Category Archives: army

The Battle of the Bulge

Seventy years ago today, the Wehrmacht of Nazi Germany launched the Ardennes Counter-offensive. Germany, being pushed back to its borders on both the Eastern and Western Fronts, was on the ropes. The massive Soviet armies were poised to strike into the heart of Germany, while in the west, the Allies had only two major obstacles to overcome before reaching the industrial Ruhr and Saar.

Hitler still saw the Soviets as the greater threat (reasonably enough). He reasoned that if he could split the British and American allies, he could either buy enough time to shore up the Eastern Front, or conceivably bring the British and Americans to the peace table. A delusion, to be sure, but that was the vision that informed his thinking.

Even with massive numbers, the Allies in the West couldn’t be strong everywhere. And so, accepting an operational risk, the Allies, pausing before their next attacks, decided to hold the Ardennes forest with only the lightest screen of troops, mostly green units in need of some experience, and depleted units still reconstituting after the trials of the Huertgen forest and other battles.

In great secrecy, the Germans managed to build a massive force for the attack.  From north to south, the 6th Panzer Army, the 5th Panzer Army, and the 7th Army were to attack through the heavily forested Ardennes, cross the Meuse River, and swing north to capture the critical logistical port of Antwerp. Denied the flow of material through Antwerp, at best the Allies would be stalled until spring. At worst, they might suffer a political rift and seek a separate peace.

Armchair historians are fond of pointing out that the Allies should not have been surprised by the German choice of the point of attack. Indeed, the Germans had attacked through the Ardennes in 1940 to envelop the French and unhinge their defense.

And while the Allies did twig to a coming German counterattack, they guessed wrongly as to German intentions. The Allies best guess was that the Germans would launch a spoiling attack against the northern arm of the Allies, namely against Montgomery’s 21st Army Group, to forestall his next planned offensive.

But there were good reasons why the Allies were willing to accept risk in the Ardennes. First, it’s a forest. It has a very limited road network. It was poor terrain for a mechanized offensive, whether for the Allies heading east, or the Germans heading west. And while the Germans had been able to move fairly rapidly through the Ardennes in the spring of 1940, with fair weather, they faced atrocious weather conditions in the winter of 1944. The choice to attack in bad weather was deliberate, as Allied tactical airpower was grounded. But that also meant the road conditions were so bad that German forces, already relatively lacking in mobility, were even less capable of rapid movement.

And the Germans, who had recently expertly used forests as stout defenses, soon learned that American soldiers too could capitalize on them to hold up rapid movement.

And Eisenhower, Bradley, Hodges and Patton, who had spent twenty years between the wars studying and planning a war of maneuver, realized the key concept of a penetration of lines. If you can hold the shoulders of a penetration, you can halt it. Any penetration that overextends itself without reducing the shoulders invites being cut off and destroyed. And the greater mobility of the Allied armies convinced them that they could respond to any attack fast enough to both reinforce the shoulders and to blunt the main thrust.

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There are many, many valid criticisms of the Allied response to the German attack. Poor communication, disunity in command, being caught off guard. The failure to actually cut off and destroy the Germans once the thrust had been halted.

But at the end of the offensive, the Germans never even reached the Meuse, let alone Antwerp. For all the massive efforts, all they had gained was some trees.

The Germans losses were particularly troublesome. They suffered about 100,0o0 casualties. And every casualty they suffered in the Ardennes was a man not available to man the Siegfried Line, a defense where they might have inflicted even greater losses on the Allies. As far as Bradley and Patton were concerned, the farther west they killed a German, the better.

The Battle of the Bulge was the largest battle of the war for the US Army, indeed in its history. Over 600,000 men fought the battle, and 19,000 were killed, with 47,0000 wounded, and another 23,000 missing or captured. Some of the most desperate, bitter fighting in history occurred at the Losheim Gap, Eisenborn Ridge, Bastogne, St. Vith, and scores of other sleepy villages.

An entire Green Book is devoted to the history of the Battle of the Bulge, and makes some of the most compelling reading of the history of the entire war. You can read it here online or download it as a pdf.

The courage and fortitude of the average American soldier in the battle shines honor upon the nation and the service. Seldom have such feats of arms been equaled.

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Joint Light Tactical Vehicle

Way back in 2008 we talked about why the current Humvee was marginal at best in an environment full of IEDs.  In that same post, we mentioned some of the shortcomings of MRAP trucks as well. At the same time it started buying off the shelf existing MRAP designs, and producing up-armored Humvees, the Army and Marines also started a design program for a replacement vehicle, one designed specifically to have excellent mobility, armor, and survivability in an IED enviroment. This program, the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, or JLTV, has quietly been moving along. Oshkosh, AM General and Lockheed Martin have each built a handful of prototypes, and turned them over to an Army/Marine test.

The U.S. Army and Marine Corps have finished testing prototypes of the Humvee replacement known as the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle.

But results of the evaluations haven’t been released and manufacturers are still waiting for the program office to issue a request for proposals — initially expected this month — to begin the next round of competition.

Defense contracting giant Lockheed Martin Corp., truck-maker Oshkosh Corp. and Humvee-maker AM General LLC each delivered 22 JLTV prototypes to the Army for testing under engineering and manufacturing development contracts signed in 2012. Now, the companies are competing against each other to build 17,000 of the vehicles under a much bigger low-rate initial production contract.

First, no one in their right mind would buy a truck from LockMart. But Oshkosh and AM General both have sterling reputations for delivering quality trucks to the services.

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Oshkosh JLTV prototype

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AM General JLTV prototype

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LMT JLTV prototype

For old times sake, here’s an uparmored Humvee.

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At its heart, it’s still the same old Humvee, not intended to serve as a fighting vehicle. Its flat bottom and wheel wells trap the blast of explosions underneath. Contrast that to the three prototypes above. Each one uses some shaping to better disperse blast overpressure. The uparmored Humvee is also pretty much at the limit of growth capability for payload, and for electrical power. There simply isn’t room to add any more protection or mission equipment. Its off road mobility is already severely compromised compared to its original unarmored configuration.

The JLTV is designed to address those issues.  Of course, that won’t come cheap. I don’t know the unit cost for a current production M1151 Humvee. But I do know that a vanilla base model in 1982 was about $22,000. That’s about $52,000 adjusted for inflation. So my guess would be that a full up model, with armor and engine, transmission and suspension enhancements would probably run three to four times that, around $150,o00 to $200,000. The JLTV is looking to price at about $250,000 for a bare bones truck, and around $400,000 total unit cost including government furnished equipment.

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U.S. Department of Defense Reading Lists

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One of my favorites on the CNO’s list.

The folks over at Small Wars Journal bring us a list of lists of DoD recommended reading. All services are well represent in addition to some of the recommend reading from Joint Commands, the CIA and Small Wars Journal itself. Most of these I’ve read and you may want to add some to your reading list for next year.

Throwing in the promo, you should be able to find not only the books at the Pritzker Military Museum and Library but also the recorded programs featuring some of the authors.

Or buy them at the Amazon link at the right.

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Poll of the day

We buried my father-in-law the Saturday after Thanksgiving. He was a WW2 veteran, 15th Army Air Force. The local chapter of the VFW did a great job as honor guard. Minutes before the service at the cemetery, the funeral director asked, “Who’s the oldest?” And so it was that the flag was presented to my sister-in-law.

At my maternal grandfather’s funeral, the flag was presented to the second-oldest aunt, and there was a great deal of squawking about it. Consensus seemed to be that the oldest uncle (also a veteran) should have received it.

At my oldest brother’s funeral, the one who received the flag was not the oldest, but the son currently serving in the Army. Everyone was fine with this.

So my question is this:

Just to keep the record straight, I think it’s fine that my sister-in-law received the flag. She had the lion’s share of caring for my father-in-law. I plan on giving her a display case for the flag. I just wondered if there’s a dominant tradition out there.

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Domestic Enemies: 2014

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If you read here more than a little, you are familiar with my use of the term “enemies, domestic”.  For the uninitiated, those words are a part of my oath of office as a Commissioned Officer in the United States Marine Corps.  They define, in part, those from whom I have sworn on my life to defend the Constitution from.  Just who are those people?  Well, DaveO among our friends at Op-For provides some superb erudition to the subject:

In August of 2013, I posed the question “Who are ‘Domestic Enemies?’” This question stemmed from comments in an earlier post provided by Mike Burke and Slater. In September of 2013, Colonel Joseph L. Prue, USAF, in his post  “Identifying the domestic enemy” pulled this definition from our Constitution:

Amendment 14, Section 3 states, “No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.” As a military officer, I honed in on the words military and insurrection. To me, this meant that any insurgent against the United States shall not hold any public office to include civil or military.

The Constitutional parameters of: 1) engaging in insurrection or rebellion against the Constitution; or 2) to have given aid and comfort to the enemies of the Constitution.

By that definition we’ve got a  LOT of domestic enemies in America. Folks love to argue that President Obama’s [still unsigned?] amnesty is the very definition of rebellion against the Constitution. Others, myself included, believe Senator Reid of Utah and the anti-war groups such as Code Pink did gave aid and comfort to AQ and its offshoots and the Taliban up until Obama won the presidency, and then the groups were quickly hustled off to rest and recuperate until the next Republican POTUS appears.

But the folks in and behind the anti-war crowd were never anti-war, just anti-America and if hampering the war effort hurt America, they were all for it. Once Obama won, these people could turn to more productive pursuits. They are working on an “American Spring.” Legitimate protests of law enforcement are being hijacked to bring about rebellion. There are problems with race in America, as well as problems enforcing the an unknowable and incoherent body of law. Domestic enemies don’t care about race or relations with the police – domestic enemies wish to supplant the Constitution and become their own law and engage in mass murder. The NSA knows who they are, where they live, and who is paying them. January 20, 2017 can’t come soon enough – we need to cut out this cancer of domestic enemies.

Every link Dave puts in his post is worth the read.  This Administration has embarked on a systematic shredding of our Constitution, and with it, our liberties protected thereby.  The 14th Amendment has already been a casualty, when the Attorney General defined just who would face prosecution for crimes, based on skin color.  DaveO is entirely correct.  January of 2017 cannot come soon enough.

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Filed under Air Force, army, Around the web, guns, history, marines, navy, obama, Politics, terrorism, Uncategorized, veterans, war, weapons

Happy Thanksgiving

A very Happy Thanksgiving to you, dear readers. I’ve so very much to be thankful for, this year, as so many years before.  And much like my turkey, I’m about to get stuffed!

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The Armored Multipurpose Vehicle

The M113 entered service as the primary Armored Personnel Carrier for mechanized infantry formations around 1960. It also quickly became clear that its fundamentally sound design would be useful for many, many other roles, either in specialized variants or just for general usage. For instance, there are ambulance variants, and command post variants. The M113 was replaced as the prime carrier of the mechanized infantry by the M2 Bradley beginning in the early 1980s, but the M113 still soldiers on in these support roles. In fact, in the Armored Brigade Combat Team of today, there are more M113 variants in use than there are tanks or Bradleys.

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M1064 120mm Mortar Carrier based on the M113A3 chassis

But even though the upgrade of the fleet to the current M113A3 standard greatly improved the mobility of the carrier, it is rapidly becoming clear that the power, speed, cross country mobility, and ability to support command and control systems has reached the practical limit. It is time for a replacement vehicle.

The Army sees a need for roughly 3000 new vehicles. They want a new general purpose carrier, a mortar carrier, an ambulance, a command post, and a couple other versions.

What the Army doesn’t want is a clean sheet design, leading to a long, drawn out development program. The Army’s Future Combat System and Ground Combat Vehicle programs were disasters, costing billions of dollars in development, but not leading to any actual production contracts.

In fact, the Army knows exactly what it wants. It wants the basic hull and machinery of the Bradley, minus the turret.  A simple armored box, into which the appropriate mission equipment can be mounted. This stuff isn’t rocket science. In fact BAE Systems, the maker of the Bradley, has been trying to sell the Army various Bradley derivatives for years. And the basic Bradley chassis is quite sound, also serving as the basis for the M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System. Further, Bradley suspension and powertrain components were used to upgrade the AAV-7A1 Amtrac fleet, and are upgrading the M109A6 Paladin Integrated Product improved self propelled 155mm howitzer. Sharing that basic platform eases the supply and logistics train.

Of course, the DoD acquisition system is a nightmare. The Army can’t just pick up the phone and order what they want from BAE. They instead have to go through the internal acquisition process justifying the need for an M113 replacement, which takes time, manpower and money to realize something that everyone already knows. Then comes the fact that, when you start talking about spending a couple billion dollars, you have to take bids for contracts. So the Army published a Request For Proposals, or RFP. And in spite of very narrowly tailoring the RFP to pretty much say “we want to buy turretless Bradleys from BAE” the Army still ran into some trouble. General Dynamics, makers of the Stryker family of vehicles, protested to the Army that the RFP unfairly excluded Stryker variants from the competition. And they do have at least some point. At least one heavy BCT deployed to Iraq with Stryker ambulances in place of its M113 ambulances. But while a Stryker ambulance might have been suitable for Iraq, the Army can very easily see scenarios where such an ambulance would not be able to keep pace with tanks and Bradleys. That’s the whole point why it wants turretless Bradley vehicles.

General Dynamics has recently decided it won’t tie up the issue with a protest to the GAO (which would tie the program in knots for years). Instead, it will likely lean on friendly representatives in Congress to at least give them some small slice of the pie in future budgets. After all, the Army may want turretless Bradleys, but it can only buy what Congress tells it to.

Here’s the original “industry day” flyer on what the AMPV objectives were.

 

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