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Reviewed by:
  • Skis in the Art of War by K.B.E.E. Eimeleus
  • Javier González del-Castillo
Eimeleus, K.B.E.E. Skis in the Art of War. Translation and Commentary by William D. Frank, with E. John B. Allen. Ithaca, NY: Northern Illinois University Press, an imprint of Cornell University Press, 2019. Pp. xxxix+ 246. Index and illustrations. $37.95, hb.

The first reliable references to the use of skis in military campaigns date back to 1199, when the chronicler А. Саксо describes the Finnish Skiing War. During the Middle Ages in Scandinavian countries, skiers participated in wars. The use of skiers in the recognition of the terrain, and even entire ski squads, has been documented. However, during the eighteenth century, Norway was the first Nordic country to promote the use of skiers as military units. Consequently, the first ski training manual for military units was published in 1733.

By the second half of the nineteenth century, the use of skiers had already become established in battalions among Scandinavian armies. In general, however, skiing was not widespread in the Russian army of the nineteenth century. In 1893, with the aim of promoting skiing more widely among military units, the general staff of the Russian Army issued circular 193: "It is crucial to direct special attention to skiing training, extending these studies not only to the okhotniki, but also to the other enlisted men, as far as possible" (125). However, this requirement did not raise the standard of skiing among military units as intended. In this context, K.B.E.E. Eimeleus published this magnificent work (Лыжи в военном деле), in 1912, advocating ski training in the Russian armed forces.

Almost three decades after Eimeleus published his book, the Finnish army, using many of the ideas proposed for the first time by Eimeleus, used mobile ski troops to keep the Soviet Union at bay during the Winter War of 1939–40, and, in response, the Soviet government organized a massive ski mobilization effort before the German invasion in 1941. The Soviet counteroffensive against Nazi Germany during the winter of 1941–42 owed much of its success to the Red Army ski battalions that had been formed as a result of ski mobilization. [End Page 79]

The greatest value of this book is that it offers us a vision of military skiing before World War I, in great detail and from the Russian point of view rather than from that of the West. The book comprises thirty-one chapters, in which the author describes the evolution of skis, the different types and their repair, and skiing methods for climbing mountains, running, performing jumps, and so forth. This wealth of technical knowledge is accompanied by different skiing methods and techniques for use by the army for military training or tactical battle planning. The last part of the book, as a curiosity, is dedicated to the rules of skiing contests and how to score in a skiing competition.

This re-edition of Skis in the Art of War has been translated by Washington State University professor William D. Frank, undoubtedly one of the top specialists in ski history. He has made a very careful translation of the text and has even chosen the same cover for the book as the original published in 1912. In addition, the book contains many drawings and illustrations taken from the original edition. Thanks to this magnificent translation, the reader can enjoy this excellent work that would otherwise have been very difficult due to its original language.

The book contains an introduction by Professor E. John B. Allen, professor emeritus of history at Plymouth State University and probably, with the exception of Frank himself, the world's leading specialist in ski history. In this introduction, Allen provides the history of military skiing before the First World War, assisting greatly in the understanding of this work. The most interesting part for researchers is at the end of this edition: the notes section, with comments provided by professors Frank and Allen, is simply masterful. This edition is rounded off with a bibliographical section that is, without a doubt, the best collection of bibliographic sources ever compiled on the history of skiing for future researchers...


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