Retreat from Kabul

Remnants_of_an_army2

Remnants of an Army by Elizabeth Butler

The painting above immortalised the moment, on the afternoon of Jan 13th, 1842, when Dr. William Brydon reached the British outpost at Jellalabad, 140 km east of Kabul.

He was the first survivor of an army of 4,500 troops and 12,000 civilians who left Kabul on January 6th under a promise of safe passage out of Afghanistan.  For seven days they were set upon by Afghan tribesmen as they tried to struggle through snowbound mountain passes.  Their column was broken up, groups became separated, snipers fired constantly and they were subjected to massed attacks when the terrain permitted.

Brydon arrived at Jellalabad on a horse which collapsed and died when it was stabled.  He had a sword cut on his scalp and was saved more serious injury because his hat was stuffed with pages of a magazine in an attempt to keep him warm.  The paper absorbed much of the sword cut.  He became famous as the “only” survivor, although others subsequently made it back to safety.

The subsequent defence of the fort at Jellalabad became the stuff of legend in the British Army and was celebrated in boys story books for the next century.  The 2,000 men of the 13th foot (Somerset light infantry) held the fort for five months until a relief force reached them.  Under the command of General Robert Sale the troops turned an old ruined fort into a defensible position.  Instead of sitting behind the walls they sortied out to raid the Afghans.  On one occassion they stole a herd of sheep to keep themselves suppllied.  Then they raided the Afghan camp and stole all the supplies.  So successful were they in this that the Afghans gave up and returned to Kabul.  Sale also personally freed his own wife and daughter from captivity.

When the 13th returned to India every garrison on their path celebrated them with a 10 gun salute.  Queen Victoria had them designated as a Light infantry and they were called “Prince Albert’s Own”.

 

From “The Young British Soldier” ; by Rudyard Kipling

When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains,
and the women come out to cut up what remains,
jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
an’ go to your Gawd like a soldier.

Happy Birthday Rudyard Kipling

Kipling in 1895

Despite being a nobel prize winning author Rudyard Kipling is a divisive figure in the modern world.  Many of his poems, novels and short stories are schoolboy classics.  But he represents the most obnoxious, biased and jingoistic elements of British Imperialism.   One thing is certain; he was a prolific writer and he has left us a wealth of poetry, not all of which is doggerel.  Born in India, December 30th, 1865, in the days when the sun did not set on the British Empire, and when the world map was a sea of pink, the colour used to pick out the Empire.

 

My Boy Jack? ; by Rudyard Kipling

‘Have you news of my boy Jack? ‘
Not this tide.

‘When d’you think that he’ll come back? ‘
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

‘Has anyone else had word of him? ‘
Not this tide.
For what is sunk will hardly swim,
not with this wind blowing and this tide.

‘Oh, dear, what comfort can I find? ‘
None this tide,
nor any tide,
except he did not shame his kind –
not even with that wind blowing, and that tide.
Then hold your head up all the more,
this tide,
and every tide;
because he was the son you bore,
and gave to that wind blowing and that tide!

Happy Birthday William Henry Ogilvie

Ogilvie1

A Scotsman who spent 10 years ranching in Australia, Ogilvie was a friend of Harry (Breaker) Morant and another great horseman.  A bush poet; he is best remembered for his outback poems like the one below.   I have a special room in my heart for bush poets like Breaker Morant, Ogilvie, Banjo Patterson, Robert Service and Rudyard Kipling.  I love their songs of the wild road, open spaces, skies that go on forever and hearts set on adventure.

My Hat! ;by William Henry Ogilvie

The hats of a man may be many
in the course of a varied career,
and some have been worth not a penny
and some have been devilish dear;
But there’s one hat I always remember
when sitting alone by the fire,
in the depth of a Northern November,
because it fulfilled my desire.

It was old, it was ragged and rotten
and many years out of mode,
like a thing that a tramp had forgotten
and left at the side of a road.
The boughs of the mulga had torn it,
it’s ribbon was naught but lace,
an old swaggie would not have worn it
without a sad smile on his face.

When I took off the hat to the ladies
it was rather with sorrow than swank,
and often I wished it in Hades
when the gesture drew only a blank;
But for swatting a fly on the tucker
or lifting a quart from the fire
or belting the ribs of a bucker
it was all that a man could desire.

When it ought to have gone to the cleaners
(and stayed there, as somebody said!)
it was handy for flogging the weaners
from the drafting-yard into the shed.
And oft it has served as a dish for
a kelpie in need of a drink;
It was all that a fellow could wish for
in many more ways than you’d think.

It was spotted and stained by the weather,
there was more than one hole in the crown,
and it made little difference whether
the rim was turned up or turned down.
It kept out the rain (in a fashion)
and kept off the sun (more or less),
but it merely comanded compassion
considered as part of one’s dress.

Though it wasn’t a hat you would bolt with
or be anxious to borrow or hire,
it was useful to blindfold a colt with
or handle a bit of barbed wire.
Though the world may have thought it improper
to wear such old rubbish as that,
I’d have scorned the best London-made topper
in exchange for my old battered hat.

 

Ancient Flamethrower

flamethrower

 

In 424 BC the Beotians produced a Flamethrower at the Battle of Delium.  The photo above is a scale model attempt at a reconstruction.  I think the ‘Cauldron’ needs a bit of work, but it captures the general notion.  Described as follows in the history by Thucydides it certainly proved effective on the day;

 

Meanwhile the Boeotians at once sent for darters and slingers from the
Malian Gulf, and with two thousand Corinthian heavy infantry who had
joined them after the battle, the Peloponnesian garrison which had
evacuated Nisaea, and some Megarians with them, marched against Delium,
and attacked the fort, and after divers efforts finally succeeded in
taking it by an engine of the following description. They sawed in two
and scooped out a great beam from end to end, and fitting it nicely
together again like a pipe, hung by chains a cauldron at one extremity,
with which communicated an iron tube projecting from the beam, which
was itself in great part plated with iron. This they brought up from
a distance upon carts to the part of the wall principally composed of
vines and timber, and when it was near, inserted huge bellows into their
end of the beam and blew with them. The blast passing closely confined
into the cauldron, which was filled with lighted coals, sulphur and
pitch, made a great blaze, and set fire to the wall, which soon became
untenable for its defenders, who left it and fled; and in this way the
fort was taken. Of the garrison some were killed and two hundred made
prisoners; most of the rest got on board their ships and returned home.

Thucydides, “The History of the Peloponnesian War”, Book 4, Chapter XIV.

 

The Fairies’ Siege; by Rudyard Kipling

I have been given my charge to keep–
Well have I kept the same!
Playing with strife for the most of my life,
But this is a different game.
I’ll not fight against swords unseen,
Or spears that I cannot view–
Hand him the keys of the place on your knees–
‘Tis the Dreamer whose dreams come true!

Ask him his terms and accept them at once.
Quick, ere we anger him, go!
Never before have I flinched from the guns,
But this is a different show.
I’ll not fight with the Herald of God
(I know what his Master can do!)
Open the gate, he must enter in state,
‘Tis the Dreamer whose dreams come true!

I’d not give way for an Emperor,
I’d hold my road for a King–
To the Triple Crown I would not bow down–
But this is a different thing.
I’ll not fight with the Powers of Air,
Sentry, pass him through!
Drawbridge let fall, ’tis the Lord of us all,
The Dreamer whose dreams come true!

 

Remember the Maine, to Hell with Spain!

USS_Maine

This is the USS Maine, the ship that started the Spanish American war.  She was in Havana harbour in Cuba in 1898 to “protect US interests” during the Cuban revolt against Spain.  She sank in mysterious circumstances on the night of 15th Feb.

Conspiracy theorists have suggested that the Maine was sunk by the US themselves as a pretext to start the war.

Whatever the reasons for the sinking, the war with Spain was given credence, not by the sinking, but by the treatment of the sinking in the press.  Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst were engaged in a pitched battle for circulation in New York.  They invented the concept of “tabloid journalism” or as it was then called “yellow press”.  Yellow press journalism ignores principles such as good research and reasoned argument in favour of sensational headlines, graphic or shocking content and explicit photographs.  It is journalism aimed at selling papers.  It is also ironic that the doyen of tabloid journalism, Joseph Pulitzer, gave his name to the prize for excellence in Journalism.

Pulitzer and Hearst leaped on the Maine sinking and turned it into a national cause.

The USS Maine was not a great loss to the US navy.  Heralded as a great addition to the fleet when she was launched in 1889, she then wallowed in dock for three years awaiting delivery of armour plating.  A pre-dreadnought heavy cruiser, she is an example of clouded thinking in battleship design that became obsolete the day Dreadnought was launched in 1906.  In truth Maine was already obsolete by the time she was commissioned into the navy in 1895.

The Maine had two big gun turrets carrying four 10 inch guns.  The big gun turrets are housed in sponsons that jut out from the fore-starboard and aft-port quarters of the ship.  In the photo above you can see the starboard Turret.  With our knowledge of subsequent ship design we can see all sorts of problems with the big gun placement.

Firstly the guns cannot fully traverse.  The starboard gun can only fire effectively to starboard.  To fire to port required a deck cutout with very restricted lines of sight. The port side guns are even more restricted.  This means that in action at sea the four big guns can never effectively aim and fire at the same target.  Deck section cutaways were needed just to allow them to fire fore and aft.

Secondly, with the big guns mounted off the ships central axis the recoil from the fire has a destabilizing effect on the ship, making her rock.  Even in normal sailing conditions the low mounted – off centre sponsons took on water.  All in all she was a lemon.

In 1899 during the Battle of Manilla, the poem below was published.  It made Kipling a household name in the USA.  It was read in the Senate by Benjamin Tillman, who argued against the US annexation of the Philippines.

The White Man’s Burden: The United States and The Philippine Islands; by Rudyard Kipling

Take up the White Man’s burden, Send forth the best ye breed
Go bind your sons to exile, to serve your captives’ need;
To wait in heavy harness, On fluttered folk and wild
Your new-caught, sullen peoples, Half-devil and half-child.

Take up the White Man’s burden, In patience to abide,
To veil the threat of terror And check the show of pride;
By open speech and simple, An hundred times made plain
To seek another’s profit, And work another’s gain.

Take up the White Man’s burden, The savage wars of peace
Fill full the mouth of Famine And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest The end for others sought,
Watch sloth and heathen Folly Bring all your hopes to nought.

Take up the White Man’s burden, No tawdry rule of kings,
But toil of serf and sweeper, The tale of common things.
The ports ye shall not enter, The roads ye shall not tread,
Go mark them with your living, And mark them with your dead.

Take up the White Man’s burden And reap his old reward:
The blame of those ye better, The hate of those ye guard
The cry of hosts ye humour (Ah, slowly!) toward the light:
“Why brought he us from bondage, Our loved Egyptian night?”

Take up the White Man’s burden, Ye dare not stoop to less
Nor call too loud on Freedom To cloke your weariness;
By all ye cry or whisper, By all ye leave or do,
The silent, sullen peoples Shall weigh your gods and you.

Take up the White Man’s burden, Have done with childish days
The lightly proferred laurel, The easy, ungrudged praise.
Comes now, to search your manhood, through all the thankless years
Cold, edged with dear-bought wisdom, The judgment of your peers!

Leadership material

Image

Leader or manager, general or colonel? What is the difference and why does it matter? In war or in competitive business we face a twin dilemma.

Let’s focus on wars, simply because they have a better documented history. Throughout history the (seemingly) simple act of getting your army to a battlefield, wearing clothes, in a state of health, well fed, well shod, well-armed and well-ordered has often delivered victory. This is the job of the staff officers of the army, the managers. They must recruit, train, equip, feed, transport and manage the soldiers.

In the same way company managers must recruit, remunerate, monitor and direct the staff or the organisation to deliver a workload. They must ensure the correct tools are available to do the job, the right computers, the right lathes, the right cleaning fluids etc.

Where things get interesting is where you have two armies, or two organisations, that are well managed, so that both of them arrive on the ‘battlefield’ in good order.

This is where the need for good leadership cuts in. The good leader is creative, surprising, unexpected, not a plodder, not predictable and pedantic. The Duke of Wellington defeated every French Marshal thrown against him. At last he met Napoleon at the battle of Waterloo, and Wellesley described him as “just another plodder”. What he did not realise is that Napoleon was ill and the battle was mismanaged by Marshal Ney. Napoleon was in fact a brilliant general, and on his day Waterloo would have been a very different battle.

If a “leader” becomes too operational, too involved in the day to day running of the business, then they are probably just interfering in the work of their managers. The leader needs to be assured that the management is happening, but should not be too involved in it. The leader needs to be aware of the capabilities of the organisation, so that when they craft their strategic masterstroke it is within the reach of the staff. So reports from managers to the leader should keep the leader up to date on what is possible.

The failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion is attributed to a reporting failure within the CIA. Local operatives were telling Langley that the Cuban exiles were motivated and committed soldiers, well trained and gunning to win their country back from the Communists. In fact they were a drunken, feckless rabble who were unfit to participate in any military action. Had Kennedy been aware of this he could have avoided a huge embarrassment for the USA, and potentially have avoided the Cuban Missile Crisis altogether.

The leader can challenge the managers to build capabilities in weak areas, tell them “what” he wants, but should refrain from telling them how to do it. Good examples are of Churchill in the Second World War. He challenged the army to develop special forces groups so that he could take the war to the Axis. The army developed commando units, paratroopers, long range desert squadrons, SAS etc. These specialist “tools” were then available to factor in to strategic plans. The Rhine bridges campaign (Operation Market Garden) depended heavily on paratroopers holding the bridge and Arnhem. They did the job for three days longer than they were asked, and the failure of the campaign was down to other factors.

In a business context, what are your special forces? What are the tools in the market that can give you a strategic advantage over your competition? Where is your source of competitive advantage and how are you factoring this into your strategic planning?

Some writers point to a personality difference between a leader and a manger. Many great leaders are very uncomfortable in management positions. They play a poor second fiddle to another leader.

Dr. Brian Leavy in DCU humorously used Star Trek to describe the difference in one of his strategy papers. Captain Kirk is the brilliant leader of the Starship Enterprise. He is a flawed human, at times emotional and petty, jealous of others, physically violent when things don’t go his way, he comes across like a spoilt child. But he constantly thinks outside the box and finds solutions where none seemed to exist. When he was faced with a no-win game scenario at Starfleet academy he refused to be beaten and instead reprogrammed the game so that he could win. He is a motivational leader who inspires great effort and loyalty from his team. His passion and drive are attractive to the opposite sex too, as he always seems to get the girl (or the prettiest alien species).

By contrast Mr Spock is a paragon of self-control and emotional discipline. He is logical, correct and brilliant. He is the perfect foil for the mercurial leader, as he keeps everything on an even keel. But he is cold and passionless and does not inspire those around him. If anything his perfection is demotivating to others who know they can never gain his approval. For Spock perfection is simply adequate, anything less is unacceptable. This makes him a poor leader in the eyes of humans.

The analogy often seems to hold true. Famous leaders do appear to be mercurial characters, Lord Alan Sugar, Lee Iacocca, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Churchill, Bill Gates, Howard Hughes, Sir Alex Ferguson, Michael O’Leary. But how much of this is the visibility of leaders who are mercurial? There are many great leaders who shy away from public attention. Terry Leahy, Paul Polman, Robert McDonald, Rex Tillerson, Peter Voser, Peter Swinbburn, all very influential people, how many can you place?

IF: by Rudyard Kipling

IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!