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.