Tag Archives: history

The Death of HMS Vanguard

Look at Life was  a popular British film series, short 8-10 minute documentaries shown in British theaters before a main attraction. Most were upbeat and interesting, if somewhat overly chipper.

But the short on the end of HMS Vanguard, in spite of the relentless optimism of the of the narrator, is poignant and sad.

HMS Vanguard was the last battleship completed anywhere. Laid down during World War II, competing shipbuilding needs meant she wasn’t completed until after the end of the war. A modified Lion class, she bore King George VI on a Royal Visit to South Africa. Other than that, she mostly spent her time in routine training, and serving as the flagship for various fleets and stations. And in 1960, she was decommissioned, and sent to the Clyde for scrapping.

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Albert Wedemeyer and the Victory Plan

The 1941 Victory Plan came up in the comments about the mobilization of divisions for World War II.  It’s a topic that’s little known outside historical circles, but one worth serious scholarly study. Unfortantely, I’m pressed for time, so you only get the briefest gloss on the subject.

The US Army had for some time anticipated that it might be drawn into the war in Europe. And it had sown the seeds of a massive mobilization of the Army. In 1940, for the first time, the Congress enacted a peacetime draft, greatly swelling the ranks of the Army. But at that time, while the Army might anticipate being drawn into war with Germany, the nation was still at peace, and there was still a very strong isolationist sentiment in the country. The first role of the swelling Army authorized in 1940 was to train an Army for the defense of our own coasts, and then to provide task forces for the defense of the Western Hemisphere, particularly in areas such as the Caribbean and the Panama Canal.

With the increased cooperation with Britain in 1941, however, it came to be understood that if the US did in fact find itself at war with Germany, it would have to come to grips with the German army and destroy it. That meant deploying across the Atlantic.

That summer, GEN George C. Marshall tasked an obscure Major, Albert C. Wedemeyer to come up with a plan, outlining what the national objectives were (based on political guidance and the assumption that we would in fact join with Britain to fight Germany), what would be needed to defeat Germany in terms of forces, and the production and manpower required to fulfill that need.

With all the officers senior to Wedemeyer, even in the Pentagon, Marshall’s choice seems a touch odd. But Wedemeyer was hardly your run of the mill Major. He had a few things going for him. First, the wave of promotions the Regular Army was about to undergo hadn’t quite caught up to him yet. But like virtually all Regulars, he would have seen some level of promotion soon in the expanding Army. Second, he had spent the 20s and 30s largely in schools, schools that had made him almost uniquely qualified to undertake this task.

Wedemeyer knew the Germans better than almost any other officer in the War Plans Division. He’d actually attended their Kriegsakademie, the German Army Staff School.

Second, Wedemeyer had access to the Army Industrial College. Stung by the poor showing of American industry in the mobilization of World War I, the Army in 1924 set up a think tank to analyze the industrial capacity of the country, and determine which industries could be converted to militarily useful wartime production. The college had an encyclopedic knowledge of virtually every industry, virtually every set of machine tools in the entire nation. If you wanted to know where the Army could buy 8 million entrenching tools, the AIC had a master document that could show which companies could best convert to making them.

Most importantly, Marshall knew and trusted him. Marshall had a short list of officers he knew, or knew of, whose past performance had impressed him sufficiently that he would task them with seemingly impossible planning missions. Having assigned a task, Marshall would then leave the officer to work with little interference. If that officer measured up and produced, he would almost certainly be rewarded with promotion, and command. If the officer failed, he would be banished to less critical roles.

Wedemeyer understood that a modern industrial nation could realistically only put about 10% of its population in uniform. His estimates of manpower in total, and roughly how they would be equipped, and the industrial might required to do that, were incredibly prescient. His estimate that, accounting for the Navy and the Marines, that the Army would put about 8 million men in uniform spot on.

Where he erred badly, as noted in the comments of the previous post, was the estimate of the total number of divisions the Army could field. The rough number he estimated was 215 divisions. As it turned out, the Army would only activate 91 divisions. There were a couple reasons for this. Again, as noted in the comments, the support troops required were far in excess of original estimates. That includes both the institutional side of the Army dedicated to training troops, as well as the logisticians required to keep the Army in the field. Further, the numbers of non-divisional troops raised were far in excess of his estimates. For instance, the Army raised dozens of tank destroyer battalions during the war, none of which Wedemeyer anticipated in the Victory Plan. Similarly, he had not anticipated the large numbers of independent tank battalions, nor the large numbers of field artillery battalions outside of Division Artillery. In the event, the habitual attachment of a TD battalion and an independent tank battalion to almost every division in Western Europe resulted in a de facto level of armor in an infantry division that was utterly absent in Wehrmacht infantry divisions.

Wedemeyer did see that the relatively small triangular division would have to be heavy on firepower, with generous numbers of automatic weapons, mortars, field guns, anti-tank guns, and artillery. Further, it was incredibly mobile. US infantry divisions both had huge numbers of trucks assigned (compared to the German army) both as prime movers, and as lift for logistics and troop transport. And there were also huge numbers of non-divisional truck companies to support the logistics of the Army in the field.

Wedemeyer got far more right than he got wrong. Most importantly, with a fairly rational starting point, the Army could do just that- get started.

Marshall eventually rewarded Wedemeyer with stars, and duty in the Far East. Not as visible or as important as other theaters, Wedemeyer’s name is almost unknown outside military history circles. But that doesn’t diminish the incredible accomplishment of his Victory Plan.

For further reading, this is a good place to start.

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World War II- Mobilization on an Industrial Scale- The Creation of a Division

From the Napoleonic Era through the end of WWII, the basic model of large scale land warfare was of the mobilization army. That is, a small professional army in peacetime would vastly expand in time of war by means of conscription of a major swath of the military aged male population. The standing army would provide the framework upon which to build new units, and the command structure of corps, armies and theater headquarters.

For most of this era, the regiment was the standard formation raised. Roughly 1000 men strong, and virtually all of it infantry, as little as a few weeks of drill would suffice as training before a conscription regiment was considered fit for duty.

But by the time of the beginning of World War II, the US Army had evolved its doctrine to embrace combined arms, especially the integration of infantry with artillery as a team. Further, advances in motorization, signals, and engineering, coupled with a shift to the division as a standing permanent formation, as well as being the primary tactical formation, meant that rather than simply raising regiments, the Army would focus on raising divisions, training them as a single unit, and once trained, deploying that entire division overseas to a theater commander as an integrated tactical unit.

First, let us take a quick look at the Army’s triangular infantry division. The division consisted of a headquarters, three Infantry regiments, a Division Artillery of roughly regimental size, and the Division troops, with such diverse units as the Engineer Combat Battalion, the Medical Battalion, the Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop, Quartermaster, Ordnance, and Signal companies, and a Military Police Platoon.

All total, the division would have a strength of just over 14,000 officers and men. And virtually the entirety of the divisions men would be draftees with absolutely no military experience. The division would have to train them both in the most basic of military skills, then for the specialty the Army intended for them at an individual level, and finally, once some semblance of individual skills had been imparted, begin training the component units as units.

A couple months before a division was activated, the head of Army Ground Forces, LTG Leslie McNair, would sit down with the head of Army personnel and pick the future Division Commander, the Assistant Division Commander, and the Division Artillery Commander; that is, the three general officers of a division, one Major General, and two Brigadier Generals. Those officers would be sent to a short course at the Army’s Command and General Staff School to be indoctrinated on the organization, training, and tactical employment of the division

Concurrently, a cadre of about 1300 officers and senior NCOs would be selected from an existing division to form the skeleton of the new division. For instance, the Division staff, the commanders of the various regiments and battalions, and key positions in their staffs would be named. This cadre would also undergo training in anticipation of the division’s activation, but with more an emphasis on how to train the draftees that would shortly come into their charge.

The great majority of divisions raised for the war were infantry divisions McNair’s AGF laid out a standard training schedule that divisions would follow. Lasting roughly one year, at the end of a crawl-walk-run approach to unit training, AGF would have produced a division that it could release for embarkation overseas to a theater commander.

The broad overview of the training schedule looked like this:

17 weeks of basic and advanced training
    13 weeks of unit training
    14 weeks of combined arms training and large-scale exercises
    8 weeks of final training

The first 17 weeks would be devoted to what today we would call Initial Entry Training. Rather than conducting basic training at another post and then joining the division, here the division bootstrapped its own basic training course, over about 8 weeks, and then conducted what amounted to Military Occupational Specialty training for the many, many different jobs in the division.

The 13 weeks of unit training would quickly build from the team to the battalion level. Examples might start small, such as the rifle squad in the defense, then quickly grow to an entire company live fire attack course.

Fourteen weeks of combined arms training was where the division’s regiments began integrating with the supporting divisional artillery battalions, forming the Infantry/Artillery team that was the heart of the division’s combat power. See also this link.

The final 8 weeks of training ideally saw the entire division maneuvering as a single unit, and exercised not just the combat troops, but also the logistical elements of the division. And of course, as larger and larger units maneuvered, the staffs and headquarters of those units became more familiar with how to best employ them.

The Chief of Staff of the Army, GEN George Marshall, was a great believer in large-scale, force on force maneuvers. During unit and combined arms training, the various companies, battalions and regiments of a division could square off against one another. Eventually, the division would conduct maneuvers against another division going through its own mobilization and training.

Having completed its year long training schedule, the division would continue training at various levels until such time as it was alerted for embarkation and deployment.

Two other major ingredients were needed for the division’s recipe. One was equipment. The other was a post, or cantonment for the troops to live and train on. Personnel turbulence would also have a major effect on a division’s ability to constitute itself and train for deployment.

The common perception today is the the US simply produced vast quantities of all the material needed for war. And to be sure, the US did pull off a miracle of manufacturing. But in the early stages of mobilization, the production of equipment was not yet vast enough to equip units as they were activated. Typically, as a division was planned for activation, the Quartermaster Corps would begin planning to issue all the thousands of different pieces of equipment a division would need, from uniforms to rifles, to trucks, artillery pieces, signal wire for field telephones and untold other numbers of items.

But as noted, rarely was the production of war material sufficient to fully equip a division. Usually, a division would be issued roughly half the equipment its tables of organization called for. That limited allocation would at least allow the division to begin training.

But while a partial allocation might be enough to begin training, it was usually only sufficient to train at the individual and small team level. A division however, is more than a collection of small teams. It was a carefully designed tactical formation, a weapon that was more than the sum of its parts. It was designed to be wielded as an entire formation, and as such, it needed to train at all levels, from the individual up through and including the entire division. But putting the entire division through its paces was clearly impossible without its full complement of equipment.

Of course, the division’s Quartermasters would attempt to draw the rest of the division’s equipment as training went along. The hope was that by the time regimental and divisional level training took place, the full allocation of equipment would be on hand.

It rarely worked so smoothly. First, even as the Army was struggling to mobilize divisions, industry was still struggling to ramp up production of military equipment. Worse, just about the time the fruits of that production started to come forth, Lend Lease came upon the scene, and much of what the Army had planned for was suddenly diverted to Britain, Russia, China, and other Allied nations.

Even as divisions trained on what little equipment they had, changes were afoot. New models of equipment or entirely new types were introduced into service, meaning that a division would have to completely retrain on new equipment. One example is the basic rifle of the Army. M1 Garand production was slower than hoped, so prior to 1943, virtually all the divisions created trained throughout their mobilization with the M1903A3 Springfield rifle. Only when they were alerted for embarkation for overseas service would they receive M1 rifles.

The production of equipment and the mobilization of divisions did not often align, and neither did the mobilization of divisions, and the need for divisions to deploy. Early deployment of US forces, particularly before our entry into the war in December 1941, were usually regimental sized and limited to the Western Hemisphere for the defense of advance bases in places such as the Caribbean. Early campaigns such as the invasion of North Africa in Operation Torch employed divisions that hadn’t fully completed their training. Worse, not having the full complement of their equipment, they were forced to strip other divisions in training of what little equipment they’d managed to gather. That had a knock on effect of delaying the training of those units. It would be well into 1943 before a division could reasonably expect to have a complete divisional set of equipment for the final phases of its training.

Simply keeping people in the division during training was a struggle. One of the key concepts of the Army in WWII was that we would field a small overall number of divisions, but they would be kept at full strength through individual replacements once committed to combat operations.

But even before deployment, indeed, throughout training, a division would face a drain on its manpower. The cadre that first formed the core of a division had come from another division, further along in the training pipeline. Eventually, our division in training would be tasked to calve off 1100 or so of its most experienced officers and men to form the cadre of yet another division. This large-scale turnover in often key personnel was often a significant blow to the training of a division. And it wasn’t the only drain on manpower. Throughout the Army, volunteers were sought for special programs, such as Airborne training, special units, transfers to the Air Corps, and large numbers of the brightest enlisted men to attend Officer’s Candidate School (OCS). New draftees would be sent to bring the division back up to strength during its training, but the need to train those draftees at the individual level while simultaneously trying to train the units at higher levels was a challenge. Turnover of a quarter of a division’s personnel was not uncommon, and as much as half in some cases.

We will describe the challenges of providing a post and associated facilities for raising and training a wartime division in a later post.

In spite of the challenges facing a division commander when tasked to raise a division for service in World War II, the Army, and LTG McNair’s Army Ground Forces had devised a well thought out program that did allow the Army to raise and train divisions rapidly. Some divisions were better trained than others when deployed, but that was often more a matter of the talents of the commanders than of the training program devised. The division making process was successful enough that of the five US divisions committed to the invasion of Normandy on D-Day, arguably the single most important day of the war, three had never before been in combat.

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The Coast Guard At War

Sure, the Coast Guard is primarily a law enforcement agency, additionally responsible for search and rescue and maintaining aids to navigation. But make no mistake, they’re an armed force, and when our nation goes to war, the Coasties have been there alongside the other services. Here’s an interesting documentary of Coast Guard contributions to the war in Vietnam. Most of this I knew, but the part about Coast Guard aviators contributing to CSAR was a new one on me.

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Thoughts on the War on ISIS…

John Kerry, the Secretary of State, tells us the War on ISIS isn’t a war.

“What we are doing is engaging in a very significant counter-terrorism operation,” Kerry said. “If somebody wants to think about it as being a war with ISIL they can do so, but the fact is it’s a major counter-terrorism operation.”

“I don’t think people need to get into a war fever on this,” the secretary of state added.

President Obama ran his 2008 campaign  almost entirely on the premise of withdrawing the US from Iraq. Secretary Kerry was a staunch opponent of the war, at least after he voted to authorize it.

And in 2011, President Obama used the Bush administration’s planned withdrawal of forces, a signed agreement, as the reason for the complete withdrawal of all US forces from Iraq.

But even while the Bush administration had a signed agreement for the withdrawal, they were also negotiating and arguing for a continued US presence in Iraq.  Rather than having US Brigade Combat Teams conducting operations, the US wanted BCTs configured as “Advise and Assist” BCTs to support Iraqi Army operations.

As then President Bush stated in 2007:

“To begin withdrawing before our commanders tell us we are ready would be dangerous for Iraq, for the region and for the United States,” Bush cautioned.

He then ticked off a string of predictions about what would happen if the U.S. left too early.

“It would mean surrendering the future of Iraq to Al Qaeda.

“It would mean that we’d be risking mass killings on a horrific scale.

“It would mean we allow the terrorists to establish a safe haven in Iraq to replace the one they lost in Afghanistan.

“It would mean we’d be increasing the probability that American troops would have to return at some later date to confront an enemy that is even more dangerous.”

Forward to 2009, and the new Obama administration half  heartedly continued the negotiations with Baghdad for a continued US presence.  Arguing that an unsatisfactory Status of Forces Agreement could not be reached with the Iraqi government, the Obama administration allowed the talks to collapse, and in 2011 executed the complete withdrawal of US forces from Iraq. The administration not only allowed this, they praised it as a political triumph. They demanded (and received, politically) credit for this state of affairs.  

The important thing was, just as Obama had promised, the US was out of Iraq. Iraq became a political and diplomatic non-entity.  Obama was quick to tout the end of the war in Iraq in his campaign of 2012.

But the war in Iraq wasn’t over. Just the US influence in the war.

While Iraq was remarkably stable at the time of the US departure, and our forces had generally achieved their objectives, serious people knew that the underlying civil society was not so stable as to preclude a descent back into chaos.

The goal of the desire US A&A BCTs would have been two-fold. First, the most obvious- to assist the Iraqi Army in defeating attempts at destabilizing the recognized Iraqi government.

The second, less visible, but arguably more important role, was to serve as both carrot and stick for that Iraqi government. Nouri Al-Maliki, a Shia, led a shaky coalition government that purported to represent both Shia and Sunni. But Maliki tended, not surprisingly, to favor Shia elements, at the expense of the Sunni population.  US A&A BCTs, and other forms of US power, such as funding of reconstruction projects, could be granted or withheld as needed to influence Maliki to treat both Shia and Sunni somewhat equitably. Maliki could be convinced to listen to legitimate Sunni issues as long as he knew US assistance would be available to confront illegitimate Sunni factions.

But the absence of any US backing meant Maliki could only turn to his political base, the Shia population. And not surprisingly, in doing so, he invited increasingly effective Sunni attacks upon the Baghdad government. And that led to a spiral of ever greater repression of Sunni elements, which in turn fueled every greater sectarian Sunni violence.

This isn’t particularly deep analysis here. This is exactly what almost everyone predicted would happen with the total US capitulation of any role or influence in Iraq.

If ISIS hadn’t been the one to march on Iraq, it would have been some other group.

But the Obama administration refused to even consider such an eventuality. The talking point was that Obama would end the war in Iraq, and so it must be.  There was a steadfast refusal to see any possible outcome other than a campaign trail soundbite. The important thing was to move opinion polls, not advance America’s interests.

And since Obama ended the war in Iraq, there can be no further war in Iraq. No matter how many US troops find themselves there, no matter how much ISIS insists it is at war with the US, the proclamation is that there is no war. A major counter-terrorism operation sounds more a police matter, not a war.

Which is cold comfort to the American serviceman facing the nation’s enemy. An enemy whose cruelty and wanton violence has shocked the conscience. We dare not work ourselves to war fever on his behalf.

As an old friend of ours was fond of saying, it is to weep.

.

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9/11

We should write some moving piece about what today, the 13th anniversary of that horrific day, means to us, and our loved ones.

But we always struggle writing about emotional events, and human interest stories.

Others have a far better talent for writing these pieces.

2974 people were killed that day. The resulting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with the sacrifice of 6,830 so far, have weighed heavily upon the citizenry. Many ask if the struggle is worth it. How long must we fight? Most Americans have an odd blend of bellicosity and a desire to simply be left alone.

If you spend any time on social media today, you’ll see plenty of people swearing to Never Forget. You’ll see that contrasted by younger Americans who can’t really grasp what 9/11 is all about. For virtually their entire lives, America just happens to have been at war somewhere, with someone. That’s just how things are to them. How can they be outraged by the norm?

We don’t have any plans to commemorate the day. We’re not doing anything special. Our house is being painted. We might go to the library, maybe the store. We’ll do household chores. We’ll just go on being a normal American, doing normal American things.

We wish we could forget. Go back to that time when the Cold War was over. The End of History had arrived. There might be conflict in the world, but war, especially an American war, was a thing of the past, to be remembered in books and movies.

But we can’t. We cannot forget being transfixed by the events unfolding live on television. The pain, the fear, the anguish of not knowing why? Why us?  That oh so brief moment in the days after where so many Americans came together to comfort one another. And the utterly predictable moment when a certain segment of society leapt to the microphone, or the computer, to explain to us common folk that it was our own fault, that the sins of our nation meant we deserved this attack. That rather than the attack being an affront to civilization, it was our civilization that was the very affront that invited this attack.

As Insty quotes today, from Lee Harris:

The Enemy is someone who is willing to die in order to kill you. And while it is true that the Enemy always hates us for a reason — it is his reason, and not ours.

We will not spend our day worrying his reasons. 

We will  instead spend our day remembering that America, for all its faults, is the shining city on a hill.

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Fox 2!

“Fox 2” is the radio brevity code for the launch of an infrared homing missile… like the AIM-9 Sidewinder.

And the fine folks at Detail&Scale just reminded me that today is the anniversary of the first successful launch of the Sidewinder. Clear back in 1952, the Navy was well on its way to developing a missile that is still in production and use today.

From this:

Photo: Knox posts: for reasons known only to the FB Genie, it didn't post the referenced picture so here it is again....

 

To this:

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