Friday, March 23, 2018

Fullbore Friday

One of the enduring characteristics of WWI was the amount of blood that was shed over and over and over for such small bits of land.

So it was again in March of 2015;
French Commander-in-Chief General Joffre considered it vital that the Allied forces should take every advantage of their growing numbers and strength on the Western Front, both to relieve German pressure on Russia and if possible break through in France. British commander Sir John French agreed and pressed the BEF to adopt an offensive posture after the months of defence in sodden trenches. Joffre planned to reduce the great bulge into France punched by the German advance in 1914, by attacking at the extreme points in Artois and the Champagne. In particular, if the lateral railways in the plain of Douai could be recaptured, the Germans would be forced to evacuate large areas of the ground they had gained. This belief formed the plan that created most of the 1915 actions in the British sector. The attack at Neuve Chapelle was an entirely British affair – the French saying that until extra British divisions could relieve them at Ypres, they had insufficient troops in the area to either extend of support the action.
It is one thing to see the map of a battle as you see in the upper right hand part of the page - but here is a bird's eye view of the battlefield today. Driving through this now, it is an incredibly beautiful part of Europe - not the hellscape it was.

Neuve Chapelle village lies on the road between Bethune, Fleurbaix and Armentieres, near its junction with the Estaires – La Bassee road. The front lines ran parallel with the Bethune-Armentieres road, a little way to the east of the village. Behind the German line is the Bois de Biez. The ground here is flat and cut by many small drainage ditches. A mile ahead of the British was a long ridge – Aubers Ridge – barely 20 feet higher than the surrounding area but giving an observation advantage.
The attack was undertaken by Sir Douglas Haig’s First Army, with Rawlinson’s IV Corps on the left and Willcock’s Indian Corps on the right, squeezing out a German salient that included the village itself. The battle opened with a 35 minute bombardment of the front line, then 30 minutes on the village and reserve positions. The bombardment, for weight of shell fired per yard of enemy front, was the heaviest that would be fired until 1917.
Three infantry brigades were ordered to advance quickly as soon as the barrage lifted from the front line at 8.05am. The Gharwal Brigade of the Indian Corps advanced successfully, with the exception of the 1/39th Gharwal Rifles on the extreme right that went astray and plunged into defences untouched by the bombardment, suffering large losses. The 25th and 23rd Brigades of the 8th Division made good progress against the village. There were delays in sending further orders and reinforcements forward, but by nightfall the village had been captured, and the advanced units were in places as far forward as the Layes brook.
As was often the case in WWI - this 1915 battle was an experiment that hopefully informed future tactics. The price for this little wedge of land?

The British losses in the four attacking Divisions were 544 officers and 11108 other ranks killed, wounded and missing. German losses are estimated at a similar figure of 12000, which included 1687 prisoners.
...and the lessons?
It demonstrated that it was quite possible to break into the enemy positions – but also showed that this kind of success was not easily turned into breaking through them. The main lessons of Neuve Chapelle were that the artillery bombardment was too light to suppress the enemy defences; there were too few good artillery observation points; the reserves were too few to follow up success quickly; command communications took too long and the means of communicating were too vulnerable. One important lesson was perhaps not fully understood: the sheer weight of bombardment was a telling factor. Similar efforts in 1915 and 1916 would fall far short of its destructive power.

History tells us that we will again see larger-scale, heavy-casualty, nation-exhausting wars again. We are actually overdue for one. Like the decades of relative peace that followed Napoleon, so we too have enjoyed a long peace after the Cold War.

Human nature and habits are unchanged. This will come again, but when? Next week, next year, next decade? Where?

No one really knows, but what we can know is that it will most likely be a surprise. It will not be a short war. It will not be an easy war, and the world that comes after will be a foreign world than that existed before some nation's best and brightest thought they could control events.

Oh, and speaking of lessons, LongLongTrail forgot this one that History got. We'll see this again too;
The slowness and inaccuracy of communication between the front lines and the corps headquarters—the army had no wireless technology, and telephone lines at the front were usually cut or destroyed by enemy fire during battle—caused Lieutenant-General Sir Henry Rawlinson, the corps commander, to order a fresh advance when support troops were unprepared. In the confusion, some artillery even opened fire on friendly infantry. By the late afternoon, forward units were attacking without adequate artillery support or effective coordination, in failing light, against a hardening German defense.
... it (was) incredibly difficult for commanders on both sides to know where and when to effectively deploy their reserve troops. General John Charteris, director of military intelligence under British commander Alexander Haig, took another sobering lesson from the battle, writing that “England will have to accustom herself to far greater losses than those of Neuve Chapelle before we finally crush the German army.”

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Penny Wise? Pound Sand.

Yes, you want ALL the hospital ships ... and if you're smart, you want more.

Come on over to USNIBlog and read up.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

You had me at ASWOC Kathlene ... You had me at ASWOC

Kathlene Hicks and Andrew Metrick The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) have a report out you should put on your reading list, Contested Seas: Maritime Domain Awareness in Northern Europe.

They cover a broad spectrum of the challenges a rising Russia, but this is what got my attention;
A key implication of the heightened maritime threat environment is the need to improve the integration of and attention to undersea aspects of MDA. Antisubmarine warfare (ASW), a traditional strength of Western naval intelligence and operations, has atrophied since the end of the Cold War. Today, Russian submarines with conventional long-range missiles pose a threat to NATO. ASW must be integrated with MDA to address these concerns. Comprehensive understanding of the undersea realm should extend beyond ASW. Russia’s amphibious special forces and combat swimmers threaten more than just military targets, including civilian vessels and undersea cables, which are an integral part of MDA. ASW technology can be useful in countering these and other threats.

In the Norwegian Sea, the biggest challenge for NATO is detecting advanced ultra-quiet submarines. This issue is sharpened by dramatically depleted stockpiles of sonobuoys, a constant need for increasingly advanced sonobuoy technology, and an American unwillingness to share highly classified information about the undersea domain. NATO would benefit from an apparatus like the ASW Operations Centers (ASWOC), used most prominently during the Cold War to streamline ASW operations.
Read it all.

It builds off Jerry Hendrix's work on the GIUK Gap last year. There is a reason a lot of smart people are banging this gong ... pay attention.

Monday, March 19, 2018

The USAF Already Shifted to a Drone Future?

In an interesting article about the differences between Navy and USAF fighter pilots in Business Insider, I came across this nugget;
It must also be noted that starting a few years ago, the Air Force has made more drone pilots than fighter pilots annually - something those with long-term career aspirations should keep in mind.
Wait, what?

Well, did a little digging and it looks like the singularity took place last year;
The U.S. Air Force now has more jobs for MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drones than any other type of pilot position, the head of Air Education and Training Command said last week.
MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper family of remotely piloted aircraft are slated to have more than 1,000 pilot operators, according to fiscal 2017 statistics provided to on Tuesday. By comparison, the highest numbers in any other aircraft are 889 airmen piloting the C-17 Globemaster III and 803 flying the F-16 Fighting Falcon, said Lt. Col. Tracy Bunko, spokeswoman for AETC.

Not sure where to take this datapoint from here - but I don't see this trend moving anytime soon.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Battleflags, Korean Battles, and the Joys of Unexpected Archeology - on Midrats

Put yourself in the shoes of a museum curator. You have the funds to conduct some much needed preservation on battleflags captured by the US Navy from the War of 1812. To do that, you have to remove them from their home for almost a century.

What happens when you all of a sudden find they are not alone? They are covering something else?

No, this isn't another "National Treasure" sequel, but things that actually unfolded last year at the US Naval Academy. For naval history buffs, this was an exciting time and an opportunity to explore some relatively unknown chapters from our history.

For almost all Americans, when you mention American forces coming ashore to do battle on the Korean peninsula, they think of Inchon and 1950.

Well, we came ashore earlier and fought another battle, in 1871.

When you hear about the American navy vs. pirates, you think about the waters off the Horn of Africa in this century. What about off China in the 1850s?

Join us Sunday from 5-6pm Eastern to discuss the history and the battleflags of pirates and forgotten kingdoms with returning guests, BJ Armstrong, CDR USN and Claude Berube, LCDR USNR.

BJ Armstrong, PhD is an Assistant Professor of War Studies and Naval History with the History Department of the U.S. Naval Academy. He holds a PhD in War Studies from King's College, London.

Claude Berube is the director of the Naval Academy Museum and recently completed his doctoral dissertation through the University of Leeds on Andrew Jackson’s Navy.

Join us live if you can, but if you miss the show you can always listen to the archive at blogtalkradio or Stitcher

If you use iTunes, you can add Midrats to your podcast list simply by clicking the iTunes button at the main showpage - or you can just click here.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Fullbore Friday


No one likes piracy.

Like the pirates off Africa helped encourage the Chinese to flex their maritime muscles, throughout history this threat to trade has moved fleets ... and brought war;
In the early 1650s the damage caused by French and Barbary Coast pirates to Dutch Levant trade forced the Republic of Seven United Provinces to send an expedition commanded by Admiral Johan van Galen to the Mediterranean. With the start of the First Anglo-Dutch War the Dutch squadron had to face yet another enemy – the English ships under Captain Henry Appleton and Captain Richard Badiley.
A series of actions resulted in a capture of an English frigate Phoenix by the Dutch.
In March 1653 the Dutch have finally succeeded in trapping Captain Appleton and his 6 ships in the port of Livorno (Leghorn) in Italy. Livorno was a neutral territory under the Grand Duke of Tuscany. On one night the English undertook a successful sortie and recaptured the Phoenix.
This action meant a violation of the port’s neutrality by the English. Van Galen issued a demand for the English ships to leave. By this point an English squadron commanded by Richard Badiley has arrived to join forces with the trapped ships. The Dutch sailed out to face the new threat on a favorable wind. The blockaded squadron attempted to use the chance to escape and left the port. The Dutch however abandoned their previous target and instead attacked the escaping ships. All but one of Appleton's ships were either destroyed or captured and only Mary could outrun the Dutch and rejoin Badiley. The wind prevented the latter from coming to Appleton's rescue. At the end Badiley found himself outnumbered (8 + Mary vs. 16 Dutch) and was forced to retreat. Admiral Van Galen was mortally wounded in the action and died on March 23.
The Dutch are scrappy. They lost the First Anglo-Dutch war ... but at least here, they gave better than they got.

As a side note, the paintings of the battle in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam are awesome in person.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Continental NATO: the Welfare Mentality

Remember, our NATO allies in Europe have a greater population than we do. They also have a GDP about the same as ours. And yet, they will not make a full effort to defend themselves.

As if it was last century, they still think that the USA has to do the primary lifting. Heck, we keep having the same instinct.
The United States needs more forces in Europe, Supreme Allied Commander Europe Gen. Curis Scaparrotti said during a hearing at the US House of Representatives Armed Services Committee on Thursday.

"In terms of rotational versus permanent, I do believe we need more forces in Europe, I don’t think we are at the posture that I believe appropriate or required yet," Scaparrotti said. "And because of that, I think that there are some permanent forces that I would like to have."
No, that is not the answer.

The rest of NATO has to continue to strive to get better. Especially when most economies are strong and the Russians are expanding capabilities, there is no excuse. 

There is a lot on this topic NATO's Secretary General report for 2017.

First, to be fair - things are getting better on the margins - but faster please.
Allies have made significant progress in meeting these goals. After years of defence cuts, the trend over the last three years has been one of increased defence spending.

In 2017, the trend continued, with European Allies and Canada increasing their defence expenditure by almost 5%. Many Allies have put in place national plans to reach 2% by 2024 and are making progress towards that goal. In real terms, defence spending among European Allies and Canada increased by 4.87% from 2016 to 2017, with an additional cumulative spending increase of USD 46 billion for the period from 2015 to 2017, above the 2014 level.

In 2017, the United States accounted for 51.1% of the Allies’ combined GDP and 71.7% of combined defence expenditure. At the same time, European Allies and Canada increased their spending, helping to redress the balance.

In this report is another metric that brings you a level deeper. For old NATO hands, another of the problems is with how our allies spend their money. For some nations, their military is little more than a parade and garrison force. Sure, they have some numbers, but they have little to no functioning kit.

We saw this in spades in AFG where planes of allied forces would arrive, but would go hat in hand for equipment.

I like this chart a lot.

Look at it close, it tells a great tale. The further you get from the center, the more you fit the following assumptions;

If you are in the top-right grid - you are doing your share or more, and have something to fight with.

If you are in the upper-left - you have something to bring to the fight, but you are not spending your fair share.

If you are in the lower-right, you are spending a lot, but it is mostly on bodies.

If you are in the lower-left, not only are you a welfare queen, you are sitting in a hammock wearing nothing but shorts, a t-shirt, and flip flops while your neighbors are working to keep the wolf at bay.

The American tax payer does not need to spend money borrowed from its grandchildren to subsidize Europe's defense more than it already is. Keep spending until you reach 2% or more, then you can afford your own maneuver forces. No need to send more American brigades over there.

If you need us for a fight, we'll be there - but you need to do your fair share now - in peace. Do that, and we probably won't have to come over by the hundreds of thousands ... again.