Military History

#Reviewing Land Warfare Since 1860: A Global History of Boots on the Ground

#Reviewing Land Warfare Since 1860: A Global History of Boots on the Ground

Professional military education needs tools to look at the past as a guide, as a way to learn the practice of discovering solutions that meet present needs by knowing enough to ask the right questions. History supplies these military professionals with the tools to shape models of the present and visions of the future.

#Reviewing The Battle of the Somme

#Reviewing The Battle of the Somme

German troops to the southeast, at Verdun, were advancing further into French territory and the French Army was hurling itself at their lines to try and force the Germans to retreat. The entire idea behind the Somme offensive was to take pressure off the French forces at Verdun, while success or failure at the Somme was almost an afterthought. If there was any doubt in Foch’s mind, there does not seem so to those looking at the Somme from the remove of a century.

Interwar Airpower, Grand Strategy, and Military Innovation: Germany vs. Great Britain

Interwar Airpower, Grand Strategy, and Military Innovation: Germany vs. Great Britain

Analyzing the development of the German and British air forces between the world wars reveals the importance of crafting strategy, identifying associated requirements, and marshaling the required resources to turn requirements into capabilities. Factors beyond the state’s control often drive technological requirements. Structural factors demanding innovative responses include the technological progress of potential enemies and of civil society, as well as shifts in the state’s own geopolitical circumstances. Yet the task of responding to these structural factors—of translating the state’s desired security ends into military technological means—requires an intentional, collaborative, human effort. The development of specific airpower capabilities in Germany and Britain during the interwar years illustrates the role of strategic innovators as “system builders” and doctrine entrepreneurs who brave the gauntlets of government bureaucracy, industry, and academia to turn theory into capabilities.

#Reviewing Churchill's Secret War with Lenin

#Reviewing Churchill's Secret War with Lenin

Modern readers will find parallels and similarities between the intervention of a century ago and those more recent. Churchill’s Secret War with Lenin engagingly illuminates the history of a small war that served as both part of the Great War and the dawn of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the West. Wright masterfully presents the history of a failed campaign in compelling human and strategic terms through his use of primary sources, synthesis of other works, and his own analysis. Strategists, planners, and tacticians will all take something away from the work.

Fire One, Fire Ten: Implications of the Torpedo Scandal of World War II

Fire One, Fire Ten: Implications of the Torpedo Scandal of World War II

A successful strategy is usually not the result of one single factor such as advanced technology. Effective strategy depends on a closely interlocking set of systems that need to work smoothly together. Technology, people, doctrine, organizational structure, and training must work in a coordinated and complementary manner. Failure to integrate all these elements will create leaders who are just as frustrated such as the submarine skipper of the USS Tinosa in July 1943––when he spent the entire day firing torpedoes into an enemy ship only to see it sail away intact.

#Reviewing Architect of Air Power: General Laurence S. Kuter and the Birth of the U.S. Air Force

#Reviewing Architect of Air Power: General Laurence S. Kuter and the Birth of the U.S. Air Force

Biographies are often among the best-selling history books, but for many academic historians they are among the most difficult to write. The attraction to some subjects over others has also led to limitations in the literature. Many biographers are attracted to top-level commanders or to the lower level individuals making tough combat decisions in the tactical realm. Rarely do mid-level managers get a thorough treatment that can accurately relate the importance of their work to the larger trends of history. This is exactly what Brian Laslie’s new book Architect of Air Power seeks to remedy for General Laurence S. Kuter. In this brief but lively survey of Kuter’s life, Laslie successfully argues that although Kuter may not have risen to the fame of other Air Force leaders of his day, he nonetheless deserves recognition. Kuter was the father of the United States Air Force’s history program and a key developer of U.S. Air Force doctrine from the Second World War through the early days of the Cold War. As Laslie claims, he was the architect of American air power.

Teaching Multi-Domain Operations: The Case of British Field Marshal William Slim

Teaching Multi-Domain Operations: The Case of British Field Marshal William Slim

Just as the leaders and thinkers within the joint force are becoming more dedicated to the notion that a “post-joint” understanding of complex future military operations should be framed by the concept of multi- or cross-domain operations, the Joint Warfighting Department at the Air Command and Staff College has similarly altered its instruction of joint capabilities and planning. The department exchanged the traditional service-centric presentations, and discussions of capabilities and employment of forces, for a series of seminars covering military operations within the various domains of battle. So, instead of viewing military operations through the lens of a service structure, the department is emphasizing holistic joint force capabilities; the manner in which these capabilities facilitate access to, and maneuver within, the battlespace; and the various effects they can achieve by combining and synchronizing actions within and through the land, air, maritime, space, and cyber domains.

#Reviewing Combined Operations

#Reviewing Combined Operations

A major power confronts another across a wide expanse of ocean. Neither opponent is able to significantly threaten the other’s mainland without mastering and crossing the waves. But the vast distances involved are daunting even for the opposing navies. One side then executes an east-to-west island hopping campaign, using the possession of islands to control the sea and project force far beyond the capacities of lesser powers.

The Dhofar War and the Myth of ‘Localized’ Conflicts

The Dhofar War and the Myth of ‘Localized’ Conflicts

Between 1963 and 1975 the Sultanate of Oman was the scene of one of the most remarkable, and forgotten conflicts of the Cold War. The British-led Sultan’s Armed Forces (SAF) would battle and defeat a formidable Marxist guerrilla movement based in the southern province of Dhofar. The Dhofar War remains one of the few examples of a successful Western-led counterinsurgency in a postwar Middle Eastern country.

Looking Back to the Future: The Beginnings of Drones and Manned Aerial Warfare

Looking Back to the Future: The Beginnings of Drones and Manned Aerial Warfare

Making predictions about the future is an impossible task, in particular when the focus is on technologies at their beginning. History is riddled with false prophecies, be they either exaggerations or understatements: from predictions that a technology will end war once and for all—like the telegraph or nuclear weapons—to such understatements as Watson’s famous prediction that there was a global market for only five computers. It is tough to judge whether changes are ground-breaking, or only appear so from the close proximity of a contemporary. At the same time, people throughout history have ignored fundamental changes happening before their eyes, as changes took time to unfold or initially only concerned a limited area.

The Failure of Joint Integration During the 1943 Sicily Campaign

The Failure of Joint Integration During the 1943 Sicily Campaign

The Allied invasion of Sicily, codenamed Operation HUSKY, was the first combined amphibious invasion of Axis territory involving both British and U.S. forces. Poor planning and a weak operational command structure resulted in mediocre command and control of the air, land, and sea components throughout the operation. If measured by current U.S. joint doctrine, the integration of joint functions by the Allies during the Sicily Campaign was below par, leading to missed opportunities and increased costs. While Operation HUSKY still resulted in the Allied conquest of Sicily, the failures of the Allies in command and control and joint function integration during the campaign would result in greater combat losses than necessary and diminished returns during the Sicily invasion, as well as substandard operations on the Italian peninsula. The failures of integration during the HUSKY campaign illustrate why mission command and joint operations are critical components of current U.S. defense doctrine.

Reconsidering Rear Area Security

Reconsidering Rear Area Security

The experience of the 101st Airborne around Eindhoven not only provides a different lens through which to examine the Market Garden story, it also highlights the importance of placing rear area security at the forefront of planning considerations; particularly as we must expect our adversaries will aim to sever vulnerable lines of supply. The 101st Airborne experience raises a number of issues worthy of further consideration by contemporary planners at all levels of command. Overall, planners must consciously consider rear area security as an active combat operation in a continuously contested environment, thus avoiding static conceptions of this vital work.

Width, Depth, and Context in Thucydides

Width, Depth, and Context in Thucydides

The enduring importance of The History of the Peloponnesian War resides in its ability to prepare the reader to recognise historical patterns hidden in chaos regarding the human element in war. Using the model of historical study proposed by Sir Michael Howard, the span of Thucydides’ account allows the reader to study war in width and examine continuities, trends, and patterns in human behaviour in war. By incorporating both chronological events and the speeches of key decision makers into his argument, Thucydides provides an opportunity to study in depth the chaos and uncertainty inherent in war. Finally, by expanding his analysis to include the cultures of the societies participating in the conflict, Thucydides enables the reader to study the context within which the war was fought.

Vicksburg: The Past and Future of Amphibious Operations

Vicksburg: The Past and Future of Amphibious Operations

The Vicksburg Campaign yields a number of lessons for tacticians and strategists. Grant was a talented commander to be sure, but the most important reason for his success was the Union Navy under the able leadership of Admiral Porter. Not just its presence, but the tight coordination between the two allowed one to support the other and vice versa. Land and sea are too intimately connected during amphibious campaigns for the typical supported/supporting relationships to work, there must be symbiosis.

The Dangers of Drawing Strategic Inference from Tactical Analogy

The Dangers of Drawing Strategic Inference from Tactical Analogy

The Winter War highlights the importance of situating campaign assessment within appropriate historical context to ensure the right conclusions are drawn. It also demonstrates that tactical setbacks, rather than successes, provide the obvious and crude necessity for strategic and operational review and adjustment. The current Western predisposition to analyse ‘successful’ tactical actions to inform the development of strategy is a frustrating example of our failure to understand this. It is all too easy to focus on what has been done well at the tactical level–as in the case of the ‘gallant’ Finns. However, the more difficult intellectual experiment is to review a campaign in its totality–to examine whether tactical actions were linked to a strategy that achieves the political objective and overall victory. 

Ponder Anew: Brigadier John Graham & The Dhofar War 1970–1972

Ponder Anew: Brigadier John Graham & The Dhofar War 1970–1972

Major General John David Carew Graham CB, CBE, CStJ, Order of Oman, was born on 18 January 1923 and died on 14 December 2012 at his home on the island of Barbados. An impressive memorial service was held at St James’s Church Piccadilly on 7 March 2013, attended by hundreds of friends from both his first regiment, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and also The Parachute Regiment. This account is not an obituary, rather a study into his time in command of the Sultan’s Armed Forces (CSAF) in Oman from 1970 to 1972, a crucial period of some 18 months when the communist insurgency in Dhofar was ‘turned’.

Architect of Battle: Buford at Gettysburg

Late in June 1863, the divisions of two great armies roamed Maryland and Pennsylvania. In retrospect, their confrontation at the crossroads of Gettysburg seems almost inevitable. However, the outcome of that confrontation was largely the work of one Union officer. This officer was born in Kentucky to a Democrat family. He would lead the First Division of Union Cavalry under orders to secure the crossroads in the vicinity of Gettysburg. How he executed these orders ensured the Union Army the best chance of victory in the upcoming battle.

He serves as a case-study in the theoretical and practical applications of tactics and strategy.
Buford as portrayed by Sam Elliot in the exceptionally detailed film   Gettysburg  .

Buford as portrayed by Sam Elliot in the exceptionally detailed film Gettysburg.

Though General Buford is relatively well known to Civil War buffs, and has been played by Sam Elliot in the Gettysburg film, the extent of his contributions in the summer of 1863 remain more obscure. This is unfortunate. He serves as a case-study in the theoretical and practical applications of tactics and strategy. His leadership prior to the battle ensured that his troops were well prepared and ideally positioned for the Confederate advance. The leadership and defensive concepts he employed remain relevant today.

Buford’s objective on June 29th was to secure the town of Gettysburg for consolidation of the Army.

Buford studied cavalry tactics at Fort Crittenden, developing the idea of cavalry used as dismounted infantry in order to take advantage of terrain and provide concentrated firepower (Soodalter). Throughout the day on July 1st, Buford and his troops provided the Union Army with support and sufficient time to consolidate in the best defensible position available in the area. The“fish hook” on Cemetery Ridge was initiated with a layered defense beginning several miles away and collapsing back under the pressure of superior Confederate numbers.

Portrait of Brigadier General John Buford, Jr. (Wikimedia Commons)

Portrait of Brigadier General John Buford, Jr. (Wikimedia Commons)

Numerous roadways converged at Gettysburg. Four of these roads were hard-surfaced and therefore could facilitate more rapid movement of troops. Gettysburg was also near a railroad, presenting the potential for even greater mobility to whomever dominated the area (Longacre, p. 181–182).

Buford’s objective on June 29th was to secure the town of Gettysburg for consolidation of the Army. As such, Buford avoided prolonged combat when encountering a Confederate force (Longacre, p. 181). Another inconsequential clash occurred on the following day, June 30th, against a reinforced Confederate scouting party. Buford’s subordinate commanders viewed this as a positive sign, indicating the enemy’s unwillingness to press the issue. But Buford differed and correctly inferred that the lack of enthusiasm for fighting on the part of the Confederates indicated they had a better option than a hasty fight (Longacre, p. 182).

To confirm his suspicions, Buford conducted his own extensive reconnaissance of the terrain around the town. He talked with civilians and personally visited far-flung elements of his own forces, or pickets as they were called, to gather the most complete assessment of the enemy. He came to realize that a substantial force under General Hill was as close as 9 miles away (Longacre, p. 181–182, 184). Buford’s supervision of his forces on the eve of battle was comprehensive, and several aspects of what are today known as the US Army’s “troop leading procedures” were evident in his leadership example.

Buford set up his undersized element to force the Confederates to attack multiple superior defensive positions throughout the day.

He advised his men to notice campfires at night and the dust of approaching columns early in the morning. His men spread out in long, thin lines utilizing the available cover provided by the terrain. A small number of them had repeating rifles as well (Soodalter).

The defensive plan for the Union cavalry commander focused on the series of ridges surrounding the town. He determined that his initial defense would occur along McPherson and Seminary ridges to the north and west of the town, permitting his units to retreat and fight through the town and onto Cemetery Ridge if Confederate pressure was more than he and any Union reinforcements could handle (Longacre, p. 183). In this manner, Buford set up his undersized element to force the Confederates to attack multiple superior defensive positions throughout the day.

A modern rendering of a forward-thinking plan

A modern rendering of a forward-thinking plan

Colonel Gamble was positioned in command of the western approach with a focus on McPherson’s Ridge and a reserve on Seminary Ridge. Gamble pressed an additional element 4 miles farther to the west on Herr Ridge, presenting a layered defensive on the most likely avenue of approach. The northern approach was under Colonel Devin’s command, who positioned forces along the compass points spanning northwest to northeast.

Battle commenced early on July 1st and Buford’s troops fought well against the Confederates. Confederate cavalry was not utilized effectively, enhancing the defensive advantages for the Union (Petruzzi). Late in the morning General Reynolds arrived to reinforce the troopers heavily engaged in vicinity of Gettysburg. While the Confederates succeeded in dislodging the Union Army from Seminary Ridge on the first day of battle, they could not press the issue effectively on Cemetery Ridge. Part of the defense of that position would be conducted by Buford’s troopers once again. As the Union Army regrouped on the ridge, Buford’s cavalry again exercised both mounted and dismounted maneuvers to confuse, impede, and distract the Confederates (Petruzzi).

General Buford died before the end of the war. While there are many important figures in the Civil War, he ranks among the most impactful even if not the most well-known. He designed, as much as any one person could, the Union’s most significant victory of the war.


Chris Zeitz is a veteran of military intelligence who served one year in Afghanistan. While in the Army, he also attended the Britannia Arms pub in Monterey. He is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Diplomacy from Norwich University. The views contained in this article are the author’s alone and do not represent the views of any U.S. Government agency.


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The Meaning in Belleau Wood

To really understand Marines, you need to know something about Belleau Wood. On June 6, 1918, the 4th Marine Brigade began its offensive into Belleau Wood in France, marking arguably the most significant day in the history of the U.S. Marine Corps. More Marines died that day than in the 143 years of Marine Corps history that had preceded it — combined. But it is not the magnitude of that sacrifice, or even the military objectives that were accomplished, that define the significance of that day; rather, it was the cultural impact that event had on the Marine Corps.

Less than a week earlier, a German attack, part of a series of offensives planned for 1918, had reached the town of Chateau-Thierry, just 55 miles northeast of Paris on the Marne River. Making it that far was a significant accomplishment for the Germans, who had finally broken free of the trenches, destabilizing a front that had been deadlocked for more than three years. The resources France and her allies had to contain the attack were strained, and the decision was made to bring in the 2nd Division of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF), which had been in France training and preparing for a year, but had seen little combat. As the Americans took their positions to establish a new defensive line through which the retreating French 43rd Division would pass, far on the left, in rolling fields spotted with woods and small towns, was an aberration — the 4th Marine Brigade.

The Marines did not belong in an organization made up almost entirely of U.S. Army troops, but their commandant, Major General George Barnett, and the Secretary of the Navy, Josephus Daniels, had worked hard to find a way to get them there, often by going around the War Department. Ultimately, two regiments’ worth of well-trained professional troops was not something the Army could afford to pass up, for it was struggling to quickly mobilize and deploy a massive force for war. The 5th and 6th Marine Regiments had been assembled from a blend of experienced Marine veterans and new recruits, and were ready to go. Arriving in France, they were assigned to the 2d Division, alongside the Army’s 3rd Brigade, and designated the 4th Brigade. They insisted on referring to themselves as the 4th Brigade (Marine).

“Retreat, Hell! We just got here!”

As the Marines advanced to occupy their lines, legend holds that streams of French soldiers were passing in the opposite direction, and one poilu urged them to join the retreat. The response from Captain Lloyd Williams, U.S. Marine Corps — “Retreat, Hell! We just got here!” — is oft-repeated in histories of the Marine Brigade and the remembrances of Marines, but his attitude was probably typical of the entire AEF. After a year in France, American soldiers and Marines had been chafing under the instruction and restrictions imposed by the European command. They were anxious to prove what they could do, and consummate their deployment to France.

The Marine Corps had placed a premium on marksmanship skills in recruit and pre-deployment training…

The Marines were well-suited to the position they were assigned to defend on June 2nd, in the rolling wheat fields northwest of Chateau Thierry. The Marine Corps had placed a premium on marksmanship skills in recruit and pre-deployment training in Quantico, Virginia, and now they had clear fields of fire. The Germans, who had been advancing in the vacuum left by the French retreat, ordered a halt when their leading elements began taking casualties from something they had not experienced in years of trench warfare: a growing volume of accurate long-range rifle fire. Approaching the limits of their logistical support, they began to dig in. The Germans anchored their defenses in a densely wooded hunting preserve, less than 300 acres in total size, that was directly across the fields from the 4th Marine Brigade — Belleau Wood.

After several days of small fights in the area, the Marine Brigade was ordered to counterattack into the woods on the 6th of June. The attack was hastily planned, and conducted without adequate reconnaissance or preparatory bombardment. Nonetheless, when the jump-off time arrived that evening, the Marines began advancing across the open wheat fields that separated their defensive positions from the dark woods ahead. Moving in four carefully-aligned rows of successive skirmish lines, the Marines were excellent targets for the German machine gun teams that had been emplaced in the woods. As the Marines were cut down in large numbers it became clear that they would pay a high price for inadequate planning by the small American staffs, and for the naïve tactics they had adopted. Despite these critical mistakes, they prevailed.

Sergeant Major Dan Daly after the Great War

Sergeant Major Dan Daly after the Great War

Initially, the impetus to advance was reinforced by prominent leaders, such Gunnery Sergeant Dan Daly, whose heroism in earlier campaigns had already been recognized with a Medal of Honor — twice. The inspiration of a figure like Daly, according to legend bellowing, “Come on you sons of bitches! Do you want to live forever?” was undoubtedly significant, but as the Marines advanced their companies were decimated, and their cohesion destroyed. The attack was reduced to small groups of Marines led by sergeants, corporals, and privates, and occasionally an odd surviving staff NCO or officer, but they still managed to reach the edge of the woods. There they began to secure a foothold, slowly destroying the German machine gun teams in a confusing melee amid the rocky terrain and dense vegetation.

 

It ultimately took three weeks to eject the Germans from Belleau Wood. Though the Marines were relieved by the U.S. Army’s 7th Infantry for part of that time, in the end it was the Marine Brigade which finally cleared the woods, a fact proudly reported to 2nd Division Headquarters as “Woods now U.S. Marine Corps entirely.” In recognition of the feat, the French Sixth Army issued an order changing the name of the woods from the Bois de Belleau to the Bois de la Brigade de Marine.

It was a costly victory. The fourth Marine Brigade suffered about 4,000 casualties, approximately 55% of its total strength. Visitors to the American cemetery today at the north end of Belleau Wood, where the battle ended, will see the date “June 6, 1918” on a conspicuously large number of grave markers. There is also a beautiful chapel set into the hillside on the edge of the wood, and inside are the names of hundreds more men whose bodies were never found. For some Marines, the unit listed is “3rd Replacement Battalion,” in itself a testament to the chaos and savagery of that first day, when fresh men were rushed forward to the units fighting in the woods, and after that moment were lost even to history.

Belleau Wood, and the attack on the 6th of June in particular, was a defining moment for the Marine Corps. The significance of the event is not in the grossly exaggerated claim that the 4th Marine Brigade saved Paris, and by extension the rest of France, at its greatest moment of danger in World War I. The significance isn’t even in the number of Marines who gave the last full measure of devotion to the cause there, for the blood that was spilled in Belleau Wood wasn’t even a drop in the bucket. Sadly, it was more like a drop in the lake of blood that was the horror of the First World War.

 

The real significance of the 6th of June was that it established that Marines would prevail, regardless of cost, even when called to serve in places far outside of their traditional roles, and despite having every reason to stop and reconsider the wisdom of what they had been tasked to do. Belleau Wood provided a convincing narrative to reinforce not only Marines’ self-conception as elite warriors, but also a public image that further enhanced the Corps’ ability to find quality recruits and train them to high standards. Unfortunately, this elite image also came by means of implicit, if not explicit, comparison with the U.S. Army, contributing to a long pattern of interservice hostility.

The story of Belleau Wood reinforces everything Marines want to be reminded about themselves…

Culture is a powerful force within the U.S. Marine Corps, and the Corps’ remembered history is a vital part of its identity. The story of Belleau Wood reinforces everything Marines want to be reminded about themselves: that they have a tradition of superior commitment, that they are skilled marksmen, and that they can always count on small unit leaders and individual Marines to prevail, regardless of what may happen prior to the last hundred yards. In a more spiritual sense, Marines look to uphold the legacy of their forbearers, those who fought and died in Belleau Wood, as they would in later generations who fought in places like Tarawa, Iwo Jima, the Chosen Reservoir, Khe Sanh, and Hue. Less consciously, the Marines who uphold that legacy in places like An Nasiriya, Fallujah, and Now Zad, aren’t just preserving the legacy, but building upon it.

World War I helped to transform the Marine Corps organizationally from a more ad hoc, dispersed service to a modern, corporate, and deliberate body, but it was the crucible of Belleau Wood that proved what a Marine could be, and defined an ideal that Marines would identify with and strive towards ever since.

Image: U.S. Doughboys Handling an M1916 37mm Gun During the Battle of Belleau Wood, France, 1918 (via PhotosOfWar.net)


Shawn Callahan retired from the U.S Marine Corps in 2014 and is the author of Close Air Support and the Battle for Khe Sanh. He taught in the History Department of the U.S. Naval Academy and currently works in professional military education and is pursuing a PhD in History. The views expressed in this article are the author’s alone, and do not reflect those of the U.S. Marine Corps, the Department of Defense, or any other agency, government or otherwise.


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