Strategy and the Military Enterpriser in the Thirty Years War I



To understand this positive military context, a more realistic view has to be taken of the effects of military enterprise, which was an all‐pervasive and deliberate response of most seventeenth‐century governments to the administrative burdens and unsustainable costs of trying to set up their own armies and navies. Military enterprise in this period should not simply be dismissed as the last gasp of a terminally defective condottiere system. Colonels and senior officers had certainly invested heavily in their military forces, but this did not make them risk‐averse or reluctant to think in strategic terms. Many of the commanders were hybrids: both investors in the military system and holders of military commands granted them by their ruler, with whom they had a relationship that would determine their own and their families’ political and social status. Even as military investors, they could not afford to ignore the progress and the ultimate outcome of the war. In the case of the Swedish colonels and high command, for example, it was obvious that only a Swedish‐dictated peace settlement would provide them with the vast sums that they considered were outstanding on their financial commitment to the war effort, and which the Swedish monarchy would never be able to provide from its own resources.

However, the presence of enterpriser investors did ensure a very different attitude to the waging of war: one in which military operations were characterized by far more instrumentality in the linking of means to ends than in traditional ‘state’ warfare organized, funded, and waged directly by rulers. Instead of war as a dynastic process, part of the public assertion of the prince’s status and the defence of princely honour and reputation, military operations outsourced to enterprisers were seen as the pursuit of objectives that would heap up the pressure on an enemy, but at realistic cost and risk. Forcing a battle that could destroy some of the fighting potential of an enemy army was a means to assert this pressure, but it would be a costly and wasteful success if it was not backed up by operational capacity—the ability to keep the army in being and enabled to pursue objectives through the rest of the campaign.

The strategic significance of sustained operational capacity as the primary means to achieve military goals was recognized by a succession of capable commanders in the field. In this respect, the assertion that the logistical problems involved in supplying armies necessarily prevented operational effectiveness in the Thirty Years War is simply unconvincing. The evidence of the activities of successful commanders of Bavarian, Imperial, and Swedish armies tells a different story. If logistical support determined the ability of armies to pursue coherent operational goals, to follow up military engagements, and to exploit opportunities as they opened up throughout a campaign, then a level of success in supplying these armies must have been achieved.

How was this done? Simply to summarize the key factors, the most important was an intuitive, problem‐solving approach to maintaining the strategic capability of armies, a shaping of military means to ends. In the first part of the war, the large campaign forces of, for example, the Imperial commander and military enterpriser Albrecht Wallenstein, and of Gustavus Adolphus, did indeed suffer immense problems in amassing and providing logistical support—problems that threatened the destruction of the armies, or turned military operations either into simple territorial occupation or the cumbersome pursuit of crude, easily anticipated campaign objectives. The primary responses to the problems of keeping armies sufficiently supplied to maintain high levels of mobility and operational initiative were a systematic scaling down of the size of campaign armies and a shift in the numerical relationship between troops engaged in garrisoning and tax extraction and troops operating in the field. This was a deliberate decision, not some unintended consequence of the war as demographic disaster.

Drastic downsizing of field armies was accompanied by a change from traditional infantry predominance to higher proportions of (more expensive) cavalry. The 1631 battle of Breitenfeld had been fought between 42,000 troops led by Gustavus Adolphus against 32,000 Imperials and Bavarians; at the battle of Jankow in 1645, around 15,500 Swedish and German troops engaged with Imperial and Bavarian forces of around 16,000. The Swedish army contained 9,000 cavalry, the Imperial around 11,000.48 Mobility was being prioritized, as was the generally smaller logistical ‘footprint’ created by scaled‐down, cavalry‐dominated field armies. And while numbers of troops were reduced, their quality, indicated by the ever higher proportions of experienced veterans in their ranks, increased. These armies contained strikingly large proportions of long‐serving soldiers, resilient both in their ability to continue operating despite irregular and variable food supplies and in their epidemiological resistance, a much‐neglected factor in military effectiveness. They fought hard and ruthlessly, whether in terms of taking and inflicting casualties in battle, sustaining the rigours of campaigns that might involve force‐marching hundreds of miles, or exploiting circumstances that involved tactical flexibility, such as campaigning into the winter months, when armies were traditionally rested and reconstituted.

In ensuring a basic level of food and munitions supply, the commanders of these small armies benefited from administrative decentralization. Financial resources were usually collected by widely dispersed garrison troops who occupied specified territories and exacted war taxes, or ‘contributions’ that had been agreed with the populations as the (high) price of providing protection from predatory enemy forces and the otherwise random demands of the troops. Accepting this financial burden and garrisoning was the cost of remaining neutral, or at least not being directly involved in military activity. Just as garrisoned territories such as Mecklenburg, Pomerania, and Brandenburg provided the financial support for the main Swedish campaign army, the territories of the Westphalian Imperial Circle contributed substantially to keeping the Imperial field armies operational. The monies collected were paid directly to the commanders, who themselves negotiated with suppliers and merchants to provision the army in the light of plans for the forthcoming campaign.

These relationships, like those between the commanders and their bankers and financiers, who could be persuaded to anticipate revenues and provide loans at short notice, were direct and personalized. Direct experience left the commanders acutely aware of what could and could not be achieved in supplying the armies, and led to a careful structuring of campaigns around supply networks, especially waterways and interior lines. When Bernhard of Saxe‐Weimar, one of the most successful commanders of a ‘downsized’ army composed of colonel investors, decided to undertake the siege of Breisach on the Rhine in 1638, the key to the decision was his confidence that his financier and supply agent Marx Conrad Rehlinger would acquire sufficient grain and other provisions in the Swiss cantons against Saxe‐Weimar’s credit, and would maintain a steady shipment of these supplies down the Rhine from his base in Basel for the duration of the siege.

In fact, one of the consequences of this emphasis on small, mobile armies was a reluctance to engage in large‐scale sieges. Many of these armies had abandoned a cumbersome siege train of heavy artillery and focused on much lighter, more mobile field guns. Siege guns would need to be called up to undertake a siege, and in most cases a cost‐benefit analysis of the logistical and manpower costs would militate against this style of campaigning.51 This stood in obvious contrast to the style of traditional, directly controlled armies like those of the French and the Spanish operating on the Flanders frontier, where sieges were still explicitly identified with the status and prestige of rival monarchs and undertaken regardless of costs and the commitment of resources. The armies operating in the Holy Roman Empire were more likely to use surprise, trickery, or intimidation to try to capture a fortified town. In many cases, they simply left such places alone, focusing on what seemed more likely to bring about operational benefits: the ability to outmanoeuvre rival forces and cut deep into enemy territory, bringing the pillage and destruction associated with the chevauchées of the Hundred Years War.

It was the destructiveness of a coordinated sweep into Bavaria by the Swedish army and the French army in Germany that forced the Bavarian Elector into the ceasefire of Ulm in early 1647. Battles had their place in this type of operational thinking, but they had to be part of a wider set of campaigning goals. In 1645 the Swedish commander Lennart Torstensson determined to force a battle with the Imperial field army as early in the year as possible; if he was successful, it would leave the rest of the campaign to pile up pressure on Habsburg territory. His decisive victory at Jankow in early March 1645 was followed by a fast‐moving, hard‐hitting campaign that took his army to within one day’s march of Vienna by 6 April.

Commanders in this period did have a coherent grasp of strategy in the sense of an ability to relate military means to ends. It depended on maintaining operational capability throughout entire campaigns, and from one campaign to the next. The changing size and shape of the armies and the approach to warfare was a clear reflection of this priority. The aim, shared by commanders as diverse as Banér, Hatzfeld, Piccolomini, Mercy, and Wrangel, was to pile up incremental advantages brought by rapid mobility, territorial devastation, attrition of enemy veteran troops, and the concentration of the direct burden of supporting armies more and more on the territory of their opponents. The problem was that such an incremental approach was slow to achieve strategic results, especially when the belligerents were quite evenly matched in terms of operational capability and the capacity to frustrate the projects of an enemy.


The Great White Fleet


The visits of the Great White Fleet were a display of American goodwill.

Everyone thought that, but 93 years later the Australian Government revealed doubts.

The Great White Fleet was an impressive American convoy of 16 battleships plus escorts, staffed by 14,000 sailors, sent by President Theodore Roosevelt on a peaceful circumnavigation of the world in 1908–9. They visited 20 ports in six continents with a disarming display of goodwill combined with a very public demonstration of America’s growing military strength.

In 2001, the government of Australia’s Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Group revealed that in the context of international politics in 1908, ‘goodwill’ wasn’t the only purpose of the Fleet:

In the event of a crisis between the US and Japan, Britain’s ally, Australia and New Zealand, as loyal dominions of the British Empire would be potential enemies of the United States. Roosevelt felt it necessary to ascertain the sentiments of Australia and New Zealand.

On a more practical level, Rear Admiral Sperry, the commander-in-chief of the fleet ordered that during the fleet’s visits intelligence be gathered to compile war plans for the capture of New Zealand and Australian ports.


Thus, when the fleet arrived in each Australian port to a tumultuous welcome, its intelligence team went to work compiling detailed reports on the defences and infrastructure of each city as part of invasion plans. The hospitality of the local population undoubtedly made it easier for the fleet’s officers to gain insight into Australia’s strengths and weaknesses, and probably direct access to the information necessary to prepare plans to capture the new nation’s major cities.

The resulting reports, having been lodged with the American Department of the Navy, then went into storage. While it is clear that the extremely hospitable reception the Fleet received in the Pacific was a clear demonstration of the friendliness of people in this area towards America, the report concludes:

However, the mere compilation of the plans was an acknowledgment of what US national interest might dictate could happen to Australia in the event of hostilities between the US and Japan.

Parliament of Australia, Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade.

Report on ANZUS after 50 years (28 August 2001)

After the victory of the Japanese over the Russian fleet at Tsushima Strait on 27 May 1905, the West Australian claimed the Imperial Japanese Navy was a threat to White Australia: ‘After Tsushima, the British withdrew their battleships from the East and Australians were, to put it in Billy Hughes’ words, worried ‘‘that we should now rely on the Japanese for the maintenance of British naval supremacy in Eastern seas’’’. Japan was now seen as a credible threat to Australia. This made the American fleet visit crucial. The Age took the lead in suggesting the messages that would be conveyed and lessons that should be learned.

It is no less our proper business, while the Fleet is here, to use the object lesson of patriotic effort and achievement it will furnish us to steel our resolution to obtain as soon as possible a navy that will not disgrace us in comparison. Australia is an island continent. Our destiny lies on the sea. No friend or enemy can reach us save by the sea. A friend is coming to us soon along the ocean highways; but who shall dare to say that almost as powerful an enemy may not one day steam into our waters in ironclad might to fight us for our heritage? Nothing is plainer than that we must have a navy. We must arm, and inasmuch as the sea while we possess no warships puts us at the mercy of any hostile Power possessing ships, it is our first duty to arm navily. That is the lesson of the forthcoming visit—that and the fact that without a navy we should be useless to the Motherland or to a friendly Power like America as an ally.

The sixteen white-painted American warships, dubbed the ‘Great White Fleet’, departed from Hampton Roads in Virginia in December 1907 for a fourteen-month cruise including 29 international ports of call. It attracted enormous attention during its visits to Sydney and Melbourne, which each hosted the fleet for one week. (After departing the eastern seaboard, the fleet also spent one week in Albany—with a population of 4000—while it took on fuel.) The Australian response to the visit was overwhelming. Public holidays were declared and funerals were delayed as a carnival spirit enveloped the host cities with balls, parades, receptions, concerts and parties for the 14 000 American sailors.


The visit of the Great White Fleet was a clear indication that Britain was not the only nation possessing naval might and not the only nation which shared a ‘natural’ bond with Australia and its people. This notion of a ‘natural’ bond was central. As Rear Admiral Charles Sperry USN, the commander of the American fleet, told a crowd in Melbourne, the visit of his ships and men ‘bring on both nations a realisation of their close relationship and common interests, and foster sympathy and mutual understanding more binding than treaties’. The sentimental component of the relationship, an important motivator for building and sustaining the trans-Pacific friendship, was reflected in Prime Minister Deakin’s proposal of 1909 that the Monroe Doctrine be extended to all countries around the Pacific Ocean, supported by guarantees from Britain, Holland, France, China and the United States. Perhaps caught up in the euphoric aftermath of the Great White Fleet’s visit, the Age stated that people in Australia were ‘always cheered to know America is watching their efforts with more than a friendly interest and ready at a pinch to show that blood is thicker than water’.


The visit of the Great White Fleet could not have been better timed to assist the Australian navalists in their campaign to create an Australian navy. There was a growing fear of both Japanese expansionism and German imperial aspirations in the Pacific. After the Colonial Conference, Deakin proposed a variation of the increasingly unpopular naval agreement. The Commonwealth offered to substitute the subsidy with the provision of 1000 Australian sailors for service on the Australia Station with the remainder of the subsidy to be applied to local naval construction. It was proposed that 400 sailors would man two P Class destroyers retained in Australia, notwithstanding prevailing strategic conditions elsewhere, while another two cruisers would be lent for training purposes at a cost of £60 000 per annum to the Commonwealth. On 20 August 1908, the Admiralty said that it ‘had difficulty in fully comprehending the extent of the scheme’ outlined by Deakin and pointed out that the cost of the Australian naval proposal consisting of six destroyers, nine sub- marines and two depot ships was £1 277 500. Their Lordships believed that this was beyond Australia’s means. Having given careful consideration to Deakin’s scheme, the Admiralty ‘could not see their way to accept the proposals as a basis for a new agreement’. The Admiralty waited for the Australians to respond.


The original US nuclear-war plans were prepared at a time when bombers predominated, atomic bombs were in very short supply, and there was a lack of co-ordination of plans. The 1947 plan concentrated on destroying the war-making capability of the Soviet Union through attacks on government, political and administrative centres, urban–industrial areas and fuel-supply facilities. It was to have been achieved by dropping 133 atomic bombs on seventy Soviet cities in thirty days, including eight on Moscow and seven on Leningrad. This plan was ambitious, to say the least, primarily because the USA possessed a total of only thirteen atomic bombs in 1947 and fifty in 1948.

In May 1949 a new plan, named Trojan, required 150 atomic bombs, with a first-phase attack against thirty cities during a period of fourteen days. Then, also in 1949, came another plan, named Dropshot, in which a war in 1957 would be centred on a thirty-day programme in which 300 atomic bombs and 20,000 tonnes of conventional bombs would be dropped on about 200 targets, with the atomic bombs being used against a mix of military, industrial and civil targets, including Moscow and Leningrad.

All these plans included substantial quantities of conventional bombs and were essentially continuations of Second World War strategies. Interestingly, even as early as 1949, planners were earmarking command centres for exemption from early strikes (‘withholds’ in nuclear parlance), so that the Soviet leadership could continue to exercise control.

Up to about 1956 the US authorities based their plans on intelligence which was far from complete and, as a result, they deliberately over-estimated their opponent’s strengths. In 1956, however, the Lockheed U-2 spy plane started to overfly the USSR, and this, coupled with more effective ELINT and SIGINT, meant that a more accurate picture was obtained.

By the early 1950s the production rate of atomic bombs had increased to the point where US field commanders – both air-force and navy – began to make plans for their use, each of them planning to use them in support of his battle. There was nothing in this situation to prevent several commanders from selecting the same target; indeed, a US Senate committee was told that in the Far East 155 targets had been listed by two commanders and 44 by three, while in Europe 121 airfields had been targeted by two commanders and 31 by three.

A first attempt at some form of co-ordination was made in a series of conferences held in the early 1950s, which achieved partial success. The situation came to a head, however, when the navy’s Polaris SLBMs and the air force’s Atlas ICBMs became operational in the early 1960s, and a Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff (JSTPS) was established, with an air-force lieutenant-general at its head but with a naval officer as his deputy. The first outcome of the JSTPS’ work was the Comprehensive Strategic Target List (CSTL), which identified 2,021 nuclear targets in the USSR, China and their satellites, including 121 ICBM sites, 140 air-defence bases, 200 bomber bases, 218 military and political command centres, 124 other military targets, and 131 urban centres.5 This CSTL duly became an integral part of the first Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP), which was produced in December 1960.

There were no alternatives in this SIOP-60, which consisted of one massive nuclear attack, and it was one of the earliest targets for reform when President Kennedy took power in January 1961. US planners were now, however, aided by virtually complete satellite coverage of the USSR, giving them information on the potential enemy never previously available (and which, among other things, made it clear that the supposed ‘missile gap’ did not exist). This resulted in SIOP-63, which consisted of five categories of counter-force option: Soviet missile sites; bomber and submarine bases; other military targets; command-and-control centres; and urban–industrial targets. This received serious criticism from three separate quarters. First, from within the USA, because of what appeared to be a first-strike strategy; second, from the USSR, which denied the possibility of controlled counter-force warfare; and, third, from NATO allies, who were very alarmed by the total absence of any urban targets (the so-called ‘no cities’ strategy).

President Kennedy’s secretary of state for defense, Robert McNamara, then developed the concept of Assured Destruction, which he described in public first as ‘one-quarter to one-third of [the Soviet Union’s] population and about two-thirds of its industrial capacity’ and later as ‘one-fifth to one-fourth of its population and one-half to two-thirds of its industrial capacity’. Whatever was said in public, however, within the US armed forces SIOP-63 was not withdrawn, and thus there appears to have been a marked divergence between the public and the internal rhetoric.

Proponents of this policy of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) argued that the one way to make nuclear war impossible was to make it clear that any nuclear attack would be answered by a total attack on an enemy’s population, together with its industrial and agricultural base. While such a concept might have been valid in the early days of the nuclear confrontation, it rapidly lost its credibility when it became clear that, even after such a strike, the USSR would still have sufficient weapons to make a response-in-kind on US cities.

The strategy of ‘flexible response,’ introduced in 1967, required facing an opponent with a credible reaction which would to inflict losses out-weighing any potential gain. The deterrent power of such a strategy depended on the capacity of the proposed response to inflict unacceptable losses on the opponent, while its credibility depended upon its ability to minimize the risks of higher-order losses on the responder’s own country in subsequent rounds. This posed something of a dilemma, in that the deterrent power of the response was enhanced by escalation to a higher level, while credibility tended in the other direction, since a lower-level response carried no inherent escalatory risks. The plans implement this strategy were promulgated in a revised version of the SIOP which became effective on 1 January 1976.

It became customary for all incoming presidents to initiate a review of the strategic nuclear-war plans, and that carried out by President Jimmy Carter in 1977–9, was expected to result in major changes. In the event, however, it led only to a refinement of the previous plan, together with the introduction of rather more political sophistication. Thus, for example, targets were selected in the Far East, not so much for their immediate relevance to the superpower conflict, but because their destruction would make the USSR more vulnerable to attack by the People’s Republic of China.

A further review was conducted when the Reagan administration came to power in 1981. This resulted in a new version of the SIOP, which included some 40,000 potential targets, divided into Soviet nuclear forces; conventional military forces; military and political leadership command posts and communications systems; and economic and industrial targets, both war-supporting and those which would contribute to post-war economic recovery. The plan allocated these targets to a number of discrete packages, of differing size and characteristics, to provide the National Command Authority (the president and his immediate advisers) with an almost limitless range of options.

The new plan also included particular categories of target for other plans, for possible implementation on receipt of an unequivocal warning of a Soviet attack. These included a pre-emptive strike, launch-on-warning and launch-under-attack. The plan also included a number of ‘withholds’, but stipulated that a reserve of weapons must be retained for possible use against those ‘withholds’ if the developing scenario so dictated.

The real calculations of strategic nuclear war – known as ‘dynamic’ assessments – were extremely detailed and were far more complex than the static measurements. One such ‘dynamic’ calculation in the period following the Soviets’ fielding of the SS-18 resulted in an assessment that, under certain conditions, a Soviet counter-force first strike would appear to be a possibility. In this assessment it was calculated that the USSR, which normally had only about 10 per cent of its SSBN force at sea, would gradually, and covertly, increase that number, and, if the US command decided to ride out the attack, the Soviets would then destroy approximately 45 per cent of the US strategic forces. As a result, the ensuing US counter-military retaliatory strike on the Soviets (who would be on full alert) would leave the Soviets with 75 per cent of what had been left after their first strike. This meant that the USSR would retain not only a reserve capable of carrying out either an urban–industrial strike on US cities or an attack on US ‘other military targets’, but also a reserve for use against another opponent (the so-called ‘nth-country reserve’) – an outcome which would have been distinctly favourable to the Soviets. If the USA managed to launch all its ICBMs under attack, however, the damage ratio more or less reversed: 40 per cent damage to remaining Soviet forces versus 25 per cent damage to US strategic forces.

Thus, argued the US planners, a credible US launch-on-warning/launch-under-attack capability was a mandatory element of an effective deterrent. These results posed a problem encountered in numerous US war games: that neither side could enhance stability by pursuing its own best interests of a secure deterrent potential, but, conversely, neither side could unilaterally lower its deterrent. For the US to do the latter gambled on a US judgement of how the Soviets treated ‘uncertainty’ and what their perceptions of relative advantage might have been.

This whole area highlighted the decision to launch as one of the major problems associated with missiles. Launching bombers for possible nuclear missions was relatively easy, since crews were under firm instructions that they had to receive a positive (and encoded) order from the ground to continue before reaching specified waypoints, otherwise a return to base was mandatory. Missiles, on the other hand, received only one order – to take off; there was then no turning back. Thus the decision to launch the missile was much harder to make.

Stalin and Barbarossa


In the hour before dawn on 22 June 1941 the German armed forces started Operation Barbarossa. There was no warning from Hitler; this was a classic Blitzkrieg and Stalin was in bed at the time in his Blizhnyaya dacha. In the diplomatic crisis of recent weeks he had judged that intelligence sources predicting a German invasion were just a provocation. Timoshenko as People’s Commissar of Defence and Zhukov as Chief of the General Staff thought him mistaken and had stayed up on duty all that last night. At 3.30 a.m. they received reports of heavy shelling along the Soviet–German frontier. They knew this for what it was: the beginning of war. Timoshenko ordered Zhukov to call Blizhnyaya by telephone. Zhukov obediently asked a sleepy Vlasik, the chief of Stalin’s bodyguard, to rouse the Leader.

Like a schoolboy rejecting proof of simple arithmetic, Stalin disbelieved his ears. Breathing heavily, he grunted to Zhukov that no counter-measures should be taken. The German armies had had no more compliant victim. Stalin’s only concession to Zhukov was to rise from his bed and return to Moscow by limousine. There he met Zhukov and Timoshenko along with Molotov, Beria, Voroshilov and Lev Mekhlis. (Mekhlis was a party bureaucrat who had carried out many tasks for Stalin in the Great Terror.) Pale and bewildered, he sat with them at the table clutching an empty pipe for comfort. He could not accept that he had been wrong about Hitler. He muttered that the outbreak of hostilities must have originated in a conspiracy within the Wehrmacht. Always there had to be a conspiracy. When Timoshenko demurred, Stalin retorted that ‘if it were necessary to organise a provocation, German generals would bomb their own cities’. Ludicrously he was still trying to persuade himself that the situation was reversible: ‘Hitler surely doesn’t know about it.’ He ordered Molotov to get in touch with Ambassador Schulenburg to clarify the situation. This was clutching at a final straw while Armageddon erupted. Schulenburg had in fact already requested an interview with Molotov in the Kremlin. In the meantime Timoshenko and Zhukov went on imploring Stalin’s permission to organise armed counter-measures.

Schulenburg, who had sought to discourage Hitler from invading, brought the unambiguous military news. Molotov reported back to Stalin: ‘The German government has declared war on us.’ Stalin slumped into his chair and an unbearable silence followed. It was broken by Zhukov, who put forward measures to hold up the forces of the enemy. Timoshenko corrected him: ‘Not to hold up but to annihilate.’ Even then, though, Stalin continued to stipulate that Soviet ground forces should not infringe German territorial integrity. Directive No. 2 was dispatched at 7.15 a.m.

The Germans swarmed like locusts over the western borderlands of the USSR. Nobody, except perhaps Stalin, seriously expected the Red Army to push them back quickly to the river Bug. A military calamity had occurred on a scale unprecedented in the wars of the twentieth century. Stalin had not yet got a grip on himself. He was visibly distraught and could not focus his mind on essential matters. When Timoshenko returned from the People’s Commissariat of Defence to confer, Stalin refused to see him. Politics, even at this moment, had to come first and he insisted that a Politburo meeting should take precedence. Finally at nine o’clock in the morning Timoshenko was allowed to present a plan for the creation of a Supreme Command. The Politburo meanwhile gave Molotov the task of speaking on radio at midday. Stalin still felt disoriented. If he had wanted, he could have given the address himself. But shock and embarrassment deflected him. He was determined to stay at the centre of things, however – and he knew that Molotov would not let him down at the microphone. Stalin was not wasting time with resentment about what Hitler had done to him. War had started in earnest. He and the USSR had to win it.

How had he let himself be tricked? For weeks the Wehrmacht had been massing on the western banks of the River Bug as dozens of divisions were transferred from elsewhere in Europe. The Luftwaffe had sent squadrons of reconnaissance aircraft over Soviet cities. All this had been reported to Stalin by his military intelligence agency. In May and June he had been continuously pressed by Timoshenko and Zhukov to sanction the dispositions for an outbreak of fighting. Richard Sorge, the Soviet agent in the Germany embassy in Tokyo, had raised the alarm. Winston Churchill had sent telegrams warning Stalin. The USSR’s spies in Germany had mentioned the preparations being made. Even the Chinese Communist Party alerted Moscow about German intentions.

Yet Stalin had made up his mind. Rejecting the warnings, he put faith in his own judgement. That Stalin blundered is beyond question. Yet there were a few extenuating circumstances. Stalin expected there to be war with Germany sooner or later. Like military planners everywhere, he was astonished by Hitler’s easy triumph over France. The success achieved by the Wehrmacht in the West was likely to bring forward any decision by the Führer to turn eastwards and attack the USSR. But Stalin had some reason to believe that the Germans would not risk an attack in the year 1941. Although France had been humbled, Hitler had not dealt a fatal blow to the British. His armed forces had also met difficulties in the Balkans in the spring when action against the German occupation of Yugoslavia diverted troops needed for Operation Barbarossa. Stalin continued to hold to the belief that a successful invasion of the USSR would have to be started in early summer at the latest. Napoleon’s fate in 1812 had shown the importance of beating Russians without having to trudge through snow. By mid-June 1941 it looked as if the danger of a German crusade had faded.

Some Soviet intelligence agents were also denying that a German attack was imminent. A fog of reports befuddled Stalin’s calculations. He made things worse by insisting on being the sole arbiter of the data’s veracity. The normal processing of information was disallowed in the USSR. Stalin relied excessively on his personal intuition and experience. Not only fellow politicians but also People’s Commissar of Defence Timoshenko and Chief of the General Staff Zhukov were kept in the dark about reports from embassies and intelligence agencies. The Germans took advantage of the situation by planting misinformation; they did much to induce Stalin to believe that a military campaign was not in the offing. Thus Stalin in the early months of 1941 moved along a dual track: he scrupulously observed the terms of his pact with Nazi Germany while telling gatherings of the Soviet political and military elite that, if the Germans attacked, they would be repulsed with ferocious efficiency. He had been taking a massive gamble with his country’s security. Cautious in so many ways, Stalin trusted in his ability to read the runes of Hitler’s intentions without discussing the evidence with anyone else.

Stalin was shocked by Operation Barbarossa, but Molotov always defended the Boss against the charge that he collapsed under the strain:

It can’t be said he fell apart; certainly he was suffering but he did not show it. Stalin definitely had his difficulties. It would be stupid to claim he didn’t suffer. But he’s not depicted as he really was – he’s represented as a repentant sinner! Well, of course, that’s absurd. All those days and nights, as always, he went on working; he didn’t have time to fall apart or lose the gift of speech.

Stalin’s visitors’ book confirms that he did not lapse into passivity. Zhukov too insisted that Stalin’s recovery was swift. By the next day he had certainly taken himself in hand, and over the next few days he seemed much more like his old self. His will power saw him through. He had little choice. Failure to defeat the German armed forces would be fatal for the communist party and the Soviet state. The October Revolution would be crushed and the Germans would have Russia at their mercy.

On 23 June Stalin worked without rest in his Kremlin office. For fifteen hours at a stretch from 3.20 a.m. he consulted with the members of the Supreme Command. Central military planning was crucial, and he allowed his political subordinates to get on with their tasks while he concentrated on his own. Then at 6.25 p.m. he asked for oral reports from politicians and commanders. Molotov was with him practically the whole time. Stalin was gathering the maximum of necessary information before issuing further orders. Visitors are recorded as having come to him until 1.25 a.m. the next morning.

The Supreme Command or Stavka – the term used under Nicholas II in the First World War – had also been established on 23 June. Stalin was initially disinclined to become its formal head. He was not eager to identify himself as leader of a war effort which was in a disastrous condition. So it was Timoshenko who as Chairman led a Stavka including Stalin, Molotov, Voroshilov, Budënny, Zhukov and Kuznetsov. The others also tried to persuade Stalin to permit his designation as Supreme Commander. He refused even though in practice he acted as if he had accepted the post. The whole composition of Stavka was shaped by him, and it was noticeable that he insisted that leading politicians should belong to this military body. Not only Molotov but also Voroshilov and Budënny were basically communist party figures who lacked the professional expertise to run the contemporary machinery of war. Timoshenko, Zhukov and Kuznetsov were therefore outnumbered. Stalin would allow no great decision to be taken without the participation of the politicians, despite his own gross blunders of the past few days. He called generals to his office, made his enquiries about the situation to the west of Moscow and gave his instructions. About his supremacy there was no doubt.




These plans and preparations for massive operations in the west appeared to require that the German High Command would devote all its attention and resources to that theatre. Yet this was not Ludendorff’s response. During 1918, about one million of his men (fifty divisions) were actually retained on the Eastern Front. And for much of this time they were not just holding the line against the Bolsheviks. They were actually undertaking offensive operations.

The need to keep so many troops in the east arose out of an aspect of the German High Command that has largely escaped attention. Ludendorff and his acolytes were not merely military functionaries. They were also the determiners of their country’s foreign policy. That policy was one of aggressive expansionism. So when the Bolsheviks entered into negotiations with the German military, they found themselves confronted with draconian demands.

In the east, German war aims envisaged the dismemberment of much of European Russia and the subordination of the successor states economically and politically to the Reich. So severe were these demands that the Bolsheviks broke off negotiations. Retribution was swift. On 18 February fifty German divisions commenced a three-pronged advance into Russia. This brought Lenin back to the negotiating table. On 3 March the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed.

Its main provisions included the severing from Russia of Finland, the Ukraine, Lithuania, Courland, Livonia and Poland, and the placing of these new states under German tutelage. At a stroke, Russia lost 90 per cent of its coal reserves, 50 per cent of its industry, and 30 per cent of its population.

To enforce this peace, all fifty German divisions still in the east would be retained there. That these troops would be needed soon became obvious. On 10 March the puppet regime set up by the Germans in the Ukraine collapsed. Despite the imminence of the March offensive in the west, Ludendorff ordered that the Ukraine be occupied. Within a week, German forces had entered Kiev and Kharkov. By April they had reached the Don at Rostov. Instability elsewhere led to the occupation of the Crimea and an advance on the Baku oilfields in the Caucasus. Amazingly, the latter operation continued even beyond Germany’s spell of successes on the Western Front. In late July Ludendorff pronounced that Baku oil was a ‘vital question’. On 18 August (ten days after he had stated that, in the west, the German army had suffered its blackest day) he ordered that the small British force which had subsequently occupied Baku be expelled. On 10 September, as the Allies were assembling for the climactic assault .on the Hindenburg Line, this proposed action at Baku was accomplished by a German contingent aided by some Russian units (Lenin had been offered a share of the oil by Ludendorff). In late September Ludendorff gathered a team of specialists to proceed to Baku to get the oil flowing. Two days later he announced to the kaiser that the war was lost.

The military implications of all this need to be emphasized. To enforce his programme of aggrandizement against Russia, Ludendorff had to station fifty divisions permanently on the Eastern Front in 1918. Thus one million men were tied to a region where their foes had been thoroughly defeated and from which no military threat now emanated. And this was at a time when the culminating battles of the war were being fought in the west. Had a less predatory eastern policy been adopted, it has been estimated that the Germans could have moved at least 500,000 troops from Russia to the Western Front. Yet so implacable was Ludendorff’s determination to achieve expansion in the east that he carried through his policy to the detriment of his bid for victory in the west. The folly of allowing the military to dominate all aspects of policy in Germany could not have been better illustrated.



In the west, Ludendorff’s offensive opened on 21 March. It fell on the weak defences of the British Fifth Army and the rather stronger defences of the Third Army between St Quentin and Arras. The German artillery was so superior numerically to that of the British that in the south the storm troopers speedily broke out into open country. In a week they advanced 40 miles on a 50-mile front – a feat without parallel in the stalemate period – and were approaching the important rail junction of Amiens. All this was a confirmation of the value of the storm troop method in the opening phase of a battle against rudimentary defences. But soon the crucial shortcomings in the method revealed themselves. The German troops were approaching exhaustion. Casualties, especially in the elite storm troop formations, had been heavy. The great mass of the artillery was still struggling to get forward. Increasingly, therefore, the infantry had only their light weapons to rely upon for fire support. On the other side of the line, the British were rushing reserves and guns forward by rail. These came from the French sector, from the unattacked portion of the British front, and even from Britain itself. The inevitable consequence was that the German onrush was brought conclusively to a halt.

Thwarted in Picardy, Ludendorff turned north, where the ground had now dried. On 9 April he attacked to the south of the Ypres salient. His method once more yielded immediate gains, especially on the front of two reluctant Portuguese divisions. Here too, however, and for the same reasons as already noted, the front eventually stabilized. No strategic goals had been achieved. The British army, declared by Ludendorff to be his deadliest foe, was battered but still intact.

Also firmly in place was the main union between the great Western Allies. On 26 March the British and French political and military leadership had met at Doullens. An earlier suggestion by Petain that the British and French armies should separate so as to cover respectively the Channel ports and Paris was swept aside. So, anyway on this matter, was Petain. General Ferdinand Foch was placed in overall charge of all Allied armies on the Western Front. If this did not have the military significance that some commentators have claimed, it was certainly evidence that the alliance would hold together and fight on united.

Meanwhile, Ludendorff had to decide on what to do next. In a convoluted argument, he declared that, while Britain was still the main foe, he must now attack the French. His justification was that it had been French reserves that had saved the British in March and April. These reserves must now be eliminated or pinned to the French sector. Then he could once more turn his attention to the British. In fact, this reasoning was merely an elaborate justification for the course that had been forced upon him by events. If he was to mount a further offensive in reasonable time it must be to the south. Returning to the Somme or pressing on in Flanders held no attraction, and the only other options available on the British sector – the Lens-Loos industrial wastelands or the formidable heights of Vimy Ridge – were not appealing.

So Ludendorff chose to attack the French on the Chemin des Dames, an area which had seen no fighting since October 1917. His forty-division assault, backed by 3,500 guns, was launched on 27 May. His methods again won immediate gains, helped on this occasion by the obtuse policy of the French army commander. Incomprehensibly, General Denis Duchene crowded most of his troops into the forward zone and thus rendered them easy targets for the German gunners. Moreover, on one sector of the front all that opposed the Germans were the shattered remnants of eight British divisions sent to the area to recuperate after their devastation in the March offensive. In three days, the Germans advanced 40 miles. The following day saw them once more on the Marne and in sight of Paris.

Then, as French reserves began arriving, the pace of the German advance slackened. This might have been of little concern to Ludendorff. He had clearly achieved his purpose of eliminating many French divisions and attracting others away from the British front. But his objective was changing. Paris now beckoned. It lay just 40 miles from his foremost troops. The opportunity seemed too good to miss. Reinforcements were hurried from Flanders (the proposed area of his renewed offensive against the British) to assist in the advance on Paris. Yet the opportunity proved not to be there. His new formations could gain no ground against a re-established French defence. Their only contribution was to an increased German casualty list.

Despite this failure, Ludendorff decided to persist in this region. Paris, rather than the British army, was now his great objective. But the appearance of American troops on the Marne indicated that the balance of resources was moving decisively against him. And the need to act in haste deprived his armies of the careful preparations that had characterized his offensives so far. So the next two operations launched against the French – one to the north of the Chemin des Dames on 9 June, the other on the Marne on 15 July -lacked thorough planning and the element of surprise. Both were halted by the artillery and reserve divisions brought forward by the thoroughly alerted French Command. Nevertheless, Ludendorff declared himself satisfied. In a reversion to his original plan, he noted that French reserves had now been drawn into the southern battle. So he hurried to Flanders to prepare a new offensive against the British. But just as he reached his headquarters there, dramatic events began to unfold. His adversaries were moving to the attack.


How can we sum up the German effort between March and July 1918? Considerable amounts of territory had certainly been overrun, especially in the area of the old Somme battlefield and between the Aisne and the Marne. In five months Ludendorff had succeeded in capturing more territory than the Allies had managed in three years.

Yet none of the ground taken was of vital strategic or even tactical importance. Major rail junctions, such as Amiens and Hazebrouck, had evaded Ludendorff’s grasp. Moreover, the great bulges created in the Germans’ line by their advances meant that in July Ludendorff was having to hold twice the length of front he had held in March. And he was required to do this with far fewer men. German casualties during these months were probably about one million. The Allies too had suffered grievously – they had probably lost about 900,000 men. But the Germans were less able to bear their losses. Their manpower pool was smaller than that of Britain and France combined, and they did not have the prospect of limitless American reinforcements. Furthermore, despite their successes, they had not yet found a formula for victory Storm troop tactics had proved able to break the enemy front, but not to prevent fresh lines from being formed ahead of the German advance. The end result of Ludendorff’s efforts, therefore, was to deplete his army and to place much of it in poorly defended salients. That was all.

Pearl Harbor Japanese “The Re-attack Controversy”


Many commentators have asserted that the Japanese missed a great opportunity by not launching follow-up attacks targeting the Navy Yard machine shops and repair facilities, the Submarine Base, and the fuel tank farm. Such criticism is part of the official US Navy account of the battle, where the Japanese are castigated as they “neglected to damage the shoreside facilities at the Pearl Harbor Naval Base, which played an important role in the Allied victory in World War II.” This view is echoed by most historical commentators, for example, Goldstein and Dillon (coauthors of At Dawn We Slept) and Wenger have asserted that

One stroke of luck for the Americans on 7 December was the fact that the Pearl Harbor attack plan contained no provision for destroying the Navy Yard. Had the Japanese done so, they would have put the US Pacific Fleet out of action far more effectively than by wrecking individual ships. The fleet would have had no choice but to return to the Pacific Coast. This withdrawal could have significantly altered the course of the war.

This assessment appears to have begun with none other than Admiral Chester Nimitz, Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet, who once remarked that destruction of the fuel storage tanks “would have prolonged the war for another two years.” The venerable Morison picked up the theme in the semi-official History of United States Naval Operations in World War II and made the idea well-known. He asserted:

There is some question, however, whether the aviators were directed to the right targets, even from the Japanese point of view. They knocked out the Battle Force and decimated the striking air power present; but they neglected permanent installations at Pearl Harbor, including the repair shops which were able to do an amazingly quick job on the less severely damaged ships. And they did not even attempt to hit the power plant or the large fuel oil “tank farm,” filled to capacity, whose loss (in the opinion of Admiral Hart) would have set back our advance across the Pacific much longer than did the damage to the fleet.

Morison later expressed his opinion on the issue:

Tactically speaking, the Japanese committed the blunder in the Pearl Harbor attack of concentrating their attacks only on warships instead of directing them on land installations and fuel tanks. Not only was it strategically a folly, but politically, too, it was an unredeemable blunder.

Prange, the great historian of the Pearl Harbor attack, added:

By failing to exploit the shock, bewilderment, and confusion on Oahu, by failing to take full advantage of its savage attack against Kimmel’s ships, by failing to pulverize the Pearl Harbor base, by failing to destroy Oahu’s vast fuel stores, and by failing to seek out and sink America’s carriers, Japan committed its first and probably its greatest strategical error of the entire Pacific conflict.

Goldstein, Dillon and Wenger frame the point in these terms:

One stroke of luck for the Americans on 7 December was the fact that the Pearl Harbor attack plan contained no provision for destroying the Navy Yard. Had the Japanese done so, they would have put the US Pacific Fleet out of action far more effectively than by wrecking individual ships. The fleet would have had no choice but to return to the Pacific Coast. This withdrawal could have significantly altered the course of the war.

Van der Vat claimed that the fuel tanks and “vital shoreside facilities” were to be the “prime target of wave number three” and that their destruction “would have rendered the base useless and forced the US Navy back to the West Coast, over two thousand miles to the east,” a claim repeated by Clarke and others. Captain Joseph Taussig, Jr. claimed that “One lucky hit would have sorely curtailed the fuel supplies in the Pacific and created a logistics nightmare….” Admiral Bloch, the Naval District Commander with local defense responsibility, testifying before a post-attack inquiry, said that if Japan had struck the shore installations “we would have been damaged infinitely more than we were.” Peattie makes the claim that “… there is little doubt that these targets could have been destroyed by Nagumo’s force.” Another claimed that destroying the shipyard would have delayed serious operations in the Pacific by at least a year.

These assessments have been absorbed into the popular consciousness: a television program on “The Myths of Pearl Harbor” asserted that “had the Japanese launched a third wave attack against the fuel tanks and naval shipyard, the United States would have been forced to pull their crippled fleet back to San Francisco… leaving Pearl Harbor defenseless.”

The tale of the argument on the carrier bridge where stodgy Nagumo turned his back on his aviator’s demands for a third strike has been related in many places, based on Fuchida’s version of the event:

On his return at midday, Fuchida had told Nagumo that there were still many significant targets worthy of attack. There was a complete infrastructure of dockyard installations, fuel storage tanks, power station and ship repair and maintenance facilities which supported the US Pacific Fleet and without which its rebuilding would have been impossible. There were also plenty of vessels not touched in the first assaults.

According to Toland, the encounter happened this way:

Fuchida returned about an hour later and was greeted by an exultant Genda; then he went to the bridge and reported to Nagumo and Kusaka that at least two battleships had been sunk and four seriously damaged. He begged the admirals to launch another attack at once and this time concentrate on the oil tanks…. Kaga’s captain, at the urging of Commander Sata, also recommended a strike against installations and fuel tanks…. “We should retire as planned,” Kusaka advised Nagumo, who nodded. A staff officer suggested that they try and locate and sink the American carriers. Opinion on the bridge was divided. “There will be no more attacks of any kind,” said Kusaka. We will withdraw.”

Toland added, in a footnote,

Some accounts state that Fuchida and Genda repeatedly pleaded with Nagumo to return. In an interview in 1966, Admiral Kusaka recalled that they merely suggested a second attack and that his words “We will withdraw” ended the discussion; thereafter no one expressed a forceful opinion.

Clearly, Kusaka, the First Air Fleet Chief of Staff, had a different perception of what happened on the Akagi’s bridge that critical afternoon.

Fuchida published an article in the United States Naval Institute Proceedings, which was reprinted in 1969 in an anthology, The Japanese Navy in World War II. This article was written as a first-person account.

My plane was just about the last one to get back to Akagi where refueled and rearmed planes were being lined up on the busy flight deck in preparation for yet another attack. I was called to the bridge as soon as the plane stopped, and could tell on arriving there that Admiral Nagumo’s staff had been engaged in heated discussions about the advisability of launching the next attack. They were waiting for my account of the battle. [After reporting the extent of the damage] I expressed my views saying, “All things considered we have achieved a great amount of destruction, but it would be unwise to assume that we have destroyed everything. There are still many targets remaining which should be hit. Therefore I recommend that another attack be launched.”… I had done all I could to urge another attack, but the decision rested entirely with Admiral Nagumo, and he chose to retire without launching the next attack.

In this account Fuchida mentions “heated discussions,” but only claims that he recommended an additional attack against the “many targets remaining,” implying targets from the original target set, ships and aircraft. No mention is made of attacking the shipyard or oil storage tanks. An approximation of this scene was included in the movie Tora! Tora! Tora! Fuchida served as one of the principle Japanese advisors to the producers of that film.

There are two other accounts of Fuchida’s post-attack report, both by Fuchida as related to Prange, one in At Dawn We Slept published in 1981, and another in God’s Samurai, Prange’s biography of Fuchida, published in 1990. Both contain specific, line-by-line conversations, including quotations attributed to Nagumo, Kusaka, Genda, and other staff members.

On departing Pearl Harbor Fuchida claimed that he “mentally earmarked for destruction” the fuel tanks and the “vast repair and maintenance facilities” for the attention of a follow-on strike. Upon his return to Akagi, after collecting confirming information from other pilots, he went to the bridge to report to Nagumo. He claimed that “a fierce argument” ensued on the subject of a follow-on strike. In Dawn the exchange is related as follows (based on Fuchida’s testimony which Prange dramatizes in the third person):

Then Kusaka took up the questioning. “What do you think the next targets should be?” Fuchida drew a quick breath. The wording seemed to indicate an aggressive intent. He came back swiftly, “The next targets should be the dockyards, the fuel tanks, and an occasional ship.” He saw no need to attack the battleships again.

In God’s Samurai, Fuchida (again through Prange) gives the exchange a different flavor:

If we attack again, what should the targets be?” asked Kusaka.

Fuchida had no difficulty in answering, having thought of little else all the way back to the Akagi. “ The damaged battleships and the other vessels in the harbor, the dock yards, and the fuel tanks,” he informed them…. Nagumo made no immediate decision, dismissing Fuchida with a word of praise. As soon as he departed, Genda took up the battle…. However, Nagumo refused to attack Pearl Harbor again or to hunt for the elusive [American] flattops…. Akagi hoisted a signal flag indicating retirement to the northwest. Upset, Fuchida scrambled to the bridge.

What’s happened?” he asked Genda.

His classmate shrugged. “It can’t be helped.”

That wasn’t good enough for Fuchida. He turned to Nagumo, saluted, and asked bluntly, “Why aren’t we attacking again?”

Kusaka forestalled whatever reply Nagumo might have made. “The objective of the Pearl Harbor operation is achieved,” he said. “Now we must prepare for future operations.”

Silently, Fuchida saluted and stalked off the bridge. “I was a bitter and angry man,” he recalled, “for I was convinced that Nagumo should have attacked again.”

There are inconsistencies in these accounts that could be picked over at length. That is unnecessary, since the conversation, in whatever version, the “heated discussion,” Genda’s “begging,” stalking off the bridge after a second confrontation, re-striking the battleships or not re-striking the battleships—all, without a doubt, did not occur as related.

Kusaka stated in an interview that he had dismissed the subject of a follow-on attack from the outset. There was a one-question exchange on the subject initiated by a staff officer, not Fuchida or Genda; he did not consider the exchange to be sufficiently important to mention it in his account of the attack.

Nagumo and Kusaka had possibly discussed the question before Fuchida landed. In Dull’s account, intercepted radio traffic inferred to the Japanese that an estimated fifty land-based bombers were still operational, and they were still concerned over the unlocated American carriers. Nagumo and Kusaka decided that Kido Butai should quickly clear the area. Dull’s account did not mention a confrontation with Fuchida.

Genda categorically denied that any confrontation took place or that a proposal for an additional strike arose. He did not “take up the battle” for an additional strike, having realized long before that Nagumo had his mind set against such an attack. Genda believed bringing it up would be of no use. He stated in his memoirs that he was aware of the scene in Tora! Tora! Tora!, but explicitly denied that any such exchange took place or that a follow-on strike was proposed by Fuchida at all.

Fuchida apparently noted American post-war statements regarding the supposed importance of a third strike against fuel and shipyard facilities and created fictional conversations that raised his perspicacity to heroic stature.

The executive secretary of the US Naval Institute asked Genda why the Japanese did not bomb the fuel tanks. “He replied ingenuously that nobody had thought of this target.” When interviewed in 1945 immediately after the war, before all the American comments about striking the shipyard or the oil tanks were available in Japan, Fuchida was asked why there had been no third wave strike against Pearl Harbor. Fuchida made no mention of proposals to further attack the shipyard or the fuel tanks.

Infrastructure targets had been briefly considered by the Japanese planners. Genda rejected them in his initial estimates because there wasn’t enough ordnance to spare (recall his dictum that hitting a few critical targets decisively was better than hitting many targets with only minor damage). There wasn’t sufficient ordnance to thoroughly attack fleet and OCA targets as it was, and a few odd bombs directed against the shipyard or the oil tank farms during the first or second waves would have been a wasteful half-measure—more like a hundreth-measure.

Thousands of miles away, members of the Combined Fleet staff, including the Chief of Staff Ugaki and Yamamoto, considered follow-on strikes. These officers appear to have been looking towards a more complete annihilation of the Pacific Fleet, and were not considering infrastructure targets.

Genda considered remaining in the Pearl Harbor area for days and dispatching repeated attacks but, as Willmott has noted:

[Genda] was not necessarily thinking in terms of attacks on port facilities, shore installations and the like. He was thinking primarily in terms of inflicting crippling losses upon the US Pacific Fleet. Indeed, on the morning of the attack Genda limited himself to the proposal that returning Kates should be armed with torpedoes to meet any American forces which tried to mount a counter-attack, but that if none materialized, the Kates should be armed for the normal bombing role. Such deliberation amounted to no more than normal staff procedure, and there seems to be little evidence to suggest that Genda believed a follow-up attack would be necessary and on his own admission he made no representation to his superiors which suggested he was convinced of the need for such an operation.

Some, particularly the more junior staff officers assigned to the Combined Fleet, were inflamed with fighting spirit, stoked by relief that great things had been accomplished at little cost, and were ready for a repeat performance; some felt that Kido Butai was still in dangerous waters, and the additional gains were not worth the additional risk.

One man staunchly against such an attack was Nagumo. He had doubts about the raid from the outset, and had shouldered for weeks the worry that his fragile carriers could be hit while thousands of miles from the nearest friendly port. When the attack met its objectives, he was more than happy to accept an unexpectedly one-sided victory and depart.

The idea that others would suddenly want to champion a return attack to hit shipyard and fuel facilities does not fit with the logistics-blind worldview of Japanese naval officers.

Realizing that the Japanese would likely not have gone after the shipyard and docks and fuel farms does not finalize the debate. Would a third wave attack against those targets been as destructive and as debilitating as so many maintain?

Composition of a Third-Wave Strike

Three hundred fifty aircraft were sent in the two waves of the attack. Of them, 29 (8%) were shot down and another 111 damaged,52 of which 10 to 15 (perhaps as many as 20) were damaged so severely they were jettisoned. Others were written off as unsalvageable. Of the other damaged aircraft, it is not known how many could not be flown until they were repaired by the ships’ maintenance force. Willmott reports that once all the aircraft had returned to the carriers the Japanese had 265 aircraft available for operations.

The Japanese would not have launched another two-wave attack with all available bombers. They were concerned that the US carriers, so far unlocated, would appear and attack. A duplicate two-wave attack would not leave aircraft to search for or strike American carriers. They undoubtedly would have held ready a strike armed with counter-shipping munitions.

If another strike was to be launched, the first order of business would be to launch reconnaissance to ensure the American carriers would not interfere. They could be almost anywhere, to the northeast between Hawaii and San Francisco, east (San Diego), northwest (Midway), west (Johnston Island), or south (Palmyra and the southern training operational areas). Because the Japanese had made a high-speed night transit, they could not even be sure that carriers were not to the north. A 360-degree search out to 250nm would be prudent. If the Japanese used 10-degree search intervals with a single aircraft on each track, 35 aircraft would be required.

The aircraft for this search could come from several sources. First, there were two cruisers accompanying the force, Tone and Chikuma, specially designed to handle six reconnaissance floatplanes apiece. If they contributed ten aircraft, the balance of 25 would come out of the carriers’ complements. These would be B5N Kate carrier attack bombers on the carriers, which had the dual mission of reconnaissance as well as attack. There were the aircraft carried by the two fast battleships that accompanied the carriers, but these aircraft were usually employed in the inner anti-submarine patrol.

The Japanese carriers started with 144 B5N Kate carrier attack planes and 135 D3A Val dive-bombers. 16 Kates were lost or written off after the attack along with 31 Vals, leaving 128 Kates and 104 Vals. The crated spare aircraft would require at least 24 hours to assemble.

If one-third of the remaining aircraft were retained as an anti-shipping reserve, 70 B5N Kate carrier attack bombers (with two or three 250kg bombs each) and 70 D3A Val dive bombers (with one 250kg bomb each) could be employed in a third wave attack. They could deliver 210 to 280 250kg bombs.

This is a high estimate. It is more likely that the Japanese would have retained at least half their aircraft as insurance against enemy carriers, and, as they viewed the B5N Kate as their real ship-killer, they would have retained a greater proportion of them for the anti-shipping strike. 100 of the modified “shallow water” torpedoes were delivered for this operation, and 40 expended in the attack. That might have limited the number of B5N Kates in the anti-shipping strike to 60. However, there may also have been unmodified torpedoes aboard.

Two hundred eighty 250kg bombs can be used as an upper estimate of the ordnance a third wave attack might deliver.

Falkenhayn’s Strategy


The Sacred Way, Verdun



At the turn of the New Year 1916, Germany’s overall military position could have been far worse. Its armies stood deep in Russia and the Balkans. Allied initiatives in the Middle East had to date achieved only marginal success. The Italian theater seemed permanently stabilized. Austria-Hungary was wobbling but no longer staggering. The Ottoman Empire was doing well enough with German infusions at command and staff levels supplemented by minor direct military assistance. Domestically, Germany’s morale and economy alike, though unexpectedly highly stressed, showed no serious signs of erosion, much less exhaustion. The navy was still a fleet in being, if it had not yet achieved successes commensurate with its cost. Above all the Second Reich’s trump card, the army, had shown itself the Great War’s most comprehensively effective fighting force—even if in part by default. Strategic planning was not its forte. Its high command’s record was at best questionable. But the same could be said for its opponents. And in the crucial categories of administration, operational art and tactics, above all fighting spirit, the German Army stood at the head of the list. At Neuville when the final order to evacuate the town resulted in a near panic, it was a Sanitätsgefreiter, a Landsturm medic officially well over-age for the front line, armed with nothing deadlier than bandages and iodine, who restored calm in his hard-hammered company. Every engagement, large or small, seemed to produce similar examples among junior officers, NCOs, and rear-rank privates.

All these positives nevertheless added up to a negative. Germany was, after eighteen months, without any reasonable doubt fighting a war of attrition, the kind of war history, theory, and statistics alike indicated the Reich ultimately could not win. In early January 1916, Falkenhayn summarized his position to Bethmann: Germany’s political and economic circumstances made it “extremely desirable” to end the war before the end of the year.

In a more immediate, practical context, from Falkenhayn’s perspective the military and political capital of Hindenburg and Ludendorff had never been higher. In particular Hindenburg, the duo’s front man, was a household name. His short-cropped hair and prominent stomach suggested a man “in the best years,” undiminished by the inroads of time, epitomizing the older generation’s virtues and virility. There was talk in high circles of having Kaiser William deposed and hospitalized, with the Crown Prince becoming regent and Hindenburg as imperial administrator (Reichsverweser). No one doubted who would exercise the real power in that structure.

Falkenhayn was an easy man to dislike. His manners and his grooming were alike impeccable, inviting characterization as a soft-shoed carpet-knight. His manner in public and private was courteous, ironic, casual—and inscrutable. By comparison with Hindenburg and Ludendorff, Falkenhayn could readily appear a self-centered, desk-and-papers general ill-placed in charge of a real war. Instead he emerged in 1916 as Schlieffen’s spiritual successor, with a plan that was no less a gambler’s gambit: a plan he saw as a chance to decide the war and dish his opponents at the same time. It involved a shift of emphasis to the West, albeit not in quest of a decisive victory in the traditional model. Germany lacked the resources to overthrow both Britain and France. Instead Falkenhayn proposed to win the war by inverting its attritional character, increasing the military pressure on the Allies to unbearable, or at least unacceptable, limits and thereby impelling negotiations in the style of Bismarck.

The consistent failure of the French offensives in 1915 had convinced not only Falkenhayn, but many of his close General Staff associates, that the Third Republic was near the end of its resources. In particular, French soldiers were morally and militarily inferior to their German opponents. On the other hand, German experience indicated that even significantly weaker forces occupying typical Western Front positions could hold off and see off the mass attacks that were the norm in 1914/15. The risk of seeking to invert attrition was to reverse the past year’s circumstances: bleeding Germany while storming French defenses.

It was a Hegelian conundrum: offense-defense, thesis-antithesis. Falkenhayn saw the synthesis as involving a shift from tactics to psychology: breaking the French will by overloading and short-circuiting the French psyche. Demonstrate that France’s military situation was hopeless, and its labile national character would collapse. Britannia’s best sword would be struck from her hand, and—with a little help from the U-boats—Germany’s real archenemy would be ready to conclude peace as well.

The next question, the critical one from Falkenhayn’s perspective, was how best to force France’s breakdown? His answer was to weaken the French army by compelling, or impelling, it to repeat the behavior of 1915 and take high casualties attacking German positions. A large-scale breakthrough attempt was likely—indeed almost certain given Germany’s continued overall inferiority in men and guns—to suffer the same fate as the Allied efforts of 1915: an initial break-in that turned, in Falkenhayn’s words, to a mass grave. The chief of staff initially considered mounting a series of small operations sufficiently threatening or embarrassing to generate immediate French responses. No combination seemed likely to be appropriately provocative, and Falkenhayn increasingly turned to a single initiative centered on Verdun. Since Roman times it had been a fortress covering the Meuse Valley. Logistically, the area was well served from the German side by rail lines. Operationally, Verdun was the focus of a French salient so narrow that it could readily be turned to a killing ground by German heavy artillery. Strategically it was difficult to reinforce, being connected to the rest of France by one road and a single railroad line. In a policy context, Verdun was sufficiently important militarily and psychologically—at least from a German perspective—that the French would have to make every effort to retain it. Verdun, moreover, lay in the sector of the army commanded by Crown Prince William. Placing him in command of the attack would reinforce Falkenhayn’s position with the heir and his father, who though by now a figurehead still occupied the Imperial throne.

A traditional recipe for rabbit stew begins with the instruction “catch one large, plump rabbit.” Falkenhayn’s intention was to commit initially only ten divisions to the attack—a modest force by Western Front standards. The real work was to be done by a mass of heavy artillery, assembled with the greatest possible secrecy and unleashed with the largest possible surprise. The infantry would advance to the high ground on the east bank of the Meuse, within easy artillery range of Verdun, but short of the city itself. Falkenhayn proposed to force the French into an inescapable dilemma. They might abandon Verdun when casualties inflicted by the German guns became unsupportable and hand the Germans a major prestige victory. They might seek to relieve pressure on Verdun by attacking on other sectors, inviting a repetition of the blindfolded butcheries of 1915. Or they might seek to retake the high ground around Verdun under the heaviest barrages of the entire war, with their own artillery unable to deploy effectively in the salient. The élan of the French soldiers would become the means of their destruction—this time not by desperate close-quarters fighting with rifles, grenades, and machine guns, but under German artillery at long range.

Falkenhayn expected the third alternative with anticipation that at times seemed more than professional. His constant references during the operation to “bleeding them white,” “bleeding them to death” and “blood spurting” disturbed even Crown Prince William, never exactly remarkable for sensitivity on any subject. Perhaps the chief of staff sought to convince himself. No one at general headquarters remembered much of this kind of talk during the planning stages. Did it matter to Falkenhayn exactly what happened at Verdun, as long as the Allies were weakened? Support for that hypothesis can be drawn from his reaction to Fifth Army Headquarters’ proposal for the attack. This expanded Falkenhayn’s initial plan, first by following up the attack on the east bank with one on the west and then by setting the objective as taking either Verdun itself or the heights directly dominating it. Knobelsdorf, the Crown Prince, and their senior subordinates understood well enough Falkenhayn’s intention of wearing down the French without concurring in the details. The Fifth Army, however, regarded reducing the salient and neutralizing the fortress as primary objectives whose achievement would best secure an eventual decision.

Falkenhayn expressed reservations, but in the end not only accepted the revision but agreed to provide two more corps for the attack—at a time of his choosing. Perhaps he was more concerned with possibilities and eventualities than specifics. Thus Verdun’s capture would be acceptable, perhaps even welcome, if it contributed to weakening the Allies, whether in futile direct counterattacks or equally futile offensives elsewhere, to be followed by Germany’s resumption of a war of movement: a series of initiatives to break what remained of the Allied armies—assuming France did not, as expected, sue for peace earlier.

Strategically, Falkenhayn’s conception was a departure from both the massive frontal breakthroughs that had proved so expensively futile for the Allies in 1915, and the battles of envelopment on the Schlieffen model that had been no more decisive for Moltke in the west and Ludendorff in the east. Nor did he overlook that if the Crown Prince were hailed as the victor of Verdun, it meant a transfusion for a monarchy also suffering from “bleeding,” and corresponding reinforcement of Falkenhayn’s position.

The chief of staff was confident that he had created a no-lose situation that would impel the Allies, whatever they did, to assume the role of an obliging enemy: behaving as though their orders were being written by the German High Command. His code name for the operation was Gericht. Like a good few German words, Gericht has variant connotations. It means “law court.” It means “judgment”, as in Last Judgment. And it is the root for “execution ground.”