2011/09/23

Readiness in mobile warfare

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Some old book contained rules of thumb for meeting engagements and generally the decision for or against an attack directly out of a formation movement.

That wasn't about hasty attack or not - a "hasty attack" is still a planned attack. The author that I'm thinking about did indeed write about switching from movement to fight without any break.

His key criterion was an unusual one, I haven't seen it much in military theory during the last years: Relative readiness for battle.
His advice (based on German WW2 experiences) was to attack without further preparations if your readiness for battle is superior.
Preparations only serve the purpose of improving your relative readiness for battle, but the other side of the coin is that the opponent doesn't necessarily sleep all the time and improves as well.

A quick switch from movement to voluntary combat of course require some timely knowledge about your forces and the opposing forces - leading from the advance guard is imperative for such an approach.

The most stark difference in readiness for battle known to me (and in absence of strategic surprise) is the fate of the 5th motorised French division during the night of 16th/17th May, 1940. The division was in bivouac along a road - vehicles standing on both sides of it - on a length of ten kilometres, together with elements of a French infantry division and a French armour division.
During that night, the mere advance guard of a German armour division obliterated the 5th motorised division - it ceased to exist as a formation, with burned-out wrecks littering both roadsides on ten kilometres length.
No analysis of the hardware involved alone could explain this outcome.

Relative readiness - and thus readiness for battle in general - is obviously a major factor in warfare. It's another way to look at surprise in warfare, but it's more than that.

A formation does not need to be surprised in order to be less ready for battle. Earlier battles, poor positioning or movement, lack of suitable equipment and many other factors can contribute to inferior readiness for battle. It's thus more worthwhile to study readiness than to study surprise.

Readiness for battle is linked with agility, for reaction lags contribute to a lack of readiness against a sudden threat.


Readiness for battle - which is in large part an organisational and training challenge - ought to deserve more attention than the costly procurement of high-tech "force multipliers" that supposedly make a helicopter six times more deadly than its predecessor and so on.


You seek a cheap way to multiply your forces' capabilities? Make them the most ready for battle and seek mobile warfare!


S Ortmann
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7 comments:

  1. strike hard, strike fast, maintain tempo

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  2. ...perhaps you should go so far to say that build-up of arms is the polar opposite of readiness in its original essence

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  3. Maintaining a high level of readiness has immediate and log term costs. Trivial example at the lowest level of command: a single soldier trying not to sleep at all! OK that's very trivial. But even tossing your equipment all the time around will make it wear out pretty quickly.

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  4. *sigh* To pick a nickname seems to be hard nowadays!

    There are examples for successful high readiness measures.
    * The Roman army built temporary forts on campaign whenever it stayed overnight in some place.
    That French division was inferior to them in this regard.
    * A properly trained battalion may rest in a wood, but all its (small) units know exactly in which sequence and on which road access they have to commence movement if they get the orders - without detailed orders or planning (more by training experience and standards than anything else).
    * Some German armour battalions of 1940 had two crews per tank; whenever one was exhausted and resting on a truck, the other was fresh and active (high major equipment readiness doesn't mean sleep deprivation).
    * Battlefield preparation (basically scouting) and keeping a distance to OPFOR when you're not ready enables your formation to enter combat in battle order and informed (and thus quite ready)


    High readiness (on levels from political down to small unit) isn't for free - otherwise everyone would have it. It's nevertheless something that appears to be neglected in military theory (which rather loves at the sub-set of surprise) and in bureaucratic practice (which is way too much about expensive gadgetry and in tactics in which the opposing force is assumed to be passive).

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    1. I see now - 3 years later - I accidentally wrote "loves" instead of "looks". :)

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  5. Was it Richard Simpkin writing on this? I realize I'm three years later here. It sounds familiar, Gen. R. Simpkin's work in "Race to the Swift." This is certainly a very sound concept regardless and, as with most things, hinges on highly capable recce forces.

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    1. I think I referred to Middeldorf.

      Simpkin wrote A LOT of nonsense in" Race to the swift".
      His partially nonsensical book is part of the reason why I at times muster some confidence for my book: The bar is low.

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