During one of the recent meetings of the Loudoun County Writers Group, a local group to which I belong, I recommended a famous book about military tactics to the attendees. The reason is simple. One of the things that I’m seeing regularly (and I’m not picking on anyone in particular – I keep seeing it from multiple writers) is a lack of understanding when it comes to military activities. By which, I mean the use, or potential use, of force, to achieve an objective or to defend yourself from somebody else who is using force.
The book I recommended is called The Defense of Duffer’s Drift, by Major General Sir Ernest Dunlop Swinton, and was written in 1904 shortly after the Boer War in Africa. It’s a classic of small unit tactics…and it’s a fun book.
Yes, fun. That’s not a typo.
Swinton, by the way, was a famous, forward-thinking British military officer who is credited with 1) inventing (or at least promoting) the concept of the tank, 2) writing one of the seminal books on small unit tactics (this book), which is still required reading in many military curriculums, and 3) anticipating the potential impact of aerial warfare back in 1914. Yeah, so he’s got some serious military cred.
The hero of the book is Lt. Backsight Forethought (arguably one of the best names ever for a character), who has been given command of a 50-man reinforced platoon and assigned to protect Duffer’s Drift, a small valley where there is a militarily strategic river ford. While wondering how he’s going to accomplish his task, he has six dreams wherein he “tries” different tactics.
In essence, the book leads the reader through a series of possible solutions to the hapless lieutenant’s military problem by showing the tactics used in each dream…and the ensuing results. With each successive dream, the hero refines his tactics until his final solution is utterly brilliant and, yet, far different than even I would have expected. It’s fascinating stuff, and logically explained even for a military layman. It’s also illustrated, with detailed maps to ensure that it’s easy to visualize the terrain, the tactics and the disposition of forces.
Finally, it’s short, only 72 pages. And cheap. 99 cents on Kindle and around $5 for a paperback. It’s in the public domain, so there are numerous editions available, both in print and electronic form. I’ve linked to this edition because it looks like Praetorian Press did a solid Kindle edition of the book.