Wednesday, February 17, 2010

American Blitzkrieg

William Astore talks about the American military's fascination with the German forces of the early- to mid-20th century. You can read his latest article at TomDispatch.com.

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15 comments:

Narukami said...

Excellent article.

However...

You seem to be confusing tactics with strategy.

Blitzkrieg is a tactic.

German battlefield tactics were sound; their war strategy was anything but. Further we, like them, have allowed our tactical prowess to cloud our strategic vision.

In 1940 the German Blitzkrieg, conducted by those "incompetents" Guderian & Rommel, achieved amazing results, but failed to gain victory -- they let the British slip away and in effect lost the war. From that point on and German victory served only to forestall their inevitable defeat.

Likewise, in 1991, the US and their allies achieved some spectacular results in the so called "100 Hour War" and yet we to failed to finish the job and thus lost the war.

We allowed our tactical brilliance to cloud our strategic vision.

In his 1984 book Overlord, Max Hastings called the German Army "the most professionally skillful army of modern times" and this is correct. But their strategy was fatally flawed and so bedazzled were they that few saw it or were willing to admit it even to themselves.

Like you I built model tanks and collect German helmets and, like you I was commissioned through ROTC into the Regular Army in the late 70's. However, the instructors I ran into at VMI, and Trinity U, at Ft. Riley and Ft. Know were not enamored of the Germans or the German way of war. Only at Jump School did one Sgt. make reference to the Germans, and then it was an off-handed comment that when they were finished training us we would be "sharper than Hitler's SS."

Our instructors, all Vietnam vets, did not talk Clauswitz or Rommel, but rather drug abuse, gambling and race relations.

What they should have told us is what General Sir John Hackett had discovered through his years of service, that "the essence of being a soldier is not to slay but to be slain." Soldiers are, in effect, a society's sacrifice to the gods of war.

I still have my collection of helmets, and I still have an admiration for the battlefield prowess of the German Army, but I also know that any glory they achieved on the battlefield is forever tainted by the cause they served.

We, as a nation, should not allow ourselves to be mesmerized by our tactical skills and battlefield prowess. We should, as a people and as a society take to heart the words of Jacob Bronowski:

"It is to close one's eyes to history and instead to speculate about the roots of war in some possible animal instinct: as if, like the tiger, we still had to kill to live, or, like the Robin Redbreast, to defend a nesting territory. But war, organized war, is not a human instinct. It is a highly planned and cooperative form of theft." - The Ascent Of Man

Thanks again for your stimulating article.

wleming said...

The Third Reich was a completely militarized society, subservient to a military clique at its top that conducted genocidal warfare, made imperialist demands, murdered millions, and conducted long campaigns against the Poor, and those who fought with them. Does any of this seem familiar? Billions have been spent on the Pentagon, while the country now represents the greatest divide between the rich and poor in any modern society.

Ryan said...

Narukami,

You said it better than I could have. My comment would have been that LTC Astore is confusing doctrine with grand strategy. Because the grand strategy was flawed doesn't detract from the soundness of the doctrine. What the Germans practice in the field was third generation warfare at its finest and it is because of this doctrine they were able to hold out as long as they did. The US Army, despite the noble effort that resulted in "air/land battle", is still stuck in second generation warfare.

The way that OIF was conducted would have appalled the Germans of WW II fame. The US is still over emphasising technology over sound tactics and operational warfare.

Ryan said...

To elaborate:

"Why do people have a fixation with the German military when they haven’t won a war since 1871?" — Tom Clancy

Easy. Some of us understand the difference between a doctrine and a grand strategy. LTC Astore apparently doesn't.

The loss of both world wars doesn't mean the doctrine is faulty. It isn't. What is faulty is that people today have drawn the wrong conclusions whether it be Astore or Rumsfeld.

Astore fails to note that for most of World War One the Germans (and everyone else) were using second generation warfare. This relies mainly on fire power. It was the stalemate and the deterioration of Germany's strategic picture that forced a review of their doctrine. From the new doctrine that was tested at Riga on the Eastern Front the Germans found a way to break the stalemate with Stosstruppen tactics. A better name for this is third generation warfare. Germany's loss in WW I had less to do with their military than it did with their finances and the failure of their diplomancy.

They came out of WW I with a doctrine that emphasised speed and small unit leader initiative as verses a heavy top down command and control structure. There was one thing lacking and the British provided that; the tank. That became the means to have heavy mobile fire power that could be quickly brought to bear in helping to create the breaches necessary to penetrate into the enemy's rear.

As far as WW II goes, I think the same case can be made with one addition, treason. The Germans again had a failure in their foreign policy combined with a failure to go to a war time footing early in the war. None of this has anything to do with their doctrine and indeed, it was their mastery of third generation warfare that allowed them to fight on as long as they did.

Operation Iraqi Freedom only resembles the blitzkrieg because you have a collection of braying jackasses like Max Boot who know nothing about this. There is one hell of a difference between the Iraqi Army and the Wehrmacht to state the obvious. There is also the improvement in vehicle preformance that allows armored fighting vehicles to move at twice the speed as their WW II counter parts did that is being overlooked. The US basically used fire power once again as a substitute for maneuver warfare. You also had Tommy Franks trying to run things from Bahrain that resulted in despite all the communications he received being behind the OODA loop (when did the US military adopt this? BS). He was trying to micromanage the war with not only outdated information, but without knowing first hand what his combat commanders saw at any particular time. I think this came about from getting too much information. As a result, he interferred in matters that should have been left to his subordinates to deal with.

Finally this for the moment simply because this is one messed up article in more ways than one. The "Revolution in Military Affairs" formulated by Andrew Marshall and other Rand types had more to do with high tech in the form of weaponry than it did with third generation warfare. This is going back to second generation warfare, not third.

Where is COL John Boyd (ret. AF and deceased) when you need him?

Narukami said...

Ryan,

Thank you for the detailed and insightful analysis. You make several very good points.

Are you familiar with the Battle at Objective Montgomery? It goes directly to your point that there is "one hell of a difference between the Iraqi Army and the Wehrmacht" -- Indeed that may be obvious but bears repeating in light of such outrageous comments as those of Boot et.al.

As for the use of fire power, brute force as opposed to tactical finesse, perhaps you have read the book Brute Force by John Ellis (c1990). If not you should seek it out for it corroborates your position quite forcefully.

Once again, thanks for your well expressed commentary.

kickerofelves said...

The author is a retired AF officer. No doubt he knows much about air power but his ignorance of infantry tactics and operational ground warfare is--unfortunately--glaring. There are a myriad of reasons the German army's tactics and training are held in high esteem. These range from the training given the average infantry soldier (plus the fact the infantry wasn't given soldiers who tested at bottom of the barrel' conscipts like the U.S. infantry was) to the operational level of maneuver.

kickerofelves said...

I failed to add that the author also gets his historical analysis of why the German military failed in WWII. It wasn't due to any Teutonic military theories but to the very simple fact that 1) Hitler himself decided to fight a two front war and to declare war on the U.S. and 2) Hitler's interference in the German army's fight went--in some instances--down to the battalion level(!). Clausewitz had little to do with either, an amateur playing general on the other hand did. Sort of pulls the rug out of his essay when these facts are applied to his faulty analysis.

Ryan said...

Narukami,

Many thanks for the kind words.

I think that part of the problem is that you have an airforce view verses that of an army view. Obviously, I am the latter in a former sense.

Objective Montgomery. No, not off the top of my head. Could you tell me about this, please?

I'll have to look around for the other recommendation, thanks.

Narukami said...

Ryan,

You will find a PDF at the link below. See pages 26-27 for the details on the action at Objective Montgomery.

Essentially, a tank battalion of the Republican Guard (armed with T-72's) with supporting artillery and infantry set up an ambush along Highway 10. It was a text book perfect position and as expected Troop A of the 3-7 Cavalry came riding up the road entering the kill zone in column formation.

Troop A first spotted the Iraqis when the latter opened fire at effectively point blank range (1000 meters). Of the 16 main gun rounds fired in the opening salvo not a single one hit its target. The Americans returned fire and within ten minutes they had destroyed the Iraqi battalion, enabling the Americans to withdraw and call in air support to finish the job.

These were supposedly Saddam's best troops, well armed and highly motivated. Even so their training was not up to the task.

Despite all of the pre-war hyperbole, Saddam was not Hitler and his Republican Guard was not the Waffen-SS.

I wonder, if Troop A had driven into a battalion of the Waffen-SS instead of the Republican Guard, if the outcome would have been the same...

The entire report makes for some fascinating reading.

http://www.fas.org/man/eprint/biddle.pdf

Ryan said...

Narukami,

Thank you for the link.

I was thinking that this might have to do with 73 Eastling. I would be mistaken. I'm going to read this as it looks interesting.

Here is something for you in return.

http://www.ausairpower.net/APA-Boyd-Papers.html

There used to be a website dedicated to COL. Boyd's thinking, but it appears to be off line. This one is from Australia it appears.

William S. Lind is another person who writes about this with his "On War" columns.

http://original.antiwar.com/lind/2009/12/14/parting-thoughts-for-now/

There is one observation that LTC Astore omits and that is the Germans were keen students of their own history. The defeat of WW I caused them to engage in a self critique. One of the problems that plagues the US Army today is to not study its failures in detail. Two come to mind, Kasserine Pass and one I consider to be even worse than Kasserine. I refer to the Huertgenwald. German third generation warfare in the defense saved them and allowed them to launch Operation Christrose.

It is far too easy to sweep this under the carpet due to the success that was achived.

Narukami said...

Ryan,

Thanks for the links -- much appreciated.

I think 73 Eastling is a different engagement.

Quite right about the Hurtgen battle -- to quote the Hollywood Patton, "A waste of damn fine infantry."

As I remember the COBC at Ft. Knox in the late 70's the US Army's "meditations" on their recent past seemed to center on drug abuse, gambling, and race/gender tensions. All important concerns to be sure, but more in the realm of management rather than leadership. We spent exactly one afternoon at the sand table studying small unit tactics.

Thanks again for the links.

sumon220 said...

What a great site, like this.

Anonymous said...

Like most irrational and belicose individuals who bandy words like tactics, strategy and winning a war, you just miss the point entirely as per usual. Your impotent praise of all things war like, we can almost hear the rushes of testosterone coursing through your respective so called brains. Not to worry you may still grow up and realize your mortality. Not once did any of you mention killing the civilian population in order to accomplish your goal of domination. Nor did any of you equate your childlike fascination with all things destructive to your inherent prejudice towards any people less "advanced" as yourselves. God would I like to see you last a week in any third world country without your guns bombs and nukes. Bigots like you guys are dime a dozen and always found near "Nazis" like minded peoples with no hope of ever appreciating life or the living. For every denial of your Nazis like attitudes, you praise their tactics and confuse yourselves with Americanized versions of German words like Blitzkrieg, which is by the way totally "Shock and awe" as it is described as such in many Nazi documents.

Fact is you all can't stand a real fight as you are all cowards and fight by remote control with overwhelming numerical superiority and advanced weapons that no other country on earth can match. COWARDS! Read the word and think how you explain your freedom and justice for all in face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. 5 Million civilians dead since you started the wars in the middle east, that is a rounded number from the probable count base on numbers from previous wars where you helped to justify your Nazi like tactics. And yes you are now on a par with 7 million Nazis casualties, by substituting Moslems for Jews. Very good strategy!

Pat yourselves on your collective backs and ask why there are 120 outstanding warrants in the International Criminal Court for your hero's of the Gulf wars!

When it is your child turn to get scattered about your back yards in pieces, or to watch your parents die a painful wretched death from typhoid, and other water born diseases purposefully imposed on the civilian populations of all presently warred on third world nations, then you all will be the picked on mis-understood Freedom lovers again. PHUBAR

DYTH! Yes they were PEOPLE, but we're not so sure about you!

Mac said...

Anonymous, are you drunk or something?

Narukami said...

Mr. Anonymous,

It seems that you neither read nor understood the comments made in this blog. You are obviously angry, and rightly so, but the direction of your anger is poorly chosen.

You know nothing about me, just as I know nothing about you, but I will not presume to judge you or your motivations based upon this one post of yours.

If you so desired, you might read some of my own blog entries and perhaps gain a more dimensional image of me. I would do the same of you, except you have decided to hide your identity.

Do you not believe in what you have written?

You throw around the tag "coward" but your own behavior belies any courage you believe your post exhibits.

A discussion of tactics, or history, is not evidence of an endorsement.

You might try reading again the quote from Jacob Bronowski posted above. Or not.

You can always just declare Victory and depart the battlefield.

Oh, and by the way .... The Nazis killed more than 7 million. Not counting battlefield deaths, the victims who died in the Camps or at the hands of the Einsatzgruppen number well over 14 million. If you have not already, you might read Masters Of Death by Richard Rhodes (c2002 ISBN:0-375-40900-9)