Monday, June 29, 2015

Elastic Defense

An elastic defense was used by most notably by Hannibal at Cannae, Daniel Morgan at Cowpens, and then polished by Ludendorff late in WW-1.  Many call it ’flexible defense’ (CvC??), or ’resilient defense’.  Or sometimes it is referred to as ’defense in depth’ although dummy that I am, I do not see for sure that the latter fits perfectly.  A defense in depth can certainly be part of an elastic defense and vice versa.  But I am stumped as to how they would fit into Venn diagrams.  Zhukov at the Battle of Kursk is probably the best example of defense in depth.  Petain reportedly pushed for defense in depth up to and during the 1918 Ludendorff Spring Offensive, but could not always get his subordinate generals to go along.
One French General who did use an elastic defense in WW-1 was Henri Gouraud, the one-armed Commanding General of the Fourth Army.

In 1918 during the 2nd Battle of the Marne the Fourth Army held a line 50 kilometers long from the Argonne Forest to Rheims.  And by-the-way in addition to French troops the Fourth Army included the 42nd Rainbow Division (whose CofS was young Colonel Douglas MacArthur), also the 369th Infantry aka the Harlem Hellfighters (formerly the 15th New York National Guard Regiment), and later the American Railroad Artillery (Naval).

Here is a quote from Col William Hayward, Commander of the 369th Infantry:

"This is what Gen. Gouraud—Pa Gouraud we called him—did: He knew the Boche artillery would at the appointed hour start firing on our front lines, believing as was natural, that they would be strongly held. So he withdrew all his forces including the old 15th, to the intermediate positions, which were at a safe distance back of the front lines. Then, at the point where he expected would be the apex of the drive he sent out two patrols, totalling sixteen men.”

Those sixteen split up and sent up rockets when the German attack started, mimicking signals from regimental size units, which the Germans were assumed to know as well.  They also set up unmanned machine guns all along the line that continued to fire automatically after being started off.  They had also placed gas canisters in all the bunkers and dugouts along the line --- and then initiated the gas flow before retreating. Meanwhile the artillery had pre-registered directly on those frontline trenches.
NOTE:  16 would not be enough for a 50-kilometer front, so I am assuming there were many such units perhaps for each regiment at the supposed apex?  

Hayward continues:

"Five minutes before the Germans started their artillery preparation for the drive Gen. Gouraud started his cannon going and there was a slaughter in the German lines. Then when the German infantry crossed to our front line trenches (now entirely vacant) they were smashed up because the French guns were firing directly upon these positions, which they knew mathematically. And those of the Boche who went down in the dugouts for safety were killed by the gas which the Frenchmen had left there for them.

"This battle—the supreme German drive—raged over eighty-five kilometers (51 miles). West of Rheims the enemy broke through the line, but they did not break through anywhere in Gen. Gouraud's sector.  Stonewall Gouraud stopped them.

"That was the turning point of the war, because soon thereafter began Marshal Foch's great counter thrust, in which the 1st and 2nd American Divisions participated so wonderfully about Belleau Wood, Chateau-Thierry and that district.  Gouraud in my belief, turned the tide of the war.”

High praise in those underlined passages.

So did General Gouraud get the idea for such tactics from observing Ludendorff's empty battlefield technique?  Most probably.  But he possibly also got it from his 15 years experience in Africa where he served in the Mandingo Wars in what is now Mali and Guinea, and against Berbers, Tauregs, Hausa and other native people in Morrocco, Mali, Chad, and Mauritania.   

In any case, as Wilhelm Balck is supposed to have said:  “Bullets quickly write new tactics.”  Too bad the butcher Field Marshals Sir John French 1st Earl of Ypres and Sir Douglas Haig 1st Earl Haig never understood that.  Amazing that their nation bestowed honors and earldoms on them for their murderous incompetence.

Monday, June 22, 2015


Is the "Up-or-Out" policy on the way out?  I for one hope so.

 In place officially* since at least 1980, this policy has wreaked havoc and caused a deleterious effect on leadership.  Many officers became strictly risk averse, worried that any mistake no matter how small would end their career. 

Or as put it: <i>"The current system is like the game of musical chairs in which large numbers of officers are forced out every few years as fellow officers shove them aside.  This produces a paranoid officer corps skilled at avoiding blame and evading problems as they focus their attention on the limited number chairs for when the music stops and selection board convenes."</i>

And that I believe is why we have ended up lately with some poor performing generals and admirals.

* note: Official policy in 1980 when the DOPMA (Defense Officer Personnel Management Act) standardized it.  But the practice was used during the late 70s before that by some commands.  And it was in use for both officers and enlisted.

Saturday, June 6, 2015


FDChief has another well-researched post over at his Fire Direction Center blog. 

Give it a look.  As usual Chief uses due diligence in examining historical accounts.  He also tells the story in his own inimitable style. Link is below:

Fall of Constantinope 1453

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

That's All Folks

 The blundering history of the human race
is always given coherence by power elites
and their courtiers in the press and academia
who endow it with a meaning and coherence it lacks.
They need to manufacture national myths
to hide the greed, violence and stupidity
that characterize the march of most human societies. 
--Our Mania for Hope is a Curse
 Chris Hedges 

I shouted out,
"Who killed the Kennedy's?"
When after all
It was you and me 
--Sympathy for the Devil,
 The Rolling Stones 

The people who burned witches at the stake
never for one moment thought of their act as violence;
rather they thought of it as an act
of divinely mandated righteousness.
The same can be said of most of the violence 
humans have ever committed 
--Violence Unveiled, Gil Bailie 

For the Ralph Peter's crowd, the Phony War on Terror (PWOT ©) is a legitimate given, not to be questioned or deconstructed. As he said with the manly swagger of the armchair FOX warrior in a recent NY Post piece, "Sorry folks, but that's war (it's not dainty)." His view complements that of people like Mr. Rumsfeld who saw democracy in the rubble (war smells like democracy in the morning?)

But the United State's actions in Afghanistan and Iraq defy the logic of war. The actions of ISIS in the region make more military and political sense than anything exhibited by U.S. policy to date.

The purpose of war is to achieve a peace. The PWOT © has not in any instance led to peace. Military violence -- whether theirs or ours -- is not war, but simply violence unrestrained, unjustified and lacking an achievable strategic military goal. This violence is merely criminal activity.

The media shovels us the "Good News" when the Iraqi forces (or some semblance of them) "regain territory previously held by ISIS," as though the conflict was about terrain. What it is about is a millennial struggle within Islam for hegemony of the combatants, the different stripes of Islam.

The violence in Iraq and Afghanistan is not about terrain or body counts [though body counts are de rigueur again, thank you Mr. McNamara.] It is about which side is the true and divine representatives of their god here on earth. 

That is pretty simple and, if true, U.S. participation in the rodeo violates our core belief in separation of church and state for as members of Western society we are not supposed to kill for religious reasons. That behavior is so Middle and Dark Ages.

So why is the U.S. funding and conducting military violence to support sectarian violence?

If we fail to confront this basic reality, we are doomed to live our military and political lives as if they were violent video games, which is but a poor simulacrum of real life.

[cross-posted @ RangerAgainstWar.]

Friday, May 29, 2015

The Other Malmedy

Standartenfuhrer Joachim Peiper's Kampfgruppe got all the media attention for the murder of 84 American POWs at Baugnez crossroads near Malmedy.

Lesser known was the other massacre at Malmedy itself  where 200+ Belgian civilians and about 30 American servicemen were killed by misguided bomb runs from elements of the 9th Army Air Force.
 Malmedy itself, had not fallen during the Battle of the Bulge.  On the northern shoulder of the bulge, the town was held initially by elements of the 291st Combat Engineer Battalion.  They put out roadblocks and blew bridges so Peiper's Kampfgruppe had to find a different route and never reached the Meuse and their goal of Antwerp.  Later the 291st was reinforced by the 99th Infantry Battalion (Separate), aka the Viking Battalion, which was manned by Americans of Norwegian descent and Norwegian nationals who had fled German occupation and Vidkun Quisling's puppet government.  Eventually Malmedy was further reinforced by elements of the 120th Infantry Regiment of the  30th Infantry Division.

The first blue-on-blue bombing run was on 23 December.   With cloudy skies, six lost B-26s bombed Malmedy.  All the bombs detonated around and through the town center.  It turned out to be a navigation error, although there were many rumors that Malmedy was the target because the BBC had broadcast that Malmedy had been captured by the Germans.  The town center was devastated: fires, collapsed buildings, blocked roads and streets, and many civilians and soldiers buried alive under the rubble.  The 291st engineers were critical in putting out the fires and digging out survivors.  And their aid station, run by an Army dentist as they did not have an assigned doctor, treated about 150 wounded civilians and GIs.

1st Army HQ raised hell with the 9th Air Force and got back a pro forma letter indicating they would try to avoid such incidents in the future.  Unfortunately they did not.  The very next day, on the afternoon of Christmas Eve, 18 B-24 heavy bombers made the same mistake.  And in the words of a witness: "They made the previous days B-26 bombardment look like just an appetizer for a B-24 seven course feast"

But it was not over, for dessert the flyboys got lost again on Christmas Day.  Four B-26s dropped sixty-four 250-pounders on Malmedy instead of their authorized target of German formations at Sainte Vith.

The 291st was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation for their defense of Malmedy and stopping Kampfgruppe Peiper.  Later they went on to build the first bridge across the Rhine while under observed artillery fire, and luftwaffe strafing and bombing.  Many of those luftwaffe attacks were by ME-262 jet aircraft.   Their bridge site also sustained attacks by eleven V-2 rockets.  They ended up the war by bridging the Danube, thankfully while not under fire.

A TV documentary titled 'Those Damned Engineers' was made about the 291st.  The title reputedly came from when a bridge at Lienne creek was blown right in front of Peiper's eyes.  That bridge had been his last hope. The story, true or not, was that the frustrated Peiper banged his fist on his knee and swore 'Deise verdammten Pioniere'.  True or not I do not know, perhaps true or perhaps embellished over the many years since.

The documentary is at   It is a puff piece with lots of war propaganda, start it at minute 7.00 or minute 18.00 if you want to miss the background story of the Bulge and the agitprop.  And as you can see the footage is not real as those boys did not have signal corps cameramen following them around.  But the basic story is true.  Although the men themselves agree that it was not the 291st alone who stopped Kampfgruppe Peiper.  I am glad to see them get some credit.  With all due respect for the 101st at Bastogne, they were not alone in winning the Battle of the Bulge either.  And neither was Patton.  The biggest problem with the documentary that I saw is that it does not tell the story of the people in Malmedy who died due to 9th Air Force navigational incompetence - bad weather or not.  And it does not tell of the humanitarian mission of the 291st digging out survivors and giving them medical treatment and transporting them to military hospitals all while still fighting a war.

Sunday, May 10, 2015


Just a few days over a century ago the Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk.

There is a good article in Fortune magazine about stalled attempts to recover her and to determine if she did in fact carry war material to England as the Germans claimed.  This time though it is the Irish Government and not the Brits that are holding up the attempt.

At the time (and since then) there was lots of propaganda and counter-propaganda regarding the event.  There have been other articles in the past confirming that there was ammo aboard, tons of speculation but was there any definitive proof?  Not sure myself but I would not put it past the British war office.  One article from the Daily Mail in 2008 'seemed'' to confirm they carried 303 rifle cartridges.  The bigger question is whether or not they carried guncotton and/or artillery shells that could have caused the lerge secondary explosion.   It would be good IMHO to know the truth.  I do not believe it was the Lucy that got us into WW1, but perhaps it head-shaped us into our eventual entry two years later.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


A Chinook May Soon Capture a Rocket Engine from the Sky

 Because the capture barge thing is not working.

Al - Looks like Elon Musk and his guys at SpaceX Corporation need your help.

It is doable possibly.  Didn't the Air Force use CH-3 Sea King equipped with retrieval systems to snatch early spy drones out of the air after their flight over North Vietnam?  I am not sure what the weight of  the Falcon engine is though.