Archive for the 'Books' Category
Over at OpFor, old comrade LTCOL P asks some thought-provoking questions as he links to an article by AOLDefense’s Sydney Freedberg. The article covers the happenings at UNIFIED QUEST, the United States Army’s Title 10 Wargame being held at The Army War College at Carlisle Barracks.
Go there. Ponder his questions, and read the article. Well worth your time.
UNIFIED QUEST is usually a pretty illuminating event, a “futures game” which posits the incorporation of as-yet unfielded technology or force structure, and the effects of that technology or structure on tactics and doctrine. Occasional bits of self-delusion occur (tactical “offensive cyber” being launched at a Bn Commander’s say-so with a server dropped into a remote airfield comes to mind), but overall, the game is well conducted and has had (in my years of participation at least) a very sharp and aggressive “Red Team”. This year appears to be no different.
What stands out in the AOLDefense article, fairly leaps from the page, is this exchange:
“You needed ports, [the enemy] knew you needed ports,” he said. “They were ready for you.” While the US-led task force maneuvered elaborately by sea and air to deceive the enemy commanders where they would land, ultimately the coalition had no way to bring in the supplies its own forces needed, let alone humanitarian aid, without controlling a handful of major seaports. So the enemy commanders ignored the feints — their militiamen lacked the kind of mobile reserve force that would have been needed to try to counter them anyway — and simply dug in where they knew the US would eventually have to come to them.
“We had to go here; we’re very predictable,” sighed one US Army officer later in the briefing. The military has invested in the capability to bring forces ashore where there is no port — formally called JLOTS, Joint Logistics Over The Shore — but the Army and Navy together only have enough such assets to move supplies for one reinforced Army brigade, while the Marines can land another brigade-plus. That’s only a fraction of the force required in this scenario. While the the resulting dependence on established infrastructure — seaports, airfields, bases in friendly countries — is often thought of as a purely logistical problem, in this kind of conflict it can have bloody tactical consequences.
We have spent a decade and a half (or more) talking about seizure of ports as the cheap and easy alternative to landing over a beach. Time and again, the refrain that port seizure was the far preferable alternative to coming ashore at the surf line was drummed into our ears. “Ports are smart, beaches are dumb” was how one senior Navy Officer explained it, somewhat condescendingly. Problem is, seizing a port which is surrounded by built-up area, under the noses of an enemy that knows you need it and knows it is, in fact, your critical vulnerability, never was going to be as easy as those port seizure advocates assumed it would be. (I did happen to notice none of them ever seemed to be infantrymen.)
Urban combat is never easy in the best of circumstances, but becomes especially challenging when you have a limited ability to transition forces from afloat to ashore without securing the very objective you are fighting for. Even an unsophisticated and largely immobile adversary can defend effectively if he knows where you are going and why. Cherbourg was destroyed by second-rate German garrison troops in June of 1944, even as US forces drove into the Cotentin Peninsula. The loss of that port affected the Allied drive across Europe into 1945.
One other point worth mentioning: The aforementioned JLOTS is not a system that can be used in an assault echelon. The loading of the ships and craft are not according to the Commander of the Landing Force’s (CLF) Landing Plan. JLOTS is a national asset which requires a secure beach over which to transit. The brigade coming ashore isn’t doing so in fighting trim. Very effective for bringing in follow-on assets, but not for forcing an entry.
So once again the value of landing combat-ready forces over a beach is highlighted. As is the paucity of current capacity to do so, which includes the near non-existent Naval Gunfire capability of the United States Navy.
Kudos to the Red Team at UNIFIED QUEST. Their job is to poke holes through the invalid assumptions in Blue Forces’ planning and execution, and they have done so here in a major way. Our assumptions regarding port seizures are at the top of this year’s list.
With a “Strategic Pivot” toward the Pacific, let’s hope those who read the Lessons Learned from UQ 12 are paying attention.
…is still very likely my enemy. The Associated Press, via WAPO, tells us that US intelligence sources think it likely that Al Qaeda is now in Syria, taking advantage of the strife. This little surmise should surprise nobody, and serve as yet another data point for the assertion that Al Qaeda is subsuming the “Arab Spring” and bringing rise to Islamists and Islamist-dominated governments across the Middle East and northern Africa.
A curious comment from SECDEF Leon Panetta:
“Frankly we need to continue to do everything we can to determine what kind of influence they’re trying to exert there,” Panetta said.
We do? After eleven years of war, and AQ migration to Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia, we need to determine what kind of influence they’re trying to assert? Seems we have a pretty good idea already. (Before the shrieks that MB is not AQ, those two organizations are tightly linked both philosophically and physically. The success of one is the success of the other.)
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney informs:
“We do not believe this kind of attack that you saw in Damascus is representative of the opposition,” Carney said. “There are clearly extremist elements in Syria, as we have said all along, who are trying to take advantage of the chaos in that country — chaos brought about by Assad’s brutal assault on his own people.”
CJCS General Dempsey echoes Carney, in a Fox News piece:
“We do know that there have been extremist elements that are trying to make inroads in Syria,” he said. “That is to be distinct from the opposition. I’m not tying those together.”
But, as the Fox article asserts, sometimes the line between them is unclear. It will get increasingly blurred. The Al Nusrah Front is an Al Qaeda affiliate, merging with AQ similarly to how Al Shabaab in Somalia has done.
Perhaps at this juncture such attacks as the bombings in Damascus are not representative, but soon they will be. Al Qaeda will increase its influence and quickly push genuine opposition to Assad’s regime aside, and pave the way yet again for hard-line Islamists to firmly grip the levers of power. As they have done successfully in Egypt, and in Libya, and Tunisia, and are attempting in Yemen and Morocco.
Kudos to the Obama Administration for not rushing willy-nilly to provide weapons and support for the Syrian opposition. Even if they had started out as a viable counter to a repressive anti-Western dictatorship, the interjection (welcome or not, see: Al Shabaab) of Al Qaeda and the Islamic extremists into the vacuum of instability would quickly make such support an exceedingly ill-advised policy. +1
However, the President’s recent declaration of the demise of Al Qaeda and the end of the War on Terror (whatever one thinks of the name) is equally ill-advised, and does not reflect a realistic understanding of our enemies and their continued relevance in the Muslim world. At the very least, someone should have included a resilient, networked, and elusive enemy on the distribution list of the memo ending the GWOT. -1
In addition, there is the Administration’s abject refusal to name our enemies for what they are, Islamic Extremists, bent on the destruction of Israel and subjugation of the West. Recent publicity surrounding what was reported to be an anti-Islamic course of study by the Joint Forces Staff College will cause further reluctance to publicly identify our enemies, adding to the loss of focus and dissipation of the efforts to defeat an enemy that has vowed a multi-generational struggle against us. -2
In testimony before the House Armed Services Committee yesterday, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta left little doubt as to whether the People’s Republic of China was assisting North Korea with their ballistic missile program. From the Reuters article:
“I’m sure there’s been some help coming from China. I don’t know, you know, the exact extent of that,” Panetta told members of the House Armed Services Committee when asked whether China had been supporting North Korea’s missile program through “trade and technology exchanges.”
While understandably unable to delve into details due to “sensitivity”, Secretary Panetta gave voice to the deep suspicions many have had since the beginning of China’s rise twenty years ago. It should be clear for all to see that China gains advantage by having a belligerent and nuclear-capable North Korea as a major thorn in the side of the United States in precisely the region that is the future focus of US Defense strategy, the Western Pacific.
The People’s Republic of China has consistently thwarted the efforts of the US and her allies to bring the DPRK under control China refused to condemn North Korea for the sinking of the ROK frigate Cheonan, which killed 46 ROK sailors. Nor did China offer any meaningful criticism for the shelling of Yeongpyong Island, which resulted in the deaths of two ROK Marines, other than an admonition not to “escalate”. When taken with the Chinese watering-down of UNSC sanctions against North Korea, continued military assistance, collaboration with DPRK in cyber attack efforts, ambivalence toward DPRK weapons and technology proliferation into the Middle East, and a blind eye to provocative border and SOF incursions into South Korea, these actions are indicators of China’s tacit approval of North Korea’s actions and posture.
While China’s role in keeping the North Korean regime in power—and in the WMD business—is indisputable, analysts have offered unconvincing explanations of Chinese motives. U.S. experts have assured us that China shares our nuclear concerns but fears instability on the Korean peninsula. They accept China’s argument that even threatening to cut economic aid would collapse Kim Jong Il’s regime and trigger a refugee flow into China. But it has been clear for 60 years that the sole cause of instability between the Koreas has been Pyongyang’s own bizarre and dangerous behavior, despite substantial aid and concessions from accommodating South Korean governments. Yet China stands by its ally.
Indeed. Despite the consistent platitudes from Chinese diplomats and military officials of their willingness to be of assistance in “managing” North Korea, the reality is that China has very successfully played power politics in developing and maintaining North Korea’s military capabilities and belligerent posture. Chinese assistance to North Korea in developing a ballistic missile capability to carry a nuclear warhead well beyond the Korean peninsula is not a shocking aberration, but another in a long and consistent series of actions that cannot point reasonably to any other conclusion. North Korea will try again with the missile launch. And with Chinese assistance, they will eventually succeed.
The assertions to the contrary grow equally foolish-sounding, and detached from reality. One, in a rebuttal to the Bosco article, was that “The prospect of a better outcome lies not in blaming China but in working imaginatively with China and others to transform North Korea under new leadership”. Don’t you believe it. China has proven for decades they are more than willing to live with their recalcitrant southern neighbors, and the only “transformation” that Chinese leadership is interested in is making North Korea a more potent threat to the United States and its Western Pacific allies.
As has been said before, the time has long since come to recognize at the highest military and civilian levels of leadership in the United States that China is very far from being a benevolent ally, and even farther from sharing any kind of common interests or vision of either Asia and the Pacific Rim, or any other geographic region where they perceive their interests to lie. And this includes China’s subsidizing of the brutal, aggressive, repressive regime in North Korea.
As if on cue, DPRK ratchets up the rhetoric. And this telling summation from MSNBC:
In Beijing, North Korea’s biggest ally, China’s top foreign policy official met Sunday with a North Korean delegation and expressed confidence in the country’s new young leader, Kim Jong Un.
Seems the nuclear DPRK is no longer a hypothetical, if US estimates are correct. Which magnifies every last occurrence of Red China’s assistance to the Hermit Kingdom.
While below some comments express abhorrence of the spectre of a nuclear exchange, it is highly useful to remember that the People’s Republic of China and by proxy, her ally North Korea, do not necessarily share that view. I would caution the use of the term “well-reasoned” when framing the Korean peninsula in terms of American values and viewpoints. Which brings the argument back to that of being strong and capable enough with our conventional and nuclear arsenal to deter both countries from precisely the bellicosity that one has repeatedly threatened and the other has excused and minimized.
Tomorrow, 11 March 2012, the storied USS Enterprise (CVN-65) will leave home port to ply the world’s oceans for the 22nd, and last time. As she is about to head toward Middle Eastern waters, the Associated Press published a nice piece about her, and the challenges that her crew of 4,000 face in keeping a ship that is older than most of their parents operating and ready.
Since SWMBO reminded me how expensive picture books were to print, I figured I would take advantage of this newfangled internet thing to post some pictures of the Big E, and relate some things about her 52 years in service. A good deal of these pictures will come from familiar places, such as NavSource.org, and DANFS, as well as some others included from various spots.
It is staggering to think of a ship 52 years in commission. How long is that? Here are some facts about Enterprise and her history:
The sitting Secretary of the Navy, William B. Franke, whose wife christened CVAN-65, had been born in 1894. He lived to be 85, and still died 33 years ago.
Enterprise’s first CO, Captain Vincent P. de Poix, Annapolis ’39, had been a World War II aviator, and is still with us at 95!
In February of 1962, Enterprise stood by to assist with the recovery of the first American to orbit the Earth, LtCol John Glenn, USMC, in Mercury 6.
Enterprise was a part of the Second Fleet force that established the “Naval quarantine” of Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis, October, 1962.
Enterprise was the first nuclear powered warship ever to operate in a combat zone, off Vietnam, December, 1965.
Enterprise remains the longest warship ever to put to sea at 1,102 feet, 2 inches.
On May 24th, 2011, a Navy F/A-18F Super Hornet of VFA-11 made arrested landing number 400,000 on Enterprise.
When Enterprise joined the fleet in October of 1961, she was one of 24 carriers, and the only nuclear-powered carrier, in a Navy of 870 ships. Today she is one of 11 nuclear-powered carriers in a Navy of 285 ships.
Enterprise deployed to Vietnam six times, Operation SOUTHERN WATCH three times, Operation ENDURING FREEDOM four times (about to be five), and Operation IRAQI FREEDOM three times. Her CO, Captain William Hamilton, was not yet three years old when Enterprise was commissioned, her XO would not be born for another five years.
Best of luck to all the Officers and Sailors who crew this venerable old warship. She carries a glorious name proudly. One day you can tell your grandchildren you sailed on her. When you return, she will pass from the Navy list and into history.
But perhaps her name can live on with CVN-80. There always should be an Enterprise in the US Navy.
A two-sport athlete at UCLA, playing in a Rose Bowl with the football team. An all-conference catcher in baseball. He was a teammate of Jackie Robinson in both sports.
A Los Angeles Police Officer, a Detective, and a prosecuting attorney.
In fact, he was the lead prosecutor who was responsible for the conviction of assassin Sirhan Sirhan.
Appointed by Governor Ronald Reagan to the 2nd District Court of Appeals in 1970, retiring in 1990.
Except that Lynn “Buck” Compton achieved his greatest fame at age 80 for his wartime service with Dick Winters’ Easy Company 506th PIR, of the 101st Airborne Division. The magnificent HBO miniseries “Band of Brothers” immortalized the men of Easy Company, 1st Lt Buck Compton among them.
Lynn “Buck” Compton died on February 25th, at the age of 90.
Our nation is poorer for his loss.
Yes, Byron, CURRAHEE!
Among the Americans serving on Iwo island, uncommon valor was a common virtue.
-Admiral Chester Nimitz
America lost 6,821 of her sons on Iwo Jima. More than 19,000 were wounded. Twenty-seven Medals of Honor and more than 200 Navy Crosses were awarded for heroism on that island.
Where is USS Michael Strank? USS Franklin Sousley? USS Harlan Bloch?
Last Man Standing, The 1st Marine Regiment on Peleliu
by Dick Camp
Zenith Press, c. 2008
Retired Marine Colonel Dick Camp (Lima-6) whose writing has taken us from the battlefields of the Great War to the August 2004 fight for Najaf, produces with “Last Man Standing” an unvarnished account of one of the most tragic stories of Marine heroism, sacrifice, and bloodshed in the securing of a Pacific island objective in the Second World War.
The author’s duties as Aide de Camp to Marine Corps legend General Raymond Davis allowed Camp to compile a compelling and fascinating inside account of the savage and unrelenting combat on Peleliu. In addition to General Davis’ perspective (Davis was 1st Battalion commander in the 1st Marines under Colonel Lewis Puller), the author interviews Russ Honsowetz, also commander of a battalion (2nd) in 1st Marines, and makes extensive use of Eugene Sledge’s account of the fighting (With the Old Breed) to provide a day-by-day narrative of the unfolding of the near-destruction of Pullers’ First Marines in the coral crags of the Umurbrogol.
Operation STALEMATE, the seizure of Peleliu and Angaur in the Palau Islands of the Caroline Island chain, was intended to shield the flank of Douglas MacArthur’s drive to the Philippines. The airfield on Peleliu was of particular interest to US planners, and was believed to necessitate a major operation to seize it and the rest of the island. Despite the destruction of Japanese air power on Peleliu, and against the pleading of William Halsey to cancel STALEMATE, Admiral Nimitz ordered the landings on Peleliu and Angaur to proceed. Camp’s accounting of the fighting on Peleliu, illustrated with helpful maps and combat photographs, is nothing short of chilling. The airfield seizure was quickly accomplished, but in the rugged, forbidding coral croppings that ran the center of the island, a tragedy of bravery, sacrifice, and failed leadership played out.
The two Marine leaders whose performance, rightly, bear the most scrutiny are 1st Marine Division Commander BGen William Rupertus, and legendary Marine Colonel Lewis “Chesty” Puller. The reputation of General Rupertus is at best uneven, many of his peers and immediate juniors being somewhat unimpressed with the man, his tactical acumen, and his leadership. On top of his already identified shortcomings, Rupertus had badly injured an ankle in a rehearsal and was nearly immobile. His message to the Division that Peleliu would be a quick three-day affair highlighted Rupertus’ lack of understanding of the tasks at hand.
But it is the performance of “Chesty” Puller, commanding the 1st Marines, that is laid bare by the events on that hot and forbidding coral ridge. Camp’s book brings to the fore the human cost of Puller’s failure to understand the terrain and enemy his Marine rifle companies faced, nor the losses they incurred daily, for little or no gain. Puller was hobbled by a flare-up of the leg wound he had received two years earlier, commanding 1/7 on Guadalcanal, and despite his characteristic penchant for locating his command post within rifle range of the enemy, his lack of mobility prevented Puller from walking the ground with his Battalion and Company commanders. Had he been able to do so, he would have halted his stubborn admonition for wasteful and fruitless attacks against a disciplined and well-dug-in enemy in impossible terrain. In addition, as Camp makes clear, his unwillingness to heed the reports of his superb Battalion Commanders doomed his regiment to being bled white in the coral hills.
Camp also describes the foolishness of Rupertus and Puller all but refusing to accede to the presence of an Army Regiment to relieve Puller’s shattered 1st Marines after six bloody days, until Amphibious Corps Commander General Geiger came ashore and after meeting with both, ordered the relief.
How much Colonel Lewis Puller was affected by the debilitating pain in his leg, or by the death of his brother Sam on Guam some weeks before Peleliu is not known, but the author intimates both were draws on Puller, at a time and under conditions which required his absolute best.
Camp’s matter-of-fact treatment of an otherwise legendary figure in Marine Corps lore is a valuable reminder that perspective is an important component of historical analysis. While many enlisted Marines would revere “Chesty” even after Peleliu, many Marine Officers who understood the tactical situation and had a larger view of Puller’s performance are less forgiving. As an example, Camp includes the perspective of Captain Everett Pope, the lone surviving Company Commander who was awarded the Medal of Honor while leading Charlie Company in Davis’ First Battalion. Captain Pope is quoted in Camp’s book leveling harsh, if justified criticism of Puller’s understanding of the terrain and conditions, and complete disdain for his ordering futile and bloody attacks. “The adulation paid him these days sickens me”. In hindsight, while Rupertus should never have been allowed to command the Division with his physical infirmity, Puller should probably have been relieved of command of 1st Marines.
Thankfully, Peleliu was most decidedly not the end of the Puller legend. His leadership at the front of those same 1st Marines in November-December of 1950 in the breakout from the Chosin Reservoir is a study of inspirational leadership and determination. There, Puller would win a fifth Navy Cross, and earn Brigadier General ‘s stars. He retired from the Marine Corps in 1955 as a Lieutenant General.
Dick Camp’s book is an important work for understanding the history of the Marine Corps, one of its more tragic episodes, and a rather inglorious performance of one of its revered legends. This book should be on the shelf of every serious student of the Pacific War, and of the Marine Corps’s role in that war.
Perspective is important. The ability to see events as others might see them is a talent that is mightily handy when navigating the shoals of international relations. It would seem that NATO and the US did not conceive of a point of view that could not agree with what is defined now as the “international norm” of the Right to Protect (R2P).
The disbelief and outrage expressed at the veto votes of both Russia and the People’s Republic of China over the UN Resolution regarding Syria leads one to believe that our State Department believed a contrary position on R2P did not credibly exist. Au contraire, points out STRATFOR in this morning’s Geopolitical Diary. STRATFOR posits that perhaps a couple of widely held assumptions are not quite as universal as we had believed. To both the Russians and Chinese, the preservation of human life, and prevention of crimes against innocent civilians or mass killings, still needs to be weighed against the spreading influence of potential geopolitical, military, and economic rivals. Responsibility to Protect, R2P, was for the West in reality E2I, excuse to intervene:
The Russian and Chinese view was that this doctrine opened the door to unlimited interventions not in response to mass murder, but in order to prevent mass murder. From the Chinese and Russian perspective, this would allow intervention based on fears. Fears can be feigned and anyone can assert the threat of mass murder and war crimes. Therefore, the Libyan precedent seemed to be a doctrine that justified intervention based on suspicion of intent. Or, to put it more bluntly, the Russian and Chinese view was that the intervention in Libya was designed to achieve political and economic goals, and the threat of impending mass murder was simply the justification.
China and Russia viewed the Syrian resolution as a preface to more aggressive resolutions also based on the doctrine of preventing atrocities much greater than those already committed. They felt that this would set a permanent principle of international law that they opposed. Their opposition was based on the perception that this was merely a justification for interventions against regimes of which the West disapproved.
Also, an America stretched thinner than its shrinking military resources can reasonably secure works to the advantage of both Russia and China. Not only that, but freedom of navigation in the Straits of Hormuz or elsewhere is not necessarily a universal desire, especially when that freedom means possible interdiction or interruption of vital energy supplies.
Iran is in the process of establishing a sphere of influence in which Syria plays a strategic role. If al Assad survives, his regime will be heavily dependent on Iran. Neither China nor Russia would be particularly troubled by this. Certainly, Russia does not want to see an excessively powerful Iran, but it would welcome any dynamic that would tie American power down in a long-term duel with Iran. Creating a regional balance of power would divert U.S. power in directions that would provide Russia with freedom for maneuver.
The same can be said of China, with the additional proviso that the Chinese do not want to see anything interfere with their energy trade with Iran. So there were two issues for China. First, China did not want a precedent set that might allow an American intervention in Iran. Second, China, like Russia, welcomed the diversion of American power from the South China Sea, where it had been planning to shift forces.
None of this should surprise us. Unfortunately, China and Russia continue to play realpolitik at a time when the US foreign policy team seems unwilling to admit that such power politics even exist. Russia’s dispatch of a Naval flotilla (which included an aircraft carrier) last month to the Syrian port of Tartous was a message strongly sent to both NATO and the United States. The Russian vessels comprised an “influence squadron” if ever there was one. The clear signal to NATO, the members of which share the continent with Russia, was a not-so-subtle “HANDS OFF”. With Russian resurgence a distinct possibility amongst a largely disarmed Europe, and Russian control of the natural gas valves that supply the key NATO economies, the message will be heeded. For the United States, that message, and the message of China’s and Russia’s veto, is slightly more ominous:
What we have now seen is that China and Russia recognize the battlefield and for now are prepared to side with Iran against the United States, a move that makes clear sense from a balance of power perspective.
Perspective. Spelled out very well by STRATFOR.
“…now it is time to think!”
This statement, alternately attributed to Winston Churchill and Ernest Rutherford, was the baseline theme of all of yesterday’s speaking and panel sessions here at USNI/AFCEA West 2012.
But is it a fair statement? And is it accurate?
The implication of that statement is that senior military and civilian officials in the Defense Department have been accustomed to throwing money at problems rather than thinking through a solution. And this questionable practice is the reason for “bloated” Defense budgets in the post-9/11 world.
I disagree. While undoubtedly there are inefficiencies in Defense spending, and more can be purchased for the dollars spent, I simply don’t buy into the notion that the statement implies.
Much is made of the “doubling” of the Defense budget between 2000 and 2011, but little is said of the effects of the “Peace Dividend” and the acquisition “holiday” of the 1990s. In yesterday’s shipbuilding panel, of which more will be written soon, Mr. Mike Petters from Huntington Ingalls Industries (the shipbuilder formerly known as Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock, among other names) gave us some interesting insights as to the effects such uneven procurement and “holidays” have on building ships. The cost to the manufacturer of sitting idle, and of sudden restart at a surge level, is considerable. Elsewhere, in the Navy-Marine Corps Team panel, there was also significant discussion of the very real problems experienced by prime and sub-contractors when production drops below minimums for business solvency, or unpredictable dry spells and cancellations occur.
The costs of fighting two wars that represent a level of commitment of a single Major Regional Conflict (MRC) in 1990s parlance undoubtedly drove up Defense budgets, with personnel increases for the Army and the Marine Corps, operating costs, ammunition and fuel, aircraft and ground equipment maintenance and repair, and rapid acquisitions of vital equipment like MRAP vehicles as the dollar drivers. Many of those rapid acquisitions centered on burgeoning technology and unanticipated requirements, and anticipated requirements that had not been met (up-armored M1114 HMMWVs) in anywhere near sufficient numbers over the previous decade.
However, I cannot agree that the services, especially the notoriously tight-fisted Marine Corps, suddenly spent the last decade as profligate spenders without rhyme or reason, as if they had their parents’ credit card on a college weekend. If they did, then such did not occur at the tactical level.
Today, with US military involvement with Iraq at an end, and Afghanistan employing a small fraction of the US Military (90,000 of 1.44 million, just 6.2% of personnel), the “pivot” of the focus of our military to the Pacific region and the execution of the Cooperative Strategy requires meaningful commitment of adequate resources to counter the capabilities of a fast-rising near-peer in China.
While comments from each of the speakers and most panel members were couched in terms of required and critical capabilities, there was acknowledgement of the budget axe that will be the final arbiter of which capabilities we can afford, and which we cannot. Where and when that axe falls will determine this nation’s ability to execute its National Military Strategy, and by extension, its National Security Strategy.
Doing “more with less”, another phrase often heard yesterday, is a hackneyed and trite bit of platitude that is a signal that what we truly have is not a capabilities-based Defense budget, but budget-constrained Defense capabilities. You do not do more with less, you do less with less. That, whether it is a popular sentiment or not, is an inviolate fact of life. To the vast preponderance of the men and women of the US Military, who have always done as much as possible with what was given them through two protracted wars, the idea that thinking only takes place when all the money has been spent is an affront to them and is dismissive of their courage and commitment.
If I don’t hear Churchill’s words applied to our Military ever again, it will be too soon. If there is a ringing of truth in them, it should be in the ears of those who wear stars and wide gold stripes. The rest of us have been thinking all along.
On the warm evening of 17 December 1939, the German panzerschiff KMS Graf Spee glided silently into the shipping channel of the River Plate (Rio de la Plata) at the mouth of the harbor in Montevideo, Uruguay. She cleared the channel at about 1830 local time, and the crowds gathered pierside (and beside their radios in England) assumed she was headed to sea to re-engage Commodore Harwood’s HMS Cumberland and two battered light cruisers, Ajax and Achilles.
Graf Spee had haunting connections to the waters in which she found herself. She was named for Admiral Maximillian Graf von Spee, who, with his two sons, and his Sudseegeschwader of cruisers Gneisenau, Scharnhorst, Nurnberg, Leipzig, and Dresden had met their ends off South America in the Battle of the Falkands, a battle that included an eerie parallel to the events of December 1939, and was fought just nine hundred miles from where Graf Spee now sailed, almost exactly twenty five years before.
What the crowds who watched the drama didn’t know was that Graf Spee was manned by a skeleton crew of officers and senior rates. Her captain, Hans Langsdorff, had made the decision to scuttle his ship. Graf Spee came to a stop at about 2000, when her remaining crew were taken off by tug. Scuttling charges exploded, along with munitions in her magazines, in the fading evening light.
For many, including the leadership of the Third Reich, the move seemed inexplicable, even cowardly. Further examination in the aftermath of events reveals a situation of serious damage to Graf Spee, a touching humanity from her Captain, and a web of British deceit that forced the German Captain’s hand.
On 13 December, Graf Spee engaged in a dawn running fight against Harwood’s force of HMS Exeter, as well as light cruisers Ajax and Achilles. Graf Spee’s six 11-in (28cm) guns wrecked Exeter, and damaged Achilles and Ajax. However, in the exchange Graf Spee was struck no fewer than thirty times. Hits had wrecked her Arado float planes, her foretop rangefinder, and her galley. More importantly, Graf Spee’s oil purifier, required for her diesel engines, was damaged by an 8-in hit from Exeter, leaving her with fuel for just twenty hours’ operation.
In the mean time, British intelligence spread disinformation that heavy Royal Navy units which included battlecruiser Renown and aircraft carrier Ark Royal, lay over the horizon off Montevideo to intercept Graf Spee. In actuality, any Royal Navy units capable of defeating the German were unable to intercept until the 19th at the earliest. But the rumors were convincing enough for the numerous German agents to faithfully report the information to the German consulate, and to Langsdorff.
Captain Langsdorff, his ship crippled by the damage from the fight on the 13th, believed he was facing a greatly superior force. Graf Spee, even at full strength, was four knots slower than Renown, and her 11-in guns, while with comparable range to Renown’s 15-in (38cm) main battery, were markedly inferior in weight of shot and penetration. She certainly was no match for the air contingent aboard Ark Royal.
A gentleman warrior who managed to destroy nine merchant vessels at the outbreak of war without the loss of life, Langsdorff chose not to send his ship and his crew to what he believed to be certain death. Instead, Graf Spee is scuttled in the shallow waters of the River Plate estuary. Two days after his ship is destroyed by her own crew, Captain Langsdorff wraps himself in the colors of the Imperial Navy, and takes his own life. His crew is interned, and the thirty-seven dead among his crew buried with honors in a Montevideo cemetery.
Twenty-five years earlier, British cryptanalysts had broken the German Naval code, and had baited a trap for Admiral Maximilian Graf von Spee in the form of generating a fake order to raid the British coaling station at Port Stanley in the Falklands. There, Sturdee’s battlecruisers awaited the Sudseegeschwader, overtaking the worn-out German cruisers and sinking them after a short pursuit.
In 1914, the British deception pushed the German warships into a one-sided battle that led to their destruction. In 1939, it was the ruse of that very threat of overwhelming force that caused the self-destruction of the pocket-battleship named for the commander of that 1914 squadron. Twenty-five years and less than a thousand miles away.
- March 9 Midrats Episode 218: Abolishing of the USAF, with Robert M. Farley
- DEF[x] Annapolis: Encourage the Innovators
- A History of the Navy in 100 Objects #48: Models of HMS St. George (1701) and USS Missouri (1944)
- Engineering and the Humanities: The View from Patna’s Bridge…
- A History of the Navy in 100 Objects #47: British Dockyard Models