Thursday, April 30, 2015

Book Review: Concrete Hell: Urban Warfare from Stalingrad to Iraq

Normally, this is not the type of book I ever read. I’m writing a story which has a military battle in Philadelphia and I need to do some research. 

I procrastinated; I read work books, I vacuumed, I mowed the lawn, but eventually I had to read it. And read I did, almost the whole book in one sitting. I haven’t been into war and soldiers since I discovered the opposite sex, yes, not since I was 22, but this book is so fascinating I couldn’t bear to put it down.


Forget Hollywood, this is the real deal. The most fascinating part for me is the Israeli use of armored bulldozers (Doobi, which means teddy bear) for things from clearing IED’s (improvised explosive devices) to collapsing the foundation of houses the insurgents were in, burying them in their hiding place, also, using the same Caterpillars to rip holes in the walls, completely bypassing the booby trapped doors and windows.

The author Louis Dimarco starts by giving the history of the beginning of urban warfare and the Roman three story high attack platforms used to capture walled castles. How more powerful weapons meant the end to these walled cities and how World War II, the real start of his reconstructions of famous battles, marks the beginning of urban warfare as a regular occurrence.

He takes a series of battles and talks about the background, the successes, and the mistakes. He starts with the disaster at Stalingrad and moves through the lessons learnt and applied until he talks about the “perfect” execution by the US at Ramadi in Iraq.

The end is an example of brilliant military tactics when the US military were challenged with taking the city of Ramadi (600,000 civilians) from the control from several thousand Al Qaeda militants, a thousand tribes who had lost power after the fall of Saddam Hussein, and an organized criminal element profiting from the war.

There are a number of essentials to winning wars in urban surroundings like, isolation of the area and a good structure of information and informants, but the two key requirements are winning the political battle (displayed by the French disaster in Algeria) and control of the media (highlighted in the Israeli challenges in the South Bank.)

The book is a bit biased toward the United States of America, and one cannot help but feel he enjoys highlighting the huge military disaster befalling the Russian Army in Gronzy in 1995. He is also less than complementary of the South Korean or Iraq armies who were both, by his admission, crucial in the successes of the US in Seoul in 1950 and Ramadi in 2007.

I give Concrete Hell 5 stars out of 5. Highly Recommend.