In the art of warfare, one is above the others: effective logistics. It has won more wars than an ingenious strategy or agile tactics ever. Today, military logistics dominates modern warfare, with entire branches of specialists dedicated to feeding, moving and kitting out frontline soldiers. There may not be any great songs written about logistics, nor many lines of The Iliad given over to it – and not a monument to a quartermaster but logistics is, quite literally, the oil on the wheels of the war-fighting machine.
Imagine you have an army of 150,000 men. Before getting anywhere near the battlefield, soldiers must be provided with some 4,000 kilocalories a day, warm clothing and sturdy footwear, and the entire group with weapons, ammunition, tents and other equipment must be moved hundreds or thousands of miles, if necessary. Men need to be moved in the morning and sleep in the evening. Weapons have to be stored and toilets too should be provided. In this exercise hardly any medals are earned, but otherwise the war is not won.
In this series military historian Saul David travels around Europe and Asia and and shows how armies have marched and eaten from ancient times to the present day. He tells the real stories of how wars have been won and lost throughout history – not in the eye-catching bravado of the frontline, but in the backroom sinews of military planning.
Part 1: Staying Alive
Military historian Saul David reveals how wars have been won through military planning, rather than battlefield brilliance. Firstly, how to keep an army fed and housed, from Roman Britain Hadrian’s Wall to Camp Bastion in Afghanistan. Diseases have always killed more soldiers than the enemy, and perhaps the biggest revolution in military technology was the tin can. The first part also shows how closely the modern military camp in Afghanistan and fort Vindolanda of Roman Empire resemble each other.
Part 2: Stealing a March
A look at how generals met the challenge of moving their armies. Episode two focuses on “the art of movement”, the kit used for getting from A to B, and ways of keeping soldiers alive along the way. One of the biggest challenges in warfare is moving thousands of men across continents, rivers, and oceans. The letters of the 17th-century generals and the plans for the Normandy landings tell of the crucial importance of perseverance. Military historian Saul David explains the importance of efficiently moving an army during wartime, as he continues his exploration of the often-overlooked logistical issues that can make a major difference to the outcomes of conflicts. He analyses the meticulous backroom planning that helped shape the outcome of key conflicts.
Part 3: Raising Arms
Historian Saul David reveals how precision planning off the battlefield has shaped wars. In the final episode he examines the importance of properly kitting out an army. He concludes his analysis of the logistical factors that can make a crucial difference in military campaigns as he investigates the administrative and financial challenges faced by generals trying to properly equip their troops for battle. Once the army has been kept alive and transported to the battlefield, it is time to measure up the enemy. The last part covers the history of professional soldier equipment. In the battlefield a medic and bone saw are also needed, and when the battle is over, it’s time to clean up.