Jun

19

 The Liddell Hart theory–i.e. a war of movement can avoid the costs of frontal assault–has been almost entirely discounted by modern studies of what actually happened in WW II. If the Great War was so much bloodier than WW II for the British and Americans (but not for the Russians and Germans), it was not because of any change in tactics or strategy but because the Anglo-American forces spent so much less time at the sharp end. When you compare killed, wounded and missing per day of direct combat, the WW II battles (the Bulge, to take one, which is still and is likely to always be the bloodiest battle in American history) are no less "massive showdowns" than Western front struggles in the Great War and just as awful. The casualty rates are the same.

Hart's hope that tanks could produce battles of movement was not proven true; as soon as the opposing forces learned to use them, the anti-tank guns created their own stalemate. Kursk became a mechanized meatgrinder equal to Verdun.

The military analogy that comes to mind for the Bezinator's successful campaign is Curtis LeMay's firebombing of Japan. With its massive capacities for warehousing and delivery and the logistic coordination that allows customer orders to be processed without interruption, Amazon has done an incendiary bombing of its competitor's profit margins.

Andrew Goodwin writes: 

I have read Liddell Hart and Clausewitz. The losses on a frontal assault were too high in land campaigns.

Napoleon did the indirect attack in a formulaic way by a mock frontal assault covered by a horse screen on one wing ending in a back side cutoff of the supply line of the enemy. The maps of his campaigns are well seen through the book called "The Campaigns of Napoleon" written by David G. Chandler.

This approach appears to create a panic in the enemy lines. The method to defend against this has developed considerably since then. You have to think about how they worked a way to defend against the elephant charge.

If you leave corridors open, the elephants will look for less resistance and charge through the gaps you create. Then you can cut them off from behind.

The one who figured out how to use this in more modern warfare was Von Manstein. He created passes and then encircled from the rear. How this is done today with air and sea and land combat is not of my reading yet.

Stefan Jovanovich replies: 

Er, not quite. Neither von Manstein nor Napoleon ever doubted his own genius, but we can't take them at their face value. Von Manstein managed to be consistently blind to any possibilities that the Soviets might also use their brains. His great triumph - Kharkov - came between two disasters that were far more consequential - Stalingrad and Kursk.

Napoleon's genius came almost entirely from his ability to move his cannon quickly to the point of attack. In the set piece battles for which he is justly famous, that allowed him to bring massive firepower to bear and then follow it up with attacks in column by infantry that were classically "frontal" - most of the time the infantry did not even discharge their muskets but marched forward in a phalanx of bayonets. In the wars that he lost, his cannons were useless; in Russia because of the mud (the same factor that lost him his chances at Waterloo), in Spain and Portugal because of impossible terrain.

Nelson followed largely the same tactics, with the same success. His ships attacked in column, not line, and in direct frontal assaults.

The actual record of the use of elephants is that they look impressive but are - like the massive artillery guns the Germans loved - not worth the trouble. Alexander refused to use them; and Hannibal discarded them (they probably ate them) long before Cannae.


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