Military Reconnaissance

Military Reconnaissance

Alexander Stilwell
ARRSE Rating
3 Mushroom Heads
This commendably ambitious book seeks to provide an understanding of the value, techniques and history of reconnaissance in land warfare. Given the current challenges that the AJAX programme is facing this could have been be a useful reference work for those trying to resolve it.

The author has chosen to approach the topic from a historic basis; no great problem with that, so we start with the battle of Elleporus in 389 BC. (No, I had never heard of it either). The battle is described in a page or so, which also includes dictums from Vegetius and a note that Agricola used his scouts well to rescue the IX legion an Mons Graupis in 83 AD. That’s 400 years in two pages, with no analysis and little detail of what scouts did, how and when.

This, unfortunately, is how the rest of the book unfolds. A series of vignettes of battles - some only a paragraph long – all linked by the author’s theme that reconnaissance was a major contributor to the outcome. While that assertion is probably undeniable it is neither justified nor quantified. It’s just repeated.

Succeeding chapters cover various periods, right up to the modern day. There is quite a bit on the US Frontiersmen (Kit Carson and the like) and a reasonable amount on some of the players in the Great Game on the Northwest Frontier. Strike Brigades and Ajax get a mention on the last page.

The prose is light and highly readable. Some of the vignettes are interesting and it’s well researched and referenced. The author does seem to get a little confused by the term “scout” and does not differentiate reconnaissance into classes that a British reader would be comfortable with (e.g. Close, medium and long). He also merges the roles of special forces into the tale, without making clear how they fit into the hierarchy. Indeed there is little consideration of the challenges scouts at all levels face in getting their information to commanders in a concise and timely manner.

It’s not a bad book, but it doesn’t deliver on what it promises. It’s a soufflé where a stew was on the menus.

Three mushrooms.

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