Category Archives: Artillery

Facia Georgius: Guadalcanal From The Marines’ Perspective

Below is a re-posting of a blog piece I wrote for USNI in August of 2011.  A bonus is a spirited exchange between the author of the blog (yours truly) and Jim Hornfischer.   Few elements of the Navy-Marine Corps rivalry engender as much emotion as the Marines’ utter contempt for Frank Jack Fletcher.  In fact, I had a long and enjoyable conversation with a RADM a couple weekends ago about the very incident described below, and he was entirely in agreement with my assessment of Fletcher’s blunder.   As the 72nd anniversary of the beginning of the epic struggle for the Solomons approaches, I suggest Hornfischer’s books highly.  Despite our differences regarding Fletcher, his books are a must-read to a serious historian of the Pacific War.  And he portrays brilliantly how thin the line was between success and failure in the struggle for the Solomons.  

The medal above is the “George Medal”, which was an unofficial award commemorating the early struggles of the Marines on Guadalcanal. The image depicts, legend has it, the sleeve of Frank Jack Fletcher, with his hand dropping a hot potato onto the Marines ashore. The inscription is “Facia Georgius“. “Let George do It”.

Let me state that, in my opinion, James D. Hornfischer is unquestionably one of the finest writers of Naval history in the last half-century. His books, especially Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors, are iconic works that tell superbly the tales of the US Navy in the Second World War in the Pacific. However, during a recent episode of MIDRATS, Mr. Hornfischer’s assertions about the US Marines’ history of the Guadalcanal campaign are entirely incorrect. The issue at hand in those assertions is the decision of Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher to depart the Guadalcanal area on the morning of 9 August 1942, after just two days of supporting the amphibious operations ashore.

Fletcher was concerned with the risk to his carriers, Saratoga, Wasp, and Enterprise, by having them tied to support of operations ashore. While understandable, what Fletcher refused to acknowledge was that with amphibious operations, once the landing takes place and forces are ashore, a commander is all in, and must support the forces ashore. The landings by the Marines were the entire reason for having Task Force 61 in the waters of the Solomons. Admiral Turner (commanding the amphibious task force, TF 62) and First Marine Division Commander General A. A. Vandegrift argued the point heatedly in a conference aboard Saratoga, but to no avail.

Chapter 5 of the splendid History of the First Marine Division, “The Old Breed” (Infantry Journal Press, 1949), begins:

The feeling of expendability is difficult to define. It is loneliness, it is a feeling of being abandoned, and it is something more, too: it is as if events over which you have no control have put a ridiculously low price tag on your life.

When word got around Guadalcanal in the second week of August that the Navy had taken off and left the Marines, the feeling of expendability became a factor in the battle.

“I know I had a feeling” says a man who was there, “and I think a lot of others felt the same way, that we’d never get off that damned island alive. Nobody said this out loud at the time. I was afraid to say it for fear it’s come true”.

“But”, says a Captain, “there was an awful lot of talk about Bataan.”

Even the greenest Second Lieutenant in the Division knew enough to understand that an amphibious operation cannot be sustained without Naval support.

The Guadalcanal Campaign, the official historical monograph published by the USMC History Division, is somewhat more matter-of-fact, but still states:

The withdrawal of the supply ships, therefore, was, from a troop standpoint, little short of a catastrophe, but Admiral Turner’s decision was not changed.

And sums up the situation of the Marines ashore this way:

The withdrawal of the transports had left the Marine forces with only a part of their initially scanty supplies ashore. Ammunition supply was adequate, but the situation in the matter of food was serious. Even with the acquisition of a considerable stock of rice and canned food from the captured Japanese area, supplies were so short that it was necessary on 12 August to begin a program of two meals per day. There was a similar shortage of defensive material, barbed wire (of which only 18 spools were landed), and entrenching tools and sand-bags.

The most serious shortage of all, however, from the point of view of the engineers who were charged with the completion of the airfield, was that of specialized equipment necessary for the task. No power shovels had been landed, nor dump trucks.

So, on 9 August 1942, the day Admiral Fletcher departs with his warships of TF 61, and the cargo vessels of Admiral Turner’s Amphibious TF 62, the Marines of the First Marine Division are ashore. But not all of them. Vandegrift’s reserve, the 2nd Marines, is still embarked. Those that are ashore have barely 96 hours of ammunition. They are short of food. The enemy strength and disposition is largely unknown. Their lifeline, the airstrip, is not yet repaired and has no aircraft. They are all but defenseless against the frequent Japanese air strikes.

Vandegrift and his staff had agreed to come ashore with an initial load plan that represented significantly less than their minimum requirement due to constraints on cargo space, with the promise that the Navy would surge supplies to them. Now, most of even that small amount was out of reach of his Marines, headed to sea in Turner’s cargo holds, as the latter was forced to withdraw when Admiral Fletcher’s warships departed.

But for three absolutely miraculous occurrences in the fortunes of war, the Guadalcanal landings might have been a disaster comparable to the loss of the Philippines just a few months before.

The first occurrence is that the Japanese commander, caught off guard, underestimate both the strength of the landing force (believing only a few thousand ashore), and the fighting spirit of the Marines, and did not move decisively to reinforce the small garrison on Guadalcanal with elements of the 17th Army that were available. (A single reinforced battalion of the 28th Regiment, about 1,100 Japanese, was given the mission of re-taking the island.)

The second was the fortuitous capture, with slight damage, of a single bulldozer, which the Marines used to maximum effect to complete a 2,700 foot airstrip on the Lunga plain. Without that stroke of luck, several weeks likely would have passed before any aircraft could have operated out of Henderson Field.

The third near-miracle was the capture of large stores of Japanese canned fish and rice, which becomes a staple of the Marines’ diet in the absence of rations still in the holds of the Navy ships.

Meanwhile, the arduous task of building of bunkers and of obstacles to defend the Marine positions and the all-important airfield, was done by hand in the searing jungle heat. The Marines, short of wire and sandbags, improvised as best as possible. By the time the 2nd Marines arrived (22 August) and additional supplies were landed, the Marines had been engaged in a number of short, sharp fights with the Japanese, the first of dozens and hundreds of bloody slugging matches in the rotting heat of the jungle on Guadalcanal.

The fight for Guadalcanal has been well-documented, and by the time last of the First Marine Division embarked for good from the island, the Division had suffered nearly 700 killed, 1,300 wounded, and more than 8,000 sick with malaria and other jungle diseases. For veterans of that time on Guadalcanal, men who didn’t have our perspective of inevitable victory either on Guadalcanal or in the Solomons, their resentment of (at the time) the US Navy and of Admiral Fletcher (which persists to this day) is entirely warranted.

Fletcher’s departure with his carriers, claiming the need to fuel (“always fueling”, wrote Morrison) was an exceedingly poorly considered move. His decision to do so infuriated Admiral Turner, commanding TF 62, who understood that his ships and their cargo were they keys to survival for the Marines ashore. While Fletcher’s aircraft carriers were precious commodities, his decision to minimize risk to those units had the effect of placing the entire of Operation Watchtower in considerable danger of failure. The lack of supplies and support which the Marines ashore endured in the opening weeks of the fight for Guadalcanal negated Vandegrift’s plans for immediate offensive operations (with an expanded airfield) to clear the island, left them all but defenseless to Japanese air and naval forces, and prolonged what became a protracted and savage fight under unspeakably miserable conditions.

In his efforts to protect his carriers, Fletcher inexcusably risked something even more precious and irreplaceable. The only trained and equipped amphibious force that the United States had in the entire Pacific. The loss of the carriers would have had severe operational implications, but defeat on Guadalcanal, resulting in an evacuation, or worse, capitulation, would have been strategic disaster.

Attempts at “reassessment” of Fletcher’s decision to pull support for the Marines on Guadalcanal, and justifying that decision six decades hence as “prudent”, are exercises in revisionism mixed with ample doses of 20/20 hindsight. The Marines’ bitterness at Fletcher is well-placed. Asserting differently dismisses the situation the Marines faced in mid-August of 1942 vis a vis the enemy as well as their own logistics. The Marines would gain a new respect for the Navy once Fletcher and the overmatched and timid Ghormley are replaced, the latter by the legendary William F. Halsey, who immediately visited Vandegrift and the Marines on Guadalcanal. Halsey’s “battle-mindedness” and promise of the support of the Navy was a refreshing and comforting change from his predecessor, and was immediately reflected in the morale of the Marines ashore.

Mr. Hornfischer’s goal in his exploration of Naval history, to put himself (and his reader) in the shoes of the commander, is extremely admirable. He would be remiss, however, if the sets of shoes he places himself in do not include the muddy boondockers of a First Division Marine on Guadalcanal. Were Mr. Hornfischer able to interview the First Marine Division veterans of Guadalcanal forty years ago, he would have gotten their perspective on those weeks without Navy support, expressed in the most colorful of language. Which needs no revision.

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Interesting comments from the esteemed author, James D. Hornfischer:

I’m delighted to find this colloquy unfolding in this reputable forum between such well-informed service professionals.

As I tried fervently to convey in NEPTUNE’S INFERNO, I’m sympathetic to the plight of the Guadalcanal Marines who were forced to persevere without air cover or full provisions for a period of time that they could not know at the time. Doing their business under these conditions, they were gallant and resourceful as ever. They are entitled not only to their pride, but also their chagrin. The question is whether the study of this history should end there. Is their heat-of-the-moment rage sufficient to serve as the final word on Frank Jack Fletcher and the Navy’s performance in the campaign? This question pretty well answers itself in the asking.

The blogger labels as revisionist any assessment of Fletcher that does not comport with the partisan, Corps-centric assessments formulated during and immediately after the war and abetted by Samuel Eliot Morison (and never rebutted by Fletcher himself).

The Marines’ resentment of Frank Jack Fletcher was well placed in its day. Our burden today is to see it in light of everything else we know about the complex circumstances that attended the campaign. Most of these, of course, were invisible from the beach. In NEPTUNE’S INFERNO I tried to thread that needle without resorting to the kind of interservice partisanship that characterizes many of the Corps-centric accounts of the campaign.

Admiral Nimitz instructed his commanders at all times to operate under the guiding star of “calculated risk,” that is, to weigh the potential benefits of an action against its potential costs and drawbacks. In choosing how long to expose the Pacific’s only three carriers in direct support of the Guadalcanal landings, Admiral Fletcher determined how much risk he was willing to accept in the opening act of Operation Watchtower. He informed his colleagues in advance of the operation and his decision was extensively debated in advance.

Today, it’s all over but the shouting. History bears out the wisdom of his determination. The Marines were left without carrier air support from the carriers’ withdrawal on August 9 until August 20, when the USS Long Island delivered the body of the Cactus Air Force. The consequences of those eleven days of exposure turned out, happily, to be negligible. The Japanese did nothing to seriously threaten the U.S. position on Guadalcanal during that time. The carriers returned in time to fight the Battle of the Eastern Solomons. (His conduct of the battle demonstrated the sincerity of his caution; he ordered one of his three carriers, the Wasp, out of the battle area to refuel.) Fighting with one hand behind his back, so to speak, he used the Enterprise and Saratoga to deflect the Japanese push. He saved his fleet for that moment and the others that followed. One could well speculate that had he left his carriers near Guadalcanal continuously from August 7, they might have been struck, making the close victory of Eastern Solomons impossible and imperiling the Marine position even more seriously.

This, much like Marine partisans’ complaints of “inexcusable risks to the landing force,” is a fruitless exercise in speculation. It’s only proper to damn Fletcher—or say the “risk” he took was “inexcusable”—by assuming an alternate universe of events where his decisions led to disaster. That’s when you ask the question Why and cast the arrows of judgment at the perpetrators.

It seems reasonable to judge the final wisdom of a particular risk by looking at the results that flowed from it. If we do that, there is no compelling basis for labeling Admiral Fletcher anything other than a winner.

As events actually unfolded, the Battle of the Eastern Solomons marked the beginning of the Navy’s sustained commitment to fight in defense of the Marine position on Guadalcanal, risking its most valuable assets the whole way through. By the time it was over, the Navy had fought seven major naval actions in which its KIA outnumbered infantry KIA by a factor of nearly 3 to 1.

It is entirely coherent to sympathize with the authentic anger of the Marines on Cactus, and simultaneously recognize the balance of merit favoring Admiral Fletcher’s controversial decision. The Marines lacked air cover for eleven days, and a large portion of their supplies, and suffered the bracing uncertainty how long those circumstances would attend.

By the time it was over, the three-to-one KIA ratio stood starkly apparent to anyone who was watching, and victory absolves all sins. General Vandegrift remembered the November 13 deaths of Admirals Scott and Callaghan with his famous dispatch “lifting our battered helmets in deepest appreciation.” To wallow in the bile of interservice partisanship, from a tendentious evaluation of a fragment of events, in spite of the actual outcome of history, is little more than a parlor game that negates the final judgment of the 1st MarDiv commander himself regarding the performance of the fleet. Nearly 70 years after events, we can do better than that.

*********************************************

And response from the “blogger”:

The questioning of Admiral Fletcher’s decision to remove the carriers of TF 61 from supporting the Marines ashore at Guadalcanal is far more than “a fruitless exercise in speculation”, or “bile of interservice partisanship”.

To assert that because the Japanese failed to take advantage of a golden opportunity to interdict the US drive into the Solomons and bring about a potentially crippling strategic setback, the decision Fletcher made to withdraw was correct is to assert that “all’s well that ends well”. Such is a singularly dangerous approach to the study of military history, as it goes great lengths toward the already-prevalent tendency to believe that the winners have little to learn from an ultimately successful outcome.

In any amphibious operation, support from the sea is critical to success, irrespective of the service executing the amphibious assault. Nimitz’ concept of “calculated risk” is in no way sufficient to excuse the willful passing of initiative to the enemy in the very place that was the US main effort at the time in the Pacific. Fletcher left Vandegrift without the forces and supplies to execute his plan ashore, in fact with barely enough to defend a thin perimeter against an enemy whose strength and disposition was largely unknown. That the enemy did not seize that initiative is to our eternal good fortune. We have several bloody examples of what happened in amphibious operations when the initial advantage of the initiative is allowed to pass. At Anzio seventeen months later, Army General Lucas dithered in his beachhead while Kesselring acted, reinforcing the threatened area as fast as he could with every available formation at his disposal. The result was a costly slugging match against what was by then an enemy well prepared to meet the breakout. We should be grateful that Hyakutake was no Kesselring.

It remains speculation, as well, whether Fletcher represented truthfully to Ghormley that both General Vandegrift and Admiral Turner had stated that 96 hours was the time required for full unloading of the transports. Both had done so, and had argued vehemently against Fletcher’s decision while aboard Saratoga.

No, this debate is not “partisan service” anything. Initiative is among the most precious commodities on the battlefield, to be surrendered only at dear cost. Fletcher did so, or rather forced Vandegrift ashore to do so, but the Japanese did not take it. He was, as were the Marines ashore, fortunate in the extreme.

As stated above, the Marines by and large came to respect greatly the efforts of the Navy in the waters around Guadalcanal. It has been a subject of intense study on my part, and worthy of the highest of admiration for the bravery and tenacity of the American Sailor. However, the anger of the Marines and their contempt for Fletcher is understandable. The loss of the transports and the Division reserve crippled the commander ashore, and prevented the undertaking of immediate offensive operations that could have cleared the island before Japanese reinforcements arrived in significant numbers. Instead, Guadalcanal became a protracted and bloody fight on the island and in the surrounding waters that ended only with the evacuation of the Japanese survivors in early 1943.

Fletcher’s decision should be recognized for what it was, a major tactical blunder that could have had severe strategic consequences. That he, and his boss, Ghormley, were removed from command, speaks volumes. That is true, seventy years or seven hundred years after the battle.

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‘Some damn fool thing in the Balkans”

Postcard_for_the_assassination_of_Archduke_Franz_Ferdinand_in_SarajevoGavrilloprincip

Today marks the centennial of one of Western society’s most improbably momentous events.  It was on June 28th, 1914 that the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, the Countess Sophie of Hohenberg, were assassinated in the street of the Bosnian city of Sarajevo.  The events of that day, the failed bombing at the bridge, the missed attempt on the road, the wrong turn by the Archduke’s driver, the opportunity for another attempt on the Archduke’s life, are well-known.  The motives of the assassin, 19-year-old Gavrilo Princip, and his Mlada Bosna (Young Bosnia), a group supported by the infamous Black Hand, are well-documented and, to the serious student of Balkan history, quite familiar.

What is nearly impossible to understand, despite the volumes upon volumes of historical analysis and the (now) generally agreed-upon portrayal of events, is HOW the assassination of an Archduke, the heir to a throne whose sitting monarch despised him, and whom he in turn despised, could be the triggering event that led to the greatest blood-letting cataclysm in Western history.   There are superb pieces of research and analysis, among them Christopher Clark’s 2012 masterpiece The Sleepwalkers, and DJ Goodspeed’s The German Wars (1965), that provide detailed explanations of the diplomatic and military decisions that took Europe from a century of relative peace into a devastating conflict more profoundly destructive than the Thirty Years’ War.   Even with that,  a historian can often do little more than shake one’s head incredulously at the sequence of decisions and miscalculations that would pit the great nations against one another for four bloody years.

I offer, in no particular order, some of the factors which led to what can be described as the least necessary of wars.

A notable mediocrity amongst the foreign ministers of the belligerents, to include England’s Edward Grey, who failed to understand that England’s real interests were in a balance of European power, and not in France’s desire to avenge the humiliation of 1871.  There was Count Berthold of Austria-Hungary, whose distinct lack of subtlety in his demands to Serbia inflamed Russia (who held dreams of being the protector of “pan-Serbism” in the Balkans).   Russia’s Sazonov, a duplicitous and dishonest schemer who collaborated with France’s Poincaré to virtually guarantee war with Germany.  France’s revolving door of Foreign Ministers, none effective, that included René Viviani during what became known as the July Crisis.  Wilhelmine Germany’s Gottlieb von Jagow, whose terrible miscalculation of the Austria-Serbia crisis proved so tragic.

Detached and often delusional monarchs, whose laissez-faire approaches to their respective nation’s diplomatic postures during the critical weeks following the assassination allowed the respective foreign ministers mentioned above, along with military chiefs of those countries, to dictate rather than execute their nation’s foreign policies.  Emperor Franz Josef of Austria-Hungary only briefly interrupted his vacation after the assassination, and was largely absent from the seat of power in Vienna during most of the July Crisis.  When he did return, he was somewhat shocked at the harsh terms of the ultimatum to Serbia, crafted by his own Foreign Minister and Chief of Staff.  Tsar Nicholas in Russia was absent for crucial meetings between French President Poincaré and his own “war party” of Sazonov and War Minister Sukhomlinov, during which it is presumed Russia agreed to war with Germany should she intervene in the Austria-Serbia crisis.  Even the mercurial and impetuous Kaiser Wilhelm, whose envy of the Royal Navy (and subsequent Naval Race with Britain) and imperial desires were perceived by the British as threats to the Empire, was strangely passive during the playing out of the events of July 1914, limiting himself to making marginal notes in the diplomatic messages until the specter of a wider continental war elicited desperation.   The one exception as head of state is the aforementioned Raymond Poincaré, the French President, whose actively malignant role included agitating for the long-desired war of revanche with Germany, and enlisting the Russians to assist France in that effort.

The international order built so carefully by Bismarck in the later decades of the 19th Century was rendered topsy-turvy, with illogical alliances and unlikely enmities that cooler analysis and more competent diplomacy might have gone great lengths to remedy.   Britain had far more in common with Germany than with her traditional antagonist, France.  Germany had been to war with Austria in 1866, when it wrested away the German states from Vienna (and from the very same Franz Josef) to, eventually, in 1871, Berlin.  Kaiser Wilhelm and Tzar Nicholas, cousins (along with George V) and grandsons of Victoria, had warm personal relations, and many more reasons to cooperate over the breakup of European Turkey than to be in conflict.  England, for her part, had been the traditional guardian of the European balance of power before inexplicably abandoning that role in an informal (but in the end, very binding) alliance with France.

To the events of July 1914, technological development and industrialization would be a determinant of not just tactics and doctrine, but also would be a major factor in the shaping and executing of Grand Strategy for the countries embroiled in the crisis.   The mobilization of an army in the industrial age entailed a great deal of preparation, and once executed, left little to no room for equivocation.  To do so would be to throw the proverbial spanner in the works, causing upheaval, delays, and the real spectre of being unprepared and in the midst of deploying when war came.  Thus, when the decisions in the respective governments for mobilization came, war was all but inevitable.  Interestingly, the last continental power to order mobilization was Imperial Germany.  Wilhelm, with the prospect of war looming, had tried desperately to apply the brakes to the rapidly accelerating events.   That German war plans calling for the rapid defeat of France to avoid a two-front war were what impelled the German Army to violate Belgian neutrality is one of the tragic ironies of all history.  It was the invasion of Belgium which, in the end, made inevitable British intervention against Germany, preventing the very victory over France sought by the Germans, and all but ensuring their slow strangulation at the hands of the Royal Navy which they had so antagonized with the Naval Race in the previous two decades.

Of the battlefields themselves, much has been said.  The warning signs of what modern war would be had been plentiful for anyone who cared to see.  Dating to the American Civil War, the increasingly deadly weapons of the Industrial Age had made their presence felt.  Britain, certainly, had experience against an enemy armed with modern metallic cartridge rifles in South Africa, and had employed modern machine guns against its empire’s foes at places like Omdurman and Cape Colony.   Envisioning what being on the other side of the Maxim Gun would entail should not have been beyond imagination for the British Army’s Officer corps.  Modern breech-loading rapid-fire artillery, with recoil systems which eliminated the need to re-position guns after firing, had been in military inventories for more than two decades.  The battlefield tactics of 1914, a full generation behind those technological developments, were an invitation to the subsequent slaughter that ensued, resulting in the profligate wastage of much of the youth of Europe.   The names of the Somme, Verdun, Gallipoli, Jutland, Ypres, Loos, Caporetto, Tannenberg, Passchendaele, and the Isonzo all evoke images of privation and death without purpose, and rightly or wrongly, of incompetent and criminally obtuse military leadership.

The effect of the unprecedented butchery on the psyche of Western civilization is still being felt.  The old order in much of Europe, political as well as social, collapsed utterly.  The confidence in the enlightened nature of Man, of his scientific mastery, and his cultural education, was shattered forever.  Monarchies in Russia, Austria-Hungary, and Germany fell, replaced mostly by the anarchy of revolution.  In the wake of that revolution, spurred in great measure by the War to End All Wars, came the Bolsheviks and National Socialists who would ensure that the horrors of 1914-18 would be just a precursor to the bloodiest of centuries.

However implausible it may seem (and all the more implausible with closer analysis), the impetus for the Great War and all that followed occurred one hundred years ago today, when bullets from a sickly and tubercular young assassin’s pistol ended the lives of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife on a Sarajevo street.  The warnings of Bismarck in the 1878 Congress of Berlin to not allow Europe to devolve into general war over “some damned fool thing in the Balkans” went, in the end, unheeded.

 

 

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Today is ANZAC Day

anzac hat

Today is the 25th of April.  It is ANZAC Day, commemorating the 99th anniversary of the landings of 31,000 men of The Australian Division, and the Australian-New Zealand Division (reinforced with two batteries of mountain guns) on the crescent-shaped portion of beach known as Ari Burnu, forever after known as Anzac Cove.

 gallipolilanding

The ANZAC landing began before dawn on 25 April 1915, and was initially unopposed,  By mid-morning, however, Turkish troops under LtCol Mustapha Kemal had reacted strongly and taken the landing beaches and the precariously shallow Dominion positions under rifle, machine gun, and artillery fire.  Unable to move forward, and hanging onto hillside rocks and scrapes, ANZAC Commander MajGen Sir William Birdwood asked to have the beach-head evacuated.

Anzac-Periscope_rifle_gallipoli_1915-3fab43c3

The Royal Navy argued that such an evacuation, particularly under fire, was impractical.   So Birdwood was ordered to stay, with the advice given by General Sir Ian Hamilton to “dig, dig, dig!”.  It is from this message, many conclude, that the ANZACs became known as the “diggers”.    Despite herculean efforts and near-suicidal courage, including the tragically costly landings at Sulva Bay in August of 1915, the stalemate was never broken.  Unable to advance, with no evacuation possible, the ANZACs remained locked in their initial positions, enduring conditions even more horrendous than those on the Western Front, until finally pulled out as a part of the general evacuation of the Gallipoli Operation in December of 1915.

ch4_3-2

ANZAC Day has become a day of remembrance for all Australian and New Zealand war dead, but remains especially poignant for the nearly 13,000 Australian and New Zealand soldiers who gave their lives in the foothills of the Bari Sair Mountains, in the eight months of hell on Earth that was Anzac Cove.

At the going down of the sun,

and in the morning,

we will remember them.

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Hidden Treasure

IMG00228-20140313-1813

It can be found in the most unlikely of places.  This haul of pure naval gold came from the little book library that I found next to the gift shop aboard USS Midway in my sojourn to San Diego for the West Conference.  I saw a sign for “book sale”, which, except for “free ammo”, is most likely to make me stop every time.  I was allowed to go into the spaces that had the books for sale, and found this’n.  I decided to have a little fun with the docent who was running the sale.  When I asked “How much?”, he told me “Ten dollars.”  I worked up my most indignant expression, and said “TEN DOLLARS!  That’s highway robbery!  I won’t pay it!” at the same time I slipped a twenty to his elderly assistant, and gave him a wink.   He was a bit flummoxed, but the old fella gave me a smile.  I asked that they keep the change as a donation, which they were truly grateful for.

Anyway, inside the large, musty-smelling book that had likely not been opened in decades, there is to be found a veritable treasure of naval history.  From the advertisements at the beginning pages from famous firms such as Thornycroft, Hawker-Siddeley, Vickers-Amstrong Ship Repair and Shipbuilding, Bofors, Decca Radars, Edo Sonar, etc, to the line drawings of nearly every class of major combatant in commission in 1964, the book is simply fascinating.

What is first noticeable is that a great percentage of the world’s warships in 1964 still consisted of American and British-built vessels from the Second World War and the years immediately preceding.   Former Royal Navy aircraft carriers were the centerpieces of the navies of India, Canada, France, Holland, Australia (star-crossed Melbourne was a Colossus-class CV) and even Argentina and Brazil.   US-built ships comprise major units of almost every Western Bloc navy in 1964.  The ubiquitous Fletchers, of which nearly one hundred were transferred,  served worldwide, and remained the most powerful units of many Western navies into the 1990s.   But there were other classes, destroyer escorts, patrol frigates, minesweepers, and an untold number of LSTs, LCTs, LCIs, Liberty and Victory ships, tankers, and auxiliaries of all descriptions, under the flags of their new owners.   Half a dozen Brooklyn-class light cruisers went south in the 1950s, to the South American navies of Chile, Argentina, and Brazil.  (General Belgrano, sunk by a British torpedo in the Falklands War, was ex-USS Phoenix CL-46).  A surprising number of the pre-war Benson and Gleaves-class destroyers remained in naval inventories, including that of the United States Navy (35).   A large contingent of Balao and Gato-class diesel fleet subs also remained in service around the world, with images showing streamlined conning towers, and almost always sans the deck guns.

Nowhere is there a ship profile of a battleship.  By 1964, Britain had scrapped the King George Vs, and beautiful HMS Vanguard.   France had decommissioned Jean Bart, and though Richelieu was supposedly not decommissioned until 1967, she is not included.  The United States had disposed of the North Carolinas and the South Dakotas some years before, and only the four Iowas remained.  They are listed in the front of the US Navy section, but not as commissioned warships, and they are also not featured.   Turkey’s ancient Yavuz, the ex-German World War I battlecruiser Goeben, had not yet been scrapped (it would be in 1971), but apparently was awaiting disposal and not in commission.

The 1964-65 edition of Jane’s contains some really interesting pictures and facts. And definitely some oddities.

There is a launching photo for USS America (CV-66), and “artist’s conceptions” of the Brooke and Knox-class frigates, which were then rated as destroyer escorts.  In 1964, the largest warship in the Taiwanese Navy (Republic of China) was an ex-Japanese destroyer that had been re-armed with US 5″/38 open single mounts in the late 1950s.  The People’s Republic of China also had at least one ex-Japanese destroyer in service, along with the half-sisters to the ill-fated USS Panay, formerly USS Guam and USS Tutulia, which had been captured by the Japanese in 1941 and turned over to China at the end of the war.  The PRC also retained at least one river gunboat which had been built at the turn of the century.

Italy’s navy included two wartime-construction (1943) destroyers that had been badly damaged, repaired, and commissioned in the late 1940s.  The eye-catching feature of the photos of the San Giorgios is the Mk 38 5″/38 twin mountings of the type mounted on the US Sumners and Gearings.

A couple other oddities that I never would have known but for this book.  In the 1950s, West Germany salvaged one Type XXI and two Type XXIII U-boats, sunk in the Baltic in 1945, reconditioned them, and commissioned them.  While the Type XXI was an experimentation platform, apparently the two Type XXIII boats (ex-U-2365 and U-2367) became operational boats.    The Israeli frigate Haifa had been a British wartime Hunt-class frigate, sold to the Egyptian Navy, and captured by Israeli forces in Haifa in the 1956 war.

The Indian Navy was made up largely of ex-Royal Navy warships, understandably enough.  But one in 1964 was particularly significant.  The Indian light cruiser Delhi had been HMS Achilles, famous for its role as a unit of Commodore Harwood’s squadron in chasing the German panzerschiff KMS Graf Spee in the Battle of the River Plate in December, 1939.

There is much more contained in the pages of this old and forgotten edition.  This book is an absolute treasure trove of naval history.   And was a most unexpected find.    I have unleashed my inner geek!

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MORE Things That Make You Go “Hmmmmmmmmmm”

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This little tidbit managed to elude the American press.  The SAME American press that can tell you nothing about Benghazi, but everything about the George Washington Bridge scandal, nothing about Barack Obama’s college transcripts, but everything about George W. Bush’s military service (even if they have to make it up.)

From Iran’s Fars News Agency, via Drudge, these statements from Brigadier General Hossein Salami of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps:

“Today, we can destroy every spot which is under the Zionist regime’s control with any volume of fire power (that we want) right from here,” Salami said, addressing a conference in Tehran on Tuesday dubbed ‘the Islamic World’s Role in the Geometry of the World Power’.

“Islam has given us this wish, capacity and power to destroy the Zionist regime so that our hands will remain on the trigger from 1,400km away for the day when such an incident (confrontation with Israel) takes place,” he added.

Well, given by Islam and Barack Obama.  I am sure the General doesn’t MEAN anything by it.   It isn’t like he has the ear of the Supreme Leader or anything.   And I am certain that Iran is bargaining for uranium enrichment in good faith.  The Israelis?  They’re just paranoid.

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Disastrously Delusional- Kerry on “Meet the Press”

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The events of this week in the Ukraine, particularly Russia’s de facto occupation of the Crimea, have highlighted the shambles that is US foreign policy.  Aside from revealing the complete impotence of NATO, the situation which has evolved in the last 72 hours has brought to the fore the contrast between the Machiavellian power-broker realism of Putin/Lavrov and the naive and feckless bumbling of Obama and SecState John Kerry.

To the list of foreign policy disasters that include the Cairo speech, the West Point speech, cut and run in Iraq, a stunted “surge” in AFG, the “Arab Spring” debacle, leading “from behind” in Libya, the Benghazi attack and cover-up, supporting Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, being caught bluffing with the “red line” nonsense in Syria, selling out our Israeli allies to make a deal virtually guaranteeing a nuclear Iran, we have the crowning fiasco, and likely the most dangerous in long-term impact for the United States and the world.

Kerry’s appearance on “Meet the Press” today reveals just how misguided and dangerously naive the arrogant amateur buffoons are who are careening our ship of state onto the shoals at flank speed.

This is an act of aggression that is completely trumped up in terms of its pretext. It’s really 19th-century behavior in the 21st century, and there’s no way to start with that if Russia persists in this, that the G8 countries are going to reassemble in Sochi. That’s a starter. But there’s much more than that.

Is he kidding?  Power politics was centuries old when Machiavelli defined it in his works in the 1530s.  Power politics has dominated every century since, including the 20th.  In fact, there is virtually no reason to suddenly embrace some notion of “21st Century” statecraft that is any different from that of the previous five centuries, since the emergence of modern nation-states.  That Kerry and Obama think otherwise, and think the rest of the world behaves accordingly, is the height of hubris.  Treating the world as you wish it to be rather than how it exists is simply bankrupt intellectual foolishness.  But there’s more.

And we hope, President Obama hopes that President Putin will turn in the direction that is available to him to work with all of us in a way that creates stability in Ukraine. This does not have to be, and should not be, an East/West struggle.

There is no excuse whatever, other than a willful ignorance of history, to utter such a decidedly stupid and ill-informed comment publicly.  The central theme to the existence of European Russia is an eight-century long existential struggle between East and West.  The tragicomic foolishness of Hillary Clinton’s “reset button”, so contemptuously ridiculed by Foreign Minister Lavrov, was indicative of just how amateurish and incompetent the Obama Administration’s foreign policy and national security players were, and just how precious little they understood the art of statecraft.  Statements like the above reveal how little those players know about the history of the nations and peoples with which that statecraft requires them to interact.

There is worse to come later in the interview with David Gregory.   These two positively head-scratching pronouncements can rightfully make one wonder how tenuous this Administration’s grip on reality truly is:

David, the last thing anybody wants is a military option in this kind of a situation. We want a peaceful resolution through the normal processes of international relations.

President Putin is not operating from a place of strength here. Yanukovych was his supported president… President Putin is using force in a completely inappropriate manner that will invite the opprobrium of the world.

Such a bizarre pair of assertions is difficult to explain.  The several thousand Russian forces, which include mechanized infantry, attack aviation, and self-propelled artillery certainly seem to point to the notion that Vladimir Putin believed some semblance of a military solution was desired to ensure Russia maintained a friendly buffer between what Putin believes is a hostile West.   A buffer that incidentally includes the strategically vital naval base for Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, and has a population demographic of approximately 60% ethnic Russians.

As for understanding a position of strength, one might also wonder just how Kerry would go about defining strength.  There is virtually nothing NATO can do militarily, should they even be willing; the United States, with shrinking defense budgets, is in the midst of gutting its military to pre-World War II levels.   The leverage the EU has over Russia is limited, despite Russia’s very significant economic problems.   Any “opprobrium”, or threats by the US, France, Canada, and the UK to suspend the G-8 Summit, is positively pittance to the Russians in comparison to the security of their strategically essential western neighbors, regions that have countless times stood between Russia and destruction at the hands of a conquering West. Russia has acted virtually unchallenged, presenting a fait accompli to the West that, despite assertions to the contrary, will not be undone.  If ever there was a position of power, Russia holds it right now in the Crimea, and will be asserting it anywhere and everywhere in the “near abroad” that Putin has long promised to secure.

The United States never has had all that much leverage to prevent Russia and a talented autocrat like Putin from leaning on their western border states, despite the fitful attempts by the US to draw some of those states into the Western sphere.  The invasions of Georgia and South Ossetia in 2008 proved that beyond a doubt.  But what is most disturbing about the current crisis is watching the US Secretary of State and the US President misread, misstep, and attempt to bluster their way through another confrontation with a geopolitical rival that is acting without restraint and without regard for the empty rhetoric from the Obama Administration.   The most fundamental lesson of statecraft is that of understanding power.  To that end, we have another object lesson in the use of that power.  There is no such thing as hard power, soft power, or “smart” power.  There is just power.  As it has since antiquity, power consists of the capability to enforce one’s will upon an adversary mixed with the willingness to use that capability.

Putin and Lavrov know that lesson well.  They are hard-bitten professionals who act as they believe necessary to promote Russian interests and improve economic and physical security.  Obama and Kerry are rank amateurs, blinded by an ideology that begets a naive and woefully unrealistic understanding of how the world works.  They have been outfoxed and outplayed yet again, seemingly willingly forfeiting US influence and credibility in pursuit of a badly-flawed world view in which influence is based upon hollow threats and ill-conceived public statements.  Any doubts regarding that assertion should be erased when one listens to the cognitive dissonance emanating from our Secretary of State as he describes the Crimean crisis in terms which have little to do with reality.   It is to weep.

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Ten Years Ago Today

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We flew in to Habbaniyah on a C-130 out of Kuwait, and the pilot juked on the way in, just in case.   Once on the deck, we were dispatched into an Army-Marine Corps convoy headed to Ramadi.  On the way out the gate of the laager, a VBIED detonated next to one of the lead security vehicles, killing two soldiers.  It would be an interesting eight months in Iraq.   The First Marine Division, led by MajGen James N. Mattis, whose ADC was John Kelly and Chief of Staff Colonel Joe Dunford, was one hell of a team (that included the Army’s excellent 1-16th Infantry).

The 1st Marine Division (not including Army casualties) suffered 118 killed and more than 1,400 wounded in those eight months in places like Fallujah and Ramadi, Haditah, and a lot of other dusty villages and towns nobody could find on a map except the men who fought there.   A high price was paid to hold the line in Anbar, to hold elections, and cultivate conditions for the Awakening.   For the Marines and soldiers who did so, recent events with AQ flying flags in Anbar’s cities and towns are particularly maddening.  It was clear that the “cut and run” philosophy of the White House was an exceedingly poor one, and subsequent events show that the so-called “zero option” is as descriptive of the President’s credibility as force levels in Iraq.  And we are set, with the same litany of excuses, to do it again in Afghanistan.

I wondered then what all this would be like, ten years on, should I be fortunate enough to survive.  Some things remain very vivid, the sights and smells, and the faces of comrades.  Others I am sure I would have to be reminded of.  And a few memories, thankfully few, are seared into the memory for the rest of my time on this earth.

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Seduced By Success; An Army Leadership Untrained for True War?

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Our friend at Op-For, the urbane and erudite sophisticate LTCOL P (supplying some cogent comments of his own), points us to a superb article in AFJ by Daniel L. Davis outlining the very real possibility that our immense advantages over our foes in the last two-plus decades has left many of our middle and senior leadership untested and overconfident in our warfighting capabilities.

Imagine one of today’s division commanders finding himself at the line of departure against a capable enemy with combined-arms formation. He spent his time as a lieutenant in Bosnia conducting “presence patrols” and other peacekeeping activities. He may have commanded a company in a peacetime, garrison environment. Then he commanded a battalion in the early years of Afghanistan when little of tactical movement took place. He commanded a brigade in the later stages of Iraq, sending units on patrols, night raids, and cordon-and-search operations; and training Iraq policemen or soldiers.

Not once in his career did an enemy formation threaten his flank. He never, even in training, hunkered in a dugout while enemy artillery destroyed one-quarter of his combat vehicles, and emerged to execute a hasty defense against the enemy assault force pouring over the hill.

Spot-on.  Such sentiment applies to ALL SERVICES.  Even in the midst of some pretty interesting days in Ramadi and Fallujah, I never bought into the idea that was being bandied about so casually that “there is no more complex decision-making paradigm for a combat leader than counterinsurgency operations”.   It was utter nonsense.  The decisions to be made, as the author points out, above the troops-in-contact level, were seldom risking success or failure either in their urgency or content.  We had in Iraq and in AFG the ability to largely intervene with air or ground fires as we desired, to engage and disengage almost at will, against an enemy that could never have the capability of truly seizing tactical initiative.  Defeat, from a standpoint of force survival, was never a possibility.  To borrow Belloc’s observations of Omdurman, “Whatever happens, we have got, close air support, and they have not”.

Having a brigade of BMP-laden infantry rolling up behind the fires of a Divisional Artillery Group, supported by MI-24s and SU-25s, which stand a very real chance of defeating (and destroying) not just your unit but all the adjacent ones, is infinitely more challenging than even our rather intense fights (April and November 2004) for Fallujah.  The speed and tactical acumen of the decision makers will be the difference between holding or breaking, winning and losing, living or dying.   The author points out some significant shortcomings in our current training paradigm, and brings us back to some fundamentals of how we train (or used to, at any rate) decision-makers to operate in the fog and uncertainty of combat.  Training and exercises, designed to stress and challenge:

At some of the Combat Maneuver Training Centers, Army forces do some good training. Some of the products and suggestions from Army Training and Doctrine Command are good on paper. For example, we often tout the “world class” opposing force that fights against U.S. formations, and features a thinking and free-fighting enemy. But I have seen many of these engagements, both in the field and in simulation, where the many good words are belied by the exercise. For example, in 2008 I took part in a simulation exercise in which the opposing forces were claimed to be representative of real world forces, yet the battalion-level forces were commanded by an inexperienced captain, and the computer constraints limited the enemy’s ability to engage.

Many may remember the famed “Millennium Challenge 2002” held just before Operation Iraqi Freedom. Retired Marine general Paul Van Riper, appointed to serve as opposing force commander, quit because the exercise was rigged. ”We were directed…to move air defenses so that the army and marine units could successfully land,” he said. ”We were simply directed to turn [air defense systems] off or move them… So it was scripted to be whatever the control group wanted it to be.” For the U.S. Army to be successful in battle against competent opponents, changes are necessary.

Field training exercises can be designed to replicate capable conventional forces that have the ability to inflict defeats on U.S. elements. Such training should require leaders at all levels to face simulated life and death situations, where traditional solutions don’t work, in much more trying environments than is currently the case. They should periodically be stressed to levels well above what we have actually faced in the past several decades. Scenarios, for example, at company and battalion level where a superior enemy force inflicts a mortal blow on some elements, requiring leaders and soldiers to improvise with whatever is at hand, in the presence of hardship and emotional stress.Simulation training for commanders and staffs up to Corps level should combine computer and physical exercises that subject the leaders to situations where the enemy does the unexpected, where key leaders or capabilities are suddenly lost (owing to enemy fire or efforts), yet they still have to function; where they face the unexpected loss of key communications equipment, yet still be forced to continue the operation.

Such exercises should not all be done in nicely compartmentalized training segments with tidy start and end times, and “reset” to prepare for the next sequence. Instead, some exercises should be held where there is a beginning time “in the box” and no pre-set start or end times until the end of a rotation two weeks or more later. In short, the training rotation should replicate the physical and emotional stress of actual combat operations in which there is no “pause” to rest and think about what happened.

I couldn’t agree more.  However, in a budget-crunch environment where significant funding is going toward advancing political and social agendas even within DoD, I am not at all sanguine about such training occurring.  Worse, rather than having leaders champion the need for it and constantly fight for training dollars, I fear that such a requirement will be dismissed as less than necessary, since we already have “the most professional, the best educated, the most capable force this country has ever sent into battle.”  While our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines are indeed superb, and honed at the small unit level, our senior leadership is much less so.  What’s worse is that leaders who have no experience in battlefield command against a near-peer force have begun to assert that technological innovation makes such training superfluous.  That the nature of war has changed, and we are now in an era of “real-time strategy” and “global awareness”.   To steal a line from The Departed, there is deception, and there is self-deception.

Anyway, the Armed Forces Journal article is a thought-provoking read.

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AC-130J Ghostrider

The recent news that the Air Force is planning to retire its fleet of AC-130H Spectre gunships had all the usual suspects up in arms, howling how the Air Force was again shirking its commitment to Close Air Support.

Well, maybe. But the AC-130H fleet is aging badly, and  the airframes, the avionics and the weapons are all tired and expensive to maintain and operate.

A couple years ago, looking to supplement its already stretched thin fleet, the Air Force undertook an interim program to modify some Special Operations MC-130s to “Combat Dragon” specs with a so-called Precision Strike Package, with a 30mm Bushmaster chain gun, and the ability to employ the AGM-114 Hellfire missile, and the AGM-176 Griffin guided bomb.

The program was very quick, and quite successful, and the Air Force has decided to buy a fleet of about 30 new build, dedicated AC-130J gunships, similarly armed, but with fully integrated avionics and adding the famous 105mm cannon.

The Marine Corps’ similar Harvest Hawk program also employs the Griffin and Hellfire, but is designed to be convertible back to a standard cargo hauler, or to a hose and drogue tanker.

This picture shows a GAU-23 mounted on an H model C-130.

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Note the IR/FLIR/Laser designator turret under the nose, and the second one on the landing gear sponson.

The first AC-130J recently made its first flight. It will eventually replace the current fleet of AC-130H and U variants.

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War Department Film: Landings On New Britain

UPDATE:  Okay fine.  Brad posted it already back in June.  Watch it again, anyway.

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As per SOP, I watched the really good movie that XBRAD posted earlier, and in looking at zenoswarbirdvideos.com, found this one.

My Father was an 18-year old Machinist Apprentice who made both landings shown in the film, Arawe on 15 December 1943, and Cape Gloucester on 26 December.    His LCT 172 was a 105 foot craft somewhat larger than an LCM-8.  (You see LCT 174 at some point in the video.)  Part of his responsibilities was to go in ahead of the assault and mark water depth on the landing beaches, then paddle back out to the LCT and make the landings themselves.

At Arawe, his LCT went to pick up the survivors of the Army cavalry company that attempted to go in by rubber boat (described at 28:30).  It was shot full of holes in the process.  And LCT 172 was close to destroyer Brownson (DD-518) at Gloucester when she was hit by Japanese aircraft and sunk.  (49:50 in the film.)

Anyway, on a cold and snowy Saturday afternoon, grab a cuppa and have a watch.  The film is pretty gritty, and hardly paints a romantic picture of the war in the South Pacific.

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Happy Birthday, Corporal Randolph Agarn

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Larry Storch, the veteran actor who portrayed the hapless Corporal Randolph Agarn on the classic (!) TV series F Troop, turns 91 today.   Born on January 8th, 1923 in New York, Storch dropped out of school during the Depression to work the comedy clubs to earn money.  While he did attend High School, at DeWitt Clinton, he was a schoolmate of Don Adams, of Get Smart fame.  (And a World War II Marine wounded on Guadalcanal.)

Like so many actors on the set of F Troop, Storch was a Veteran (along with Forrest Tucker, Joe Brooks, Henry Gibson, Ken Berry, and James Gregory), serving in the US Navy during World War II aboard USS Proteus.  One of his shipmates was none other than Tony Curtis.

F Troop only ran for two seasons, 1965-1967, but the cornball schtick and physical comedy made it a favorite.  I saw it in syndication beginning in the late 60s, and it always made me laugh.  My Dad thought it was “idiotic”, and perhaps it was.  But Fort Courage had everything (except sunshine, it seemed, on the sound stage), including a cannon with a wheel that fell off (and invariably shot down the guard tower), a blind lookout (Trooper Vanderbilt, Joe Brooks), a bugler who couldn’t play a note (Dobbs, James Hampton), a well-meaning but inept Captain (Berry), a smoking-hot frontier babe (Wrangler Jane, Melody Patterson), a grizzled Veteran (Duffy, played by old western star Bob Steele), and a scheming Sergeant making cash on the side (Sergeant O’Rourke, Forrest Tucker).   (It also had an opening theme that could stick in your head for WEEKS….)  The “opponents”, the not-so dangerous Heckawi Indians, were in on the black market business, with comedic caricatures of their own.

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Recurring regulars and guest stars included Henry Gibson, Harvey Korman, Edward Everett Horton, Paul Lynde, Lee Meriwether, and a host of others.   Some of the classic episodes include the antics of visitors to Fort Courage.  (Harvey Korman as Count Ferdinand von Zeppel.)  But my favorites were the boys of F Troop.  Especially Agarn.  He had the absolute coolest hat, and could make the best faces.

Larry Storch was in a number of television comedies and variety shows over his career, and was a talented impersonator.  He has film and stage credits that include The Great Race (with shipmate Tony Curtis), and was a frequent guest of Johnny Carson and  a semi-regular on Hollywood Squares.

Happy Birthday, Corporal Randolph Agarn of Pissaic, New Jersey.   I don’t know why everybody says you’re dumb!

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The Very Last of Them: “Balaclava Ned” Hughes

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Private 1506 Hughes, Edwin, was born in Wrexham in December of 1830. Before enlisting in Her Majesty’s forces, he worked as a shoemaker.  In 1852, at age 21, Hughes enlisted in the 13th Hussars (then the 13th Light Dragoons [quibble]).   In the summer of 1854, as the Crimean War escalated, the 13th Light Dragoons, Hughes among them, embarked for Sevastopol in the Black Sea, as a part of the British contingent, assigned to the Light Brigade of the Cavalry Division, under Lord Raglan.

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On October 25th, 1854, Hughes and almost seven hundred other British horsemen of the Light Brigade of Cavalry galloped across the valley at Balaclava, “storm’d at with shot and shell”, toward the Russian guns in the famous charge immortalized by Tennyson.  Hughes had his horse shot from under him, injuring his leg.  He recovered to serve in the Crimea until the end of the war, and with the 13th Hussars, until 1873.   Hughes eventually achieved the rank of Troop Sergeant Major, the uniform which he wears in the above (top) photo.  After retirement from the 13th Hussars, Hughes enlisted as a Sergeant-Instructor in the Worcestershire Yeomanry, serving until discharged for “old age” in 1886.   Hughes was awarded the Crimea Turkish Medal, the Long Service Medal, and Good Conduct Medal.  (The four clasps on the Crimea Turkish Medal read “Sevastopol”, “Inkerman”, “Balaclava”, and “Alma”.)

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Even before his retirement, Hughes had become a legend of sorts for his participation in the famous charge.  He became known as “Balaclava Ned”, and was often asked to return to his birthplace of Wrexham to talk of his exploits in the “Valley of Death”.   Hughes was also a recipient of a number of pensions created for the Light Brigade survivors.  Public focus on the plight of the often-penniless veterans of the British Army, the Light Brigade in particular, came from none other than Rudyard Kipling, whose “Last of the Light Brigade” (1890) painted a sorrowful tale of the fate of twenty old soldiers who go to an aging Tennyson for help:

There were thirty million English who talked of England’s might,
There were twenty broken troopers who lacked a bed for the night.
They had neither food nor money, they had neither service nor trade;
They were only shiftless soldiers, the last of the Light Brigade.

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Ned Hughes outlived all of his 672 comrades, nearly 300 of which fell on that October day in the Crimea in 1854.  Troop Sergeant Major 1506 Hughes, Edwin died in Blackpool, 14 May 1927, at the age of 96.

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The Company Landing Team

The USMC has been mulling this around for a while.  Here is an article from the Marine Gazette from Vince Goulding in 2009.   Note that the CoLT concept includes a platoon of M777 155mm howitzers, and a very robust ISR capability.   And lots of comms for calling in supporting fires should it come to that.

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The pages are JPEGs, so you can click on them to make them a bit easier to read.   I think we will be working with this concept for Expeditionary Warrior coming up in February.

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26 December 1943, the End of “Lucky Scharnhorst” at the Battle of the North Cape

Schlachtschiff "Scharnhorst"

Seventy years ago today, two British naval task forces intercepted the German battlecruiser Scharnhorst as she attempted to attack two Murmansk-bound convoys in the frigid waters of the North Cape.  In a running fight with Royal Navy battleship HMS Duke of York, a heavy cruiser, three light cruisers, and nine destroyers, Scharnhorst was sunk with the loss of more than 1,900 crewmen.  The Battle of North Cape was fought in limited visibility, with Scharnhorst firing nearly blindly for much of the fight.  A fortuitous hit during an exchange with British cruisers earlier that morning had destroyed Scharnhorst’s radar mast.

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The Royal Navy, equipped with functional radar and “flashless” powder, inflicted increasingly more serious damage to Scharnhorst through the course of the battle.  Hits by 14-inch projectiles from Duke of York disabled Turret Anton, and eventually penetrated Scharnhorst’s armored belt.  A 14-inch hit on Scharnhorst amidships destroyed No.1 Boiler Room and reduced her speed to 20 knots.  Unable to outrun her pursuers, Scharnhorst’s end came soon after, as the British warships pounded her with gunfire from 4.7-inch, 6-inch, 8-inch, and 14-inch guns.

(c) David Cobb; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Illuminated under star shells fired by British cruisers, Scharnhorst fired back with her remaining 11-inch main guns and her secondary batteries.  But without radar and in fading visibility, few hits were scored and no more major damage inflicted.  Destroyers, including the Norwegian Stord, moved in close and struck Scharnhorst repeatedly with torpedoes.

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At approximately 1945, her sides stoved in and her topside a shambles, Scharnhorst rolled to starboard, and sank “with her propellers turning”.    Only 36 crewmen were rescued from the freezing waters.

Designed like the “panzerschiffe” before her to outrun what she could not outgun, Scharnhorst and her equally famous sister Gneisenau were fast, powerful ships.  When these two ships managed to break out into the Atlantic, they were perhaps the most successful of the Kriegsmarine’s commerce raiders.  Their speed and armor made them tough opponents for all but the most powerful battleships.

Scharnhorst was known as “Lucky Scharnhorst” for her numerous successful forays into British-controlled waters (including the Channel Dash), and her ability to return often from these forays with significant damage.  Due to be upgraded with six 15-inch guns in twin turrets in the place of her nine gun three-triple 11-inch battery, Scharnhorst was sunk before she could mount the new weapons.   These would have increased her lethality significantly.  In the end, though, the “lone wolf” raiders like Graf Spee, Bismarck, Scharnhorst, Tirpitz, and Gneisenau (heavily damaged and scuttled at Gdynia) did a small fraction of the damage inflicted by Donitz’s U-boat Wolf Packs.

There is a fitting final tribute to Scharnhorst, however.  It came from Admiral Fraser, RN, commanding the British force.  He told his gathered officers after the battle that, he hoped, “if any of you are ever called upon to lead a ship into action against an opponent many times superior, you will command your ship as gallantly as Scharnhorst was commanded today”.

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On the Second Bloggin’ Christmas…

2013 mug close-up

2013 mug

♫  …my blog host gave to me….

a really awesome coffee mug,

and a Jaaaack-aaass Caaa-aat for scale! ♫

Thanks, Brad!

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Rarely-seen Photographs from the Korean War

These were published in the Denver Post back in 2010, but are worth a look.   Many are incredibly poignant, and show the misery and hardship of what war was like in Korea, and what it would be like today.   It is important to note the conditions, the terrain, and the utter exhaustion of the men in many of the photographs, especially as we decide to debate the physical demands of combat arms.

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There are more than a hundred of them.  Worth a cup of coffee and half an hour to look at all of them.

H/T

Miss Robin

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6 October 1973, The Beginning of the Yom Kippur War

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Tomorrow is the Fortieth Anniversary of the beginning of the “Fourth Arab-Israeli War”, known for its auspicious holiday beginning as the Yom Kippur War, or Ramadan War.

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In the weeks leading up to the war, Egypt’s President Sadat had made overtures of warmer relations with the United States, to include the expulsion of nearly 22,000 Soviet “advisors”.  In addition, Egyptian military commanders carefully hid preparations for the offensive from Israeli observation.   Israel had made a planning assumption that any future conflict with Egypt would give the IDF 24-48 hours of warning, time to mobilize reserves and reposition forces for effective defense and counterattack.   As it happened, Israel would get fewer than 12 hours’ warning, and this through espionage/diplomatic channels, in the early morning hours of 6 October 1973.

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The Egyptian forces began to move against the east bank of the Suez canal at 1400 on the same day.  Breaching the sand wall with fire hoses, the lead elements of the Egyptian forces established bridgeheads within a few hours.  This was Operation Badr, which would last for the first five days of the war.   Operation Badr is worth reading about in detail, as the use of integrated fire support and anti-mechanized capabilities by the Egyptian Army nearly spelled disaster for Israel.

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Initially, the Bar Lev line, the western Israeli defenses of the Suez Canal, was lightly held by fewer than a thousand IDF soldiers and a handful of tanks, supported by a few 105mm, 155mm, and 175mm artillery batteries, and two forward airfields.   The opening preparation fires, a combination of direct fire, massed 152 and 130mm artillery, and ground attack fixed-wing air support, was brilliantly executed.  The Israeli airfields were put out of action, and the artillery batteries neutralized.  In addition, several air search and ground radars were destroyed, blinding the IDF to the movements of Egyptian ground and air units.  The Egyptians had also studied their foe, and had rightly guessed that the IDF would react with powerful air interdiction and armored counterattacks.

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In the preceding years, Egypt had invested heavily in air defense and anti-armor capabilities for the Army, increasing its air defense forces fourfold since 1967.  Now, that investment would pay massive dividends.  With a brilliantly-executed combined arms strike that had neutralized Israeli artillery and air defense systems, the Egyptian Second and Third Armies were able to move the SA-2, SA-3, and SA-6 missile systems forward to establish a layered air defense system over their forward ground units.  It was this integrated air defense which took a frightful toll of the Israeli Air Force, especially in the beginning days of the war.

IDF tank

On the ground, Egyptian tank killer teams roamed about setting ambushes for Israeli armor, employing AT-3 Sagger man-portable antitank missiles, where those teams destroyed more than 300 Israeli tanks and armored vehicles.   The IAF strikes and IDF armored counterattacks, staples of Israeli doctrine to defeat their Egyptian enemies, could only be executed at considerable risk and with expectations of heavy losses.

By 10 October, with losses far higher than their opponents, Israel was forced entirely to the defensive in the Sinai.  In the Golan Heights, a strike on 7 October by three Syrian armored brigades, supported by an Iraqi brigade, required a diversion of forces to counter the new threat.   In the Golan, Israeli fortunes were better.  Despite being badly outnumbered by the Syrian forces, and the bravery and skill exhibited by the Syrians, Israeli armored and mechanized units held, and in the Valley of Tears, all but destroyed Syrian offensive capability.   A great little book was written about the Golan fighting by the Commander of the 77th Battalion of the 7th Armored Brigade,  LtCol Avigdor Kahalani.   The Heights of Courage should be a read for all company and field grade officers.

A cease-fire was brokered on October 25th, 1973.  In the end, Israeli forces pushed the Egyptians back across most of the Sinai, and inflicted heavy losses.  But the IDF was only able to do so because of a massive influx of US aid, including mothballed F-4 Phantom fighters from Davis-Monthan  AFB, M-48 and M-60 tanks, and great quantities of munitions and logistical support.

Israel lost almost 3,000 killed and 11,000 wounded and captured in the 19 days of the Yom Kippur War.  The IDF had been ill-prepared for the Egyptian attack, both in its dispositions and its warfighting doctrine.  Since 1967, Israel had invested disproportionately in its vaunted Air Force and elite armored units, and had neglected infantry and artillery capabilities.   Israel had also committed the grave mistake of leaving planning assumptions about enemy capabilities and intent unquestioned, a mistake they would never make again.

The aftermath of the Yom Kippur War has been profound.  Egypt, once Israel’s most grave threat, reached a peace treaty in 1978, with Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin signing the Camp David Accords.  Egypt, with a brief pause for a Muslim Brotherhood-led government, has remained on relatively good terms with Israel, and has (with a current brief pause AFTER the overthrow of the MB by the Egyptian Army) maintained a close relationship with the United States.    Operation Badr, significantly, represented the first Arab victory over Israeli forces on any scale since Israel’s founding in 1948.  It represents also the birth of the modern Egyptian Army, which remains a capable and well-equipped force, especially in comparison to its Middle Eastern neighbors.

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Just six years removed from the swift and devastating victories of the 1967 Six Day War, the Yom Kippur War was a profound shock to Israel.   Nobody will ever know for sure how close Israel came to being destroyed, or whether Golda Meir would have been willing to use the nuclear weapons in her possession to prevent that destruction.   We never had to find out, thankfully.   But it all began in earnest forty years ago tomorrow.

Update-XBradTC: URR writes: Israel had also committed the grave mistake of leaving planning assumptions about enemy capabilities and intent unquestioned, a mistake they would never make again.  

I’d argue that is incorrect. Israel badly misunderstood Hezbollah’s capabilities and tactics in the 2006 war. Israel’s incursion into Lebanon was not nearly as successful as hoped, and casualties were far higher than anticipated. The Israeli Army had planned and equipped and trained for a war of maneuver against an armored force, and found itself in an urban fight against a dug in irregular force in urban areas.

As a historical matter, the Yom Kippur War had enormous impact on US Army doctrine. I highly recommend to my readers King of the Killing Zone, the story of the development of the M1 Abrams tank, which also has an outstanding thumbnail sketch of the development of the Army’s AirLand Battle Doctrine. Our Army intensely studied the 1973 war, sifting for lessons learned on how to fight against a larger enemy, especially when strategically surprised. One of the real surprises the operational analysis of this and several other wars was that the smaller army in a war more often than not wins. The question became, “Why?” The answer was agility. Far more than the mere physical agility, the ability to move forces, smaller forces often have the mental agility to operate faster. AirLand Battle doctrine’s focus on operational agility predated, and foreshadowed, Boyd’s OODA Loop theory.

Update Update-URR:

I almost included a blurb about the 2006 Lebanon incursion.   Hezbollah tactics may have surprised the senior Israeli leadership, but did not surprise ground commanders.  I had the privilege of an extended conversation with Israeli BG Shimon Neveh, whose study of the 2006 fighting is absolutely superb.  His take was one that should ring familiar.  This from an interview with Matt Matthews:

Now, the other idea was to really assault by about 90 company-sized columns from all directions. Some elements airborne, some coming from the sea and others infiltrating almost without armor. The idea was to move in small teams and identify, feed the intelligence
circles, exploit our advantage in the air in remotely piloted vehicles (RPVs), unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), fixed-wing and helicopters. When we introduced this idea, after certain experiments in CENTCOM in 2003, I remember it was a special meeting of the General Staff, presided by Chief Ya’alon, and I didn’t say much then because the whole idea to develop was presented by the Northern Command (NORTHCOM) commander at that time, Beni Ganz, who was against it then – and of course he was against it now. So when Gal Hirsch tells him to mobilize, let’s review the plans and see what our options are because we’ve been running out of time, he totally brushed this aside. “Halutz, we don’t need that. It’s a waste of time.”

BG Neveh believed strongly that the IDF operational commanders knew what awaited them, and the reasons for the “asymmetry” were political rather than doctrinal.  Including, as he told me with no little disdain, the idea of using military force to prompt a political decision rather than for the destruction of the enemy.

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“I Have Not Made a Decision”

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So says President Obama in reference to US military action in Syria.    Problem is, he has.  Two of them, actually.  Whether he acknowledges so or not.  Both of them are exceedingly poor ones.  The first was Obama’s August 2012 ill-conceived bluster about use of chemical weapons being a “red line” for the United States.  Tough talk that sounded good, at least to the untrained ear.

When it seemed that the Assad regime used chemical weapons on rebel forces, in April of 2013, Obama was caught bluffing like a teenager in a grown-up poker game.   So, his second decision was to do nothing after promising “serious consequences” for such use.

Now, the rather predictably beholden news media, led by ABC News, is attempting to tell us that Obama really did not say

“…a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.”

Or, if he did, that he didn’t mean to imply what his words meant.

And now, he is stuck.  The Administration has “concluded” that the chemical weapons, likely Sarin (GB), which is not a gas but a liquid nerve agent, were fired by elements of the Assad regime.  What evidence?  Not very much.  None, in fact, that would stand up to the scrutiny of 2004.

“We have concluded,” the president said, that Assad’s regime “in fact carried these out. And if that’s so, there needs to be international consequences.

“…We have looked at all the evidence and we don’t believe the opposition possessed… chemical weapons of that sort,” he continued. “We do not believe given the delivery system using rockets, that the opposition could have carried out these attacks.”

Anyone with much intelligence background would acknowledge immediately that such an assertion is utter nonsense.  Following a statement from that icon of Foreign Policy, Joe Biden, that there was “no doubt” the attacks came from the Assad regime, the President uses the phrase “we don’t believe” twice in making his assertion.

In truth, neither Biden nor Obama has any way of knowing.  The delivery system?  Such is easy enough to acquire.  In Iraq, the enemy captured or fabricated rail fairings for 122mm rockets, and for the Chinese-made 107mm variety, routinely.   The capability most certainly exists in Syria.  In fact, there are videos of anti-regime elements firing 122mm rockets from captured BM-21 launchers and improvised systems all over YouTube.   Here are two.

So much for the Administration’s assertion on that point.

As for Assad’s chemical stockpiles, my guess is that they have been divided among dozens or even hundreds of caches, with varying levels of security around them, in order to keep Western forces from being able to secure them with special operations forces.   Have the “rebels” (which include Al Qaeda in strength, and other radical Islamists) lain their hands on one or more of those stockpiles?  There is no way for the US to tell.  And it isn’t as if the Assad regime would volunteer the information, even if they knew.

The major point, however, is the question of why the Assad regime would resort to chemical attacks at this juncture.  Regime elements are no longer hard-pressed, the Assad regime is winning.  What would be the strategic purpose of facing international condemnation and risking the alienation of a very powerful ally (Putin’s Russia) to launch a chemical attack that doesn’t even accomplish a tactical objective?   Assad is not a fool.  He understands survival.

This is not to say conclusively that the Syrian government did NOT launch such an attack.  A miscalculation borne of the weakness and vacillation of the US response the first time, a thumb in the eye of America on the heels of the empty “tough talk” of Obama, may have played into the decision.  But I find that eventuality rather unlikely.  Could a junior commander have fired the chemical barrage without authorization?  Also a possibility, and perhaps more likely.  Though I find hard-pressed and increasingly desperate anti-government forces using such weapons with the hope of being saved by outside intervention just as likely.  Especially if they are egged on by an Al Qaeda presence that understands the import of the fall of Assad for the advent of yet another Radical Islamist state in a strategic region.

There are no good options, and thanks to Obama’s indiscretions regarding his “red line” comments, there now are not even neutral options, only bad ones.   Yet another head-on collision with the real world for the arrogant, naive, incompetent, bumbling, indecisive ideologues in the White House and at Foggy Bottom.

And the newly-minted US Ambassador to the UN?  Where was she when the emergency UN session on Syria was held?  On vacation in Ireland.  She did, however, “tweet” on the subject.  Perhaps she even used a frowny-face icon when discussing the chemical attacks.  Not yet a month on the job.  Gotta wonder, how many Corporals have been recalled or had leave canceled in the last two days because of this crisis?  At least Malik was absent in protest, and not in a pub in Belfast.

Our foreign policy is in shambles.   Absolute shambles.

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The Strange Life and Death of the Imperial Russian Battleship Perseviet

peresvietdwg

As the 19th Century drew to a close, Imperial Russia embarked on a naval building program in a desperate attempt to match the growing naval might of her European neighbors.   Regional rivalries with Britain (Afghanistan and Persia) and Austria-Hungary (Balkans), both of whom were embarking on significant naval expansion, spurred a flurry of shipbuilding for the Tsarist Navy.  Among the pre-Dreadnought battleships to join the Imperial Navy was Perseviet.  Displacing 13,300 tons, with a speed of 18 knots, she was built in St. Petersburg, launched in 1898, and commissioned in June, 1901.  Armed with four 10-inch/45 caliber M1891 naval rifles, she had a cruising radius of 3,100 nautical miles at ten knots.

Despite the attributes of speed and range, Perseviet quickly became obsolescent, as late German (of the Braunschweig-class ) and British pre-Dreadnoughts (Canopus, Duncan, and Formidable-classes) rapidly outclassed her in armament and matched her in speed and protection.  Nascent fire direction developments in those navies also extended main gun range well beyond the 10,000 yards of Perseviet’s capability.

When the Russo-Japanese War broke out in February of 1904, Perseviet was at Port Arthur.  Undamaged in the initial fight, Perseviet remained anchored at Port Arthur through the summer of 1904.   A number of her secondary and tertiary batteries were landed in a vain attempt to augment the defenses for the port and surrounding forts and positions.

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In August, the Pacific Squadron sortied to make a run for Vladivostok, but was met and roughly handled by the Japanese Battle Fleet at the Battle of the Yellow Sea.  The squadron returned to Port Arthur.  In the brief engagement, Perseviet was hit nearly 40 times and suffered 82 casualties, including 13 dead.    Throughout the autumn, Japanese and Russian ground forces fought for control of the key terrain around the port.  On 5 December 1904, Japanese forces took Hill 203, allowing them to site several 280mm siege guns in positions overlooking the anchorage.  The guns scored numerous hits on most of the major units, including Perseviet.  On 7 December 1904 her crew scuttled the damaged battleship in shallow water.

peresvietscuttled

Just after the new year, Port Arthur fell to the Japanese.  The Japanese eventually raised a number of Russian ships that had been sunk or scuttled in the port, including eight pre-dreadnought battleships, Perseviet among them.   Renamed Sagami in IJN service, the ship was extensively rebuilt at Yokosuka between 1905 and 1908.  Her main and secondary batteries were replaced, with Armstrong-Whitworth 12”/40 cal Mk 41 rifles, and 6”/45 cal QF guns, her boilers were replaced, and her fighting tops eliminated.

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With the outbreak of the First World War, erstwhile adversaries Japan and Russia found themselves as allies against the Central Powers.  With the Imperial Russian Navy desperate for ships to meet any threat to their western ports from the High Seas Fleet, Japan sold Sagami, now classified as a Coast Defense Ship, back to Russia in early 1916.  Re-named once again Perseviet, she was assigned to the Arctic Fleet in Murmansk/Archangelsk, but promptly ran aground.  Floated and repaired, Perseviet transited the Suez Canal in early January 1917.

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As Perseviet passed 10 nautical miles north of Port Said on 4 January, she struck at least two mines, and sank with the loss of 167 lives.  The mines had been laid by the German submarine U-73, a UE-1 minelaying type, which was operating in the Adriatic and Mediterranean from Pola.

Built by the Tsarist Navy to challenge the maritime power of Russia’s regional foes, Perseviet was damaged and scuttled following the disastrous defeat in the Russo-Japanese War (not to a European naval rival but an Asian one), which led to the Revolution of 1905, an event that nearly toppled Romanov Russia.   Captured by Japan, serving nearly a decade in a foreign navy, Perseviet’s return to the service of Nicholas II was brief, before she was sunk in the disastrous defeat of the First World War, which brought about the final collapse of the rule of the Romanovs and the advent of the Bolsheviks and their Soviet Russia.

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GPS Hacking

GPS-constellation

Our military leadership at all levels seemingly has a very difficult time understanding the ramifications of intrusions into our critical information networks.   What the nature of those intrusions will be, how and whether they can be detected, what effects they will have (if any), and the interconnection of vulnerabilities that come with the 21st Century lapis philosophorum of being “networked”.

By feeding counterfeit radio signals to the yacht, the UT team was able to drive the ship far off course, steer it left and right, potentially take it into treacherous waters, even put it on a collision course with another ship. All the time, the ship’s GPS system reported the vessel was calmly moving in a straight line, along its intended course. No alarms, no indication that anything was amiss.

Military leaders lack a nuanced understanding of what they so clumsily label the “cyber domain”.  Discussions almost always center around denial or disruption of service.  Very rarely do they address what is a far more serious, more difficult to detect, and potentially much more paralyzing in effect; the compromise of trusted information sources and networks.   When such issues come to the fore in the exercises and wargames of which I am a part, I do try to let people know that being “shut down” at an inconvenient time is serious, but in the pantheon of bad stuff our enemies can do to us, it is relatively low on the list.  And that we should be bracing for far more difficult and widespread problems from those intrusions.

The instance of GPS hacking, as reported by Fox News, is a peek into how serious things can be.  Anything that is remotely accessed and controlled is vulnerable to intrusion.   Often, there is not a Human in the Loop (HITL) until well downstream of any such intrusion.   SCADA systems remain notoriously vulnerable, and attribution nearly impossible.   In addition, many of the exploits to be leveraged by our enemies are likely already IN our networks.  Small bits of code that allow for override of authentication, turn off IDS, firewall permissions, domain name server settings, any and all of the security measures on which our critical infrastructure relies so heavily.

Our understanding at all levels of war needs to be reflected in realistic and demanding training for conducting operations without our massive technological advantage, or with many of those systems compromised or suspect.  We did so for many years in the Cold War, where the Soviets could potentially mount a significant challenge in the electronic spectrum.  And we need to learn anew to do it again, and to be disciplined in doing so.  The acronyms MIJI (meaconing, intrusion, jamming, and interference) and PACE (primary, alternate, contingency, emergency) used to be common to everyone in leadership from the tactical level on up.   The first was the adversary threat to our operations, the second, the methodology by which we could communicate and operate with loss of capability due to those threats.

The longer we talk about the “cyber domain”, the longer we display a simplistic and unimaginative understanding of the threat, the less time we will have and more difficult will be the task of understanding how we can fight and win wars when our enemies can deny us a spectrum we have dominated for decades.

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Gettysburg

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A century and a half ago, in the picturesque green hills around the small Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg, there took place the largest and most decisive battle of the great cataclysm that was the American Civil War.    Between July 1st and 3rd, 1863, nearly 160,000 men fought fiercely for three bloody days in the humid Pennsylvania heat.   Casualties were staggering for both sides, accounting for nearly one in three of the entirety of  forces engaged.  Among them were two General Officers killed, and twenty-five wounded, five of them mortally.

Federal dead (3,155) and wounded (14,529) were exceeded by Confederate losses (3,903 killed and 18, 735 wounded) from Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.  This was disastrous for the South, whose manpower situation was already becoming acute.   The surrender of Vicksburg, to Grants Army of the Cumberland the day after Gettysburg ended, tipped the scales irretrievably against the Confederacy.

Seldom has a battle in a major war been as clearly decisive a turning point as was Gettysburg.  That the defeat of the Confederates in Pennsylvania represented the last great effort of the South to force peace upon the North was palpable to both sides in the immediate aftermath of the great battle.   Meade’s failure to pursue Lee prolonged the war, and was a mistake that Ulysses Grant would not repeat in his incessant hammering of the ANV throughout the Wilderness Campaign in the spring and summer of 1864.

Gettysburg also represented a turning point that established once and for all that Federal infantry, well-led, were every bit a match for their Rebel opponents.   Crucial, also, was the contribution of Federal Cavalry, whose Brigadier General John Buford had nearly routed JEB Stuart’s cavalry at Brandy Station some weeks earlier.  Buford at Gettysburg famously fought a half-day delaying action against the lead corps of Rebel infantry which gave the Army of the Potomac time to arrive at Gettysburg in force and occupy the high ground south and east of the town.

The battlefield at Gettysburg remains the hallowed ground of Lincoln’s iconic address.  The names of the places for which men struggled and sacrificed are a part of a warrior lexicon that anyone who has ever worn a uniform should know by heart.   The Wheat Field.  The Peach Orchard.  The Devil’s Den.  Little Round Top.  Cemetery Ridge.  The Slaughter Pen.  Culp’s Hill.   The courage and endurance of the soldiers on both sides in the maelstrom of the battle has long held the imagination of the American public.

As a matter of perspective, the Battle of Gettysburg involved nearly 160,00o men, more than US troop strength in Iraq.  The 7,058 dead over three days exceeds US combat deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan over thirteen years combined, by almost 2,000.  The percentage of total population of North and South that fought at Gettysburg is greater than the percentage of current US population in the entire of our Armed Forces today.

If you have never seen the battlefield at Gettysburg, you should.  If you are a Veteran, you should make it somewhat of a pilgrimage.  And please, as nice and knowledgeable as the Park Staff people are, don’t take the “tour”.  Go by yourself.  Map in hand.  Pfantz’s books in your backpack.  And walk the ground.  Feel it.  Wonder to yourself how they did it.  How they faced mortal fear and danger and fought so bravely and fiercely.  And whether, in their shoes (or bare feet), you could have done the same.

And stay for a while.  Around dusk, sit quietly and respectfully.  You will find that you are hardly alone.

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Artillery Organization

When the Marines defend their huge investment in Close Air Support, it’s largely because they need it. They simply don’t have a lot of tube artillery available for support. Why? Because they will never have enough amphibious shipping to move it.

The Army, on the other hand, has since the middle of the 19th Century had a long tradition of excellence in artillery, and accordingly places a lot of faith in a lot of guns.

Let’s compare some of the fire support available to a division. Organic to the Marine division is an artillery regiment. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, this regiment had three battalions of light artillery, 105mm tubes, and one battalion of 155mm artillery. All four battalions had towed pieces.

At first glance, Army artillery seems quite comparable.  A light division had “Division Artillery”~ effectively a brigade, with three battalions of 105mm guns, and one battalion of 155mm guns, all towed.   Seems pretty comparable.

But if we leave the light divisions, and look at the Army’s heavy divisions, we see a somewhat more robust organization. Each mechanized or armored division had a similar organization, but different armament.

Heavy divisional DivArty had three battalions of self-propelled 155mm guns (each with a self-propelled ammo carrier). It also had a battalion of self-propelled 203mm (8”) guns. Eventually, the 8” battalion would be replaced by a single battery of MLRS 270mm rocket launchers.

But the story doesn’t end there. Army divisions in Europe were intended to fight as a part of a corps, and indeed, as a part of a field army. And a great deal of the combat power of a corps or field army is located in units outside of the divisions. Each heavy corps typically had two separate artillery brigades, each with four battalions, usually three of 155mm and one battalion of MLRS, as they phased out the 8” tubes.

One of the key precepts behind US Army artillery doctrine has always been concentration. If it’s worth shooting at, it’s worth shooting at a lot. So it would be typical for the main effort of a corps operation to receive the support of both corps artillery brigades. And within that main effort  division, it would be typical for the maneuver brigade forming the main effort to receive the support of all the guns of both the division and the corps artillery, or at least a priority claim to their fires.* Conceivably, one maneuver brigade of three battalions would have the support of 12, or even more, battalions of artillery. That’s a level of fire support a Marine regiment commander could only dream of. And that doesn’t count the attack helicopter and Air Force tac air support our notional Army brigade might receive.  And because all these heavy artillery brigades were self-propelled, they could rapidly shift support from one area to another.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Army no longer faces the spectre of a single division having to stem the onslaught of an entire Russian tank army. And the past decade of limited warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan has seen a much smaller need for massed artillery fires.

Instead, today’s artillery has shifted emphasis from massing fires to longer ranges and greater precision, via such tools as rocket assisted projectiles, guided unitary warhead MLRS rockets, and guidance kits for conventional 155mm artillery that permits a limited “boost/glide” profile.  The battlefield a single maneuver brigade occupies is much larger than in years past, even as little as 20 years ago. And simply to cover that area, the supporting artillery either needs a longer range, or the greater lethality of guided rounds (that way, smaller units of artillery, such as a battery or even just a platoon can disperse over a wider area to support more units and cover more battlespace).

*I’ll leave it to URR or Esli to explain the doctrinal niceties of attached, OPCON, Direct Support, General Support, or General Support Reinforcing.

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CHINFO Uses the “F-word”

Old-Ironsides

Frigate.  Over at Information Dissemination.  He calls LCS a “light frigate, a corvette”, noting “I never understood why we didn’t just call it that in the first place”.  Neither did many of the rest of us.

In fact, stridently denying that LCS was to replace the FFG-7s at the lower end of the “hi-lo” mix when it was obvious to everyone that was almost certainly the role it would fill, didn’t do anything for the credibility of the US Navy nor those pushing LCS.

Admiral Kirby makes a number of historical references to unproven ship design, including the Six Frigates, and USS Monitor.  Whatever else those “experimental” vessels were, they were powerfully-armed and were well-protected.   Those are precisely the areas LCS is found most wanting.  Both designs are fragile and woefully under-armed.

Anyway, read Admiral Kirby’s assertions.  He makes some valid points, but you can be the judge of just how many, and just how valid.

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Leadership and Responsibility on the Longest Day

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Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.

The troops did not fail.  More than 140,000 Allied soldiers came ashore at Normandy, on this day 69 years ago.   The Second Front so long in the coming was established.  The cost was more than ten thousand casualties, of which approximately 4,000 were killed.  The same number that died in Iraq in eight years, died on the French coast in a single morning.   Tens of thousands more would die before Nazi Germany surrendered unconditionally eleven months and one day later.

General Dwight Eisenhower’s famous note hearkens to a brand of leadership seemingly all but extinct today.   People in positions of great responsibility shouldering the burden for their decisions and everything that is done or fails to be done by those in their charge.    What difference does it make?   The difference between victory and defeat, liberty and subjugation, existence and extinction.

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What Might Have Been… Broncos and 106mm RCLs.

On the heels of our recent post about the M40 106mm Recoilless Rifle, a reader, Dave, sends in this little morsel about a plan to mount the 106 on the OV-10.

http://www.volanteaircraft.com/images/ov-10-recoilless-rifle.jpg

The primary weapon for the Bronco was usually the Zuni 5” folding fin rocket. It packed a good punch, but it wasn’t terribly accurate, and each rocket weighed a good deal.  While mounting a 106 on an airplane would have its own weight penalty, each round of ammunition would weigh less. And the recoilless rifle would be a good deal more accurate than any rocket. And there was a plan for an autoloading weapon.

Found here, which is an interesting piece all on its own.

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