British military historian John Keegan dead at 78

RAPHAEL SATTER Associated Press Published:

LONDON (AP) -- British academic John Keegan, whose studies of men at war are counted among the classic works of military history, has died, The Daily Telegraph said Friday. He was 78.

A scholar of battle who never served in the military, Keegan's interests ranged from the American Civil War to the Iraq War by way of Agincourt, Waterloo and both world wars. His 1976 work "The Face of Battle," which provided a soldier's-eye view of the blood and terror of combat, remains one of his most popular works. Yet in his introduction he denied possessing any special insight into the trappings of warfare.

"I have read about battles, of course, have talked about battles, have been lectured about battles and, in the last four or five years, have watched battles in progress, or apparently in progress, on the television screen," he wrote. "But I have never been in a battle. And I grow increasingly convinced that I have very little idea of what a battle can be like."

Born in London on May 15, 1934, Keegan followed the progress of World War II from rural England, where his father had been charged with looking after children evacuated from the cities to escape German bombing.

His interest in war grew into a specialization in military history at Balliol College, Oxford. In 1957 he received a scholarship for travel to American Civil War battlefields. He then worked at the U.S. Embassy in London, and he would remain a strong supporter of the alliance between Britain and the United States.

From 1960 to 1985 he taught at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst -- Britain's equivalent of West Point -- before joining the Telegraph as defense correspondent in 1986.

"I thought to myself: If I don't do it now, I'll be an academic all of my life," he later told The New York Times. "So I left Sandhurst and I've been enjoying myself ever since as a journalist."

Con Coughlin, the Telegraph's executive foreign editor, said in an email that Keegan died Thursday of natural causes at his home in Kilmington, western England, surrounded by his family.

Keegan is survived by his wife, their two daughters and two sons. Coughlin said the date of the funeral has yet to be announced.