Osprey's Big Reveal: Elite

In Military History, Featured
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To navigate your way through the Big Reveal please use the links in the bar above.

Every August, we unveil what's coming to Osprey in the following year. This year, we kick off the Big Reveal with the Elite series. Let us know which of these books are you most intrigued by.

 

ELI: Roman Standards & Standard-Bearers (2)

The Late Roman Empire was a period of significant change in the designs of standards and in the costumes of standard-bearers. During the middle decades of the chaotic 3rd century, evidence confirms the continued use of the old legionary eagle and the signa of the old cohorts and centuries, alongside flags and Imperial images. The two major trends over the later generations were the adoption of Christian symbols on standards (e.g. Constantine the Great's Chi-Rho), and the proliferation of different types of flags. This had begun in the late 2nd century with the adoption of the 'barbarian' dragon standard, the windsock-shaped draco, which continued to be displayed alongside various other flags in the Greek-speaking Eastern Empire, whose influence increased greatly. Meanwhile, the growing employment of foreign units was such that by the 5th century we have evidence of the use of Hunnic symbolism among a Roman general's suite of standards. The costumes of standard-bearers also evolved as 'Persian' styles spread from Constantinople.

 

ELI: World War II US Fast Carrier Task Force Tactics

World War II US Fast Carrier Task Force Tactics concentrates on how the highly successful Task Forces 50, 58 and 38 actually operated: their composition in ships, aircraft and men; the essential technology at their disposal; the evolving doctrine for their employment; the opposition and dangers they faced; and how they overcame them at the tactical level. It explains in straightforward terms the intricate details of topics such as how ships manoeuvred, how aircraft were deployed and recovered, the formations and approaches used by fighters, dive-bombers and torpedo-bombers against naval and land targets, and how Task Forces defended themselves.

 

ELI: Soviet Airborne Forces 1930–91

With its first airborne brigade established in 1932, the Vozdushno-desantnye voyska (‘air-landing forces’, or VDV) of the Red Army led the way in airborne doctrine and practice. Though they were initially handicapped by a lack of infrastructure, due in part to a turbulent political climate in the 1930s, they still conducted major drops during World War II, including at the Dnepr River in September 1943.

After the war ended, the VDV became independent of the Air Force and were elevated to the role of strategic asset. The newly rebuilt divisions were now organized and trained to conduct deep insertions behind enemy lines, attacking command-and-control facilities, lines of communication, and key infrastructure targets such as nuclear power plants. This training came into play in numerous Cold War confrontations, including Soviet operations in Hungary (1956) and Czechoslovakia (1968). During the Soviet war in Afghanistan (1979–89), the VDV proved to be the most formidable of the Mujahideen’s opponents, with the development of the air assault concept – the transport, insertion and support of air-landed troops by helicopter rather than parachute.

 

ELI: Roman Shields

The introduction of the scutum in the 4th century BC revolutionized the way the Romans fought. Instead of being purely defensive, the shield became a weapon in its own right. Using the top edge or boss to punch an opponent, or the lower rim to smash down on their feet, it served to unbalance an enemy and allow the sword to do its work. The versatility of the scutum was characterized by the testudo, a formation the Romans used offensively like a pedestrian tank. Meanwhile, other shield types equipped the auxiliaries who fought alongside the legionaries. The curved, rectangular scutum survived into the 3rd century AD, only to be replaced by an oval, slightly domed shield derived from the oval shields of Early Imperial auxiliaries.

 

ELI: Hitler's Eastern Legions 1941–45

Between 1941–45, the Germans recruited around 175,000 men from a number of minorities in the USSR, distinguishing between 'Turkomans' (predominantly Muslims) and 'Caucasians' (predominantly Orthodox Christians). Of these, many formed rear-area auxiliary units, but at least 55,000 were combat troops. The first recruits formed two battalions in the 444th Security Division raised as early as November 1941; during 1942–43 seven legions were formed, each of several battalions, eventually totalling some 53 battalions (equivalent to about 6 full divisions). However, with one exception (162nd Turkoman Division), they were not deployed as whole formations; after training in Poland, individual battalions were posted to fill out German regiments in the front lines, at first in Army Group South but later in all three Army Groups fighting on the Eastern Front. Units were also sent to Yugoslavia, Italy and the Western Front.

 

ELI: Vietnam War Booby Traps

The Vietnam War was the first conflict in which booby traps played a predominant role. Unable in most instances to hold their own in standup fights against US, ARVN, Korean, and Australian forces which were superior in strength, firepower, mobility, and logistics, the Viet Cong relied on traditional guerrilla warfare tactics. Employing small-scale hit-and-run attacks, ambushes, terrorist actions, and precision attacks against bases during which they controlled the surrounding area, the Viet Cong favored means that allowed them to avoid direct enemy contact. These included one of the oldest of guerrilla weapons, booby traps.

The VC were also adept at making booby traps ‘invisible’ in the jungle, plains, mountains, and swamps. They not only did a superior job of hiding booby traps and their means of triggering, but also emplaced them in locations and surroundings totally unexpected by Free World forces. Booby traps could be incredibly simple or startlingly complex and ingenious, ranging from pointed sticks to command-detonated submerged floating river mines. Besides a wide variety of booby traps they also used land and water mines, both contact/pressure-detonated and command-detonated. The use, types, triggering means, camouflage, distribution, and other factors involving booby traps were constantly changing, forcing Free World forces to be constantly on guard and tensely alert. There was little second guessing of the ingenious enemy. Free World forces published a great many manuals, lessons learned reports, and studies on booby traps and mines to keep pace with the constant changes and innovations.

 

ELI: Roman Heavy Cavalry (2)

In the twilight of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th–6th centuries the elite of the field armies was the heavy armoured cavalry. Since this category of troops had originally been copied from oriental models in Persia and on the Black Sea steppes, it was natural that they played a major role in the Eastern Empire. After the fall of the West, the Greek-speaking Eastern or Byzantine Empire survived for nearly a thousand years; cavalry was always predominant in its armies, and the heaviest armoured regiments continued to provide the ultimate shock-force in battle. The heavy units included the regiments of the Tagmata (the central imperial force based around Constantinople) and provincial units raised from the populations of the Themata or army corps districts throughout the Empire. By the 11th century, the latter were increasingly being replaced with mercenaries, as provincial governors became semi-independent and often rebellious warlords. Disunity contributed to the Empire's disastrous defeat by the Turks at Manzikert in 1071; thereafter the shrunken Empire still relied heavily on cavalry, since its field armies had to be mobile to meet the many threats to the frontiers.

Post Comments

Hessy Field posted on 7 Sep 2019 15:31:09
For me the stand-outs are the three ancient titles (although you could argue that Roman Shields might be more appropriate in the Weapons list) - Roman Heavy Cavalry (1) was my favourite Elite volume of 2018. Although not a great fan of tactics titles in the Elite series the book on US carrier tactics looks far more worthwhile than many.
PAUL W posted on 17 Aug 2019 20:57:04
Not overly inspired with this list to be honest. 2 ancient history books which is good but not sure that elite is the place for Roman shields? Also the Soviet airborne forces book is covering a very long period for me.
AdamC posted on 12 Aug 2019 17:21:09
Hi Painty,
Yes, you are quite right. I was a bit liberal with the word democracy there. From 1963 South Vietnam was anything but. However, it did have aspersions of being when the US initially started getting involved. The Diem government unfortunately proved to be so corrupt, self serving and unreliable that US decided a friendly Junta would be the better option.
I've not read Hastings yet but it's on my list. I've seen some good reviews of it.
Paintybeard posted on 12 Aug 2019 14:48:37
AdamC: I agree with you that "Free World Forces" is a recognised term for all the armies that fought in the defence of South Vietnam. But that does not in any way mean the government of the South was a democracy. For most of the period of American involvement there was a "rotating door" of military Juntas. This is not to exonerate the North in any way: Like many communist regimes they pursued a policy of deliberate terror to keep their citizens obedient. Has anyone else read Max Hastings recent "Vietnam"? I think it is his best book for a long time.
AdamC posted on 12 Aug 2019 13:50:25
Hi guy!

So, the Big Reveal is here again! Always a highlight of the Osprey calendar.

As to this Elite list – it’s not a bad one. I’ve no fundamental objections to anything here. The highlight for me is probably Soviet Airborne Forces but Vietnam booby traps might be worth a look too.

KenA – “Free World Forces” is not a phrase of Osprey’s invention or choosing. This is the banner under which US, South Vietnamese, Australian, New Zealand, South Korean, Taiwanese, Philippine and Thai forces (and even a handful of Spaniards) fought during the conflict. It was the official title of allied forces at the time. I’d say it is therefore wholly appropriate to use it here. I’d also be careful before you equate the aims and objectives of the Communist north with “fighting for freedom”. You are quite right that few Vietnamese today would disagree with that “party line” line but I suspect that’s largely due to the fact that they do not have a free press, free elections or basic freedoms of speech and would face government reprisals if they did disagree in anything like a public forum! Some “freedom”. While US policy in Vietnam was possible misguided and poorly executed at times it was ultimately aimed at protecting the democratic (if rather corrupt) South Vietnam from takeover by a ruthless, totalitarian regime.
KenA posted on 10 Aug 2019 05:07:50
“WWII US Fast Carrier Task Force Tactics” looks to be the pick of the bunch. I am intrigued by the use of the term ‘Free World Forces’ in the description of “Vietnam War Booby Traps”. I’m sure that the Vietnamese would have a very different view as to which side were the forces fighting for freedom. Is Free World Forces really an appropriate term to use for the allied forces in this intervention that turned into a significant conflict?
GI Gene posted on 9 Aug 2019 18:27:28
World War II US Fast Carrier Task Force Tactics looks interesting, Soviet Airborne Forces 1930–91 will be most welcome, Hitler's Eastern Legions 1941–45 sounds like ground already covered, but I'll still get it, and Vietnam War Booby Traps looks interesting as well.
Paintybeard posted on 9 Aug 2019 15:56:39
A decent mixture. Especially looking forward to the Carrier Tactics book, especially if it does a good job of describing how the Americans learnt to co-ordinate operations with multiple carriers. Also hoping for a companion title on Japanese tactics in the future.

So, 12 other reveals. I'm guessing: Campaign, Air Campaign, Men-at-Arms, New Vanguard, Weapon, Duel, Combat, General Military, General Aviation, Combat Aircraft, Raid and the new Graphic series. Does this mean that X-planes is already on it's way to the knackers yard?

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