William G. K. Elphinstone (1782-1842) commanded the British 33rd Regiment of Foot (later the Duke of Wellington’s regiment, and today incorporated in the Yorkshire Regiment), and was almost certainly the worst battalion commander in any of the armies during the campaign. His troops broke at Quatre Bras and lost their colors at Waterloo, which he afterwards tried to cover up by secretly ordering new colors; a deception that failed to retrieve the regimental honor. He went on to prove quite possibly the most inept officer ever to command an army, when, as a major general during the First Afghan War (1839-1842), he dithered on so heroic a scale that, of his 4,000 troops and 10,000 camp followers, only one man escaped death or capture.
Al Nofi, “Al Nofi’s CIC”, Strategy Page, 2015-06-18.
January 19, 2017
January 5, 2017
Ted Campbell briefly outlines the three tiers of military logistics then discusses the most controversial tier, the national industrial base, in more detail:
Behind it all, unseen, misunderstood, unloved and, in fact, often actively disliked is the national defence industrial base.
There are a great many people, including many in uniform, who object to the cost ~ fiscal and political ~ of having a defence industrial base. Many people suggest that a free and open market should be sufficient to equip all friendly, and the neutral and even some not so friendly military forces.
They forget, first of all, that the defence industries of e.g. America, Britain, France, Germany and Israel are ALL heavily supported by their government and, equally, heavily regulated. It is not clear that we will always be in full political accord with those upon whom we rely for military hardware? What if one country wanted, just for example, to gain an advantage in a trade negotiation? Do you think they might not “decide” that since the government (a minister of the crown) has threatened to use military force against First Nations who protest against pipelines that they will not sell us certain much needed military hardware or licence its use in Canada?
It is always troubling when we see the costs of military hardware increase at double or even triple the general rate of inflation for, say, cars or TV sets or food and heating fuel, but that is not the fault of the Canadian defence industries … it is, in fact, the “fault” of too little competition in the global defence industry market: too few Australian, Brazilian Canadian and Danish defence producers, too many aerospace and defence contractors merged into too few conglomerates that control too much of the market. A robust Canadian defence industrial base, supported by extensive government R&D programmes and by a steady stream of Canadian contracts would help Canada and our allies.
I am opposed to government supported featherbedding by Canadian unions and companies but we do need to pay some price for having a functioning defence industrial base … the costs of our new warships, for example, are, without a doubt, higher than they would be if we had bought equivalent ships from certain foreign yards, but we need to be willing to pay some price for having Canadians yards that are ready and able to build modern warships when needed; ditto for aircraft, armoured vehicles, radio and electronics, rifles and machine guns, cargo trucks and boots and bullets and beans, too. AND, we need a government that will, aggressively, support that defence industrial base with well funded R&D programmes and by “selling” Canadian made military equipment around the world.
It’s one thing to accept that you’ll need to pay a premium over market cost for built-in-Canada equipment that can’t also be sold to other customers. What is disturbing is discovering that the premium can be up to 100% of the cost for equivalent non-domestic items. For example, this was reported in a CBC article in 2014:
Britain, for example, opted to build its four new naval supply ships much more cheaply, at the Daewoo shipyard in South Korea. The contract is for roughly $1.1 billion Cdn. That’s for all four. By contrast, Canada plans to build just two ships, in Vancouver, for $1.3 billion each. So Canada’s ships will be roughly five times more costly than the British ones.
But there’s a twist. Canada’s supply ships will also carry less fuel and other supplies, because they’ll be smaller — about 20,000 tonnes. The U.K. ships are nearly twice as big — 37,000 tonnes. Canadians will lay out a lot more cash for a lot less ship.
Everything is more expensive to build domestically if you don’t already have a competitive market for that item. The federal government’s long-standing habit of drawing out the procurement process makes the situation worse, as the costs increase over time (but the budget generally does not), so we end up with fewer ships, planes, tanks or other military hardware items that arrive much later than originally planned.
January 3, 2017
Published on 2 Jan 2017
The Ottoman Army underwent considerable reforms after the losses on the Balkans. And under German influence, the military tried to bring the whole army up to the standards of modern war. In a lot of way, the results were decent or even good but supply problems led to a great variety in uniform quality across the 400 year old Empire.
December 18, 2016
Robert H. Scales is a retired major general with a few notions to help make US infantry (and marines) more effective in ground combat situations:
Those of us who have spent our lives leading soldiers and Marines in combat agree with President-elect Donald Trump on one major campaign issue: We are fed-up with the defense establishment paying for high-tech fighter-jet programs such as the F-35 that cost more than a trillion dollars when, after 15 years of ground warfare and thousands of dead soldiers and Marines, we still send these “intimate killers” into combat with inferior gear.
Take a closer look inside the Department of Defense’s weapons-buying cabal and you’ll see people mad at work cooking up still more Star Wars–type stuff — from magic electronic rail guns to plane-killing laser blasters to hypersonic space planes. All this future gear would make George Lucas proud. But this stuff is about as far out in space and time as Luke Skywalker.
Has anyone noticed that Vladimir Putin is spending his money on “little green men”? These men are infantrymen serving in Spetnaz, GRU, naval, special forces, and airborne units. They do Russia’s dirty work in Ukraine, Georgia, Crimea, and Syria. Putin’s military is poor by our standards. But Putin spends lavishly on his infantry. His “Ratnik” weapons-development program is uniquely tailored to give his infantry the cutting edge — yet inexpensive — equipment they need to succeed in close combat.
Maybe we should consider following Putin’s lead by buying affordable stuff for the guys who are doing most of the killing and dying in our contemporary wars. We need Popular Mechanics, not Star Wars. The Defense Department can order some of it on your Amazon Prime account today and skip its lugubrious and wasteful acquisition process. Here are some things to add to an infantryman’s Christmas shopping cart.
The stuff described above is on the shelf today. Most of it is made in America.
By the way, anyone with reservations about the veracity of equipping our soldiers and Marines with “cheap and quick” gear should talk to General James Mattis, the soon-to-be secretary of defense. Mattis comes from a service, the U.S. Marine Corps, known for getting the most killing power for the dollar. For as long as I’ve known him, he’s passionately advocated increasing the combat effectiveness of close-combat soldiers and Marines. I suspect, if asked, Mattis will confirm the wisdom of this Christmas list and suggest additional inexpensive ways to get superior gear into the hands of the men we send into harm’s way.
December 13, 2016
Even though Kratman is retired Army, he seems positive about the Mattis appointment … under certain circumstances:
I don’t have really strong personal feelings against the idea of retired Marine General James Mattis becoming Secretary of Defense. He’s got to be a step up from the now normal western approach to defense, which is to put a broad-smiling woman or metrosexual in charge, keep the name, but make the office’s mission to be the secretary of political correctness, inclusivity, social justice, gender neutrality, gender integration, straight male moral castration, Muslim terrorist infiltration assistance, and pretty much anything but defense. Moreover, assuming Mattis takes the job, he’s a better man than I am; I wouldn’t take it without a fistful of signed but undated pardons and a liberal supply of ammunition. I think he – or anyone – purporting to fix Defense needs to shoot some people. No, not fire, not counsel, not yell at; shoot. Otherwise, the bureaucracy in the five-sided puzzle palace, the Navy Annex, and the various high rises in the area leased by the various services, will obfuscate, delay, deny, lie…whatever it takes to keep nothing from changing, especially their own power. Hmmm…did I say “some people”? Let me rephrases; he’s going to need to shoot a lot of people and probably will need a large rucksack full of signed but undated pardons, plus a graves registration unit, not too well trained, to truck the bodies to the Potomac and dump them.
Excuse me a moment, but the idea of a very large number of bureaucrats, in and out of uniform, being summarily shot and then having their bodies unceremoniously dumped in the Potomac to float out to sea has given me the schadenboner of all schadenboners…I need a bit to let it subside.
Ah, all better…well mostly better…now. At least I can continue with the column.
Ultimately, a real understanding of history means that we face NOTHING new under the sun.
For all the “4th Generation of War” intellectuals running around today saying that the nature of war has fundamentally changed, the tactics are wholly new, etc, I must respectfully say … “Not really”: Alex the Great would not be in the least bit perplexed by the enemy that we face right now in Iraq, and our leaders going into this fight do their troops a disservice by not studying (studying, vice just reading) the men who have gone before us.
We have been fighting on this planet for 5000 years and we should take advantage of their experience. “Winging it” and filling body bags as we sort out what works reminds us of the moral dictates and the cost of incompetence in our profession. As commanders and staff officers, we are coaches and sentries for our units: how can we coach anything if we don’t know a hell of a lot more than just the [Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures]? What happens when you’re on a dynamic battlefield and things are changing faster than higher [Headquarters] can stay abreast? Do you not adapt because you cannot conceptualize faster than the enemy’s adaptation? (Darwin has a pretty good theory about the outcome for those who cannot adapt to changing circumstance — in the information age things can change rather abruptly and at warp speed, especially the moral high ground which our regimented thinkers cede far too quickly in our recent fights.) And how can you be a sentinel and not have your unit caught flat-footed if you don’t know what the warning signs are — that your unit’s preps are not sufficient for the specifics of a tasking that you have not anticipated?
Perhaps if you are in support functions waiting on the warfighters to spell out the specifics of what you are to do, you can avoid the consequences of not reading. Those who must adapt to overcoming an independent enemy’s will are not allowed that luxury.
General James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis, quoted by Geoffrey Ingersoll, “General James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis Email About Being ‘Too Busy To Read’ Is A Must-Read”, Business Insider, 2013-05-13.
November 19, 2016
Published on Sep 27, 2016
There are penguins on your doorstep, spectacular scenery, and, of course, a place that’s rich in history. That’s a good side of the unusual British forces posting to the Falkland islands. The bad side is the icy gale-force winds, freezing conditions, and limited roads and connectivity. For more, visit http://frces.tv/B2P3uR.
H/T to Ghost of a Flea for the link.
November 15, 2016
Published on 14 Nov 2016
Romania is sometimes overlooked when talking about World War 1, but they had their own military tradition. As a smaller player in Europe, equipping the army was even more a challenge than it already was for the world powers.
November 11, 2016
A simple recognition of some of our family members who served in the First and Second World Wars:
The Great War
- Private William Penman, Scots Guards, died 1915 at Le Touret, age 25
(Elizabeth’s great uncle)
- Private David Buller, Highland Light Infantry, died 1915 at Loos, age 35
(Elizabeth’s great grandfather)
- Private Walter Porteous, Northumberland Fusiliers, died 1917 at Passchendaele, age 18
(my great uncle)
- Corporal John Mulholland, Royal Tank Corps, died 1918 at Harbonnieres, age 24
(Elizabeth’s great uncle)
The Second World War
- Flying Officer Richard Porteous, RAF, survived the defeat in Malaya and lived through the war
(my great uncle)
- Able Seaman John Penman, RN, served in the Defensively Equipped Merchant fleet on the Murmansk Run (and other convoy routes), lived through the war
- Private Archie Black (commissioned after the war and retired as a Major), Gordon Highlanders, captured at Singapore (aged 15) and survived a Japanese POW camp
- Elizabeth Buller, “Lumberjill” in the Women’s Land Army in Scotland through the war.
- Trooper Leslie Taplan Russon, 3rd Royal Tank Regiment, died at Tobruk, 19 December, 1942 (aged 23).
A recently discovered relative. Leslie was my father’s first cousin, once removed (and therefore my first cousin, twice removed).
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD Canadian Army Medical Corps (1872-1918)
November 8, 2016
The Angry Staff Officer analyzes the Battle of the Pelennor Fields (called by some the Battle of Minas Tirith) in terms of the six warfighting functions:
… Which leads me to my problem statement for this impromptu mission analysis that I am forcing you into: how did the forces of Gondor wage unified land operations versus the forces of Sauron at the Battle of Minas Tirith? More specifically, how can a primarily infantry force defend against a numerically superior enemy that possesses significant air assets, fires superiority, and freedom of movement and maneuver?
Couched in these terms, the problem statement resembles the complex situation faced by our brigade combat teams in a potential peer-to-peer engagement.
The situation – for those who do not remember it – is as follows: the forces of Gondor have been driven back from their forward defensive strongpoints along the Anduin River in the population center of Osgiliath. The withdrawal had been conducted in an orderly manner until the rear guard covering the retreat came under air attack by the Nazgul, which used their air superiority to drive the defenders into a panic. Most significantly, this air sortie wounded the primary land component commander, Faramir, depriving the forces of Gondor of their most effective warfighter.
More than 30,000 orcs and men of the forces of Sauron then enveloped the battle positions around Minas Tirith and began a siege of the 4,000 or so defenders of the city, which was primarily an infantry force with little in the way of cavalry or artillery. Significantly, the defenders possessed virtually no anti-air defenses, allowing the Nazgul freedom of movement around the battlefield – a dangerous proposition as the Nazgul also wielded considerable psychological damage (not unlike the sound of Stuka dive bombers in World War II). The greatest asset for Gondor was the wizard Gandalf – a force multiplier by any definition of the term – who was serving as the principle mission command adviser to Denethor. The objective for Gondor was to maintain their battle positions and hold out until reinforcements could arrive. However, lines of communication were cut during the siege and Gondor could not be sure that cavalry reinforcements from neighboring Rohan could arrive in time to save the city. This uncertainty weighed heavily on the forces of Gondor.
As a good staff officer, I turn to Army Doctrinal Publication 3-0, Unified Land Operations to understand the problem through the six warfighting functions. And given that J.R.R. Tolkien himself was a British signal officer during World War I, it would be appropriate to start out with mission command.
I imagine the author was grinning when he got to this section:
Luckily for Gondor, Gandalf then assumed command of all land forces, despite his position as a primary staff advisor to Denethor.
Yeah, that’s right, a staff officer took over operations.
Gandalf immediately provided vision and direction to the city’s defenders at a critical moment, as the forces of Sauron were conducting a breaching operation on the gates of Minas Tirith utilizing a battering ram named Grond. Arriving at the enemy point of breach, Gandalf rallied the forces in the engagement area, organized the defense, and directly opposed the primary enemy air and land component commander, the Witch-king of Angmar. The Witch-king was Sauron’s chief captain and commander of the Nazgul. Under his supervision, Sauron’s forces breached the main perimeter to the city and the Witch-king moved through the point of penetration into the far side of the breach, where he was confronted by Gandalf. The two land component commanders were prevented from close combat by the arrival of the primary maneuver element: the forces of Rohan.
H/T to John Donovan for the link.
October 4, 2016
Published on 3 Oct 2016
The Russian Army of World War 1 fielded a great variety of troops and equipment. This was especially true for the different uniforms. In our special episode, we will talk about some of the most common items, tunics and gear the soldiers would wear into battle.
September 25, 2016
Yesterday I drove out to the wilds of Brampton to attend the Trooping of the Colours for the Lorne Scots (Peel, Dufferin and Halton Regiment). Given how hot this summer has been, they had a great day for the event. I’m sporting a bit of a sunburn on the right side of my head, but the temperatures were much more comfortable than they’d have been on pretty much any weekend since June. Elizabeth and I sat in the second row of seats, which meant that a lot of my photos were constrained (or even bookended) by the heads and shoulders of the folks sitting immediately in front of us. It was still a great trip down memory lane.
If you’re on Facebook, you can see a selection of photos from the event here (unless Facebook is making it awkward for non-members to see albums posted as “public”, which is always a consideration). If you can’t see ’em, let me know in the comments and I’ll repost at least a few of them here.
Some of us, in another forum, were discussing why UN peacekeeping seems to go so very wrong, so very often ~ not always, I hasten to add, just usually ~ and I quipped, with just a wee bit of hyperbole, that “Simple human decency says that a country like Canada should have dropped a light brigade into South Sudan and destroyed the South Sudanese Army in a short, brutal campaign of exemplary speed and violence … should have if we could have, but, of course, the Canadian Army is a fat, overstaffed, poorly managed corporal’s guard, that cannot deploy any brigade anywhere because we don’t have any nearly fully staffed brigades and even if we did they don’t have enough logistical “lift,” so they are useless once they have marched more than 15 km out of the camp gate … unless a country with a real army (you know, one with trucks and people a to drive them) decides to support and sustain us.“
Sadly no one, not even officers who have, fairly recently, commanded brigades in the regular army, challenged my assertion that the Canadian Army has been hollowed out until, now, it is a sort of military Potemkin village in which bits and pieces are deployed and redeployed to create the (entirely false) impression that we, Canadians, are getting a real army for the $20 billion or so that we spend, year after year after year, on out national defences.
The process began, in earnest, in about 1970, when, in response to quite draconian cuts imposed by Pierre Trudeau (but not, it has been suggested, as deep as he wished) the Canadian Forces began to try to “make do” with a “pint sized” brigade in Germany ~ when a full sized (6,500± soldiers) one was need by promising (and practising) to augment it with “fly-over” troops from Canada who were trained and equipped and could move, fairly quickly on to “pre-positioned” equipment … if it was properly maintained. It worked well enough, in a peacetime/training situation, except for the fact that we, eventually (early 1980s), understood that we could not sustain a brigade in Germany with “fly overs” when we needed the same troops to “fly over” to Norway to keep another promise, made to try to placate our allies about our deep defence cuts, and by the late 1980s the Norway task (promise) was quietly shelved (broken) about twenty years after it was started, and after a quite disastrous “test” (Exercise BRAVE LION) proved to civilian planners and military commanders alike that the Canadian Army (which was much larger than it is today) simply did not have the where-with-all (especially the logistical “tail”) needed to sustain “fly over” missions to Europe. But the damage was done … in twenty years, almost a generation, the Army, especially, had gotten used to “faking” its combat effectiveness with Potemkin village tactics.
Ted Campbell, “A Canadian Potemkin Village”, Ted Campbell’s Point of View, 2016-09-15.
September 18, 2016
Published on 17 Sep 2016
Sitting in the Chair of Temporary Insanity, Indy talks about officers tricking their own men, the relationships between them and how criminals were treated in the first world war.
September 16, 2016
Published on 15 Sep 2016
For years the British had developed the idea of the “landship” or tank and now it was finally ready for the first deployment during the Battle of Flers-Courcelette. And even though technical problems plagued the new invention, the British leadership was confident that this new weapon would break the stalemate at the Western Front for good. In the meantime Germany was focusing all offensive efforts on the Romanian front to mercilessly crush the new enemy.