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Small Wars Their Principles and Practice Paperback – November 4, 2009

4.5 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

Originally published in 1896, Small Wars is an ambitious attempt to analyze and draw lessons from Western experience in fighting campaigns of imperial conquest. For the historian, Small Wars remains a useful and vital analysis of irregular warfare experiences, ranging from Hoche's suppression of the Vendee revolt during the French Revolution to the British wars against semi-organized armies of Marathas and Sikhs in mid-nineteenth-century India to the Boer War of 1899-1902. The military specialist discovers in Callwell lessons applicable to what today is called "low-intensity conflict". His message is clear, and it is relevant to current debates about conflicts as diverse as those in Bosnia, Somalia, and Vietnam. Technological superiority is an important, but seldom critical, ingredient in the success of low-intensity operations. An ability to adapt to terrain and climate, to match the enemy in mobility and inventiveness, to collect intelligence, and above all the capacity to "seize what the enemy prizes most", will determine success or failure. This reprint adds historical dimensions to the growing literature on unconventional conflict. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

Douglas Porch is a professor of strategy at the Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island. His most recent book is The French Secret Services.
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 580 pages
  • Publisher: Book Jungle (November 4, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1438528140
  • ISBN-13: 978-1438528144
  • Product Dimensions: 7.5 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,997,114 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By E. T. Veal on April 17, 2000
Format: Paperback
Written early in the 20th Century to teach British officers how to wage war against non-European armies in Asia and Africa, "Small Wars" retains its fascination at century's end. In fact, many of its lessons could well be applied to conflicts today.
The author served in the Second Afghan and both Boer Wars, was an assiduous student of warfare around the globe and retired as a Major General after heading the British Army's Intelligence division during the Great War. The breadth of his knowledge is shown by the range of examples that illustrate the principles laid down in his book. The chapter on "Feints", for instance, draws on actions from the Zulu Wars, the Indian Mutiny, the 1821 Wallachian insurrection against the Ottoman Empire, the Second Afghan War, the Kaffir War of 1878, the French occupation of Algeria, the British expedition against Abyssinia in 1868, the siege of Khartoum, the suppression of Riel's revolt in Canada, the war against the Mahdi and a couple of Indian campaigns. Elsewhere, we are presented with the Russians in Central Asia, the French in Tonkin, Dahomey and Madagascar, the U.S. cavalry against the Indians of the Great Plains, the British and French in China, and many more now-obscure imbroglios.
The first several chapters lay down broad strategic principles, most of them flowing from the key insight that regular armies enjoy great tactical advantages over forces inferior in organization, arms, training and discipline but suffer equally great strategic handicaps.
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Format: Paperback
Long before the term "insurgent" entered the military vocabulary the British had developed a long experience in fighting them during much of the 19th century. Colonel Callwell's book is an excellent source if you want to understand the roots of counterinsurgent warfare in the 20th and 21st centuries. Callwell covers the topic completely from strategy to tactics used against different fighting styles e.g. mounted troops, fanatics, etc. hill and bush warfare, the use of infantry and mounted troops as well as night operations. Callwell supplies good examples accompanied by nice action maps for his subjects. Before reading this book I found it helpful to read "Queen Victoria's Little Wars" by Byron Farwell which gave me a much better appreciation of entire small wars from which Callwell takes his examples. If you are doing an indepth study of insurgent warfare this is a must, but if your time is limited you might want to come back to it and move on to more contemporary readings first.
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The author reviews the strategy and tactics largely of European colonial powers in what he calls irregular, and we now call asymmetric, warfare. First off, he refers to the European's local opponents as "semi-civilized, savages, Asiatics", etc. So, if you are possessed of a strong dose of political correctness, I predict that you will have difficulty with the book.

With this observation duly noted, Major Callwell sees the basic strengths of the western forces arising from their discipline and generally superior weaponry. Their opponents' basic strengths lay in superior knowledge of the territory in which the western forces must operate and a general ability to avoid battle on unfavorable terms. Indeed, bringing local opponents to battle must be the chief objective of the colonial forces. Aggressively forcing battle, even when facing great odds, is, in the author's view, essential to success.

The book is very detailed on the issues of warfare, even including a short section on the use of camels. Maintenance of morale, intelligence gathering, difficulties of logistics, battle tactics, the leadership of small units and much more are addressed in great detail. As I read the book, I thought of what has changed and what remains a constant. Communications in the 19th century was a constant challenge with the ability to contact troops or forces sometimes almost non-existent. Communications may still fail today, but communications should generally be much improved. Automatic weapons were just coming into use at this time and the author notes both the advantages of these weapons and their limitations. I don't believe that the author fully appreciated the incredible impact these weapons would have just a decade or two later in the First World War.
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Format: Paperback
The author is one of the earliest and most influential writers on counter-insurgency. He was a British military officer writing to teach junior officers on how to defeat non-European forces. While many of his tactics seem rather tough and barbaric, one must be careful to judge him by the standards of his time (early 20th century), not by the whims of today. If one is able to look past many of tougher stances, like destroying the food and water sources of uncooperative local citizens, there is quite a bit worth learning. The Marine Corps Small Wars Manual of 1940 owes much to this work. While more modern counter-insurgency writers have overshadowed Caldwell's teachings, he still deserves credit for being one of the first to record the lessons and basic tenets of counter-insurgency. It is amazing the see how little has changed and how well this book holds up. I understand why this book is still required reading at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College.
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