Review: Volume 33 - Military History

Review: Volume 33 - Military History

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One of the most prestigious and versatile units of the British armed forces, the Royal Marine Commandos served in many theatres worldwide, performing a number of conventional and specialised roles. During the period covered in this account, conscription to the Royal Marines came to an end and the unit became a professional and dedicated force, with a tough recruitment programme and a focus on teamwork. This book provides a detailed look at the service life of a Royal Marine Commando in a time of great change, exploring the developments that took place in recruitment, training, equipment, weaponry, dress and tactical deployment in the post-World War II period.

The name John Muir has come to stand for the protection of wild land and wilderness in both America and Britain. Born in Dunbar in 1838, Muir is famed as a pioneer of American conservation and his passion, discipline and vision still inspire. Combining acute observation with a sense of inner discovery, Muir's writings of his summer in what would become the great national park of Yosemite in California's Sierra valley raise a close awareness of nature to a spiritual dimension. His journal provides a unique marriage of natural history, lyrical prose and amusing anecdote, retaining a freshness, intensity and brutal honesty which will amaze the modern reader.

"In many ways I was like Alice," writes Alan Macfarlane on his first encounter with Japan, "that very assured and middle-class English girl, when she walked through the looking glass. I was full of certainty, confidence and unexamined assumptions about my categories. In this fascinating and endlessly surprising book he takes us with him on an exploration of every aspect of Japanese society from the most public to the most intimate.

The earliest fortifications in Japan were developed with the appearance of the first emperors in around 250 and were often simple wooden constructions. As internal strife became a way of life in Japan, more and increasingly elaborate fortifications. This book covers the entire period of Japanese castle development from the very first fortifications, through to the sophisticated structures of the 16th and 17th century, explaining how they were adapted to withstand Samurai firearms and exploring life within these castles. With unpublished photographs from the author's private collection and full-color artwork, including detailed cutaways, this is an essential guide to the fascinating development of Japanese fortifications.

Review: Volume 33 - Military History - History

You are just a few moments away from discovering more about the history of the Second World War than you ever imagined.

Place Order

Dear Fellow WWII Enthusiast:

Allow me to introduce WWII History Magazine, the completely original, exquisitely produced coffee table magazine that’s worthy of being named after the most important war in all of history. No matter how long you’ve been fascinated by the Second World War, and no matter how much reading and research you’ve done, WWII History is sure to bring you a new and fresh perspective on the Greatest of Conflicts.

The first thing you’ll notice is that WWII History looks and feels more like a book than it does a magazine. Instead of being just a handful of glossy papers stapled together, WWII History features a straight, flat spine. Known in the publishing industry as “perfect binding,” this book-style binding allows you to store your collection of WWII History on your shelves along with the rest of your history library. The volumes stand up straight and the name, date, and ID number on the spine make it easy for you to find the volume you need each time you turn to your collection.

…And collect them you will, because WWII History is more akin to the permanent reference in your library than the regular magazines you just flip through and discard.

The artwork, for example, is carefully culled from selective sources the world over. Dozens of rare photographs, colorfully crisp paintings and meticulously detailed drawings bring the events they depict to life. Even the pages themselves are thicker, glossier, and much more durable than those you find in most other magazines.


Recently, there has been increasing concern regarding the problem of sexual violence in the military. Because sexual harassment and assault are more closely intertwined in the military than in most civilian contexts, the military context affords a unique opportunity to study the interrelationships between these two types of sexual violence. In this review, we briefly summarize existing research on military sexual trauma prevalence rates, effects on victims, and risk factors, as well as prevention and response programs in the military context. In each of these topic areas, we emphasize issues unique to the complex interplay between sexual harassment and assault in the military and make recommendations for future research.

Military History Museum – review

"You cannot put German military history into a box," says Daniel Libeskind. No, indeed you can't. He wants, moreover, to achieve a "paradigm shift away from the celebration of wars". And so, in creating a new Military History Museum in an 1870s barracks building in Dresden, he has chosen to make the least box-like thing he can think of – a steel-framed, half-transparent pointy thing – and crash it like a meteorite into the barracks' facade of drill-ground neoclassical symmetry. "It's about catastrophe," he says, and his design makes the point. Here be violence, it says, as plainly as a Las Vegas casino tells you there is gambling inside.

No one who knows the work of Libeskind will be very surprised, as he has always shown faith in the power of acute angles to convey pain (even if, confusingly, he also employs pointy things on shopping malls and museums of quite nice stuff, such as art). But the Dresden museum offers a particularly pure form of the anguished angle and tests its effectiveness to destruction.

Some architects specialise in hotels, some skyscrapers Daniel Libeskind's niche is ministering to sites of disaster and loss. His first architectural commission, apart from an unrealised apartment block, was the Jewish Museum in Berlin, which strove to represent both the intertwining of the city with its Jewish culture and the tearing of the two apart. He has also completed the Imperial War Museum North in Salford, in the shape of a "shattered globe", and a museum of the painter and Holocaust victim Felix Nussbaum, and was chosen as the masterplanner for the rebuilding of the World Trade Centre site in New York.

He won the commission to design the Military History Museum a decade ago, when his much acclaimed Jewish Museum was new. The Dresden building, which if you include large parts of it not yet reopened, is the biggest museum in Germany, already had plenty of history by then. Founded in 1897 as an unqualified celebration of armed might, it then went through Nazi and communist variations on the theme until the fall of the Berlin Wall made its message plainly inappropriate and it closed.

Deliberations followed as to what sort of institution it should now be, or if it should exist at all, out of which emerged the idea that it should have an "anthropological" as well as a historical purpose. It should show the human causes and effects of war rather than be a parade of materiel. Deliberations continued after Libeskind won the job: "It takes a long time to get to grips with history," he says. His client was the Bundeswehr, the military, which here had to take on the role of cultural curator.

The outcome is an intensely and minutely considered representation of modern Germany's complicated feelings about war. It is unsparing in its depiction of horrors, including the skull, the front part blown away, of a soldier who shot himself in the mouth. There is a wall of shoes of Holocaust victims. A line of stuffed animals, from an elephant to a goose, at first looks like a cheerful contingent from Noah's ark, until closer inspection reveals such things as a cat being killed in a laboratory to test poison gas, or a sheep, three-legged after it had been used for clearing mines. Sections are called "War and Memory", "War and Music" or "War and Theatre". "War and Games" shows children's toys, including a metal tank found in the rubble of Dresden, melted by the heat of the bombing, the fate of its owner unknown.

Every effort is made to avoid fetishising equipment. A V-2 rocket is in a constricted space such that you can only see it close up, in "fractured" views, as Libeskind puts it, "otherwise it just looks like a big skyscraper". You are shown such things as the drugs given to the pilots of tiny submarines, so that they could withstand the fear of their all-but-suicidal missions.

A jeep blasted in which three German soldiers were seriously injured in Afghanistan is shown alongside voting cards showing the support of chancellors Schröder and Merkel for involvement in the conflict, to make a point about the connection of politics to war. Installations were commissioned from artists, with various degrees of success, to give their interpretations of the themes. At times it gets mawkish, as when the words "love" and "hate" are projected in splatters on the walls, but mostly the displays make good use of telling detail and direct information. They go beyond the obvious point – that war is hell – to unravel its human ramifications.

All this takes place within an exhibition design by HG Merz and Barbara Holzer, which fits within the architecture of Libeskind, which internally consists of jagged, sloping planes thrust into the regular, spacious grid of the old barracks, with voids pierced from one floor to another. The old central staircase, broad enough for battalions to ascend, fragments at its edges into compressed spaces, crevices and fissures winding through concrete geology. You are oppressed and released, disorientated and reorientated.

At times, as happens with this kind of geometry, it gets embarrassed by necessary verticals and horizontals – by lifts, for example. Its energy also dissipates rather too rapidly when you are returned to the world of the right angle, in flanking galleries dedicated to more conventional chronological displays. It gets better the more enmeshed it is with the exhibits and with the old building, where the strange shapes are not spectacles in themselves, but means for affecting your perception of the things on show.

At the top you are discharged into a space about bombed cities, and then on to a platform for viewing Dresden, the fantastical city of rococo and gothic that was splintered like porcelain in two nights of bombing in 1945 (splinters of which are still being stuck back together in the heroic but impossible attempt to recover what was lost). This viewing platform, it turns out, is within the meteorite you saw from the outside and the view can only be seen through its mesh.

The platform is in fact the only thing that happens inside the five-storey-high steel structure, which otherwise contains inaccessible void. This discovery is disappointing, as something so large and conspicuous should surely be more than a gesture. As it is, it resembles an immense statue or redundant cupola on a 19th-century building, something pompous and somewhat empty. It is also irritating, as the panorama would be better enjoyed if it were not from inside the meteorite. It must mean something to put so much metal between you and the view, in this architecture where everything seems to have a meaning, but it's not obvious what. This thing is at once breathtaking, verging on the wonderful, and breathtakingly dumb.

The design's weakness is its belief that sheer shape can speak on its own. There are not enough notes or else too many of the same kind. Too often you find yourself peering at a form or space that is not as fascinating as it ought to be. Sometimes the spaces feel underpopulated by exhibits, as if the architecture had not left them enough room. Perhaps in future decades the steel meteorite will be retro-fitted in such a way that it makes more sense. I hope so, as the rest of the museum – the power of the exhibits, the thoughtfulness of their selection and the more complex and intricate of Libeskind's interior spaces – deserves it.

The Abuse of Military History

I am a soldier, first and foremost, and this is as it should be. But I am also an academic historian.

As a member of two cultures, I find that they have much in common, at least in theory. Foremost among those is an inclination to distrust the first report, and to privilege the written word. In my historical writing, however, I seek to create a thesis for the reader which accurately represents a synthesis of facts and ideas that come from sometimes quite disparate sources. In developing that thesis, I am bound by the facts. This, also, is as it should be. But there is something else my two professions share. In short, members of both professions hate liars and those who twist the truth around.

My book on the events at No Gun Ri in 1950 devotes fully half of the text to understanding how lies worked their way into the historical record and people's understanding of what took place near that small South Korean village more than 50 years ago. The bottom line is that I have a strong sentiment against people putting falsehoods into the record.

In the case of the events at No Gun Ri there were fabrications constructed by actors on the historical stage, and they were exposed through straightforward historical spadework. Far more insidious, however, is the lie built by another historian in order to support an agenda that has little or nothing to do with history. Against that type of lie there has traditionally been little defense. Those who know better (academic historians in this case) often cannot match the volume of the polemicist who cloaks himself in the garb of legitimate-seeming history. It is a sad fact that "popular" usually trumps "academic" in the bookstore, so the falsehoods put together by the fabulist often drown out his academic critics. That is not to suggest that academic historians are entirely without blame. But still, the general public for its part, is often taken in by the fact that the fabulist appears learned and, therefore, should be trusted.

So what is an honest historian to do? Writing a competing academic book usually does not work, since such works are usually only read by peers within academe and even when the get some traction, it is often not enough. Blasting the offending book in the reviews sections of academic journals is similarly ineffective, the audience there is usually but a few hundred at best and the space is limited. An Op-Ed in a major newspaper is not viable, because there just is not enough space to engage in more than rhetoric there either. All of which usually meant that those with popular lies to tell won out most of the time. Enter the Internet.

Over the next several entries I plan to use this bully pulpit to demonstrate the perversions of the historical record by one of the most profound practitioners of same in the modern era. To wit, Mr. Victor Davis Hanson.

If you are not familiar with him, Hanson, or "VDH" as he is sometimes styled by his adoring and generally uncritical fans, is a linguist focused on ancient Greek and other "classical" languages. He has no academic training or education in history beyond that era, though he styles himself a historian. Now, however, I would note that he is something different. Since 2001 he has laid claims to being a military and cultural historian for the ages, in addition to becoming a columnist for the National Review Online and various newspapers via his syndicated column. Personally, I do not care what he writes about the present in an op-ed, so long as he does not torture historical facts in order to validate his own pet theories. But Hanson does exactly that, and so, from my seat, he is the worst sort of polemicist: one who hides behind academic credentials and claims that he is a neutral observer (in his case as a historian, though as I mentioned, his training is in language), but then insidiously inserts presentist and personal political interpretations of his own into the historical record.

Hanson's best-known general thesis, which he has pounded upon since his popular best-selling book Carnage and Culture came out in 2001, is that there are elements in Western culture (that is to say European culture, but only those who derive their heritage from the Greek/Roman traditions) that make us unique and overwhelmingly successful in war. His version of evidence is laid out in his interpretation of nine battles and/or campaigns which took place over roughly 2,500 years. In Carnage and Culture these are: Salamis (480 BC), Gaugamela (331 BC), Cannae (216 BC), Poitiers (732 AD), Tenochtitlan (1520-21 AD), Lepanto (1571 AD), Rorke's Drift (1879 AD), Midway (1942 AD), and Tet (1968 AD).

Hanson is tricky. He plays upon a uniquely American dichotomy. Generally speaking, we Americans respect academic qualifications, but at the same time harbor deep-seated biases against those we deem too intellectual. The line there is squiggly. Thus, Hanson tries to claim academic credentials as a historian, but then immediately switches gears and denigrates any potential opposition as mere "academic" history squabbles. Yes, academic history, with its unreasonable insistence on things like footnotes or endnotes so that your sources can be checked, is not to be trusted. Indeed, he dismissed the whole lot by saying, "Academics in the university will find that assertion chauvinistic or worse -- and thus cite every exception from Thermopylae to Little Bighorn in refutation." Ahhh, I love the smell of Strawmen burning in the morning.

He further eroded any potential critique by claiming that any such opposition to his magnificent thesis would actually be motivated by those who want to engage in "cultural debates." If you have not read Hanson's work before, "cultural debates" is his personal code. Roughly translated you could say that for Hanson this stands for "campus liberals who hate America." Indeed, that dismissal of any opposition occurred in the very first paragraph of his book when he wrote, "While I grant that critics would disagree on a variety of fronts over the reasons for European military dynamism and the nature of Western civilization itself, I have no interest in entering such contemporary cultural debates, since my interests are in the military power, not the morality of the West"

His technique worked. Carnage and Culture was a national best-seller, and Hanson is himself now invited into the highest levels of the executive branch of government to speak and advise. He has been invited to the White House by the President and to other locations by the Vice President. His work is cited near and far, in no small part on the basis of his use of history. And all of this came about because he twisted facts to tell a story as he wanted it to be, not as the facts themselves lay out. And because he silenced his critics.

Hanson's dismissals of those who would correct the record he distorted are based upon two biases: "Campus liberals" would engage in culture wars, and "non-military historians" don't know about military history and are thus unqualified to speak on the topic at hand. Sometimes he combines the two techniques when attacking those with the temerity to critique him. One typical Hanson response to a critic who did not identify their political party will suffice to illustrate. Said Hanson to the reader, "Unfortunately you know nothing of history and so like most on the Left think that your age, your circumstances, your views are always unique and transcend some 231 years of our America past. Do you know anything about the winter of 1776? Or the summer of 1864, or Spring 1917? Or the Pacific in 1944, or the Bulge, or November 1950? There an "incompetent group of people" did not manage a war that lost 3,000, but almost 100,000 dead and wounded alone in 2 months in the Ardennes, or 50,000 casualties in 6 weeks on Okinawa."

Well Mr. Hanson, it so happens that I do, in fact, know a wee bit about the Winter of '76, the Summer of 1864, and the Spring of 1917. (Though why you would cite the Spring of 1917 is curious in itself as a stand-alone statement. That Spring, you see, there were no Americans in ground combat yet. Indeed we were not yet at war until that Spring was halfway over. So why you didn't mention the much more appropriate Spring of 1918, when the German's Plan Michael/Spring Offensive created a crisis for the Allies and the first American ground combat forces were thrown into the line to stem the tide is beyond me. It does, however, seem to suggest that you don't know what you are talking about.) I also know about the Pacific in 1944, and the Ardennes Campaign of December 44/January 45, and I assure you that I know about not just November, but all of 1950.

I know all of these things, and because I am a military historian and believe that your personal technique of torturing the facts until they conform to your thesis is hurting America, and that your personal signal work, Carnage and Culture, is a pile of poorly constructed, deliberately misleading, intellectually dishonest feces. I believe it is my personal obligation to try and correct the record and demonstrate for as many people as possible, why they should not believe you when you try to cite history in support of any of your personal shiny little pet rocks.

A similar version of this essay appeared on War Historian and Altercation in the beginning of October. These opinions are those of Robert Bateman and do not reflect those of the DoD or any other government element. Write to LTC Bob Batemen.

Military Identities, Conventional Capability and the Politics of NATO Standardisation at the Beginning of the Second Cold War, 1970�

This paper uses equipment standardisation as a lens for examining power relationships and the importance of military identity in framing the development of NATO conventional capability. In the face of the Warsaw Pact's overwhelming military capacity the logic of standardisation was compelling. Standardising equipment and making military forces interoperable reduced logistics overlap, increased the tempo of operations and allowed partners to optimise manufacturing capacity. Applied carefully, standardisation would help NATO mount a successful conventional defence of Western Europe, a crucial aspect of the Alliance's flexible response strategy. In this paper, we apply Actor Network Theory to standardisation discussions thereby revealing the incoherence and volatility of NATO's collective strategic thinking and the vast networks of countervailing interests on which this is based.

REVIEW – Philip and Alexander: kings and conquerors

The story of Alexander the Great, the dashing young prince who conquered vast swathes of the world before his mysterious death at the age of just 32, is a familiar one. It has fascinated historians for over two millennia, but our knowledge of it remains frustratingly incomplete.

Here, Adrian Goldsworthy approaches the tale afresh, stating that in order truly to understand the history of Alexander we need to study it alongside that of his father, Philip II of Macedon. This, Goldsworthy argues, is because Philip’s role in the story is often overlooked. We need, he maintains, to consider the story as one born of two men with a desire to excel and outdo all others – and one which unfolds with a speed that barely seems credible.

What follows is ostensibly a narrative history of the combined 78 years of the two men’s lives as they shattered the existing status quo in the Mediterranean and turned Macedonia into a superpower.

Goldsworthy deals with the gaps in our knowledge with refreshing candour, resisting speculation and instead weighing available source material and mostly deciding on the most realistic option. This strips away much of the glamour that characterises Alexander as a new Achilles, instead painting a picture of a brave warrior, a frequently cynical politician, and a man with astonishing self-belief.

This is, at its heart, a story of violence and conquest, and Goldsworthy is predictably excellent when it comes to placing the reader in the heart of the great battles. One gets a visceral sense of the exhausting nature of these encounters: the blood, sweat, and dust and the knife-edge nature of victories that combined disciplined tactical planning with incredible nerve and personal courage.

Equally impressive is the way in which Goldsworthy articulates the development of tactics and military techniques in the narrative. For example, his account of Philip’s siege of Amphipolis in 357 BC skilfully brings together the nature of siege warfare in the Hellenistic period with Philip’s key role in its development.

Philip’s achievements were the building blocks of Alexander’s later success. While the development of Macedonia’s military strength was key to this, so too was Philip’s extraordinary political sense and his use of deception, counter-intelligence, and treaties.

These elements are often lost in favour of the blood and thunder of campaigning. Goldsworthy rectifies that oversight. It is a theme that persists throughout the book, with Alexander later making use of similar techniques.

This is just one example of the manner in which a joint biography serves to tell a more complete story. In the epilogue, Goldsworthy considers the story in comparison with Julius Caesar and Augustus, both of whose achievements he has previously chronicled. He describes how their stories intertwined and the fascination both of the later men had with their Macedonian forebears.

The author concludes that the true natures of both Philip and Alexander would have been as remote and unknowable to the Romans as they are to us now, but he does himself a disservice. Through this narrative a clear picture emerges of Philip and Alexander as leaders, warriors, and politicians. For readers both new to the period and those very familiar with it, there is much to enjoy and to ponder in this fast-paced, authoritative, and incisive study.

Review by Stephen Batchelor

This is an article from the April/May 2021 issue of Military History Matters. To find out more about the magazine and how to subscribe, click here.

Unlucky General

TiK is another higher profile broadcaster and amateur historian who dives very deeply on operational subjects focussing on WW2.

He's been in the YouTube broadcasting game since 2012 and has to date over 93,000 subscribers and a vast library of episodes. I'm relatively new to YouTube subscriptions and have only scratched the surface of his library. It looks at a glance that TiK has evolved from computer wargaming subject matter into more historical content and his episodes are well referenced and subject matter backed by evidence.

TiK (real name unknown to me) is well read, well informed and demonstrates knowledgeable enthusiasm for his subject matter. He either operates with no scripting or tends to run over his guidelines and can tend to repeat himself when he returns to make a point - sometimes several times over. This lack of discipline doesn't detract greatly from his delivery as far as I receive it - you may differ.

I see from his latest offerings that he has gone full-time broadcasting and like several of these broadcasters he is now reliant on patronage. Whether or not this compromises his status as an amateur historian I cannot say but he is not an academic historian in the orthodox sense - few of these broadcasters are. This does not detract from what they are providing however, and TiK in particular goes into the sort of depth that you can only generally find in an audiobook.

TiK also likes to get in front of the camera but cuts to slides when needed. I find his visual editing quite good.

As a wargamer and military history aficionado myself, TiK gives me just the sort of product I am after. I can find him a bit directionless at times (back to that delivery discipline) and he can wear me out. Nevertheless, he has one of the best channels going. I also highly recommend TiK.


At the Crystal Palace Exhibition in London in 1851, the United States won a greater share of prizes than any other nation. Of particular note were its firearms. Three years after the Exhibition, Britain's Board of Ordnance decided to stock its new national armory with American-made machinery. Footnote 1 The story of American success at this international display has been well told in studies of the American system of manufactures. But the question of how the United States developed technology that its former colonizer coveted has not yet been answered fully.

Part of the answer lies in the firearms industry and the ideology of “Manifest Destiny,” a phrase coined by magazine editor John L. O'Sullivan in 1845 to advocate the United States’ annexation of new territory. Footnote 2 The years surrounding the phrase's origins were a transitional period in the history of industrialization, and historians have done much to analyze the impact of major technological shifts on firms, regional markets, business management, and workers and communities. Footnote 3 They have done less, however, to explore these shifts in relation to the frontier violence that was endemic to antebellum territorial expansion. The frontier has long occupied American historians as a site of violence, opportunity, and exceptionalism. Frontier warfare did not make the United States “exceptional,” but the realities of military conflict in the pursuit of territorial expansion in North America had particular effects on its manufacturing. Americans’ ability to acquire land depended on an implicit commitment among settlers, manufacturers, and federal officials to improve firearms.

When O'Sullivan gave a name to Americans' territorial ambitions, he described a phenomenon—already underway—that would contribute to arms innovation. Warfare in Florida against the Seminole Indians in the late 1830s and early 1840s provided the first major experience for weapon adaptation and a military market for the private sector. Soon after, the United States declared war on Mexico, which became a testing ground and marketing platform for the firearms industry. Beyond their cultural contexts and ideological underpinnings, Manifest Destiny and the “frontier” matter for business historians because they provided the impetus for innovation in the arms industry, which laid the groundwork for developments in other industries. Footnote 4

Merritt Roe Smith's now forty-year old work on technological change at the federal armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, is still the standard-bearer of scholarship on the development of the arms and machine tool industry. But while Smith focused on how local customs shaped industrial change, this article connects eastern firearms manufacturing with the conflict and violence that accompanied the ideology of Manifest Destiny. Footnote 5 The experiences of soldiers and citizens on the southern frontier prompted ordnance officials to undertake new experiments in weapon production, and arms makers to develop repeating firearms. These technological innovations helped contribute to the “American system of manufactures,” a term that likely originated in 1850s England to describe the interchangeability and mechanization that characterized American manufacturing. Footnote 6 This article does not enter into the debate about when, where, and if, true interchangeability developed. Instead, it shows how what became known as the “American system of manufactures” owed its development to manufacturers’ willingness to improve weapons in accordance with the demands of an expanding populace on the frontier. Footnote 7

The arms industry, in the United States and elsewhere, has always influenced civilian industries through technology spin-off. Some of America's major industries, such as the machine tool, sewing, and eventually automobile industries incorporated innovations from the arms industry's interchangeable production. Footnote 8 There were long-existing networks of machine workers, investors, and wholesalers that linked firms in firearms, textile, and metalworking. Footnote 9 Individual mechanical engineers moved between and among different industries and nations, often parlaying the technical skills acquired at an armory into employment and machine development elsewhere. Footnote 10 Nathan Rosenberg has shown how independent machinery-producing firms took off after 1840 because of technical convergence in metal-using industries, which faced similar problems related to power transmission, feed mechanisms, friction reduction, and metal properties. Specialized, high-speed machine tools such as milling machines and precision grinders grew out of the production requirements of arms makers. For example, a government contractor developed the turret lathe for the production of percussion locks for an army horse pistol in 1845. The lathe was later adapted and modified for the production of components for sewing machines, watches, typewriters, and locomotives. In particular, machining requirements of sewing machines were very similar to those of firearms production. One repeating rifle inventor also developed a machine for turning sewing machine spools, which spawned an automatic screw machine that was subsequently used in shoe machinery, hardware, rifles, and ammunition. Footnote 11

These sorts of inventions contributed to mass production, which had its start during the era of Manifest Destiny as a result of changes in the firearms market. Although comparisons between firearms production in England and the United States tend to associate American arms manufacturing with much more robust domestic demand than in England, a major civilian market did not exist prior to the 1840s. Footnote 12 Debates about gun ownership in early America miss the ways in which this market changed as a result of Manifest Destiny. If, as Pamela Haag argues, civilian consumption of firearms was limited until arms makers employed strategic sales and marketing to create a market for guns in the second half of the nineteenth century, this was only possible because of frontier experience. Footnote 13 Settlers in newly acquired territory demanded firearms, and private arms makers pioneered nationwide advertising techniques that linked revolvers and rifles with frontier warfare. At the same time that the civilian market was expanding, the federal government was subsidizing weapon improvements that brought national arms production to international preeminence. It then transitioned away from the regular contractors, who it had spent decades patronizing, to private firearms companies because of more flexible supply policies that included short-term contracts with new suppliers. Government purchases further bolstered mass production.

During the mid-nineteenth century, American firearms production caught up to and surpassed its British and French counterparts because the United States had military ambitions akin to Europe's in the preceding century. The way military conflicts influenced manufacturing decisions, however, differed. Footnote 14 Russia's outmoded weaponry during the Crimean War (1853–1856), for example, prompted its military to develop a first-line battle rifle, but by the 1860s, it slowed manufacturing initiatives and turned to the United States for arms purchases. Footnote 15 Impressed by the machinery and production of U.S. firearms manufacturers, Russian armorers adopted many of their techniques in the following decades. On the other hand, many British arms makers rejected aspects of the American System because mass production technologies did not fit the market they served. Footnote 16 To understand how and why industry changes, and in the American case the rise of the civilian arms market and the American system of manufactures, we have to look beyond the factory to the particularities of geopolitical ambitions and the battlefield.

Military History: Testing the Sinn Model 158

With Model 158, Sinn has revived a little-known facet of its history: the Bundeswehr Chronograph. Presented in a refreshed, limited edition, how well does this retro chronograph perform?

Sinn Model 158

Sinn is known for making watches for police and military forces. The EZM 1, for example, was the first mission timer Sinn designed in 1997 for special units of Germany’s customs authority. Sinn had the German special police unit GSG 9 in mind when it developed the UX divers’ watch, which is also worn by members of the German Navy’s Special Forces Command. And the 212 KSK meets the requirements of the German Army’s Special Forces Command.

But fewer watch fans may know about the points of contact between Sinn and the Bundeswehr, Germany’s armed forces, in the past. In the 1980s and early 1990s, the company’s founder, Helmut Sinn, purchased the German Army’s stock of decommissioned Bundeswehr chronographs, which were made by Heuer (Ref. 1550 SG). Helmut Sinn reworked these watches and afterward sold them as Sinn Model 155 Bw, with Sinn lettering on their dials designating “Heuer/Sinn Bunderswehr-Chronograph für Piloten” (German for Heuer/Sinn German Armed Forces Chronograph for Pilots).

Now Sinn pays tribute to this watch with its Model 158, our test watch, which is released in a limited edition of 500 timepieces. The lion’s share of this watch’s design has been adopted unchanged from its ancestor. Anyone familiar with the original model will immediately notice that the new watch is almost the spitting image of the Bundeswehr Chronograph, but a few details have been altered. The case corresponds almost 100 percent to the original. Fidelity to detail is evident in the shape of the push-pieces, as well as in the crown, which has no lettering for better usability, and above all in the bidirectional rotatable bezel of black anodized aluminum, which honors its ancestry in its minutes scale and in the typography of its numerals. The family resemblances even include subtleties such as the fluting on the rotatable bezel, the fully pierced strap lugs and a rather unusual snap-on case with four set screws. The bead-blasted surface of the case, its diameter of 43 mm, its opaque metal back and its domed acrylic crystal likewise match their counterparts on the original 155.

The historic Sinn 155 Bw model from the 1980s complied with the specifications of the German Bundeswehr Armed Forces.

The new watch’s dial, on the other hand, looks somewhat different from that of its forebear. The bicompax arrangement of subdials (with seconds on the left and elapsed minutes on the right) and the typography of the hour numerals correspond to the original, but some modifications have been made. For example, the chronograph’s elapsed-time hands are highlighted in red, the hands have a more modern shape, a date display has been added at 6 o’clock and a scale with split-second markers at 5-minute increments has replaced the original scale, which marked every fifth minute with a number. The new face makes a harmonious impression and follows Sinn’s characteristic color scheme. Furthermore, the updated design scarcely detracts from the excellent legibility, which naturally topped the list of specs for the original Bundeswehr Chronograph.

Simple operation was another crucial item on the military’s list of requirements. As is usual with this caliber, the push-pieces demand authoritative force, especially when starting the chronograph. Controlling the stopwatch function isn’t made any easier by the authentic shape of the push-pieces, which offer a rather small area on their circular tops. The functionality is better with the low-rise but large-diameter crown, which — like its ancestor on the historical model — protrudes unusually far from the side of the case, thus ensuring that this fluted button can be easily turned and readily pulled outward. A stop-seconds mechanism halts the balance and thus also stops the hands: this makes it convenient to set the time with to-the-second precision. Although the bidirectional rotatable bezel doesn’t snap into place in specific increments, it’s nonetheless a pleasure to operate: it runs smoothly, but not so easily that it could inadvertently shift position.

From the side, the 158 looks very slim thanks to its curved back.

Robustness was the third important requirement for the military. At first glance, the operating elements could be a potential cause for concern here. Fortunately, closer inspection finds that the lengthy push-pieces and the protruding crown fit in their guides very firmly and without play, thus making an extremely sturdy impression. The flat bezel doesn’t protrude beyond the case, so even without Sinn’s frequently used technology of a screwed and therefore impossible-to-lose bezel, there’s little reason to fear that this rotatable ring might snag on something and get pried off. The acrylic crystal over the dial doesn’t resist scratches as effectively as a sapphire crystal, but it’s made of the same material as its ancestor — and at least it won’t splinter if it suffers a sharp impact. The case’s water resistance to a depth of 100 meters is more than adequate for a pilots’ watch.

Despite the watch’s high resistance to pressure, Sinn has succeeded in keeping it fairly slim. The 158 encases a taller self-winding movement than the original model with a hand-wound caliber, so it can’t have a height that’s quite as slim as the 13 mm of its predecessor, but its 15 mm height and outwardly sloping bezel give it a sufficiently low-rise profile. A curved back and recesses in the case’s middle piece further help this chronograph make a slim impression.

The case encloses the top-quality “Premium” variation of Sellita’s Caliber 510.

Most of the original Heuer/Sinn Bundeswehr Chronographs encased Valjoux’s hand-wound Caliber 230 with column wheel and flyback function. The new 158 relies on Sellita’s self-winding Caliber 510. Critics allege that Sellita only imitates ETA’s movements. (Copying them would not be prohibited because their patent protection has expired.) This allegation may be true in most instances, but Sellita has achieved something here with Caliber 510 that ETA has not yet accomplished with its Valjoux 7750: namely, a symmetrical dial arrangement (tricompax or bicompax) combined with a rapid-reset function for the date mechanism via the crown. The ETA Valjoux 7753 needs a corrector button at the 10 and this extra button requires an additional aperture in the case. We prefer Sellita’s more elegant solution.

Apart from this detail, the Sellita movement corresponds to its robust progenitor with cam switching and a unidirectional effective winding rotor, whose clearly perceptible and audible idling is liable to annoy connoisseurs with sensitive hearing. The maximum power reserve of 48 hours is also similar to that amassed by the ETA Valjoux movement. Sinn encases the better “Premium” quality variation with a Glucydur balance, decorative finishing and blued screws. The case’s authentic and consequently opaque back conceals the movement, but you shouldn’t lament the absence of a transparent caseback because this watch’s concept and its caliber were developed to prioritize functionality.

The German Air Force stipulated that the watch must not deviate from perfect timekeeping by more than 10 seconds per day while its chronograph mechanism is running. Our Witschi timing machine confirmed that the contemporary 158 keeps time with significantly greater accuracy than that. With its stopwatch function switched off, it kept very nearly perfect time, gaining an average of less than 1 second per day. And with the chronograph mechanism switched on, its rate posted an acceptable daily loss of 4 seconds. However, according to our strict evaluation scheme, the difference of 10 or 12 seconds among the several positions compels us to deny it a very high rating in this category.

The leather strap with its red stitching fits the watch well.

For the German soldiers who wore the original model, this watch was a purely functional instrument, a dyed-in-the-wool tool watch. The finer points of its workmanship played a subordinate role as long as they didn’t detract from the watch’s durability. Things are naturally different for a watch worn by civilians. It’s noteworthy to see that Sinn has paid careful attention to the quality of the finishing on the case, dial and hands. The aged leather strap with red decorative stitching likewise fits neatly into the overall picture. Only the simple off-the-rack buckle with a bent (rather than milled) pin reminds us that straps and clasps used to be items that were expected to wear out and need replacement.

The Sinn 158 is priced at $2,660, which seems reasonable when one bears in mind that it’s launched in a limited edition of 500 pieces. Other Sinn models (for example, the 103 St Acrylic on Strap priced at $1,890) are less expensive alternatives for wearers who are interested solely in functionality. But compared with other brands, and in view of its exciting history and successful design, we think it’s worthwhile to call up the reserves and put the Sinn 158 into active duty.

Sinn Spezialuhren GmbH, Wilhelm-Fay-Strasse 21, 65936 Frankfurt am Main, Germany
Reference number: 158.010
Functions: Central hours and minutes, seconds on a subdial, date display, chronograph with a central seconds hand and a counter for up to 30 elapsed minutes
Movement: Sellita 510 “Premium,” automatic, 28,800 vph, 27 jewels, stop-seconds function, rapid-reset function for the date display, Incabloc shock absorption, fine adjustment via index, Glucydur balance, 48-hour power reserve, diameter = 30 mm, height = 7.9 mm
Case: Stainless-steel case, domed acrylic crystal above the dial, screw-less crown, four screws hold the snap-on case in place, stainless-steel caseback, pressure resistant to 100 m and secured against low pressure
Strap and cla­­sp: Cowhide strap with stainless-steel pin buckle
Rate results (deviation in seconds per 24 hours, with chronograph switched off/on):
Dial up +3 / 0
Dial down +5 / +1
Crown up -3 / -11
Crown down +1 / -3
Crown left +4 / -6
Crown right -5 / -7
Greatest deviation 10 / 12
Average deviation +0.8 / -4.3
Average amplitude:
Flat positions 292° / 269°
Hanging positions 264° / 232°
Dimensions: Diameter = 43 mm, height = 15.15 mm, weight = 110 grams
Limited edition of 500 pieces
Price: $2,660

Strap and clasp (max. 10 points): Handsome aged leather strap with red decorative stitching simple buckle 7
­­­Operation (5): The crown is easy to operate and also triggers a quick-reset function for the date, but more than a little force is needed to activate the chronograph’s start button. 4
Case (10): The well-crafted case is secured against low pressure and also resists high pressure up to 10 bar the acrylic crystal is an authentic retro detail, but it isn’t scratch resistant. 8
Design (15): A very handsome classic with tasteful new color accents 14
Legibility (5): The time can be read very quickly both day and night, but the elapsed-time hands with no luminous coating offer less contrast. 4
Wearing comfort (10): The supple cowhide strap makes this watch very comfortable on the wrist. 10
Movement (20): Sinn adds attractive decorative finishing to the top-quality
“Premium” variation of Sellita’s robust caliber. 13
Rate results (10): The average gain is very slight, but the maximum difference among the several positions is quite large. The timekeeping strays into the loss column when the chronograph is switched on. 7
Overall value (15): A good value for the money and the limited series is likely to enhance value retention. 13
Total: 80 POINTS

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