Book Review: Pure Logistics

Pure Logistics, by George C. Thorpe

This book had an interesting story.  Written in the early 20th century by a Marine thinker, the book was nearly entirely forgotten, in large part because no one cared about logistics and the book was small enough that it was neglected and fell between the cracks, until it was rediscovered decades later after World War II and given the respect it deserves as one of the foundational works of military thinking in the 20th century.  What this book does, and does very elegantly, is explore the space in warfare that expands with increasing technology in the importance of logistics.  Admittedly, the importance of logistical considerations of war go back a long way, at least into ancient history (see, for example, any historical siege), but while logistics long shaped the way that armies behaved as they understood the need to keep supplied in the face of conflict or sought to deny resources to others through destructive raids, the field itself was very slow in developing when one compares it to the early importance of tactics and strategy.  The slowness of logistics in taking its place as important meant that a great many military leaders and certainly ordinary readers of military history have neglected to their harm the importance of those aspects of war that provide people and materiel where it needs to be in warfare.

This book is a short one at a bit more than 100 pages long.  The book begins with a somewhat lengthy foreword and introduction (relative to the size of the book) that discusses the provenance of the book and the lessons that the reader should gain from it and the book’s overall importance despite its initial obscurity.  After that, a preface leads to a discussion of pure logistics that takes up the majority of the book in one chapter that covers a wide variety of topics.  The author defines logistics and examines the improving of how logistics was handled in the Napoleonic Wars (not good), Civil War (better), and Franco-Prussian War (even better).  After that the author spends a few sections discussing the organization of the national war machine and what logistics looks like for the army and navy, as well as the contrast between wartime logistics and peacetime efforts.  This chapter ends with a discussion of the national interest of factory production as well as a practical if outdated logistical problem.  The second chapter of the book then discusses logistics from the point of view of the need to educate people in this valuable study and to provide enough status for logistical officers as well as recognition of the importance of logistics among line officers that such matters are given due consideration.  After that there are endnotes, an index, and suggestions for further reading.

This book is, properly speaking, an exercise in pure logistics, in that it seeks to explain the principles that govern logistics and the way that logistics has expanded to become a more and more critical aspect of warfare over the past few centuries with the increased development of society and technology.  That does not mean that the book does not touch on matters of applied logistics, though, as at least some parts of the book examine (in a somewhat outdated way at this point) the sort of supplies and provisions are required to keep an American military force in good shape.  The author’s exploration of the food demands of soldiers to keep them fit is a good way of entering into a conversation about how it is that ignoring logistical considerations can be disastrous, as it was for the Germans in both World Wars and also the Confederacy in the Civil War.  The author’s discussion of historical examples helps the reader to recognize the growth of logistics as an area of study and hopefully not to ignore or discount its importance in the progress of war.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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