Archive for the 'History' Category
Please join us at 5pm EDT (US) for Midrats Episode 342: Turkey ,Erdoğan & its Miltary – with Ryan Evans:
The events of the last week in Turkey brought that critically important nation in to focus, and we are going to do the same thing for this week’s episode of Midrats.
Turkey has a history of military coups as a byproduct of an ongoing drive to be a modern secular nation against the current of a deeply Islamic people. This week we are going to look at how Turkey found itself at another coup attempt, the response, and the possible impact for Turkey and its relationship with NATO, Russia, Europe, and its neighbors.
Our guest to discuss this and more for the full hour will be Ryan Evans.
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk- Father of Modern Turkey
Ryan Evans is a widely published commentator and recovering academic. He deployed to Helmand Province, Afghanistan from 2010 – 2011 as a Social Scientist on a U.S. Army Human Terrain Team that was OPCON/TACON to the British-led Task Force Helmand. He has worked as assistant director at the Center for the National Interest, a research fellow at the Center for National Policy, and for the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence in London. He is a Fellow of the Inter-University Seminar on Armed Forces and Society and received his MA from the King’s College London War Studies Department.
Please join us at 5pm (EDT) on 17 July 2016 for Midrats Episode 341 “Russia in 2016 with Dr. Dmitry Gorenburg
From the sacking of the Baltic Fleet leadership, fighting in Syria, to developments from Central Asia to the Pacific – Russia in 2016 is on the move.
To discuss the who, what, where, and why of Russia in 2016, our guest for the full hour will be Dr. Dmitry Gorenburg, Senior Analyst, CNA Strategic Studies, an Associate at Harvard’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, an author, and host of the Russian Military Reform blog.
Dr. Gorenburg focuses his research on security issues in the former Soviet Union, Russian military reform, Russian foreign policy, ethnic politics and identity, and Russian regional politics. He is also the editor of the journals Problems of Post-Communism and Russian Politics and Law and a Fellow of the Truman National Security Project. From 2005 through 2010, he was the Executive Director of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies.
Please join us at 5pm EDT on 10 July 2016 for Midrats Episode 340: China’s Maritime Militia with Andrew Erickson
As China continues to slowly use a variety of tools to claim portions of her maritime near-abroad in the South China Sea and elsewhere, part of their effort includes what can almost be considered naval irregular forces – a Maritime Militia.
What is China doing with these assets, why are they being used, and what could we expect going forward as she taps in to a variety of assets to attempt to establish her authority?
Our guest for the full hour to discuss this and more will be Dr. Andrew S. Erickson.
Dr. Erickson is Professor of Strategy at the U.S. Naval War College (NWC)’s China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI). Since 2008 he has been an Associate in Research at Harvard University’s John King Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, and is an expert contributor to the Wall Street Journal’s China Real Time Report, for which he has authored or coauthored thirty-seven articles.
He received his Ph.D. and M.A. in international relations and comparative politics from Princeton University and graduated magna cum laude from Amherst College with a B.A. in history and political science. He has studied Mandarin in the Princeton in Beijing program at Beijing Normal University’s College of Chinese Language and Culture; and Japanese language, politics, and economics in the year-long Associated Kyoto Program at Doshisha University. Erickson previously worked for Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) as a Chinese translator and technical analyst. He gained early experience working briefly at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, the U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong, the U.S. Senate, and the White House. Proficient in Mandarin Chinese and conversant in Japanese, he has traveled extensively in Asia and has lived in China, Japan, and Korea.
Robert Kaplan’s OCT 2015 article, Wat in the World, is a great tonic to those who think, again, that we are just on the edge of transforming, offsetting, or just plain wishing away the strong, deep currents of history and the nature of man. It is worth a revisit in order for us to make sure we are taking the full view of history and the nature of man as it was, as it is, and as it will be.
National Socialism, Communism, Maoism; the last century saw a parade of gore hard to fathom from the 1915 Armenian slaughter, 1930’s Ukranian Holodomor, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, through to the 1970’s Cambodian killing fields and more – yet it is not fresh.
With the end of the Cold War, we have faced another -ism, Islamism, but even in its wholesale cutting of necks, burning, drownings, and genocidal pedophilic sex slavery, in our consciousness – in spite of the slaughter is has wrought on our own shores – its cold reality has yet to soak in.
That is unfortunate, as both history and our understanding of the constant nature of man should inform us that there is never an end to history, there is never a New Man. The tools and the players may change, but the baseline story remains.
That day that dawns another mass slaughter and war may never come again in our lifetime, but I doubt it. If you think the days of large fleet battles are done; that we will no longer see large armies in the field in the millions slogging against each other; that somehow next time it will be better, cleaner, quicker, less deadly – well – take a deep breath and read the whole thing.
Ponder the nature of man;
… utopia is, in and of itself, the perfect political and spiritual arrangement, any measures to bring it about are morally justified, including totalitarianism and mass murder. But what, on the individual level, has always been the attraction of utopian ideology, despite what it wrought in the 20th century? Its primary attraction lies in what it does to the soul, and understanding that makes clear just how prone our own age is to a revival of utopian totalitarianism.
Aleksander Wat, the great Polish poet and intellectual of the early and mid-20th century, explains that communism, and Stalinism specifically, was the “global answer to negation. . . . The entire illness stemmed from that need, that hunger for something all-embracing.” The problem was “too much of everything. Too many people, too many ideas, too many books, too many systems.” Who could cope?
So, Wat explained, a “simple catechism” was required, …
Then there is loneliness. Toward the end of The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt observes: “What prepares men for totalitarian domination . . . is the fact that loneliness, once a borderline experience usually suffered in certain marginal social conditions like old age, has become an everyday experience of the evergrowing masses of our century.” Totalitarianism, she goes on,
is the product of the lonely mind that deduces one thing from the other in linear fashion toward the worst possible result, and thus is a “suicidal escape from this reality.” Pressing men and women so close together in howling, marching formations obliterates individuality and thus loneliness. But even with all of our electronic diversions, is loneliness any less prevalent now than it was when Arendt published her magnum opus in 1951? People are currently more isolated than ever, more prone to the symptoms of the lonely, totalitarian mind, or what psychiatrists call “racing thoughts.”
If that assumption about the human condition is accurate, then how do you plan for it? How do you try to shape it? How do you mitigate it?
The vast majority of the world’s people are not Muslim, so are not likely to join in the -ism of the moment, Islamism. Does that mean that we can just contain that -ism, and not worry about the rest of the planet’s restive masses finding their own -ism?
People everywhere—in the West, in the Middle East, in Russia, in China—desperately need something to believe in, if only to alleviate their mental condition. They are dangerously ready for a new catechism, given the right circumstances. What passes as a new fad or cult in the West can migrate toward extremism in less stable or more chaotic societies.
The jet-age elites are of little help in translating or alleviating any of this. Cosmopolitan, increasingly denationalized, ever less bound to territory or parochial affinities, the elites revel in the overflow of information that they process through 24/7 multi-tasking. Every one of them is just so brilliant! They can analyze everything while they believe in nothing, and have increasingly less loyalty to the countries whose passports they hold. This deracination renders them wholly disconnected from the so-called unwashed masses, whose upheavals and yearnings for a new totality, a new catechism, in order to fill the emptiness and loneliness in their souls, regularly surprise and shock them.
Syria and the general Arab Spring, latest case in point that we are not too good at predicting even the near future.
The ascent of the Islamic State and other jihadi movements, both Sunni and Shi‘a, is not altogether new in imperial and post-imperial history. The seasoned, Paris-based commentator William Pfaff, who covered international politics for decades before he died, observed that the rise of radical populist movements, demanding in many cases the restoration of a lost golden age, occurred twice in mid- and late 19th-century Qing China (the Taiping and Boxer rebellions), once in mid-19th-century British India (the Sepoy Mutiny), and once in late 19th-century British Sudan (the Mahdist revolt). In that vein, as Pfaff explains, groups such as the Ugandan-based Lord’s Resistance Army and the Nigerian-based Boko Haram, which we in the West label, in almost infantile fashion, as merely “terrorist”, are actually redemptive millennial movements that are responding to the twin threats of modernism and globalization.
What is next then?
Globalization, as it intensifies, carries the potential to unleash utopian ideologies by diluting concrete, traditional bonds to territory and ethnicity, for in the partial void will come a heightened appeal to more abstract ideals, the very weapons of utopia. And it is not only the Middle East that should concern us. China is in the process of transforming itself from a developing country into a national security state that in future years and decades could adopt new and dangerous hybrid forms of nationalism and central control as a response to its economic troubles. Russia’s Vladimir Putin may yet be the forerunner of even greater xenophobia and nationalism under leaders further to the Right than himself, as a response to Russia’s weakening social and economic condition. In an age of globalization, not only religion, but nationalism, too, can become still more ideological, illiberal, and abstract.
We must be both humble and vigilant, therefore. Humble, in the sense that we don’t assume progress; we shouldn’t feel safe in smug assumptions about the direction of history. Vigilant, in that we always stand firm in the defense of an individual such as Aleksander Wat, who, however doubt-ridden and self-questioning, refused to submit to pulverizing forces.
I worry that too many people think they can shoe-horn the world to their vignettes, CONOPS, and POM cycles. Has it ever? What is the danger if we think we can?
Hat tip Jack.
In an earlier essay , I described how technology will make the future littoral environment even more dangerous and increase the power and reach of smaller ships and shore batteries. I described the need to test and develop flotillas of combat corvettes and other craft and proposed a few platforms currently being built in the United States for use in this experimentation. My article continues the argument originally made by Vice Admiral Cebrowski and Captain Wayne Hughes in their path setting article on the Streetfighter concept. However, successful combat in the littoral environment will have to be a team sport. Fortunately, we have the US Navy and Marine Corps team who can execute this mission, if enabled to develop new capabilities and doctrine to employ them.
This paper is not an argument to kill the Liberty or Freedom class LCS/FF. It is offered for cost and capabilities comparison purposes only as the actual cost data is not for public release. The LCS is a capable mother ship for the operation of other smaller platforms, particularly helicopters. Further the LCS is a cost effective platform for open ocean anti-submarine warfare the corvettes we shall discuss here described here cannot do. We have much more work to do in fully exploring the applications of the LCS/FF.
The United States and her allies require capabilities and doctrines to operate in the littorals to provide on scene presence in areas of controversy such as the South China Seas. By being present we can shape the environment and prevent competitors from achieving effective control using salami slicing tactics and intimidation. If tensions arise to the point of requiring deterrence such forces can provide considerable numbers and resilience as to force an opponent to have to make a serious effort to remove the flotilla supporting littoral outposts. This will reduce the urge for “Use ‘em or Lose ‘em” scenarios which can rapidly escalate. If deterrence fails, these combined forces will pack a considerable punch and contest, if not remove, sea control. Over time such forces operating together could create their own Anti-Access/Area Denial (AA/AD) zone (creating a “No Man’s Sea” where both sides’ zones overlap), gradually advance our own zones and then peel away an opponent’s AA/AD zones.
A truism illustrated in the book The Culture of Military Innovation by Dima Adamsky is genuine revolutions in military affairs do not usually arise out of incremental improvements but in taking new capabilities and systems and employing them in a truly unprecedented configuration. This is the mindset we should adopt when considering how best to employ flotillas of corvettes in littoral environments. Flotillas should not be considered on their own but as part of a combined arms effort. We must change how we think of the design of the corvette and its employment with other joint forces. The flotillas, operated primarily by the Navy, should be supported by littoral outposts operated by Navy Expeditionary Combat Command and United States Marines. Their combination can be very powerful. To take full advantage of them, we must rethink how we operate the combined force. Here I’d like to examine first the flotillas and then the littoral outposts.
We must reexamine how we think of the corvette or light frigate. First let us address the definition of Corvette, which historically has ranged between 500 and 2,000 tons in displacement, though there have been variations on this theme. The more important factor is the effect of modern electronics and weapon systems granting smaller platforms enhanced capabilities, similar to what has occurred in aircraft. This provides the ability to adjust to the offensive environment of the sea by the distribution of capabilities in smaller profile platforms, however corvettes measure time on station in days not in the minutes aircraft do.
One of the most dramatic impacts of modern electronics is the increasing ability of smaller platforms to conduct scouting. Aerostats, towed kites, and small UAVs such as Scan Eagle give small platforms capabilities similar to larger platforms operating helicopters, etc. These smaller platforms have no need for the large flightdeck and hangar required for normal helicopter operations. They just need a small flat surface and storage area for rotary drones, nets and launchers for UAVs, or the UAVs can be designed to be recovered from the water. The MQ-8B could potentially be operated from a small flight deck with a small maintenance and storage hanger. This will drive the displacement requirements (and the resulting signature) for such platforms down considerably. Flotillas can then be further augmented in their ocean surveillance (“scouting”) missions by the use of land based aircraft, UAVs, Aerostats, etc. as well as carrier based aircraft operating further back.
Corvettes enabled in this manner can have the same surveillance capacity as any destroyer or frigate. By employing an aerostat or towed kite the corvette would have the ability to suspend a radar system at altitude. Because the power generation is on the ship, the aerostat or kite can have a very capable radar normally seen only in the largest UAVs or on helicopters. Further the greater altitude also provides the ability to control light weight visual sensor enabled UAVs like the Scan Eagle at far greater ranges. Combining the two systems grants the Corvette the ability to conduct surveillance on a large area with the radar locating contacts and the scan eagle visually identifying them. Thus we have gained the same capability which in the past would have required a large flight deck on a destroyer or frigate.
Complementing their scouting capability smaller platforms increasingly will have lethal firepower. The capabilities of anti-ship cruise missiles continue to improve. The distribution of firepower across multiple platforms will mean an enemy has very little opportunity to eliminate such a force without response. Similarly, defensive systems are becoming smaller and more effective. Thus the flotilla force is the littoral element of the Distributed Lethality concept designed for this deadly environment. The limiting factor for the size of corvettes is becoming less dominated by the weapons and more by endurance. Thus it would appear the knee in the curve between competing factors of size, endurance, signature, defensive weapons, offensive weapons, scouting capacity, etc. is between 350 and 800 tons.
The mission of such platforms will be challenging but necessary, particularly in light of aggressive salami slicing lines of operations which require presence to counter. In peacetime, flotillas of corvettes will maintain presence to shape the environment, assure our allies, be observable witnesses to aggression, and train others in conduct of sea control. In an environment of increasing tension, they remain on station to continue scouting, shaping, deterrence and assurance while giving larger signature platforms space to maneuver. At the outset of conflict in a real shooting war they have one mission… attack. Attack like Arleigh Burke planned and Frederick Moosbrugger executed but with updated tactics, techniques, and procedures which enable massed force from distributed forces (See Jeff Cares Distributed Network Operations). Ships will be lost; the question becomes what will be lost when the inevitable hits occur.
While it is tempting to continue the technological trend and employ such small platforms without crews, there are significant limitations which it appears solutions have not arisen. The first is the limitation of control of such vessels. Modern Electronic Warfare means the connections to small platforms will likely be severed. While artificial intelligence has made great advances it does not appear ready, or ready in the near future, to address the challenges and complications of operations at sea specifically for factors such as rules of engagement, fusing information, training allied forces, etc. Robots are not known for their imagination and ingenuity. Further there are considerable sociological prohibitions about lethal force capable platforms operating on their own. Robotics and automation should be designed into such platforms to augment the performance of and decrease the size of the crew, but not replace them. With secure line of sight communications, manned platforms could be teamed with unmanned platforms to provide sensors and firepower.
We need to decrease our dependence on hardkill systems. One of the potential driving factors of increasing the size of such platforms is the compulsion to place Aegis weapons systems on them. We may likely gain the ability to place highly capable sensors on smaller platforms. The move away from transmitting wave tubes on current passive electronically scanned array radars such as SPY-1 to more capable and lighter weight transmit receive tiles used in active electronically scanned array radar systems such as in the APG-81 on the F-35 fighter. However the limitation then becomes one of missile systems, etc. If a force is dependent on hardkill systems, it accepts the risk of not being able to defend itself adequately should active measures fail. Given the proven history of effective electronic warfare, decoys, etc. it would be prudent to take a mixed approach. However, decoy systems, etc. are only as effective as their ability to emulate the intended target. Fortunately, corvettes generally can have very small signatures and other platforms can have even smaller signatures.
Military history shows warships built for niche purposes are very successful in actual wartime though their operators often expand their use outside the original intended mission, thus the need for experimentation.
In the essay in Proceedings, I offered an example for purposes of comparison and analysis, an up-armed variation on the Sentinel class Fast Response Cutter (FRC) as an example of what a combat corvette could offer. Even when doubling the total ownerships costs of the FRC for the modifications described between 12 and 14 FRCs could be owned and operated for the cost of a single LCS and its helicopters. The FRC has an endurance which is competitive with the LCS.
Based on the displacement and design of the FRC, it could be outfitted with two to four ASCMs (perhaps the Naval Strike Missile), the 11 cell SeaRAM system, and decoy system such as the Mark 36 Super Rapid Blooming Offboard Chaff and/or the Rheinmetal Rapid Obscuring System (ROSY). Sensors upgrades would be a navalized version of the APG-81 or other AESA in a rotatable pedestal housing. Offboard sensors would include an aerostat or towed kite system with a surface search radar and/or UAVs similar to the ScanEagle. If these offboard sensor systems cannot be operated together from the same platform, then the corvettes can work in teams.
There are many factors which must be worked out. There may be other platforms more suited or complementary to this role, such as the Mark VI patrol boat, the Stiletto experimental platform, the SeaSlice experimental platform and the Ambassador Class missile boat. The upgunned version of the Sentinel class FRC could perform the role of its namesake, the day to day presence patrol missions in littoral regions, while a platform like the Stiletto would conduct sweeping attack and scouting runs in the event of conflict or the need to conduct a demonstration of resolve. Some of these platforms would not have to be manned. Those conducting high risk missions can be teamed with manned platforms to augment their scouting capabilities and firepower. The important point is the exploration of the concepts, tactics, techniques, procedures, and doctrine in wargames, campaign analysis, and fleet exercises to understand the impact advancing technology is having on naval warfare.
One threat to flotillas of corvettes is enemy submarines. Submarines would have some challenges tracking and effectively employing torpedoes against corvettes due to their small size, speeds, etc. Submarines would have to make modifications to their combat systems and torpedoes to address the flotilla. Submarines’ best opportunity to attack the flotilla would be in chokepoints. The flotillas can have an effective means of negating the submarine. Without sonar, it would appear the corvettes are very vulnerable, but simple tactics can negate the effectiveness of a submarine. As the flotilla approaches a littoral chokepoint they launch lightweight torpedoes pre-emptively in a snake search pattern in the direction of travel. The submarine will likely abort any effective targeting and have to run. Given the high rate of false positive contacts likely to be produced in littoral environments, just as many torpedoes would likely be expended by conventional ASW ships with sonar systems, etc. The number of torpedoes expended can be greatly reduced by the contribution of other forces as will be describe below.
The employment of flotillas of corvettes is only one element in how we need to approach littoral warfare. Equally, if not more, important to success in littoral conflicts is the employment of combined arms. The Proceedings essay briefly touched on the concept of Littoral Outposts as contributors to the effectiveness of flotillas. Such outposts deserve further exploration as they can contribute significantly to the success of future military conflicts and competitions.
Littoral Outposts composed of combined Navy, Marine Corps and other joint/coalition forces can contribute greatly to sea control. The Proceedings essay has already described how such forces can contribute to sea control employing shore based anti-ship cruise missiles, sensors, UAVs, etc. This is only the beginning. Such teams can contribute to ASW, AAW, and strike. Using denial, deception, hardening and mobility in the littoral environment these teams can present a difficult challenge to a competitor. All this would be accomplished by employing new technologies in new and innovative ways.
Littoral Outposts can have a significant impact on Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW). We’ve discussed organic responses from corvettes to submarines, but the littoral outpost can greatly reduce the threat of submarines to corvettes and other platforms. The simplest and most conventional solution is the employment of Forward Arming and Refueling Point (FARP) for submarine hunting helicopters. Such helicopters can be stationed ashore or aboard ships operating further back (such as the LCS). Technology also offers effective and innovative approaches to littoral ASW. Littoral outpost can launch a swarm of UAVs employing sensors to conduct grid searches of submarines or minefields in chokepoint areas. When a target is detected and prosecution is initiated the drones could potentially drop charges or these could be launched from shore based mortars. The charges can be very deadly to a submarine as demonstrated by the Hedgehog ASW mortar in World War II. In addition to the MAD UAVs, forces ashore can launch small Unmanned Undersea Vehicles (UUVs) which act as mobile sonobuoys. The effectiveness of such systems can be greatly enhanced by the survey of such chokepoints in peacetime to identify wrecks and other metallic objects which could generate false positives, etc. In times of crisis, Littoral Outposts and corvettes can work together to plant mines in the chokepoints thus creating a dangerous environment for submarines to operate in.
Littoral Outposts can have a significant impact on Anti-Air Warfare (AAW). Corvettes are vulnerable to Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircraft (MPRA). If allowed unfettered access to an area, MPRA has the ability to eventually find and pick out of the clutter small craft like corvettes and deliver weapons or direct weapons and platforms to kill them. The key to the success of the MPRA is time and unfettered access. Littoral outpost can nullify this in different ways. First we noted the size of a corvette limits the size (and therefore range) of surface to air missile systems. So while advanced light weight AESA radars can give a corvette the ability to search and locate MPRA, they don’t necessarily have the weapons which can reach out and touch them or drive them off. Littoral Outposts can be armed with such long range weapons and employ either their own air search radars or employ cooperative engagement systems to guide off the corvette’s track. Littoral Outposts can also employ short takeoff and landing aircraft such as the F-35B. If employing land based radars the Littoral Outposts can disperse the sensors and missiles so as to retain one when the other is destroyed. Or they can remain silent and be queued from land based aerostats or airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft flying from aircraft carriers or air bases further back. Just the knowledge surface to air missiles or aircraft may be hidden in Littoral Outposts can effectively nullify MPRA which are very vulnerable to such weapons and platforms. Taking advantage of denial, deception, hardening, and mobility Littoral Outposts can present a threat to enemy aircraft which is difficult to find, fix, and finish. However, MPRA do not enjoy the same environment when they are radiating to locate small ships in the clutters of the littorals.
Littoral Outposts can make significant contributions to strike. Marine and Navy Expeditionary forces working together can deliver offensives strike operations to sea or land. Employing mobile launchers such as High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) with different weapons (and increasingly in the future weapons which can change roles) Littoral Outposts can deliver fires to affect ships at sea and targets on land. The same HIMARS employed to launch surface to surface missiles can also launch surface to air missiles today. Many Anti-Ship Cruise Missiles (ASCMs) today can also perform land attack missions. Again the F-35B provides similar opportunities.
Combining flotillas of corvettes with Littoral Outposts and littoral transportation platforms like powered barges, the Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV), Landing Craft Utility (LCU), and Landing Craft Mechanized (LCM); the US can create mutually supporting elements to conduct maneuver in the littoral environment. Employing denial, deception, rapid hardening (digging in), and mobility, joint forces can advance in the littoral environment in the face of Anti-Access Area Denial (AA/AD) capabilities in the hands of potential adversaries. Littoral Outposts operated by, with, and through allies create AA/AD zones of our own. Behind these AA/AD zones we can then operate higher profile platforms such as aircraft carriers, etc. From these zones, flotillas of corvettes and other seaborne platforms sortie out to conduct sea control/denial and strike operations. From these zones, Littoral Outposts conduct support and strike operations. Once the environment has been shaped, the littoral outpost forces advance with the support of the conventional navy and flotillas. The Littoral Outposts then create new forward AA/AD zones behind which the process advances continues.
As the combined force advances their AA/AD zones advance and enable the attrition of an opponent’s AA/AD system, particularly the sensors (such as MPRA) necessary to enable them. This process will gradually wear down an opponent’s AA/AD system. If our opponents have become too reliant upon AA/AD, they will find themselves in a vulnerable position. Thus in time a combined force can contribute to the peeling away of AA/AD systems and gain maneuver space for the fleet near an opponent’s shore.
A combined arms approach to littoral combat can be very effective. We should be taking advantage of the trends in weapons and how they enhance the lethality and reach of smaller and smaller ships and shore batteries. In essence we must expand the Distributed Lethality concept to embrace our USMC and NECC capabilities in the littoral threat environment. However, to be effective and achieve true revolutions will require changing the way we employ these systems and capabilities. By employing combined arms of flotillas and littoral outposts we and our allies can confront potential opponents with a powerful deterrence force. These forces can enable us to shape events and prohibit aggressive behaviors in peacetime. As crises arise, they provide a resilient force which cannot easily be defeated thus providing stability. Finally in actual combat they provide a deadly threat which can support the larger fleet objectives by contesting and peeling away an opponent’s AA/AD network.
Here we have only addressed the outlines of what the Navy-Marine Corps team’s potential for combined arms in the littorals. We should conduct wargames, experimentation, and analysis to explore the options more fully and identify what other joint capabilities can contribute to this deadly environment. These combined forces should be able to provide commanders with options to address an opponent’s competitive actions in pre-hostilities, deterrence, and if required open warfare. Much more work needs to be done if we are going to remain viable in this new deadly environment.
Please join us at 5pm (EDT) on June 5, 2016, for Midrats Episode 335: War of 1812 in the Chesapeake: A Schoolhouse at Sea
Last month started what we hope will be a regular occurrence in the education of our future leaders; the US Naval Academy took 10 Midshipmen along with a group of instructors on-board the topsail schooners Pride of Baltimore and Lynx as part of an elective history course titled “War of 1812 in the Chesapeake: A Schoolhouse at Sea.”
We will have two of the instructors for the cruise with us for the full hour, returning guest LCDR Claude Berube, USNR, instructor at the USNA Department of History, Director of the US Naval Academy Museum and organizer of the program, along with USNA leadership instructor, LT Jack McCain, USN who focused instruction during the cruise on naval hero Stephen Decatur.
We will discuss the genesis of the program, the areas of instruction, the experience, along with the general topic of the War of 1812 in the Chesapeake.
Summer, 1777: Two objects made from gunpowder-filled kegs and tied together with line drifts alongside the British frigate Cerberus near the Connecticut coast. Sailors in a captured schooner tied alongside attempt to recover the objects. All at once, an explosion destroys the schooner and kills most of the sailors. These were the first mines, invented by David Bushnell (of Turtle fame). This is the beginning of the story of naval mine warfare.
Naval mine warfare has a history as old as the United States. From its beginning in the workshop of David Bushnell through to today’s Quickstrike mines and Littoral Combat Ships, many events formed the story of mine warfare development. These are the ten mining campaigns that have had the biggest impact on shaping mine warfare.
1. Crimean War
In 1854, England led a coalition of Great Powers nations against Russia in response to a Russian attack against Turkey. Naval forces assaulted Russian ports in both the Baltic and the Black Sea. To counter these forces, Russia ordered over a thousand contact mines developed by inventor Immanuel Nobel. In the Baltic, these mines deterred the British from attacking Kronstadt, thus preventing an attack on the Russian capital of St. Petersburg.
Matters were different in the Black Sea. As in their Baltic ports, the Russians laid electrically-fired, controlled mines in the waters surrounding Sevastopol. The British neutralized this threat by quickly capturing the mines’ shore-based firing stations. Largely improvised, the moored contact mines in the surrounding waters proved more nuisance than threat. Most could be neutralized using men operating from small boats.
The Crimean War represented the first case of large-scale, military-sponsored mining. Just as importantly, military observers from many nations were on hand to learn the value of these weapons. Russian successes in mining led many nations to begin developing their own mine warfare programs. Mining may never have taken root as a serious tool of warfare had it not been for the Crimean War.
2. Civil War
With long, navigable rivers and a tiny navy, the Confederacy was vulnerable to waterborne attack. Mines proved a cheap and effective way to stop the Union ironclads. USS Cairo, a large ironclad, became the first major war vessel lost to a mine when it struck a moored contact mine on the Yazoo River in 1862. Continued mine-strikes induced Union captains and admirals to devise methods to counter these weapons. Despite their mine countermeasure (MCM) efforts, Confederate mines sank a total of 29 Union ships, and damaged 14 more before the war ended.
During the assault on Mobile Bay, RADM David Glasgow Farragut famously said, “Damn the torpedoes! Full Speed Ahead!” The target of his order was the captain of the second ship in his column entering the Bay, who stopped when the ship ahead struck a mine. Farragut did not show flippant disregard for the danger posed by mines. Over the previous three nights, he had men clear a channel through the minefield. The ironclad that sank was on the wrong side of the marker buoy. Farragut based his order on a calculated risk decision to continue ahead through the cleared channel.
The Civil War demonstrated to the world the value of the naval mine as a major weapon of war. At the same time, it taught the world lessons about the importance of developing mine countermeasures. These lessons led to mine warfare developments worldwide, paving the way for the future of mine warfare.
3. Russo-Japanese War
In 1904-1905, Russia and Japan fought a war for control of Korea and Manchuria. As a warm-water port, Port Arthur on the Manchurian coast was a major base for the Russian Pacific Fleet. Russia mined its sea approaches to keep out their enemies. Japan reversed this tactic with the innovation of laying mines in Port Arthur’s harbor approaches to keep the Russian fleet in port.
On April 12, 1904, Russian destroyers set out to scout and clear Japanese mines laid the night before. When one destroyer encountered part of the enemy fleet, Russian Admiral Makaroff sent his fleet to attack. Crossing over the freshly laid mines, they successfully beat back their enemies. Victory was short lived. While returning to port, Makaroff’s flagship, the battleship Petropavlovsk, struck a mine and sank in two minutes with the admiral on board. A second battleship struck a mine shortly afterwards. Deprived of its fighting admiral and two battleships, the Russian fleet remained effectively blockaded until the city was ready to fall. Through mining, the Japanese had wrested control of the sea from their adversaries.
Drifting mines laid in the open ocean during the Russo-Japanese War continued to float around the Pacific for years afterwards, posing a significant hazard to ships of all nations. These hazards led to the Hague Convention of 1907. Meeting to develop rules for the use of mines in war, this convention established many limits that remain in effect to this day.
4. World War I: Dardanelles Campaign (1915)
The Gallipoli Campaign was an attempt by the Allies to break through the Ottoman defenses on the Dardanelles in Turkey to free shipping routes to Russia and to raise regional support to the Allied cause. To counter this attempt, the Turks laid 11 mine lines protected by nearly 100 artillery pieces in the narrowest stretch. The British minesweepers, converted trawlers manned with civilian crews, were unable to operate in the face of the heavy bombardment. After two weeks of unsuccessful sweeping at night under constant assault while illuminated with searchlights, the British admiral decided to do an all out effort of daytime sweeping with battleships providing close support.
On 18 March, the British battle force destroyed many fortifications while absorbing nearly every heavy shell remaining in the Turkish arsenal. Then things went wrong. Unknown to the Allies, on the night of 7 March, a single Turkish minelayer laid a line of 20 mines in the battleships’ turning area. At the height of the 18 March battle, the Allied battleships turned in their usual area and immediately struck the new mine line. Within a very short time, the 20 mines caused the loss of 3 battleships and one battle cruiser. That one mine-line may have been arguably the most cost effective method ever used to damage a fleet.
The Dardanelles campaign showed the power of a layered defense containing mines and it illustrated the need to protect MCM forces. Most importantly, it underlined the value of using intelligence in mining.
5. World War I: North Atlantic
The mining campaigns of World War I represented a major advance in how countries used mines, introducing a a number of innovations in both mining and MCM that are still in use. It saw the first use of submarine mining, the first Antisubmarine Warfare (ASW) fields, and the first large-scale mining and MCM effort.
German U-boats posed a major threat to Allied shipping during this war. At first, British attempts to mine the English Channel proved ineffective, as submarines slipped over the mine fields in the darkness. The British remedied the situation with powerful searchlights and aggressive patrolling. Later in the war, the Allies attempted to seal off the North Sea in a major mining campaign called the North Sea Mine Barrage. At the total mining and MCM cost of $80 million, the barrage included 70,000 mines in a field stretching from Scotland to Norway. After the war, 82 minesweepers worked 18 hour days for five months clearing these mines.
Mining and MCM technology both advanced during the war. Germany first used submarine mining soon after the United States entered the war. U-boats built with inclined mine tubes laid mines off several American ports on the eastern seaboard. The American Mark 6 antenna mine used a copper wire suspended above the mine that caused the mine to detonate when it contacted a steel hull. A major British advance was the Oropesa sweep, which allowed a single ship to sweep instead of connecting with other ships in a team sweep.
6. World War II: New Technology
World War II kick-started the development of most of today’s technology and tactics. Allies and Axis powers alike used mines on a global scale during the war. In the Pacific, the Japanese laid large barrier minefields to limit the ability of American submarines to freely access their sea lines of communication. America eventually overcame this obstacle by charting the minefields and developing mine-avoidance sonar equipment.
In the Atlantic theater, belligerents on both sides aggressively created mining and MCM technology. Before and during the war, both sides developed influence mines and influence minesweeping technology. World War II saw the first widespread operational use of mines triggered by magnetic, acoustic, and/or pressure signals. Such mines proved far more dangerous than contact mines, for they could damage ships at a distance and were harder to counter. At Balikpapan in Dutch Borneo, the U.S. minesweeping force lost seven YMS minesweepers during clearance efforts in June 1945. Despite having wooden hulls, their engines were enough to detonate the American-laid magnetic mines. These and earlier incidences led to the expediting the use of full magnetic and acoustic silencing when constructing MCM ships.
Aerial mining was perhaps the most important innovation of World War II. In the Pacific the Allies used extensive mining into their island-hopping strategy. Airplanes could rapidly close Japanese-controlled ports throughout Southeast Asia at a relatively low cost in men and equipment. This allowed the Allies to neutralize the well-defended ports and concentrate on the lightly defended ports.
7. World War II: Operation Starvation
The mining campaign known as Operation Starvation is one of only two uses of true strategic mining in American history. Intended to end the war, Operation Starvation involved using aerial mining to shut down most or all shipping to and from the Japanese home waters.
Japan was and is dependent on imports to support its population and its industry. During WWII, most of its iron and oil arrived by sea. Almost all of the shipping destined for the nation’s east coast and its inland sea had to pass through the Shimonoseki Strait. The volume of Japan’s shipping, and its predictable route, made the country especially vulnerable to naval mines.
In April 1945, B-29 bombers began systematically mining Japan’s shipping routes. Beginning with the Shimonoseki Strait, they dropped 1,000- and 2,000-lb bottom influence mines at all of the major choke points in the inland sea and most of the southern and eastern ports. By July they had laid approximately 12,000 mines, completing a virtual blockade of Kyushu and Honshu and reducing shipping by 90%. Twenty-six years after the war, over 2,000 mines remained despite continuous Japanese sweeping efforts. After the war, many experts agreed that had this mining campaign commenced earlier, the war might have finished earlier, without atomic bombs.
Operation Starvation showed the value of strategic mining in helping to bring a war to an end. Almost as importantly, it highlighted just how much MCM effort is required after a major mining campaign.
8. Korean War – Wonsan Harbor
In October 1950, United Nations forces conducted an amphibious landing at Wonsan, North Korea. The UN assault force included American, South Korean, and Japanese minesweepers. Expecting limited mining at choke points, naval leaders planned for only 10 days to clear mines. As it turned out, the harbor was a nightmarish mixed minefield of both bottom and ground mines. By the time amphibious forces reached the shore a week past schedule, four minesweepers were sitting on the bottom as a result of mine strikes. When the amphibious force finally landed, they found comedian Bob Hope on hand to greet them with a USO show.
Wonsan was important because it revealed just how ill-prepared the America was for post-WWII mine clearance. Following WWII, America discharged it’s primarily reservist mine warfare forces and reduced its MCM force from 374 ships in the Pacific alone down to a mere 37 worldwide. At the same time Russia built a dedicated professional mine warfare force. North Korea benefited greatly from Russia’s mine program. North Korean forces had laid Wonsan’s minefields with the help of Russian mining experts and Russian magnetic and contact mines. Using primitive craft to lay mines, they built a minefield consisting of 3,000 mines crammed into a 400 square nautical mile area.
Following the Korean War, Congress poured money into mine warfare. By the end of the decade, the country had built 65 new oceangoing minesweepers, two MCM command ships (MCS), two pressure- and check-sweeping ships (MSS), an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) MCM squadron, and innumerable minesweeping boats (MSB) and minesweeping launches. While the size of this force did not last, its concepts led to today’s diverse MCM force composition.
9. Vietnam War
Rivers bisect Vietnam at dozens of different points. During the Vietnam War, these rivers were natural highways into the interior, allowing armed gunboats to attack North Vietnamese supply lines. Knowing this, Vietnamese fighters mined the rivers with a wide variety of mines. American gunboats traveling these rivers frequently encountered shallow water minefields protected by heavy shore-based gunfire. Using rapidly developed equipment, the U.S. forces had to counter these fields using armored, armed, nonmagnetic MSB’s supported by aircraft and gunboats.
The North Vietnamese Army was not alone in mining the rivers. American planes dropped magnetic naval mines in the areas surrounding the river crossings used by northern troops. At these points, mines had the ability to target both supply boats and supply vehicles. Furthermore, some aerial mines could be laid virtually anywhere along the trails, creating a hazard for any vehicles moving south.
In May 1972, U.S. forces mined Haiphong harbor, the major port through which 85% of seaborne supplies reached North Vietnam. This resulted in a relatively quick peace agreement, with a major stipulation that the United States was required to clear this minefield. Unbeknownst to the Vietnamese, the United States had set their mines to allow for easy cleanup.
The Vietnam War showed the value of maintaining the technology to clear mines in shallow water. It also introduced destructor-type mines, the predominated style now used by the American military. Finally, it showed the world once more the value of strategic mining.
10. Middle-East Mining
There was no one, single mining campaign in the last few decades that has significantly shaped mine warfare. Instead, it is the collective mining efforts of a few despotic Middle-Eastern governments that together shaped today’s mine warfare forces.
During the 1980’s, state-sponsored terrorism became a dominant force in the world. In the summer of 1984, at least 16 ships passing through the Red Sea received damage from underwater explosions. Believed to be the work of Libya, the fact that these mines did not produce greater damage is mainly because of improper settings. An international coalition quickly came together to clear this vital waterway, a practice repeated in all following middle-eastern mine clearance efforts.
The Tanker War was a conflict between Iran and Iraq. Both sides repeatedly attacked each others’ merchant shipping in the Arabian Gulf. When one of Iran’s mines heavily damaged the USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG-58), the United States retaliated with attacks on Iranian naval vessels and oil platforms in Operation Praying Mantis.
In 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait. To protect against amphibious invasion, Iranian forces laid more than 1,200 mines in two belts off the Kuwaiti coast. Two ships, USS Princeton (CG-59) and USS Tripoli (LPH-10), took heavy damage from mines as the MCM task force moved in to commence clearance operations. Following the war, a coalition of 11 nations working long hours for six months cleared a total 1,288 mines – a number exceeding Iraqi reports of 1,157 mines laid.
Operation Iraq Freedom (OIF) ended far differently in part because strike forces destroyed or captured Iraqi mine laying vessels. Mining was mainly limited to Iraqi coastal waters and the port of Umm Qasr. This showed the potential benefit of the offensive MCM concept.
Navies worldwide equip and train based on the expectations formed by recent experience. Mine warfare is no different. The experiences gleaned from the Middle Eastern mining campaigns of the last few decades very much shaped today’s mine warfare forces.
What sort of lessons might the navies of the world glean from clearing the Middle Eastern minefields? Some may assume that future conflicts will be the same way: No ships destroyed, mining restricted to single areas, uncontested battlespace, uncomplicated environments and plenty of allies to help. With no mine strikes since 1991, it is easy to forget the danger of mines in the face of other perceived threats.
On the mining side, recent history gives an even more simplified story. Since World War II, naval mining has been limited to fairly shallow littoral waters, rivers, and land. The last major mining campaign by anybody was 25 years ago. If one compared weapons systems by usage, mines seem to have limited value, and would appear to only be required in small quantities and with limited depth requirements. With no competing naval powers at war in the last 70+ years, mines appear to be a weapon system of the past.
History tells a different story about naval mine warfare. When naval powers fight, mines can be a game changer. They can keep enemy warships locked in port, they can restrict an enemy’s movements, and they can destroy an enemy’s shipping. When the enemy depends on the sea for supplies, mines can be used to choke their industry and to drive them out of a war. Naval mining can happen everywhere from rivers to deep water, and in all kinds of environments. Should the enemy succeed in laying a major minefield, MCM forces can expect to work for months or years clearing mines. In the course of long, dangerous operations, ships will be lost and the job will become much harder.
Mines, according to history, can help a country to either gain – or lose – control of the sea.
Tamara Moser Melia, “Damn the Torpedoes”: A Short History of U.S. Naval Mine Countermeasures, 1777-1991, (Washington, DC: Naval Historical Center, 1991).
Orlando Figes, The Crimean War: A History, (New York: Picador, 2010).
Norman Youngblood, The Development of Mine Warfare: A Most Murderous and Barbarous Conduct, (Westport, CT: Praeger Security International, 2006).
Milton F. Perry, Infernal Machines: The Story of Confederate Submarine and Mine Warfare, (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1965).
Christopher Martin, The Russo-Japanese War, (New York: Abelard-Schuman Limited, 1967).
Robert Forczyk, Russian Battleship vs Japanese Battleship: Yellow Sea 1904-05, (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2009).
Geoffrey Jukes, The Russo-Japanese War 1904-1905, (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2002).
Robert K. Massie, Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea, (New York: Ballantine Books, 2003).
Dan Van Der Vat, The Dardanelles Disaster: Winston Churchill’s Greatest Failure, (New York: The Overlook Press, 2009), pp. 1-5. H. M. Denham, Dardanelles: A Midshipman’s Diary, (London: John Murray Ltd., 1981).
Captain J. S. Cowie, Mines, Minelayers and Minelaying, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1949).
Gregory K. Hartmann, Weapons That Wait: Mine Warfare in the U.S. Navy, (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1979).
Barrett Tillman, Whirlwind: The Air War Against Japan 1942-1945, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010).
LCDR Paul McElroy, USNR, The Mining of Wonsan Harbor, North Korea in 1950: Lessons for Today’s Navy, (Quantico, VA: Marine Corps War College, 1999).
Edward J. Marolda & Robert J. Schneller Jr., Shield and Sword: The United States Navy and the Persian Gulf War, (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1998).
CDR David D. Bruhn, USN(Retired), Wooden Ships and Iron Men: The U.S. Navy’s Ocean Minesweepers, 1953-1994, (Westminster, MD: Heritage Books, 2006).
Gordon E. Hogg, “Minesweepers and Minehunters.” In S. C. Tucker (Ed.), U.S. Conflicts in the 21st Century: Afghanistan War, Iraq War, and the War on Terror, (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2015).
The ongoing discussion of the meaning of “distributed Lethality” and methods of achieving it at sea is a welcome return to a more forward leaning posture. By its nature, it assumes a more aggressive navy – as all successful navies have been. There is another side to this posture, something that is always there but becomes more apparent with a stronger light thrown on the subject. As the cliche goes, the enemy gets a vote. The enemy gets to shoot back.
There are certain timeless fundamentals of the naval service that historically applied to the US Navy in its operations; offensive punch, forward through the fight, and an acceptance that we will lose ships and Sailors, yet complete our mission in spite of it.
Besides the small isolated incident or skirmish, the realities of war at sea have not been known in the present generations’ living memory – only on the edge of rapidly evaporating national memory is it there. As such, do we really have an understanding of what it means to put your ships, your capital ships, in harm’s way? That is what “forward deployed” means. That is what “From the Sea” implies. That is what “presence” requires. Have we become too comfortable, complacent, and entitled in our maritime dominance to think that Neptune’s Copybook Headings no longer apply?
In all the wargames we go through, in our discussions about the next conflict at sea with a peer or near-peer challenger – have we fully hoisted onboard what this means?
What does it mean to lose a capital ship? First, we must define a capital ship. In WWII, the capital ship was the battleship and the large-deck aircraft carrier. The German battleship BISMARCK, the British battlecruiser HMS HOOD, the American heavy cruiser USS HOUSTON (CA 30), and the aircraft carrier USS FRANKLIN (CV 13) all met that war’s rough definition of a capital ship. Three of the above were lost in combat, and the 4th, the FRANKLIN, just survived sinking from same.
War at sea is brutal, often fast, and the destruction of men and material shockingly extensive. It does not matter if it was 31 BC, 1942 AD or 2020 AD, this will be the same. As it was, as it is, as it will be.
What is a capital ship today? For the sake of argument, let me pick two that most of you would agree is if not a capital ship, then at least a High Value Unit. First, the USS RONALD REAGAN (CVN 76) and the USS BATAAN (LHD 5). For planning purposes, let’s assume that the REAGAN’s ship company and attached airwing composes 5,680 souls. The BATAAN, fully loaded with Marines, 3,002.
Let’s look at the average loss rates from our selection of WWII capital ships. Not the worst, just the average. What would that mean today? What loss of life in one day? A loss that cannot stop operations or shock anyone – indeed must be planned for as we know it will happen at one point?
Well, here is the graph that tells the butcher’s bill.
One could argue that the most difficult part of the loss of a CVN or LHD with a full wartime complement on par with other capital ships lost at sea would not be the operational or tactical implications, but the political implications. Do we have the PAO, INFO OPS, and even PSYOPS pre-planned responses well rehearsed and, yes, focus grouped to deal with such an immediate loss? If not, we are at national strategic risk poking our nose anywhere.
Look at the LHD numbers; 2,183 dead in one day. That is just a little more than all the losses of the USA and UK in Iraq during the three years bounded by 2006, 2007, & 2008 – combined.
The loss of a carrier? That would be roughly the same as all the USA and UK losses in Iraq in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, & 2009 – combined.
In almost any scenario such a loss would take place, there would be no time to pause, consider, or debate. You have to fight on – indeed, you need to assume such losses and plan around it.
Are we prepared for this as a Navy? Has the Navy properly prepared our political bosses? Are they prepared to respond to the citizens’ reaction?
We should all hope so, as history tells us that is not a matter of if, but when.
“The Battle of Anzio shows both the agony of command decisions and the heroism of men who carry them out.”
—Gen. William H. Simpson (U.S. Army, Ret.)
Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. These words, spoken by the philosopher George Santayana, have enduring truth. Though daily operations claim much attention in a dynamic Europe-Africa theater, it is important to revisit the battles of the past, to contemplate the critical decisions made by military commanders, and reflect on the will of those who fought these battles. With Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) 2016, the premier Baltic maritime exercise that will feature amphibious landings in Finland, Sweden, and Poland, just around the corner, the staff ride was especially fitting as we applied the lessons learned from Anzio to our final exercise PLANORD.
There is no substitute for walking the beachhead like those who came before us. More than 50 members of my U.S. 6th Fleet staff and I conducted a Staff Ride in early May of Anzio and the battle fought there during World War II, code-named Operation Shingle. We visited X-ray beach and the Sicily-Rome Cemetery, incorporating stories of bravery along the way.
Anzio native Alfredo Rinaldi is a living history of the standoff at the beachhead in Anzio and was the cornerstone of this staff ride. The only way to understand these battles is to step in the shoes of those that have gone before—and hear directly about what they experienced. And Alfredo gave us that essence in a truly touching way.
In 1944, Alfredo was an adventurous soul, a 16-year-old with an insatiable desire to live all that life had to offer. To him, in the thralls of a German occupation, war was a playground, an open door for new experiences. Alfredo Rinaldi and the many residents of the Italian seaside town of Anzio were relocated to Rome when it became obvious that the shorelines were going to become battlegrounds. Alfredo became sort of a transient in Rome, a teenage wanderlust hoping to see action and aimlessly roaming the cobbled streets of Rome in search of it. He was lucky to avoid the ranks of the German Army, apparently because he was young and scrawny; his brother had been drafted into the Wehrmacht, but he deserted and was hiding somewhere in Italy. And then the news came in that the Americans [and British too] had landed at Anzio.
With the Allied Italy campaign at a standstill, Allied Forces struggling to gain ground up the Boot, an amphibious operation—Operation Shingle—was hatched to land behind enemy lines. On Jan. 22, 1944, at an H-hour of 0200, a combination of U.S. Army, British Army, and British Special Forces came across a 15-mile stretch of beach between Anzio and Nettuno.
As the reports flooded the hopeful Roman populace, vibrant with excitement that liberation was at their doorstep, Alfredo chose to start marching toward Anzio, a 20-kilometer journey roiled with barbed wire, snipers and German booby traps. He left in the early morning and arrived late that night, somehow steering clear of German munition dropped from above and well-laid land mines. Alfredo’s first contact with Allied Forces was with an African American U.S. army soldier who said, “What in the world are you doing here kid?,” and ultimately gave Alfredo a ride to Anzio in his jeep. Alfredo told us that until this point in his life, he did not realize that America included “people of color” and that this man had changed his life forever . . . Along the way, Alfredo saw his family’s abandoned house, unscathed despite the wreckage from the German air bombing campaign, elevating his mystical belief in America and its forces even more.
Alfredo ended up introducing himself to a group of soldiers, an infantry company, and instantly befriended them. Without any formal paperwork or agreement, he was essentially enlisted. The soldiers told him it was unsafe to for him to go back to Rome, and he preferred to stay anyway. And so he became their translator and their ‘mascot,’ a cheerful soul in a grim and beaten war.
Alfredo retells his story of those days on the beach in great detail. He remembers crouching in what where manmade fox holes as shells from “Anzio Annie,” the German 218-ton railway gun, pounded the beach. He describes hearing the whistling sound of the big rounds as they screeched by his makeshift bunker.
Alfredo was most likely the only Italian patriot embedded in an American unit, but he was not the only one from a fractured Europe to join the ranks for the Allies. Gunnar Erik Mettala was a Finnish-born U.S. Army combat engineer with the 345th Engineer General Service Regiment and the grandfather of my Deputy N6 Cmdr. Erik Pittman. Gunnar left Finland for the United States just before Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union invaded Finland in what was then known as the Winter War in 1939. He would join the U.S. army shortly after immigrating, enlisting in 1941, around the age of 23.
Gunnar landed on Anzio the second day of Operation Shingle landing with the 36th Combat Engineers and alongside the 45th Infantry Division. From the landing until the German counter attack on Feb.11, Gunnar’s Treadway Company was engaged in repairs near the port. He would later pass on to his son, who passed on to Erik: “Every day the German Luftwaffe would strafe and bomb the port; every day we’d rebuild and resurface the docks and the roads leading to the docks. Such was the tit-for-tat, hold-your-ground fighting that was the essence of a long period of entrenchment at Anzio.”
Gunnar was wounded after taking machine gun fire to his thighs, as he and others of his company were pushed to the front lines to defend the Allies extended perimeter from German counter attack. He recovered and would serve out the rest of the war in Allied Forces Headquarters in Naples as a staff judge advocate—ironically in the same place his grandson would serve 70 years later…
Despite the attrition faced by Treadway Company and a handful of other companies on the front lines during the initial German counter attack, four months passed with neither side giving or getting an inch. An Allied breakthrough occurred on May 23, 1944, in an operation known as Operation Diadem. While a combination of forces from Britain, Canada, Poland, and the U.S. broke through the Gustav Line, the United States’ VI Corps, controlled by 5th Army, took advantage of a reeling German force to race somewhat unfettered to Rome.
Meanwhile, our man Alfredo traveled with his unit, returning to his exiled home of Rome to raucous cheers from fellow Italians. Alfredo lived a storybook life from there, transitioning from military service to become a driver/caretaker at the American cemetery in Nettuno, constructed to honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the Italian campaign. From there, he drove buses for ten years, then opened up a photography business with his son, and ended up returning to the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery as an official photographer, where he met then President George H.W. Bush during the cemetery’s annual Memorial Day commemoration.
Alfredo, now 88 and retired, continues to come every Memorial Day to the commemoration at the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery at Nettuno. And this is where I first met him and became enchanted with his story, just as those Army men were enchanted with him in 1944. Alfredo still has that spark in his eye and spring in his step.
Walking through the cemetery—either on Memorial Day or just a beautiful spring day in southern Italy as was the case for our staff ride—one is reminded of the sacrifices made on behalf of freedom. The cemetery sits in the zone of advance of the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division as part of Operation Shingle. The perfectly cut lawn now dotted with headstones sits beneath a mountaintop – the same perched position that allowed the Germans to hold so tightly to position with their counter attacks.
There are nearly 7,861 Americans memorialized in the Nettuno cemetery, a majority from the landings on Sicily, Salerno, and Anzio.
During our time at the cemetery, my deputy Executive Assistant, U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Tony Bates had the privilege of reading the citation of Sgt. Sylvester Antolak, who heroically stormed a German machine gun nest on day two of the Anzio invasion, racing into enemy fire despite warning from his own troops. His heroics allowed the Allies to secure a perimeter and save countless others.
Tony is sixty years removed from these men but is a living hero in his own right. He was an advisor team leader for the Afghan National Army serving in Sangin district of Helmand Province, Afghanistan in 2011 working to equip Afghan forces to defend their homeland from the Taliban. Much of the work was patrolling and clearing neighborhoods of the Taliban, while working to build trust from communal leaders. From their Forward Operating Base in Sangin, they would often experience Taliban machine gun fire but withstood multiple ambushes through determination and combat skill. Improvised explosive devices were a common tactic used by the Taliban in this time as Marines and Afghan troops would set off IEDs while conducting routine patrols or even in the vicinity of where kids were playing, as it was common for children to lay parts and pieces of the IEDs. Tony’s unit discovered the maker of these IEDs in a remote village in Sangin and sought to apprehend him. During that mission, Tony stepped on an IED, which resulted in serious injury and his left leg being amputated below the knee. Tony was awarded the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with Valor device for combat action and Purple Heart for his resolve in leading those Afghan forces, and he continues to serve with the utmost pride and honor.
We started the staff ride at X-ray beach and finished at with lunch at a restaurant that sits beside the beach, a picturesque spot where the waves ever-so-calmly splash over the rocks and sand. Standing there, looking out on the beach of Anzio with Alfredo brings so many thoughts to mind. You imagine each Soldier coming across the beach, uncertain if they’d immediately take enemy fire or if death lay over the horizon.
For my friend Alfredo, he considers himself—and rightly so—a U.S. Army World War II veteran. His patriotism is remarkable for someone that doesn’t claim any official nationality to America. As we part ways, he extends a sentimental, “God bless America.” We in America have come to make this saying cliché but I can tell that Alfredo truly means it, a reflection of the appreciation that he and thousands of other Italians expressed as they were liberated from Fascist and Nazi hands.
The courage of those that took up the call for freedom on the beach of Anzio, and so many other beaches across Europe and the Pacific, should never be forgotten. So many, like Sgt. Antolak paid the ultimate sacrifice, and for this, we must continue to pay homage to their legacy of heroism. As we always do, this Memorial Day, we remember . . .
The Navy has forgotten the STARK. As a comparison, a quick Google search will take you to the USS COLE homepage, with a link to its memorial. Each year, ceremonies span our shores and ships as we remember the lessons learned and the lives lost during that terrible incident. Social media explodes with articles and words demanding that we “Remember the COLE.” And we should remember the COLE and the Sailors we lost that day. However, replace USS COLE in a Google search with USS STARK and Wikipedia is the first to pop up, followed by articles from small local news outlets.
Twenty-nine years ago, the surface navy learned a hard lesson aboard STARK. In a matter of minutes, two Exocet missiles from an Iraqi Mirage aircraft made real the dangers of insufficient training and complacent watchstanding. Sailors were ripped violently from their racks as the missiles’ impact tore into the port windbreak; others ran to contain the flames and save the ship. In a true testament to the Navy’s fighting spirit, the crew battled the damage for over twenty-four hours, and miraculously, managed to return the ship to Bahrain under its own power. Ultimately, USS STARK (FFG 31) lost thirty-seven Sailors, with twenty-one more wounded.
Yesterday in Mayport, FL, a small ceremony took place honoring STARK and her crew. The STARK incident hits close to home for Mayport Sailors, as she was homeported in and returned home to Mayport after her attack, and some of today’s Mayport Sailors once served aboard her, carrying on her legacy and wounds alike. As a Frigate Sailor myself, I have walked similar passageways and layouts to those torn apart twenty-nine years ago. I learned more about the STARK incident as I prepared to take charge of the Fire Control division on a cruiser, a division whose sole purpose was to ensure excellence in Air Defense…the same air defenses that were lacking when STARK was hit. The STARK incident resonates with most of us, but to the “Big Navy” she seems to be all but forgotten. There was not a single article from OPNAV Public Affairs, nor a post or photo in honor of the incident from the Navy’s social media team. Instead, articles and posts appeared lauding the anniversary of Top Gun and the impact the movie had on the Navy. The only mention of STARK was as a footnote on the Naval History and Heritage Command website.
Yesterday, rather than showcasing the tenacity, dedication, and resilience of the Surface Navy – especially the STARK crew, and honoring the lives of the thirty-seven Sailors who paid the ultimate sacrifice, the Navy’s public affairs office chose to honor the thirtieth anniversary of the movie Top Gun. While Top Gun had great recruiting value for the Navy in the late 1980s (and perhaps does today), it bears far less weight than our own naval heritage. Our heritage, from the Barbary Wars, to the battles of Midway and Leyte Gulf, to Operation Praying Mantis, plays a profound role in who we are as surface warriors, and as naval professionals. These milestones helped develop our doctrine, refine our systems, and strengthen our resolve. We have an obligation to honor those who came before us, those who showed us what real sacrifice is, and those who led the way in making the Navy the fighting force it is today. We failed to uphold this obligation yesterday.
Not only did we not uphold our obligation to learn and remember the lessons of our history, but we trivialized those lessons. Yesterday’s video advertised the Surface Navy’s new “Top Gun” cadre, its Warfare Tactics Instructors (WTIs), equating the antics from the movie Top Gun and the aviators’ success at Fighter Weapons School to the new cadre of surface WTIs. But the video misses the point. Top Gun was created out of necessity, not vanity. After suffering devastating kill-to-loss ratios in the first part of the Vietnam War, and after the publication of the Ault Report that concluded that insufficient training in Air Combat Maneuvering was the root cause of Naval Aviation losses, the Navy created Fighter Weapons School in 1969. We applied history’s lessons at FWS: it is more than just the systems that win the fight – most of all it is the “man in the box.”
Today, Warfare Tactics Instructors exist to improve the tactical skill of the Surface Navy and sustain our warrior ethos. Instead of glorifying a movie, we must show how history has taught us that uneducated and complacent leaders and watchteams will get Sailors killed. Much like the graduates of the Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center’s Weapons Schools, we do not do this job to pay homage to a Tom Cruise character, we do it to ensure our Sailors and teams have the tools to come home safely from the fight. It’s high time the Navy recognized that this is why we’re here. Thank you, but we don’t need Tom Cruise references to be relevant.