BJMH – Vol. 1, No. 2 (2015)

British Journal for Military History

Vol. 1, No. 2 (2015)


This issue of the journal is dedicated to articles on the history of colonial counter-insurgency. The whole subject has become increasingly controversial, with interest in part sparked by the Western interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq. The re-emergence of interest in counter-insurgency doctrine has been well-documented in recent work by, for example, Keith L. Shimko for the United States and Michael Finch for France and in a thorough historiographical review by Ian Beckett for the United Kingdom. A simplified summary might run on the lines that nineteenth-century interest in counter-insurgency operations was limited essentially to the application of light infantry tactics to such campaigns, with the addition of political efforts to win over selected tribal leaders. The French developed arguments that their colonial order also advanced a civilising mission, while the British claimed that their rule would promote economic progress and good governance. A more systematic study of counter-insurgency did not emerge until the decolonisation campaigns of the 1950s and 1960s. Interest then receded during the 1980s, partly under the pressure of the challenges of the intensified Cold War and partly because Western colonies had largely disappeared. The Americans in particular wanted no more Vietnams and the British had the very special 'urban guerrilla' campaign of Northern Ireland to manage. Such indifference, however, turned into occasionally frenetic interest from 2004 in reaction to the insurgencies against Western intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan and the proliferation of non-state militias and armies particularly in the Muslim world. Given this revived interest in counter-insurgency, Geraint Hughes’s paper on the wider question of military interventionism provides an incisive analysis of the context in which the case-studies of colonial counter-insurgency may be placed and an assessment of the many forms which interventions can take. Another purpose of this issue is to stress how widespread colonial counter-insurgency was. We have deliberately sought a range of national case-studies. In this regard, Thijs Brocades Zaalberg’s paper is particularly valuable in providing a re-assessment of the typically overlooked effort by the Netherlands to crush the independence movement and restore its authority in the Dutch East Indies after 1945.

Marie-Cecile Thoral, ‘French Colonial Counter-Insurgency: General Bugeaud and the Conquest of Algeria, 1840-47’

This article explores the practice of counter-insurgency carried out by the French under General Bugeaud during the war of conquest of Algeria. By analysing different dimensions of colonial counter-insurgency in Algeria, it will demonstrate that, far from being an incomplete form of counter-insurgency characterised by irregular warfare tactics and racialised brutality of a 'population-centric approach', French counter-insurgency in Algeria under Bugeaud represented the very beginning of a more modern, complete and inclusive form of counter-insurgency that combined force and conciliation.

Bruce Collins, ‘Counter-Insurgency in the Bombay Presidency during the Mutiny-Rebellion, 1857’ 

This article outlines the British efforts to tackle the Indian Mutiny-Rebellion in the Bombay Presidency in 1857. This example offers a number of important points relating to modern counter-insurgency debates and highlights the balanced approach the British took to dealing with the threats they faced.

Nir Arielli, ‘Colonial Soldiers in Italian Counter-Insurgency Operations in Libya, 1922-32’

The vast majority of the force employed by the Italians to crush local resistance in Tripolitania and Cyrenaica was composed of Libyans, Eritreans and Ethiopians. The article examines why the Italians came to rely so heavily on colonial soldiers. It highlights two key predicaments the Italians faced: how to contend with the social, economic and political repercussions that military recruitment for the counter-insurgency created in East Africa; and the extent to which they could depend on forces raised in Libya itself. Finally, the article offers an initial assessment of how the counter-insurgency exacerbated tensions between Libyans and East Africans.

Thijs Brocades Zaalberg, ‘The Civil and Military Dimensions of Dutch Counter-Insurgency on Java, 1947-49’

Despite its seemingly overwhelming military superiority, the Netherlands never came close to defeating the increasingly effective nationalist insurgency on Java in the late 1940s. This article argues that the desperate state of the Dutch counter-insurgency campaign—which tends to be overlooked for the crucial years 1947-1948—is best demonstrated by focussing on the failure of the colonial power to integrate the civilian and military efforts and on its inability to govern reoccupied territory during the ‘pacification phase’.

David French, ‘British Intelligence and the Origins of the EOKA Insurgency’

This article explores why the British security forces on Cyprus failed to nip the EOKA conspiracy in the bud before the start of its armed insurgency in April 1955. Using material in the recently released Foreign and Commonwealth Office ‘migrated archive’, together with information found in Colonial Office files in the National Archives that have hitherto been largely ignored, it shows that their failure was the result of a complex set of circumstances. Not only was the local Special Branch under resourced, but the British looked for trouble in the wrong place. They expected a repeat of the 1931 riots, not the campaign of armed terrorism that EOKA was planning.

Geraint Hughes, ‘Why Military Interventions Fail: An Historical Overview’

Military intervention occurs in cases where external powers have vested interests in the outcome of an internal conflict in any given state. Yet these interventions often end with the defeat or the frustration of the intervening power(s). Using a series of both historical and contemporary examples, this article provides a framework for understanding the factors that lead to failure in military intervention, and seeks to inform understanding on this complex and controversial aspect of statecraft.

Book Reviews

Torpedo: Inventing the Military-Industrial Complex in the United States and Great Britain by Katherine C. Epstein, reviewed by Alan M. Anderson

Governing the World: the History of an Idea by Mark Mazower, reviewed Catherine Baker

The Iran-Iraq War: A Military and Strategic History by Williamson Murray and Kevin M. Woods, reviewed by E.R. Hooton

Barbarossa Unleashed: The German Blitzkrieg through Central Russia to the Gates of Moscow: June-December 1941 by Craig Luther, reviewed Evan Mawdsley

Tirpitz: The Life and Death of Germany's Last Super Battleship by Niklas Zetterling and Michael Tamelander, reviewed by Samuel Maclean

Mapping the First World War: The Great War through Maps from 1914 to 1918 by Peter Chasseaud, reviewed by Christopher Newton

Stalin’s Claws: From the Purges to the Winter War, Red Army Operations before Barbarossa 1937-1941 by E.R. Hooton, reviewed by Declan O'Reilly

Wavell in the Middle East, 1939-1941: A Study in Generalship by Harold E. Raugh Jr., reviewed by Alexander Wilson

Preparing for Blockade 1885-1914, Naval Contingency for Economic Warfare by Stephen Cobb, reviewed by Peter J Yearwood

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