Grognard look at combined arms warfare

Combined arms warfare is nearly as old as war itself. The ability to synchronize various types of combat arms has been a hallmark of a great generals, from Caesar to Napoleon to Erwin Rommel. Prior to the 20th century, combined arms was pretty straight-forward->artillery bombarded the enemy to prepare for the infantry assault, and when the infantry (or what was left of them) broke the enemy line, cavalry would be sent in to pursue and run down the defeated enemy. It was not always that easy, of course, and required that elusive trait Clausewitz called "battlefield genius", but when exhibited by Napoleon, who always seemed to know just how long to use the artillery, just where to commit the infantry attack, and when the right moment to commence the cavalry charge to bring about the complete defeat of the enemy force at Austerlitz or Jena, it was a wonder of military art and science.

Beginning in the late 19th century and into the 20th century, profound changes to weaponry, tactics, and communications made combined arms warfare not only necessary, but much, much more challenging. In an excellent book by a grognard for grognards, Jonathan House, former army officer and contemporary of David Glantz, another of my favorite military historians, takes an in-depth look at how the major militaries of the world tried to adapt to the changing realities of the modern battlefield brought about by the rapid fire rifles, machine guns, tanks, airplanes, and modern communications and sensors. Beginning with World War I and the various attempts by the major combatants to break the stalemate of trench warfare, House looks at the different approaches various European armies and the US took to integrating new weapons into their unit organizations, training, doctrine and tactics.

House focuses primarily on how the various armies tried to organize divisions, brigades, and regiments around the tank as the primary weapon of the 20th century battlefield, and offers some interesting insights into the role of military culture, threat assessments, and battlefield experience drove these changes, focusing in particular on World War II and the profound changes to war wrought by the advent of the combined arms German Panzer division as a tactical maneuver unit that combined tanks, infantry, artillery, reconnaissance, anti-tank, and anti-aircraft units into a single organization trained to fight together. The various methodologies used by the Americans, British, and Russian armies in the war are also critiqued, and House does a good job of showing how the choices made by each army in their definition of "combined arms" combat affected their battlefield performance. The chapter on how the US and Soviets tried to come to terms with the "atomic battlefield" of the 1950s is particularly interesting, as this organizational construct can be seen as the fore bearer of today's attempts to create "modular task oriented" brigade combat teams (BCTs) in both the US and Russian armies of the early 21st century.

House goes further in looking at the integration of airpower, communications, and what we would today call C4ISRT into the battlefield and how ground commanders have a much more challenging job controlling a vast battlespace in three dimensions and hundreds of square miles.

The only nitnoid is the book ends right after the Gulf War and the Russian invasion of Chechnya. A revised version with a chapter on the profound changes to combined arms warfare...which is now virtually JOINT warfare as defined by the US-- as it nearly always involves air power, and today at least, SOF units integrated and sometimes commanding conventional ground units.

However, the overall historical analysis of the book is first rate, and understanding how soldiers have come to grips with changes to battlefield weaponry, tactics, and doctrine make this a worth-while book for anyone interested in the conduct of modern combined arms combat.