The Journal of Military History 67.2 (2003) 596-597
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Quest for Decisive Victory: From Stalemate to Blitzkrieg in Europe, 1899-1940. By Robert M. Citino. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2002. ISBN 0-7006-1176-2. Maps. Illustrations. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xix, 372. $39.95.
In this work a master scholar addresses a controversial subject in an unconventional time frame. Instead of accepting World War I as a watershed in modern warfare, Citino makes a strong case for the continuity of military thought and action from the turn of the century to 1940. He argues that the central operational problem during that period was not, as so often asserted, firepower but mobility. Victorious armies were the ones who managed to keep moving, and that was by far easier said than done.
Citino defines mobility as more than just speed of movement. Mobility involves command, leadership, and planning. It involves the sustainability of supply lines and the quality of logistic systems. It involves morale. During the Boer War an exponentially superior British force required years to fix the Boers in place and force their surrender. In 1904-5 the Japanese repeatedly attempted to encircle and destroy their Russian opponents. They failed because the unexpected difficulty of controlling modern mass armies highlighted the inadequate mobility of the combat arms. For essentially the same reasons, the First World War collapsed into a blood-soaked stalemate.
After 1918, what Citino calls "futurist" approaches emphasized new weapons systems, tanks and aircraft, as the key to restoring mobility to war. Evidence from actual conflicts was ambiguous. The Italians, despite their absolute technological superiority, came near to defeat at the hands of irregular Ethiopian infantry. In Spain, for every example of the effective use of armor and aircraft in mobile operations there was an equally convincing case study of close-gripped, attritional trench fighting in the style of 1916.
Germany eventually solved the problem of restoring mobility to warfighting in an age of firepower. Massed formations of tanks working in close cooperation with aircraft not only proved able to rupture static enemy positions on the tactical level. They could sustain their advance operationally, moving forward over a hundred miles a day, linking up far behind enemy lines in battles of encirclement that, taken on their own terms, remain among history's great military achievements. The vision behind the victories was, however, not technocratic but instead the product of a German tradition that regarded command as an art rather than a science or a craft. It was that mentality that provided the multiple synergies between technology and doctrine that are called Blitzkrieg—and Citino makes a [End Page 596] workable case that even then the problem of mobility was so challenging, it absorbed intellectual energy that might otherwise have gone into developing a more sophisticated strategic vision of the kind so sorely lacking in Nazi Germany's war. Well reasoned and well presented, Citino's arguments invite challenge, but cannot be dismissed.
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