Partisan Warfare and East European Military Thought

The Russian tradition in partisan warfare dates back to the eighteenth century: a biographer of Barclay de Tolly noted that his hero was “initiated into the practice of partisan warfare by that well known Caucasian, Count Tsitsianov.” But the real hero was the poet-warrior Denis Davydov whose notable contribution to the theory of partisan warfare is discussed in some detail elsewhere in the present study. Russian military doctrine did not entirely neglect partisan warfare, though much of its effort was directed towards a precise theoretical definition of the subject — an enterprise of doubtful promise. According to the Russian Military Encyclopedia, there was a substantial difference between “small war” and “partisan warfare” — the latter being conducted by a detachment cut off from the main army. Partisan warfare, according to this definition, only took place when the rear of the enemy was vulnerable, and the more vulnerable it was, the more promising the outlook. But there was also a difference between partisan and popular (i.e., guerrilla) warfare; the latter was carried on at their own risk by groups of men tied to their native soil.

The same trend towards systematization can be found in much of the Russian literature on the subject; furthermore the stress was always on big units operating in close cooperation with the regular army. The very title of an article by Count Golitsyn first published in 1857 — the most noteworthy contribution since Davydov — reflects this tendency perfectly: “on partisan operations on a large scale brought into a regular system.” General Golitsyn (1809-1892), incidentally, was the only infantry officer among Russian writers on the subject; he is mainly remembered as the author of a fifteen volume military history and the editor of a well-known journal, Russki Invalid.

Russian advocates of partisan warfare faced a real dilemma, in that unorthodox practices had to be accommodated within the policies of a Tsarist autocracy. Partisan warfare put a premium on personal initiative and independent action unlikely to be adopted by a political system which regarded such qualities with disfavor and suspicion. While the Russian army had considerable experience in combating partisans and guerrillas of sorts (sometimes by adopting their tactics) in Poland, the Caucasus and Central Asia, Russian military authors ignored the lessons of these campaigns on the whole, referring almost exclusively to examples from wars elsewhere in Europe, or America, or of course to the campaign of 1812. Perhaps they thought in retrospect that their colonial campaigns had little to teach them and that, anyway, such wars were a thing of the past. This applies equally to the works of Novitski and Vuich who wrote about small warfare in general, as to the more specific studies of partisan warfare by Gershelman and Klembovski. Colonel Vuich, in a textbook written for the students at the Imperial War Academy, dismissed partisan warfare in one short chapter and popular risings in one paragraph. In his definition small wars were all operations carried out by small detachments; they were obviously actions of secondary importance which, unaided, could not possibly achieve the main aim, namely the defeat of the enemy in open battle. But they could contribute to the attainment of this goal, and since in every war there would be some elements of small warfare, it was a legitimate subject of study.

Some three decades later Fyodor Gershelman, a colonel on the general staff and commander of the Orenburg Cossack officers’ academy, criticized Vuich for not having made it sufficiently clear that there was a basic difference between a partisan unit and a light detachment. The assignment of partisans was not to act as scouts and patrols, nor was it correct to argue, as some French authors (such as Thibault) had done, that a unit should consist as a norm of two hundred to three hundred riders; in fact it could consist of several thousand men and deploy field artillery. A partisan unit, according to Gershelman, was one that had no lines of supply and communications, its task (and here he followed Decker) was to harass the enemy, without risking too much, particularly in places where large units could not operate freely. Success depended largely on surprise: this meant that their movements had to be unobserved and quick and, to this end, the partisan units ought to be constituted mainly of cavalry detachments. While a small war has a tactical connection with big operations, partisan actions have purely strategic significance. What the author somewhat clumsily and schematically wanted to stress was that since the partisans operated completely independently, their contribution to the warfare was, generally speaking, to weaken the enemy without making a specific contribution to any major battle. While a people’s war (guerrilla warfare) in the rear of an enemy uses the same means as partisan warfare, the two are quite dissimilar in their scope and character. Gershelman, like almost all Russian authors, did not deal with a war of this kind, only with partisan units comprised of regular army officers and soldiers. A small partisan unit consisted of a thousand horsemen, big ones of twelve thousand or more. Refuting the arguments of the opponents of partisan warfare, Gershelman claimed that despite the different topographical character of Central and Western Europe and the relative density of population, partisan warfare could be conducted there too; it could even be conducted in enemy territory, against a hostile population. He stressed that since partisans could be made combat-ready immediately they could play an important role at the very beginning of a war; regular armies were still taking some six to twelve days to mobilize. German military observers were aware of this danger and one of them suggested planting big blackthorn hedges on the border of East Prussia, putting up barbed wire entanglements and arming the local population against an eventuality of this kind. (It was also proposed that partisan Cossacks should be denied the status of prisoner of war.) Gershelman, who also discussed antipartisan measures, much regretted that the theory and practice of partisan warfare were not taught in Russia; similar laments by British, French and German authors have already been noted.

Victor Napoleonovich (sic) Klembovski’s work on partisan operations was published in 1894; he subsequently became a general and was wounded in the war against Japan. Like Gershelman, he was mainly interested in the activities of big, flying columns and most of his illustrations were drawn from the American Civil War and the operations of the French franc tireurs in 1870-1871. One of his main heroes was the Russian general Geismar, whose exploits in France in 1814 tended to fortify the thesis that partisan warfare was indeed possible in enemy country. He discounted the argument that partisans could succeed only if they faced young, inexperienced soldiers. When they attacked an army’s rear, the men who covered these long lines of communication were as likely to be as experienced as anyone in the front line. He believed, like Gershelman, that partisan warfare was perfectly possible, and indeed likely, in a coming European war.

Russian comments on partisan warfare were closely followed in Vienna. The Russian cavalry is trained to conduct partisan activities par excellence, an Austrian military observer noted in 1885; was it not a matter of elementary caution to watch these preparations? The Austrians had pioneered old-fashioned partisan warfare in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; J. B. Schels, of whom mention has already been made, was one of their chief theorists. Another notable contribution was made by Wlodimir Stan islaus Ritter von Wilczynski, a Pole serving in the Austrian army, who based himself to a considerable extent on the experience gained in the Polish insurrections. The partisan units, as envisaged by him, would consist of several units of “scythe men” (kossiniere), and some light cannon. The various partisan units in a given province would be under the overall authority of a district commander. Each unit should not be too large but constitute a “family,” obeying its head “like a father.” The unit commander could appoint (or depose) his officers, and was entitled to a pension and all the other privileges of a regular army officer. Unlike the Russian theorists, Wilczynski put as much emphasis on infantry as on cavalry units within the general framework of partisan warfare, and he even made provision for the presence of a surgeon and a padre.

As the nineteenth century drew to its close, Austrian strategists, like those of other European countries, reached the conclusion that the small war had lost much of its importance — new inventions such as the railways, the telegraph (“and in future also the balloons”) would 110 doubt shorten a future war; a mass army of half a million or more soldiers concentrated in a small space could sleep peacefully, pistol shots no longer would disquieten them. Some of the Austrian writers nevertheless thought that partisan warfare still had a limited future in view of the mountainous terrain of Austria’s border regions, in the Tyrol, the Carpathian Mountains, and above all in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the Austrian forces had encountered guerrilla warfare on a small scale in 1878/79. Hence the conclusion that it was premature to regard the small war as a mere game.

Partisan units could be of particular use when the main body of the army suffered a setback and needed time to recover. Hron’s emphasis on ambushes and surprise attacks offered little that was new, except perhaps in his comments on the lessons of the war in Bosnia. In this mountainous territory, which sixty years later became once again the scene of a major guerrilla war, horses were of little or no use. The partisans had to follow the smallest and most tortuous mountain paths and employ artillery only in exceptional circumstances. Hron thought that the ideal size of a partisan detachment ought to be between eight hundred and a thousand men — if it were larger it would lose mobility, if smaller, the unit would be aware of its insufficient strength which could adversely affect its fighting spirit.84 The lot of the partisan officer was an enviable one, provided he had “a streak of genius.” That his men would have to be tough and fearless went without saying; it was unrealistic to expect that such men would have the character of a saint. The “Southern Slav character,” as Hron saw it, had always proved itself in partisan warfare, provided that the command was in the right hands.

The Austrian army, as Hron and others had predicted, did have to fight enemy guerrilla units during the First World War, especially in Serbia. Their activities became fairly intensive in 1917. The chief organizer of the bands was Kosta Vojnovic, a Serbian army captain, later reinforced by Captain Pecanac who had been parachuted by air from Allied Headquarters in Saloniki. The Austrians coped with the problem by establishing small flying columns of about forty men and by organizing Turkish and Albanian counterguerrilla units. The detachments used by both sides were smaller than had been anticipated by the theorists, and horses — against expectations — were widely used. Allied Headquarters prepared a general rising behind the Austrian and Bulgarian lines in March 1917 which was to coincide with an Allied offensive. But the enterprise failed, partly because the secret was not well kept and partly because the insurgents were not sufficiently well armed.

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The German Army in The Ardennes 1914

Strategy and Tactics

The defeat of the French 4th Army by the German 4th Army in the Battle of the Frontiers spelled the failure of the French war plan. Combined with the Russian defeat at Tannenberg, the Entente strategy for simultaneous Russian and French attacks against Germany had also failed. French losses were far higher than German, and the resulting disparity in combat power meant that the French were not even able to hold the last significant terrain obstacle, the Meuse.

These victories were not accomplished by superior war planning or by operational excellence. The French had anticipated the German advance to the north of the Meuse and had devised an excellent means defeating it. The German advance through Belgium was hardly the thing of wonder that it has been made it out to be. That the French plan did not succeed, while the German plan did, had nothing to do with strategy, but was solely the product of German superiority at the tactical level.

There is a school of thought which maintains that the German ‘genius for war’ was the product of the excellence of the German Great General Staff, that is, German victories were due to superiority at the operational and particularly at the strategic levels. There is no evidence to be found for this proposition either in the Battle of the Frontiers as a whole or in the Ardennes on 22 August. The Chief of the General Staff, the younger Moltke, did nothing to give German planning operational coherence: the seven German armies acted virtually independently of each other. The German 5th Army attack plan for 22 August, written by a General Staff major general, left a corps-sized gap in the army centre that was not filled until late afternoon, and which nearly resulted in a French breakthrough, while the army right flank was hanging completely in the air. The 5th Army plan was not coordinated with the 4th Army. The 4th Army moved to the south on its own initiative at the last minute to cover the 5th Army right flank, in turn leaving the 4th Army’s own centre outnumbered and dangerously thin. Due to the 5th Army’s poorly thought-out attack, of the ten German corps in these two armies, two corps could only be brought into action late in the day and one not at all, while all the French corps were engaged. The only German senior officer to display sound operational ability in the Ardennes was the commander of the 4th Army, the Duke of Württemberg, a capable professional soldier but also the hereditary ruler of a German state and hardly the prototypical General Staff officer. But the real victors on 22 August in the Ardennes were the officers and soldiers of the divisions of the German 4th Army, which dealt the French 4th Army – the French main attack – the most stinging defeats in the entire Battle of the Frontiers.

The German Army

The German army’s 1906 infantry regulation presented an effective tactical doctrine based on the need to gain fire superiority as well as on offensive action based on fire and movement. German training in this doctrine was realistic and thorough, and concluded every year by several weeks of live-fire gunnery exercises and tactical problems conducted at MTA. French doctrine did not include the concept of fire superiority and the French did not have adequate training areas. German doctrine and training also emphasised the meeting engagement and individual initiative at the tactical level; the French, on the other hand, emphasised linear engagements tightly controlled at the division, corps and army levels.

The German army won the Battle of the Frontiers because of superior peacetime doctrine and training. German patrolling and reconnaissance were vastly superior to the French. In almost every instance, German reconnaissance provided excellent reports on French movements while blinding French cavalry reconnaissance. French air reconnaissance was largely ineffective in the forested Ardennes; the French senior headquarters formed an entirely erroneous impression of German movements and intentions. On 22 August none of the French divisions had any idea that major German forces were in their immediate vicinity.

On 22 August the two French armies were advancing to the northeast, while the two German armies were attacking to the west. All of the subsequent battles were meeting engagements. German units moved quickly and deployed smoothly. French movements suffered from friction and their deployment was slow and uncertain. Once engaged the Germans smothered the French with rifle, MG and artillery fire and gained fire superiority. If the Germans were on the defence, this fire stopped the French attack. If attacking, the Germans then closed with and destroyed the French infantry by fire and movement. Widespread myths notwithstanding, there were no trenches, and the only barbed wire encountered was that which the Belgian farmers used to fence in their livestock.

German Infantry

Prior to the war there had been considerable concern that the nerves of the troops would not stand up to the terrors of modern combat. As Otto von Moser noted, these battles proved beyond a doubt that the German troops were equal to the task. To Moser’s observations it must be added that the French troops were often not equal to the requirements of the modern battlefield; after a few hours of combat, most French units cracked. This was due to inadequacies in French training.

This was not to say that everything went flawlessly. In particular, the infantry often attacked without waiting for the fire support of MG and artillery to soften the enemy up. Losses were even higher than the most sobering peacetime projections: in Moser’s units more than a third of the officers and nearly a third of the enlisted men became casualties on 22 August. But French casualties were even higher. As The commander of the 25 ID, speaking of IR 116 and IR 117 at Anloy, said:

‘In spite of these (terrain) difficulties, in spite of the casualties and the intense enemy fire our troops worked their way forwards. As was characteristic of our men at this time, they got the bit in their teeth and pushed forward, which cost us a great many casualties … Nevertheless! Who would dare to criticise the wonderful aggressive spirit of our soldiers?’

In the battle the general was describing, the terrain was very close and the action was taking place at 400m range or less. Artillery support was practically impossible. Using fire and movement, the German troops pushed back the French, one terrain feature at a time. There were no ‘bayonet charges’. The German infantry simply kept on battering the French, undeterred by casualties.

The performance of the German infantry on 22 August 1914 was exceptional, the result of high morale, intelligent doctrine, effective training and excellent leadership.

German Artillery

The commander of the VI RK listed the common complaints about the performance of the German artillery. The infantry pushed quickly forward and the artillery was too slow to keep up. The German artillery was especially slow in occupying covered positions. The result was that the German artillery often fired into its own infantry. The French gun had a maximum effective range 2,000m greater than the German gun. The French artillery was better trained and more tactically proficient; the French operated flexibly, by batteries, the Germans employed clumsy three-battery sections.

Most of these criticisms seem to have been coloured by experiences later in the Marne campaign. During the French withdrawal, their artillery was very effective as a rear-guard. During the battle of the Marne the French emptied their magazines, firing prodigious quantities of shells that smothered the German infantry.

But during the meeting engagements on 22 August in the Ardennes the German artillery was almost always superior to the French. If it was sometimes slow to get into action, the French artillery was slower. The Germans were usually able to fight combined-arms battles; the French infantry was often destroyed before the French artillery got into action. The Germans frequently brought individual guns right into the skirmisher line, where they provided highly effective fire support at point-blank range; the French never did so. The German light and heavy howitzers proved their worth.

Both the German and the French artillery soon discovered that frequently the terrain did not provide observation of enemy positions. Rather than do nothing, both artilleries employed unobserved area fire (Streufeuer) against suspected enemy locations. This was not provided for in either the French or German pre-war artillery doctrines, because it was felt to be ineffective and wasteful of ammunition. However, both sides used it from the first day of combat on, and to good effect.

German Cavalry

German doctrine emphasised that cavalry needed to be aggressive during the battle in developing opportunities to both participate in the battle as well as to operate against the enemy flank and rear. Doctrine also stated that cavalry was the arm best suited to conduct pursuit.

While the 3 KD and 6 KD had been very effective in the reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance roles before the battle, during the battle they accomplished nothing. The 3 KD commander decided that the terrain prevented the division from accomplishing anything and resigned himself to inactivity. 6 KD was used to guard the army left flank. Neither division conducted a pursuit, either on 22 or 23 August, although the Colonial Corps would seem to have offered a fine target for 3 KD and the right flank of the French VI CA an even better target for 6 KD.

It appears that the cavalry learned during the approach march that a mounted man presented a fine target and that even small groups of infantry were capable of blocking cavalry movement. By 22 August the senior cavalry commanders were thoroughly intimidated: they avoided serious contact and were unwilling to attempt to move large bodies of cavalry anywhere that they might be subject to small arms or artillery fire. Coupled with the unimaginative operations of the 5th Army headquarters, the timidity of the cavalry leaders cost the cavalry the opportunity to have made a major impact in the battle.

Command and Control

The German army discovered that modern means of communications were unreliable, an observation that would be repeated by practically every subsequent army. This included the telephones that connected army headquarters to OHL, which utilised the seemingly infallible civilian telephone net. As Crown Prince Wilhelm complained, the telephones became so overloaded with traffic that the command and control system at times broke down completely. Nevertheless, German reporting was good and with the exception of the breakdown between V AK and XIII AK German senior HQs kept each other informed.

Liebmann’s Evaluation of German Doctrine and Training

In his study of how German doctrine and training withstood the test of combat in 1914, Liebmann concluded that ‘In 1914, none of our enemies possessed a doctrine which was superior in combat to that of the German army, even though we must acknowledge that German doctrine had weaknesses’.

‘Foremost among these errors was a failure to recognise the effect of firepower, even though German doctrine was based on firepower … It must also be recognised that even the most conscientious preparation in peacetime does not insulate against similar errors.’

‘The German infantry proved itself to be superior to that of the enemy. Its high morale and discipline and its powerful offensive spirit, the product of its traditions and decades of training, allowed it in many cases to simply overrun the enemy infantry’. But Liebmann said that this superiority applied only to mobile warfare, and contended that attacks later in the war against a prepared enemy defence failed disastrously.

Liebmann said that conducting the firefight with thick skirmisher lines was effective and that the casualties incurred were acceptable as were forward bounds by individuals or by squads. Casualties only became serious when long lines bounded forward or entire fronts conducted assaults. And although the German army emphasised fire superiority, gaining and using it in actual practice proved difficult. A much more serious deficiency in German doctrine and training was the failure to recognise the difficulties in infantry–artillery cooperation. In German exercises the problem was glossed over. On the other hand, the German cavalry performed its reconnaissance function everywhere with distinction.

Global Positioning System (GPS)

For thousands of years, sailors found their way over vast seas by using a sextant to measure the angle between the horizon and heavenly bodies like the sun and the moon. Such measures told longitude and latitude, invaluable for determining the position of a ship. In the late twentieth century, these methods changed. Modern sailors use a navigation system that relies on satellites — artificial celestial bodies — to find their way. Navigation satellites launched by the U.S. Air Force circle the globe, sending radio signals that are “translated” by a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver. GPS receivers are now standard in many handheld devices, like smartphones and tablets, and are included in many car dashboards to help drivers navigate highways and city streets.

Beyond its everyday use, GPS has become the U.S. military’s “backbone for its battlefield communications system.” Operation DESERT STORM, the second phase of the Gulf War, was the first conflict in which GPS was widely used. During the Gulf War, there was a “maximum of one receiver per company of 180 men.” Ten years later, in the Iraq War, there were “more than 100,000 Precision Lightweight GPS Receivers . . . for the land forces and at least one per nine-man squad.”

At the time of DESERT STORM, GPS relied on a “constellation” of twenty-seven satellites (twenty-four in operation and three spares) that circled the earth at an elevation of about twelve thousand miles in four evenly spaced orbits, making two complete orbits every day. There are now thirty-two satellites, allowing for even better reception, with six visible at any one time. Each satellite weighs between three thousand and four thousand pounds and orbits the earth at about nine thousand miles per hour, broadcasting a signal with two bits of information: the precise time on its atomic clock and the satellite’s exact location. A GPS receiver then uses simultaneous readings from three different satellites to determine its longitude and latitude, or its exact location on the earth. GPS needs to be equipped with mapping software that can read the information from the satellite and plot location and movement.

It was this GPS mapping ability that allowed the troops and equipment of the Coalition forces to move so confidentially without regard to road signs or physical markers. The Iraqis were amazed that the enemy could “own the night” and move through adverse weather conditions, such as sandstorms. The U.S. military found GPS to be a “godsend for ground troops traversing the desert, especially in the frequent sandstorms. . . . Tank crews and drivers of all sorts of vehicles swore by the system.” But the usefulness of GPS extended beyond actual combat. Even trucks carrying meals to the troops were GPS-equipped, allowing drivers to “find and feed soldiers of frontline units widely dispersed among the dunes.”

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While the wars in Korea and Vietnam were fought, as the U.S. military believed, to block the spread of Communism and “win the hearts and minds” of the people in countries the U.S. thought it was helping, the Gulf War of 1990–1991 was about something more tangible — essential, in fact, for the world to function: oil. It began after an attempt by Iraq’s president, Saddam Hussein, to control a large share of the oil flowing from the Middle East.

Unlike the wars in Korea and Vietnam, deception played a significant part in the war against Iraq. However, the use of overwhelming firepower as the cornerstone of overall strategy did not change. The war began with a prolonged period of aerial bombardment. Nevertheless, the ground war hinged on the use of deception.

There were a number of factors that led the U.S. military to use deception in the Gulf War. First of all, the war involved a relatively small geographic area. Kuwait covers about seven thousand square miles, roughly the size of New Jersey. While the entire war wasn’t fought in Kuwait, it was limited to an area around this small country. A related consideration was the fact that the war was fought in a flat and open desert, a far cry from the mountains of Korea or the jungles of Vietnam.

Further, the U.S. had a firm conviction that, if Coalition troops could neutralize the Iraqi air force and pull off a battlefield deception, they would then have the upper hand in a ground war. The war, the U.S. military reasoned, could conclude in relatively short order, certainly nothing like the three years in Korea or the roughly twenty years in Vietnam. A short war would mean limited casualties. As General Barry McCaffrey said, “The whole notion is to bypass the enemy’s strengths and reduce the amount of bloodshed to us and to them.”

Finally, advanced technology made it easier for U.S. soldiers to deliver a knockout punch to the Iraqi army. The Global Positioning System (GPS) proved especially critical in pulling off deception in the desert.

When the Iraqis invaded Kuwait in 1990, the U.S. and other world powers were worried that if Saddam Hussein controlled the oil in Kuwait, he might next invade Saudi Arabia, a longtime friend of the U.S. If Saudi Arabia then fell, Iraq would control 20 percent of the world’s oil supply. U.S. president George H. W. Bush would not let that stand. In the five years prior to the war, U.S. oil consumption had crept steadily higher, from 15.7 thousand barrels per day to 17.3 thousand barrels per day. The Gulf War began with rhetoric and accusations, and ended with a remarkable one hundred hours of ground combat.

Trench Warfare in Korea

7th Infantry Division trenches, July 1953

Fighting with the 2nd Inf. Div. north of the Chongchon River, Sfc. Major Cleveland, weapons squad leader, points out communist-led North Korean position to his machine gun crew. November 20, 1950. Pfc. James Cox. (Army)
NARA FILE #: 111-SC-353469
WAR & CONFLICT BOOK #: 1426

During the Korean War, first in the fighting on the Pusan perimeter from August to September, then, following the Chinese intervention in November, during the bitter fighting of the Battle of the River Imjin in April 1951. Finally, stalemate developed in May 1951 when the UN forces ceased offensive operations just north of the 38th Parallel. Trench warfare subsequently became an unexpected mode of fighting for the next two years. The Chinese mounted several offensives against the UN forces during this period. Battles such as Heartbreak Ridge, which lasted a month from 13 September to 15 October 1951, and Pork Chop Hill, which went on for four times as long from 23 March to 16 July 1953, were not about seizing territory or about defeating UN forces militarily were strategic operations with a political component, designed to influence the negotiations to end the fighting and resolve the question of who controlled Korea. These talks began in July 1951 and continued until 27 July 1953 when a ceasefire came into force. The war has never ended although the ceasefire has been upheld.

After the Communist invasion of the south, the final line of defence was the enforced perimeter around the city of Pusan on the south-eastern corner of the Korean peninsular. Here, the battle for Korea would be won or lost. Everyone, including civilians, was pressed into digging slit trenches and anti-tank obstacles. Whenever the North Koreans came up against the perimeter, which they tended to do piecemeal rather than in a coherent assault, the defenders fought them off in a series of bloody encounters in which the latter were little more than a disparate and ad hoc collection of survivors of the retreat down Korea. Ammunition was short and men tended to drift away from their posts on the defence line, knowing the North Koreans were close. The perimeter was not a continuous line of dug-in troops and armour but rather a series of outposts at strategic points such as road junctions, some little more than a machine-gun and a section of infantry. The key to survival and to defeating the invaders was not allowing these defence islands to dissolve into a general withdrawal when the enemy infiltrated past them, but for the outposts to stand their ground and wait for a counter-attack to deal with the incursion. This was the same principal that had been employed by the Germans on the Western Front from about 1916 onwards and especially in 1917 during the Allied assaults on the Hindenburg Line. The difference in Korea was the heavy presence of reliable and effective tanks on both sides and the considerable air power at the disposal of the UN forces. While the fluid use of reserves to plug gaps, acting as a fire brigade to deal with emergencies, was undoubtedly crucial to the successful defence of the Pusan perimeter, nevertheless, the defence was very much in the spirit of large-scale trench warfare in that it employed similar tactics.

The Battle of the Imjin in April 1951 occurred after the UN forces had mounted an amphibious assault at Inchon and pushed the North Koreans all the way to the border with China. The Chinese intervened and pushed the UN forces back again. During one of the last Chinese offensives before the start of ceasefire talks, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) struck hard and without warning at the UN forces north of the 38th Parallel. Some UN troops, such as the British 29th Brigade on the Imjin, became surrounded. A similar situation developed around the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, to the east of the British, who had to be supplied by air drop, a contingency that was first employed in the First World War in 1918. The 29th Brigade, who held the hills through which the River Imjin flowed, were dispersed in strongpoints on hilltops, each separated by a few miles and thus independent of each other but supported by the 25-pounders of 45 Field Regiment, Royal Artillery. Each regimental unit in the Brigade, all of them infantry, held its own hill, the defensive line covering some 7.5 miles. This was a questionable tactical defence, given the fact that the battalion strongpoints could not support each other because they were too far apart. Each position comprised a series of well-dug trenches, foxholes and bunkers, with mortar pits and machine-gun positions sited to give maximum fire support, and arranged by company. While each strongpoint was set out to provide supportive crossfire, the defensive perimeters were open towards the rear and thus vulnerable to encirclement. No barbed wire or anti-personnel mines were available so vigilance was essential and, with that in mind, once contact had been made with PLA soldiers on 22 April, the British had 50 per cent of the Brigade on stand-to during the hours of darkness.

The three divisions of the 63rd Army of the PLA infiltrated across the Imjin and cut between the isolated British strongpoints to attack simultaneously the Northumberland Fusiliers, the Gloucesters and the Belgian infantry battalion that was part of the 29th Brigade during the following night. Initially, the Chinese probed forward with mortar fire but this was merely a preliminary to the infantry assault. Some Chinese even managed to infiltrate among the British trenches in the darkness. Under cover of long-range machine-gun fire, the waves of PLA soldiers crawled to within 10 yards of the British trenches, then threw themselves forward firing submachine-guns and throwing grenades. Wave after wave continued the assault after it became light. Captain Anthony Farrar-Hockley described the fight:

Someone is throwing grenades, and they are throwing them at us. Here comes another one: a small, dark object against the background of blue sky, its wooden handle turning over and over as it begins the descent on to our positions. It falls near Master’s slit-trench; he ducks for a moment as it explodes … Another grenade rises suddenly into the air.

Some Chinese had stayed behind after the last assault on the Gloucesters and concealed themselves behind some felled trees some 15 yards in front of the Gloucesters’ trenches.

Three of us draw the pins from our Mills grenades, three arms draw back for the throw, three arms come up and over. We take cover as the grenades drop to the ground beyond the tree trunk where we suspect the enemy lies.

This exchange of grenades in which one PLA soldier was killed by the grenades and another shot as he tried to break cover took no more than a few minutes. Grenade fighting, bombing as it would have been termed in the First World War, was typical of trench warfare. This also illustrated the relative lethalities of the Chinese and British grenades. The British No. 36 was one of the most lethal grenades ever devised.

While they suffered heavy casualties, the PLA also caused a significant number of losses among the British troops. Eventually, the British were forced back to new positions which, the following night, were attacked in the same way. In the end, the survivors had no choice but to withdraw. Many of the Gloucesters became prisoners because the 1st Battalion had been cut off.

While this battle, one of the best-known engagements of the war, is usually described in terms of a last stand, it was a trench warfare battle in that the Chinese attacked entrenched static positions. The Chinese tactics and their lack of artillery and air support made this an infantry battle. Had the deployment of the four battalions of the 29th Brigade been such that the strongpoints could have provided supportive fire to each other, the Chinese, who were estimated to have lost 10,000 men in the fighting, would have been faced with a much more formidable obstacle. Given the lack of UN air support and heavy artillery available to the 29th Brigade on the Imjin, it would have made sense to have taken more notice of the principals of defence in depth employed on the Western Front in the First World War. As it was, the 29th Brigade was dispersed in a piecemeal fashion, fought hard and lost.

The Battle of Pork Chop Hill, fought two years later under very different circumstances, was a battle in the trench warfare mould. In many respects, it was little different from the smaller offensives that focused on strongpoints on the Western Front in the First World War. There were, in fact, two battles for Pork Chop Hill, fought a few months apart. Pork Chop Hill was an outpost in the Iron Triangle astride the 38th Parallel and part of the defensive line held by UN forces following the cessation of mobile warfare in Korea. Other than the fact that it was an outpost, the US position on Pork Chop Hill had little military significance. Nevertheless, the US troops who seized and occupied the Hill in October 1951 dug trenches and built bunkers on it to turn the position into a strongpoint, purely for defensive reasons. Nothing much happened for the next two years. Then, in March 1953, the Chinese attacked and took the nearby outpost of Old Baldy, which left the US forces on Pork Chop Hill exposed on three sides. Although PLA patrols tested the defences and the resolve of the defenders of Pork Chop Hill each night for the next three weeks, the Chinese did not mount an attack until 16 April when a short but intense artillery bombardment preceded an infantry assault which pushed the Americans off the hill. Some US troops fought on in isolated bunkers but the hill was now in Chinese hands.

With the loss of Pork Chop Hill, the Americans launched an unsuccessful counter-attack on 17 April, followed by a second, this time successful, counterattack the next day, supported by US artillery and mortars which fired approximately 20,000 shells on to the hill. Over the course of two days, US artillery fired 77,000 rounds. The PLA fired a similar number of shells so that Pork Chop Hill was pounded very heavily during the fighting. When the Chinese were dislodged, they mounted counter-attacks to take back what they had lost but failed to push the Americans off this time. The fighting was very much of the type seen on the Western Front in 1917 and 1918, with heavy preparatory bombardments, followed by infiltration into the enemy-held positions. Much of the fighting was hand-to-hand. The occupants of bunkers had to be attacked using techniques similar to those devised during the First World War, modified only insofar as to take into account the greater use of automatic weapons in 1953 compared to 1918. The hand grenade was still one of the essential tools. The US troops had access to what the British had termed SOS fire in the First World War, that is, pre-registered artillery fire to hit their own positions in the event of a break-in, but which had been discontinued by 1918. It had been found to be more likely to cause friendly casualties and waste ammunition than to dislodge the enemy from the position. This was especially true of the fighting on Pork Chop Hill, which was very confused.

The conclusion of this fighting left the US troops in possession and, during May and June, they set about rebuilding and reinforcing the defences. Then, on 6 July, the PLA launched yet another major assault on Pork Chop Hill. Again, the fighting was hand-to-hand trench warfare of the sort typical of the Western Front thirty-five years earlier. To make matters worse, it was the monsoon season and for three days the fighting was in torrential rain. This was a replay of the battle a few months earlier, this time with five battalions of the US 7th Division, instead of a few companies, against two PLA divisions instead one battalion. While the second battle was more intense than the first, it followed a similar pattern to its predecessor, with both sides constantly counter-attacking each other, both sides pounding the hill with artillery and mortar fire, until the commander of the US I Corps decided that enough was enough and withdrew the US companies from Pork Chop Hill, which they left under fire.

If any two battles in any war could be described as pointless, these must surely qualify since Pork Chop Hill had no strategic or tactical significance. However, the ferocity of the fighting and the fact that the UN had not abandoned Pork Chop Hill at the outset, convinced the Chinese that the war and the fighting would continue if a ceasefire was not agreed upon at the talks that were underway at the time of the assaults on Pork Chop Hill. Moreover, a Chinese tactical victory at this stage was politically unacceptable as it would have given the Communists greater bargaining power. In this sense, the battles were far from pointless. Indeed, a ceasefire was agreed within two weeks of the US troops leaving Pork Chop Hill. As was often the case in battles with the Chinese, the casualties were disproportionate. While 243 of the 7th Division were killed in action and another 916 were wounded, the Chinese lost 5,500 men of whom 1,500 were killed in action. The US casualties in April had been about one-third of those in July but the July fighting had gone on for longer and involved many more troops.

Perhaps, the clearest example of trench warfare in Korea was the fighting at the Hook in October and November 1952 and in May 1953. This curving ridge above the River Samichon near the west coast of Korea was part of the static defensive line held by the UN forces since the end of offensive operations in 1951. Like the other posts along this line, the Hook was fortified with trenches and bunkers. It was first occupied by the US 7th Marines who fought off a Chinese assault on 26 October 1952. The Hook was then occupied by the 1st Black Watch of the Commonwealth Division, who reinforced the defences. Barely a month after the first assault, the Chinese launched a second one on 18 November. Again the defenders successfully fought off the Chinese. By the time of the third assault in May 1953, by far the largest battle of the three, the defences had been reinforced further so that the position closely resembled a strongpoint on the Western Front.

A network of trenches followed the contours of the slopes of the ridge, with bunkers, weapon pits and observation posts dotted along their trace, the whole site being arranged for all-round defence. And like many trenches of the First World War, those in the Hook were infested with rats. Underground passageways, like those constructed by the Japanese on Iwo Jima towards the end of the Second World War, connected the trenches below ground, acting in the same capacity as the communication trenches of the First World War. The bunkers were reinforced with concrete lintels, courtesy of the Royal Engineers, to make them bomb-proof. The position was heavily wired and, when the Chinese eventually attacked, many of them were caught in the entanglements, much as soldiers had been caught in the barbed wire in the First World War. Indeed, for the Chinese to reach the British trenches, now manned by 1st Battalion the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment which consisted mostly of National Service conscripts, they had first to cut the wire entanglements. Yet, there was much dead ground below the ridge line due to the many gullies that lay between the spurs of the ridge. It was up these gullies that the Chinese attacked in May 1953.

An important aspect of the defence of the Hook was the defensive fire plan whereby UN artillery would pound the slopes in the event of an attack. At the same time, machine-guns were sited to sweep the slopes with interlocking fire zones, although these could not engage the dead ground. Without artillery support, the Hook would not have been defendable. The effect of artillery and machine-guns on the waves of Chinese was predictable and they suffered very high casualties.

Like so many battles, the third battle of the Hook opened with an intense artillery bombardment by the Chinese which lasted until well into the night. Indeed, so intense was the shelling that many of the forward positions of the Hook were obliterated. The UN guns responded with counter-battery fire and the result was a prolonged and sustained artillery duel. A little before 8.00 pm, the Chinese launched their assault up the gullies and into the first line of trenches, of which little now remained. The whole topography of the landscape was altered by the weight of 10,000 Chinese shells. The survivors of the 1st Battalion fought back but were overwhelmed. The Chinese threw satchel charges into the tunnels and bunkers. Much of the fighting was again hand-to-hand. British reinforcements arrived to hold the Chinese before another wave of assaults was launched.

This time, the Chinese were met with concentrated small-arms and machine-gun fire, as well as mortar fire. UN artillery destroyed a Chinese battalion forming up below the Hook to make another assault. Nevertheless, a third Chinese assault was made from another direction around midnight. This was met with withering fire and, although Chinese troops managed to get in among the British trenches, the Dukes progressed systematically along their trenches bombing the Chinese out. Not since the First World War had bombing been undertaken from trench to trench as it was in the Hook. And once again, the lethal effectiveness of the Mills No. 36 was shown to be superior to the concussive blast grenades favoured by the Chinese. There were instances of Chinese grenades exploding very close to British troops and wounding them, whereas the No. 36 killed under such circumstances because of the large number of lethal fragments it produced on detonation.

What is perhaps surprising is the low level of British casualties given the intensity of the Chinese bombardment and their persistent assaults on the Dukes. While estimates of the number of the Chinese killed and wounded in the course of the third battle suggest that between 1,500 and 2,000 may have died, most of them to the defensive artillery fire of the UN forces, the Dukes and supporting units suffered only twenty-four fatalities, while 105 men were wounded and another twenty were unaccounted for, probably becoming prisoners. Although well-entrenched troops can inflict such casualties on an attacker, the level of Chinese casualties suggests that, apart from a lack of concern for how many men they lost, their tactics were unsuited to assaults on well-defended positions. Indeed, it is tempting to suggest that had they taken the trouble to study the First World War, the evolution of frontal assaults and the role of artillery bombardments, the Chinese would have devised much more effective tactics in Korea. As it was, they neither learned from the past nor from their own experience and continued to make the same mistakes. While their massed-wave tactics could overwhelm less robust troops, and especially troops who had no cover, to apply such tactics in trench warfare was a recipe for failure. And, indeed, none of the Chinese assaults on the UN positions along the defence line across Korea succeeded. Moreover, their own trenches on the other side of no-man’s-land were too shallow and too weak to serve as more than jumping-off points for assaults.

The period of stalemate that lasted from mid-1951 to mid-1953 was marked by Chinese assaults across no-man’s-land on UN positions. The techniques of trench warfare which might have been applied in this phase of the war were not considered by the UN forces, although their defensive strongpoints often reflected the lessons of the First World War. However, tactics of trench fighting at the small-unit level had to be reinvented as they had not been taught for several decades. It is significant, however, that when the Dukes came to fight down their trenches to remove the Chinese from the Hook, they used similar tactics to those taught in 1917. That this was possible shows that the techniques of fighting in the 1950s, while not specifically related to trench warfare, were much more flexible to the specific demands of the situation than had been the tactics of 1914. That the infantry of the 1920s and afterwards were trained in the use of all infantry weapons, from rifle and bayonet to grenade and machine-gun, was down to the experience of the First World War. These factors enabled most UN troops to adapt to the demands of trench fighting, while the Chinese seem to have ignored them and relied solely on firepower and weight of numbers to achieve their aims. When it came to trench warfare, they were not successful.

The Seven Years’ War – Sharpshooters

Tensions between France and England ignited in 1754 when an expedition led by a young George Washington attacked and killed a French diplomat near Fort Duquesne (Pittsburgh). Retreating to a nearby meadow, Washington built a palisade fort, Fort Necessity, and awaited the retaliatory force composed of the French and their Indian allies. Ignoring the advice of his Indian ally to ambush them while they were approaching, Washington instead chose to fight in the open and anticipated the French would do the same. Instead the French and Indians remained in the woods and picked off Washington’s Virginians. They fought back the best they could but when ammunition ran low and casualties mounted, Washington had to surrender. Washington unwittingly signed surrender terms that admitted that he had assassinated the French diplomat. In the wake of these incidents, a world war erupted that was fought not only in North America but also in the Caribbean, Europe, and India.

To recapture Fort Duquesne, Britain dispatched General Edward Braddock along with two regiments: the 44th East Essex and 48th Northamptonshire. Totaling 1,440 officers and men, they were supported by Washington’s 450 colonials. Within a short march of Fort Duquesne, Braddock’s column collided with a force half their size composed of French marines, Canadians, and their Indian allies on the Monongahela River. Standing exposed in their linear formations, the British fired off volleys as the Canadians and Indians melted into the woods. Indian fighting tactics were adapted from communal hunts and this enabled them to coordinate their attacks even when multi-tribal groups fought alongside one another.

Applied in warfare, they enjoyed a mobility unsurpassed by any European army. Using their field craft, they seemingly disappeared only to suddenly reappear elsewhere to pick off an opponent. After four hours of fighting and having seen many of their comrades and officers shot, panic spread among the ranks and men began to flee in terror. Those who stood their ground poured un-aimed volleys into their comrades or the air while the Indians hid behind bushes, trees, rocks or in depressions in the ground. The proud little army that had marched confidently into the wilderness suffered 46 percent casualties, with 456 killed and 421 wounded. Braddock was mortally wounded, remarking before dying, “We shall better know how to deal with them another time.”

Blame can neither be placed totally on the soldiers nor Braddock since no formal training of the period could prepare them for forest warfare. The lessons were not lost and the British army began adapting itself by raising light infantry and, from among the colonists, rangers who would scout and screen the army better. Men were taught to seek cover (“Tree all”) and to aim at marks. Before the war, linear formations ensured an officer of his command and control over his men and they were loath to depart from the practice. Adopting open formations was quite a novel concept. Finally a limited number of rifles were distributed.

Results were not immediate but during the landing to capture Louisbourg in 1758, the 78th Fraser Highlanders came under fire. Sergeant Thompson recalled the incident:

During the landing at Louisberg there was a rascal of a savage on top of a high rock that kept firing at the Boats as they came within his reach, and he kill’d volunteer Fraser of our Regiment who, in order to get his shilling instead of six pence a day, was acting, like myself as a sergeant, he was a very genteel young man and was to have commison’d the first vacancy. There sat next to Fraser in the boat, a silly fellow of a Highlander, but who was a good marksman for all that, and not withstanding that there was a positive order not to fire a shot during the landing, he couldn’t resist this temptation of having a slap at the Savage. So the silly fellow levels his fuzee at him and in spite of the unsteadiness of the boat, for it was blowing hard at the time, ’afaith he brought him tumbling down like a sack into the water as the matter so turned out, there was not a word said about it, but had it been otherwise he would have had his back scratch’d if not something worse.

After landing, 550 of the best marksmen were drawn from the available units and organized into a provisional light infantry battalion. As sharpshooters, they suppressed the defenders during the construction of the siege works. After the siege guns were mounted in the third parallel, Louisbourg surrendered.

Sergeant Thompson survived and became part of the garrison of Quebec after its capture by General James Wolfe. In the spring of 1760, when a French force arrived to retake it, the reduced British army marched out to meet it. They were defeated and began to retreat to the safety of Quebec’s walls. One French column threatened to cut off the retreat and Thompson recalls the shot that prevented it:

On the way I fell in with a Captain Moses Hazen, a Jew, who commanded a company of Rangers, and who was so badly wounded, that his servant who had to carry him away was obliged to rest him on the ground at every twenty or thirty yards, owing to the great pain he endured. This intrepid fellow observing that there was a solid column of the French coming on over the high ground and headed by an officer who was some distance in advance of the column, he ask’d his servant if his fuzee was still loaded (the Servant opens the pans, and finds that it was still prim’d). “Do you see,” says Captain Hazen, “that rascal there, waving his sword to encourage those fellows to come forward?” “yes,” says the Servant, “I do Sir.” “Then,” says the Captain again, “just place your back against mine for one moment, till I see if I can bring him down.” He accordingly stretch’d himself on the ground, and resting the muzzle of his fuzee on his toes he let drive at the French officer. I was standing close behind him, and I thought it perfect madness in his attempt. However, away went the charge after him, and ’afaith down he was flat in an instant! Both the Captain and myself were watching for some minutes under an idea that “altho” he had laid down, he might take it into his head to get up again, but no, the de’il a get up and did he get, it was the best shot I ever saw, and the moment he fell, the whole column he was leading on, turn’d about and decamp’d off, leaving him to follow as well as he might! I couldn’t help telling the Captain that he had made a capital shot, and I related to him the affair of the foolish fellow of our Grenadiers who shot the Savage at the landing at Louisberg, altho’ the distance was great and the rolling of the boat so much against his taking a steady aim. “Oh,” says Captain Hazen, “you know that a chance shot will kill the devil himself!”

Captain Hazen survived and rose to brigadier general in the Continental Army during the Revolution.

Elsewhere in Europe the German jägers distinguished themselves at Minden (1759). Hanoverian General von Freytag dispatched some jäger companies to the passes between Minden and Bückeburg to harass the French. There they killed many Frenchmen until a heavy rain put an end to the shooting. Lieutenant Colonel George Hangar tells of an incident along the road from Minden to Hesse Cassel, where the Hessian and Hanoverian jägers were deployed in a very thick wood:

The French were obligated to form one regiment, in their line, directly facing this wood, where the jägers were stationed. The jägers made such havoc amongst this French regiment, that the colours were at last forced to be held by serjeants, and even corporals. There were but very few of their officers who were not killed or wounded. The jägers were not above two hundred yards from them, and were flanked, both on their right and left, by strong battalions of the line. The French were at last compelled to bring up six pieces of cannon, loaded with grape, to clear the woods of jägers. I had a man in my company, in the Hessian jägers, in America, who was the son of a jäger, supposed to be one of the very best shots among those engaged at Minden. His comrades had such an opinion of his shooting, that six or seven men handed their rifles to him, as he stood behind a large tree, continually keeping them loaded for him to fire, so that he could fire several shots in one minute. When the cannon were brought up, his comrades desired him to come away; but he said he would stay, and have one shot more; a grape-shot struck him, and killed him. The French were so incensed that day against the jägers, that a few of them which they took, wounded, in the retreat, for the German forces were beaten, they buried up to their chins in the ground, and left them to die.

While the rifle was slowly gaining acceptance as a specialized weapon to be used by light troops, the war’s conclusion did not see its universal adoption. The British Army returned its rifles to storage at the war’s conclusion and for the most part, forgot the lessons learned.

Japanese Submarines WWII Missed Opportunities?!

The submarines of the Japanese Navy consisted of some of the most capable in the world at the beginning of World War II. All the submarines built from the outset for operations in the war significantly outranged the submarines of the Allies navies. The range advantage provided the ability to operate at extreme distance from home port or maintain a long on-station time in a given area. Subsequently, the Japanese were able to apply their influence further and longer than other submarine forces. Along with the superior operational reach of the submarines, excellent torpedoes were provided that had a long range and powerful warheads.

The Japanese technological advantage did not wane during the course of the war. It diverged to three different branches: large, small, and fast. The Japanese used their skill to build the largest submarines in the world (Sen Toku Type) as well as some of the most capable small submarines (kaiten and other midgets). Most impressive of all of their designs, however, is the Sen Taka Sho Type medium attack submarine that had an acceptable cruising range coupled with outstanding underwater speed. Had more of these submarines reached operational status earlier, the American forces would have had a unique foe on their hands.

Even with the technological advantages of their designs, the Japanese submarines did suffer from a lack of resources that placed limits on the number of submarines that could be built and on the timeliness of the build process. Also, the Japanese did have a significant delay in developing and installing radar on their submarines. While it was a deficiency, it would not have had significant influence if the focus on operational security had been stronger.

The training of Japanese submarine crews was without equal. The submarines spent long periods of time out at sea constantly practicing elements of the plan for a decisive battle. The intense training periods had such a level of realism that three submarines were lost in prewar training accidents. The training was not without fault however. The overarching focus on the submarine role in the “decisive battle” limited the growth of submarine force capabilities. The overall training gave minimal consideration to key aspects of submarine operations: surveillance, commerce raiding, and sea control (area denial).

Based on the mystique of the German Submarine Force and the results of the American Submarine Force, it would be easy to jump to the idea that had the Japanese Submarine Force strictly applied a strategy of commerce raiding it would have had a greater impact on the war in the Pacific. This argument is too simplistic and discounts the enemy that each respective country was targeting. Japan and Britain, as targets of America and Germany respectively, were island countries dependent on long lines of communication for necessary resources and forces to fight the war. These lines were vulnerable to the focus of intense submarine efforts. Both America (in the Pacific) and Germany were also faced with the lack of a strong surface fleet to conduct offensive operations. The Germans were held in port by a combination of factors, and the American Pacific Fleet was attempting to rebuild after Pearl Harbor. As such, commerce raiding against fragile lines of communication was their only recourse.

The Japanese faced a far different situation at the outset of the war. They had built a large fleet focused on a single strategy. They had a single opponent to be concerned with and that same opponent did not have the immediate ability to attack their nation. The Pacific Ocean provided a strategic safety buffer from American forces. The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor reduced the effective combat power of the American Fleet and put them immediately in a defensive posture. The American Navy was not altogether prepared to face the Japanese and an early focus on commerce raiding would have not been able to have an influence similar to that which the American submarines achieved. The Japanese, for all of their superiority in submarine technology, would not have been able to influence the American East Coast. While forces could be moved to act against the West Coast, the force size was too small to carry out effective operations to limit commerce or other operations on the East Coast. Further, there was no method to influence the natural resources available in America proper.

While the focus on a single decisive battle that was unattainable was short-sighted, the understanding that the Japanese Navy needed to focus on American military strength was not improper. The submarine force, as well as the rest of the Navy, was constructed for naval engagement not commerce raiding. The true failure of the force was not to focus its efforts on the opportunities that presented themselves. Pearl Harbor, Midway and Guadalcanal all presented themselves as opportunities for potentially decisive actions. In all three actions, the number of American aircraft carriers available in the Pacific was limited and the ability of the American Navy to conduct continued combat operations was at risk. The Japanese submarine force, based on direction from the Navy Staff, scattered its units to various other theaters away from the major battles, mainly the Aleutians and Indian Ocean.

Had the Japanese submarine force maintained the full cordon around Pearl Harbor after the 7 December attack, they could have effectively maintained ten or more submarines on station continuously when based out of Kwajalein. The size of the Japanese submarine force (capitalizing on significant operational range of the large designs) could have significantly slowed the resupply and rebuilding of Pearl Harbor and denied the American Navy its last key strategic outpost in the Pacific forcing them to extend their lines of communication and operation for any effort against the Japanese a few thousand more miles all the way back to the American West Coast. American operations from the West Coast would have been more vulnerable to the Japanese fleet.

An effective blockade of Pearl Harbor had the potential to expose it to an amphibious invasion which would have further challenged the American ability to recover from the initial attacks and generate offensive initiative.

Had the Japanese submarine force applied the principles of mass and unity of effort to their employment of forces at Midway and Guadalcanal, the operational submarine units in the areas of these battles would have been tripled posing a far greater risk to the American forces. The larger number of units at Midway would have increased the opportunity of early detection of American forces, specifically the aircraft carriers, potentially allowing the Japanese carriers to focus their effort against the American task forces prior to attacking Midway proper. This employment would have more closely met the training that the submarine force underwent during the interwar period potentially raising effectiveness as well.

The Japanese submarine force continued to deny the principle of mass in operations during the American invasion of Guadalcanal. Submarines were still deployed to various marginally important areas rather than the area of Guadalcanal. The small number of submarines assigned to the Guadalcanal area was further diverted from the potential decisive battle by being tasked to conduct supply operations instead of attempting to thwart the invasion and buildup. The respect shown by the American forces for the submarine threat could have been taken advantage of by a larger effort focused on them. Instead, the opportunity to stall the American advance in the South Pacific was given little direct attention while effort was applied to meaningless supply operations and Aleutian and Indian Ocean excursions.

Even as the opportunity for the handful of critical battles passed and the Japanese were placed firmly on the defensive, proper employment of the submarines could have still brought considerable results. The Japanese submarine force consistently showed the ability to complete complicated approaches and attack challenging targets. The sinking of Yorktown at Midway and Wasp at Guadalcanal are proof that the prewar training and exercise experience developed a skilled force that could find success in operations against a determined opponent. Had the Japanese focused their effort against the American offensive, the submarine force had the ability to influence operations. Unfortunate choices to hinder the submarines’ tactical freedom limited their influence as the Americans advanced through the Central and Western Pacific.

The final, and most perplexing, failure of the Japanese submarine force was its inability to learn and adapt to the conduct of the war. From Pearl Harbor through the operations in the Marianas in 1944, Japanese submarines were employed in rigid scouting lines and consistently failed to intercept and report on American fleet movements. Not until the force had suffered the loss of even more submarines in the Marianas did the staff shift their employment to patrol areas where the boats would be able to more freely search for targets. That late in the war, the shift was meaningless. Because the force was so decimated, there were not sufficient boats available to mount a solid defense of the Philippines. The employment of scouting lines failed in every instance that it had been used. The lines were not maintained intact around Pearl Harbor to maintain the cordon.

They were late to take station and then moved without an overriding plan or effect at Midway. They were haphazardly strung around the Solomons, Gilberts, Marshalls and Marianas and shifted without operational thought. Only late in the war were submarines released to freely stalk for prey. At this point the force size was too small to have any influence. Submarines were regularly removed from offensive or defensive operations to support grandiose airborne reconnaissance or nuisance strike missions. Submarines were committed en masse to both K Operations as well as reconnaissance and strike flights over Ulithi. The bombings had little effect. The support of reconnaissance missions, by acting as refueling platforms or navigational aids, discounted the ability of the submarines to do the jobs themselves. The submarine force had provided the first photographic intelligence of the results of Pearl Harbor as well as prescient intelligence of preparations at Midway, but the opportunity for later use of submarines as the primary operator in this key role was ignored.

The Japanese submarine force was undoubtedly a technologically superior force at the outset of the war. They were highly trained and well organized to support a distinct form of battle. The training and experience gained in interwar exercises provided a force that was ready to directly face the American Navy. The planning and execution of the war strategy failed to capitalize on the specific skill set of the submarines that were available. Had the submarines been employed as anything more than an adjunct force supporting other efforts, they could have exerted a strong influence and produced costly losses for the American Navy opening the Pacific to further Japanese operations.

The Japanese submarine force was uniquely prepared for operations against enemy combatants and did not need to resort to commerce raiding to have an influence. In fact the early successes of the Japanese Navy made commerce raiding unnecessary. Unfortunately, the Japanese did not capitalize on early successes by maintaining their forces forward and massed for further strikes against American forces. Once the paradigm of the Pacific War changed to a protracted conflict with American forces operating on extended lines of communication, the Japanese failed to adjust their employment strategy and shift to concerted commerce raiding efforts. The failure to learn from the experiences of the German and American submarines as the face of war changed left the Japanese unprepared to have any influence as the war came to an end.
Properly employed, the Japanese submarine force could have been the key to a very different war. Instead, their misemployment only aided in allowing the quick rebuilding of American forces due to their industrial dominance. As such, the actions of Japanese submarines only became footnotes to most major naval battles in the Pacific Ocean.

RAF Doctrine 1918

On 7 November, he told the cabinet that despite the turmoil inside Germany, there was no military reason for Germany to surrender. Their Army was retreating in reasonably good order, it was holding a continuous front, and with winter approaching, there was no reason why they should not be able to establish a solid defensive line. There was still time for the RAF to inflict the coup de grâce. The War Cabinet officially approved the Air Ministry plan to transfer as many bombers as possible from the Middle East to Bohemia to attack industrial and ‘moral targets’, but the Foreign Office stopped short of sanctioning a raid on the capital.

On 6 November, a delegation had been dispatched from Berlin with instructions to obtain a ceasefire at any price. On 8 November, they met Foch and were told the price was total surrender. The Germans requested an immediate temporary armistice while they considered the French demands; Foch refused and gave them three days to decide. A raid on Berlin by one plane might appear a mere gesture, but politically Balfour decided that it could send a very strong and direct message to Germany’s leaders. Clearance was given for the RAF to bomb Berlin. The Handley Page V/1500 was to set off on 9 November and the Vimy in France was to follow as soon as it was ready. Poor weather forced the first V/1500 raid to be postponed for forty-eight hours. At dawn on 11 November, the crews prepared for another attempt, but before they could get into the air, news arrived that an armistice would come into effect later that day. There would be no opportunity to bomb Berlin—not in this war at least.

For the Air Ministry, it was an anti-climax and unsatisfactory conclusion to their strategic bombing campaign—the end of the war had come before the value of the strategic bomber could be proven. Indeed, far from being proven, doubts were growing about it having any significant military value. The optimism of mid-summer had been replaced by a growing realisation that little physical damage was being inflicted on the German economy. The ability of the bomber to cripple German industry had been vastly exaggerated. The effect of the bombing on the German population had also been overestimated. Deaths as a result of any one raid rarely reached double figures and less than 1,000 German civilians died in bombing raids during the First World War. Tragic as each individual loss was, given the huge problems Germany faced and the horrendous scale of casualties at the front, the impact of bombing casualties on the population as a whole was slight. The deaths through air bombardment were dwarfed by the 400,000 German civilians who died in 1918 as a result of the flu pandemic.

The deprivations caused by the blockade, the onset of the flu pandemic, the surrender of Germany’s allies and the general hopelessness of the military situation were far more significant factors in the decline of German morale. The scattering of a few bombs over Berlin in the last hours of the war might have added to the sense of hopelessness. Alternatively, the indignation such attacks caused might equally have helped unite a broken nation and stiffen resolve. Most likely of all, it would scarcely have been noticed in a country already racked by despair, disorder and internal dispute.

The war had ended with no evidence that a country could be intimidated into accepting defeat by the air weapon. Haig had apparently been proven right. The bombing of London, or any other city, could not change the course of the war. It was perhaps easier for Haig in France to make this judgement than the politicians and military sitting in London as the bombs fell around them. Haig’s insistence that the Army should get priority over home air defence might seem cold and calculating, even callous, but he simply did not believe the compatriots of his stoic conscript Army would cave in so tamely under the threat of air attack. It is neither difficult nor surprising to find evidence that civilians find bombing extremely distressing, but it is hard to find evidence that it induces a desire to surrender. As well as causing grief, the killing and maiming of innocent civilians inspires resentment and anger. It does not take much, if any, manipulation by the government and media to exploit these emotions to stiffen the determination of a nation to fight on. As Mond had suggested in 1909, ‘No nation would make peace because the enemy was killing its civilians’.

As a last resort, advocates of long-range bombing claimed that even if the bombers did not achieve decisive results, the effort that the enemy had been compelled to put into air defence was a victory for the bomber. The problem was that long-range bombers required far more resources to build and operate than the short-range interceptors that shot them down: ten Snipes could be built for the price of one Handley Page V/1500. Fighters were also more versatile than huge long-range bombers. Interceptors were often the same machines as those operating over the front, but huge and cumbersome Handley Page V/1500 bombers would be as vulnerable as Zeppelins over the battlefield.

Perhaps the biggest error made by the pro-bombing lobby was that bombing was easy and preventing it difficult. By the end of the war it was becoming clear the opposite was far closer to the truth. The defences of both sides were improving quicker than the efficiency of the bomber forces. Even if the defences were overcome and targets found, planners were becoming aware of the countermeasures open to the country under attack. Cities could not be moved but industries could. As a last resort, dispersion and relocation of vulnerable industries was always possible. Tiverton’s greatest fear had always been that a premature and unsuccessful offensive against any particular target would give the enemy time to relocate to a more distant part of Germany.

The German daylight raids on London had provoked a radical shift in British air policy. At the time, it seemed like the dawn of a new era in warfare, but even before the war ended a little more than a year later, there was growing evidence that this had been a massive over-reaction and misjudgement. Long-range bombing was fraught with far more problems than anyone had appreciated and the battle for resources in the last year of war demonstrated that Britain did not have the means to build a long-range bomber fleet and maintain an effective Army and Navy. By November 1918, it was the advocates of strategic bombing who were very much on the back foot, desperate to find last-minute proof, or even just a little evidence, that they might still be right.

Only the politicians seemed to have been won over. Many seemed to have been taken in by some of the extraordinary claims made for the destructive capabilities of very small numbers of bombers. As always, it was the politicians who tended to be most impressed by the morale argument. This is scarcely surprising; it is, after all, the politicians’ responsibility to worry about civilian morale. Defending one’s own civilians from aerial bombardment is a perfectly reasonable priority for any government. The ability to retaliate effectively made politicians feel more confident about securing the support of their own people and less vulnerable to threats from enemies. The political advantages and the military benefits of having an intimidating long-range bomber force would become increasingly muddled in the years ahead.

While the strategic use of air power had failed to make the expected impact, the tactical applications of air power had gone from strength to strength. Aerial reconnaissance and artillery direction developed very rapidly, achieving a degree of operational sophistication and efficiency that, even after four years of war, the long-range bombing advocates could not come close to matching. The problem of the air and artillery combination was that it worked so well: it stifled movement on the battlefield and deepened the stalemate. However, as the war progressed and new tactics began to break the tactical gridlock, air power was able to demonstrate its versatility.

In any sort of conflict, reconnaissance is crucial. If reconnaissance had been the only task aircraft were capable of performing in 1918, it would still have justified the resources poured into the development of military aviation; however, aircraft were capable of much more. Attacking ground targets began to produce significant results once it was appreciated that the more relevant they were to the immediate battle, the more difference they could make. By the end of the war, fighter-bombers were being employed and directed in exactly the same way as artillery. Ground attack was merely an extension of the artillery support an Army corps could expect. By 1918, close air support was not an innovation, it was normal. The expectation was that eventually even a platoon commander held up by an enemy strongpoint should be able to call for air support. Techniques for supporting ground forces more normally associated with the Second World War had become established procedures in the First World War.

In defence, close air support had demonstrated its mobility and ability to deal with emergencies. In attack, it had in extreme circumstances demonstrated the ability to turn retreat into a rout. Most of the time, its impact was far less spectacular. It was just another useful tool available to Army commanders, but this capability alone was valuable enough to justify its existence and should have been enough to guarantee its future.

In 1918, the Army was developing along the right lines. The War Office was developing high-speed tanks that could do more than just crush barbed wire and support the infantry. Armoured close support planes and self-propelled artillery were being developed, which could support deep thrusts into the enemy rear. No longer would the infantry have to wait for the artillery to move into place before advancing. The fast moving tanks still had to be developed and the tactics they would use formulated, but the air element was already in place. Britain had its blitzkrieg air force.

As valuable as the fighter-bomber had proven, the Army appreciated the first duty of the fighter was to establish air superiority. The struggle for air superiority was a battle that proved as crucial as any fought on land or sea. To win it required the right training, tactics, organisation and equipment. In the autumn of 1918, the Germans might have been losing the war, but with their excellent Fokker D.VII and ‘Flying Circuses’, they were ahead of the RAF in most of these respects.

No country could have been quicker than Britain to see the need for an efficient fighter, but developing the correct solution proved to be a very slow process. False analogies with naval warfare had led to an obsession with aerial battleships that could dominate huge areas of airspace. The realities of war eventually forced an acceptance that speed and agility were the key qualities, more important even than firepower. No other item of First World War military equipment had such a rapid turnover as the fighter. A new design might only dominate the skies for months before becoming obsolete. No item of military equipment was considered more important. The Fokker D.VII was considered such a vital element of the German war machine, it was the only item of military equipment specifically mentioned by name in the list of war material the Germans had to hand over as the price for an armistice.

The flying qualities required of an air superiority fighter are simple to list: ease of control; ability to turn tightly and change direction quickly; high horizontal, climbing and diving speeds; high acceleration; and high service ceiling. The problem is that many of these qualities are contradictory and one can only be achieved at the expense of another. The first Martinsyde F.3/4 fighters to reach the RAF would have found themselves opposed by the Fokker D.VIII. No two fighters could be more different than the light Fokker and the powerful Martinsyde. Each had its advantages and it would have been an interesting contest between the two.

Developing the correct fighter tactics had been a particularly hard struggle for the RFC and RAF, but theories about providing indirect protection by dominating the enemy rear had eventually given way to more focused fighter operations in the battle zone. Fighters had to operate where they were likely to encounter the enemy, not where theories dictated the battle ought to take place. If patrols flying low over the battle area needed higher level patrols to protect them, then an independent battle for air superiority between the opposing fighter forces might well emerge, but fighter resources could not be wasted looking for a battle that served no purpose. The first priority was to establish superiority in the immediate vicinity of friendly forces, whether they are troops in the front line or reconnaissance and bombing machines penetrating enemy airspace. Once this has been established, then it might well be profitable for fighters to patrol further afield. Trenchard’s offensive patrols would have been an excellent way of extending and reinforcing air superiority already achieved over the battlefield, but they were not a way of achieving that air superiority.

Ironically, given that much air force strategy was based on naval practice, the Navy and RAF ended up making the same mistakes and having to learn the same lessons. The Navy began the war believing a broad offensive policy aimed at dominating the oceans would enable individual vessels to move freely. The policy had failed and been replaced by the more pragmatic approach of concentrating shipping in convoys that were protected by strong naval escorts. Exactly the same had happened in the air.

It was the expansion of the strategic bomber force, not the tactical air force, which was in most doubt when the war came to an end. If the war had continued into 1919, the RAF, with a large Army in the field to support, would undoubtedly have continued to develop as a powerful tactical force. The development of a powerful strategic bombing force would have been far more problematic. Britain did not have the resources to build a strategic and a tactical air force. If the war had continued, the huge expense of the strategic bomber, in terms of manpower and resources, and the needs of the Army and Navy, would probably have continued to restrict the development of the Air Ministry’s independent bombing ambitions.

Much had happened in four years. In 1914, the British had committed a small professional Army supported by four RFC squadrons to a European conflict that was expected to be of limited duration. Instead, the war had lasted for more than four years and a huge conscript Army had been raised. Plans for the spring of 1919 envisaged fifty divisions of the British Army supported by a tactical air force with 400 day and night bombers, 400 low-level fighter-bombers, 300 two-seater fighter-reconnaissance planes and 700 armoured corps planes, all protected by 1,200 single-seater fighters. In 1919, the British soldier would not have lacked air support. It was a level of support that British soldiers fighting future battles in future wars would be denied. Why they did not get it is another story.