction of Pakistan Army between 1955 and 1971

From Major Amin. Originally written in 1999

Why Military Defeat in 1971-The Qualitative Destruction of Pakistan Army between 1955 and 1971 Major A.H Amin (Retired) https://www.militaryhistorycentre.com/blogs/news/pakistan-army-between-1965-and-1971
Why Military Defeat in 1971-The Qualitative Destruction of Pakistan Army between 1955 and 1971
• August 2020

Research teaching and writing were unproductive jobs in British India since they did not enable a man to be a deputy collector or barrister or doctor! It was a mad race made further mad by frequent outbursts of communal frenzy, which increased as population increased during the period 1890-1940. All this helped the Britishers who had been traumatically shaken by the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857 when a largely Hindu majority army had rebelled under Muslim leaders! The British were thus happier playing the role of judges resolving Hindu Muslim disputes rather than performing the more unpleasant task of facing a combined political movement of all Indians regardless of race or religion as in 1857, 1919 or 1922! This is the basis of anti-intellectualism in the Indo-Pak Sub-continent. It is truer for Pakistan since the Muslims were educationally more backward and relatively less true, yet still true and applicable to India too! Pakistan and India have produced very few serious military writers. In Pakistan the situation is worse since an unofficial ban was imposed on military writing by various military usurpers who ruled the country for the greater part of its existence.

The finest summarizing of the incalculable qualitative harm inflicted on the Pakistan Army, by the self-promoted Field Marshal of peace, by a contemporary, was done by Major General Fazal I Muqeem, when he described the state of affairs of the Pakistan Army during the period 1958-71; in the following words: “We had been declining according to the degree of our involvement in making and unmaking of regimes. Gradually the officer corps, intensely proud of its professionalism was eroded at its apex into third class politicians and administrators. Due to the absence of a properly constituted political government, the selection and promotion of officers to the higher rank depended on one man’s will. Gradually, the welfare of institutions was sacrificed to the welfare of personalities. To take the example of the army, the higher command had been slowly weakened by retiring experienced officers at a disturbingly fine rate. Between 1955 and November 1971, in about 17 years 40 Generals had been retired, of whom only four had reached their superannuating age. Similar was the case with other senior ranks. Those in the higher ranks who showed some independence of outlook were invariably removed from service. Some left in sheer disgust in this atmosphere of insecurity and lack of the right of criticism, the two most important privileges of an Armed Forces officer. The extraordinary wastage of senior officers particularly of the army denied the services, of the experience and training vital to their efficiency and welfare. Some officers were placed in positions that they did not deserve or had no training for” 1.

Continue reading “The Qualitative Destruction of Pakistan Army between 1955 and 1971”

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Browncast Episode 103: Abhijit Iyer-Mitra on Indian Defense, Economics, and History

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify,  and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

You can also support the podcast as a patron. The primary benefit now is that you get the podcasts considerably earlier than everyone else. This website isn’t about shaking the cup, but I have noticed that the number of patrons plateaued a long time ago.

I would though appreciate more positive reviews! Alton Brown’s “Browncast” has 30 reviews on Stitcher alone! Help make us the biggest browncast! At least at some point.

Abhijit Iyer-Mitra (@Iyervval) | Twitter

This episode features Omar, Mukunda, and Akshar talking to Abhijit Iyer-Mitra, a defense and policy analyst, about his evolution of political thought with highlights on his former communist affinity, evolving feelings on Modi, and passion for Indian nationalism. We also get into the continued inefficiencies of India and how it has been so detrimental to its development, plus possible reforms to remedy it. The wide-ranging conversation also includes insights into Abhijit’s time in jail, Kashmir, and “Frugal Indian” cooking tips!

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Why Did the EIC Win in India

From Major Amin. A look at some factors that made the EIC so successful militarily. As usual, the Royal Navy gets a lot of credit.

Native troops played a significant role in the East India Company’s conquest of  India. Certain aspects however made the military potential and effectiveness of East India Company’s troops stand out from their other opponents in India. The East India Company employed European officers trained in the European way of war to drill train and command native Indian troops.In addition in almost every battle native troops were grouped around a relatively much smaller nucleus of European troops. Another factor which played an important part in the East India Company’s conquest of India was naval power.Naval power gave flexibility to the operations of the East India Company. This meant that troops from Bengal Army could be swiftly transported from Bengal Presidency to the Madras presidency,thereby reinforcing the Madras troops in case of any serious military reverse. This happened many times during the Mysore Wars. Naval power also played an important role in logistically supporting the operations of land based armies. Three widely separated bases of the English East India Company which were interconnected with each other by sea meant that loss of any one of these could not defeat the company,since troops from one presidency could be switched to another quickly via the sea route. No single Indian power had common borders with all the three presidency and this meant that no single Indian power could destroy the English East India Company. The only way that this could be done was by an alliance of native powers and this was made extremely difficult since no two native powers could agree on anything for a long time. Above all the center of gravity of the English East India Company was naval power and no native power possessed naval potential to challenge British naval mastery. For sometime the French were in a position to do so,but the only opportunity to do so was lost during the Second Mysore War at Cuddalore when all the French squadron under Admiral D’ Orves had to do was to remain in position off the coast of Cuddaiore while the English East India Company’s main army under Sir Eyre Coote facing Hyder Ali of Mysore could have been starved into surrender. (1) Due to some inexplicable reason D ‘ Orves simply sailed away and the French lost their last decisive opportunity to defeat the English East India Company. Continue reading “Why Did the EIC Win in India”

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Causes of the Revolt of 1857

This is a longish piece written by Major Amin. As readers of brownpundits are well aware, major Amin is a military historian (and a very good one) who also has strong (and mostly “not academic”) opinions about history in general. These are his thoughts on the Indian Mutiny (aka “War of independence”). Even those who disagree with particular opinions may find some insights worth reading.. in any case, it will generate interesting comments 🙂

What follows is from Major Amin, unedited and unexpurgated. Continue reading “Causes of the Revolt of 1857”

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Sikh Society: forged in the frontier

Before Samuel Huntington banalised the study of international relations with his Clash of Civilisations thesis, there was Halford Mackinder who attempted (unwittingly of course) to do the same with history – with his Geographical Pivot of History thesis. (I am perhaps being unfair to Mackinder with the comparison – more on this later.)

However, just like Huntington’s thesis despite being a flattening of history (similar to another forgotten intellectual’s attempts at flattening globalisation in its simplification of diversity of experiences – cultural for one, economic for the other) – in Mackinder’s Geographic Pivot there were glimmers of theoretical reasoning. The thesis was imperialist and reductionist but it has value if only in a literary sense. (This would appal Mackinder, since her built his ‘theory’ as a counter to literary historians of ideas.)

Mackinder’s foundational logic was – that geography provides a stage to men, or Man (as he would prefer) which determines the scope of their movements, entries and exits, in the various Acts (eras) in the long drama of History – was the core thesis that civilisations were either broken (and destroyed) by invasion or they were rejuvenated through resistance.

The European civilisational core, Mackinder said, a backwater in the western edge of the Eurasian peninsula after the fall of Rome, was rejuvenated by successive waves of resistance to Saracens (Arabs) and Turks, as raiders from the land, and Vikings, as raiders of the sea. The raiders of the land were especially important for this reading of history, as they came from the Heartland – the grand central steppe lands of Eurasia, riding grounds of the horselords of the World Island – who in successive waves of the turning of the wheel of time fell upon the marginal, or peninsular lands, of the Eurasian megacontinent.

The civilisations of Greece and Rome were shattered by them. China was forever changed, and only the turning of Kublai Khan to a symbiosis of Tengri-ism, Dharma and Sinicisation might have preserved a semblance of the past into posterity. India, too, was shattered by wave after wave of invasions out from the Heartland. India, too, survived. But to what extent? I will not even attempt to answer this!

I will restrict myself to a reading of history I proposed in a previous essay (Sangat and Society: the Sikh Remaking of the North Indian Public Sphere). I discussed how Guru Nanak’s founding of Kartarpur as a model Sikh-Sangatarian society was a response from below to the anarchy from above unleashed by Babur’s invasion of India. Guru Nanak had been eyewitness to the destruction caused by the internecine warfare of Turco-Mongolic Princes in Khurasan, or the wider edges of the Heartland where it transitioned into the Marginal lands (because on the peninsular margins of Eurasia.

Sangatarianism was a civilisational response of North Indian society to waves of invasions from the Heartland. This is, of course, the plainest reading of the Sikh idea of the Sangat. The Sikh Sangat was both a support structure for the unprotected and gradually a bulwark against invasion from ‘outside’ and rejuvenation from within.

These days Sikhs are gaining (well deserved) respect for the community’s response (especially through langar seva) as a civil society support structure in this time of crisis. This should not be surprising for those who know Sikh society was forged in crisis, and one could argue, as a response to it.

Sikhs know how to organise and respond in times such as these. Much of this is due to a spirit of ascendant existentialism (chad-di kala) rather than giving way to nihilism. Sikhs have been through many eras of persecution, but the spirit of ascendant existentialism has prevented the community from falling into chagrin. There is a proverb I will translate loosely, speaking of the persecutions of a Mughal provincial governor who had sanctioned Sikhs and proclaimed a reward of coins on Sikh heads. The persecuted Sikhs of the era, far from being cowed down made a song of this –

Manu is our scythe, we are his crop of wild weed,

The more he chops our heads, the more we grow indeed.

Ascendant Existentialism implies the acceptance of death, cultivating an attitude of readiness for death, but not allowing this to suppress the vital joy of life. This is crucial to the ethos of a frontier society.

Today, in a sense, the entire global community has become a frontier society – living precariously. For some people such as doctors and healthcare workers, even day to day. Maybe cultivating a spirit of ascendant existentialism can do us all some good.

Finally, to end this with my promise to ‘be fair’ to Mackinder. His view that external threat can sometimes revitalise civilisations is a solid proposition. To survive times of crisis, we need to draw on the best of ourselves. And if we do come out on the other side, it is, then, the best of us that survives. Now of course I’m not making some foolish survival of the fittest argument. The fittest is not necessarily the best, and vice versa. What, then, is our, as humanity, ‘best’ – at this stage in our civilisational history? We will find out on the other side, perhaps. Perhaps we already have.

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