That is how the logic of strategy works. Its different levels might be thought of as the floors of a building. Nothing can be achieved at the operational level of strategy without adequate tactical capacity below it — there’s no point in moving units around in clever manoeuvres if they cannot fight at all — just as there is no capacity at the tactical level if there are no supplies and no weapons. The technical level of strategy is just as essential, for all its simplicity as compared to the mysteries of unit cohesion, morale and leadership which largely determine tactical strength. But this edifice of several stories has a most peculiar feature: there are no stairs or elevators from the operational level, where battles are fought, up to the level of grand strategy, where entire wars are fought with every political and material strength or weakness in play, including alliances and enmities. Absent overwhelming superiority to begin with, no war fought with the wrong allies against the wrong enemies can yield victory, even if a hundred battles are won. By 1814, that was Napoleon’s predicament, as it would be for Germany in both world wars: German forces fought skilfully and often ferociously to win again and again in battles large and small, but nothing could overcome the consequences of siding with the decrepit Ottoman and Habsburg Empires against the British, French, Japanese and Russian empires the first time around, or with Bulgaria and Italy against all the Great Powers but Japan the second time.
Edward Luttwak, “A Damned Nice Thing”, London Review of Books, 2014-12-18.
March 29, 2016
March 9, 2016
Published on 7 Mar 2016
Indy and Flo sat down for one of our live streams about historical firearms again. Othais from C&Rsenal explained the various Austro-Hungarian rifles and pistols of the First World War. Among them of course the famous Mannlicher rifles. In our next episode we will also have a look at the iconic Austro-Hungarian pistols.
March 7, 2016
Published on 6 Mar 2016
A promotional and informational short produced by New Horizon Films (with support from the NFB) for the Department of National Defense. The film follows a set of new recruits through officer training at the facility in Chilliwack B.C. Directed and photographed by Robert S. Rodvik; sound recording and editing by Michael J. Collier; technical advisors: Captain Stu Harper and Captain Grant Russell; music composed by Captain John Montminy; Narrated by Chad Miller; music performed by Canadian Forces Naden Band; Esquimalt B.C. “Can you be a leader?” won a Certificate of Excellence – Training at the U.S. Industrial Film Festival.
This film has been made available courtesy the City of Vancouver Archives at http://vancouver.ca/your-government/city-of-vancouver-archives.aspx Reference code: AM1553-2-S2-: MI-272
March 2, 2016
Published on 29 Feb 2016
Erwin Rommel’s book Infantry Attacks in our Amazon Store: http://bit.ly/RommelAttacks (Affiliate Link)
Erwin Rommel had his baptism of fire during the initial offensives of World War 1 on the Western Front. His fearlessness and daring actions made him rise through the ranks quickly. When the German infantry tactics changed and the new Stormtrooper regiments were built, Rommel was the kind of officer needed. During the war in Romania and the battles of Italy he distinguished himself and already started building his legendary reputation that followed him into World War 2 as the Desert Fox.
February 22, 2016
Published on 20 Feb 2016
Check out Ian and Karl’s video about WW1 melee weapons: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EIGIBJeRfnQ
Check out Ian’s and Karl’s channel: https://www.youtube.com/c/inrangetvshow
Trench raids resulted in the most brutal form of close quarter combat in World War 1. Armed with melee weapons and hand grenades, soldiers would fight each other to the death. But raiding parties and their tactics soon became more sophisticated and changed the conduct of war dramatically. This is the first part of a small series of the evolution of combat in the trenches for the centennial of the Battle of Verdun.
January 21, 2016
Ted Campbell outlines the most likely tasks and approximate organization of the Canadian Armed Forces, regardless of the political or ideological stripe of the government of the day:
- To maintain active military forces to share in the continental defence of the North American homelands, of the maritime approaches to them and of the airspace over both.
- To maintain a global, blue water fleet, supported by air forces, that is able to, simultaneously, maintain a constant Canadian presence in at least two different theatres.
- To maintain trained, disciplined military units that can, on very short notice, give effective “aid to the civil power” here in Canada.
- To maintain combat naval, land and air forces and a full range of strategic and tactical support services, able to conduct low to mid intensity operations anywhere in Canada on short notice.
Those tasks, both explicitly and implicitly, call for:
- A surveillance and warning system ~ which, I think, to be really useful must cover all of the Canadian landmass, the maritimes approaches to it and the airspace over both and, probably, needs to have terrestrial, underwater, airborne (aircraft mounted) and space based (satellite) sensors.
- A command and control communications (C³) system to interconnect all those sensors and the various command agencies ~ Canadian, US and combined.
- A full fledged Navy able to operate in 9and under) coastal waters and anywhere in the world.
- A full fledged Air Force able to conduct air and joint operations in Canada and to conduct joint naval-air operations anywhere in the world.
- An Army for domestic, territorial defence of Canada.
- The full fledged Navy and Air Force and limited Army also, in their turn, call for medical, logistical, administrative and financial support systems: hospitals, supply depots and warehouses, and people working away in offices, far away from the action, keeping services flowing to the people who need them.
What about forces for the next Afghanistan or UN peacekeeping mission or Korea or, heaven forbid, another world war?
That would be an Expeditionary Force.
January 20, 2016
Published on 18 Jan 2016
From the iconic Pickelhaube to the almost legendary Stahlhelm and the field grey colour, German military uniforms of World War 1 are instantly recognisable. But there is more to them than just the spiky leather helmet that was often used in enemy propaganda. In our new special episode we are talking about the details of the German uniforms in the First World War.
January 14, 2016
Published on 17 Apr 2014
An army is as good as the kit its soldiers use. In 1914, which army was the best equipped? Historian Dan Snow finds out.
They were not, as The Times correspondent claims, there to protect the wearer from rifle or machine-gun bullets. Indeed, as I understand it, even modern helmets are not always proof against high-velocity rounds. What they were there to do was to protect soldiers from shrapnel. Shrapnel, in case you didn’t already know, is the collective noun for steel balls being expelled from an air-bursting (or Shrapnel) shell. It was a huge killer in the First World War and the steel helmet did a great deal to save lives.
One of the good things about the Brodie helmet – as it sometimes known – is that it had an internal harness. This meant that if the helmet was dented the dent was not necessarily reproduced in the wearer’s skull.
On the shape, however, with a wide brim and no neck protection, I have always been in two minds. On the one hand, if the threat is from above you would have thought the shape was a good thing as it covers a large part of the wearer’s body. It is also easy to make. On the other hand, British helmets over the last 100 years have progressively given more neck protection which sounds like the British Army’s way of saying they got it wrong.
By the way, in my limited experience both steel and more modern Kevlar helmets are a pain in the arse to wear. You either can’t see anything from a prone position or you can’t see anything from a prone position and get a headache.
Patrick Crozier, “The British army gets steel helmets”, Samizdata, 2015-12-02.
December 29, 2015
Forces TV on the widespread practice of renaming recruits when they report to their unit:
It’s common enough in civvy street, but it seems that it’s definitely standard issue in the British military. For decades, service personnel have had their names changed the moment they’ve arrived at their first military unit. Usually by a smart-alec superior.
Of course the fresh-faced recruit is too junior to protest, if s/he even understands the black humour behind their re-christening. The nickname may stick with them for the rest of their career, and will be used all the more if it particularly upsets the poor soldier / sailor / airman lumbered with it. It may stick with them for the rest of their life: I’ve heard many tales of only mothers still persisting in calling their sons by the name they chose for them; to everyone else they have become what the Army redesignated them. For good.
Former members of the military like to reminisce about these days in online forums. One of the more repeatable tales on the Army Rumour Service’s website goes like this:
“Best I ever met was a Sergeant Kennedy nicknamed EDY. Legend had it that he had rocked up at the regiment as a shiny new Trooper and presented himself to the guardroom. The Guard Sergeant had looked at the scrawny young man and asked
“Kennedy, Sergeant” came the reply
“last three?” asked the Sgt
long pause, followed by
20 years later, he’s still known as EDY.”
Military nicknames frequently replace a person’s Christian name for that of a famous person, with whom they share a last name. Someone called Black becomes “Cilla”(especially if they’re male); Barker is “Ronnie”; Gordon attracts “Flash”.
Further examples include “Nobby” for anyone named Clark or Hall; “Buck” if your last name is Rogers, “Perry” if it’s Mason and either “Burt” or “Debbie” if it’s Reynolds. Not forgetting Dicky Bird, Chalky White, Smudge Smith, Dinger Bell, Swampy Marsh, Grassy Meadows, Snowy Winter and Happy Day.
December 22, 2015
Published on 21 Dec 2015
British Field Marshal John French was a soldier through and through and had a glorious career during the colonial era of the British Empire, but all the battles around the world couldn’t prepare him for modern war. His experience in the Boer Wars and in the Mahdist War made John French a rising star in the military. But when he was leading the British Army landing in Belgium in August 1914, neither he or the public were prepared for the new realities of World War 1 with huge casualties and trench warfare.
December 21, 2015
Strategy Page on the political win of just requiring the US Marine Corps and Special Operations Command to integrate their front-line troops (integrate women into their front-line units, that is):
In early December, after years of trying to justify allowing women into the infantry, artillery and armor and special operations forces, the U.S. government simply ordered the military to make it happen and do so without degrading the capabilities of these units. While the army was inclined the just say yes, find out what quotas the politicians wanted and go through the motions, some others refused to play along. SOCOM (Special Operations Command) and the marines pointed out that the research does not support the political demands and that actually implementing the quotas could get people killed while degrading the effectiveness of the units with women. This is yet another reason why many politicians do not like the marines and are uneasy about SOCOM. The commander of SOCOM promptly said the order would be implemented (otherwise he can kiss his upcoming promotion goodbye) but the Marine Corps has, as in the past, not voiced any enthusiasm at all. This decision involves about 220,000 jobs. About ten percent of these are special operations personnel, commonly known as commandos.
The special operations troops are not happy with this decision. In a recent survey most (85 percent) of the operators (commandos, SEALs, Rangers) in SOCOM opposed allowing women in. Most (88 percent) feared that standards would be lowered in order to make it possible for some women to quality. Most (82 percent) believed that women did not have the physical strength to do what was required. About half (53 percent) would not trust women placed in their unit. For these men the decision is a matter of life and death and SOCOM commanders fear that the decision, if implemented, would cause many of the most experienced operators to leave and dissuade many potential recruits from joining. Keeping experienced personnel and finding suitable new recruits has always been a major problem for SOCOM and this will make it worse.
That said there are some jobs SOCOM operators do that women can handle. One is espionage, an area that SOCOM has been increasingly active in since the 1990s because of their familiarity with foreign cultures and operator skills and discipline. Another task women excel at is teaching. Israel has long recognized this and some of their best combat skills instructors are women. But what the male operators are complaining about is women performing the jobs that still depend on exceptional physical as well as mental skills. These include direct action (raids, ambushes and such) and recon (going deep into hostile territory to patrol or just observe.) These are the most dangerous jobs and many operators are not willing to make the job even more dangerous just to please some grandstanding politicians.
This order has been “under consideration” for three years. The various services had already opened up some infantry training programs to women and discovered two things. First (over 90 percent) of women did not want to serve in any combat unit, especially the infantry. Those women (almost all of them officers) who did apply discovered what female athletes and epidemiologists (doctors who study medical statistics) have long known; women are ten times more likely (than men) to suffer bone injuries and nearly as likely to suffer muscular injuries while engaged in stressful sports (like basketball) or infantry operations. Mental stress is another issue and most women who volunteered to try infantry training dropped out within days because of the combination of mental and physical stress. Proponents of women in combat (none of them combat veterans) dismiss these issues as minor and easily fixed but offer no tangible or proven solutions.
December 18, 2015
The constitution of the Imperial legion may be described in a few words. The heavy-armed infantry, which composed its principal strength, was divided into ten cohorts, and fifty-five companies, under the orders of a correspondent number of tribunes and centurions. The first cohort, which always claimed the post of honor and the custody of the eagle, was formed of eleven hundred and five soldiers, the most approved for valor and fidelity. The remaining nine cohorts consisted each of five hundred and fifty-five; and the whole body of legionary infantry amounted to six thousand one hundred men. Their arms were uniform, and admirably adapted to the nature of their service: an open helmet, with a lofty crest; a breastplate, or coat of mail; greaves on their legs, and an ample buckler on their left arm. The buckler was of an oblong and concave figure, four feet in length, and two and a half in breadth, framed of a light wood, covered with a bull’s hide, and strongly guarded with plates of brass. Besides a lighter spear, the legionary soldier grasped in his right hand the formidable pilum, a ponderous javelin, whose utmost length was about six feet, and which was terminated by a massy triangular point of steel of eighteen inches. This instrument was indeed much inferior to our modern fire-arms; since it was exhausted by a single discharge, at the distance of only ten or twelve paces. Yet when it was launched by a firm and skilful hand, there was not any cavalry that durst venture within its reach, nor any shield or corselet that could sustain the impetuosity of its weight. As soon as the Roman had darted his pilum, he drew his sword, and rushed forwards to close with the enemy. His sword was a short well-tempered Spanish blade, that carried a double edge, and was alike suited to the purpose of striking or of pushing; but the soldier was always instructed to prefer the latter use of his weapon, as his own body remained less exposed, whilst he inflicted a more dangerous wound on his adversary. The legion was usually drawn up eight deep; and the regular distance of three feet was left between the files as well as ranks. A body of troops, habituated to preserve this open order, in a long front and a rapid charge, found themselves prepared to execute every disposition which the circumstances of war, or the skill of their leader, might suggest. The soldier possessed a free space for his arms and motions, and sufficient intervals were allowed, through which seasonable reenforcements might be introduced to the relief of the exhausted combatants. The tactics of the Greeks and Macedonians were formed on very different principles. The strength of the phalanx depended on sixteen ranks of long pikes, wedged together in the closest array. But it was soon discovered by reflection, as well as by the event, that the strength of the phalanx was unable to contend with the activity of the legion.
The cavalry, without which the force of the legion would have remained imperfect, was divided into ten troops or squadrons; the first, as the companion of the first cohort, consisted of a hundred and thirty-two men; whilst each of the other nine amounted only to sixty-six. The entire establishment formed a regiment, if we may use the modern expression, of seven hundred and twenty-six horse, naturally connected with its respective legion, but occasionally separated to act in the line, and to compose a part of the wings of the army. The cavalry of the emperors was no longer composed, like that of the ancient republic, of the noblest youths of Rome and Italy, who, by performing their military service on horseback, prepared themselves for the offices of senator and consul; and solicited, by deeds of valor, the future suffrages of their countrymen. Since the alteration of manners and government, the most wealthy of the equestrian order were engaged in the administration of justice, and of the revenue; and whenever they embraced the profession of arms, they were immediately intrusted with a troop of horse, or a cohort of foot. Trajan and Hadrian formed their cavalry from the same provinces, and the same class of their subjects, which recruited the ranks of the legion. The horses were bred, for the most part, in Spain or Cappadocia. The Roman troopers despised the complete armor with which the cavalry of the East was encumbered. Their more useful arms consisted in a helmet, an oblong shield, light boots, and a coat of mail. A javelin, and a long broad sword, were their principal weapons of offence. The use of lances and of iron maces they seem to have borrowed from the barbarians.
December 14, 2015
Strategy Page on one of the longest-serving (and still serving) weapons in the US arsenal:
A U.S. Army facility that is upgrading older 12.7mm (.50 caliber) M2 noticed that a lot of the guns coming in were quite old. M2 production began in 1921 and some three million have been produced since then. No one every kept track of how long M2s lasted. That question was recently answered when an M2 came in with serial number 324, meaning it was produced during the first year and was 94 years old. The serial number was on the receiver, the heaviest component of the M2 (25.5 kg/55 pounds in the most common version) and the one component that rarely wears out. In contrast the barrel is worn out after about 3,000 rounds and most other components eventually need replacement because of wear or damage. But the receiver is quite a sturdy block of machined metal.
Unfortunately for 324 the extent of the latest M2 upgrades means that it is often considered cheaper to scrap pre-World War II M2s rather than perform a number of accumulated fixes and modifications. But since 324 is the oldest to show up so far it will be displayed as a museum piece.
The M2 has lasted so long because it proved to be the most reliable and durable machine-gun of any caliber ever produced. That durability meant receivers would, if they could avoid battle damage or accidents, serve on and on. The army is seeing proof of that as more and more quite ancient receivers come back for which are mandatory and army-wide upgrades. Because of thus a lot of weapons NCOs have been checking their inventories and as they did that the word began spreading on the Internet (even army armorers have their own online forums) that there were a lot of very old M2 receivers out there.
December 12, 2015
Duffelblog usually comes up with wild and wacky variations on real military topics that are so way-out-there that even Second Lieutenants (and a few Captains) can often tell that they’re satire. This, on the other hand, is one where it’s hard to determine if there’s any satirical content at all:
“His mistake was announcing facts,” Lt. Gen. Paul K. Van Riper (Ret.) said. “When faced with facts contrary to what the military and Congress wants, the facts must be changed. It’s standard procedure.”
Van Riper was speaking from experience. In 2002 he was the opposing general in the 2002 Millennium Challenge, where he led an inferior foe to victory against American forces. The exercise was started over with rule changes to ensure Van Riper could not win again.
“Politicians want wars to be won with progressive politics and technology made by contractors who donate to their campaigns,” Van Riper said. “Contractors were pitching technology to stop IEDs but war games showed more recon flights searching for people planting IEDs were a better solution. We destroyed those results so we might get some cool laser cannons or something.”
Not all negative results are suppressed. A study found that despite an Army Optimism Program, 52 percent of soldiers had low morale. The Army took quick action to solve this problem by lowering the threshold of what it considered an unhappy soldier. Now only 9 percent of soldiers have low morale.
Pretending a problem doesn’t exist has become the DoD standard, according to senior defense officials. In fact, according to data released by the Secretary of Defense’s office, dozens of commendations have been awarded to commanders in recent years for redefining success. The award, called the “Silver Lining Star” is generally given to leaders who have “made lemonade when life gives you lemons.”