Military History at the Operational Level: An Interview with Robert M. Citino

[Cross posted from The Second World War Military Operations Research Group]

The June 2011 edition of the American journal of Historically Speaking has an interesting interview with Professor Robert M. Citino who works at the University of North Texas and is attached to their Military History Centre.[1] Citino also maintains a blog, Front and Center, which explores various aspects of operational military history. Citino is a leading expert on the operational level of war with specific expertise in the German Army in the era of the Second World War. The interview covers a myriad of issues ranging from Citino’s decision to study military history through to the place of the subject in the academy; a vitally important question that I think all historians have to confront at some point in their career in order to understand their own place in the broader field of history.

However, the most interesting question asked related to the study of smaller armies, and how they fit into the larger picture and what they tell us about military operations in general.

Yerxa: In your operational histories of the 20th century you pay a lot of attention to wars that often get overlooked, for example, the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, the Balkan Wars of 1912-13, the Italo-Ethiopia War of 1935-36, and the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971. Why do you focus so much attention on wars such as these?

Citino: We live in a global age, and knowing what happened in these wars is just as important as knowing the order of battle for the U.S. Army on D-Day. Most Americans may think of Bulgaria as a minor power hardly worthy of their notice. During the Balkan Wars of 1912-13, however, the world’s professional military literature was filled with encomia to the magnificent fighting qualities of the Bulgarian infantry in their battles with the Turks at Kirk Kilisse, Adrianople, and Chatalja. Aggressive infantry, bold charges, a scorn for danger—the Bulgarians seemed to have it all, and a lot of officers in the West were thinking about how they could get their men to fight more like the Bulgarians. Likewise, whatever we may think about the Italian army today, the world followed its invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 very carefully, attempting to understand it and to parse out its lessons for future conflict. Beyond that, knowing what happened in these wars serves to underscore the main point I have been trying to make, which is the universality and omnipresence of systemic difficulties in modern war making.[2]

There is an important point here that is significant to the study of military operations in the Second World War as this idea of examining the conduct of operations in more regional conflicts by smaller armies can be taken further. That is, what about the conduct of smaller militaries in larger wars such as the Second World War? What do they tell us about the larger whole? What are the convergences and divergences between small militaries and their larger coalition partners upon whom they are often reliant? A case in point is the Canadian Army, and where its development converged and diverged from that of the British Army.[3] There has been a large amount of literature in this area, unsurprisingly by the Canadians themselves but what of the other dominions? What of other coalition partners such as the reforming French military or even the Brazilians? What do they tell us about British and American operational techniques? Similarly, on the Eastern Front, what do the operations of the Romanian Army tell us about the conduct German coalition warfare and its influence on the conduct of the war? These areas need to be examined by historians interested in the operational military history of the Second World War and deserves further examination if we are to further understand the greater whole.


[1] Donald A. Yerxa, ‘Military History at the Operational Level: An Interview with Robert M. Citino’, Historically Speaking, Vol. 12, No. 3 (June 2011) pp. 10-12.

[2] Yerxa, ‘Military History’, pp. 10-11.

[3] Most notable see; Terry Copp, Cinderella Army: The Canadians in Northwest Europe, 1944-1945 (Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press, 2006).

 

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