America, Race and the Great War

This extended article discusses the extent to which views on race affected the fighting capacity and effectiveness of the American Army during World War One. It argues somewhat controversially that the contemporary racist views of white Americans had little effect on the fighting ability of the army.

The Harlem Hellfighters - Black soldiers from World War One

The Harlem Hellfighters – Black soldiers from World War One

American experiences during the First World War were limited by their late entry in to the war; their contributions came on a weakened enemy that was on the back foot. Nonetheless views upon race played an important role in how the United States fought; it can be seen at the tactical, operational and strategic levels. The natural discourse for a western liberal would be to assume that this would have a profoundly negative impact on the effectiveness of an army. Yet when one looks at the combat effectiveness of the racially segregated troops there appears to be little difference. This poses the question as to how far did racist views impact on how well troops of different ethnicity fought?

Part of the reason why race is perceived as to have a significant view upon how the blacks fought and therefore how America as a whole fought is due to the obscuring of the truth. The successes of black soldiers were side-lined, whilst their failures were highlighted. This has led to a discourse that ascribes race as a significant factor in its impact upon fighting. This article will focus upon the relationship between white and black Americans both at home and abroad. It will consider how white views impacted upon the tactical, operational and strategic use of black troops.

W. E. B. Du bois

W. E. B Du Bois

David Kennedy asserts that the majority of white Americans were loathsome of blacks “The average white person…whether buck private or general, didn’t want Negro soldiers.”  The strength of this sentiment meant that the American army would remain rigidly segregated along racial lines. David Levering Lewis points to a quote by W.E.B Du Bois that articulates the problem this caused; “The racial distinctions… present a formidable barrier to the existence of that feeling of comradeship which is essential to mutual confidence and esprit de corps.”

At the tactical level this attitude hindered black troops because they were predominantly led by officers who were “disproportionately recruited from white southerners.”  The fighting effectiveness at the tactical level was further compounded by the poor training black troops were given. An example of this was the lack of arrangements to train the all-black Ninety-Second division together; rather they were trained at seven widely separated camps. Moreover, they were not trained how to use artillery or machine guns on the premise that they were beyond the mental capabilities of blacks. Mistakes like this demonstrate the incompetence American leadership showed in dealing with the ‘black problem’.

W.E.B Du Bois could not decide whether the leadership were simply racists, incompetent, or both. He points to how the Ninety-Second’s black officer numbers dropped from 82 to 58 per-cent as they were “battered by a hailstorm of arbitrary transfers and courts-marshal.”  This led him to the conclusion that American officers fought more valiantly against Negroes that they did against the Germans.”  This may sound extreme but there is some reasoning that some whites disliked blacks far more than they disliked German militarism. To put as much effort in to fighting their own establishment rather than the enemy would surely have had a detrimental effect.

American leadership’s issues with balancing the need for black troops whilst also having to placate white people’s issues with the raising of these troops impacted on American operational and strategic planning. A prime example of this can be seen with the case of the Fifteenth New York Infantry at Spartanburg. John Hope Franklin and Alfred A. Moss, JR have outlined the options and their consequences available to the War Department after conflict broke out between black soldiers and white civilians in the area:

It could keep the regiment at Camp Wadsworth and face a violent eruption; it could remove the regiment to another camp, thereby conveying the impression that any community that exerted sufficient pressure could force the War Department to remove undesirable soldiers from their midst; or it could order the regiment overseas.

The decision was taken to send them overseas. From this we can see how conflicts about race gave American leadership problems that could have strategic impacts at home and therefore also abroad. The decision to send the regiment overseas calmed white fears, but must have tempted many blacks to believe that “the penalty for insisting upon full equality in the United States was a sentence to face, for a full season, the onslaught of German armies”

Another way that views on race at home influenced American prosecution of the war can be seen in the issues surrounding lynching. Ernest Allen, Jr describes the how these attacks caused disaffection and outcry from Afro-American communities;

Black public outcry against lynching, bordering on what some authorities considered to be “unpatriotic” expression in a time of war… which might well hinder prosecution of U.S. war aims overseas… the Afro-American press was nevertheless quite given to providing front-page coverage to these almost daily atrocities committed against black such stories.

The consequence of this was that the leadership “recognized that a rapid deterioration of race relations could harm civilian and military morale and that special measures to avoid deterioration might be needed.”  In the end it forced President Wilson in to making a strong statement against Lynching and mob violence. The fact that it this reached the level of the president shows how important an issue it was becoming and how it could affect the prosecution of the war.

To accuse race of being the main determinant of American strategy is to fall in to the lure of cultural determinism. Race evidently played a role, however, to assert that its role was fundamental to how America fought ignores the elements of realism within American leadership. Several points will be discussed to counter the culturally determinist approach; the directing of resources to the best suited place, the involvement of blacks in nearly all aspects of the army, and their role on the home front. However, as will be shown despite these realist tendencies race influenced the American army even when it was trying to be somewhat ‘colour-blind’

White Southerners strongly opposed the presence of Black regiments training in their regions, this sometimes boiled over in to violence, as already seen with the Spartanburg incident. Yet whilst in that case the government appeared to bend to White Southerners pressure, there was an element of realism within the army that realised that it would be necessary to have black soldiers in the South. According to Franklin and Moss “blacks were being sent to the camp, North or South, that best served the interests of the prosecution of the war.”   Thus the notion that American leadership was blinded by their racial ideology is undercut by the pragmatism that can be seen in some of their decision making. Nonetheless, the very fact that issues like this had to be dealt with shows how the racialist views distracted the authorities from focusing on pure military matters in order to deal with politico-racial issues, Franklin and Moss agree,

Henry Johnson, the first African American to be awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French, in WW I. He has also been posthumously nominated for the Medal of Honor.

Henry Johnson, the first African American to be awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French, in WW I. He has also been posthumously nominated for the Medal of Honor.

“This arrangement worked such a hardship upon the administration of the army’s program…”

A related point that has suggested is that despite their segregation black soldiers served in almost every branch of the army, from cavalry to chaplains to labour battalions. In whatever branch they were placed they were effective. The most decorated of these were these were those who served under the French, who desperate for manpower pounced upon them. The 369th United States Infantry spent 191 days in the trenches and earned the name “Hell Fighters” by the Germans. In addition the entire regiment was awarded the Croix de Guerre for their efforts at Maison-en-Champagne.

Heroic actions tended to be overlooked by the military establishment, who sought to praise white soldiers and highlight black failures. This was despite the many failings of American White troops, Kennedy describes how “American gunners were ill-trained to provide the close support of a creeping barrage, and hence tended to favour long-range fire of dubious effect. Loose discipline further hampered the American attack, as small bodies of troops scattered themselves about, under no apparent control.”

Two opposing hypothesis are possible; it could imply that the black troops fought better under the French because they were more accommodating and tolerant of them. It could alternatively demonstrate the superiority of French organization and leadership in ensuring that their troops fought more efficiently, due to their greater experience. Perhaps most probable is that it was a combination of both, improved morale and better leadership would likely cause any unit to fight better. By looking at how black troops fought when divorced from the main body of the American army it is possible to see how views on race combined with ineptitude affected how well the American army could fight.

Regardless of their views, the White leaders realised how important the black workforce were in providing the resources necessary for war. The mass migration of Afro-Americans from the south to industrial centres in the north meant that it was necessary for more conciliatory tones to be made by the leadership to ensure that the industrial effort did not falter. To help ensure this Emmett J. Scott was employed as a special assistant for Negro affairs. His employment demonstrates how the White authorities recognised that some concessions would be necessary in order to prevent mass dissent in black communities. This is further affirmed through the close liaising between W.E.B Du Bois and Joel Elias Spingarn, Mark Ellis has argued that it was the relationship between these two that led to one of Du Bois most famous pieces “Close Ranks” which calls for black people to support the war “Let us, while this war lasts, forget our special grievances and close our ranks shoulder to shoulder with our own white fellow citizens and the allied nations that are fighting for democracy…”  A cynic might suggest that the closeness of their relationship and his progressive ideals were to lead to him “being stripped of domestic duties and assigned once again to the theatre of war.”  Evidently, the authorities would only let realism on a short leash; ideology played a significant role in conditioning their thinking.

In summary it appears that race shaped America’s prosecution of the war in ways that were detrimental at the tactical, operational and strategic levels. At the tactical and operational levels came issues of how and where to train black soldiers. At the strategic level was how to employ these troops, which was compounded by issues with where and what their training was. To argue that race was the main factor in determining American strategy is misguided, general  incompetence due to lack of training, experience and failure to listen to their allies lay at the core of the issue. The reason for this is that the history of the America’s actions during World War One is littered with examples of incompetence and failures, when discussing American success at Saint-Mihiel one French officer commented “[T]he most unfortunate part of an otherwise successful operation…was that it confirmed the American High Command in an exaggerated estimate of the efficiency of the American military machine—and of their ability to control it.”  White soldiers were no better than their black counterparts. Thus trying to discern how race effected the prosecution of the war becomes more difficult. If white officers were as incompetent with white troops as they were with the blacks they disliked, it suggests that it was not their views on their racial superiority that led to the Americans fighting the war as they did but rather other factors.

Some Further Reading

J. Franklin & A. Moss, From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans.

D. Kennedy, Over Here: The First World War and American Society.

D. Lewis, W.E.B Du Bois: A Biography of a Race: 1868 – 1919.

J. Ross, J. E. Springarn and the Rise of the NAACP, 1911-1939.

E. Allen, “Close Ranks”: Major Joel E. Spingarn and the Tow Soul of Dr W.E.B Du Bois,

M. Ellis, “Closing Ranks” and “Seeking Honors”: W. E. B. Du Bois in World War I.

W.E.B Du Bois, Close ranks, http://www.udel.edu/History/suisman/206_08-Fall/Online-readings/dubois.pdf

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell… Homosexuals and the military.

This week Charlotte Bignell looks at the relationship between homosexuals and the armed forces.

gays-in-the-military

The unique experience of war and gender-segregated military conditions have emerged in the studies of homosexuality as being some of the greatest opportunities for homosexuality to flourish, as researched by John D’Emilio and Allan Bérubé.  Militaries tend to have strong connections with their history, which may make them lean toward conservatism; this has led some critics to suggest that the US military’s views on homosexuality are archaic and backwards. This essay will focus mostly on the experiences of male homosexuals in the US military since the beginning of World War Two. In addition, the historiography on Britain by Emma Vickers and World War One by Margot Canaday will also be explored briefly to provide a wider picture and demonstrate the scope for future academia. Whilst the essay focus may just represent one aspect of gay military history, it raises interesting ideas about the leader of the Western World’s military being outdated and out of touch with mainstream society; homosexuality has been legalised in America for some time and is arguably widely accepted, yet the military ban on homosexuals was lifted only in 2011. The topic’s contemporary relevance makes the emerging history significant as earlier experiences may been seen to have shaped today’s society and the progression over recent times can be tracked to an extent, particularly with the interesting links between scholarship. The theory of World War Two as the trigger of modern homosexuality, the impacts of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ campaign, the importance of oral histories and the issues that arose because of the Vietnam War will all need further research to illustrate the ways in which it is significant that studies of homosexuality in the history of the military have emerged.

War has been described as a unique experience; one reason for this is because of the sense of detachment from reality. For example, individuals were only surrounded by members of the same-sex for long periods of time and had to confront death daily. Such circumstances make it is possible to see why homosexual opportunities are seized and bonds are formed which are unlikely to be possible in ‘normal life’. The intimacy, closeness and comradeship are felt by both gay and straight men which obviously poses difficulties with defining homosexuals in the military. Homosexual activity may not necessarily equate to the participant being gay; the prevalence of intimate contact and affection when threatened with death is not an uncommon practice. Leon Podles notes that “in our society, men aren’t supposed to show that kind of affection except under such stress as this.”  It is important for history to look at this unique topic as it has such a precise focus, perhaps unlike previous gay histories, but also because it holds a wide range of consequences and outcomes in the military and the greater society too.

The work of Bérubé has focused on the significance of World War Two as a nationwide ‘coming out’ experience for gay Americans and for many, their military experiences during this time became “the foundation upon which they built a post-war life.”  This counteracts the thoughts of many scholars who have placed emphasis on the Stonewall Riots in New York in 1969 as the trigger of the modern gay identity. The construction of urban gay communities in the 1940s owes much to the experiences of World War Two; homosexuals had had a taste of freedom and did not want to return to normal life or succumb to the post-war pressure of practising heterosexual and conventional family norms.  The urban gay centres of the US we know today, such as San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles all have strong links to the experiences of gay men in the war, who were consciously realising their own identity and searching for a like-minded community.

 

To address the theory of D’Emilio and look at why the US experience of World War Two led to the acknowledgement of gay identity and the formation of homosexual communities, the policy of homosexual screening at the draft boards needs to be explored. Bérubé developed on from D’Emilio’s earlier work on homosexuality in the history of the military by using oral histories, this demonstrates the significance of this topic as there is area for scope and the ability to expand on the scholarship. Bérubé’s oral methodology has gained considerable praise and has proved to be of huge significance to the subject because of the value of first-hand accounts which belong to a generation soon to die out; its aim is for the history not to be lost. With the increasing authority of psychiatrists in the armed forces, the homosexual screening process became mandatory for those wishing to enter the US army. By simply asking blunt questions about one’s sexual orientation, it was necessary for men to face their own sexual status which they may have not done previously in their lives.  Looking at World War Two as a time where conscious homosexual identity emerged is significant to the history of the military as it represents a turning point in the lives of many Americans and thus in post-war life, where urban gay communities increased dramatically.

The use of psychiatry in identifying homosexuals in the US military supported the notion of homosexuality as some form of mental illness. This had been a long-standing view of psychoanalysts, such as Sigmund Freud and sexologists, such as Magnus Hirschfield, but its application in military draft policy raises serious morality issues about one’s patriotism and not being accepted or wanted to represent and fight for one’s country. This will be discussed later when focusing on Vietnam and the work of Justin David Suran.

It is important to observe that the US military did address homosexuality in World War One, but did not have the resources to implement the sophisticated screening and surveillance as they did in World War Two.   Margot Canaday focuses on the dramatic change from the traditional law of sodomy as a punishable offence in the military to World War Two where the homosexual status became punishable and a reason for discharge or not recruiting in the first place.   This demonstrates significance in the emergence of studies of homosexuality in the military as it has the ability to track the transformation of the U.S over time into a more sexually conscious and sexually aware society. The change in punishment in the law from acts to status illustrates the wider society’s progression to ideas about acknowledging what you are with names and labels. The historiography suggests that to be a homosexual in World War One would have been easier than in World War Two because of the ability to go undetected and avoid trouble with the officers, compared to World War Two were homosexuals were actively sought out.

Relating back to the significance of oral histories in the study of homosexuality in the military, Vickers, who was researching homosexuality in the British Armed Forces in World War One, appeared to cause great insult to some veterans she wished to discuss the subject with. John Clarke was outraged with the claim that any of his fellow soldiers in the war may have been homosexual, as it was illegal and “un-British” . She was accused of disrespecting the sacredness of war and those who died for their country. With the abundance of research and evidence that many homosexuals did serve in the British Armed Forces in World War One and elsewhere, these accusations are likely to represent the continuance of heterosexual tradition and sexual stigma within the military. The apparent dishonour of claiming homosexuals served in the military relates back to the morality issues surrounding one’s patriotism and right to die for one’s country. The outdated beliefs of some military officials have significance to current debate, particularly relating to the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ (DADT) policy. The continuance of social stigma toward homosexuals in the military is demonstrated by a retired Army chaplain, Ron Crews’ notion that DADT is a radical sexual experiment threatening the US military.

In order to identify ways in which the emergence of homosexuality in the history of the military has been significant, the contemporary relevance of the DADT policy and Bérubé’s scholarly influence cannot be ignored. DADT, implemented under President Bill Clinton in 1993 as a compromise with traditional military leaders, barred openly homosexual men and women from military service. To some, this may have appeared to be a success for the homosexual community; they were being allowed to serve in the military, as long as they didn’t discuss their sexual orientation or engage in any homosexual activity. Yet, DADT raised many issues and, it could be argued, was an even greater hindrance to the gay movement than previous policies. The experiences of gay servicemen were not improved and by essentially being forced to remain in the closet, there would have been great “costs to the individual’s identity and sense of human value.”  Joseph Rocha, who served in the US Navy from 2004 to 2007, spoke of the daily fear and anxiety of being discovered but also the grave unhappiness of lying about one’s true identity; “in order to be protected by DADT, it would require such a level of deceit and deception and such a removal of everything that is beautiful in your life – of relationships, of meaning, of friendships…that’s not human.”  Derek Burks finds that DADT serves only to highlight homosexuality undesirably in the military environment which is already characterised by heterosexuality and conservative gender norms.  This augments homosexual victimisation and diminishes the feeling of safety and confidence in one’s troop, resulting in an absence of victim reports and help seeking.  The general consensus of Steve Estes’ interviewees was that DADT “changing nothing or even made matters worse.”  The repeal of the policy and the emergence of these histories allowed gay servicemen the long-awaited feeling of acceptance and the ability to be open about one’s sexual identity without fear of discharge and the end of their military career.

By bringing homosexuality into the political sphere, DADT highlighted the outdated tradition of military law. The US military were backwards compared to US society. The implementation of this policy saw a resurgence of gay political activity, similar to the 1970s gay liberation movements. It is significant that the history of homosexuality in the military has emerged because, as seen here, it ties in with other aspects of social life, such as political protest. Another important aspect to consider is the credibility of the scholarship of homosexuality on this topic, highlighted by Bérubé’s work becoming part of contemporary debate in the 1990s. Being considered an expert on the topic, he himself was caught up in the political storm of DADT and was consulted on the issues of it.

Gay anti-Vietnam War protest and the conflicting pro-war stance of the Mattachine Society in the 1960s and 1970s is another area which highlights the significance of political links with homosexuality and the military. Suran studies the Vietnam War’s considerable impact on the lives of homosexual men and women, and criticises the other historiography of this subject for missing the conflict’s unique relevance to homosexuals and the gay rights movement of the era.  The Vietnam draft, like World War Two, forced many men to come to terms with their sexual identity because of the US Army’s screening process. Yet, times had moved on since World War Two with homosexual issues discussed more openly in the wider public and with the emergence of the gay liberation movement, homosexuality’s political connections were amplified. The US military’s controversial involvement in Vietnam spurred a split in the gay movement between gay veterans and gay activists. The Mattachine Society, which emerged post-World War Two, was a homophile organisation which sought to improve the rights of homosexuals. They were keen to assert their ability to conform to the conventional norms of society and exist as loyal, hard-working citizens. This led to pro-war attitudes among homophiles as it may have been a perfect opportunity to fit in with society and essentially prove their honour and devotion to their country. At the opposite end of the spectrum were younger, radical gay activists who were entirely opposed to conforming to the heterosexual, capitalist means behind fighting in Vietnam; they wanted no part in the masculine dominance and oppression of war.

Suran criticises D’Emilio for focusing on New York and Stonewall in the history of homosexuality, where he believes greater attention is needed in San Francisco where the anti-war protest and gay rights movements were at their height. Vietnam illustrates the significance of the study of homosexuality within military history as it highlights the individuality of homosexuals and their political views resulting in a division in the gay movement. It continues to track the changes in political views and what their implications were in the military and in wider society. Suran sees the Vietnam War as an unavoidable topic when tracing the history of homosexuality because of its formative influence of gay solidarity and urban, social protest.

In conclusion, it is of considerable significance that studies of homosexuality in the history of the military have emerged because it ties in with other areas and aspects of society, such as politics, protest, medical understanding, employment law and urban life. It provides a new perspective on how to understand the importance of war. The development of military history with new areas of relevance being explored provides historians with a richer understanding of the dynamics and experience of war. The abundance of sources in the form of draft boards, legal documents, letters, oral histories and the high standing of scholarship on the topic serve to promote and exemplify why homosexuality should be included in the history of the military. Bérubé concludes that World War Two was of great significance to the history of sexuality, as well as US and world history.  The experience of the military draft boards, and later with the political gay movements of the 1960s and 1970s, homosexuality was finally gaining public acknowledgement. Whilst, this may have excelled effeminate stereotypes as associated with the screening processes, some would argue that any public representation of homosexuality was better than none at all. A final point that should be made is that armies can be used to impose their country’s will on others, in America’s case this would be liberal democracy.  Since the majority of American civilians would consider themselves liberal and with the legalisation of homosexuality in America, it could be argued that the US army should have put American values into practice earlier than 2011 in order to be fully representative of US society. Nonetheless it is significant that homosexuality has become legalised within the US military as it represents a marked progress from their archaic laws that existed prior to this.

Bibliography

Bérubé, Coming Out Under Fire (North Carolina, 1990)

Bérubé, ‘Marching to a Different Drummer: Lesbian and Gay GIs in World War II’, in Martin Duberman, Martha Vicinus, George Chauncey (eds) Hidden from History: reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past (London, 1990)

D. J. Burks, ‘Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Victimisation in the Military: An Unintended Consequence of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”?’, American Psychologist, Vol. 66, No. 7 (2011), pp.604-613

M. Canaday, The Straight State: Sexuality and Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America (Princeton, 2009), ch 2, 5

G, Chauncey, ‘Christian Brotherhood or Sexual Perversion? Homosexual Identities and the Construction of Sexual Boundaries in the World War I Era’, Martin Duberman, Martha Vicinus, George Chauncey (eds) Hidden from History: reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past (London, 1990)

J. D’Emilio, Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities (University of Chicago Press, 1983), ch 1, 2

S. Estes, ‘Ask and Tell: Gay Veterans, Identity and Oral History on a Civil Rights Frontier’, The Oral History Review, Vol. 32, No. 2 (2005), pp. 21-47

R. Jennings, A Lesbian History of Britain (Oxford, 2007), ch 6

L. Meyer, ‘Creating GI Jane: The Regulation of Sexuality and Sexual Behaviour in the Women’s Army Corps During WWII’, Feminist Studies, Vol. 18, No. 3 (1992), pp. 581-601

J. D. Suran, ‘Coming out against the War: Antimilitarism and the Politicization of Homosexuality in the Era of Vietnam’, American Quarterly, vol. 53 (2001), pp. 452-488

E. Vickers, ‘The Good Fellow: Negotiation, Remembrance and Recollection – Homosexuality in the British Armed Forces, 1939-1945’, in D. Herzog, (ed.) Brutality and Desire: War and Sexuality in Europe’s Twentieth Century (Basingstoke, 2008), pp. 109-134

L. J. Podles, review of J. Boswell, Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe (New York, 1994) <Online> http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=08-02-034-b

[accessed on 24/11/2012]

C. Heath, ‘Tell: An Intimate History of Gay Men in the Military’ <Online> http://www.gq.com/news-politics/big-issues/201109/dont-ask-dont-tell-gay-soldiers-military [accessed on 23/11/2012]

R. Crews, ‘Homosexuals in the Military Demand Special Privileges’ <Online> http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/sep/25/homosexuals-in-the-military-demand-special-privile/ [accessed on 23/11/2012]

K. Webley, ‘Brief History of Gays in the Military’ <Online> http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1960257,00.html [accessed on 24/11/2012]

Mali, Historical Precedents and France

Giles Longley-Cook looks at the situation in Mali and French involvement in the region.

Once again a rich Western power is involving itself militarily in the affairs of a third world nation, supplying aid and armed force to the side it deems friendly to its national interests. Time for protests, calls of corruption, anger, condemnation…

Oh wait; it’s not America intervening. OK cancel all that. No, the gung-ho power on this occasion is France. ‘What?’ you ask ‘The country we praised for not bowing to American pressure and invading Iraq with us?’

French Supporter

Yes France, not a country we consider too much militarily these days, has now involved itself, with the UK in close pursuit, in the military conflict in Mali. While not in large numbers, its troops are occupying frontline positions in the battle to eradicate Islamist rebels in the North.

With such similarities to the US interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan (the fight against Islamism, defence of dodgy allies, technological advantages and history of interference with the countries involved) it’s hard to see why one should be accepted as a necessary intervention while the others continue to attract revulsion as imperialist ventures. A certain level of snobbery can be detected in the opinions given of either. Europe, the old money, likes its international relations to remain small-scale, tasteful, unhindered by any vulgar overt displays of action or principle. America on the other hand is the Nouveau Riche power; brash, flashy, confidant, in-your-face. And like the quiet struggle between any elite and rising group, European disdain for the uncouth ways of our transatlantic cousins comes with a barely veiled hint of jealousy and fear.

The truth is that whatever the motivations behind and the methods used in American foreign policy, and boy can they be terrible in both, any imperialism or self-interest has come in varying degrees. If you want a record of foreign policy that bears an almost unbroken stream of both those two motivations, look no further than that of post ww2 France. Obvious early examples include the terror campaigns waged in their colonies in Algeria and Indochina in the 50’s, campaigns of a similar nature to the ones this country was waging simultaneously in our own holdings. Those wars were well-publicised and assignable to a forgotten/reviled colonial age. But with overt intervention off the table a new era has arisen in ex-French West Africa, one of covert financing, deals, non-committal support and, if putting troops on the ground is necessary, plausible deniability.

Earlier examples of such behaviour, and the worst, include the ‘friendly and fraternal’ cooperation with Jean-Bedel Bokassa, ruthless dictator of the Central African Republic, first putting him in power with a bloody coup, then propping up his vile regime, aiding his overthrow once he’d become too much of an embarrassment and finally giving him sanctuary on the French Riviera, avoiding cannibalism charges alongside other spat out despots. Since then the butcher’s bill has included French military and financial aid used to overthrow the progressive Sankara regime in Burkina Faso, reducing the nation to backward servitude, full on involvement in conflicts in Ivory Coast and Chad, and, while the rest of the world remained shamefully silent, involvement in the Rwandan genocide to save Europeans and sabotage the anti-genocide rebels.

Very rarely has the UN ever been consulted over these decisions and bare-faced self-interest, financial and political, from national levels to the personal business of presidents, has commonly been the deciding factor behind them. The recent Mali intervention is almost unique in that it is against evil totalitarian forces, but then so was the invasion of Afghanistan. The fact that one is seen as a crime and the other as reasonable has yet to be rectified.

Between Shackleton and Chamberlain: Japanese options concerning the Senkaku Islands

The Falkland Islands: A lesson missed?

Thirty years and hundreds of books and articles after the 1982 Falklands War in the South Atlantic, not to mention films, documentaries, and academic conferences, it may not be unreasonable to expect that the lessons of the conflict had been learned. Foremost among those lessons would be that the failure to develop the economy of a contested territory sends a signal to would-be aggressors indicating that it will not be defended, thus inviting foreign powers to use force. This is what happened when successive British governments failed to invest in the Falkland Islands, insisting instead on forcing the local inhabitants to “cooperate” with Argentina in the hope that growing trade and investment links would pave the way to an orderly transfer of sovereignty. In the words of a minister to his Argentine counterparts, it was matter of “seduction, not rape.”

Not content with forcing the locals to accept an Argentine presence in key sectors such as air transportation, London commissioned a report by a committee headed by Lord Shackleton (son of the great explorer) with the thinly disguised intention of proving once and for all that the Falklands were an economic ‘dead end’ and not worthy of any attention. The move backfired, however, with the resulting text reaching the opposite conclusion that they did have a future as long as certain essential changes and investments took place. This advice, however, was not heeded even though it succeeded in convincing some in Argentina that British investors were about to intervene, creating the need for Argentina to act promptly to preempt Britain.

The Senkakus – History repeating itself?

The rest, as they say, is history. Unfortunately, though, not history whose lessons have been learned in countries such as Japan. There, the government keeps blocking the economic development of the Senkaku Islands, which China claims under the name “Diaoyu”, with Beijing orchestrating a constant string of incidents.  Taiwan also claims sovereignty over the islands, with Beijing and Chinese nationalists in Taiwan not too secretly hoping that this overlapping claim will help bring about the latter’s Anschluss.

Why is Tokyo still insisting on keeping the islands out of bounds for ordinary Japanese citizens? The issue is now under the spotlight following a string of incidents this summer and the proposal by Tokyo Governor Ishihara to buy three of the islands from their private owners with a view to their economic development. Ishihara later offered to desist in exchange for the Japanese Government building a fishing harbour in the area.

Bureaucrats at Japan’s Foreign Ministry, however, are still trying to achieve peace in our time with China and the government has moved to buy these islands, not to develop them as Governor Ishihara wanted, but to reinforce the policy of freezing them from any meaningful development of presence of Japanese citizens. Not surprisingly, this has been interpreted by China as a sign of weakness, and scenting blood the regime has authorized a number of demonstrations over recent months, many of which have turned violent. In addition to some attacks on Japanese citizens in China, a number of business facilities owned by Japan or somehow connected to the country have been set on fire or otherwise damaged.

Thousands of Anti-Japan protesters march in Shenzhen, Southern China

In spite of this, many mainstream newspapers are supporting the view that it is endless talks, instead of a firm posture, that will reduce the chances of war. Their reaction to the widespread riots has just been to ask for more talks, more dialogue, more peace initiatives, in other words more appeasement. They seem to have forgotten the lesson of the long years of talks between London and Buenos Aires, leaving the Falklands starved of much needed investment, and they are suggesting the same approach: talks without development.

How has such an important lesson in inviting aggression by a continental power bent on maritime expansion been forgotten? Should not the events leading to the 1982 Argentine invasion have acted as a warning to the well-meaning Japanese voices calling for talks instead of the economic development of the Senkaku? Unfortunately two traits in human nature militate against this: the expectation that by being reasonable so will be one’s adversaries, and that elusive but seemingly natural and superficially attractive search for “peace”.

After decades of keeping the Senkaku Islands “frozen”, as a token of good intentions and in a bid not to “provoke” Beijing, there is not the slightest thread of evidence that the policy has succeeded in moderating China’s claims or the options to which she may be ready to resort to secure her objectives. Furthermore, Japanese weakness is not only whetting Chinese appetites but offering them an opening to undermine Taiwan’s de facto sovereignty and ‘real’ democracy. Needless to say, preventing the island becoming part of China once more is a major Japanese national security imperative. We could even say that the value of the Senkaku Islands themselves lies to a great extent in their proximity to Taiwan, to a Taiwan out of China’s grasp. If Beijing came to dominate or even ‘Finlandize’ the island, Japan would see her Southern flank and some vital SLOCs (sea lines of communication) cut off anyway, regardless of the fate of the Senkaku.

Thus Japan has two options, just like Great Britain in the 1970s: the Shackleton approach, defended by Governor Ishihara, or that of the Foreign Office, still dominant in political circles. Although history rarely repeats itself exactly, those advocating the latter course would do well to examine some troubling historical precedents.

 

Alex Calvo is a student at the MA in WWII Studies, University of Birmingham

The man behind the Schlieffen plan and his strategic vision

Image

Alfred Graf von Schlieffen

Schlieffen’s strategic vision was dominated by his conviction that a bold, swift, offensive attack on France using a wide outflanking manoeuvre would be the only solution to breaking Germany’s geopolitical encirclement.  France would have to be beaten quickly before Russia could fully mobilise and attack in the east.  Schlieffen’s work as Chief of the General Staff focused almost single-mindedly on this particular strategy, from building up the armed forces, through technological advancement to staff officer training, with the aim of preparing for a possible pre-emptive strike in the early 1900s.  Schlieffen’s strategic views owe in part to the works of firstly Clausewitz, and also in more practical terms to the elder Moltke, whom he succeeded as Chief of the General Staff.  However, it is interesting to note that despite Citino’s claim that German strategy shows continuity on the strategic and operational level from the age of Bismarck to that of Ludendorff and even to Hitler, Schlieffen’s strategic planning deviates from his predecessors somewhat.  His arrival at these views must also, in part, be due to his particular character and position, aloof and withdrawn from political and diplomatic circles, he no doubt suffered in the key areas of ‘statecraft’ as he considered his own role to be concerned mainly with the tactical and operational levels.  Schlieffen’s work is characterised out of necessity by the geopolitical and technological developments and limitations of his time.  In summary, the bold manoeuvre style of war planning for which Schlieffen is so famous was influenced mainly by the specific problems encountered by Germany as a newly powerful state in the centre of Europe, as well as the growing diplomatic developments bringing Germany’s enemies closer together.  Schlieffen devised a solution to this particular problem, however his numerous and notable omissions for example in the areas of politics and logistics, led to his ‘plan’ being eventually altered and discredited in its final form.

It is important to place Schlieffen’s strategic vision in the context of his peers’.  Rothenberg makes it clear that “Schlieffen’s strategic practices, if not his basic concepts, were a break in continuity from Clausewitz and Moltke”.  The main principles of Schlieffen’s strategic views were as follows: offensive, maneuver, mass, and economy of force, put to use with the aim of outflanking and destroying the enemy forces.  In addition to this, Schlieffen greatly underestimated Clausewitz’s insistence on friction, or the ‘fog of war’.  The elder Moltke in particular designed his command system with this in mind, reasoning that “no plan survives contact with the enemy’s main body” (Citino), resulting in his flexible ‘Auftragstaktik’, or mission tactics.  In sharp contrast, Schlieffen’s strategic planning has been labelled as manoeuvre á priori, reducing the reliance on army commanders’ own initiative in favour of a strictly pre-determined course of events.

Schlieffen maintained that new technologies such as the telegraph enabled the commander to act as a “modern Alexander” (in his own words) and as such, localised initiative had no place in ‘modern’ warfare.  Returning to overall strategy, it is clear that Schlieffen favoured a more daring offensive manoeuvre than either Moltke or Waldersee had contemplated.  His predecessors, likewise aware of the danger of a two-front war, had favoured defensive-offensive operations, basically advancing to pre-determined defensible lines and holding them until diplomacy could bring the war to an acceptable conclusion.  Although by 1888 the elder Moltke had turned to France as the more immediately dangerous opponent, and decided to split Germany’s previously balanced forces more heavily on the western side, his proposed deployment of troops to France was nowhere near the scale of Schlieffen’s.  This was an age in which there were, according to Rothenberg, “mounting odds against offensive warfare”, in addition to technological advancement, one had now to also consider national morale, social stability, and economic resources, as was shown to devastating effect during the American Civil War.  Schlieffen however, focusing almost exclusively on military capabilities, argued instead that while a direct offensive would result in static warfare, Germany’s best and perhaps only chance at victory in a two-fronted war would be to employ a swift, broad outflanking manoeuvre in the West to overpower France before turning to her eastern enemies.

Image

A simplified image of the Schlieffen Plan

It has been suggested that Schlieffen’s own personal characteristics were important in development of his strategic vision.  Rather than, as with the elder Moltke, having a broader sense of the political and diplomatic levels of strategy, Schlieffen chose to concentrate on the military objective almost in isolation to other, related areas.  Annika Mombauer suggests that the role of Chief of the General Staff changed with each ‘Chief’s’ personality, and how far each was able to interact with above all the Kaiser.  Considering Moltke the Younger’s friendly relationship with Wilhelm II, it can be seen how closer interaction between the military and government was achieved in this period compared to Schlieffen’s comparative isolation.  With this in mind, Schlieffen regarded his role requirements as Chief of the General Staff as “planning, improving combat doctrine and capabilities” (Rothenberg); he did not try to influence German policy in any way, perhaps due to his predecessor Waldersee’s dismissal because of a policy disagreement with the Kaiser.

Wilhelm II and his General Staff

This disregard for political influence is crucial to an understanding of Schlieffen’s strategic planning, if only because of the main reason that the violation of the neutrality of Belgium was key to his invasion of France, something that the Ministry of War and the Chancellor were only made fully aware of in December 1912.  Mombauer comments that, “the General Staff cultivated the secrecy that Schlieffen had initiated.”  This ‘secrecy’ was not necessarily a creation of Schlieffen’s, the German state allowed its army a great deal of independence in comparison with the other European powers, and this was compounded by the divisive nature of the various ministries.  Schlieffen was under no obligation, for example, to share elements of his planning with the foreign ministry, and as Rothenberg claims “the division of jurisdictions resulted in a serious, possibly fatal, overreliance on military schemes alone”.  It is therefore evident that Schlieffen’s strategic views, with few political limitations imposed within the planning process, were prone to a degree of unrealistic optimism.  Hew Strachan cites politics as the main issue with Schlieffen’s ‘plan’, commenting that “its besetting sin was its political naivety”.

Yet political issues were not the only omissions in Schlieffen’s planning.  Another notable neglected area, according to Gordon Martel, was that of logistics, presumably due to Schlieffen’s rejection of the idea of protracted war.  He did not consult the public or private sectors, or even the related government ministry about possible economic war planning, and chose to favour improvisation of operational supply once within France.  It was only under the younger Moltke that economic mobilisation was considered.  Schlieffen’s personal interests and opinions were therefore extremely important in shaping his strategic planning.  Colin Gray outlines ideal strategic aims, stating that “strategy is neither policy nor armed combat; rather it is the bridge between them. […] The strategist must relate military power (strategic effect) to the goals of policy.”  It is therefore of vital importance to remember Clausewitz’s insistence that “war is simply a continuation of political intercourse, with the addition of other means”, when undertaking strategic planning.  Although Schlieffen was no doubt familiar with Clausewitz’s theories, as were the great majority of his contemporaries, it seems that he adopted only the instruction that “[strategic planning] determines when, where and with what forces an engagement is to be fought”, choosing to prioritise these more operationally focused tasks.

Image

Europe pre-WWI

Another contributing factor to consider when analysing Schlieffen’s views is geopolitics.  As Gray states, “the problems and opportunities posed by the newly united Germany’s central location in Europe dominated the structure of German strategic planning from 1871 until 1914.”  The German ‘fear’ of encirclement by Schlieffen’s time was well established, with the elder Moltke and Bismarck having considered a war against multiple enemies as early as 1870, although they largely turned to diplomacy to avert any imminent crises.  The threat of future war led to concerns that Germany, without superior numerical force, could not hope to win an attritional war on two fronts and would have to seek decisive battle at the outset.  These views no doubt influenced Schlieffen, and as stated above, he responded to the situation with a different strategic plan to Moltke.  Although they both agreed that Germany’s geo-strategic position demanded “operations culminating in a battle of annihilation” (Rothenberg), Schlieffen’s solution was bolder and contained more risk.  It was recognised that once in motion, military plans were difficult, maybe impossible, to change, and although some have claimed that Schlieffen’s manoeuvre in its original form would have actually defeated France, it was deemed too dangerous by the younger Moltke, who rightly or wrongly altered the deployment of troops, reducing the huge difference in strength between the left and right wings (Mombauer, 2005).

Another criticism of Schlieffen was his reluctance to change his plans in response to external events or developments.  Although in response to Russia’s defeat in the Russo-Japanese war and the Revolution of 1905 Schlieffen downgraded a possible eastern attack and assigned 75% of full strength to the Verdun-Lille line, he failed to consider changes in the light of the Balkan crises of 1908-9 and 1912, or in response to rapid Russian military recovery.  Schlieffen’s strategic views therefore were heavily influenced by the geopolitical restraints imposed on Germany, leading him to create a plan to break out of the ‘encirclement’.

In summary, it may be argued that Schlieffen arrived at his strategic views due to a combination of interpretation of earlier theories and strategies; his personal working style and inter-personal relationships; and finally the wider geo-political context in which he had to base his work.  Schlieffen was an ‘exponent of strategic envelopment’ and believed that outflanking manoeuvres could negate numerical superiority, and moreover prevent a war of attrition through one decisive campaign.  His command style also favoured inflexible commands rather than directions in warfare, and as Rothenberg states, “he was a specialist who favoured concrete calculations over abstract speculations”.  His personality shows through at various points of this analysis, highlighting his reluctance to co-operate with government ministries and his conscious exclusion of non-military matters from General Staff work, as well as his estrangement from the Kaiser, leading to his replacement in 1906.  As a final point to consider, moving away from the comparisons of Schlieffen to other German commanders, Rothenberg has likened Schlieffen’s boldness and decisive application of manoeuvre to Napoleon’s method of seeking prompt decision by engaging and destroying the enemy force.  Although the debate on the existence of a formative ‘plan’ written by Schlieffen rages on, his strategic views are clear and whether potentially successful or not, have certainly influenced manoeuvre strategy ever since.

The author would like to acknowledge this article’s dependence on only a few sources, and would welcome any comments with further or newer research/information.

Lessons from the Falklands applied to the South China Sea

 

Guest piece written by Alex Calvo, MA student at the University of Birmingham, specialising in WWII.

Tuesday 2nd October marks the beginning of UoB’s War Studies seminar programme, weekly seminars by guest speakers on a wide range of topics.  Fittingly, this year’s programme begins with an anniversary piece on “2 PARA Falklands – 30 Years On”, by Colonel (Ret’d) David Benest.

At first glance this topic seems to be of most benefit to those in the history and military spheres, however I would argue that this lecture would also be of interest to students pursuing degrees in other fields.  There are a number of strong reasons why students interested in international relations, geopolitics and defence and security, particularly in relation to East Asia, should pay attention to lessons learned in the Falklands conflict.

This year is the 30th anniversary of the successful liberation of the Falkland Islands after their invasion and brief occupation.  It is therefore an excellent occasion not only to thank the troops who took part in Operation Corporate, including those who made the ultimate sacrifice, but also to reflect on some of the lessons from the war both at the military and at the political-diplomatic levels.  Although relatively short, the conflict was complex in many ways and even today there is ample scope for further research.

Flag left behind by 2 Para after the battle for Goose Green

As students of war we are not only interested in the past, although that by itself is often a powerful motivation to pursue our discipline, we are also keen to identify lessons to prevent, or if necessary to prevail in, future conflicts.  In the words of Mahan, “the great warrior must study history”. Although no two actual or potential conflicts are identical and as a result comparison and analysis must be approached with caution, the study of past wars provides a solid foundation to interpret current and future conflicts.

This brings us to East Asia, a region far away from the South Atlantic but which has this summer been regularly on the news due to a number of incidents and a high degree of tension, which at present shows no sign of abating.

 

The question I would like to address is as follows:  Are there any areas in which the study of the 1982 Falklands War may help us shed some light on the current developments in East Asia?  The following three points show instances where lessons from the Falklands may be applied to current events.

1.- The dangers of appeasement.  In the 1970s, successive British administrations sought to negotiate with Argentina while coercing the islanders to admit closer links with that country.  The Shackleton report, which made clear that the economy of the Falklands could thrive if some key investments took place, went unheeded.  In addition to this, many islanders were deprived of full British citizenship and it was announced that the only permanent naval presence, HMS Endurance, would be withdrawn.  Buenos Aires took all of this as a sign of diminished interest and evidence of weakness.  It is perhaps not surprising therefore, that the original code name for the invasion was “Goa”.

In the case of the Senkaku Islands, successive Japanese governments have banned their own citizens not only from settling on the land but even from visiting.  Calls to build basic infrastructure such as lighthouses and fishermen’s shelters have also been rejected.  This year Tokyo Governor Ishihara proposed to buy three of the islets from their private owner in a bid to develop them, but the national government preempted his move and purchased them.  However, their proposed policy of keeping the islands undeveloped in an attempt to appease Chinese popular opinion, backfired.  Beijing viewed this deliberate inaction as a sign of weakness, and a wave of popular unrest has followed.

2.- The key role of other powers. In the case of the Falklands, the Argentine decision to invade rested significantly on the assumption that Washington would press London not to react.  Similarly in East Asia one of the key issues being considered by Beijing is Washington’s reaction to a shooting war in the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, a landing on Taiwan or a blockade of the islands.  In the South Atlantic, the United Kingdom had Chile as an ally, whereas in East Asia most countries are at odds with China, including India, Vietnam, and the Philippines.  Security and defence alliances among maritime democracies are gradually becoming stronger but they still suffer, in the cases of New Delhi and Tokyo, from the failure of these two countries to conclude a civil nuclear cooperation agreement.

3.- The growing significance of asymmetric maritime warfare. Although it was HMS Sheffield and Atlantic Conveyor, both sunk by air-launched Exocet missiles, which attracted the most attention at the time and remain widely known, the case of HMS Glamorgan, hit by an Exocet fired from the shore, provides us with a powerful reminder of the scope for small, mobile, camouflaged vehicle-mounted cruise missiles.  Although the enemy improvised its launch from a fixed position, current technology makes it easy to deploy these systems in a way which makes it difficult to detect and destroy them.  As Taiwan becomes increasingly unable to keep up with Chinese military modernisation, a number of experts are advising Taipei not to try to compete head on with Beijing but rather to develop systems able to withstand a massive initial air attack.  These systems would ‘survive to fight another day’ and would be capable of inflicting significant damage on an invading or blockading force while awaiting the anticipated international response.

 

It is therefore clear that there are parallels between the two situations, and it is important to bear these in mind when looking at Japan, Taiwan and China’s options in the coming months.  Another piece relating to the topic by Alex will also be published in the next week.

 

Which are your favourite wars or periods to study?

 

As you all seemed to enjoy our last poll so much, especially with it provoking debate and fierce defence of certain individuals, here’s another one!

The categories below cover most conflicts, admittedly with a Euro-centric bias.  Let us know if there is a war we have missed completely, and please feel free to share with us your preferred period of study.

The poll is multiple choice this time, so enjoy!

 

Why the comparison of AirLand Battle with Blitzkrieg is flawed.

By Z.C. Vince @zcvince on Twitter

AirLand Battle was a doctrinal concept developed as part of the US army’s FM 100-5 Operations 1982in response to the Cold War and the challenges of the anticipated Central European clash between the large-scale mechanised conventional armies of the USA and her allies and the USSR and Warsaw Pact

The 1982 Field Manual was centred on Cold War operations

countries.  As such, this doctrine was relatively short lived, having replaced the post-Vietnam War ‘Active Defense’ policy in 1982 but being swiftly superseded in 1993 by a post-Cold War field manual aimed more specifically at non-conventional and low-intensity conflicts.  In contrast, Blitzkrieg was not doctrinal at least in any official sense, being a “German phenomenon based on the traditions and heritage of German military history”(Citino, 2004).  Although AirLand Battle shares common characteristics with Blitzkrieg, it must be stressed that the Blitzkrieg campaigns for example in Poland, France and the Soviet Union were essentially pre-emptive strikes against poorly prepared opponents.  In 1982 the US army was seeking an alternative to the positional and therefore highly attritional style of warfare they had prepared for in previous field manuals, a situation similar to that of the Red Army facing the Wehrmacht after the Battle of Stalingrad.  Because of this, AirLand Battle instead owes more, ironically, to the Soviet doctrinal concept of Deep Battle/Operations, with both focusing on the importance of manoeuvre, attacking in depth and immobilising the enemy.

The rapid outflanking manoeuvre style of warfare which has become

An example of Frederick the Great’s manoeuvring at Leuthen.

known as Blitzkrieg is rooted in Prusso-German military history, going as far back as Frederick the Great’s victories at Rossbach and Leuthen (Citino, 2005), through von Moltke the Elder’s demonstrations of the battle of encirclement or Kesselschlacht in 1866 and 1870, and on to von Schlieffen’s theories of strategic envelopment, culminating in the ‘Schlieffen Plan’, prior to the First World War.  Citino argues that while Blitzkrieg itself was not a formalised doctrine, it was based on three “classical doctrinal traditions”.  These were as follows: flexible doctrine of command, or Auftragstaktik (the ‘mission command’ of today); a focus on operational-level warfare, either campaigns of position or of movement; and an avoidance of Einseitigkeit or one-sidedness, resulting in a broader reliance on combined arms rather than the supremacy of one arm over the others.

AirLand Battle did share these characteristics with Blitzkrieg.  FM 100-5 Operations 1982 stated that, “electronic warfare, vulnerability of command and control facilities and mobile combat will demand initiative in subordinate commanders”.  This move away from a static, attritional style of warfare to a focus on manoeuvre and high tempo operations required a higher standard of training and leadership (Lock-Pullan, 2005) similar to von Moltke’s nineteenth century expansion of the Prussian General Staff in part to deal with independent convergent manoeuvres such as his use of concentric exterior lines before the battle of Sadowa.  In the case of AirLand Battle and modern communications technology, ‘mission-type’ orders required “unambiguous political aims to be outlined prior to engagement”, so that subordinate commanders could react with initiative whilst remaining in accordance with the standard ‘intent’ toward the enemy.  It is clear that lower-level resourcefulness was a key point to AirLand Battle, with the doctrine stating that “decentralization converts initiative into agility, allowing rapid reaction to capture fleeting opportunities”.

This more fluid style of command owed partly to the shift in focus to the operational level of war from the tactically-oriented attritional ‘Active Defense’ doctrine.  FM 100-5/1982shows great divergence from its 1976 counterpart in that instead of advocating frontal assaults aimed at the enemy’s leading formations, it favours operational manoeuvre and attacks on critical enemy units from “unexpected directions”.  The rejection of tactically focused doctrine is shown by the great emphasis on the simultaneous and rapid use of firepower and manoeuvre.  Finally, parallels with Blitzkrieg may be made with

Close air support with Stuka dive bombers was the key to Nazi combined operations.

regard to the use of combined arms.  Just as in the inter-war period Germany emphasised the role of armoured and mechanised forces to be used in conjunction with air power, AirLand Battle doctrine emphasises the role of ‘integrated battle’, comprising joint operations, combined arms and the potential usage of chemical and tactical nuclear weapons.  Acknowledging that in modern war elements of the armed forces can rarely act truly independently, AirLand Battle requires manoeuvre, synchronisation and firepower to all be integrated in pursuit of the ‘political’ aim.

The most widely known example of AirLand Battle doctrine in practice was Operation Desert Storm in 1991.  Although the Iraqis possessed conventional, mechanised forces, they were a fraction of the scale of the Soviet forces against which AirLand Battle doctrine was fundamentally aimed.  The annexation of Kuwait by Iraq presented a singular opportunity to “test […] how well the forces created and trained to fight the Third World War would have performed”.

The ‘Highway of Death’ is a popular depiction of US air superiority during Gulf War I

Badsey goes so far as to suggest that in the Gulf War, the US forces were “disregarding the small point that the enemy was actually Iraq [and not the USSR, for example]”, showing just how crucial victory was to an America ‘haunted’ by Vietnam.  The keys to victory in the Gulf War were combined and co-ordinated assaults in depth, operational manoeuvre and deception.  A large contributor to the coalition victory in the Gulf War was the air superiority enjoyed by America and her allies, Cordesman and Wagner give the ratio of 3.6:1 in aircraft in favour of the coalition.  This clear air superiority allowed a level of deception of the enemy that was invaluable to the overall campaign, as the coalition was able to move 255,000 soldiers plus vehicles up to 300 miles to the west, “one of the most complicated force deployments in history”.  What followed on ‘G-Day’ was the beginning of a double envelopment of Iraqi forces by VII and XVIII corps with close air support and attack helicopters, meeting sporadic and relatively easily overwhelmed opposition.  Air power played an important role in Desert Storm, with 1,997 air strikes carried out in direct support of the ground troops, reducing casualties and depriving any Iraqi attempts at counterattacking and representing the superiority of allied combined arms operations.

Desert Storm may be compared with Case White, the Nazi invasion of Poland, as an example of operational manoeuvre aimed at an inferior opponent.  The Wehrmacht deployed in two widely separate army groups advancing respectively from Pomerania and Silesia, and East Prussia and Slovakia, thus trapping most of the Polish army in a textbook Kesselschlacht or ‘cauldron’ battle.  Similarly to with Desert Storm, air power played a large role, the German ‘Close Battle Division’ of 160 Stuka dive-bombers facilitating the destruction of the Modlin fortification outside Warsaw and speeding up the ground advance.  The superior operational mobility of the Wehrmacht, coupled with lower-level initiative and swift, brief orders enabled the Germans to exploit advantages as well as wheeling 180 degrees “effortlessly” twice in one week and change direction as necessary.  In this direct comparison with an example of successfully applied Blitzkrieg ‘principles’, it is clear that there are similarities between Blitzkrieg and AirLand Battle, not least the use of combined arms, mission-style command systems, the supremacy of operational manoeuvre and use of technology.  In this sense, AirLand Battle was a ‘hi-tech’ version of Blitzkrieg.

Despite this, it must be remembered that AirLand Battle doctrine was created during the Cold War for the main purpose of directing the US army in large-scale conventional warfare against the Soviet Union.  Assessing whether Operation Desert Storm was an example of Blitzkrieg does not necessarily correspond to Blitzkrieg’s relationship to AirLand Battle as a doctrine.  FM 100-5/1982stated that “the US army will face an enemy who expects to sustain rapid movement during the offense and who will probably use every weapon at his disposal”.

The mighty Soviet Union was the US’ assumed opponent for AirLand Battle

Having outlined the characteristics of the Gulf War, it is clear that the Iraqi force did not fit this description, and this is why it is the US army’s attitude toward Soviet Russia that is of most importance when assessing AirLand Battle as a doctrine.

The Soviet field regulation of 1936 summarises ‘Deep Battle’ theory as follows: “tanks, artillery, aviation, and mechanized units in large scale use provide the option of simultaneously attacking the entire depth of the enemy battle formation with the objective isolating, encircling, and destroying the enemy”.  As a direct comparison, FM 100-5/1982 states that, “the AirLand Battle will be dominated by the force that retains the initiative and, with deep attack and decisive maneuver, destroys its opponent’s abilities to fight and to organize in depth”.  The similarities between the two are clearly evident, both focusing on the role of operational art, the use of combined, mechanised arms and perhaps most importantly the ‘deep’ attack.  The Soviet emphasis on the operational level of war emerged in response to the failures during the First World War and focused on the need for consecutive series of operations in order to prevent losing the initiative and provoking an enemy counterattack.  In addition, the realisation that echeloned attacks were required in order to exploit any breakthroughs in the enemy line resulted in the formation of operational-manoeuvre groups whose task was to carry out such exploitation and carry the attack throughout the operational depth of the opposition (Kagan, 1997).  Eventual Soviet application of these theories to operations on the Eastern Front in 1944-45 earned the USSR successes and a reputation for operational excellence which the Americans sought to emulate in the 1980s.

The four key tenets of AirLand Battle were Initiative, Depth, Agility and Synchronisation.  Depth, of course, is central to Deep Battle theory; agility and initiative too were pivotal to the fourth stage of Deep Battle: Exploitation.  Synchronisation, the use of combined arms and the planning of consecutive staggered operations, is characteristic of both the Red Army in 1944 and the coalition forces in the Gulf War.  One particular area in which AirLand Battle built upon its Soviet counterpart was in the area of mission-style command.  Although initiative was encouraged in the Red Army, it was made clear in PU-36 that superior officers had to be consulted before action.  In this respect at least, the Prusso-German tradition of Auftragstaktik triumphed over Soviet methodology.

To conclude, AirLand Battle was a product of its time, a direct response to the Soviet threat of conventional warfare on a hitherto unseen scale.  The doctrine which was developed in 1982 “owed a huge debt to the Soviets” and there are clear parallels to be seen with regard to the use of combined arms, operational manoeuvre, attacking in depth, and exploiting breakthroughs.  Blitzkrieg in contrast was an opportunistically applied operational method which saw success in Poland, France and the early stages of Barbarossa, but which ultimately failed to comprehensively destroy Germany’s opponents in depth, something which Deep Battle, and subsequently AirLand Battle, focused heavily on.

The problem with Assad’s aerial strategy…

Assad this week.

 

With attack helicopters and Russian fighter jets plummeting to the ground around Syria, it could be suggested that President Assad’s air campaign is faltering. In June, Defence IQ published an article called ‘What do Russian attack helicopters say about Syrian strategy?’ Three months on we ask: what has changed – and why?…

Three months ago Syria was denied a shipment of Russian MI-35 attack helicopters, which was a significant blow to the regime.

As suggested in the original article:

If the attack helicopters had arrived, it would have significantly increased the Syrian Arab Army’s capacity to conduct successful counter-insurgency operations, enabling it to root out rebels embedded deep within cities and providing aggressive cover to its own authorities on the ground.

The failure to obtain new hardware has meant that Assad has been relying on an increasingly decrepit armoury. A tweet from FSA leader, Riad al Assad, said:

Reports coming in saying 50% of Assad’s hind attack helicopters may be grounded due to lack of spare parts loyal pilots and poor maintenance.

This will be of concern to President Assad. His strategy has only occasionally launched air strikes from fixed-wing jets, but instead tends to rely on helicopters for air strikes in urban areas.

The most recent images of a helicopter being shot down will do nothing to inspire confidence in his strategy.

When fighting in COIN operations, losing control of the skies has historically marked the beginning of the end for many governments against insurgent forces, from Afghanistan to Libya. Whilst it would be bold to suggest that President Assad no longer has an aerial advantage, it is becoming apparent that he is losing his monopoly in aerial supremacy.

There are several explanations for why this could be, they are as follows::

The kit

The equipment that the Syrian army has is poorly maintained and out of date, thus making them prone to malfunction. For example, the MiG Jet that the regime claims crashed due to a technical fault rather than the skill or will of the enemy. Speaking of which…

The will of the enemy

The capabilities that the FSA have may be underestimated. As with any force that has employed guerrilla methods, the insurgent will find a weakness and then exploit it with any and all available resources. There is an obvious corollary between the growth and variety of the insurgent’s resources, and the vulnerabilities the enemy faces.

For the FSA, a significant boost to their armoury has been the introduction of (admittedly, crude but nonetheless dangerous) SA-7 anti-aircraft systems. These are handheld, heat-seeking SAMs developed during the cold war and are a genesis of the Stinger launchers used by American forces.

Social media

How can social media impact upon COIN aerial strategy? The answer is not obvious – Facebook can not shoot down a jet (…yet). However, what social media does provide is a platform to influence, convince and indoctrinate on a level previously impossible.

The FSA have learnt from other insurgent campaigns around the world and are using social media to shape the battlefield. Take Hezbollah for example; its media campaign has seen them even producing their own TV channel. In a similar way, the FSA are using platforms such as YouTube to broadcast anything that may be of strategic advantage, which is then amplified as it spreads to a global audience.

Therefore, regardless of whether or not you are cynical of the videos of jets and helicopters being ‘shot down’, their presence on global media platforms gives the impression that the Assad regime is weakening, whilst the FSA is becoming stronger and more capable. The impact that this has is not restricted to our living rooms, but has a direct impact on the battlefield, causing fear and doubt to spread. Logic would dictate that if a regime cannot maintain its instruments of control it will inevitably crumble. This is why presenting these instruments as inadequate is of such importance.

Cynicism

An alternative reason for why President Assad’s air force looks vulnerable may be because he is attempting to conserve the most valuable air warfare assets in case of a foreign intervention. If true, this decision resides in the grey space between the bold and the foolhardy. If operations in Libya are anything to go by then it is unlikely that trying to preserve some of his better, yet still old kit, will make much of a difference in preventing no-fly zones being implemented.  More than half of the planes are understood to be 30-year-old MiG-21s and MiG-23s; only 40 or so MiG-29s can be described as modern. More valuable is his ground-to-air assets that overshadow those of Gaddafi and have since caused hesitation among NATO forces where intervention is concerned. But how long can these be preserved from the rebel mob – or indeed kept in operation by a dwindling ground force?

What seems apparent from these points is that President Assad lacks the resources and the nous to implement an effective aerial COIN strategy; he and his leaders have B-grade equipment and are not using it to optimal capability. This equipment and those operating it are bending under the pressure, leading inevitably to mistakes and defections. There are certainly smarter ways to use airpower for COIN.

Many commentators agree that the Assad regime will fall eventually, with the dissection of the state now beyond the point of no return. That prediction should be taken with a degree of pessimism; with the removal of President Assad, he will of course leave behind a power vacuum. And those who fill that gap may not be as opposed to using chemical weapons as Assad has so far been.

In a recent Defence IQ article, James Farwell discusses this issue in more depth:

Potential loss of control over WMDs may pose a threat, considering the terror groups that would like to get their hands on them. Col. Riad al-As’ad, head of the opposition Free Syrian Army, says al-Qaeda is not operating in Syria. But al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has reportedly ordered followers to infiltrate the Syrian opposition. Sunni radicals associated with the Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella group that includes al-Qaeda, have urged fighters to go to Syria. And one should not doubt al-Qaeda’s determination to acquire WMDs – Osama bin Laden once professed that acquiring chemical or nuclear weapons is “a religious duty.”

WMDs could be smuggled into Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, the West Bank or elsewhere. In the past, Hamas, Hezbollah and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have all attempted to acquire chemical or biological weapons. In a sign of precisely how destabilizing some view this threat, Israeli officials have warned that Syria transferring chemical weapons to Hezbollah would constitute a declaration of war.

The introduction of rogue chemical weapons would indeed be a game changer, and would have a huge impact on the likelihood of a quick resolution.

The use of such weapons will not bring the war to an abrupt end, but will instead expand into a far more lethal and long-term conflict. If we take Iraq as an example; the consequences of Saddam Hussein using chemical weapons against the Kurds during the Iran-Iraq War 1980 to August 1988 are still being felt today. In fact, lest we forget, the fear that Saddam possessed WMDs was premise for invasion by US and allied forces in 2003. Arguably, the lack of evidence post-invasion of these assets has in itself limited the strategic options now available in the Syria scenario.

While Assad may be slipping from power, he is still holding cards tightly to his chest. Whether he tips his hand or the rebels call his bluff remains a waiting game

The ‘Alternative’ Olympic Games 2012

With Olympics over and the Paralympics round the corner I came up with the idea of comparing some of London 2012’s greatest athletes and events to their military counterparts.

Thoughts?

100m sprint

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is the most expensive and technologically advanced aircraft in the world and as the years roll on, the aviation-loving public continue to wait with bated breath as to whether this modern maverick lives up to expectations.

Akin to…

No event captures an Olympic audience imagination like the 100 metres final and, like the field of air combat, the event can put on a decisive and explosive spectacle. Headlining this year is “fastest man who has ever lived” Jamaican runner Usain Bolt, who is hoping to defend his crown. Both Bolt and the F-35 programme are commanding a huge amount of money and both have been criticised recently by some that would say they are not taking their development seriously enough, while others have questioned their ability to take off. As of 2012, doubts have surfaced about their performance capabilities, but the truth will remain a mystery until the Big Day.

Weightlifting

The powerhouse strategic airlift jet is the Ukrainian Antov A124, which can carry a massive payload of 150,000 kg. Built during the Cold War years, this soviet craft need not worry of any doping controversies that plagued Olympic athletes from the eastern bloc; it’s a mechanical brute.

Akin to…

Nicknamed “The Iranian Hercules”, Hossein Rezazadeh is an incredibly strong Olympic specimen. With the world record in the Clean and Jerk, he can lift 263.5 kg (580.9 lbs). Both man and machine hail from the East, are unusually big in size among their peers, and you wouldn’t want to see either one of them barrelling towards you down a dark alley.

Swimming

The Soviet Alfa (Lira) Class was a class of nuclear powered hunter/killer submarines. With a top speed of 41 knots (47 mph, 76 km/h) was a pure speedster – and in fact, that was all it was designed for despite being an “attack sub” with the Northern Fleet from 1977 to 1996.

Akin to…

Despite the urge to mention Michael Phelps, defending aquatic champion and winner of the most Olympic medals ever, we’re taking the low-brow road and making the very obvious reference to Ian “Thorpedo” Thorpe.  Like the Alfa-class, both athlete and boat are now permanently retired, and neither used their skills for anything more practical than sheer exhibition of power. Innovative and energy-efficient for its time, the Alfa has since lost its spotlight to sleeker US models.

Rowing

Above the surface, it’s the battle of the warship, with the fastest being the US-built Iowa Class, clocking in a maximum speed of 31 knots (36 mph; 57 km/h).

Akin to…

Rowing world records are broken regularly; in 1936 the single sculls gold medal winner Dan Barratt of the USA rowed a time of 7:30.5 minutes but today the record stands at just under a minute quicker. It’s held by New Zealander Mahé Drysdale who, like the Iowa Class, cut his teeth in the waters of the Pacific Ocean. Whilst newer and more powerful ships and boats have been developed, so has their weight, meaning speed has remained relative.

Javelin

With an effective range of 2,500m, the FGM-148 Javelin anti-armour missile commands a fire and forget tandem warhead which is a High explosive anti-tank (HEAT) type model. With a cost of $40,000 (£25,500) for the missile alone, the weapon represents an expensive but effective weapon capable of destroying enemy targets worth significantly more value.

Akin to…

Erm…the javelin..? In fact, it’s a closer comparison than we perhaps care to remember. Though a sophisticated Olympic sport event, the javelin was first employed as a devastating weapon thousands of years ago by the Greeks and Romans, effectively making it the earliest form of long-range offensive projectile.

Pentathlon

The weapons a soldier use are his and her tools, and only ever as good as the person carrying them. With the Olympics being held in London the versatility of the British Armed Forces has also been on display, taking soldiers from the mud tracks in Afghanistan to the streets of the capital in security roles at venues across the UK.

Akin to…

Quick history lesson: the modern pentathlon was inspired by the pentathlon event in the Ancient Olympic Games, which was itself modelled after the skills of the ideal soldier at the time. The modern variant seeks to replicate this with testing the skills required of a 19th century cavalry soldier behind enemy lines: he/she must ride an unfamiliar horse, fight with pistol and sword, swim, and run. Britain’s Mhairi Spence contends at this year’s Games following European and World titles.

Marathon

The popular P-8 Poseidon, the manned Maritime Patrol Aircraft from Boeing, is being teamed with an unmanned Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) system for the U.S. Navy, which will see 40 UAVs working in conjunction with the P-8 to circle the skies without rest. Even without that team support, each UAV has an individual endurance of 30 hours.

Akin to…

Frequently the favourites in the marathon, the Kenyan team is this year fielding Wilson Kipsang, who won the London Marathon in April in just 2:04:44. Like the BAE Nimrod MRA4, Britain’s number one marathon runner Paula Radcliffe has limped out of the competition before the chance to properly prove herself on the world stage, while world record holder Patrick Makau didn’t even make the squad.

Gymnastics

The Apache helicopter has the sort of firepower, precision, and armour that can disperse most insurgents simply by appearing over the horizon. It has become a staple of military air power and recently proved effective during the Libya campaign, not to mention Afghanistan and other irregular warfare environments.

Akin to…

Olympic gymnasts have to be agile, strong and flexible; ready to compete in any environment and prepared to tackle a number of obstacles. Just like facing-off against the Apache, when Japan’s Kohei Uchimura turns up in his leotard to the arena of conflict, the opposing forces take a deep breath and wish they’d stayed at home.

Beach volleyball

The increasing cyber threat is becoming more prevalent for government, the military and industry everyday as thousands of cyber attackers attempt to breach security barriers and firewalls. The recent announcement of another super-virus, called the Flame, has reignited fears that our national and military secrets are vulnerable to digital assailants. This summer, all eyes will be on the cyber domain.

Akin to…

In beach volleyball there’s a huge net (firewall) that each side needs to overcome if it is to break down the defences of the opposition. Both are growing activities and ones that are getting a great deal of media attention of late. And finally, the terms ‘cyber security’ and ‘beach volleyball’ are also both very, well, dare we say ‘sexy’, to their respective parties (that is in their own, very different ways).