From the wooden horse at Troy to a harrowing photograph snapped in Vietnam, from Robert E. Lee’s lost battle plans to the evacuation of Dunkirk, world history has been shaped as much by chance and error as by courage and heroism. Time and again, invincible armies fall to weaker opponents in the face of impossible odds, when the outcome had seemed a foregone conclusion. How and why does this happen? What is it that decides the fate of battle?
Writing with the style and flair that has made him an award-winning war correspondent, Durschmied takes us through the major battles of history, from the battlefields of ancient Greece to the Gulf War. In a series of gripping narratives, he vividly recreates the crucial events in all their mayhem and confusion while pointing out the decisive moments that changed the course of history. We see Agincourt, where rain combined with French arrogance to give Henry V the day; the Crimea, where a badly worded order led to the disastrous charge of the Light Brigade; and colonial Africa, where an attack by African killer bees, described by the London Times as Germany’s secret weapon, repulsed an Allied invasion. And in a chilling epilogue, we are given a disturbing glimpse of the secret attempt by Libya to buy atomic weapons from China for use against Israel.
Drawing from a variety of sources, including personal accounts such as soldiers’ diaries and letters home, The Hinge Factor is an instructive, fascinating look at how the unpredictable, the absurd, and the bizarre have shaped the face of history in war.
What decides victory in battle? Superiority--in numbers, leadership, strategy or fighting ability--is certainly a factor. Military historian and war correspondent Durschmied, who lives in France, reminds us that chance--known in military terms as the Hinge Factor--can also play a decisive role. In this fast-paced study, Durschmied (Don't Shoot the Yanqui, etc.) analyzes battles both famous and obscure, showing how chance has enabled inferior armies to defeat superior opponents, thus changing the course of history. Serious readers will approach some chapters with tongue firmly in cheek. Few might accept, for example, that a slap on the face set in motion events that brought on the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia or that a parcel containing three cigars extended the American Civil War for four years. Other episodes are more plausible. Durschmied makes a good case that a swarm of angry bees decided the outcome of a key battle between British and German forces in German East Africa in 1914. Similarly, he shows how weather, which has bedeviled field commanders throughout the ages, played a decisive role in the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. The author concludes each chapter with a series of provocative questions designed to draw armchair strategists into a spirited game of What-if? More entertaining than scholarly, this will nevertheless please military buffs. Maps. .