The main point here is that military systems have to keep reforming to maintain their edge. The first example is that the British Army that barely won the Boer War of 1899 would have been crushed at Mons in 1914 without reforms. Limited reforms shifted the British Army from one based on the gifted amateur to a professionally trained one, which the military resisted, but which allowed it to survive the opening German offensive at Mons in Belgium. The British Expeditionary Force was able to execute a controlled retreat, that helped save the French Army, and set up a defensive line at the Marne River in France which basically lasted the whole war.
Even most WWII buffs are not that familiar with the Battle of Shanghai of 1937, but it was one of the biggest battles of WWII involving a million men. The point here is that even though the Japanese military was fairly modernized, it was still semi-medieval relying on a samurai-like fighting spirit, a fanatical urge to act, and massive numbers of men instead of efficient tactics. Japan eventually took Shanghai but the Chinese forces were able to escape and Japan ended up in a war without end in China. As the allies later approached Japan, it had millions of men still stationed in China.
The German Army was designed for quick military victories involving initiative and maneuver, which worked very well in Europe from 1939 to 1941. The Germans were tactical masters and no one could match them division for division. But once the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, strategic ability took over and the Russians were better at this. In WWI Germany lacked the resources to fight a strategic two-front war and its main mission after the war was to avoid this situation. But the German successes at the beginning of WWII apparently emboldened Hitler and his military to make one more decisive strike. But the massive space, weather, and manpower of Russia soon took over. In hindsight it is apparent that once the Germans failed to take Moscow, the war was over.
In 1944 the Russians amassed two million men as well as thousands of planes and tanks for Operation Bagration to drive the Germans out of Belarus (then Byelorussia). Hitler's interference made things worse as he was convinced the Russian attack would come through Ukraine further south, since Balarus was considered too swampy for a major attack, so resources were concentrated in Ukraine. Additional complacency found many Germans on leave so only about 166,000 were available to face the Russian onslaught at first. Once the fighting started, Hitler further exacerbated things by insisting that all ground be held to the last man, when initiative and maneuver were the German strong points. Like the Japanese relying on fighting spirit he relied on willpower. Hitler also insisted on a "guns and butter" approach where German factories ran single shifts until late in the war, consumer goods were still being produced, and women were excused from the war effort. Macgregor is particularly impressed with the Russians' unity of effort where one commander had total control of all military forces. This contrasts with the interservice rivalry in the German forces and the same interservice rivalry still present in US and UK forces today. Once the Russians smashed through Belarus the road to Berlin through Poland was open.
The Yom Kippur War in 1973 found Israel in a state of complacency about Arab abilities. Israeli culture considered Arabs incapable of any decisive attack. The surprise attack found Egypt across the Suez Canal and in charge of the east bank. After nine days, it was only the Israeli assets of initiative, maneuver, and a massive American airlift which allowed Israel to wage a counterattack across the canal and achieve a settlement. The nonstop congratulatory coverage of this counterattack by the American media may have obscured the final result. First, while the Israelis had surrounded the Egyptian Third Army, which held the southern part of the canal, the Second Army, which held the northern part, was still intact. Second, while the initial Egyptian objective was to regain a few miles of the east bank, it ended up regaining the whole Sinai Peninsula with the peace settlement.
Everyone has heard of Desert Storm but how many people have heard of 73 Easting? The Iraqi desert was flat without any landmarks so the US Army divided it into longitudinal lines using GPS. 73 Easting was such a line east of where the US Army started its offensive into Iraq and where the main battle took place. Everyone knows the results: using advanced armor with night vision (necessary in the desert dust storm) and laser guided targeting, the army smashed through one Republican Guard division, destroying one brigade. US capabilities were obvious but Bush then quickly announced a cease fire. His main objective was to drive Hussein out of Kuwait and overcome the Vietnam Syndrome which generally opposed US military action. The result was most of the Republican Guard escaped further into Iraq and Hussein survived. But Bush achieved what much of the public generally wants: a relatively bloodless victory in record time.
Macgregor finishes with an assessment of US military capability today which is filled with military jargon but some things are clear. He believes the US still has a WWII force structure, modernized but still without the unity of command and control the Soviets had in 1944. The US military also has a short term approach like just about everything else in American culture. He says the military needs to have real unity of command with a National Defense Staff instead of the usual interservice rivalry. America's grand national strategy is to maintain economic prosperity for which it needs access to world resources available by trade. The deliberate phasing of buildup, air offensive, and then ground offensive, as seen in the 1991 and 2003 wars in Iraq, are obsolete. It needs a much more flexible quick-force projection strategy.
Finally, he mentions how the world is full of weak and divided countries with disgruntled populations. But this description increasingly includes the US. It may seem ridiculous to call America weak but a fear of using military strength is weakness. Nevertheless, America now has a stronger leader in Trump and things seem to be changing.
- Hardcover: 288 pages
- Publisher: Naval Institute Press (30 June 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1612519962
- ISBN-13: 978-1612519968
- Product Dimensions: 15.9 x 3.2 x 23.5 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 612 g
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