Conference Program

85th Annual Meeting of the Society for Military History

 Landscapes of War and Peace

April 5 - 8, 2018, Louisville, Kentucky

Title: Logistics in Imperial Warfare
Abstract: When measured against the titanic means undertaken to supply and support armies in the World Wars, logistics in Imperial/Colonial War can seem quite unimpressive, and therefore unimportant. This panel will explore how logistics - including organization and technology - both at the operational and strategic levels in British/French experience were crucial components of imperial/colonial war. Despite the casual belief that European regular armies were generally over encumbered and unable to move with sufficient dexterity to counter local insurrection/opposition, this panel will explore how key logistical/technological arrangements proved decisive at various points in the history of Imperial/Colonial warfare, and potentially paved the way for future "expeditionary" endeavors.

Dr. James Campbell will assess the largely Indian-manned British expedition as part of the coalition that fought the Boxer rebellion in 1900. He will explored how innovative, robust logistical planning and infrastructure to support and maintain "expeditionary operations" much better than many of their contemporaries.

Bill Dean will explore the overlooked technological/logistical innovations that enabled the expansion of French empire in the high age of colonization. He will attempt to counter the idea

that it was superior military hardware that made the difference in most cases; rather it was improved medicine and food that gave the French colonial army its heightened room for action.

Finally, Will Waddell will examine the intersection of economics, logistics and strategy in the relatively forgotten French campaign in the far south of Indochina in the first half of the First Indochina War. He will contend that it was chiefly logistical arrangements and economic warfare that made the difference in that contest.
William Waddell, US Air Force War College
Participant's Paper Title: A Grain of Rice, A Drop of Blood: Supply and Strategy in the War for Cochinchina
Participant's Paper Abstract: In September 1945 the French returned to Indochina to retake control of its colony in southern Indochina. Opposing their return was the Viet Minh, an organization which grew in sophistication and stealth over the following years. Though French preference throughout the war was to bring the Viet Minh rebels to battle and decisively defeat them, the Viet Minh proved frustratingly elusive, rarely offering battle and utilizing the forests and swamps of southern Vietnam to great effect. By 1947/1948 French commanders in the southern theatre (Cochinchina) largely abandoned their quest for a decisive confrontation; instead they sought to strike the Viet Minh at the weakest - their logistics. Despite small, mobile forces generally without heavy weapons, the Viet Minh were highly dependent on rice for food. This rice came primarily from the Western reaches of Cochinchina and had to be transported east for use by Viet Minh units operating closer to the capital in Saigon. Over the course of the late 1940s the French devised an ingenious blockade of the rice growing areas, effectively strangling the flow of food to Viet Minh operating in the east. By 1950 this effort produced consternation and panic for the Viet Minh who were forced to engage in series of desperate assaults against formidable French positions to attempt to break this economic vice. Despite its importance to the war in southern Vietnam (and by extension the later US war), the war in Cochinchina remains little remarked upon; the economic/logistical struggle that defined a fair portion of this struggle is even less known still. My principal source base for this paper will be the French military records housed at the Service historique de la Défense in Vincennes, France.
Alexander Lassner, US Air Force War College
Graydon Tunstall, University of South Florida
Bill Dean, Air Force Command and Staff College
Participant's Paper Title: Technology and French Colonial Warfare 1871-1914
Participant's Paper Abstract: After the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871), France dramatically expanded its colonial empire in West Africa, Madagascar, and Indo-china. Technology played an important role in this expansion but not so much through weapons technology but through logistical and medical innovation. The multiple campaigns that were fought in Africa and Asia did serve as a test-ground for new weapons technology form magazine-fed rifles to aircraft.
More than a generation ago, Daniel Headrick in his famous Tools of Empire argued that modern rifles and machine guns were essential to the victory of colonial powers in Africa and Asia. This work over-emphasizes the British experience and was based mostly on secondary sources. My work based on documents from the French War Archives at the Chateau de Vincennes (in Paris) makes a different argument. I contend that it was logistical innovations like tinned meat in West Africa that played a key role in the conquest of this region not machine guns or the latest weapon technology. In fact, French machine guns were highly unreliable and heavy artillery was impracticable.
In medicine, the French were fairly effective in West Africa and Indo-china but because of the absence of training and standard operating procedures, the use of prophylactic drugs failed in Madagascar. Here nearly 5,000 men died of disease and the rear area was described as a vast cemetery. It was only in Morocco 1907-1914 that new weapons technology was highly effective and prepared the French Army for the Great War. This paper will be based on French archival sources, published primary sources (eg. memoirs of key leaders) and secondary sources.
James Campbell, Air Command and Staff College
Participant's Paper Title: "Rather a Desperate Undertaking": Indian Army Logistics in the Boxer Relief Expedition
Participant's Paper Abstract: During the spring and summer of 1900, the nationalist "Boxer" uprising in North China, supported in many places by Chinese imperial leaders, culminated in the Boxers seizing control of the capitol of Beijing.

The international response to this crisis involved the first twentieth century manifestation of the now-common practice of "coalition" expeditionary military operations, with troops from most major European nations along with Japanese and American contingents attacking from Dagu, up the Peiho River to relieve beleaguered foreigners first at Tianjin, and finally in Beijing. The battlefield actions of this multi-national force against the Boxer insurgents have been well-documented. What has not been carefully examined is the nature and composition of the various national contingents, their interactions, and most importantly for this panel, the deployment and logistical arrangements they used to make the expedition possible.

The British force in China was actually not very "British" at all. As a result of this crisis of military manpower, British authorities made the decision to have their contribution to the force in China come entirely from the Indian Army. The Indian Army had extensive experience in mobilizing overseas expeditions, and in logistically supporting itself in austere combat conditions. This broad level of experience and expertise led to a force in China that was not only well-supported and maintained, but which was in a position to assist allied forces when their own support was inadequate or failed. An examination of the planning and arrangements for deploying and sustaining Britain's first twentieth century overseas military expedition sheds light on the ways in which the imperial Indian military experience was central to broader British operational success in fighting across the globe, from the late 19th century through the post-World War Two period of decolonization.