Monday 24 October 2011

The Retreat From Sanity

For those with a passing interest in old military matters what is often more instructive is what can be learned from defeats and great retreats than victories and conquests. The difficulty is that the latter tend to receive more attention than the former in national histories.

In the discussions on the EU, the financial crisis and the world economy it may be that we are all on the brink of a great retreat. How well or how badly it is handled will determine what will happen to us all.

It was in October 1812 that the Emperor Napoleon began The Retreat From Moscow after discussions with the Russian had failed and it had become clear that the French position was untenable.

The figures are a subject of debate but the French may have started out with over 600,000 assorted troops, not just French but many Germans and ended the campaign with less than 70,000, few of whom were fit for further service.

The diagram above prepared by Minard in 1860/1, illustrates the scale of the disaster and was one of the early examples of effective graphical illustrations of statistics that conveyed meaning and information.

In 1810, in the Peninsula of Spain and Portugal, Arthur Wellesley later the Duke of Wellington had conducted a fighting retreat to the Lines of Torres Vedras from which a revived Army emerged in 1811 to drive the French back to France by 1812. There were losses but not enough for his Army to lose its structure and integrity.

We are now in the middle of an increasingly bitter European financial and political war over the future of Europe as the internal structures of some states appear to be at risk of collapse and the loss of any coherence. The efforts in Europe at the moment seem to be those of a Napoleonic strategy.

In London there is a great deal of clatter and debate over whether we might have a vote on Europe with evidently a majority of the voters wanting to have their say. Our political leaders do not like this and want to prevent it.

The idea of the UK detaching itself from Europe and its directives and rules does not suit those in the villages of Westminster and The City.

There was a time when I took part in the gentle art of issuing the orders to move an Armoured Division around the countryside. The lessons learned were that you had to make the decisions when they needed to be made, put them into effect with direct instructions and accept the difficulties and the uncertainties you faced. There was little time and little scope for complications.

It is possible that a Europe led by French and Germans are in for the economic equivalent of a Retreat From Moscow. So what should the UK do?

The equivalent of The Lines of Torres Vedras would be a far better option.


  1. "The equivalent of The Lines of Torres Vedras would be a far better option." An excellent piece, Demetrius. We are battered and bruised by The EU disastrous campaign. What chance a dignified retreat and regrouping under our so called leaders, though? pretty slim so "Barberossa" looms!

  2. I'm not sure our EU leaders know when or how to retreat. When they created the euro, they failed to foresee the need. Now surrounded by a hostile world, the best they can hope for is that we all get used to it.