Main purpose:

The introduction establishes a definition of logistics, then discusses 1. Why logistics is important, 2. Problems with the way existing history books treat logistics, and 3. Why there aren't more books on logistics. It also lays out the historical period the book will focus on, the questions the book is supposed to answer, and how the book will answer those questions.

Questions you may need to answer before reading:

  1. Who was Jomini?
  2. Who was Rommel?
  3. What was the Africa Corps?
  4. Who was Liddell Hart?
  5. What was the Schlieffen Plan?
  6. What are 'eighteenth century magazine chained' and 'Napoleonic predatory' warfare?
  7. What was the Ulm campaign and "that of 1812"?
  8. Words you may need defined:


Van Creveld begins by trying to define what logistics is. He ends up with "the practical art of moving armies and keeping them supplied." So, using van Creveld's definition, if we say that an army sucks at logistics, we mean that army isn't any good at either moving from place to place or keeping itself supplied with things (or both).

After defining logistics as the practical art of moving and supplying armies, van Creveld says he's going to identify the problems people usually run into when they try to move and supply their armies, track the ways those problems have changed over time, and identify how historical commanders' abilities to move and supply their armies have affected the strategies available to them.

Now that he's laid out what he's going to do, van Creveld explains why he's going to do it. He talks about commanders who don't think about logistics when they plan, causing their men to end up cold, hungry, sick, and stranded in the middle of nowhere. He also has harsh words for military historians who don't treat logistics seriously, like someone saying a commander failed because of bad logistics, yet not bothering to verify how many trucks he had or how he kept them supplied with fuel and parts.

After going over the problems with people who don't know or care about logistics, van Creveld lays out how his book is going to be different from their books. He's got four questions he's going to answer about logistics in historical campaigns. What's more, he's actually going to take the time to do things like find out how many trucks the commander had, or how the fuel supply prevented the commander from doing what the Monday morning quarterbacks think he should have done.

Finally, van Creveld says he's going to limit what he discusses. Even though logistics can cover all kinds of areas, he's going to restrict himself to talking about an army's food, ammo, and transportation...nothing else. And as far as the historical time frame, he says he's only going to discuss a few specific campaigns between 1805 and 1944, which he's chosen specifically for the light they shed on logistics (to show armies living off the land, to show armies using railroads, etc.).

Questions you should be able to answer after reading:

  1. What is Van Creveld's definition of logistics?
  2. What are the four fundamental questions van Creveld wants Supplying War to answer about historical military campaigns?
  3. How is van Creveld going to answer those questions?
  4. What three logistical factors does van Creveld plan to limit his discussion to?

Capt Palmer's favorite quote:

"...on the pages of military history books, armies frequently seem capable of moving in any direction at almost any speed and to almost any distance once their commanders have made up their minds to do so. In reality, they cannot, and failure to take cognizance of the fact has probably led to many more campaigns being ruined than ever were by enemy action."