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VINE VOICEon June 28, 2005
It has been said that armchair generals think of strategy, whereas professionals study logistics. If that is true, Martin van Creveld has written a book on logistics for armchair generals.

Those familiar with military history and strategic studies are likely familiar with Van Creveld and his proclivity for making bombastic and sweeping assertions on the nature of warfare. "Supplying War" is no exception. (By way of example, he labels Operation Overlord "an exercise in logistic pusillanimity unparalleled in modern military history.")

Originally published in 1976, "Supplying War" was the first book to directly address the critical, but often ignored issues of logistics in warfare with a primary objective of identifying key themes and trends across time. Even Van Creveld's most trenchant critics - and he has many in the academic community - concede that his work was original and reached a large audience, and has therefore largely defined the debate on the subject.

Van Creveld reviews seven historical case studies (17th century feudal warfare, Napoleon's invasion of Russia, the German invasion of France in 1870 and 1914, and Russia in 1940, Rommel's 1942 North African campaign and the Normandy invasion of 1944) and comes to the following general conclusion: In pre-modern military history food (including animal fodder) was the primary logistical concern and most armies were forced to keep moving to survive by living off the land; but the rise of the modern, mechanized army inverted the paradigm, as ammunition and fuel supplies became paramount and armies were increasingly tied to rear-area depots for their survival.

"Supplying War" is as interesting and easy to read as a book on such an inherently dull topic can be. Given the broad impact the book has had serious students of military history will want to read it if only to understand Van Creveld's perspective and arguments.

I would add, however, that no one should read "Supplying War" without also consulting the extremely thoughtful and hard-nosed critique of it written by John Lynn in "Feeding Mars: Logistics in Western Warfare from the Middle Ages to the Present." Lynn's essay points out a number of serious flaws in Van Creveld's approach and conclusions. For instance, Lynn notes that Van Creveld conveniently avoids the issue of naval logistics, which happens to undermine his argument that military forces have only recently been engaged in serious logistical planning. Unlike armies, from at least the time of the Spanish Armada navies have had to engage in sophisticated logistical planning to ensure they had enough food, water and ammunition to complete their mission, and with the arrival of steam power they had to worry about fuel as well.

Lynn points out a number of other convenient omissions in Van Creveld's work, such as the successful use of railroads and steamboats for front-line supply in the US Civil War, the critical and successful role trans-Atlantic and -Pacific US logistics support played in both the First and Second World Wars, and the political constraints on 17th Century warfare that inhibited operations much more than logistical considerations. However, the most convincing (and damning) scrutiny of "Supply War" comes in a section titled "A problem with numbers?" in which Lynn comes very close to accusing Van Creveld of intellectual and academic dishonesty by twisting or misrepresenting quantitative data on the purported rise of ammunition and fuel as a percentage of the overall supply requirements and the selective quotation of certain sources.

In closing, add this book to your reading list, read it carefully and skeptically, consult Lynn's analysis closely and draw your own conclusions.
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on March 8, 2001
This is really a number of books in one. It is not very long some 240 pages but it is easy to read and challenging. It is the first book that I have ever seen published on logistics and it is fascinating.
First and foremost it is a picture of the changing pattern of war. It describes in the first chapter the sorts of campaigns which were run until the time of Napoleon. In those days ammunition would be the most minor problem for an army. Most soldiers could carry enough ammunition in their back pack for a campaign and in a major battle they would fire perhaps twenty or thirty times. In a siege a cannon might fire four or five times a day. The major problem was the provision of food for men and horses. Generally an army could take from the country enough to feed itself. Problems arose if an army stayed in place for any time. A siege would have the power to destroy an area of country by stripping it of everything edible. For these reason there developed a system of magazine storage for siege campaigns.
The next chapter discusses the Napoleonic period and the failure to set up a logistics system in Russia despite careful planning. This led to enormous French casualties and the collapse of the campaign.
The rest of the book looks at the Franco-Prussian War, the Schlieffen Plan , the German operations on the Eastern Front in the Second World War, the African Campaign and the operations in France following the break out from the initial beach heads. In discussing these campaigns the author charts the gradual change in logistics. The development of railway systems and integrating them into providing supplies. The development of modern weapons and the increase in the demand for ammunition and for fuel. The importance of motorised transport and the problems created in providing oil and spare parts.
Each of the campaigns discussed is done so in a way that brings new light onto the mechanics of the campaign and in our ability to understand what happened. The Russian campaign is fascinating as it shows how tough was the problem faced by the Germans. They were able to cobble together large numbers of trucks to supply their troops but were never in the position to replace them once they began to wear out. The amount of ammunition stockpiled was also barely enough for a campaign of four weeks. The German effort in doing as well as they did was incredible but once the Soviets were able to hang on through the initial period then the odds started to swing their way. Germany's supply problems were shown by their in ability to supply winter uniforms and this led to massive casualties from frost bite.
One of the most fascinating chapters is on Rommel and his campaigns. The material in the book has been quoted elsewhere. In previous times it has been thought that Rommel failed in Africa because of the allies intercepted supply conveys and sunk material on route. The book shows that supplies to Africa were not the problem. The problem in supplying Rommel related moving those supplies the enormous distances to the front. The book suggests that the German High Command knew that this would be a problem and they ordered Rommel to restrict any advances. As we know he disobeyed these orders and won a number of significant victories against the British. What the book shows is that although a tactical genius he had little grasp of strategy.
The book is fascinating and everyone who is interested in the subject of military history should read it.
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Traditional books on military history provide only a superficial study of the role logistics played in history's most noted campaigns. In Supplying War: Logistics from Wallenstein to Patton, Martin Van Creveld examines war from a much deeper logistical perspective, offering a fascinating new view on the lessons to be learned from these campaigns.
After an introductory chapter on the logistics of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Van Creveld analyzes Napoleon's success against Austria in 1805 and his failure against Russia in 1812. This chapter explores the use of magazines and the common practice of "living off of the land." Successive chapters explore the use of horse-drawn convoys by the Prussians in the late 1800's, the use of trains by the Germans in World War I, and the "modern" logistical planning of the Allies in Europe during World War II. The common approach to each period is the attempt to determine how the success or failure of the logistics planning influenced the leader's ability to execute his strategic plan.
Most impressive about this book is the volume of detailed research that Van Creveld accomplished in preparing to write it. The bibliography documents the use of more than 300 sources, including original working papers and notes from the actual planning of the wars studied. The use of actual source documents allows Van Creveld to draw unique conclusions, unbiased by traditional military writings.
Supplying War appears on the Commandant's Reading List and other lists of recommended reading for military professionals. It gives leaders a solid historical perspective on the need to support the warriors they lead into battle. While it can in no way be considered "light reading", Supplying War is an essential part of any good military leader's library.
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on October 22, 2000
An excellent work - hard to improve on the comments of the other reviewers who note many of the fine qualities of this work.
One point not previously made was that the period of time chosen was not accidental. From Wallenstein on, we began to see what we conceive of as relatively modern armies (that is armies with a command component, teeth or the sharp fighting end, and a tail or supporting component) which had to fight over more than one season. Van Creveld, an excellent historian, covers all of these notions carefully with copious notes. A great work for the serious and specialist reader but should also appeal to the military history buff.
I wish that the work were revised in light of Vietnam, the Arab-Israeli War, The Falklands War, and most of all, the Iraqi War. These were relatively shorter wars, and the problems were not one of production or foraging but using the already accumulated stocks effectively. The contraction of time means that choosing wrong (wrong weapons, wrong fuel stocks, wrong plan of distribution) are more profound. There may not be time politically to correct mistakes.
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on April 5, 2007
Martin Van Creveld's Supplying War: Logistics from Wallenstein to Patton is a highly readable examination of the 'evolution' of the Big L, military logistics, as associated with European wars over the last few hundred years up through WWII. While armies, from ancient to modern times, "march on their bellies" - as Napoleon once said, and thus logistics provide the cornerstone of all successful campaigns, the Big L tends not to be popular reading among historians, amateur and profession alike; in other words military logistics is a hard nut to crack from a literary standpoint. Van Creveld's book is a serious, and at least partially successful, attempt to bring the Big L to the masses (re: not to bookstores and best-seller lists but probably most large metro and university libraries).

In his presentation of the material at hand Van Creveld is careful not to present overwhelming 'facts' and 'logistical trivia', and in doing so is able to keep the readers attention. On the other hand as 'facts' and logistical trivia' are the commodity of the Big L a fair portion of Van Creveld's conclusions and suppositions are hard to reconcile as the reader has little frame of reference from a data standpoint. Thus in trying to make his subject accessible Van Creveld in large part shortchanges the importance of the subject matter. Yet, his prose is accessible and one can walk away for an 'appreciation' for military logistics at a minimum.

Will the reader be well versed with military logistics after reading Van Creveld's book? Absolutely not. However, if one's interest is even slighted piqued by the story Van Creveld presents then there is ample material out there to lose oneself in with respect to the Big L; this is especially true of the dearth of data, statistics and pages dedicated to logistics of the second world war. In the end Supplying War: Logistics from Wallenstein to Patton does a fair job capturing the imagination of the reader on a topic so often lost to even the hardcore military historians out there. It fails to fully 'teach' logistical lessons, but that's forgivable given the subject matter and it's usual inaccessibility. 3.5 stars total.
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on September 22, 2000
The sheer volume of customer reviews for a book on such a seemingly arcane topic as the history of logistics gives you an idea of how surprisingly thought provoking van Crevald's book is. As van Crevald describes how army after army "hit the wall" for lack of supplies, the reader realizes how crucial logistics are to the understanding and successful conduct of military operations. Along the way, a number of popular myths are put to bed as to why certain historical strategic decisions were made.
Example: A common misconception is that if Erwin Rommel had been given enough men and material he would have beaten the Britsh in North Africa, but the German High Command was too pre-occupied with the campaign in Russia. Van Crevald points out that another German General, Ritter von Thoma, had surveyed the North African ports and road system before Rommel had even arrived and concluded (correctly) that no more than 4 mechanized divisions could be practically supported with the local infrastructure. Since Rommel operated with 7 divisions, including the Italian ones, he suffered a chronic supply shortage during his offensives, even though there was often an abundance of material sitting on the dock in Tripoli 600 miles to his rear. If Rommel, a master of tactics, had done his logistical homework, he would have realized that his existing force structure could not sprint all the way to Egypt while trying to breath through a 1000-mile long straw and be in any sort of condition to fight a decisive battle once he got there. Too late, Rommel himself realized "the battle is fought and decided by the quartermaster before the shooting begins".
Van Crevald's book is full of such insights. Now, as I read other accounts of military operations, I try to visualize that invisible but dominant logistical tether reining in the scope of the possible. A thought provoking book indeed.
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on November 30, 1999
I never realized the importance of supplies in war and the difficulty in obtaining them. Not just food, ammunition, POL, and equipment, but the small over looked things that are critical.
The book touches on a wide range of topics and is a must for the student of military history. For example the author covers baking of bread for 17th+18th century armies, the effects of weather (freezing rivers), the use of trains (you can't just dump supplies off a train, you need a depot).
Its a little dry, but worth reading and inexpensive as well.
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on July 6, 2002
Martin Van Creveld provides an interesting overview of how logistics influenced the outcome of miltitary operations. The first part of the book deatils warfare during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the armies had to keep advancing in order in replemish their supplies. If the army stayed in the same area over a large amount of time such as Napoleon's army in Moscow, than the army would run out of supplies. This situation did not change during the Franco-Prussian War in which the Prussian army had to scrounge for food at the outskirts of Paris. All though food remained a problem for the armies there was always a plentiful supply of ammunition since armies of the 18th and 19th centuries expended very little of it. Martin Van Creveld makes some surprising claims in the later part of the book describing twentieth century warfare. Martin Van Creveld believes that the Schlieffen Plan was doomed to failure because of the logistical constraints of the German army. Because most of supplies delivered to the German army were by rail, the desturuction of the railways impeded their advance. Also German planners made no plans to deal with the massive traffic jams in Belgum. The next chapter Van Creveld has an revisionist appraisal of the Germany invasion of Russia in 1941. Van Creveld believes that Germany had the supplies to deal with winter warfare but the inability to transport them across Russia. Due to the difference between German and Russian rail tracks and maintance problems of German engines the supplies never reached the front. Van Creveld strongly criticizes Rommel's handling of the North Africam campaign. Rommel advance to far for his supplies to be replenished. The problem of supply duirng the North African War was that the supplies had to be delivered by trucks that were highly vulnerable to air attack. When Rommel tried to solve the problem by taking Tobruk, he only made matters worse. The ships that arrived at Tobruk were in range of Allied aircraft and as a result sunk. The final Chapter, Van Creveld evaluates Allied operations in Western Europe. Van Creveld believes that Patton's success had to due with the fact that Patton ignored logistic officer's plan for a slow a orderly pace but instead took advantage of the situation to advance quickly. Van Creveld theorizes that Montgomery's narrow front approach could have logistically reached Northwest Germany but were have not captured Berlin. I would highly reccomend this book for anyone who wants a new and interesting perspective about operations during the First and Second World Wars.
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on October 18, 2015
For those professionally involved in this field it is a must read if you want to understand the importance of logistics in war.

The general reader my find it of interest as it is well written and makes many interesting points
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on May 24, 1999
At first glance, the method of commenting and explaining the complex matter of military logistics trough a very limited number of specific examples (Wallenstein and Patton, but also Napoleon and Hitler's Russian Campaigns in beetween... and some others)may seem ineffective. Logistics are a matter wich has proven hard to grasp even to some great field commanders (Rommel, to say one) so it is difficult to study it through easy , almost textbook examples, using very limited mathemathics (if you passed primary school exams, you can tackle them). Yet this book does. It does not explain a general theory of logistics : it shows there' s not a general theory, only partial models useful in a special historical and technological situation. And it does not tell it to you through the marketing-style tables you'd expect, but through almost annedotic examples,fun to read and fun to ponder. Did you know almost all the bullets Napoleon's Army carried in the campaign to Wien remained unfired ? And that in the same campaign problems arised from shortage of bread... and from his Marshall's disobedience ? L' Empereur had ordered his front line cavalry squadrons to take supplies only from the (more or less willing) villages on one side of the road, to leave the other side for those coming behind. He was simply not obeyed, and this caused supplying havoc afterwards. And Hitler would perhaps not have attacked Russia, if he only attempted the simple calculations shown in this book, showing he simply had not enough fuel and trucks. Read it.
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