I usually enjoy O’Brien Browne’s articles, but his “Napoleon’s Desert Storm” [Autumn 2012] missed the mark. Napoleon’s problems on this expedition had less to do with how well he understood the region than with the fact that the expedition exposed his flaws. Napoleon was very good at defeating armies in Western and Central Europe where logistics (a French strength for more than a century) and marching speeds could help carry the day.
Long-distance campaigns (especially overseas expeditions) seldom went as well. His Middle Eastern campaign was the template for later disasters in Haiti, Spain, and especially Russia. Strategically, the campaign in Egypt was lost as soon as Rear Admiral Horatio Nelson’s fleet sailed into Aboukir Bay.
In terms of the region at large, the 18th and early 19th centuries showed the initial signs of the Ottoman Empire’s deterioration into “the sick man of Europe.” After the signing of the Treaty of Karlowitz in 1699, the Ottomans were almost exclusively on the defensive. While the Napoleonic expedition sped things up in Egypt (which was already trying to pull away from the Ottomans), this decline was going to lead to chaos in the region anyway.
I agree for the most part with Browne’s main point but feel the problems encountered by the Israeli armed forces (a Western force actually based in the region), especially in the last 30 years, might have been a better choice for examination.
Jon Guttman’s excellent article on the Battle of Detroit [“Detroit Showdown”] during the War of 1812 nicely summed up the reputation the militia-driven army enjoyed in the early stages of the conflict. It is ironic that the heavily Federalist navy performed far better than the militia army that the Jefferson and Madison administrations favored. In the 1812 and 1816 elections Federalist politicians condemned “Mr. Madison’s War” while trumpeting the performance of Naval and Revenue Cutter Service vessels based in Federalist port cities.
The Boston-based USS Constitution was but the best known. Isaac Hull’s victory while in command of the most famous ship that was ported in the most Federalist stronghold just days after his uncle’s debacle in Detroit did more than salvage his family’s good name. It helped guarantee that the U.S. Navy would survive the war and be tied to the maritime expansion of the United States. The army, on the other hand would have to wait decades before undergoing true organizational modernization.
Nathan Wells, Braintree, Mass.
I disagree with Jon Guttman’s claim that “Americans coveted the rich farmland of British-held territories to the north” during the War of 1812. The United States was not interested in adding Upper Canada and Lower Canada; there was already free U.S. land throughout the territory east of the Mississippi River, to say nothing of the vast territory purchased in 1803 from France. The United States invaded Canada in 1812 not to annex it but because it was the only British territory they could attack.
The United States in 1812 couldn’t create a fleet for a waterborne invasion of British possessions in the Caribbean, let alone an assault on the British Isles, leaving Canada as the only logical place the U.S. Army could attack and force Britain to a peace conference. While the Royal Navy had 1,000 ships—about 100 in the American theater—the U.S. Navy had three 44-gun frigates, three 38-gun frigates, and about a dozen other lesser ships, most of which had been laid up by budget cuts during President Thomas Jefferson’s administration. Jefferson didn’t want a large military, so he slashed its budget, mothballed the fleet, and stopped construction on new U.S. ships in favor of existing gunboats (little more than rowboats with a few cannons in them) in the Eastern seaports, which he thought would be more than enough to prevent foreign invasion. He was worse than incompetent at planning for naval warfare, and the gunboats had zero effect on the war.
William, via MHQmag.com
Weapons Check Fact-Check
Your article on the German Luger [Weapons Check, Autumn 2012] was very well done, with one exception. The caption puts the muzzle velocity of the German Luger at 1,274 feet per second and the US M1911 at 825 feet per second. That is technically accurate but misleading. The 9mm Parabellum bullet weighs 115 grains, while the .45 ACP uses a 230-grain projectile. This is why the muzzle energy for a 9mm is 420 foot-pounds while the .45 ACP’s muzzle energy is 414 foot-pounds. In essence you have approximately the same muzzle energy for both rounds, but the .45 ACP has twice the mass hitting the target.
It’s an old argument: high mass, slow speed versus low mass, high speed. To simply list muzzle velocity is misleading because people are conditioned to believe faster is better, more advanced. That’s not necessarily the case when it comes to military firearms cartridges.
Ed DeLoach, Lawton, Okla.
Who Decides Who’s an Innocent?
You are on a very slippery slope with the ill-considered series “When Soldiers Slaughter.” [“Something Dark and Bloody” and “Murder on the Battlefield,” Autumn 2012. See this issue’s installment, “A Time to Kill.”]
I fully accept that it is hard for civilians—even military history academics—to understand the basis for any death of potential innocents on the battlefield, especially American civilians. But just who is guilty of outright murder and who of unavoidable manslaughter, and who is innocent altogether—there’s the rub.
There is no question about the Rape of Nanking, where the Japanese army ran amok, encouraged by its officers. But the entire Allied Normandy invasion force? We killed more Frenchmen than Germans there. All of the U.S. Twentieth Air Force and British Bomber Command with their area bombing and fire raids in World War II? We charged the Germans with war crimes for the very same strategy in Spain during their Luftwaffe’s participation in the Civil War there.
There are many other examples. War is a messy and nasty business, especially ground and air combat. Veterans who have been there will comprehend that far quicker than any who have not.
Colonel Wayne Long, U.S.A. (ret), via MHQmag.com
Three days elapsed, not two, as stated in the article “Detroit Showdown,” (Autumn 2012) between Brigadier General William Hull’s surrender of Detroit on August 16, 1812, and Captain Isaac Hull’s defeat of the British frigate Guerrière on August 19.
Due to an editing error, the subhead of Behind the Lines “Born of Blood and Compassion” incorrectly identified the war that inspired the creation of the Red Cross. It was the Second Italian War of Independence, not the Crimean War.
The photo on page 62 said to be of Bloody Sunday, November 21, 1920, was actually taken during Ireland’s Easter Rising in 1916.
To comment on an article, visit MHQmag.com or send an e-mail to MHQeditor@weiderhistorygroup.com. Letters are edited for length and clarity.