Category Archives: infantry

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.

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

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.

About these ads

103 Comments

Filed under Air Force, army, Around the web, Artillery, Defense, guns, history, infantry, logistics, marines, navy, planes, Uncategorized, veterans, war, weapons

“Fighting Joe” Dunford is the Next Commandant of the Marine Corps

122533032__390346c (3)

Congratulations to General Joseph Dunford, nominated by Secretary of Defense Hagel to be the 36th Commandant of the Marine Corps.  Marine Corps Times has the story. 

I have known General Dunford a long time, since he was the MOI at Holy Cross in the late 80s.  I had the distinct honor to serve with then-Colonel Dunford in Al Anbar in 2004, when he was MajGen Mattis’ Chief of Staff.  BGen John Kelly was the ADC, and LtGen James Conway had the MEF (and the MEF SgtMaj was the incomparable Carlton Kent).  What a team!    Joe Dunford also skipped a pay grade.  He was nominated for his second star, and before he pinned on his new rank, picked up his third star!  Nearly unheard of in today’s day and age.

Lord knows, the Marine Corps needs a warrior, and an INFANTRY OFFICER at its helm.   The infantryman is the very soul of the Marine Corps, and the Commandant should be someone who knows him and his comrades intimately.   Besides, the Amos years have not been good.

Congratulations, General Joe Dunford.   Our Marine Corps is in your capable hands.  Right where it should be.   Godspeed.

(I am willing to overlook that he went to BC High.)

H/T to LTCOL P

 

 

7 Comments

Filed under Afghanistan, Around the web, Defense, guns, history, infantry, iraq, marines, Personal, SIR!, Uncategorized, veterans, war

Women can be Marine Infantry Officers. All You Have to do is Change the Standards.

Feminist advocate Ellen Haring, a Reserve Army Colonel, wrote a piece over at War on the Rocks about how to fix why females cannot pass the US Marine Corps Infantry Officers’ Course.   Not surprisingly, Haring’s assertions ring hollow and partisan to any Marine ground combat Officer, especially one with the Infantry MOS.

…why are the physical standards different for officers and enlisted infantry Marines?…
Officers and enlisted infantrymen perform the same physical tasks in their units and during combat operations.  The discriminator between officer and enlisted has always been education, not physical differences.

What Haring writes is utter nonsense.  The answer, which should be glaringly evident to someone with the rank of Colonel, is that Marine Officers must not just “perform the same physical tasks”, but to LEAD, and lead by physical example.  A great deal of a young Officer’s credibility with his Marines comes from the display of physical courage and personal fitness, which includes strength, stamina, and endurance.  A Marine Infantry Officer must be prepared to lead despite extreme physical fatigue, and retain the ability to make alert and sound decisions.  The lives of his platoon or company depend upon it.  That Haring ignores such a fundamental of leadership in a combat MOS is not surprising, and I don’t think for a minute it is unintentional.

Haring also cites the op-ed by 2nd Lt Santangelo, in which the Lieutenant asserts that expectations, and not physical limitations, are the reasons for failure among the female Officers.  Nowhere does Haring mention the viewpoint of Captain Kate Petronio, whose extensive experience serving beside Marine Infantry units would seem to have a bit more validity than to be ignored.

Haring’s focus is, of course, the Combat Endurance Test, a grueling physical event that has been a part of the Infantry Officers’ Course for decades.  This is where 13 of the 14 female Officers have failed, and it is administered on the first day of training.  (The 14th female was dropped with a stress fracture in the first few days of training.)  Haring calls the Combat Endurance Test an “initiation”, rather than an occupational qualification, and to an extent that is correct.  In order to lead Infantry Marines, an Officer must successfully complete that test.  So, of course, since it is a stumbling block for 93% (at least) of the female Officers, Haring takes aim at that event.  And here is the crux of her argument:

Do initiation rites have a place in our military?  There will be those who argue that they absolutely have a place in developing the esprit de corps that is vital to the Marine Corps and those arguments have merit.  Certainly the Marines have built their reputation on being tough, trained professionals whose motto Semper Fidelis (always faithful) embodies their total dedication to this country and to the Corps. But does an initiation rite that effectively filters out half the American population (all women) do the Marine Corps justice?

It is that last line which says it all.  Haring apparently has issue with how the Marine Corps trains its Infantry Officers, as such training doesn’t do the Corps “justice”.   Huh.  Here I was thinking the Corps had a rather successful training program for what it rightly considers the backbone of the service, the Marine Infantry Officer.  Haring parenthetically mentions that such training “filters out” women, as if that part of her argument is an afterthought.  In reality, her entire effort centers around that very premise.  While she goes on to say that she is not advocating elimination of the Combat Endurance Test, she does advocate advancing female Officers through IOC without passing the test, as she claims male officers have done, and allow females to repeat the test (one assumes, indefinitely), until they pass.  (I question the accuracy of her assertions that males have been given unlimited chances to pass the Combat Endurance Test, and know of several males who have washed from IOC because they could not do so.)

This will have the effect of making passing of the Combat Endurance Test a graduation requirement rather than an entry requirement.  Of course, once a female Officer has had all that time and money invested in her training, the argument will then be to waive passing of the Combat Endurance Test altogether.  Because it would be foolish and wasteful to put a female Officer through all that training and not have her graduate.  Which will be precisely the goal of feminist activists like Haring.  Female Marine Infantry Officers, no matter how unqualified or ill-equipped to be such.  Because, well, the cause is more important.

So, despite her assertions that she does not advocate changing the standards in order to have female Marine Officers become Infantry Officers, she is advocating just that, and she knows it.  Like so many in the “girl power” feminism ranks, she simply lacks the integrity to say so.

h/t to Info Dissem

11 Comments

Filed under army, ARMY TRAINING, Around the web, Defense, girls, history, infantry, marines, Politics, recruiting, stupid, Uncategorized, veterans, war, weapons

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.

7 Comments

Filed under Artillery, guns, history, infantry, navy, SIR!, Uncategorized, veterans, war

General Carl E. Mundy, Jr, 30th Marine Commandant, Dead at 78

mundy

Very sad news that General Carl Mundy, the 30th Commandant of the Marine Corps, passed away on Wednesday in Alexandria, VA.   General Mundy’s career was long and distinguished, beginning with his enlistment in the Marine Reserves in 1953, where he would rise to be a Sergeant Squad Leader.

Commissioned out of Auburn University, General Mundy served two tours in Vietnam, one as OpsO and XO of 3/26, and the other with III Marine Amphibious Force.  Following his service in Southeast Asia, General Mundy commanded the Second Marines, and then 2nd Marine Division, and eventually II MEF at Camp Lejeune, NC.

General Mundy served as the 30th Commandant of the Marine Corps from July 1991 to June 1995.  General Mundy was also a plain-spoken man.  And as such, has always been a hero of mine.  He had the backbone to stand up to the Diversity Tyrants, and to try and do what was best for the Corps rather than his career.  The infamous “60 Minutes” hack job that was as dishonest as the Westmoreland piece and the George W. Bush service record fabrication portrayed Mundy’s remarks as being something other than what they were.  General Mundy had criticized the racial quota approach to recruitment of Marine Officers, rightly pointing out that simply taking in men and women based on skin color, without regard to intelligence and aptitude, did them and the Corps a disservice.  He correctly observed that those accessed with below-average intelligence and aptitude were at a severe disadvantage and did not do as well with marksmanship, land navigation, and other skills.  Mundy apologized for any offense that the edited remarks may have caused, but never backed off from his premise, which infuriated the Diversity advocates.

Later, General Mundy ordered the eventual elimination of recruiting quotas for married Marines, again rightly pointing out that first-term non-rate Marines with wives and children had a much higher proportion of problems because of low pay and long hours, and the effects were deleterious to readiness and morale.  Mundy was ordered to rescind that guidance, but again remained unwilling to revise his views.

I had the privilege to serve with General Mundy’s son Carl E. “Sam” Mundy III, at Parris Island.  He was a superb Officer who rightly admired and emulated his Dad.  Carl E. Mundy III is now a Brigadier General, I believe.    General Mundy’s legacy to the Marine Corps remains with us almost twenty years later.  He was a warrior who believed in the warrior ethos.  And was unwilling to compromise those beliefs for political expediency.

But for other senior Officers in all the services to take a lesson from General Mundy.

Farewell, General.  30th Commandant, departing.  Marines from every age who guard Heaven’s streets will present arms.

 

 

6 Comments

Filed under history, infantry, marines, Politics, SIR!, Uncategorized, veterans, war

Easy Company’s Sergeant “Wild Bill” Guarnere dies at 90

Bill Guarnere with Babe Heffron

Bill Guarnere with Babe Heffron

A sad day and a loss to our country.  NBC from Guarnere’s native Philly has the story.

“He was without a doubt one of the bravest and best soldiers in all of Easy Company,” said Easy Company historian Jake Powers. “He was one of the best combat leaders not only in his company but also the division. If there was a fight going on with the 1st Platoon or 3rd Platoon, Bill would miraculously show up and leave 2nd Platoon to go help. He would ‘march to the sound of gunfire.’ He had no reservations and was just a fearless man in combat.”

Guarnere’s time in the war ended when he lost his right leg while trying to help a wounded soldier. For his efforts during the Brecourt Manor Assault on D-Day, he earned the Silver Star. He later received two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts.

Men like Bill Guarnere are heroes.  He, and his ilk, will be missed.

2 Comments

Filed under army, Around the web, history, infantry, veterans, war

Pritzker Military Museum and Library’s Citizen Soldier: The Big Red One on D-Day

4b41aedc57102bc6eedac0c70a03843c_f3458

First Infantry Division Badge.

The 1st Infantry Division has a long and storied unit history in the US Army that begins just before the US involvement in World War 1 and continues to this day with periodic deployments to Afghanistan. “The Big Red One,” as it’s perhaps more commonly known is the oldest division in the US Army.

On 13 March 2014 at 6pm, the Pritzker Military Museum and Library, in conjunction with the First Division Museum, is hosting a live televised Citizen Soldier event featuring Paul Herbert, Joseph Balkoski, John C. McManus, and Steven Zaloga. These distinguished military historians will be discussing the 1st ID’s service on D-Day.

Here’s a glimpse of what the 1ID’s experienced on D-Day courtesy of Wikipedia:

When that campaign was over, the division returned to England 5 November 1943[11]:622 to prepare for the eventual Normandy invasion.[2]The First Infantry Division and one regimental combat team from the 29th Infantry Division comprised the first wave of troops that assaulted German Army defenses on Omaha Beach on D-Day[2][13] with some of the division’s units suffering 30 percent casualties in the first hour of the assault,[14] and secured Formigny and Caumont in the beachhead by the end of the day.

Learn more about the event and it’s participants here.

The event cost is $10.00 for non-members and free for members. If you’ll be in the area and would like to attend, purchase tickets now, or if you know someone in the Chicagoland area that would be interested in attending, please pass this along. If you attend, please let them know you heard about the event here.

It should be an interesting event and I’ll be in attendance.

The Big Red One on D-Day will be televised live and available for future viewing on the Museum’s website.

2 Comments

Filed under Afghanistan, army, ARMY TRAINING, history, infantry, veterans, war

Disastrously Delusional- Kerry on “Meet the Press”

mtp_jk_aggr_140302_f67da166fe8d9c9bf62e203b1ec5c61f.330;320;7;70;5

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.

19 Comments

Filed under armor, army, Around the web, Artillery, budget, Defense, guns, helicopters, history, infantry, Iran, iraq, israel, Lybia, obama, ossettia, planes, Politics, Uncategorized, veterans, war

Ten Years Ago Today

41168_152997951383818_2098984_n

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.

1 Comment

Filed under Afghanistan, Air Force, army, Artillery, Defense, guns, helicopters, history, infantry, iraq, islam, marines, navy, obama, Personal, Politics, Splodey, Uncategorized, veterans, war

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

blitzkrieg-europe-1940-ww2-second-world-war-illustrated-history-pictures-photos-images-french-soldier-tankman-surrenders

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.

26 Comments

Filed under Afghanistan, Air Force, armor, army, ARMY TRAINING, Around the web, Artillery, budget, China, Defense, girls, guns, helicopters, history, infantry, iraq, logistics, marines, navy, planes, Politics, SIR!, Splodey, Uncategorized, veterans, war

War Department Film: Landings On New Britain

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

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

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.

3 Comments

Filed under Air Force, armor, army, Around the web, Artillery, Defense, guns, history, infantry, logistics, marines, navy, planes, SIR!, Uncategorized, veterans, war

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.

CoLT pg 1

CoLT pg 2

CoLT pg 3

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.

Comments Off

Filed under Afghanistan, Artillery, Defense, guns, helicopters, history, infantry, iraq, logistics, marines, navy, Politics, war

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.

Unforgotten War

Korean War

Korean War

Korean War

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

Comments Off

Filed under Air Force, armor, army, ARMY TRAINING, Around the web, Artillery, China, Defense, guns, helicopters, history, infantry, marines, navy, planes, Uncategorized, veterans, war

My time as a logistician

Newer readers may not have seen this post originally written in the early days of the blog.

Late in 1991, after my triumphant return from Operation Desert Storm I was transferred from the 1st Armored Division in Germany with orders to Ft. Carson, Colorado, home of the 4th Infantry Division. After 44 days of leave spent lounging around my parents and getting underfoot, I hopped a flight to the beautiful city of Colorado Springs, nestled at the foot of the towering Front Range of the Rockies.  A quick shuttle bus ride and I was deposited into the care of the 4th IDs Adjudant General’s 4th Replacement Company. As a junior enlisted soldier, my orders only specified the 4th ID. The division itself would subsequently make my assignment to one of its subordinate battalions.

I spent a week with the replacement company, mostly listening to briefings about the division and its policies and doing make-work details. Quite a bit of time was spent sitting around just waiting. Finally, my name was called to recieve my assignment. The clerk handed my orders to the 104th Main Support Battalion, part of the Division Support Command. The MSB is the logistical backbone of the division, providing maintenance, supply and medical care to the division. I promptly protested to the clerk that the orders were in error. I was an 11B. I should have been sent to one of the divisions infantry battalions. He responded that right or wrong, I was going to the MSB, and better hurry down the street to check in.

Off I went, slightly bemused with the idiocy sometimes displayed by the Army. I checked in with the S-1(Personnel) office and dropped off a copy  of my orders. The clerk there showed me to the Battalion Command Sergeant Major (the senior NCO in the battalion). The CSM quickly read my orders, and ushered me in to his office. He was far more accomodating to me than any other CSM I’d ever met. The trouble, he explained, was that the battalion had a severe shortage of supply personnel. His boss wanted to shift some other support soldiers into the slots. The CSM had a better idea. As an old infantryman, he was convinced that soldiers from the combat arms were adaptable enough to come in and learn the job quickly, helping the battalion achieve its mission and just maybe setting a good example for the junior soldiers from other MOS’s. I was one of three soldiers he’d snagged from the replacement company. All three of us would go to Bravo Company, where we would work in the parts warehouse.

I explained to the CSM that I didn’t want to be in the battalion (“no offense, Sergeant Major, but if I’d wanted to be a REMF, I would have enlisted as one!”) and could he just send me down the line to one of the infantry battalions. He made is counteroffer (“You’ll do it and like it!”) but he did sweeten the pot just a bit. He said that if I did a good job, he’d let me go in six months, and that if I did a really good job, he’d let me choose which of the three battalions I went to. I bowed to inevitability and grabbed my bags, walked across the street, and checked into Company B, 104th Main Support Battalion.

The first day at work was a little odd. When you report to  an infantry unit, just about the first thing battalion does is assign you to a company, and the company assigns you to a platoon, who puts you in a squad. Usually, that happens even before you get down to the battalion. A good unit knows you are coming and is ready for you, with the supply sergeant ready to get you set up in the barracks. When I showed up at B Co., they weren’t entirely sure what to do with me. I had to track down the First Sergeant to get a room assigned and track down the supply sergeant to get some sheets and blankets. Then, when I went to the warehouse, instead of having a clue, they told me to “follow that guy over there.”  “That guy” turned out to be a Sergeant who was also reporting for his first day of work, but at least he was working in his specialty. They hadn’t really given him a job either, but he grabbed some paperwork and got to work, utilizing me as his gopher and to lift heavy stuff (grunts are always good for that).

Soon, I found myself working with  a small team of supply types working in the outdoor parts yard for repair parts too large to store convienently in the warehouse. Here’s the basic workflow- as mentioned below, when  a vehicle down in one of the battalions needed a repair part, they’d draw one from their stocks and submit an order to us to replace it.  Each day, each battalion would place all their parts orders on a floppy disk and drive it down to our warehouse. Once all the disks were uploaded to our computer, list would be generated. Each part would be released by an MRO, or Material Release Order. Basically, this was an invoice. Each MRO would list the part by name, national stock number, serial number if neccessarry, and by its location in the warehouse. We would print out the days list of MROs. Since we knew which MROs were for parts located outside, my team would segregate these orders. Our mission each day was to find the parts, stage them to each battalions pick up area (the line battalions were responsible for picking the parts up from us, we just didn’t have the transport to push the parts to them), mark the orders complete and recieve any parts that came in and place them in their proper storage area. We would also recieve the broken parts to be replaced and stage them for turn in for either recycling or repair by a higher echelon than us.

When I started working there, the yards (there were two of them because of space limitations) were a complete mess. Typical parts stored outside were tires, roadwheels for tracked vehicles, track shoes and sections of track, engines, transmissions, FUPPS (the “full up power pack” for the M-1 tank, with engine, transmission and accessories, in a container, weighing in at 14,000 pounds), truck body parts like doors, windshields, shock absorbers and springs and stuff like that. There were some minor issues with parts not being in the right place. That was pretty easy to fix. The real problem was that over time, the previous workers had gotten sloppy about making sure equipment returned to them had been turned in for repair or recycling. And over time, the tags and orders had fallen off or been misplaced. There was no way to tell what piece was what. And without that information, we couldn’t figure out which open orders went with which piece of surplus.

I pretty soon got into the swing of working the yard. Normally, the Army is very fastidious about the procedures for licensing someone to drive or operate any equipment. The only licensces I’d ever held had been for the Humvee and for what the Army called CUCVs, basically Chevy pickups and Blazers with a camo paintjob. I checked in to the battalion motor pool and found that with no training or test drives, I’d been licensed for those vehicles, the duece and a half, the 5-ton truck, 5-ton tractor trailer, and a variety of forklifts, from 1000lb capacity electrics used in the warehouse to 10k forklifts built on the chasis of a front end loader. Indeed, I was not only licensed to drive them, I was the assigned driver on four different vehicles. If we ever had to move into the field, I wasn’t quite clear how I was going to drive four vehicles simultaneously. Still, I quickly earned a reputation as the go-to guy for operating the 10k forklift. Each day, I’d pick up all the orders for the big stuff. I even managed to load the 14,000lb FUPPs with a 10,000lb capacity forklift. It wasn’t easy, and you had to show a gentle touch. But it was very popular with the armor battalions because previously they’d had to order the parts separately, then assemble them in the field, installing them with a tank recovery vehicle. I’d saved them hundreds of man-hours of work. The downside was that any time a tank went down on the weekend, I’d get the call to go pull the parts for them and load them. More than once I came back to the barracks at 2am after a hard night partying in Colorado Springs, only to find an MRO and a couple of irritated tankers waiting on me. Trust me, loading really heavy tank engines while drunk as a skunk is a challenge. The worst part though, was having to go inside and fire up the terminal and generate and print the MRO. What should have been a 20 minute job would take an hour.

Since I could get through the larger parts pretty quickly, and since the boss was on my tail about it, I started looking into what could be done to clean up the yards. There had to be some way of getting rid of all the roadwheels and other junk sitting around taking up space and generally looking bad. There was an additional problem. A lot of the parts were turned in for scrap. But we couldn’t get rid of them since we couldn’t tell what was scrap and what wasn’t. If we turned in a piece of equipment as scrap that shouldn’t have been, there was no way we could ever close the open work order on that piece. The longer the orders stayed open, the worse we looked. The key would be identifiying what was what, right down to the national stock number. I’ll give you an idea of what a typical problem was. There were two types of roadwheels made for the M-113, steel and aluminum. One was discarded for scrap and one was turned in for refurbishment. Seems simple. But the instructions listed which to turn in by stock number, without mentioning what it was made of. No one knew which was which.

One thing I had learned by this time was that there was always a regulation, manual or person that covered a situation. The trick was finding that repository of information. Inspiration came in a flash. I was visiting the on-post office of the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Office (DRMO), the agency that handles all the suprlus sales for the DoD. I was looking for to see what interesting stuff they might have for the next auction, such as furniture or office equipment. Then I noticed they had a large section of scrap metal. I struck up a conversation with the civilian who worked there and explained my problem. I hit paydirt. The guy knew just about everything there was to know about what could be scrapped and what couldn’t. He also had the manuals to back his judgment up. Over the course of a couple of weeks, he came down to the yard and helped me sort through tons of scrap and even better, helped identify all sorts of arcane parts that none of us recognized. He even helped us find a streamlined way to generate the missing orders for scrap turn in. Once all the scrap was properly (and legally) disposed of, it was a fairly simple task to match work orders with the remaining surplus parts in the yard and clear all the overdue orders. Some of the orders had been open for years. By the time he and I finished, there wasn’t an order over 48 hours old.

It was an interesting and challenging job. But it wasn’t the infantry. And while I liked the work, I was deeply unhappy with the company itself. The commander was detached and she didn’t impress me in the least as a leader. The First Sergeant substituted bombast and abuse for standards and leadership. I wasn’t entirely clear on what it was they did all day, because we never saw them doing anything for the soldiers. As my six-month mark approached, I asked the CSM if he would let me go, and if possible, send me to the 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry. I didn’t know much about the infantry battalions on post, but the 1-12IN had a decent reputation, far better than the other two. The First Sergeant was being difficult. He couldn’t stand me, but didn’t want to let me go. Still, the CSM was a man of his word. He told me he would make it happen. I called down to the battalion and they told me I would be further assigned to Alpha Company. I stopped by and introduced myself to the 1SG at Alpha company. What a great first impression he gave. No nonsense, spelled out what he expected, introduced me to my platoon sergeant and told me he looked forward to me “joining the real Army again” just as soon as the orders had been cut. The orders were cut on a Thursday afternoon. My 1SG at B/104, always looking for a way to be a pain, insisted that I be completely vacated out of the barracks that day. If some friends with a pickup truck hadn’t been handy to help me move, my stuff would have been out on the street.

I’m glad that I had a chance to see how the rest of the Army works. It ain’t all guns and ammo. Some of the folks I worked with were as dedicated as any I’ve ever met. And karma is a bitch. The First Sergeant who failed on so many levels? A few months later he was courtmartialed for sexual harrasment and drummed out of the Army in disgrace. Safely tucked away in my new home with my fellow infantrymen, I laughed my ass off.

2 Comments

Filed under army, ARMY TRAINING, infantry, Politics

6 October 1973, The Beginning of the Yom Kippur War

super shermans

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.

sadat

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.

badr

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.

Yom-Kippur-war-Egyptian-artillery-conduct-a-barrage-during-the-Yom-Kippur-War-wiki-commons.jpg

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.

f4SA-6

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.

golda

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.

1 Comment

Filed under Air Force, armor, army, ARMY TRAINING, Artillery, Defense, guns, history, infantry, iraq, islam, israel, navy, Splodey, Uncategorized, veterans, war

What Might Have Been: The Polish PZL P.50 Jaszdrab (Hawk)

pzl_p-50

Salamander’s encore FbF today was a tribute to the suicidally brave pilots of the Polish Air Force, who rose in small numbers and outmoded machines to contest the modern and lethal Luftwaffe of the Third Reich, seventy-four years ago this week.

pzl-p11

The aircraft that the Polish pursuit (fighter) pilots took to the skies in on that first September morning of 1939 were thoroughly obsolete vestiges of another era.  The PZL P.11 featured on Sal’s porch was a parasol-wing monoplane with fixed landing gear that was a derivative of a design dating back to the late ‘Twenties.  With a top speed of barely 235 mph, it was no match for the German Bf 109D and E models, which were some 120 mph faster and much more heavily armed.

Bf109E-7_Leningrad1942_JG5-800

The Poles watched the once cutting edge P.11 fade into complete obsolescence with the rapid advances in aircraft and engine technology of the mid 1930s (Bf 109, Spitfire, Hurricane, Curtiss Hawk 75), and in 1936 proposed their own all-metal low-wing monoplane fighter with retractable landing gear.  This was the PZL P.50 Jaszdrab (Hawk).   Design work included the mounting of a 870 hp Gnome-Rhone radial, giving the aircraft a designed top speed of around 270 mph.  A more powerful engine, of British design, would have increased performance considerably.  Unfortunate delays in acquiring retractable landing gear and in engine delivery (the 1,350 hp Bristol Hercules radial) slowed development to a crawl.  The first prototype flew only weeks before the German invasion, and the only other airframe never flew.

Plans were to build more than three hundred of the P.50B with the more powerful British engine to replace the outmoded P.11.  The Hercules would have given the Hawk a top speed of around 340 mph.  With a higher power/weight ratio and considerably lower wing loading (26 lb/sqft vs 40 lb/sqft) than the Bf 109E, the Hawk would likely have had excellent maneuverability, climb rate, and acceleration.  The sturdy construction of the P.11 would certainly have been carried over to the P.50.

While the P.50 Jaszdrab most probably would have still been somewhat outclassed by the German fighter, the brave Polish pilots would have been at least in a modern aircraft much more equal to their foes.   Three hundred P.50s in the hands of the brave and skilled Polish pilots, fourteen squadrons instead of ten, may have given the Luftwaffe pause.  The toll they might have taken on the cream of the German fighter strength may have given the equally brave and equally outmatched Polish ground forces some respite from the onslaught.

Perhaps, perhaps not.  But the P.50 in the hands of the Polish Air Force is one of those “what if?” scenarios one cannot help but ponder.

Comments Off

Filed under Air Force, army, Around the web, guns, history, infantry, planes, Uncategorized, veterans, war

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.

peresvietaground

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.

ru_peresviet_battleship_tr_626

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.

ship-ww1-u126

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.

5 Comments

Filed under armor, army, Artillery, guns, history, infantry, navy, Uncategorized, veterans, war

Leadership and Responsibility on the Longest Day

failure-message

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.

5 Comments

Filed under Air Force, armor, army, Artillery, ducks, guns, history, infantry, Lybia, marines, navy, planes, SIR!, Uncategorized, veterans, war

May 26th, 1940 Operation DYNAMO; The Evacuation of Dunkirk Begins

365424_f520

As the Allied Dyle-Breda Plan collapsed under the pressure of the Wehrmacht’s Blitzkrieg, most of the British Expeditionary Force of more than 320,000 men fell back against the French coast around Calais and Dunkirk.   Germany’s Fall Gelb (Case Yellow) had been radically modified in early 1940 from a plan looking nearly identical to that of 1914, to one which included a decisive armored thrust through the Ardennes Forest that would break the Allied armies in two and trap the preponderance of Allied combat power in a pocket north of Paris.   The Blitzkrieg which began in 10 May 1940 had shattered the Dutch, Belgian, and French armies.

The Wehrmacht employment of auftragstaktik allowed German commanders at all levels to consistently defeat Allied tempo of decision-making, which led to countless occasions where German units slammed into French and British formations who were de-training or still in road march formation and unready for battle.   Speed, both in tactical mobility and command and control, was as decisive as any other single factor in the Battle of France.

Sixteen days into office, Prime Minister Winston Churchill had known since 15 May that the French were finished.   Despite attempts to reinforce his French allies, by 21 May the objective of the BEF was to conduct a fighting withdrawal to a Channel port, from where it might, if extremely fortunate and able to gain local air superiority, be evacuated back to Britain.

Dunkirk_1940_HU1149

Operation DYNAMO, which would include a massive commitment of the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force, and thousands of small ships and craft, began on 26 May 1940.   With two French divisions holding against German pressure, British units began to move toward the beaches and piers, the ships and craft (in the surf line) which would shuttle them both to larger ships and to England itself.  That German pressure was not nearly as heavy as it might have been, thankfully for the British.  Reichsmarshall Goering had promised Hitler that his Luftwaffe would destroy the Allied evacuation efforts without having to risk von Küchler’s Panzer and Panzergrenadier units in coastal sand unsuitable for their deployment.

spitDunkirkdunkirk1

In the end, German commanders convinced Hitler to launch concerted attacks on Dunkirk, but it would come too late.  Dunkirk was finally captured on 4 June 1940, but by that time, 198,000 British and 123,000 French troops had been evacuated.   The RAF had paid a heavy price for the furious defense of the skies over Operation DYNAMO, losing 177 precious fighter aircraft that had been jealously hoarded for the battle over the skies of England that was sure to come.   The Royal Navy lost six modern destroyers, and several hundred small craft.   Virtually all of the BEF’s heavy equipment, tanks and trucks, artillery pieces, and more than 70,000 tons of ammunition was left on the beach.  And nearly 15% of the BEF’s soldiers were dead, wounded, or prisoner.

368057_f520

But the vast preponderance of British manpower had been saved.  German intelligence reports in preparation for SEELÖWE noted the toughness and high quality of the British Soldiers, including the Territorials.  Most of them were back safely on British soil, and the Wehrmacht would have to deal with them in the near future under far less favorable circumstances.  Those plucked from the Dunkirk docks and surf included the British Commander of II Corps, Lieutenant General Sir Alan Brooke, later Chief of the Imperial General Staff, and Major General Bernard Law Montgomery, in command of the 3rd Infantry Division.   Dunkirk had been a miracle indeed.  And the Germans would pay dearly for their mistake.

tumblr_m492il891R1qe99klo1_1280

Churchill’s admonition that “wars are not won by evacuations” not withstanding, the successful evacuation of the bulk of the BEF from Dunkirk allowed England to survive until the Soviet Union and the United States entered the war.   Lost on the 73 years since the evacuation of Dunkirk was the fact that there was a considerable body of opinion in Parliament that desired a negotiated peace with Germany.  With the loss of the BEF, such a body of opinion might have been strong enough to have blocked Churchill’s desires to fight Hitler to the bitter end.   DYNAMO signaled what Churchill told the British people, that “the Battle of France is over, the Battle of Britain is about to begin”.    Defending the Island Nation was the force evacuated from France.

4 Comments

Filed under Air Force, armor, army, Artillery, guns, history, infantry, navy, planes, Uncategorized, veterans, war

The Rifle Squad as the Decisive Force

A year or two ago, in discussing small infantry units, Esli mentioned that the current doctrinal emphasis of the Maneuver Center of Excellence (formerly, the Infantry School) was on making the rifle squad more lethal, more effective, more of an overmatch to the enemy equivalent.

The current US Army 9 man rifle squad* versus an enemy of comparable size has several significant advantages, and yet also faces serious disadvantages.

First, US squads tend to be better educated and better trained in infantry combat, in both the technical and tactical aspects.  They are virtually never without some type of supporting fires on call, from machine gun teams and anti-armor weapons at the squad level, company and battalion level mortar fire, through brigade and higher level artillery, and even close air support.

The soldiers of the rifle squad have body armor, clothing and load bearing equipment that is far better than their opponents. Their food is healthier, and less likely to lead to illness. Their communications are generally better. His night vision devices are almost always far more capable than the enemy’s.

But the US rifle squad also has its problems…

That body armor and load bearing equipment leads to soldiers carrying loads that severely limit the mobility and agility of the squad. These same heavy loads also lead to an increase in sports type injuries.  Rules of engagement often delay or prevent supporting fires from higher echelons from joining the fight in a timely manner. That healthful and nutritious food is heavy, further increasing the soldier’s load, and tying him to a logistical chain. His communications and night vision devices all require large amounts of battery power, all of which has to be manpacked.

As to weapons, frankly small arms are small arms. We can spend the next fifty years debating the relative merits of the M16/M4 family versus the AK family that have spent the last fifty years fighting one another.  But neither weapon so overmatches the other as to be decisive. The same is true for any other weapons found in the rifle squad or the threat squad.

So, today we find ourselves in a situation where a US squad can pretty much hold its own with any similar sized threat. And generally, it will come out better than the enemy.

But that isn’t the goal. The goal, the desire is to be confident that virtually any time a US squad encounters an enemy formation of similar size, the US squad can fix it, fight it, finish it, hunting it down and destroying it. Today, most squad on squad engagements are not decisive- either one or the other force breaks contact and lives to fight another day.

Comes now news that the Army commissioned a study by the National Research Council, who came to the conclusion that the problem is, the squad isn’t well equipped.

Now, in the context I just shared with you, that sounds kinda nuts. One of the primary problems the dismounted infantry squad faces is the crushing burden of carrying the stuff they already have.

But the report does make some sense. The Army has spent untold billions designing network centric warfare capabilities the give commanders unprecedented ability to “see” the battlefield.  A commander can know almost instantly where his forces are, and with support from UAVs and other intel assets, very often where enemy forces are, even before the battle is joined.

But once a squad leaves its vehicles, it is cut off from this network. Its only data stream, if you will, is voice radio. And the “bandwidth” of voice radio is awfully narrow. It is very, very difficult to transmit a clear tactical picture through words alone, especially absent the non-verbal cues humans routinely use in face to face communications.  Even with standardized formats, the limits to how much information can pass from the squad to higher, or from higher down to the squad is very limited.

In the past, we’ve mentioned the possibility of using smart phones on the battlefield to increase the dismount squad’s ability to access data, rather than just voice. And there’s some hope for that. But smart phones aren’t exactly set up to run on Army tactical radio networks. Further, a smart phone is not the most ergonomic way to present information. You know it is foolhardy to text and drive. How much more foolhardy is it to text and shoot? So a more “heads up” method of presenting the information in an intuitive manner will eventually be needed.

And whatever technology comes along, it will have to weigh less than the current state of the art. And not only will it have to weigh less, its batteries will have to weigh much less.

Further, for all the advantages technology may in the future give the squad, it is not without its own burdens, even beyond simple weight. Every piece of equipment calls for maintenance and training, both of which take time. And time available for training is limited. What other training should the squad sacrifice to achieve competency in these new technologies?

Do we sacrifice time spent on marksmanship? Fire and movement? First aid? Weapons maintenance? Map reading? Sexual assault awareness and prevention training? Language and cultural training for upcoming deployments? It isn’t like there isn’t enough on the plate already.

The report also pings Big Army for spending far more money and attention on big ticket acquisition programs than on the bread and butter of everyday stuff used at the squad level.  The Program Executive Officer for Command and Control technologies is a Major General. The PEO for small arms is a Colonel, who, judging by the fact he’s been there for several years, ain’t a “comer” for stars.

So what do we do?  I don’t know. I’m not entirely sure, absent a far greater willingness to take casualties, we can make the rifle squad capable of decisively defeating a threat squad.

And I’m not even sure that should be the goal. The great strength of the Army, and indeed all our services, has long, long been not so much our technology, but our ability to “systemize our systems.”

In an artillery duel, the US doesn’t fight gun against gun. It pits US target acquisition, communications, fire control, guns and ammunition (as well as soldiers, doctrine, and training) against the foe. And no other nation has shown the talent for tying together these elements to effectively produce a whole  far greater than the sum of their parts. I’ve used artillery here as an example, but the general rule applies across the entire armed forces.  The challenge is to continue to understand that technology is a tool that enables this synchronization, and not a substitute for it.

http://img42.imageshack.us/img42/836/53805940489aa77d4f09b.jpg

*Marine rifle squads have thirteen members. Basically, they add an extra fire team to each squad.

3 Comments

Filed under Afghanistan, army, ARMY TRAINING, Artillery, infantry, war

Battle for Berlin, 1945

This week marks VE Day, commemorating the Victory in Europe over Hitler’s Third Reich.  The last and perhaps the most savage battle was for the German capital of Berlin.   This from the Battlefield series, which was aired weekly on Far East Network (“Forced Entertainment Network”) when I had an artillery battery in Okinawa in 1996.   The entire series is superb, and if you look, you can find most of them on line.  They are also available on DVD.   They contain a pretty good description of the higher tactical through the strategic picture, and have enough detail and technical stuff, but not too much.

Since the series was made, Russian archives have been explored more completely, and the number of Soviet casualties have been scaled up more than two-fold, from the 305,000 quoted in this episode, to nearly 700,000.   Note the ever-present use of artillery and mortars, rockets, and field guns, even in an urban environment.   The episode is 116 minutes, roughly the time one spends clicking on all of Mav’s aviation links and cool pictures and videos and stuff.   So get your Eastern Front geek on, and watch it.  You know you wanna.

5 Comments

Filed under 120mm, Air Force, armor, army, Around the web, Artillery, guns, history, infantry, planes, Splodey, Uncategorized, veterans, war

Bringing the Raiders Home from Makin

The events of this video occurred in 1999-2000.  I remember the story then, but I did not know the most amazing part of the story.   That the Butaritari people of that island had buried the Marine dead, had given them a warriors’ burial, is astounding and incredibly moving.

The August 1942 Makin Raid by Carlson’s 2nd Raider Bn killed a large number of Japanese on the island, but the raid was not really a success. as no prisoners were taken, and no Japanese forces diverted from the Solomons to the Gilberts.    Nonetheless, the Butaritari people honored the sacrifice of those Marines, and protected their slain comrades from the hated Japanese until they were liberated in November of 1943.

(Among those on the Makin Raid was 2nd Lt Oscar Peatross, who would win a Navy Cross there.  I had the honor of meeting him when I was stationed at Parris Island in the early 90s.)

Don’t be surprised to get dust in your eye while watching the video.   Nineteen brave young Marines, honored by the people they died to free, and again by those they died to keep free.    Semper Fidelis.

H/T to Dennis

3 Comments

Filed under army, guns, history, infantry, marines, navy, Uncategorized, veterans, war

Political Officers of the People’s Defense Commissariat

commissar_nkvd_unif_0

Over on the Front Porch, the ever-thoughtful Commander Salamander has some very good thoughts on an initiative by which commanders and General/Flag Officers would be subject to evaluation above and beyond what should be the considered judgment of their reporting seniors and reviewing officers.   Salamander calls it “Outsourcing Leadership”, and so it is.  He makes good arguments as to why such a thing should be anathema to anyone who considers him/herself worthy of high command.

While I agree with everything Sal says, I do believe very strongly that the implications are far more destructive than he points out.   What this new “review” is setting the conditions for is nothing less than an evaluation of Officers in the US Armed Forces for their political and social reliability.   We have had a long tradition of political non-alignment among especially our senior commanders, but also among Officers, commissioned and non-commissioned, which has largely protected us from the scourge of a military that is a social force that has its say in national politics.  No Kurt Schleicher or Francisco Franco here.  Our military leaders who have held office have been retired from the Armed Forces before doing so.   Any test of political and social reliability was in the obverse, in that propriety was maintained by refraining from expressing personal opinions or political views in uniform, especially as a part of official duties of office.

The landscape changed dramatically in 2009, when CJCS Admiral Mike Mullen indulged in telling Congress and the American people, unsolicited, his personally-held views on repeal of DADT and open service for homosexuals in America’s military.  At the time I warned of the damage of that unprofessional, arrogant, and selfish act.   Soon, Mullen informed our service men and women that, unless they held the same personal beliefs he did, they were not fit to serve, and should “vote with their feet”.   We were on our way down the well-greased slope.

This Administration, many of whose principles have openly and loudly expressed their disdain for our military (Hillary Clinton conspicuously among them), has spared no effort to co-opt military leadership into conforming to a political stance.  Even when Stanley McChrystal was justifiably relieved, he blithely informed the American public that he had indeed personally voted for Obama, and such a revelation garnered scant attention.  One has to imagine that, had he mentioned he had voted for John McCain, the howls of the Administration and its complicit “free press” would have been deafening.  Rightly.  But because McChrystal voted “correctly”, not a peep of of objection was heard.

The push to allow Commanding Generals to order confiscation of lawfully-owned firearms from service members in private residences has far less to do with any kind of prevention, and much more to do with General Officers falling in behind a gun control agenda that anyone in DoD is willing to admit.  Violation of due process and Constitutional liberties of those who defend our freedom is scant cost for active advocating of a Leftist crusade.

In the midst of escalation of rhetoric and sabre-rattling of a nuclear North Korea and a China bullying our allies over two sets of disputed islands, the Commander of the Seventh Fleet informs us that he believes the biggest security threat in his assigned Area of Operations is….  global warming.   Someone in Locklear’s position who says something so patently absurd and politically pandering should be relieved forthwith as someone who lacks the judgment and/or integrity to lead.  If he doesn’t believe his own words, he is disingenuous and untrustworthy.  If he does, he is an imbecile.  In either event, he does not belong where he is.  But, of course, he remains.  He toes the line of political agenda.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, a political appointee, volunteers the US Navy to be a beta-tester of biofuels, at enormous expense, not least of which is the up-front cost of the fuel itself, but as yet undetermined is the cost of the damage that the corrosion and water will do to extremely expensive systems in ships and aircraft in the medium-long term.  While Mabus doesn’t wear a uniform, I would speculate that nobody who does raised a single objection to SECNAV in any way, or told him how inappropriate such measures were, that it amounted to incestuous political pandering at the expense of readiness and warfighting.  Not one.

When outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta fired his parting political broadside and removed the exclusion of putting women in combat arms units (the issue is NOT women in combat, and anyone honestly evaluating the situation knows that), there were loud promises from every corner that standards would not be lowered.  Until CJCS General Dempsey quickly said that the would be, to accommodate making women successfully pass the training requirements.

To anyone who watches what is said and not said, all these occurrences are signposts that point in the direction of travel.  This “review process” is another waypoint on that journey of the destruction of the fiber of our Armed Forces and its leadership.  That same CJCS, General Marty Dempsey, is now mandating that the review program will include inspections.

The inspections will not be punitive, but will provide a “periodic opportunity for general officers and flag officers to understand whether, from an institutional perspective, we think they are inside or outside the white lines,” he said. In addition, new programs will be instituted to ensure that a commander’s staff, and a spouse, are fully aware of military regulations.

This is the Marty Dempsey who violated his oath to our Constitution on two occasions, actively criticizing the legal free expression of private citizens in direct violation of that Constitution he is sworn to support and defend against all enemies.  In the Benghazi incident, Dempsey’s admonitions amounted to a deliberate falsehood, a lie, to perpetuate the lies told us by our State Department (and Hillary Clinton) that the attack on the embassy was a spontaneous one stemming from a demonstration regarding an online anti-Muslim video, when both he and SecState knew good and well their words were false.   He readily and easily forfeited his integrity for his bosses.  Are we now expected to believe that those “white lines” reflect the traditional role of the non-political military officer?   The traditional tenets of leadership, technical and tactical proficiency, integrity, judgment, courage, decisiveness, and the others, will be pre-empted and eventually superceded by assurance of political reliability and the “correct” beliefs regarding social and political issues, and a willingness to set aside one’s honor at the behest of military and political seniors.

Why ever would we expect any different?  Men (and women) in uniform who behave as political sycophants should not be trusted to lead.   Certainly, Martin Dempsey has proven on several occasions not to be worthy of my trust, nor yours.  Except to use these new standards of performance as a tool to remake the senior officers of our military in his image, that of a pliant servant of political masters, whose oath to the Constitution is a mere gesture.   Those who conform to that mold will not be worthy of our trust, either.    When the choice is between obedience to our Constitution or obedience to political bosses, why, it won’t be a choice at all.

Alles klar, Herr Kommisar?

7 Comments

Filed under Air Force, army, infantry, marines, navy, obama, Politics, Uncategorized, veterans, war

The Care and Feeding of Co-authors.

Normally, I like to make fun of Marines. And I like to make fun of
Artillerymen. I especially like making fun of Marine Artillerymen.

But if I pick on URR too much, he pouts and doesn’t post much. Which means, I would have to, and what’s the point of having co-authors, but to pick up my slack?

And Roamy, bless her, likes some splodey/shooty. It’s not like I pay them for content, so once in a while, I have to be nice to URR and Roamy. Here, I’mma kill two birds with one stone.

The Marines will never have anything approaching the numbers of guns Army artillery has. Yes, in Iraq and Afghanistan, the need for tube artillery has been fairly sparse. But in a near-peer conflict, a war of maneuver, artillery will be as key as it always has been. One of the linchpins of a strategy of maneuver is denying that very maneuver to your enemy. And artillery fire is a key component of that. The old definition of maneuver was “fire and movement” and artillery provides the “fire” while infantry/armor provides the movement.

It’s not so much that the Marines are dim and not smart enough to buy a lot of artillery. They are. But they face two important constraints on the amount of artillery they can field. First, all their artillery pretty much has to be air transportable by helicopter. And given the very limited number of CH-53E’s available, if at all possible, they want systems that can be lifted by the smaller, more numerous MV-22B. Second, the Marines are an amphibious force, which means they have to travel on the amphibious shipping provided to them by the Navy. As big as those ships are, there aren’t a lot of them, and further, there is a fixed, finite space available for equipment. Finding a balance between tanks, artillery, amphibious assault vehicles, logistical trucks, Humvees and all the other stuff a Marine Expeditionary Unit needs to take along is one of the headaches Marine planners face on a regular basis. So finding an artillery system that uses less space, and weighs less and, in a perfect world, takes a smaller crew, is a key priority. So the Marines are buying the EFSS 120mm mortar system, in lieu of the traditional 105mm gun howitzer.

In the Army, all mortars, even the 120mm, are Infantry weapons, organic to Infantry and Armor/Cav organizations. But for the Marines, if you’re going to use a mortar as your primary direct support system, having the artillery man it makes sense.

7 Comments

Filed under 120mm, Artillery, infantry, marines, navy

Blogs. Why We Write ‘Em, Why We Read ‘Em.

milblogs2a

Those of us in this somewhat focused community of MilBlog writers and readers are often asked by people who haven’t any exposure to MilBlogs, “Why do you do it?  You put in a lot of time and work.  What’s the point?”

It’s a fair question.   Thinking of ideas, and putting together a cogent discussion starter, or historical summary, takes more time than people think.  Knowing that, and being somewhat of an analysis geek (which may turn out to be a very good thing soon), I have my list of half a dozen daily reads, at least.  This’n here.  Salamander’s Front Porch.  Ray’s Information Dissemination.  OP-FOR, The Castle, and a number of other places make the list, blended with traditional news sources domestic and foreign, plus policy and analysis outfits.

Why?  Well, my gracious host here gives me an outlet for expression.  Like anyone with a fair-sized ego, I believe just a little bit that everyone is entitled to my opinion.  But there is also the great opportunity for feedback.  To hear from a mostly very educated crowd, their opinions and takes on events and occurrences domestically and in foreign affairs.  But it extends into culture, literary works, certainly history, and other aspects that spark discussion.

But one of the most valuable reasons to read and write in the Military Blogosphere is to hear from people who are truly experts in their fields, who possess great wisdom, are extensively experienced, and are considered and well-spoken people.  I do miss terribly reading the thoughts and musings of Lex, which was a morning staple and often provided several day-long trains of thought.  And this is true of not just Bloggers, but commenters.  Byron, the ugly old shipfitter, could wax authoritative about steel, and aluminum, and hull flex, and do it in a way that, perhaps over beer, I am sure I could listen intently to for hours.     Grandpa Bluewater’s urbane sophistication and eloquent dissertation always is worth the consideration, whether one agrees or not.    And there are others who add insight and humor, and are enjoyable to read.

Another such commenter is Steeljaw Scribe, shepherd of a superb blog of his own.   I did something the last two days that I rarely do, which is to go back and re-read a comment he made in Salamander’s post of the IG investigation of Admiral Gaouette.  His explanation of the dynamics of the bridge of a CVN, and the personalities and cultures that must blend and not clash if the mission is to be accomplished.

The bridge of a CVN is a unique environment that brings together two communities that normally opt to keep their distances from one another – SWOs and Aviators. That the three senior officers that regularly spend time up there (CO, XO and Navigator) are also aviators can at times, exacerbate that standoffish environment. This clash of cultures evolves from one group that is brought up in a dynamic environment and is used to rapidly changing events, making intuitive decisions and being cognizant that their butt and that of the x-number of NFOs or aircrew with them will suffer the consequences of those decisions. SWOs that typically (and note I said *typically* – there are always exceptions) come to the carrier do not come from the CRUDES environment, but from amphibs and auxiliaries and tend to be methodical if somewhat conservative and deliberative in their decision-making and watchstanding. At least that was my experience as a CVN nav. My challenge was working across that divide – to show the aviators (from watchstanders up to the XO who would go on to his first deep draft after this tour) on the one hand, how a series of events can unfold where little things not readily apparent to the eyeball can bite you (case history of the Eisenhower hitting the Spanish freighter at anchor in Hampton Roads being one of my teaching points). The flip side of that was getting the SWOs to be more anticipatory (e.g., looking to the next 2x cycles for managing sea space for downwind repositioning) as well as coming to grips with the immediacy of fixed wing operations at sea.

I know of no other vehicle by which an audience can learn, and share the insights of men and women with such experience.   It is the gaining of understanding, at the end of the day, that makes all this effort worthwhile.   Brad’s rules here do not include “write only what I agree with” or “water it down so it couldn’t possibly offend”.   He trusts us to understand and abide by propriety, and we seem to, as do the commenters,  on the whole.  And that is appreciated.

So in the end, despite the trolls, and my own alarming tendency to follow links and wind up pissing away two hours looking at cool stuff, reading and writing is worth the effort.   Even if the pay isn’t great.

3 Comments

Filed under Air Force, army, Around the web, Artillery, guns, history, infantry, iraq, marines, navy, Personal, SIR!, Uncategorized, veterans