Archive for the 'Tactics' Category
Much has been written of late about “Creating Cyber Warriors” within the Navy’s Officer Corps. In fact, three prominent and well-respected members of the Navy’s Information Dominance Corps published a very well articulated article by that very title in the October 2012 edition of Proceedings. It is evident that the days of feeling compelled to advocate for such expertise within our wardroom are behind us. We have gotten passed the WHY and are in the throes of debating the WHAT and HOW. In essence, we know WHY we need cyber expertise and we know WHAT cyber expertise we need. What we don’t seem to have agreement on is WHO should deliver such expertise and HOW do we get there.
As a proud member of both the Cryptologic Community and the Information Dominance Corps, I feel confident stating the responsibility for cultivating such expertise lies squarely on our own shoulders. The Information Dominance Corps, and more specifically the Cryptologic and Information Professional Communities, have a shared responsibility to “Deliver Geeks to the Fleet.” That’s right, I said “Geeks” and not “Cyber Warriors.” We don’t need, and despite the language many are using, the Navy doesn’t truly want “Cyber Warriors.” We need and want “Cyber Geeks.” Rather than lobby for Unrestricted Line status, which seems to be the center of gravity for some, we should focus entirely on delivering operational expertise regardless of our officer community designation.
For far too long, many people in the Restricted Line Communities have looked at the Unrestricted Line Communities as the cool kids in school. Some consider them the “in-crowd” and want to sit at their lunch table. Some think wearing another community’s warfare device validates us as naval officers and is the path to acceptance, opportunity, and truly fitting in. We feel an obligation to speak their language, understand the inner workings of their culture, and act more and more like them. Some have grown so weary of being different or considered weird that many would say we’ve lost our identity. Though establishment of the Information Dominance Corps has revitalized our identity, created a unity of effort amongst us in the information mission areas, and further established information as a legitimate warfare area, many continue to advocate that we are lesser because of our Restricted Line status. We seem to think we want and need to be Unrestricted Line Officers ourselves. Why? Sure, we would like to have direct accessions so that we can deliberately grow and select the specialized expertise necessary to deliver cyber effects to the Fleet. Yes, we would like a seat at the power table monopolized by Unrestricted Line Officers. And yes, we would appreciate the opportunity to have more of our own enjoy the levels of influence VADM Mike Rogers currently does as Commander, Fleet Cyber Command and Commander, U.S. TENTH Fleet.
But there is another path; a path that celebrates, strengthens, and capitalizes on our uniqueness.
In the private sector, companies are continually racing to the middle so they can appeal to the masses. It’s a race to the bottom that comes from a focus on cutting costs as a means of gaining market share. There are, however, some obvious exceptions, my favorite of which is Apple. Steve Jobs was not overly interested in addressing customers’ perceived desires. Instead, he anticipated the needs of the marketplace, showed the world what was possible before anyone else even dreamt it, and grew a demand signal that did not previously exist. He was not interested in appealing to the masses and he surely wasn’t focused on the acceptance of others in his industry. He was focused on creating unique value (i.e. meaningful entrepreneurship over hollow innovation), putting “a dent in the universe,” and delivering a product about which he was personally proud. We know how this approach evolved. The market moved toward Apple; the music, movie, phone, and computing industries were forever changed; and the technological bar was raised with each product delivered under his leadership. Rather than lobby for a seat at the table where other leaders were sitting, he sat alone and watched others pick up their trays to sit with him. Even those who chose not to sit with him were looking over at his table with envy, doing their best to incrementally build on the revolutionary advances only he was able to realize.
Rather than seek legitimacy by advocating to be part of Team Unrestricted Line, we ought to focus on delivering so much value that we are considered a vital part of each and every team because of our uniqueness. I am reminded of a book by Seth Godin titled “We Are All Weird.” In it he refers to “masses” as the undifferentiated, “normal” as the defining characteristics of the masses, and “weird” as those who have chosen not to blindly conform to the way things have always been done. For the sake of argument, let’s consider the Unrestricted Line Officers as the masses, those considering themselves “warfighters” as the normal, and the Information Dominance Corps as the weird. I say the last with a sense of hope. I hope that we care enough to maintain our weirdness and that we don’t give in to the peer pressure that could drive us to lobby for a seat at what others perceive to be “The Cool Table.” By choosing to be weird and committing more than ever to embrace our geekiness, the table perceived to be cool will be the one at which the four Information Dominance Communities currently sit. It won’t happen by accident, but it will happen, provided we want it to happen. Not because we want to be perceived as “cool,” but because we are so good at what we do, and we deliver so much unique value to the Navy and Nation, that no warfighting team is considered complete without its own personal “Cyber Geek.”
I sincerely respect the opinions voiced in the article to which I referred earlier in this post. However, I think we are better than we give ourselves credit for. Let’s not conform, let’s create. Let’s not generalize, let’s specialize. Let’s not be normal, let’s be weird. Let’s choose to be Geeks.
CDR Sean Heritage is an Information Warfare Officer who is currently transitioning from Command of NIOC Pensacola to Staff Officer at U.S. Cyber Command. He regularly posts to his leadership-focused blog, Connecting the Dots.
Disclaimer: This theory of mine is only mine, and is not the thinking or policy of the US Navy or NATO. Further more, this is only the second time I’ve even mentioned my thoughts below to anyone. I am not Public Affairs trained, and so I am probably very, very wrong in all that I say…
Part four: The People (or, attention is demanded, content is king, and it’s hard to smell roses).
Three people, at the very least, is required to manage a robust and content diverse social media profile. This requirement is temporality based, with one person focusing on new content, one for posting content and being the person behind the profile(s), and another for gathering and monitoring metrics derived from the effort.
The biggest driver behind this requirement is the amount of attention demanded in participating in social media. Many simply stop at posting content on social media. Where as doing so only counts (at most) for ~30% of what can/should be done on social media. For instance, the last two years have seen a major push by news organizations (namely newspapers) to make their content more social. Dependent upon the sentiment of the news stories or other variables (e.g., is there anything in the story that was incorrect, is there supplemental information that could be provided to audiences that didn’t otherwise fit into the news story, is there any sentiment worth underscoring) there can be a major benefit to engaging audiences discussing news of your organization. Such an effort can consume significant amounts of time, which in turn precludes the ability of a single person to additionally create content unique to the organization, or to run metrics which accurately capture and demonstrate what resulted from the effort.
An additional thing worth mentioning is regarding participation in social media. I only wish to touch on it briefly (Though, itself deserves a thousand words). The person actually participating in social media is a spokesperson on par with, and every bit important as a media spokesperson. The skill sets for each differ significantly, each demanding in their own ways. Increasingly a social media spokesperson is becoming as important as the traditional media spokesperson.
If roughly 30% of one’s time is consumed by sharing ‘new’ or original content (more on original content later), and roughly 30% is consumed by participating in commenting on news; the remaning 30-ish percent is spent engaging with audiences at the organization’s social media profiles. The effort spread across these three areas, is beyond any notion of ‘branding’. Instead this time is spent establishing the organization’s culture for the audience (I will expand upon this notion in greater detail in a later post).
Lastly, the social media spokesperson is not be a nine-to-five job. It really should be treated 24/7, especially if your organization spans across time zones and cultures. With a worldwide audience, part of your audience is awake and talking about things while you sleep. This is not to say that the spokesperson can’t sleep, or can’t take a break. Rather, this is to say that a shift in mindset as to what it means to be ‘at work’ is necessary. Just as those who use social media for personal reason post casually through-out the day and night, regardless if it is the weekend or not; so too must the spokesperson, only with more earnest goals and objectives for their effort. An additional remedy is to look at who the audience is, and with enough time and though, understanding the rhythm at which the conversation flows.
In consideration of the demands outlined above, another person must be dedicated to original content creation. It is very easy to be a content aggregator online (also known as sharing on facebook, or retweeting on twitter). To a certain extent it is necessary to share content relevant to, but not created by, your organization (George Takei has earned himself over 3 million followers by aggregating content created by others). However, sharing and retweeting of content not created by an organization cannot fully define what the organization is. Thus, original content is necessary, and should be produced in quantities that adequately compliments the shares and retweets.
Doing this is a fulltime job that can quickly demand a number of disparate skills. Graphics, videos, stories, and memes (of all varieties) are labor intensive and time sensitive. But, it is original content that anchors any message on social media to a desired course. Without original content an organization’s message is dependent on the whims of others that cannot be fully controlled, leaving an organization’s narrative ill defined.
Having a blend of shared and original content, and having participated in the discourse, an organization still needs to know what resulted from the effort. To adequately measure the effort a third person, not apart of creation or engagement, is necessary. The amount of data generated on social media is massive and available in near real-time. Pure numbers are easy–if you want to measure how many ‘likes’ you got in a given amount of time, it’s no problem to look at the graphs provided by facebook, or any third party service. But, as I said in my previous post, the true power of social media is ‘in between the lines’.
Of all the types of analysis there is for social media one continually defies any attempts to automate: sentiment analysis, especially when the discourse spans multiple languages. Sentiment analysis is vital since a profile can increase in popularity for bad reasons as easily as it can for good. If your organization wishes to be a strong advocate for something, the number of likes, shares, or retweets will not inform you if you have been successful in its advocation. Think of it this way: When do you personally talk about something with your friends, or with strangers? When you really like something, or when you really don’t? Across society it probably cuts close to 50/50 between those who tend to talk about a topic in a negatively and those who tend towards positive context. Thus any volume metric (numbers of things) does not give the full picture–deeper analysis is demanded. ‘Semantic based analysis’ (Not sure if that is a real term or not. But, it makes sense to term it as such, in my mind at least) is the only way to get a true sense of an organization’s accomplishments on social media.
Such semantic based analysis must include content outside pure social media (i.e. other mediums), and delve into news sources (including newspapers, televised news, magazines), blogs, and conceivably anywhere the organization might be discussed. Observing the effects in other mediums is vital, because such semantic analysis does not meet the criteria for Godel’s Completeness theorem, but does for his second Incompleteness Theorem–multiple cultures, multiple languages, spread across multiple (if not all) time zones add so many semantic variables that logical deduction, derived from number of likes, shares and the rest, is not possible. To verify the consistency, validness, and soundness of an organization’s use of social media the effects in mediums other than social media is demanded.
To be honest, even in my professional use of social media, I have not been able to follow the above guidelines exactly. But, from what I have been able to do as a part of a social media team, I have come to understand the necessity of all I said above. With social media being as new as it is, with new capabilities to measure an organization’s effects nearly every day, there is always more to be done. What constantly amazes me is how we as a species are able to do things of our own device and yet hardly understand what we’re doing at all–fascinating and troubling all at the same time.
Again, we’re well past a thousand words. So, I will leave this post where it is. More to come later next week. I think some of the comments got lost in the migration to Discus. Apologies for that, I promise I am reading the comments and will participate in them.
The President of the United States visited the Pentagon yesterday to attend and speak at the Memorial Service for the victims of 9/11. Security was tight, but after a solemn service and a rather uneventful day, I departed work for home via the 5th corridor entrance. As I passed the 9/11 Memorial Chapel, which sits precisely at the point of impact for American Airlines Flight 77, I paused to reflect on what this place must have looked like 11 years ago and was thankful for how it looked now and the fact that nothing untoward had transpired on this 9/11 anniversary in our great country.
When I woke up this morning, I was deeply saddened by the news of the murder of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi, Libya yesterday. Although I didn’t know how it happened, I did know that the United States had lost a great American, an accomplished diplomat and a courageous man. In my last job at U.S. SIXTH Fleet Headquarters, I served as Operations Officer for the Libya Campaign. I will never forget some of the “movers and shakers” that made things happen during Operation Odyssey Dawn and Operation Unified Protector. Three names in particular always come to mind: LTC Brian Linville, U.S. Army, Assistant Defense Attaché in Libya; Brigadier General Abdel Salam al-Hasi, a key member of the Libyan Opposition Forces who repeatedly risked his life during the campaign, and Chris Stevens, who as Special Envoy to the Libyan Trans-National Council was one of the first Americans on the ground.
All three of these men are heroes, but I will only pay homage to one of them today–Ambassador Chris Stevens. Chris and his small team of diplomats and volunteers from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) entered Benghazi not long after U.S. and NATO airpower had pushed Regime Forces out of the city and further south to the cities of Brega and Ajdabiya. It was then still a very dangerous and uncertain environment.
One of our roles in Joint Task Force Odyssey Dawn was to provide a means to get Chris and his team out if they ran into trouble. There were several possible courses of action (COA) and means at our disposal. Each one carried with it associated risks. It was our job at JTF HQ to minimize those risks. For my part, I believed we were overlooking one big factor in our planning: A personal interaction with the guy we were going to have to extract. So, I arranged a phone call with Chris. There was a lot I wanted to discuss, but I knew he had his hands full. I just wanted to tell him one thing: “Chris, if you need us, the Navy and Marine Corps have got your back!”
It was a great conversation, much longer than I had anticipated. Chris was a wellspring of knowledge about what was going on. He was direct, candid and incredibly informed. When I hung up, I told VADM Harry Harris, then the Sixth Fleet Commander–”Boss, Chris Stevens is one phenomenal guy. Now I know why State sent him!”
Since no American military boots were allowed on the ground in Libya during the operation and since we were just massing Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance assets, we were starved for real time eyes-on-the-ground information about what was happening in the Transnational Council, in Benghazi and in the rest of the country. Chris was a virtual encyclopedia. I was struck by his upbeat tone and tenor and his calm and cool demeanor. He was under a lot of pressure and challenging deadlines to show American support for the Libyan people, provide an avenue and method for delivery of humanitarian supplies and establish a sound relationship with the Trans National Council. The odds were against his mission, but Chris was full of enthusiasm and hope for the Libyan people’s right to self-determination.
As number two man at our Embassy in Tripoli before the campaign, he was plugged in. He knew the turf and the terrain. He understood the people, the demographics and the tribal politics. He knew the importance of humanitarian aid and that speed mattered — being the first responder to the needs of the Libyan people was going to pay big dividends during the campaign. He helped clear up a number of important questions for us about conditions on the ground and how we might better do our job and carry out our charter inherent in the United Nations Security Council Resolution. Chris gave me better situational awareness than any of the intelligence reports I received and in the final analysis, I was buoyed by his spirit, hope and enthusiasm.
He made me want to work just a little bit harder. He made me want to be better at my job.
Finally, I was struck by how he went out of his way to thank the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps for doing so much to plan for his safety and that of his team. Thankfully, we never had to execute those plans. Chris completed his mission and his mandate. The Libyan Campaign came to a close and the Libyan people earned the right to govern themselves. Free and fair elections took place a few months ago and moderates won the majority in government. Earlier this year, Chris was confirmed as U.S. Ambassador and returned to Libya. His selection was a “no brainer” to me, and I thought to myself, that guy is going to make a difference.
Now, he is dead… killed in the very city he helped set free. I regret that I never had the chance to meet him in person or shake his hand.
Ambassador Chris Stevens is the epitome of what Admiral Mike Mullen used to call “expeditionary government.” After 9/11, everything changed and although sending our military forces overseas was necessary, it was by no means sufficient. Along with those forces, on the front line and in the trenches, are members of so many other federal agencies–the ultimate force multiplier. Like Sailors, Soldiers, Airmen and Marines, our State Department and other agencies are operating by our side on the tip of the spear and assuming similar risks. My hat is off to these men and women who sacrifice much for their country.
In the case of Ambassador Stevens, he made the ultimate sacrifice. I salute him. The next time I see someone from the Department of State, I will say, “Thank you for YOUR service!” I hope you will do the same.
James G. Foggo
When is the last time you sat down and discussed tactics? Whether it was regarding your individual DDG or employment of Air Wing strike capabilities, I bet it has been awhile. I recently discussed these issues with Junior Officers and enlisted sailors at our Junior Leaders Innovation Symposium here at NWDC, and later with Aviation Flags at our annual training symposium. In both cases, the results were the same – there is a real concern that tactics development has slid down our list of day to day priorities.
I know it was a long time ago, but as a JO, I remember having tactical discussions all the time. What’s the best way to do X? Did we consider Y? Have you seen Z…? We stayed up late in wardrooms and ready rooms sharing the experiences and best practices that made us better tactical aviators. The threat and type of operations in those days drove us to discussions about tactics. We shared lessons and made near-continuous improvements to the tactics we employed, because we understood that the operational environment required us to create and maintain operational sanctuaries to mitigate the tactical risks.
LT Rob McFall wrote the following in his blog on USNI a couple of months ago, What the Professional Naval Conversation is Missing… Tactics:
The conversation on tactical innovation is especially important for the Junior Officers but it should not be limited to them. Senior Officers and those that have gone before us have a wealth of knowledge on tactics. They have been there and know where the sinkholes are. Only by learning what has been done before can we keep from making the same mistakes over again. We have the forums. Once again it is time for us to read, think, speak and write about tactics.
I couldn’t agree more with LT McFall. Not only should we get better at sharing the lessons, knowledge and tactics from our more senior officers, we have an obligation to continue to develop tactical solutions that counter the myriad of multi-faceted threats. We have lost the comfort of operating from our traditional maritime sanctuaries. Due to advances and proliferation of weapons technology, the anti-access/area denial capability of our potential adversaries has increased significantly in recent years. We need to identify our capability gaps and prioritize development of tactics that help create and maintain the sanctuaries required to mitigate risk in this new environment.
Earlier this year, Navy Warfare Development Command (NWDC) launched the Carrier Strike Group (CSG) Advanced Tactics Initiative – or “CATI” – to enable the rapid development of training and tactics. “CSG” includes the Carrier Strike Group staff, CVN, CVW, and DESRON elements. CATI is an integrating function designed to synchronize tactics and training development efforts with identified gaps in tactical capability. It will formalize a collection process to capture, document and pass-on CSG lessons, tactics and best practices. Aligned to the Strike Force Training Community assessment process, CATI will socialize the identification and prioritization of emerging CSG employment gaps. Another key element of CATI is the new interactive NWDC CATI SharePoint tool that provides access to developmental projects, operational guidance documents and tactical material while enabling an ongoing discussion of ideas and best practices. It’s all about preparing ourselves, again, to be challenged at sea.
Tactics development has played a major part in the Navy and Marine Corps’ capability to fight and win wars in the past. We intend to breathe new life into tactical discussions to effectively counter future threats and leverage tactical innovation. Tactics are back – jump in and join the conversation!
Russia has been increasing the reach of its navy in recent years, sending warships further afield as part of an effort to restore pride project power in a world dominated by the U.S. military.
That throws a wrench in our Maritime Strategy, it would seem. Or does it? What should our reaction be, militarily? And what, diplomatically? Should there be any?
It seems that USNS Rappahannock has fired on a small craft that ignored warnings and closed with her in the Persian Gulf. From the NBC News article:
The crew aboard the Navy ship sent out repeated warnings, including radio calls, flashing lights, lasers and ultimately warning shots from a 50-caliber machine gun. When the boat failed to heed the warnings, the crew was ordered to open fire with the 50-caliber gun.
It will be critically important that US civilian and military leadership emphasizes the above, and plasters images and accounts of USS Cole all over the news immediately and persistently for the next several weeks. We should be very proactive in letting the world know that there is a terror threat to US warships and auxiliaries posed by small craft, and any such vessel that ignores the warnings as were summarized above will be fired upon and destroyed.
We mustn’t begin the oh-so familiar course of meekly apologizing for having to kill those who threaten us. If we do, we will see many more actions such as this, likely designed to cause us to fit ourselves for ever-tighter handcuffs and more restrictive rules of engagement in combat on land and sea, which the enemy will use to increasing advantage to exploit his strengths and our weaknesses. On the contrary, we must be firm and aggressive with our reaction to the incident. Actions without strong narrative are subject to interpretation.
If the United States, and in particular the United States Navy, has any sense of true ‘strategic messaging”, we will let the rest of the world know that, should another small craft ignore similar warnings, it, too, will be fired upon. And any death or injury that results from such incidents is the responsibility of those who willfully ignore the warnings, and on those who likely have sent them.
I wish him and the Academy the best of luck. I am sure that he is more than qualified to handle the job at hand (other than my 1 reservation noted below). Then again, so was his predecessor.
I am more and more convinced that there are two distinct skill sets required for this position. The first involves overseeing the ongoing training of a school full of Midshipmen. The second skill set, involves dealing with both an entrenched civilian infrastructure and the Maritime Administration as overseer. So far, it seems that it is easy to find people with the first required skill set. Finding those with the second skill set has been much harder, most likely due to the fact that no one has been able to define the actual skills required. One thing for sure, it seems that understanding how the DOD functions does not help in successfully navigating through the Department of Transportation, and perhaps even results in friction with those who oversee the school.
Personally, I think the best chance of success for the new Superintendent rests with a change in the Administration as a result of the upcoming election. It also wouldn’t hurt if the school was better integrated into the logistical training infrastructure of the US Military.
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not point out the new Superintendent’s lack of Maritime experience. Imagine if you will, Colonel Helis being named the next Superintendent of the US Naval Academy. You can thus understand how the USMMA ‘King’s Point’ alumni feel. It is a shame that the Maritime Administration could not find a person from within the Maritime Community to fill the job. Then again, The Maritime Administrator, David Matsuda, has no Maritime background either. One should not forget how the previous Superintendent was treated either.
Colonel James Helis Announced as New USMMA Superintendent
WASHINGTON – U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today named Colonel (ret.) James Helis, Ph.D., as the new superintendent for the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. Helis, a 30-year Army veteran, will begin work at the Academy next month after spending the past eight years as a department chair at the United States War College.
“Colonel Helis is an ideal fit for the Academy,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary LaHood. “His extensive military and academic experience reflects the Academy’s mission of both training and educating its students to support our country’s maritime needs, and I look forward to working with him to ensure a strong future for Kings Point.”
Since 2004, Colonel Helis has led the Department of National Security and Strategy at the U.S. Army War College in Pennsylvania. During his 30 years in the U.S. Army, Colonel Helis served as an Army Ranger and master parachutist and was a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, where he served as Chief of Plans for the NATO International Security Assistance Force. His professional foreign travel includes Belgium, Canada, Estonia, France, Germany, Haiti, Japan, Korea, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Saudi Arabia, and Sweden.
“I am deeply honored and very excited about the opportunity to serve at Kings Point,” Colonel Helis said. “I am eager to join the team of faculty, staff, and most of all midshipmen, all of whom daily live by the values of honor, service, and excellence.”
Helis received his Doctorate of Philosophy in International Relations from Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He holds masters degrees from both the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College and the University of Pennsylvania, and he earned his Bachelor of Science from the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York.
Colonel Helis and his wife, Jan, have two sons, Corbin, 22, a 2011 West Point graduate, and Ian, 18, who joins the Kings Point Class of 2016 this summer.
“Thanks to a thorough search process involving faculty, staff, midshipmen, parents and alumni, we have identified a true leader in Colonel Helis,” said Maritime Administrator David Matsuda. “As Superintendent for Kings Point, he will bring energy and experience to our team and will help ensure that the Academy continues to chart a course for future success.”
The Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration is responsible for overseeing the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, including the hiring of key Academy positions. As part of the selection process, Colonel Helis also met with a number of midshipmen, faculty and staff from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, as well as alumni and industry leaders.
U.S. Department of Transportation – Office of Public Affairs
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE, Washington, DC 20590
DOT 71-12 – Monday, June 25, 2012
Contact:US DOT Press Office – Tel: 202-366-4570
Those were Adolf Hitler’s words in December of 1940, as he revealed to his senior Wehrmacht Field Marshals and Generals his plans for the invasion of the Soviet Union.
At a few minutes past 0300 on the morning of 22 June 1941, the rumble of 8,000 artillery pieces shook the western positions of the Red Army, all along the new borders of the Soviet Union. Simultaneously, more than 3,300 aircraft roared overhead on their way to attack Soviet airfields, troop concentrations, command posts, and artillery positions. The most fateful day of the Twentieth Century had begun.
In the west, the Wehrmacht of Hitler’s Third Reich consisted of 2.5 million men and more than 4,000 tanks comprising 180 divisions, organized into three massive Army Groups, which were poised to smash their ideological and political enemies, the Bolshevik dictatorship of Stalin’s Soviet Russia.
Opposing the German onslaught was more than 3 million soldiers of Stalin’s Red Army. Numerically superior to its German opponent in men, aircraft (4,000), and tanks (more than 7,000), the armies on the Soviet western boundary were nonetheless abysmally led and poorly trained. Still reeling from Stalin’s 1937-39 purges of most of its officer corps, and from the bloody humiliation of the disastrous “Winter War” with Finland in the winter of 1939-40, the Red Army was ill-prepared for war against a modern western foe.
The Wehrmacht, on the other hand, was a finely tuned weapon of mechanized warfare, having conquered Poland two years earlier, and overrun France in less than six weeks in 1940. Superbly trained and equipped with modern armor and the most advanced combat aircraft, the three German Army Groups shattered the Soviet forces opposite them. The Luftwaffe swept the Red Air Force, the VVS, from the skies and smashed it on the ground. By the end of the second day, more than 2,300 Soviet aircraft had been destroyed. The Red Army was already being shattered and destroyed piecemeal, in what would be the “great battles of encirclement” of that summer and autumn of 1941, from which few escaped death or captivity. The eradication of the VVS was nearly complete. Nearly. The Red Army almost bled to death. Almost. Yet, somehow, they held on.
Operation BARBAROSSA, the German invasion of the Soviet Union, more than any other, was Hitler’s war. It was the war of Mein Kampf, the war for Lebensraum in the East, whose purpose was to open the great steppes for colonization by the Aryan race. It was a war not just of conquest but of subjugation and annihilation, fought with a brutality that had not been seen in Europe since the Tatar conquests of seven centuries before. It was a war of unspeakable horror and unimaginable suffering, by soldier and civilian alike. Prisoners on both sides died by the millions, worked to death as slave labor, starved, or simply shot or hanged out of hand. But it was also a war of grim and fatalistic heroism on both sides. The German-Soviet conflict, when it ended in the rubble of Berlin nearly four years later, would take the lives of almost twenty-three million souls.
Some of the most enduring images of the Eastern Front, and for the Soviets the Great Patriotic War, are of columns of Russian and German prisoners forlornly marching to their fates (the Russians seemingly always in the dust of the summer, the Germans in the bitter cold of winter). And of grainy images of executions and hangings by the German SS Einsatzgruppen, and far less publicized, of the execution of suspected Russian collaborators by field units of the NKVD, the terror apparatus of Stalin’s brutal regime.
There are lessons and cautions abundant in examining this titanic struggle. Cautions about underestimating one’s enemy, his will to fight for family and homeland. The Russian soldier, deemed racially inferior and incapable of waging modern war, proved individually tough, able to endure hardship and privation in startling measure. He was also fanatical in the defense, fierce in the attack, and bore a hatred of the “blue-eyed oaf” that would be carried across the borders of Prussia with terrible effect.
The Russian was also capable of producing simple but highly effective weaponry, and of mastering its employment. The T-34 and KV-1 tanks that began to appear in the autumn of 1941 were superior to any German design. Soviet aircraft began to close the technology gap with the Luftwaffe far faster than anticipated. Soviet artillery, superior to the Germans even in June of 1941, would dominate the battlefield as the Red Army’s “God of War”. All these would surprise and confound the German commanders who were told to expect an enemy of limited intellect and poor character.
There are also many myths and misconceptions surrounding the struggle between these oppressive dictatorships. Here are two:
- The Wehrmacht was not capable of winning a short (ten-week) war against the Soviet Union.
Because the Germans did not win does not mean they were not capable of winning, or the Soviets capable of losing. Had the Ostheer kept its focus on Moscow as the main objective (the plan was to surround, not enter the city), and had Hoth’s Panzers been unleashed in the first week of August, rather than frittered away in other operations until October, the capture of the European capital of the Soviet Union was within its capabilities. Perhaps even more important than the purely political prize was the massive Soviet war industry that occupied the so-called “Moscow-Gorky Space”. Siberian forces did not begin to arrive to defend the city and its immediate area in significant numbers until late September, 1941. The capture of the Soviet war industry, which included the massive tank works at Gorky itself, and the aircraft engine factory at Kuibyshev, would have deprived the Soviet Union of its most valuable asset, the ability to replace the massive combat losses with more modern and capable equipment. Had those factories been destroyed or fallen into German hands, there would have been no MiG or Yak fighters, no Il-2 Sturmoviks, no PE-2s, or any of the other increasingly modern aircraft that would eventually sweep the Luftwaffe from the sky. There would have been no replacement divisions of T-34/76 and /85 tanks, no self-propelled guns, no artillery pieces to replace those lost in the massive battles or worn out in extensive combat. Without those factories and the hardware they produced, there would have been no rehabilitation of the VVS or of the Red Army into the juggernaut that crushed Army Group Vistula into bits and eventually subsume eastern Germany.
- The Soviet Union was capable of defeating Nazi Germany without Allied assistance.
While it is true that the Soviet Union bore the unquestioned preponderance of the weight of German arms (at various times, 80% of German combat power was employed in the East, and nearly 80% of all German losses were inflicted by the Soviets), and the suffering and casualties of the Soviet military and civilian population exceeded the rest of the Allies combined by a wide margin, Stalin’s Russia could not have won the war without Allied, and particularly American, assistance. While many are familiar with pictures of some of the 9,000 US and British tanks shipped to the Soviets under Lend-Lease, these represented only about 20% of Soviet tank production during the war. There is little question upon any examination, however, that there were two absolutely critical areas of direct assistance were the linchpins of the survival of the Soviet Union in the dark days of 1941-43, and their drive to ultimate victory in 1944-45. The first of these areas was in food production. The United States shipped more than seventeen MILLION tons of food, wheat and canned goods, to the Soviet Union whose agricultural bread basket was under German occupation. That food sustained the Red Army and Russian war industry workers when none other was available. Without it, the prospects for Soviet victory would have been slim indeed. The second item so critical to the Soviet war effort was the supply of more than half a million American trucks. Tough, six-wheel drive vehicles which carried logistical supplies from the rear areas to the front, and which mounted the famous 122mm Katyusha rocket launchers by the tens of thousands, allowed the Red Army to supply itself on the battlefield in the defensive struggles of 1942 and carried that Army to the great offensive drives that eventually smashed the German Ostheer. Those trucks represent more than 70% of total Soviet vehicle production, freeing their industries to produce the war weapons, tanks, artillery pieces, and armored vehicles that equipped the Red Army.
The final victory of the Soviet Union is, however, a testament to the tough, fierce, and brave Russian soldier. His image, the hardened veteran soldier sitting atop a T-34 with PPSh in hand, scanning for a glimpse of the hated enemy, his mustard-colored quilt uniform covered with dust and snow, will endure for centuries in the collective consciousness of the Russian people.
The German invasion of the Soviet Union has never been comprehensively treated. The subject is far too large. It is too complex and incapable of being understood, except gradually, within the context of its salient events, and those of the rest of the world during and since. A thousand volume work on the subject would still require an explanation and a qualification that such a work was by no means all-inclusive. Yet, it remains one of the most compelling subjects for historians, social and military, because of the world-altering impact of the events themselves and their decades-long aftermath. The magnitude of the struggle defies modern understanding. As does the agony of the armies and the peoples locked in the grips of that mortal struggle.
And so it is likely to remain. And it began with the flash of cannon and the roar of engines, in the morning darkness, seventy-one years ago today.
(Cr0ss-posted at Bring the Heat, Bring the Stupid)
A couple weeks ago I wrote a blog piece that asserted that the naval conversation has lost a vital piece, tactics. We as a naval service have focused the professional dialog on the strategic level while the tactical level has largely been neglected. I got a good response to the piece but one frequent criticism that I received was that many believe the discussion of tactics belongs in the classroom and wardroom, but not the open forum. I disagree. The navy has many schools that focus on sharpening tactical skills. These schools, in combination with vibrant discussions in wardrooms and ready rooms around the fleet can effectively cover the tactical baseline for each community; however, the connective tissue, that forms the bridge between communities, known as Fleet Tactics, is left completely void.
“Trackin Devil Dog, Good to go, Err, Hoorah.”
The Marine Corps perhaps is the best example of a cohesive fighting force. Because every Marine is a rifleman and all the officers went through TBS, they are able to speak the same language and anticipate the actions of their fellow Marines, whether they are in the air or on the ground. This is a trait that distinguishes them and makes them a much more deadly force than they would be as individual units. By contrast, we as a naval force speak different languages and have no common experience or training to connect us. Each community studies its own tactics, some more than others, but none fully understand what to expect from our brethren in the other communities.
As a SWO I would love to say that every Naval Officer should be a ship driver but that is impossible for many reasons, least of which that we do not have enough ships to facilitate it. However, there does need to be some common thread, some common tactical language that can be fused together so that the Navy, if required, could move forward as one Fleet and know exactly what to expect from the other units in the force, without having to have them explicitly stated in a 300 page OPORD.
It starts with a Conversation
I believe that void, that deficiency in training, can and should be filled in part by a robust professional tactical discussion that could occur fleet wide. Not only can we as a naval service step up and have a more robust conversation that brings in junior and senior officers alike, but can come together as one so that aviators understand and predict what the SWOs are going to do in a tactical engagement, and SWOs understand what the Submariners are going to do etc.
This dialog does not have to be in Proceedings or on a blog. I would argue that at one point in naval history this void might have been filled by discussions that happened around a pint in the officer’s club. Whether this dynamic discussion happens in print, in symposiums, around the wardroom, or in a new school, the crossing of those barriers is vitally important and is something to be aspired to. Now that the money is drying up, we have to be more effective with what we have, and the best way for us to be more tactically effective is to be a more cohesive fighting force. That means that we need to double down on Fleet Tactics.
LT Robert McFall is a Surface Warfare Officer that did two tours on USS WINSTON S. CHURCHILL. He is currently the Vice Chairman of the Editorial Board of the United States Naval Institute and on the Board of Directors of the Surface Navy Association.
- Special Time for Midrats Episode 238: “The Horn of Africa – still the front lines, with RDML Krongard, USN” – 27 July at 2pm (EDT)
- Taking the Long View on Hispanic Immigration
- Invite: CIMSEC’s July DC Meet-Up
- Sea Control 43: RADM Rowden – Sea Control, LCS, and DDG 1000
- On Midrats 20 July 14 – Episode 237: Military Sealift Command – Past, Present and Future