L’artillerie des stratagèmes
by Olivier Fort
Paris: ECONOMICA, 2016
222 pages, $25.00 (softcover) ISBN: 978-2-7178-6893-7
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Reviewed by Michael Boire
This excellent new book is an intriguing historical study of the continuing evolution of artillery as an arm of deception, in addition to its classical role as the arm of disruption and destruction on the modern battlefield.
The author, Colonel Olivier Fort, is a senior officer of the French Army with long and distinguished service in field, mountain, and airborne artillery units at home and on recent operations overseas. After serving several tours as the Senior French Liaison Officer at British Army Headquarters, he is now the head of the future doctrine and concepts cell at the French Army’s School of Artillery in Draguignan. Such a wealth of varied experience has shaped a serious and productive soldier-scholar whose reputation in French military education circles is solid.
The author’s thesis is both straightforward and thought-provoking. Though artillery continues to be the classical arm of destruction, its employment as an instrument of deception has grown steadily since the introduction of indirect fires made that possible at the turn of the 19th/20th Century. The literature of modern warfare has tended to, at best minimize, and at worst, overlook this obvious development which appreciates the potential for artillery as an agent of influence. It is the separation of the gun line from the destructive power of its munitions exploding in the battle space that has created tactical opportunities for battlefield commanders to produce psychological effects on adversaries.
To support his thesis, the author leads us on a brisk march through the most recent wars, outlining the many non-destructive uses of artillery, or to be more precise, its potential for creating psychological impact on an adversary. From creating dummy artillery positions to encourage false impressions of friendly forces’ strength, to using the noise of gunfire to mask the main effort or provoke the commitment of an enemy’s reserve, artillery has mounted numerous successful deception operations in the immediate past.
The author’s professional experiences have allowed him to use many English language sources. So it is not surprising that some of the historical examples of artillery deception he cites are close to home. The gunners of the Canadian Corps at Vimy Ridge used the timings and rehearsals of the massive three-week long preliminary bombardment to mask the exact moment of H-hour. In Normandy, Canadians found themselves victims of an enemy artillery ruse. German gunners lured Canadian artillerymen into what appeared to be an abandoned rocket battery position. Once it was full of curious Canadians inspecting an enemy weapon they had never seen, an adjacent German rocket battery pummelled the position, causing great losses among Canadian gunners caught in the open.
The last chapter describing the employment of artillery deception and influence operations in the context of counter-insurgency is indeed a significant contribution to the list of “must-reads” for practitioners of the profession of arms. Well-written and a quick read, this new book merits close examination as Canadian gunners, and the soldiers they will continue to support, face the challenges of further unconventional operations in an increasingly dangerous world.
Michael Boire, CD, MA, BEMS, a retired army officer, is the academic counsellor of the Aboriginal Leadership Opportunity Year Program at the Royal Military College in Kingston.