“Too little, too late” is Mike Embree's account of the German portion of the 1866 Austro-Prussian war which marked the eclipse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire as the pre-eminent power in German affairs and began the transition to Prussian dominance. Physically the book is a handsome hardback, weighing in at a slim 200 or so pages and illustrated with period etchings and maps.
In it, Embree chronicles the brief campaign against Austria and the smaller German powers, the fruitless victory of the Hanoverian army at Langensalza* and the defeat of the Hessians and the Bavarians. The book begins with a potted history of the period, outlining the strategic situation in broad strokes, but swiftly changes to the author's strong suit, drilling down into the detail with copious reference to primary sources.
The situation in brief is as follows, in the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars, the German states banded together along with Prussia and Austria to form a loose union to prevent any recurrence of French aggression. This union was dominated by Austria and the conflict arose when Prussia seeking to wrest control of the union from that state, provoked a war in order to unseat Austria.
The composition of the opposing armies, including those of a bewildering array of minor German states (some of which barely rise to the strength of a brigade) are described in detail. The rest of the book is devoted to an operational history of this brief conflict, which lasted barely six weeks. The prose is a model of clarity and leaves the reader in no doubt as to what is occurring, though one complaint I would have would be the maps. Maps are a persistent thorn in the side of those who write (and read) operational histories – how many? Where to put them? And in how much detail?
The maps are fine and are clear, but they are all located (along with some uniform plates) in the centre of the book, rather than situated with the text which refers to them. They are also not appropriately referenced in the text, so that the reader has to puzzle out what map refers to which action based on the name of the action rather than a page number. A small point, but one that stands out in a publication as slick as this one.
What strikes me about “Too little, too late” is how contemporary it seems. Austria and her allies are constantly undone by Prussian hybrid warfare, with the canny Prussians using a mixture of diplomacy, threats, misinformation and lightning manuevre to unhinge and ultimately destroy the allied forces. The author neatly describes that mixture of traditional warfighting and diplomatic cunning in a way that makes the overall picture clear to the reader, illustrating the complexities without getting lost in the weeds.
But for all the Austrian disasters, the Prussians do not escape some criticism and the difficulties of controlling independently minded commanders whose tactical decisions are imperiling the strategic vision - a problem any leader can relate to.
Ultimately, this book is the best English language treatment of the campaign currently available and will be of interest to the historian and the wargamer, who will appreciate the wealth of detail on orders of battle.
*ground which the author has covered before in a pamphlet available from the Continental Wars Society.
Note: In the interests of full disclosure, Mike is a friend of mine. I asked him if there was a general history that might be a good companion to this more specialised volume. He recommended "The Campaign of 1866 in Germany", the official Prussian staff history as probably the easiest and least controversial.