The problem was that Curtis LeMay had become an altered man. The young colonel who had been so open-minded and keen to learn that he had risked personal humiliation by convening all-ranks, freewheeling criticism sessions in the mess hall after a raid on Nazi-occupied Europe had become the four-star general who was no longer willing to hear anything that did not fit his preconceptions. He was the classic example of a man made arrogant by power. Years of commanding with unchallenged authority had rendered him rigid. He had become a figure of obsessions and had lost his sense of proportion. His former restraint had also been replaced by a quick temper, a short fuse as it was called in the military, which further inhibited his ability to listen.

The change was conspicuously apparent in his correspondence with Nathan Twining in the mid-1950s. Formed as he was by the gruesome, no-quarter-given air battles with the Luftwaffe in 1943, he was fixated in the belief that the Soviets were also going to build an air force powerful enough to challenge his SAC in a similar death struggle for supremacy of the skies. He had such profound and unquestioning faith in the bomber that he could not imagine someone else might resort to an alternative weapon to rain nuclear fire on an opponent. The fixation resonated in a March 21, 1955, memorandum to Twining and in a covering letter of the same date. Both assessed with uninhibited criticism a plan by Twining’s headquarters that laid out a proposed structure for the Air Force through 1965. “Before 1965 Soviet Forces will probably attain a delivery capability and a [nuclear] stockpile of sufficient size and configuration to completely destroy any selected target system within the U.S.,” LeMay stated on the opening page of his memorandum. Some of this “delivery capability,” he conceded, may consist of future Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles, but he was convinced that the predominant element would be intercontinental bombers. (The prototype of the first strategic bomber of original Soviet design, not a copy of the B-29, had been detected in 1954. It was the Miasishchev Mia-4, dubbed the Bison by NATO intelligence, with swept-back wings and four jet engines.)

Therefore, he emphasized again and again in the memorandum and in the covering letter, the Air Force had to structure itself so that its “primary objective … should be to win the battle against Soviet Air Power.” This meant a bigger and better SAC because “the bomber airplane is the best delivery vehicle” to triumph in this “battle against Soviet Air Power,” a phrase he repeated constantly. He asserted that his bombers would catch the Russian planes on the ground and destroy them and their bases as well as the industries that produced them. He wanted 1,440 of the new B-52s by 1965. To keep this bomber fleet aloft with midair refueling, he asked for 1,140 of the forthcoming Boeing KC-135 four-engine jet tankers, which were to replace the propeller-driven KC-97s. (The KC-135, ample-bodied to carry as much aviation fuel as possible, initiated one of the most spectacularly successful commercial spinoffs from military hardware. The entrepreneurs in Seattle saw in its dimensions a passenger jet and with the installation of seats and other civilian accoutrements it became the famous Boeing 707 jetliner, over a thousand of which were sold to American and foreign airlines. The plane transformed international air travel.) With the cost of this stupendous bomber and tanker fleet in mind, he objected to the number of jet fighter-bombers and air superiority fighters the Air Force planned to buy to fulfill the Tactical Air Command’s mission of providing close air support over a battlefield for Army ground troops. Assisting the Army was not a mission that interested LeMay. He even argued that the bomber was the best weapon to neutralize any ICBMs the Soviets might field by 1965 because of its ability “to destroy their launching sites as a matter of high priority.” (Since it would take hours for SAC’s bombers to reach the launching sites and only half an hour for a Soviet ICBM to reach its target in the United States, the logic of bombing empty launching sites hardly seems to follow.)

LeMay’s attachment to the bomber and his fixation on winning the air battle he anticipated with a Soviet version of SAC led him to what was perhaps his most astonishing proposal to Twining. He wanted to abolish conventional armaments and go entirely nuclear. “Atomic and thermonuclear weapons have made conventional weapons obsolete, and the United States should cease stockpiling of conventional weapons,” he wrote. “The expense of developing and maintaining a limited conventional capability in the face of the critical need for skilled personnel and resources to man and equip strategic units can no longer be justified.” He proposed henceforth to use only nuclear weapons in wars both big and small. In other words, it was just as appropriate to let fly with nuclear weapons in a small-scale war like the recent conflict in Korea as it was in a full-scale one with the Soviets. “The distinction between localized and general war is political rather than military,” he said, and the United States should “always use the best weapons available in either general or limited war.”

There was a further advantage to moving straight to nuclear weapons in small wars, he maintained. They would bring quick victory and, apparently with the example of Korea in mind, avoid having the war drag out and public opinion turn against it. Therefore, “to insure the favorable outcome of a localized war in a short period of time, it was necessary that any political or psychological restraint in employing atomic weapons be erased.” Precisely what Twining thought of LeMay’s proposal is unknown and there is no record of a reply in the correspondence. Presumably he understood, as the changed LeMay did not, that for the U.S. Air Force to publicly advocate something like this would set off a political firestorm at home and abroad of nuclear dimensions.

His memory of those terrifying skies over Germany was also the root cause of LeMay’s most striking loss of a sense of proportion—his unquenchable desire for more and more megatons of nuclear explosive to drop on his Soviet opponents and more and more bombers with which to loose it. (A megaton is the equivalent of a million tons of TNT.) He feared that when war came, unnerved crews would not strike with the accuracy they attained in practice exercises in peacetime. Some planes would also not find their targets because of navigational errors, others would be shot down, still others would turn back because of mechanical failures. The answer was to make up for these errors and omissions with bigger and bigger bombs and enough planes to double and triple the number of strikes programmed for a single target.

He was extremely pleased in late 1954 to get the first practical hydrogen bomb, designated the Mark 17, a “weaponized” version of a dry thermonuclear device, fueled by lithium deuteride, which the Los Alamos laboratory had set off at Bikini Atoll earlier that year in a test called Romeo. This first “droppable” H-bomb weighed 42,000 pounds, which meant that only a B-36 in the current SAC fleet could carry it, but it exploded with a doomsday blast of eleven megatons, the equivalent of 524 Nagasaki, first-generation plutonium bombs, and 880 times the force of the smaller atomic bomb that had devastated Hiroshima. LeMay began pressing right away for lighter hydrogen bombs of equal or greater megatonnage. With them he wanted to turn his B-47s, which had a 25,000-pound payload, into thermonuclear bombers and fit more than one hydrogen bomb into the new B-52, with its 43,000-pound capacity (soon increased to 50,000), in order to obliterate multiple targets. When the Mark 21 hydrogen bomb, which weighed 15,000 pounds and yielded 4.5 megatons, appeared in 1955, he immediately mated it to the B-52 as the central component of SAC’s striking power for the next couple of years. The Mark 21’s “bang” did not satisfy LeMay, however, and so he pressed for an upgrade. This was to be the Mark 36, which would be produced the following year. It was somewhat heavier than the Mark 21 at 17,500 pounds, but yielded more than twice the force when it exploded.

In another memorandum to Twining that November of 1955, LeMay raised the ante on bombers. He now said he needed approximately 1,900 B-52s and some 1,300 KC-135 jet tankers to midair refuel these bombers by 1963. (Eisenhower was eventually to cap B-52 production at 744 aircraft by the fall of 1962, a decision the Kennedy administration was to uphold, with the comment: “I don’t know how many times you can kill a man, but about three should be enough.”) Nor did LeMay succeed in persuading the Eisenhower administration to build an H-bomb, except for the original Mark 17, beyond ten megatons, but not for lack of trying. In 1953, he asked the Nuclear Weapons Panel of the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board to look into the feasibility of a hydrogen bomb of twenty megatons or greater, an idea Eisenhower is said to have vetoed as beyond common sense. The massive megatonnage and the doubling and tripling on targets was to lead to fantastic overkill. SAC was to end up programming for Moscow alone more than twenty-five megatons. Pressure from LeMay was to be the major impetus in driving the yield of the American stockpile of nuclear warheads up to the record 20,491 megatons peak it was to reach in 1960, enough to provide each of the approximately 180 million inhabitants of the United States at the time with bomb material equivalent in explosive force to 110 tons of TNT.

While LeMay wished to be absolutely certain that enough planes got through with enough big bombs to “kill” every target on his list, it is clear from his correspondence and statements over the years that he also simply wanted to blast the Soviet Union, and any targets he thought worthy of his attention in Eastern Europe and China, with as much explosive force as he could muster. He apparently did not understand how different in nature nuclear weapons were from the conventional explosives he had dropped on Nazi-occupied Europe. He seems to have thought of hydrogen bombs essentially as just vastly more powerful bombs. He had a pitiless, smug vision of what he was going to do to the peoples of the Soviet Union with them, a vision he described in a lecture to the National War College in April 1956:

Let us assume the order had been received this morning to unleash the full weight of our nuclear force. (I hope, of course, this will never happen.) Between sunset tonight and sunrise tomorrow morning the Soviet Union would likely cease to be a major military power or even a major nation.… Dawn might break over a nation infinitely poorer than China—less populated than the United States and condemned to an agrarian existence perhaps for generations to come.

What LeMay did not realize was that if he ever launched the war for which he had prepared, the result would be national suicide. It would hardly matter should the Soviet Union fail to strike the United States with a single nuclear bomb. If he dropped all of this megatonnage on the Soviets, the American people would perish too. And he would also be condemning to an agonizing perdition the peoples of Canada, Europe, and most of the rest of the Northern Hemisphere through the Middle East and Asia. The puny, by comparison, bombs that had shocked the world in demolishing Hiroshima and Nagasaki had been fused to burst in the air. (The Little Boy Uranium-235 bomb dropped on Hiroshima had been detonated at 1,900 feet above the courtyard of one of the city’s hospitals.) The air burst technique had been deliberate in order to focus the maximum pressure and heat of the bomb’s blast on the buildings and people below, obliterating both in an instant. While there was extensive radiation, it did not extend far beyond the area covered by the blast, because comparatively little dirt and debris was blown up into the atmosphere.

LeMay, however, as he wrote to Twining, was going to fuse a lot of his monster bombs for ground or near-ground bursts to be certain of crushing underground bunkers and so-called hardened targets, such as concrete revetments with thick overhead cover used to protect aircraft. These ground-level bursts would hurl massive amounts of irradiated soil and the pulverized remains of masonry and concrete structures high into the upper atmosphere. The clouds of poisoned soil and debris would spread as they were carried around the earth by the upper atmospheric winds. One result would be a nuclear winter, a catastrophic change in climate of unknown duration, with frigid temperatures at the height of summer, because the dirt in the upper atmosphere would block out the sun’s rays. Agriculture, on which human beings depend for sustenance, would become impossible. Most animal and bird life would be extinguished because the plants, shrubs, and trees on which so many of these creatures depend would also die from the cold and lack of sunlight, without which plants cannot perform the photosynthesis process that nourishes them. And as precipitation brought down the irradiated particles, humans and animals and birds would be stricken with fatal radiation sickness. The water resources would be contaminated too as this deadly residue from LeMay’s thermonuclear devices was gradually absorbed into them. Civilization as we know it in the Northern Hemisphere would cease to exist.

To give the man his due, he created a force that posed a formidable deterrent to Soviet military adventurism in Western Europe, had the Soviet dictator been so inclined. That Stalin had no intention of launching such adventures, as was revealed with the opening of the Soviet Union’s archives after its collapse in 1991, did not negate the fact that the threat was perceived as real by Americans in the early 1950s. And the promise of overwhelming retaliation from SAC undoubtedly kept Stalin’s successor, Nikita Khrushchev, from being more rash than he was. LeMay’s deterrence mission was thus a legitimate one, given the thinking of the period. Although he would later express regret that the United States missed an opportunity in the early 1950s to unleash SAC and destroy the Soviet Union at what he believed would have been little or no cost to itself, there is no evidence that LeMay actively sought to provoke what was referred to at the time as “preventive war.”


Line and column – ‘the great arguments’


A French Regiment or Brigade in Ordre Mixte with three battalions.


Infantry Tactics and Combat during the Napoleonic Wars.

A platoon of Imperial Guardsmen firing at will in a three-deep line. In the Reglement the first volley fired by each platoon was supposed to be simultaneous by each file, immediately followed by the next file, and so on, rolling along the platoon line. After that, everyone was supposed to fire at will at their own speed. This could vary widely, since the 1791 manual specified about 25 separate movements for loading and firing a single shot. This picture is based closely on the Reglement, with the platoon officer in his regulation place on the right flank; the men in the foreground stand straight upright with their feet correctly placed at right-angles, and the men of the second rank pass back their muskets to be reloaded by the third rank – an image perhaps more faithful to the regulations than to actual practice. Note also the man firing from the second rank over the left shoulder of his comrade – biting open a cartridge – in the front rank. Another perhaps idealized detail is the careful aim taken by individual soldiers, in an age when men got little target practice, and the battle-lines were blinded by powdersmoke.


However, the most heated tactical debates to be sparked by the Seven Years’ War were centred on how the ‘heavy’ infantry should fight, and these would tellingly become known as ‘les grandes querelles’. During the early part of the 18th century, the conventional wisdom had been that infantry should conduct both its approach march and then its combat action in lines three deep. This arrangement had the advantage of maximizing the continuous frontage that could be occupied on the battlefield, since, with a density of three men per 22 inches – each touching elbows with his neighbours – an army of 60,000 men could occupy a frontage of no less than 13km, or a little over 8 miles. Even allowing for a second or reserve line, the frontage would be 6.5km or almost 4.5 miles – which is still a major piece of real estate. A second, and possibly even more important advantage of the line formation was that, at least in theory, every soldier would be able to fire his musket or point his bayonet in a meaningful way.

In practice the third rank, and to some extent the second rank too, tended to find it somewhat difficult to fire or stab ‘through’ the front rank, and there were some reports of nasty injuries being inflicted on the latter. Nevertheless, it was normally deemed best to stick to three ranks rather than two (let alone one, although a few examples of both may be found in Napoleonic times), since the extra men in rear would provide moral support to the men in front, as well as physical file-fillers who could step forward to plug gaps in the event of heavy casualties. The ‘solidity’ of a three-deep line was deemed to be especially required when there was a serious threat from cavalry.

The line was thus the ‘classic’ or conventional formation for infantry, and it implied a battle based on firepower. Yet the disadvantage was that it was always difficult to keep a line in position unless a long time was spent in checking and re-checking its alignments. The task of maintaining every man in place over a 6-mile frontage was daunting indeed, and trebly so if they were all expected to move forwards, backwards or sideways in step with one another. Such a line was a formation that might potentially develop the highest firepower; but it was also a staff officer’s nightmare, and no one could ever claim that it offered high tactical mobility.

These advantages and disadvantages were dissected in great detail in the course of les grandes querelles, especially once an alternative approach – in the form of a ‘column’ attack – had been put forward by a number of writers such as Louis-Pierre de Puysegur, Jean-Charles de Folard, Franc;ois:Jean de Menil-Durand, and then Joly de Maizeroy. These writers suggested that the infantry should fight in columns, to exploit the supposed shock effect of a concentrated mass attack. Columns were much easier to manoeuvre than lines, particularly over broken ground; and there was also a Widespread belief that they were good for maintaining the morale of shaky troops, who would gain confidence by the close proximity of so many of their comrades.

The opponents of columns, such as Count Hippolyte de Guibert and the Chevalier Tronc;on du Coudray, were quick to reply that they were far more vulnerable to artillery fire. A cannonball could theoretically knock down only one file of three men in a line, whereas there would be many more men per file in a column; a deep column might well suffer a dozen men hit by each accurate round. This whole question of vulnerability to artillery was extensively debated, with the partisans of the column pointing out that lines were exceptionally vulnerable to enfilades and even, to some extent, to grape and canister. On the whole, however, the balance of opinion was that it was more dangerous to fight in columns than in lines when facing an opponent with powerful artillery.

Various different types of column were suggested, ranging from a dense formation of a whole Division of 6,400 men with a frontage of 80 files and a depth of 80 ranks, to what would come to be called the ‘column of attack’ or column by divisions, consisting of a battalion of 912 men with a frontage of about 76 files and a depth of 12 ranks. During the wars of 1792-1815 not only would all the theoretical types of column be seen on actual battlefields, but many new types would be invented or improvised. Some of the ‘monstrous’ columns would contain many more troops than the notional 6,400 of a Division, whereas some battalion columns of attack might turn out to contain as few as 200 men, on a frontage of less than 33 and a depth of just 6 ranks. It could be argued that the latter layout was only slightly deeper than a regulation line, and it was certainly a very far cry from the heavy sledgehammer formations imagined by De Puysegur and his followers.

Despite all these complexities and ambiguities, the key point at issue in les grandes querelles seemed to be a clear choice between the column (l’ordre profond) and the line (l’ordre mince). At first the debate was confined to pamphlets and memoranda; but in 1778 it was extended to a series of trials, with 30,000 real soldiers manoeuvring against each other at the camp of Vaussieux, near Bayeux in Normandy, commanded by the free-thinking Marshal the Duke of Broglie. The results of the trials were ambiguous and bitterly contested, but at least the believers in the line were forced to admit that columns could often have an important role, as a formation for troops waiting in reserve or advancing rapidly into the front line. Once arrived in or near the front line, however, there remained a great deal of scepticism that columns were best for a firefight: they made big targets, and could develop only a small proportion of their own firepower.

Cannae – A Legacy

The modern military image of Cannae as what one modern critic termed “a Platonic ideal of victory” appears to have originated with the obsession of one man, Count Alfred von Schlieffen, chief of the Prussian general staff from 1891 to 1905. Schlieffen’s preoccupation with the battle turned on several factors. One was Germany’s strategic position, caught between two potential adversaries, Russia and France, which made a fast decisive victory over one or the other highly desirable. The second factor was the example provided by his predecessor on the general staff, Helmuth von Moltke, who in 1870 at Sedan surrounded the French and captured Emperor Napoléon III through a double envelopment, making a German victory in the Franco-Prussian War nearly inevitable. Finally, all of this was informed by Schlieffen’s reading of ancient history, specifically the first volume of Hans Delbrück’s History of the Art of War, with its extensive description of Cannae. Metaphorically at least, a bulb switched on above Schlieffen’s head, and suddenly Cannae seemed to beam light on everything.

While this revelation could have taken place as early as 1901, it seems more likely that it came as late as 1909, well after the general’s retirement. This is important because until recently it has been assumed that Hannibal’s victory was the inspiration behind the so-called Schlieffen plan, which was supposedly the strategic basis for Germany’s attack through Belgium and into France during the early stages of World War I. Not only has the very existence of the Schlieffen plan as a comprehensive scheme of battle been questioned, but it is apparent that the chief of staff’s recommendations for a war against France from 1901 to 1905 were based on a concentration of force against one flank of the enemy, an approach that simply did not fit Cannae’s footprint, despite subsequent efforts to shoe-horn the plan into this context.

This is not to argue that Schlieffen was not Cannae-obsessed or that he did not come to measure much of recent military history against what he called this “perfect battle of annihilation;” it is simply a question of timing. Schlieffen’s collected works including his Cannae studies were published in 1913, the year of his death. However, they do not appear to have been very influential until after the end of World War I, when they became a touchstone for those who argued that the German Army had lost the first battle of the Marne (and thus the war) because they had failed to keep faith with Schlieffen’s commandments—in the process conflating Cannae and the general’s actual advice. This set the tone for a subsequent generation of German military thinkers, a key segment of whom followed Schlieffen “like Thurber’s owl” and dreamed of future Cannaes made all the more plausible by the advent of armored vehicles.

Schlieffen’s Cannae studies were also influential in military circles outside of Germany during the interwar years. In 1931, for instance, they were translated into English and published by the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, availing a new cadre of American officers the opportunity to consider the possibilities.

Hence, World War II would feature a cavalcade of Cannae-savvy military luminaries, a number of whom, especially among the Germans, were looking to inflict such a fate on their adversaries. Heinz Guderian conceptualized his tanks as motorized equivalents of Hasdrubal’s cavalry sweeping around the enemy to seal their fate. Similarly, in 1941, while in the process of chasing the British army in the direction of Tobruk, Erwin Rommel noted in his diary that “a new Cannae is being prepared.”

Even in the face of disaster, the Germans stuck to the theme; thus Erhard Raus, commander of the 6th Panzer Division near Stalingrad, less than three months before his army’s surrender, dubbed a successful day’s fighting around an obscure village “the Cannae of Pakhlebin.” Seven months later, in July 1943, the German assault on the Kursk salient was intended to achieve a gigantic Cannae—only to result in a disastrous attrition of their attacking armored vehicles on both flanks by the well-prepared defensive-minded Russians. The German Army having been bled white by the dream of Schlieffen’s “perfect battle of annihilation,” Kursk marked the last time the Wehrmacht was able to mount offensive operations on the Eastern Front. Defeat beckoned.

Yet the Germans were not alone in responding to Cannae’s siren song. While the British were more cautious, American commanders were offensive-minded and therefore open to Hannibalic feats of arms. In particular, Dwight Eisenhower had nurtured a lifelong dream of emulating the Carthaginian general’s envelopment of the Romans. And for the initial Allied invasion of Germany, Eisenhower envisioned a huge Cannae-like maneuver, employing a double envelopment of the Ruhr. George Patton, the most audacious of the major American commanders in Europe, was also a student of military history and very much aware of Hannibal’s feat. Yet his outlook was hardly predictable, and reflects the contingent nature of even so decisive a victory. Writing in 1939, Patton notes: “There is an old saw to the effect that: ‘To have a Cannae you must have a Varro’ … in order to win a great victory you must have a dumb enemy commander. From what we know at the moment, the Poles qualified …”

World War II ended and was replaced by inconclusive combat in Korea, the standoff of the cold war, and amorphous insurgency in Vietnam; yet the American dream of Cannae lived on, apparently nurtured primarily by forays into ancient military history at U.S. service academies. So it was that after the 1991 Gulf War, victorious General Norman Schwarzkopf was able to proclaim that he had “learned many things from the Battle of Cannae which I applied to Desert Storm.” In fact, the general’s famous “left hook in the desert” more resembled the opening German moves in World War I, but no public-relations-conscious war hero was likely to announce that he had prepared another Schlieffen plan, so Cannae it was.

The future remains ambiguous. Given the predominance of anti-terrorism and anti-insurgency, the possibility of maneuver warfare seems, for the moment, distant. Also, given the sophistication of modern intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets, the kind of deception necessary to produce truly Hannibalic results may prove very difficult to achieve. But as long as men dream of killing other groups of men in very large numbers, we can rest assured, Cannae will not be forgotten.

Fighting Forces—A Global Overview 300-1000 CE

The Byzantine Navy, 300–1000 CE

Naval power was inextricably tied to the fortunes of the Byzantine empire in the period 300-1000. Under emperors Constantine (r. 324-337) and Justinian (r. 527-565), the Byzantine fleet was modern and large and could project power to the far corners of the Mediterranean Sea, maintaining the flow of goods and the prosperity of the empire. The standard Byzantine warship was the dromon, a galley with two banks of oars and an average crew of 200 oarsmen and 70 marines. Swifter and lighter warships called the pamphylos and the ousiakos were also used, and special transport ships were used for carrying horses (onerarai) and for projecting Greek fre (siphonophores). Byzantium faced a new naval threat with the emergence of Islam in the seventh and eighth centuries. Muslims seized important naval bases along the Mediterranean littoral and islands and placed the Byzantine capital under siege twice (674-678 and 717-718). In the ninth century, Byzantine emperors Michael III (r. 842-867) and Basil I (r. 867-886) revived the eastern Roman Navy. But this revival was short-lived, as future emperors increasingly employed mercenary Venetians fleets to police their waters. When a Russo-Swedish navy attacked Constantinople in 1042, the Byzantines pressed into service aging hulks and refitted transports to defend the city, and in 1204 there was no Byzantine navy present to meet the Catholic crusaders during the Fourth Crusade (1202-1204).

Globally, the period 300-1000 CE witnessed both change and continuity in warfare largely due to increased reliance on cavalry, advances in technology, and often- except in sub-Saharan Africa and the Americas-increased reliance on navies.

In Eurasia, migrations and invasions of steppe peoples into civilization zones precipitated the decline and fall of great civilizations in China, India, and Europe, changing the way these civilizations made war and raising the value of cavalry during this period. In China, the infantry-based armies of the late Han dynasty began to include more cavalry in their tactical mix to meet the persisting threat of horse nomads on their northern frontier. Han commanders even went so far as to hire nomadic horsemen as mercenaries because of their skill as mounted archers using powerful composite bows. After the fall of the Han dynasty in 220, Chinese armies were heavily influenced militarily by the influx of central Asian peoples who brought with them saddle and stirrup-stabilized cavalry, both of these inventions coming from horse nomads. But policing the vast territories of China required large multiethnic infantry contingents, so footmen remained an integral part of the Chinese military system throughout the later Sui (581-618) and Tang (618-907) dynasties.

Indian military structures were also impacted by the influx of steppe peoples into the subcontinent in the period 300-1000. During the Kushan Kingdom (ca. 150 BCE-ca. 200 CE) Indian warfare was influenced by central Asian martial practices, dispensing with the war chariot so popular in earlier periods and emphasizing cavalry tactics over large infantry engagements. The rise of the indigenous Gupta dynasty (320- ca. 550) returned India to more traditional ways of warfare, stressing combined-arm cooperation using heavier cavalry, infantry, and war elephants. The Gupta infantry could stand against the cavalry from the central Asian steppe because they used the bamboo and steel longbow that could shoot armor-penetrating missiles. The Gupta dynasty was nearly destroyed by another steppe people, the Huns, whose cavalry armies swept into India from the northwest in the late fifth and sixth centuries, but an alliance of Hindu armies drove the Huns out of India in 528. The conquest and occupation of the Sind by Arab Islamic armies in the early eighth century introduced Islamic martial practices to Indian war making, while the northwestern frontier of India was threatened again in the tenth century with the coming of Turkic Ghaznavids (963-1187) who utilized steppe warfare showcasing lighter horses and mounted archery. Turkic martial organization and tactics would continue to influence Indian warfare through the numerous dynasties that made up the later sultanates of Delhi (1206-1527).

Persian warfare under the Sassanids (224- 651) mirrored that of their chief adversary, the Byzantines, with sophisticated armies using well-armored heavy cavalry cataphracts with infantry support being the norm, although the Persians were also famous for their elephant corps. The rapid rise and expansion of Islam destroyed the Sassanids and quickly put the Byzantines on the defensive. Early Arab Muslim armies were not adept at siege warfare like their Chinese, Indian, and Byzantine counterparts, preferring to use their camel corps to cross deserts, bypass fortifications, and raid the countryside. But later Islamic armies adopted the technologies and tactics of their conquered peoples, transforming Muslim armies with heavier Persian-styled heavier cavalry and better siege trains, while in North Africa, Berber martial practices mixed with Arab practices as Islamic armies crossed into Europe and conquered the Iberian Peninsula after 711. The conversion to Islam of the Ghazni and Seljuk Turks brought light cavalry archers into Muslim warfare often with spectacular effect, as the Seljuk defeat of Byzantine forces at Manzikert in 1071 illustrated.

In Europe, the Roman Army was in decline beginning in the fourth century and was unable to defeat Germanic tribes penetrating the Roman frontiers in raiding expeditions, a process that accelerated in the fifth century. Drill and discipline suffered as Germanic troops were allowed to join the Roman military, often with their own commanders, and by the fall of the western Roman empire in 476, the Roman Army was indistinguishable from its barbarian enemies. Cavalry, rather than infantry, was the featured military arm of emerging Germanic kingdoms, especially after the diffusion and widespread use of built-up saddles and stirrups created more efficient lancers in the ninth century. This West European heavy cavalry provided Catholic Europe with the strategic mobility to meet the threat of the Magyar and Viking menace, and by the beginning of the eleventh century heavy cavalry was the dominant military arm in western Europe.

Martial practices in North Africa in the period 300-1000 were heavily influenced by Roman, Vandal, Byzantine, and later Islamic warfare, while in sub-Saharan Africa tribal warfare was the norm. Between 700 and 1000 the kingdom of Ghana emerged as the dominant political and military force in sub-Saharan Africa and was the first of the western Sudanese empires to establish a large professional army. During this period, cavalry was not a featured military arm as it would be in the later kingdoms of Mali and Songhai. Instead, infantry armed with short-handled wood, stone, and iron-tipped thrusting spears, javelins, and iron swords and protected by bamboo shields was the main fighting force. These light troops were ideally suited for fighting in the varied topography of the Sahel, savannas, and jungles that surrounded this West African kingdom. War revolved around protecting the gold, ivory, and salt trade; iron mining; and the seizure of captives for the growing slave trade with the Mediterranean world. The expansion of Islam into West Africa after 1000 changed military structures, highlighting the role of professional soldiers and creating large standing armies as well as highly disciplined cavalry forces.


In the New World, patterns of warfare in the period 300-1000 continued to be centered around tribal conflicts using small armies with stone age martial technologies like atlatls, bows, spears, and clubs for control over people, trade routes, and limited natural resources like fresh water, arable land, and access to obsidian and chert, strategically important materials for constructing tools and weapons for societies that did not use copper, bronze, or iron. Where states did exist, warfare was highly ritualized, and there is still debate among scholars on the role of human sacrifice as a motivation for raiding and conquest. One of these states, the Teotihuacan civilization in the Valley of Mexico, was capable of fielding an army of nearly 20,000 men when augmented by allied communities. This army utilized battle standards (a first for pre-Columbian armies), and there is indication that soldiers were equally adept in shock combat using thrusting spears and clubs as they were using standoff missile weapons like javelins and atlatls (bows were not used). or protection, quilted helmets and shields were utilized. Farther east the classical Maya (ca. 250- ca. 900) organized their society in city-states like ancient Greece and continuously fought civil wars for control over the region’s resources. Archaeology reveals that the Maya built fortifications around their urban centers, but modern scholars are still deciphering sources to understand Maya tactics and military organization. Most martial activity seemed to be done by a military caste that most probably fought in open formations and used missile weapons like bows, atlatls, and spears and then closed for hand-to-hand combat with thrusting spears and clubs. Textual and archaeological evidence supports increased Maya warfare at the end of the millennium, perhaps due to increased competition for dwindling resources. Less is known about the military capabilities of the central Andean civilization of the Moche (ca. 100-ca. 800). The Moche were organized like the Maya in loosely connected communities, and limited archaeological evidence suggests that Moche warriors fought without armor and with atlatls and clubs, while defensive works at the end of the civilization point toward internal social unrest, possibly because of climate change.

At sea, Old World navies from East Asia to Europe continued to use wooden ships powered by oar and sail. In China, the Han dynasty’s so-called Tower Ship Navy was improved upon by later Tang and Song rulers, and the Chinese proved masters of seaborne and riverine operations. Farther west the Gupta empire maintained a navy and was able to control regional waters around the subcontinent, while the Sassanids in Persia used their navy to attack across the Persian Gulf to Arabia before the advent of Islam. In the Mediterranean, Byzantine and Arab Muslim warships were usually smaller derivatives of earlier Roman galleys and carried contingents of marines for ship-to-ship fighting and amphibious operations. The incendiary known as Greek fire was used to good effect by the Byzantines to destroy a large Muslim fleet in 678 and was soon in the arsenal of most civilizations in the region. Farther north, Scandinavian shipwrights constructed large clinker-built long ships capable of extraordinary transoceanic journeys and deep river penetrations, becoming the Vikings’ favorite tool for raiding and invading Europe from Ire land to the Ukraine and colonizing Iceland, Greenland, and, for a short period by 1000, parts of the northeastern coast of North America. There is no evidence to support the existence of large organized navies in sub-Saharan Africa and the Americas in this period.

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.

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.”


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.