Tag Archives: army

The Battle of the Bulge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Joint Light Tactical Vehicle

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

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

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

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

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

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Oshkosh JLTV prototype

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AM General JLTV prototype

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LMT JLTV prototype

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

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

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

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The Armored Multipurpose Vehicle

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

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M1064 120mm Mortar Carrier based on the M113A3 chassis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Early Apaches

How many times have we discussed the post-Vietnam era weapon acquisition of the “Big Five?” The M1 tank, M2/M3 Bradley, the MIM-104 Patriot missile system, the UH-60 Blackhawk transport helicopter, and the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter were all key components of the modernization of the Army after a generation of procurement lost to Vietnam.

We like to think of the Apache as being cutting edge technology. And to some extent it really still is. But we do have to acknowledge that it first flew in 1975.

This video touting the survivability of the Apache shows improvements to the weapons, countermeasures, and survivability of the Apache over its predecessor, the AH-1.

Sharp observers will note that the YAH-64 shown differed in a couple significant ways from today’s production model. The horizontal stabilizer used to be mounted at the top of the tail, but is now at the bottom. The profile of the nose has changed somewhat, as the YAH-64 didn’t have the complete TADS/PNVS installed. The sponsons along the nose are longer on the production model.

Production models also have far better Radar Homing and Warning devices and flare/chaff dispensers.

Still, the Apache is not invulnerable. But it was a great improvement over the limitations of the preceding AH-1 Cobra family of helicopters.

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The Defense of the West-SeaCoast Fortifications

Unlike the eastern seaboard, the western coast of the continental United States has relatively few major ports. From south to north, the main seaports include San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, the Columbia River, and Puget Sound. There are others, but those are the “Big Five” handling the majority of seagoing vessels.

Interestingly, all five are quite suited to seacoast defense. Depending on the time in question, Los Angeles and Puget Sound might have posed a challenge for the defender, but by the Endicott period, the guns and mines available were quite suitable to close off each port.

Craig has an interesting post on the concerns the Union had for the security of San Francisco during the Civil War. At that time, San Francisco was by far the most significant western port, and as the shipping point for the vast majority of California gold rush gold that was financing the Union, could have made a very attractive target for a Confederate raider, or an adventurous foreign power, say England.

All of this was known by authorities in Washington.  In 1856 a survey of the terrain brought back numerous recommendations to fortify the bay. Those included additional batteries to supplement Fort Point and located on Alcatraz, Yerba Beuna, and Angel Islands, Point San Jose, and, most important to the Golden Gate, Lime Point opposite Fort Point.  I’ve highlighted some of those on a snip from the 1859 coastal survey map (which, by the way, indicates that someone had “cast a lead” into those waters to figure out the depth):

Similarly, last weekend I enjoyed the view from Cabrillo National Monument.  CNM and Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery are today on the grounds of Naval Base Point Loma, but used to be within the confines of Fort Rosecrans, a Coastal Artillery post with several batteries guarding the entrance to San Diego harbor.

 

One of the interesting things about San Diego is that it has only one channel in or out. To say that Fort Rosecrans dominates that channel is something of an understatement. The seaward facing batteries control the approaches, and the channel itself was narrow enough that even a very modest minefield could completely seal the channel.

The Endicott/Taft period batteries consisted of 8 12” mortars, 4 10” guns, 2 5” guns (later replaced by 2 3” guns) and two 3” guns.

A mine casemate for a controlled minefield was also included.

To give you an idea how restricted the channel is, here’s the USS Chancellorsville, CG-62, passing through the channel.

 

During World War II, several additional batteries were added.  The big punch added was a pair of casemated 16” guns at Battery Ashburn (aka Battery 126).

Arguably the most interesting two batteries were Battery Zeilin and Battery Gillepsie. Battery Zeilin was two 7” guns on pedestal mounts, while Battery Gillespie consisted of three 5” pedestal mounts.

Both batteries were originally training batteries for the US Marine Corps. And therein lies an interesting side story.

The US Army’s Coast Artillery Corps was responsible for the defense of the US ports and harbors and those of its overseas possessions. But what of advanced bases?

During the interwar years, having tasted the success of large scale operations in World War I, the Marines were soon relegated back to fighting in banana wars in South America, and providing detachments aboard US capital ships. In search of a raison d’etre, the Marines looked to the Pacific, and like others, saw a likely war with Japan.

They saw that any US fleet movement across the Pacific would entail seizing and defending forward operating bases. And contra our vision today of the Marines storming the beaches, the hope was they would be able to occupy undefended, or lightly defended island outposts, and then defend them against Japanese counterattack. Accordingly, there was a significant slice of Marine Corps doctrine that focused on seacoast defense of forward bases. And Batteries Zeilin and Gillespie were training batteries allocated for Marine Defense Battalions to practice their trades.

And apparently, the instructors at Battery Gillespie did right by their students, as Marines manning 5” guns at Wake Island suceeded in sinking the IJN destroyer Hayatuke during the initial Japanese landing attempt, the first of many Japanese surface ships sunk during World War II.

Batteries Zeilin and Gillespie were turned over to the Army early in the war. And while Fort Rosecrans was never called on to actively defend San Diego, it stood guard throughout the war. Further it was a major training center for the Coast Artillery, providing training in both seacoast defense and anti-aircraft artillery defense.

The age of aviation rendered the seacoast gun obselete by the end of World War II, and Fort Rosecrans was soon surplus to the Army’s needs. Closed in 1948, it was turned over to the Navy in 1959, and continues to this day to be home to significant naval activities, as well as the lovely Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, and the beautiful and popular Cabrillo National Monument.

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The BBC’s 1964 Masterpiece “The Great War”

Of all the events of the Twentieth Century, it is the First World War that has had the most dramatic and longest-lasting impact on the psyche of Western civilization, more so than all the events that followed.   For anyone with an abiding interest in that war, the 1964 BBC documentary The Great War is an invaluable reference to understanding.  Narrated by Sir Michael Redgrave, the 26-part documentary is a superbly-crafted work.  The tenor of the broadcasts reflects the erosion of the naïve hopes of the warring parties in 1914 into the grim fatalism that the years of slaughter evoked, and the upheaval that would ultimately topple the crowned heads of Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungary, and Serbia.  BBC producers make excellent use of voice to read the actual words of the key participants such as Edward Grey, Bethmann-Hollweg, Conrad von Hotzendorf, Joffre, Haig, Falkenhayn, and others.  The series features remarkable and little-seen motion footage of the world of 1914-18, including the civilians, the politicians, the armies, and the great battles of that war.   The battle footage heavily emphasizes the two great killers of that war (in inverse order), the machine gun, and modern breech-loading recoil-dampened artillery.

Of note also are the poignant, and sometimes extremely moving, interviews with the participants of events of the great tragedy.  Some had been in the thick of the fighting, others young subalterns or staff officers at the sleeve of the decision-makers.   Most remarkably, the BBC managed to produce a documentary about momentous events that changed the world and yet also managed to allow the viewer insight into the inestimable human tragedy that these events summoned.   At the time of the release of The Great War, those events were closer in time to the audience than the beginning of the Vietnam War is to our contemporary world.   The twenty-six episodes are around forty minutes each.  Worth every second of the time spent.

Oh, and as the credits roll at the end of each episode, one can spot the name of a very young (19 years old) contributor named Max Hastings.

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The Army is looking to replace its Mike boats.

You do know the Army still operates a fleet of about 38 LCM-8 class medium landing craft? Well, they do. And they’ve been in service almost as long as I’ve been alive. They were intended to have a service life of 25 years, and retire in 1992. Yet they’re still plugging along. They’ve only marginally improved over the LCMs of World War II.

DoDBuzz tells us the Army is looking to buy a replacement for them as the Maneuver Support Vessel (Light).

As it rethinks its global posture for a possible shift to the Asia-Pacific region, the U.S. Army wants to buy a new fleet of small boats and upgrade existing watercraft, an official said.

The land force and largest branch of the U.S. military has more than 100 vessels in its inventory — including the Cold War-era Landing Craft Mechanized-8 “Mike” boat, as well as the larger Logistics Support Vessel, LSV, and Landing Craft Utility, or LCU-2000 — to support combat and humanitarian missions.

The Army is gearing up to solicit proposals to replace the so-called Mike boats as part of a new acquisition program to buy three dozen craft called the Maneuver Support Vessel (Light), or MSV(L), according to Scott Davis, who heads the service’s Combat Support and Combat Service Support office in Warren, Michigan.

I took a look at the RFI, and it’s pretty damn ambitious. MushDogs? You’re our small craft expert. What say you?

What’s interesting is that, while the Army has almost exclusively used its landing craft in a lighterage and intratheater transport role, the RFI envisions using the MSV(L) additionally as a maneuver asset for Brigade Combat Teams in the littoral or inland waterways. That’s not quite poaching on the Marines forcible entry/over the shore assault role, but I’m pretty sure it is something a BCT staff hasn’t planned for a while.

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