'87 Sir

Thirty years of service ----USNA Class of 1987 '87 Sir

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Napoleon and the Operational Art of War--part deux

     Tactically, Napoleon developed an innovative battle plan to best utilize his superiority in combined arms warfare, particularly his artillery and cavalry, to provide maximum flexibility in developing the battle to his advantage.  Once the enemy forces deployed on the battlefield, Napoleon quickly began to probe for weak spots on his opponent’s flanks, forcing his enemies to deploy reserves and thin their overall lines.  At the critical moment, Napoleon’s tactical genius would appear as he committed his artillery and reserves to break his opponent’s line at the critical spot on the battlefield and send his cavalry into the pursuit of a demoralized and defeated opponent.  Napoleon was particularly relentless in the pursuit, understanding that his enemy must not be allowed time to regroup and reform for another battle.  Because of the nature of weaponry used during the Napoleonic era, battle tended to be very close quarters and the shock impact of a heavy cavalry charge or the appearance of Napoleon’s Imperial Guard was often enough to send an enemy army fleeing from the battlefield.

     All of these innovations were driven by the salient feature of Napoleonic warfare—the “decisive battle.”  This era of warfare was the last in which a single battle was able to largely decide the strategic outcome of a campaign.  Napoleon’s victories at Austerlitz and Jena-Auerstadt decisively destroyed his opponent’s armies and largely allowed Napoleon to dictate the terms of the ensuing peace.  However, later in the Napoleonic era as other European armies adapted many France’s tactical and operational innovations, the relative advantages Napoleon enjoyed became greatly diminished.  As a result, the French were never able to duplicate the overwhelming victories of 1805-1808.

    The influence of Napoleon’s art of war can be seen in how most American Civil War generals attempted to maneuver their armies to achieve the decisive battle.  Stonewall Jackson’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862 offers several remarkable traits of Napoleonic thinking adapted to the unique geography, forces, and strategic circumstances facing his army as it was forced to fight against Union superior numbers.  The most significant operational challenge Jackson faced was the several qualitative and quantitative advantages of the Union forces arrayed against him.  Not only were his troops outnumbered strategically, but in most cases tactically as well.  In addition Jackson faced immense logistical difficulties as he tried to keep his troops equipped with capture Union stores.  However, despite, or perhaps because of his logistical woes, Jackson’s troops were capable of enduring immense hardships, giving them the ability to be more mobile than their opponents and develop the ability to appear at nearly every point in the Shenandoah as they became known as “Jackson’s foot cavalry.”

  The major change on the Civil War battlefield was the evolution of Napoleon’s brand of combined arms warfare.  The geography of the Shenandoah Valley and most of the Civil War’s Eastern Theater was not conducive to the sort of sweeping cavalry charges of Napoleonic combat.  In addition, infantry weapons had become more lethal with the development of the rifled musket and Miniè ball.  This new firepower also affected the role of artillery on the battlefield.  A Civil War army could not use artillery in the same type of direct fire manner employed in the era of smooth-bore muskets.  Stonewall Jackson’s army would fight primarily infantry battles against his Union opponents with artillery and cavalry relegated to supporting roles.

    This type of infantry-centric combat would be an enduring feature of Civil War battles and the era of decisive battles had clearly faded by 1862.
The nature of armies and warfare had changed significantly since 1815.  Napoleon’s development of the division and corps structure had ironically made a decisive battle, the ultimate achievement of any general, more unlikely in the Civil War.  The newly organized armies were both more resilient and more exhausted after a major battle, neither likely to completely disintegrate or to melt away but to stumble wearily off the battlefield too spent to either pursue or be pursued.  The new lethality of infantry weapons precluded the mass cavalry charge of a beaten army, so most armies survived to fight another day from the battlefields Stonewall Jackson commanded in 1862-1863.  The roles of cavalry and artillery had changed by 1862.  Cavalry was used primarily as a screening and reconnaissance force and artillery was now used as more of a distant direct fire weapon.

    Stonewall Jackson utilized his limited cavalry and artillery as best he could, but his actual tactical employment of infantry often left much to be desired, particularly early in the 1862 Valley Campaign.  One of the major problems was his command style, which different markedly from Napoleon’s.  Jackson did not share his operational or tactical thinking with his subordinate commanders, and the small size of his army did not permit a widely dispersed march in the style of Napoleon’s corps.  This need to keep his plans internalized did not serve Jackson well once battle was joined and he depended on his division commanders to carry out his ‘operational intent’ in a rapidly changing tactical situation.  In addition, Jackson did not manage the battlefield situation well, and missed major opportunities to inflict a more serious blow to his opponent at McDowell and Port Republic due to his command style and lack of quality subordinates.

    By the time of the Chancellorsville campaign, Jackson had learned valuable lessons and became General Robert E. Lee’s most trusted corps commander.  Jackson’s flanking maneuver of May 2, 1863 against the Union XI Corps across the front of a vastly larger army is truly a Napoleonic masterpiece and probably the greatest flank attack of the entire war.  The Army of Northern Virginia was probably at the zenith of their operational skill and only a daring Confederate command team would consider such a high-risk maneuver.  Terrain certainly favored Jackson’s corps as it marched across the Union front to achieve complete surprise against the Union right flank.  The implementation of a decisive blow at precisely the right point on the battlefield achieved a rout that nearly rolled up a good portion of the Union Army except for the intervention of nightfall and Jackson’s tragic shooting by his own pickets.

    Napoleon’s operational and tactical influences survived the 19th century and can still be seen today.  The basic division-corps-army structure made famous by the Grande Armeé has been used by every military force of the 19th and 20th century.  In addition, Napoleon’s concepts of the indirect approach, turning movement and attacking his enemy’s lines of communications and lines of supply can be seen in most of the military doctrines and campaigns of the last 200 years.  Finally, Napoleon’s tactical maneuvers of probing his opponents flanks, the decisive attack of the enemy’s center of gravity, and the pursuit of a defeated opponent from the battlefield are still as sound today as they were in 1805. 

    Napoleon’s one significant shortfall, which no doubt influenced Clausewitz and his writing of On War, was the inability to completely translate operational success into strategic victory and political peace.  Europe was in a nearly constant state of war from 1792-1815 and the inability of Napoleon to make lasting peace with his neighbors ensued his eventual downfall in what became a war of attrition against the great powers of Europe.  Likewise, even Stonewall Jackson’s brilliant battlefield successes in 1862-1863 were unable to produce strategic victory as Union forces relentlessly rebuilt after major defeats.  The experience of Napoleon and Stonewall Jackson show that, absent a sound strategic plan to produce an achievable political victory, operational and tactical ability ultimately produce very little beyond battlefield triumphs.

Chandler, David. The Campaigns of Napoleon. New York, NY: Scribner, 1966.
Eicher, David. The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2001.
Epstein, Robert. Napoleon's Last Victory and the Emergence of Modern War. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1994.
Lang, Walter, J. Frank Hennessee, and William Bush. "Jackson's Valley Campaign and the Operational Level of War." Parameters (U.S. Army War College) XV, no. 4 (Winter 1985): 48-58.
Nosworthy, Brent. The Bloody Crucible of Courage: FIghting Methods and Combat Experience of the Civil War. New York, NY: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2003.
Tanner, Robert G. Stonewall in the Valley: Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson's Shenandoah Valley Campaign, Spring 1862. New York, NY: Doubleday, 1976.
Weigley, Russel F. The Age of Battles: The Quest for Decisive Battle from Breitenfeld to Waterloo. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1991.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The continuing influence of military history on strategy....

It is often humorous and exasperating to hear that military history is dead...or my other favorite..."Well if soldiers and politicians study war, won't that make them more liable to use force to solve problems?"  which is nearly as stupid as saying, "If doctors study cancer, won't that make people sick?"

This new book, courtesy of my wonderful literary compadres at the New York Journal of Books, where my excellent review is now posted, shows what should be obvious to anyone who observes human nature in action.  War, like disease, is part of the human condition, and whether you call it war, insurgency, terrorism, or Bob, the use of force to compel someone to do your will (darn, where have I heard that phrase before?) OH, yea, my man Karl, 200 years ago, is not likely to fade away.

Now, as I said in my more formal review, this book is not for neophytes, or members of the Obama Administration.  It is a manly book for manly historians, and if you don't know who Clausewitz, Jomini, Douhet, Liddel-Hart or JFC Fuller are, best to go grab your copy of Dreams of Our Fathers.  If you have read Clausewitz at least three or four times, then dive right into this baby, and you won't be disappointed.

Sir Hew Strachan is an eminent World War One historian..I know because I have the first of what he intended to be a trilogy on that epic conflict and it is a DOOR STOP.  1200 pages of goodness...oh yea, like Shelby Foote or Rick Atkinson (two of my favorite authors), Sir Hew set out to chronicle  WWI in excruciating detail before 9/11 broke out.

This book, written for practitioners and serious students of war and strategy is a collection of essays and talks given by Sir Hew and now edited and integrated to discuss how, in his opinion, the US and the West in general have bollixed up strategy since the end of the Cold War.  His brings up a lot of excellent points about the influence of nuclear weapons on strategy after 1945, the rise of "small wars" and how those present different and unique challenges for military and political strategy makers, and the overall mistaken notion that technological gadgetry actually creates a "revolution in military affairs."

This last idea is probably the most disconcerting to Western militaries obsessed with drones, sensors, satellites, and smart bombs.  War is a human endeavor fought between infinitely adaptable adversaries who will inevitable react in unanticipated ways to having JDAMs rain down on them from afar.   The ability of low-tech adversaries like the Taliban and Lebanese Hezbollah to defy conventional military "defeat" at the hands of their technological betters should be a stark and abject probie slap to Western military leaders and politicians (are you listening Barry O?) that believe a few drone strikes can defeat knuckleheads willing to stick explosives up their butt to blow up an airliner.

Unfortunately, the self-imposed restraints imposed by Western liberal democracies often prevent satisfactory conclusions to the numerous "small wars" and "low intensity conflicts" (two terms Sir Hew is not fond of) because politics and world opinion prevent the sort of World War 2 total solutions used to bring Nazi German and Imperial Japan to the surrender table.  I mean seriously, if the US Navy decided to end the existence of Somali pirates, it would take about 48 hours, make a little more rubble in Somalia (not that you could tell) , but would likely kill a lot of "innocent" people, who no doubt are happy to live off the largess provided by the pirates.  This of course would bring howls of outrage from the UN, MSNBC, and the NAACP, therefore, we just watch movies about pirates like Captain Phillips.

BUT I digress.  Sir Hew covers a wide range of topics and spares no criticism on either side of the Atlantic.  His views are controversial, although they shouldn't be to any serious student of history, and offer a great deal of food for thought.

I was extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to review this book, since most books by Cambridge Press are very proudly priced (although Amazon has the paperback for a pretty good discount).  Well researched and footnoted, it would make a worthy addition to any serious library of strategy, right next to your copy of On War and The Influence of Sea Power Upon History.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Napoleon and the Operational Art of War

    Considered one of history’s greatest field commanders, Napoleon made significant contributions to the strategic, operational, and tactical art of war.  Napoleon’s ability to integrate previous military thought with new concepts of waging war allowed him to create a Grande Armeé that became the most feared army in Europe.  However, Napoleon’s inability to secure a lasting peace ultimately led to this downfall as other European armies were able in time to absorb his methodologies and eventually defeat his army at Waterloo.  Beyond 1815, Napoleonic warfare had a tremendous influence not only on the American Civil War, but the organization, tactics and fighting methods of armies into the 20th century.  Most of the Confederate and Union generals were well versed in Napoleonic tactics from their training at West Point and the writings of Baron Jomini, and this influence can be seen in how Civil War campaigns and battles were conducted.  Stonewall Jackson’s 1862 Valley Campaign and his leadership at Chancellorsville in 1863 offer excellent examples of the Napoleonic operational art.

    Napoleon began his military command career in the middle of a major change in French military doctrine.  The French Revolution had swelled French ranks with a multitude of highly motivated, but comparatively untrained soldiers.  Napoleon quickly realized that traditional European linear battlefield tactics would be ill-suited to these massive new French forces.

    The French forces quickly began developing a more flexible column formation for both the march to the battlefield and the subsequent tactical maneuvers.  Napoleon’s first major contribution to the operational level of war was the brilliant combination of maneuver and combat into a seamless plan to out march and out think his opponents, leaving them off balance as he prepared to attack them on a battlefield of his choosing.  Napoleon’s ability to visualize how a campaign could evolve over time allowed him to devise various courses of action to react to quickly changing tactical circumstances.

    Napoleon also increased both the mobility and combat power of his army by the creation of the first real combined arms divisions and corps in modern Europe.  By combining infantry, cavalry and artillery into corps and placing them under capable commanders, the French were able to disperse their army over a wider area, providing both an operational and logistical advantage over their opponents.  This dispersion allowed Napoleon to conceal the geographic objective of his army and force his opponent to divide their army in order to defend key objectives or bring his army to battle.  In addition, Napoleon was able to reduce his logistical vulnerability by operating with minimal supply lines and not depending on fixed magazines that siphoned off troops to protect them.

    This corps structure also proved its utility by allowing movement to contact by a force large enough to require the enemy to deploy their forces in a general engagement.  If needed, this corps could fight an independent holding or delaying action while Napoleon gathered the army in a coordinated manner.  Once the enemy army was located, the flexibility of the corps to fight independently also enabled two of Napoleon’s major operational advancements.  First was the ability to fight more than one army simultaneously using a strategy of the “central position” or interior lines of approach and the second was the enhancement of the “turning maneuver” where Napoleon outflanked a potentially larger or well dug-in opponent by placing his army astride their lines of supply and communications.  This concept of isolating and defeating his opponents in detail allowed Napoleon to not only choose favorable ground for battle, but provided time to gather his dispersed forces and achieve local tactical superiority at the critical moment of battle.

In addition to dispersing his corps on the march, Napoleon could use his superior cavalry forces to screen his movements and keep his opponents confused on his strength, route of march and objective.

To be continued........

Chandler, David. The Campaigns of Napoleon. New York, NY: Scribner, 1966.
Eicher, David. The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2001.
Epstein, Robert. Napoleon's Last Victory and the Emergence of Modern War. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1994.
Lang, Walter, J. Frank Hennessee, and William Bush. "Jackson's Valley Campaign and the Operational Level of War." Parameters (U.S. Army War College) XV, no. 4 (Winter 1985): 48-58.
Nosworthy, Brent. The Bloody Crucible of Courage: FIghting Methods and Combat Experience of the Civil War. New York, NY: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2003.
Tanner, Robert G. Stonewall in the Valley: Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson's Shenandoah Valley Campaign, Spring 1862. New York, NY: Doubleday, 1976.
Weigley, Russel F. The Age of Battles: The Quest for Decisive Battle from Breitenfeld to Waterloo. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1991.

Friday, February 14, 2014

It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future.

Yup, ol' Yogi Berra was truly a man ahead of his time.  Here's another blast from the AMU past.  It's interesting that in spite of the moronic "brick and mortar" dinosaurs that poo-poo "For profit schools" how relevant and timely much of my coursework was.

The most significant threats to the United States for the next 25 years will be:
  • A potential “axis” of China and Russia to form a counterbalance to American power:  The U.S. is currently considered a “hyperpower” by some quarters of the international community and the desire of China and Russia to be major players on the international stage will likely draw them closer together diplomatically and potentially militarily.  Diplomatically, both China and Russia are veto-holding members of the UN Security Council and have shown their willingness to use those vetoes to oppose issues important to the U.S., such as Iranian nuclear sanctions.  Both nations are also major exporters of weapons and military technology to nations unfriendly to the U.S.  Militarily, the Russians have been major arms suppliers to the Chinese and both countries have opposed a major U.S. presence in the “stans” of central Asia.  Although the traditional rivalry of the two countries may still exist at some level, their mutual desire to see U.S. influence decrease, particularly in Central Asia, makes them natural allies of convenience.  
------>  This is still pretty true.  Both Russia and China continue to feel their oats in this era of American weakness driven by the foreign policy neglect and incompetence of this Administration. 

  • The continuing global Islamic insurgency, particularly in areas where failed or weak states exist:  Although the U.S. has made significant progress in Iraq of late, the lingering insurgency along the Afghan-Pakistani border is unlikely to go away.  The ability of Al Qaeda and its web of allies to maintain a significant presence in Pakistan, Somalia and other Middle East states as well as networks in Europe will require continued vigilance by the U.S.  As oil prices skyrocket to new levels, Iran will continue to meddle in the Middle East through their support for Hezbollah and Hamas in their attempts to undermine the Lebanese government and prepare for further conflict with Israel.  Finally, the continuing quest by Islamic terror groups to obtain WMDs is the nightmare scenario and part of the larger proliferation picture.
 ------>  This was certainly true in 2008 when this was written (pre-Obama, of course), but it is interesting in light of events in Syria and the current Shia-Sunni civil or cold war brewing in the Middle East.  I never expected to see Hezbollah and Al Qaeda fighting it out...but hey, what's not to like?  One terrorist group killing another terrorist group.  Let's just pop popcorn and watch the cage match.  Cynical?  Yup.  Practical?  Yup.   Feel bad about it?  Nope.

  • The proliferation of nuclear weapons and other WMDs:  WMD proliferation will be the biggest threat to both U.S. interests and to global stability in general for the next 25 years.  As mentioned above, the continuing quest by Islamic terror groups to obtain WMDs and use them on either American or Israeli interests is the number one threat the U.S. faces.  However, the proliferation of WMDs and particularly nuclear weapons offers its own set of challenges.  As both Clawson and Sokolski note in their essays, the potential for a nuclear arms race in the Middle East between Shia and Sunni Arabs presents an entirely new possibility for either an accidental or intentional nuclear exchange.  The added instability of many of the regimes in the region, particularly Pakistan’s, presents the ultimate national security challenge of an Islamic fundamentalist Taliban-style regime with nuclear weapons and a delivery capability.  Preventing the spread of nuclear weapons, particularly in the Middle East will be America’s primary strategic security challenge for the next 25 years.
  ------>  This was certainly true in 2008 when this was written (pre-Obama, of course), but is even more scary now.  With the moronically hopeless Iranian "nuclear agreement"  (read Obama surrender to avoid having to do anything about this existential threat to world peace), the potential for a Shia-Sunni nuclear arms race becomes more real every day.  This is even more dangerous than an Israeli-Iranian nuclear standoff, because I wouldn't put it past some suicide bomber knuckle head to use a small nuke.  Wouldn't that be special?

I have to say, I hate it when I'm right, but I got this pretty close...at least Yogi Berra close.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Back to military history

After my rather uninspired political commentary post, I decided to go back to the comfortable world of military history so as not to lose what little hair I have left.

I don't normally review magazines, but I was really compelled to compliment my recent favorite subscriptions.

As you may know, I recently mourned the demise of my favorite Civil War magazine, North and South. For over a decade, I faithfully looked forward to receiving my new issue every other month, and diligently ordered all the back issues (even the elusive Vol 1, No 5 issue!) so that I have the complete publication run faithfully stored in my library.

But now I had to fill that void, so I turned to a magazine I have been irregularly buying from the newsstand.

Strategy and Tactics....and it's modern spin off Modern War

I normally take a pretty skeptical view of "military history magazines."  Most of them retread the same old subjects or pander to the lowest denominator of pop history.  Not that there's anything wrong with that...I appreciate that there is a huge market of interested people that don't know ANYTHING about military history, but I wanted something a little more analytical and off the beaten path.

For the most part, these two magazines deliver.  I especially enjoy the quality of their maps (I love maps) and the thoroughness of the articles.  What's interesting is these magazines are actually published by a war game design company, so they are more oriented around a monthly war game format...but sadly that doesn't fit into my budget, so I just get the basic magazine....although there have been some months that I really did wish I could get the full version.

There is also a World War II version, but I could only afford two subscriptions (and one of them was a Christmas present)...so I chose these two.  The World At War magazine is equally good and really covers some esoteric topics of World War 2 history.

There's a lot of pretty decent magazines...I also occasionally enjoy Armchair General, but although it has some pretty good columnists, it is not quite of the same caliber. 

So, more book reviews soon...and maybe some other surprises.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Political doldrums

It has been a while since I have aired my latest take on the wild, wonderful world of politics.  Yet, the motivation to do so seems to be lacking.  I mean the utter absurdity of the modern liberal, progressive movement leaves me nearly speechless or maybe keyboardless, as it were.

First, President "Who Me?" continues to be ignorant of everything his Administration does, yet is so sure there can't be ANY wrongdoing...but how can he know?  After all, he knew nothing about the IRS persecuting Tea Party groups, nothing about what happened in Benghazi, nothing about Fast and Furious, nothing about the Obamacare website...so how does he really know what his minions are doing in his name?

Second, the utter stupidity of the Democratic party this week actually stunned even me...Obamacare frees you from "job-lock?"  What the hell does that even mean?  You mean that you don't need a job anymore?  Just quit and go on welfare and get free Obamacare?  REALLY?!?!?  The utter insanity of this line of logic is....well, I actually have no words.

Yet, the Republicans seem to be playing catch-up ball most of the time.  It appears the lunancy in immigration "reform/amnesty" has been shelved at least for a little while.  This actually made me perk up a little...it's about time that the Republican leadership catch up to the rest of the company in realizing that Barrack Hussein Obama has no interest in following any mere legislation or law...those are for the peasants. 

His mighty pen and phone mean that any sort of immigration law will be treated like Obamacare...it will mean whatever is politically expedient  for the Democratic Party.  The lack of trust between Obama and his "enemies", which pretty much means anyone who has a job, loves America, or wants to not have their wealth spread around is finally sinking in with the Washington establishment, and it's about damn time.  If you can't trust a serial liar, it's hard to to business...and it appears that the teleprompter President can no longer be trusted.

Sadly, this is about the only true lesson I have picked up...the next two years are going to be ugly.  Obama has no more elections to win, so he clearly doesn't care about what the public thinks, and since no one in the Republican Party appears to be willing to endure the avalanche of "racist" slander his defenders in the lamestream media would unleash if actual restraints on his executive overreach were used---either the budgetary powers of the House of Representatives or even impeachment, the only hope for America is a stunning defeat in the upcoming elections to make those Democrats that DO need to win elections in 2016 willing to distance themselves more...especially if they lose control of the Senate and Harry Reid can no longer run interference for unpleasant decisions Obama doesn't want to have to make.

So good luck America, our liberal utopia may be just around the corner, where we can all be dope smoking Haight-Ashbury residents just hanging around the commune painting, playing guitar and then collecting our free Obama stuff...but I doubt it.  More like we will be desperately trying to hold onto those quaint things known as jobs and mortgages while we try and ride it out until January 20, 2017.