The British Army and the Northwest Europe Campaign of the Second World War



In a previous blog post, I argued that by assessing rates of sickness, battle exhaustion, desertion, absence without leave and self inflicted wounds (SIW) in an army, morale can be accurately, and in a statistically robust way, measured. This methodological innovation makes it possible to assess and graph levels of morale in British Second Army during the Northwest Europe campaign of the Second World War.


Figure One: Second Army, Weekly Admissions per 1,000 to General Hospitals and Casualty Clearing Stations for Sickness, Battle Exhaustion and SIW, 11 June 1944 to 5 May 1945. Morale scale equivalents are presented on the right hand Y-axis.

The picture of morale that emerges from Figure One shows clearly that, while morale was, on the whole, high to excellent for much of the campaign, it did dip at some critical moments in July and November 1944 and January and February 1945…

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Thomas Sully’s Jonathan WIlliams

Engineers are seldom recognized for their achievements.

The Strawfoot

Though born in Boston, Jonathan Williams was very much part of Philadelphia society. He rests today in Laurel Hill Cemetery. Though born in Boston, Jonathan Williams was very much part of Philadelphia society. He rests today in Laurel Hill Cemetery.

I was at the Philadelphia Museum of Art Museum yesterday. Imagine my shock when I turned a corner and came across this large portrait of Jonathan Williams. The name may not be familiar to everyone, but Colonel Williams was the engineer who modernized Governors Island’s Fort Jay and built Castle Williams. And those were just a few of his many accomplishments. I have never understood why Williams is not a better known figure in American history. He was a grand-nephew of Benjamin Franklin and a good friend of Thomas Jefferson. President Jefferson appointed Williams first superintendent of West Point in 1801. Williams codified many of the Military Academy’s early practices and incorporated a curriculum strong on science and engineering. This should not be a surprise; Williams and his great-uncle shared a…

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Reconsidering US Marine Corps Involvement in the Vietnam War

One of the problems with “accuracy” in historical accounts is that without a time machine, such things are impossible. I have to agree with the idea that poor scholarship on Southeast Asia has clouded most studies, but looking for “accuracy” here I believe to be wrong-headed.



In the 50 years since US Marines first landed at Da Nang on the morning of 8 March 1965, the history of their involvement in the Vietnam War has been one of the most misunderstood and sometimes contentious topics in modern military history. In most cases historians assert that the Marines had neither a clear understanding of the conflict nor the American military strategy to contain the spread of Communism in South Vietnam. By extension, the Marines’ involvement from 1965 to 1968 is often depicted as a series of unplanned and isolated events, demonstrating a divide between the Marines’ long-term vision and operational approach and the overall American military strategy in Vietnam. This interpretation, whilst enduring, has come to obscure the centrality of the Marines’ approach to implementing American strategy.

The landings at Da Nang, exemplify this problem. Nearly every study on American…

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A Statistically Robust Way to ‘Measure’ Military Morale!



There are relatively few reliable primary or secondary sources that assess levels of morale in armies. As I discussed in a previous post, this makes it extremely difficult for historians to make connections between battle outcomes and that most nebulous of military factors – morale. Considering the great and the good, from Machiavelli to Clausewitz to Foch all argue that morale is, to quote Montgomery, ‘the big thing in war’, this does appear to create a significant problem for historians of war and IR specialists alike.

Those scholars who do try to scientifically measure morale, such as Morris Janowitz and Edward Shils, S.L.A. Marshall and Samuel A. Stouffer et. al., in the context of the Second World War, and Leonard Wong et. al., in relation to the 2003 Iraq War, make extensive use of contemporaneously recorded attitudinal surveys. These sources provide historians with valuable information for…

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War Stories



The Vietnam war is quite a story. And it’s a story rich with irony: the dramatic irony of unintended consequences and flawed heroes. That makes it hard, perhaps impossible, for modern artists to say much new about conflict, and explains why that war continues to resonate a half century after the US intervened there in numbers.
I take up the story in my new book, where I argue that stories of war continue to resonate, even though in the modern, liberal world almost all of us are spared the violence. Why? And why this war in particular?
We love stories, because we are conscious and unconscious seekers of meaning. Abraham Maslow put the attainment of meaning at the top of his hierarchy of human needs, and Victor Frankl built a psychological theory of meaning based on his time in Auschwitz – those who…

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George Marshall and the Atomic Age

Marshall’s involvement in Manhattan was largely peripheral; certainly less than Leslie Groves, who was the military head of the project.

The Strawfoot

Here is an upcoming event I wish I could attend: the George C. Marshall Foundation in Lexington, Virginia is hosting chemistry professor and author Frank Settle this coming Thursday, August 6. That is of course the 70th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Dr. Settle is the author of the forthcoming General George C. Marshall and the Atomic Bomb. As this article from the Richmond Times-Dispatch makes clear historians have largely overlooked Marshall’s outsized role in the planning and construction of the Bomb. The undertaking lasted several years and involved over half a million military and civilian personnel at a cost of $30 billion in today’s dollars. This was all taking place in secret while he and Secretary of War Henry Stimson were carrying out a two-front war in Europe and the Pacific.

Amy Chief of Staff Marshall and Secretary of War Henry Stimson confer in early 1942. The two WW1 veterans were instrumental in the creation of the Manhattan Project ushering in the Atomic Age. Army Chief of Staff Marshall and Secretary of War Henry Stimson confer in early…

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Military Innovation Studies: well-set for the future?

Always some new way to look at the old…


This is thefifthof several posts running on Defence-in-Depth arising out of the Military Learning and Innovation Roundtable held at the Joint Services Command and Staff College on Wednesday 17 June 2015. The roundtable explored the various ways in which armed forces have learned, adapted, and innovated in times of war and peace, austerity, and pressure from the eighteenth century to the present day. You can read more about the aims and objectives, research outputs, and future events of the Military Innovation and Learning Research Group from the roundtable are available todownload here.


On 17 June, I was given the unenviable task of delivering the final presentation of the inaugural Military Innovation and Learning Research Group roundtable. This was unenviable in two ways. First, if you have read the preceding blogs fromHuw Davies,Robert Foley,Aimée Fox-Goddenand

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