Archive for the 'History' Category
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.
Due to circumstances beyond his control, Mr. Roggio had to postpone his visit with Midrats. He will appear at a later date. In lieu of his appearance, CDR Salamander and Eagle1 held a “free for all” discussion of current events.
You can find our “Spring Time Free-for-All” here.
We regret any inconvenience.
A military that faces budget constraints must make choices. The US military is no exception. Is it more important that we fund a large force that can build relationships and spread out over every potential conflict zone? Or should we instead invest in capabilities that will make our individual units more lethal and survivable? In other words, do we build a lot of the assets we know how to build, or do we instead develop better assets that we can build in the future? Secretary of Defense Carter has referred to this debate in terms of posture vs presence (advanced future-forces vs large current-forces).
The fundamental question of this debate is whether war is more likely now or in the future. If we knew we had 50 years until a large conventional conflict, most would advocate investing in capability. That would allow us to build more effective forces for when we needed them. On the other hand, if we knew we only had 1 year, it would not be prudent to divert current readiness in favor of capabilities that wouldn’t be available in time.
The United States’ modern defense establishment has faced one real peer-competitor: the USSR. They posed a threat that was felt viscerally by the populace and the military that defended them. If there was ever a challenge that dictated a large number of ready forces, it was the Cold War. New technologies always had to be researched, but they would be useless if the operational forces couldn’t win a war that day.
When we look at a graph of US defense research spending as a percentage of total defense spending, this pattern is clear. Time periods where the blue line is below the red are when research spending was lower than the historical average.
Data from SIPRI and AAAS
From the early-60s to the mid-80s, when the Soviet threat was large and immediate, research took a back seat to presence. Regular military spending outpaced research spending by a greater than normal amount. Then, America woke up in the 90s to a peerless world. Presence took a back seat to capability. The US military had breathing space to begin to think about the future. It used that breathing space to fund the technologies that would power a networked military that has yet to be seriously challenged in conventional warfare in the post-Cold War era.
In the 21st century, China has replaced the Soviet Union as the threat that focuses defense planners. So how does China compare as an adversary? Do we have the time we need to focus on capability, or should we go all-in on our currently operational forces?
Without going into direct capabilities, a fairly reasonable way to compare threats is to look at top-line military budgets. How did our spending compare to the Soviets’ and how does our spending compare to China’s? Let’s first look at the Cold War.
Data from SIPRI and CIA
From 1966 to 1989, the United States was able to muster enough defense spending to approximately match that of the Soviet Union. There were long stretches where the US lagged the Soviets, but it was always fairly close. The rest of NATO seems to have consistenly spent somewhere between 50% and 60% of the Soviet’s budget. Combined, NATO and the US spent 20-80% more than the USSR.
Data from SIPRI and CIA
Looking at these graphs, you see what looks like a close struggle, but one where the US and NATO are clearly superior. That was not at all the perception in the 60s or 70s, though. The nightly news in that era was gloomy. And the Soviet military really did pose a legitimate threat to an American-led world order. We talk today about China holding US aircraft carriers at risk. The Soviet Union held every city in America at risk. It was a global challenger as much as it sought regional hegemony. So the US strategy was to prioritize the readiness of the forces that it had. Not to prioritize the forces it wished it had.
And in the end, it is hard to argue that this was the wrong strategy. Afterall, the world is not a nuclear wasteland and America has enjoyed lone superpower status for the last 25 years. So if this is the threat picture that warrants “presence” oriented spending, what is a threat picture that warrants the opposite? This:
Data from SIPRI
It is not terribly close. During the Cold War, the US and the USSR spent similar amounts on defense. The United States outspends China three times over, today. Additionally, China’s neighbors currently spend an amount equal to China’s defense outlays, not the 60% deficit that NATO could muster on its best days.
The trajectory of China’s spending is clearly up, while the United States’ trajectory is clearly down. But America presently enjoys a vast lead. And China’s neighbors are increasing defense spending, as well (albiet at a lower rate). Taking these factors into account, it seems as though the United States has a long time before it must worry about China challenging global order. China may be building “facts on the ground” that will be beneficial once it is a mature power (by flouting international law in the South China Sea), but it is not currently a serious challenger to the United States.
While the US and NATO once spent a combined 120% of the Soviet’s budget, the US and its Asian allies currently spend 384% of China’s budget.
Data from SIPRI
If every trend stays exactly as it currently is (and that is already not realistic since China recently announced a reduction in military spending growth), it will take a decade before China poses a threat similar to that of the USSR.
China cannot currently contest our dominance in Asia in the way that the Soviets contested our dominance in Europe. During the Cold War, America waited to prioritize current-force spending until the Soviet’s military budget was about 80% of the American budget. China’s is currently at 35% of America’s.
If American strategy requires that its chief adversary be able to plausibly challenge its dominance in a region before it prioritizes current-forces over future ones, it’s clear that now is not the time for a buildup. With a minimum of 10 years before a new Cold War, and more realistically 20 or 30 years, the US military would be remiss to not fund future capabilities while it can.
The question then is relegated to one of magnitude. How much should the United States prioritize research? Let’s first look at where our current military budget is in comparison to where it’s been.
Data from SIPRI
Defense spending has averaged 6.1% of GDP since 1949. It currently rests at around 3.5% of GDP. As you can see in the above graph, defense spending was high up until the end of the Cold War, shrunk greatly in the 90s, and then rose again during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. With those wars now over, our budget is in a new trough.
Data from SIPRI
Total defense spending as a percentage of GDP has only been lower for a brief time in the late 90s/early aughts. There is room to increase it if needed. And if there is to be an increase, it should go toward modernizing the force.
Research and development as a percentage of GDP lies at around .4%. The long-run average is .55%, but the R&D boom of the late 80s reached .7%.
Data from SIPRI and AAAS
The late-80s investment in R&D produced the advanced military that was able to decimate Saddam’s Soviet-style military. It was sufficient to produce a force capable of decisive victory. Similar levels of investment will be required to produce similar margins of victory. What would it take to get spending back to similar levels?
It would require 70% more research spending, but would only increase the total defense budget to 3.8% of GDP from 3.5%. Which is far below the 6.1% long-run average. By reducing our current-force size in areas unlikely to contribute in a large, conventional conflict (the least likely scenario, but easily the most damaging), we could likely keep our overall budget similar to its current levels.
China is a threat to an American-led global order in the long-run. It will eventually be able to credibly challenge our core interests in the world. It, however, does not currently warrant the same defense structure than did the USSR. We still have time to ensure our forces are capable enough to win the wars of the future. And in their current structure, they would likely prevail in any surprise conflict that comes sooner. We shouldn’t restore our military to its Cold War size. We should worry about how we can build the military of the future.
Please join us at 5pm (remember Eastern Daylight Time) on 13 March 2016 for Midrats Episode 323: Building a Navy in Peace That Wins at War
The wartime record of the US Navy in under four years of combat from late 1941’s low point to the September 1945 anchoring in Tokyo Bay did not happen by chance. It did not happen through luck, or through quick thinking. It happened through a process of dedicated, deliberate, disciplined and driven effort over two decades in the intra-war period.
What were the mindset, process, leadership, and framework of the 1920s and 1930s that was used to build the fleet and the concepts that brought it to victory in the 1940s?
This week we are going to dive deep in this subject for the full hour with Captain C.C. Felker, USN, Professor of History at the US Naval Academy and author of, Testing American Sea Power: U.S. Navy Strategic Exercises, 1923–1940.
Please join us at 5pm EST on 6 March 2016 for Midrats Episode 322: Radical Extremism, Visual Propaganda, and The Long War:
In the mid-1930s, Leni Riefenstahl showed the power of the latest communication technology of her time to move opinion, bring support, and intimidate potential opponents. The last quarter century’s work of Moore’s Law in the ability to distribute visual data world wide in an instant has completely change the ability of even the smallest groups with the most threadbare budgets to create significant influence effects well inside traditional nation states’ OODA loop. How are radical extremists using modern technology, especially in the visual
arena, to advance their goals, who are their audiences, and how do you counter it? Using as a starting point the Strategic Studies Institute and U.S. Army War College Press’s publication, “Visual Propaganda and Extremism in the Online Environment, YouTube War: Fighting in a World of Cameras in Every Cell Phone and Photoshop on Every Computer, the Small Wars Journal’s ISIS and the Family Man
and ISIS and the Hollywood Visual Style, our guests will be Dr. Cori E. Dauber, Professor of Communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Mark Robinson, the Director of the Multimedia Laboratory at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Please join us on 28 Feb 2016 at 5pm EST, for Midrats Episode 321: The Year of the Monkey in the South China Sea w/Toshi Yoshihara:
Claims hundreds of year old in the South China Sea are being acted on today. Ethnic tensions that date back to recorded time are returning to the surface with renewed importance.
Regardless of what may be happening in the Middle East or Europe, China and the nations that border the South China Sea have their own set of priorities they will pursue this year.
To discuss the present state of play in the area and the events to look for as the year unfolds will be returning guest of the show, Dr. Toshi Yoshihara from the Naval War College.
Professor Toshi Yoshihara holds the John A. van Beuren Chair of Asia-Pacific Studies and is an affiliate member of the China Maritime Studies Institute at the Naval War College. Before joining the College faculty, he was a visiting professor in the Strategy Department at the Air War College. Dr. Yoshihara has also served as an analyst at the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis, RAND, and the American Enterprise Institute. He holds a Ph.D. from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, an M.A. from the School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, and a B.S.F.S. from the School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University. He is co-author of Red Star over the Pacific: China’s Rise and the Challenge to U.S. Maritime Strategy and other books related to maritime concerns in national defense policy.