German federal politicians lost their compasses

German politics at the federal level have a background noise of turmoil, and have had so for more than a decade.

The conservatives are suddenly throwing overboard long-held positions (being led by a chancellor who is not really partisan, but rather power-hungry).

The greens turned from a pacifist party into yes-sayers for the 1999 Kosovo Air War and to strong supporters of the German ISAF participation. Recently, certain prominent greens have even adopted a militaristic foreign policy position if it's only about freeing oppressed people.
They used to be the party for a military-free foreign policy, if not even for a military-free country.

The reds (social democrats) have thrown overboard their worker representation roots, fucked the unemployed with their Agenda 2010 about ten years ago (and ever since), got into photo sessions with luxury suits and cigars and embraced even the big bank CEOs as buddies.
Seriously, they can claim to have been somewhat right about capitalism, its instability and the greed thing all along - until only a few years before the 2008 economic meltdown kind of proved them right in this regard.They threw that thing overboard just in time to avoid being proved to be correct.

I sound maybe a bit critical and maybe I am, being totally dissatisfied with all but one federal minister, but I'm not alone.
There have been two great FAZ articles in the recent past which laid out the whole mess - in German language (of course):

„Ich beginne zu glauben, dass die Linke recht hat

"Auch die Linken haben nichts geahnt"

- - - - -

The Libyan uprising and the German reaction to it are affected by this turmoil.

The latest news s that our foreign minister (who shouldn't be one in the first place) came under pressure for not applauding the NATO success in Libya quicker than all others did.

Let's look at it:

There was a UNSC resolution that was insanity itself and Germany abstained. Why insanity? Well, it was outright bullshit to believe that you could "protect" civilians from the air and not do much else. OF COURSE would the intervention parties not protect Ghadafi-held cities against firepower of rebels. OF COURSE did protecting rebel cities against Ghadafi military deny him victory. OF COURSE did this de facto mean a regime change permission - but with terribly awkward requirements.

The UN is not in the regime change business. Libya was in no way a threat to another UN member. It was simply no business of the UN to authorise exemptions to its founding document's provisions in order to further regime change in Libya.

The whole thing was not only terribly awkward from an operational perspective and outright provoking the stretching and violation of the UNSC resolution. It was also violating the purpose of the United Nations itself and thus indirectly diminishing the reliability< and utility of the United Nations.

This has not been German policy, ever - and it made sense to abstain.

For some weird reason the 'success' of the intervention is now supposedly justifying the means.
So far it hasn't been policy of the FRG that the end justifies the means, and it's extremely surprising and awkward to see such positions being held (now - some of the same people backed the abstaining from the vote earlier!).

Let's face it: The federal German politicians have lost their compasses, have become entirely unreliable representatives. The lefties behave like right-wingers, the right-winger quit being right-wing and drop overboard decades-old positions (that's more often than not no deterioration in itself at all).

A few years ago I was able to tell others that the typical German stance on this or that security problem is xy. 
Today I couldn't. A single cabinet meeting or a single day could throw everything overboard.
Greens can turn into warmongers, reds can make a move to destroy the "social" in social market economy and conservatives can make more grand political turns in a year than al others in a decade. Oh, and reds can cuddle with bank CEOs while conservatives bend over and let their junior coalition partner (liberals) give a totally nonsensical multi-billion tax gift to hoteliers.

Did I mention we have a liberal gay as foreign minister, a conservative woman as chancellor and an adopted Vietnamese as no-skill minister of the economy?

I'm conservative in one regard: I want pro-worker social democrats, pacifist-eco greens and predictable no-experiments conservatives. The voters should be able to recognise the party they voted for a mere half term later.

Oh, and I'd like to have a clue again about what's typical in regard to German security policy. Right now I can only tell that everyone seems to trust and rely on the stability of NATO by 100%.



On infantry (breaking contact)

I already expressed my strong opinion that infantry has to be elusive and break contact soon after being detected (and identified) when facing competent and well-equipped opposing forces (back in 2009).

This is a difficult thing, as evidenced by Western infantry getting pinned down by marginal effectiveness Taliban infantry in Afghanistan.

Being pinned down means to fear the effect of (edit: direct) fires. One answer to this is to be evacuated by armoured vehicles, another is to suppress all threats (difficult and unlikely) and the in my opinion most promising one is to break the line of sight with obscuration (smoke).

Smoke is no cure-all, though. It allows to break contact for a short period, but it doesn't counter pursuit. Chased infantry is forced to move even when this risks exposure to spotting, and it may be forced to evade instead of executing its mission. You gotta have something to discourage or stall pursuits on the micro level.

The most promising approach is surely to ambush pursuit parties. There are many ways to do this, including pre-arranged mortar fires, rear guards, moving through the kill zone of a friendly team (with announcement, of course) or leaving behind mines.

Wait - mines? Aren't they prohibited for the German forces?

Article 2

"Anti-personnel mine" means a mine designed to be exploded by the presence, proximity or contact of a person and that will incapacitate, injure or kill one or more persons. [...]
Claymore-type mines are thus perfectly legal even for countries that ratified the Ottawa Treaty. They are not designed "to be exploded by the presence, proximity or contact of a person". Instead, they are designed to be exploded by pressing a trigger.
This type of mine is a classic for point defence, ambush and pursuit deterrence.

I did never understand why the Bundeswehr did not introduce this kind of munition. The 'magic' of it is that you don't need to use it very often. The mere possibility of its employment already motivates most enemies to be more careful ! Edit: See P.S.

There are some hazards, of course. Especially the fratricide problem may be relevant if many small infantry teams are active in the same battlefield, but in this case there's a general fratricide problem with all kinds of weapons and munitions.

The Bundeswehr should look at the MM-1 "Minimore". It's not politically correct, but then again you can't run a good army to the liking of those who dislike all things associated with conventional warfare.

MM-1 "Minimore"

Obscuration: A good (multi-spectral) and very, very responsive (one minute at most for mortar smoke fire mission, partially bursting smoke hand grenades) smoke-laying capability is essential.

Camouflage: The better the camouflage, the easier is it to slip away from sight and avoid renewed detection during partial exposure even while moving.

Fragmentation protection: Full-body (80%, especially legs) fragmentation protection helps to avoid injuries that would slow infantrymen down.

Moderate equipment weight and good fitness: Good agility and endurance (2 km off-road run with equipment) contributes the advisable amount of mobility for brekaing contact reliably.

Pursuit deterrence: Command-detonated mines and direct indirect fire ambushes serve as deterrence against pursuit.

Unpredictability: Multiple routes need to be feasible for breaking contact. The timing of breaking contact (especially in terms of seconds after smoke appeared) needs to be varied.

Electronic Warfare support: Radio jamming may help during the firefight AND during the process of breaking contact. Many deaf and mute small unit leaders tend to lose some dash.

Maintaining contact: Maintaining contact with other small teams is essential for minimising fratricide, helping each other and bolstering morale.

Readiness to sacrifice a team: A platoon will be stuck in a small battle sooner or later if its leader is not willing to sacrifice a badly pinned down small team. Sooner or later shit will happen in a conflict against a competent and well-equipped opposing force.

Quick rallying and readying for new offensive action: Leaders will be more inclined to break contact soon enough (after less than two minutes after giving away one's location) if they can expect to have their small teams ready for a new action real quick. Otherwise the temptation to keep fighting till a job was done in one attack could be too strong.

Combat discipline: No advanced tactics work without proper combat discipline, and there's no combat discipline if there's no everyday discipline in mundane matters. This is part of why military life tends to suck.

Distraction and deception: The challenge of pursuit becomes even greater if the potential pursuit party is still confused about the situation, and probably not aware of the attempt to break contact.

- - - - -

Finally, the greatest ability to break contact at the micro level doesn't help much if you don't prepare to exploit the short moment of contact (less than two minutes) fully. Weapons and tactics that achieve effect slowly are much less important than weapons and tactics that exploit surprise very well and achieve a great effect in short time, even if that cannot be sustained for long.

- - - - -

Official infantry doctrines (field manuals) still tend to imagine infantry combat as something very close to World War Two infantry combat (or are distracted by small wars topics). Part of the problem is that WW2 tactics were too bloody, another part is that infantry is now very scarce and yet another part of the problem is that the equipment has changed very much.
Things need to change. The appreciation of the opponent's lethality (especially of indirect fires and high explosive munitions in general) is underdeveloped. 
Everybody in an army knows that real warfare tactics have to be different than exercise tactics - the casualty rates in exercises are simply unbearable. The problem - as I see it - is that so far bearable casualty rates are only to be expected against very much inferior opponents.

This small text was intended to inspire more thought about a critical and utterly, utterly important part of the infantry's skill set; breaking contact. This tactical skill is a kind of red-headed step child in most (if not all) infantry field manuals. It smells too much like defeat, but withdrawals are not only for defeated parties - they are for surviving parties!


P.S.: Just in case any reader thinks or thought about those popular breaking combat drills with lots of full auto fire and an orderly withdrawal: They're ballet routines to me, not suitable for real firefights. Their potential for success is limited to cases of great luck or low threat opposition. They're utterly impossible with regular infantry anyway for well-established psychological reasons.

About introduction in the Bundeswehr; the Bundeswehr inherited apparently about 33,000 Claymore-category mines (MON-50) from the East German army (NVA), but I have never seen any indication that it's using them. It appears that I've missed this detail at the time of writing.


The underrated genius gun

World War II artillery lessons learned pointed at four desirable main improvements:
+ all-round fire capability on short notice
+ anti-tank self-defence capability
+ ability to shoot in the upper angle group* (43-70° elevation)
+ more range

A greater shell weight was not emphasised much; 149-155 mm was identified as practical calibre limit for standard artillery. 87-105 mm howitzers had proved their effectiveness. Soviet 122 mm howitzers had proved to be an excellent compromise between the 10* and 15* main calibres.
The bigger howitzer calibres (149-155 mm) justified their existence primarily with test results that showed a greater overhead cover penetration in firing missions against entrenched troops. It was proved again and again in both world wars that such firing missions were slow, expensive in terms of ammunition and in effect usually inferior to a smarter artillery use with suppressive and surprise fires.
You can bombard entrenched troops into oblivion, but operationally you can achieve much more if you overrun them with support by surprise, suppressive and blinding (smoke) indirect fires.

The need for improved shell effectiveness was afaik rated lowly in German WW2 artillery lessons learned. The first use of radio proximity fuses against land targets in late 1944 had already promised an effectiveness boost against soft targets in the open. These fuses favoured medium calibres, for small ones did initially not justify the fuse price for ground combat uses and large ones offered little additional fragmentation radius over medium ones.
The dominance of the 152 and 155 mm calibres came into being only later (1970's), when they replaced dedicated field cannons with their improved range and proved to be most suitable for cargo (bomblet) shells. The effectiveness ratio between impact-fused 105 and 150 mm HE shells was about 2:3 (at most about 1:2) and it jumped to almost 1:4 for 105 and 155 mm bomblet cargo ("ICM", "DPICM") shells.

The optimal WW2 lessons learned standard artillery piece would thus be a medium calibre gun (till the early 70's) somewhere between 105 and 149 mm. NATO countries did not use medium calibre field howitzers of larger calibre than 105 mm; the last ones in the West (120 mm howitzers) were pre-WW2 vintage, if not pre-WW1 vintage and played no role during the Cold War.

The Russians on the other hand had a great WW2 122 mm howitzer, and developed the wet dream of WW2 artillerymen in 122 mm calibre: The 122 mm 2A18 (called "D-30" by Westerners).

Serbian D-30JA1 (or D-30J)

It had
+ an unusually good range (it outranged even the standard U.S. 155 mm howitzers and self-propelled howitzers in 1965-1972!),
+ improved accuracy
+ all-round traverse
+ secondary anti-tank capability with a shaped charge shell, a low profile and a small shield
+ 70° maximum elevation
+ de facto no limit on towing speed (80 kph maximum on roads)

Its emplacement and displacement times are normal for towed howitzers. Its shell effect was significantly better than with 105 mm shells and in regard to HE with proximity fusing close to 152/155 mm shells (the Soviets were famous for having mostly ancient ammunition in their stocks, though).

Its one exceptional element is the three-legged carriage.

Three points are necessary to define a plane in math, and three are necessary to give a gun a stable position. Three relatively equal trails allowed for an unlimited traverse - unlike with the ancient box or the early 20th century split trail designs. A four-legged trail would be one more than necessary, and lead to issues during emplacement as the fourth could float in the air (have you ever seen a three-legged stool to wobble? How about a four-legged one?).
Unlimited traverse is important because it enables a quick reaction to all calls for fire (not just in a 60° arc) - and to a sudden demand for self-defence fires, as against tanks.

The first guns to make use of all-round traverse on land were as far as I know anti-air guns, especially those in 37 - 128 mm calibre (albeit not all of them). The flat four-legged (cruciform) design was apparently the dominant one for AAA.

Some anti-tank guns with a 360° traverse feature were employed as well, albeit it was quite unnecessary for up to 76.2 mm calibre because such AT guns were 'light' enough to be traversed by their crew. The French had a 47 mm SA modèle 39 TAZ prototype on three legs and the British 40 mm two-pounder AT gun had a different three-trail design, too. Both were essentially over-engineered, as much heavier AT guns were very well man-handled during WW2 (the limit for this was somewhere in the 1,000 - 1,200 kg range). The French gun can be considered to be the first one with such a system as later employed in the 2A18, though. The same three-trail concept was also used in a French 75 mm AT gun prototype before the French armaments industry quitted WW2 involuntarily.

Germany employed four-legged designs for the 8,8 cm Pak 44 / 8,8 cm K 44, for the 12,8 cm Pak 44 prototypes (two designs), the 10,5 cm FH 43 Skoda prototype and the two 15 cm FH 43 prototypes - all during WW2.

The Swedes did pick this up (post-WW2) with their Bofors 105 mm howitzer 4140 on a four-trail carriage.

Then came the Russians (Soviets) with their 2A18 design that became the dread of Central European Cold War armies (not the least due to its insurmountable quantity), a dominant artillery piece of the Soviet Pact, a prime export weapon in the Third World and a much-copied design overall. Afaik the Chinese are still manufacturing it, amongst others.

There is one drawback, though: The breech type (vertically-sliding, wedge-type breechblock) does afaik typically not allow for bag-type propellants due to imperfect sealing. Cases are apparently necessary, and this violates a specific German WW2 lesson; cases become expensive and problematic once you need to produce many millions of artillery cases per month while experiencing material shortages...

I was irritated that such a 'great' gun design never seemed to get the kind of attention and 'admiration' that even mediocre main battle tanks received. Or does "D-30" ring louder in your ear than "T-62"?

The 2A18/D-30 design was phenomenal during the 60's, great during the 70's and is still a very good choice for all ground forces that don't need to care much about the counter-artillery radar problem. It's a true classic that begins to exceed the French Soixante-Quinze in its longevity in accomplished service.


*: The upper angle group was important both for firing positions in woods, for better overhead cover penetration and most importantly for a greater fragmentation effect.

Detail photos of a 2A18 gate guard. 

edit Oct 2011: There was also a three-legged 25 pdr mock-up from Woolwhich for the design competition of the famous 25 pdr gun (pre-WW2 !). A prototype of a U.S. 75 mm "Divisional Gun" with three strangely long legs existed as well - it was meant to double as field artillery and heavy AAA.  Source: Hogg, "British & American Artillery of World War Two"


Call for names

Anglophone discussions on the art of war are usually circling around either dead authors or around anglophone authors.
The anglophone world makes up only a small part of the world, though - we are certainly missing a lot if we ignore the rest of the world!?

I myself had huge difficulties to spot art of war talent that does not publish in English. Right now I could think only of one who's alive, and he ceased to write about the art of war more than two decades ago.

Thus a call for names:

Do you know talented authors/ thinkers on the art of war who do not publish in English?
(Post-Cold War activity is preferred.)
Leave a comment!


Body Armour (again)

It looks as if even during small wars the development is creeping towards full body frag protection.

I wonder when they will come out with a full body armour rated for frag protection and begin to hype it as a great thing!?

You (could) have seen it here first.


Two clarifications about Germany-related stuff

There was a mishap at a canoe world championship in Hungary a few days ago. The first instead of third strophe of the German national anthem was played.

The first one has a bad reputation because of its text (which is outright nice in comparison to the bloodthirsty French national anthem!) and only the third strophe of the song is therefore the recent German national anthem.

Even many Germans are ill-informed and believe that the first strophe is even illegal. It isn't.

The first strophe has the famous line "Deutschland, Deutschland über alles", which means translated literally "Germany, Germany over everything". It means primacy, obviously.

The misunderstanding - which I as a German want to counter here because most of my readers aren't Germans - is about the context.
The text dates back to 1841, and Germany looked at that time like this (follow the link; cannot include image here due to a stupid copyright law).

It was a patchwork of small states, not united at all (unlike Russia, England, France, Spain) - a late-comer in terms of nation state building. The context of the primacy of Germany in the song was therefore not the primacy of Germany over its neighbours, Europe or the world - it was the primacy of the idea of a nation over the many small reactionary states in the germanophone world.

- - - - -

A similar confusion is about what "Großdeutschland" (~great Germany) means.

There were multiple scenarios for a German unification before 1870:

* Kleindeutsche Lösung (small german solution) - a Germany led by Prussia, without the German-speaking Austrian countries.
This was realised in 1870.

* A Großdeutsche Lösung - a Germany including both Prussia and Austria.
This was realised (kind of) in 1938-1945, when Hitler annexed the then small power Austria.

Again, neither really included any consideration about Germany's relations to non-German speaking countries in the first place. Even the Swiss were ignored.

- - - - -

This wasn't much about defence and/or freedom, but I think it was nevertheless worth an entry on this blog. Too many people still cling to wrong interpretations in regard to the national anthem strophes or the word "Großdeutschland".


A few links to articles

“Probability neglect”: why policy-makers are constitutionally incapable of formulating evidence-based anti-terrorism policy

This can be extended to all things, of course. An the it would become obvious that paying much attention to errorists is stupid anyway - even without acknowledging that getting attention is their business.

Why poor people support tax breaks for the rich?

Sociology/psychology experiments and research results are often very interesting and illuminating.

In the military context,t his article reminded me of what I read about Vietnamese guerrillas:
Their infantry was not the lowest social rank, the least deserved occupation. Instead, the Ho Chi Minh trail porters and other porters were considered to be more lowly than the infantry guerrillas. This did apparently push the latter's morale and recruiting a bit.

Infantry and engineers compete in our Western forces for the reputation of the least desirable wartime occupation. Infantry does so because of its traditionally high casualty rate (mildly covered up by the decentralised glorification of "operators" etc in entertainment since the 90's). Engineers do so because of their hard work - and in countries such as Germany because of their high casualty rate as well (some, but not all, armies employ engineers as combat troops for deliberate attacks and emergencies).


edit: related Defence and Freedom text


Another view on the source for the debacles of late 1914

Back in June I linked to an online book about Boer War (1900) tactical experiences. The known tactical problems of the 1900's (described well in that book) coupled with the obvious aspect of quantity for a European Great War (armies numbering millions of men, able to man continuous front lines from sea to sea) led to the conclusion that armies could indeed fail in all major offensive manoeuvres once a continuous front-line was established.

This was already published by civilian warfare analyst/hobbyist Jan Gotlib Bloch well before the outbreak of the First World War, based on his talks with officers and on published material. In fact, he came to his largely correct conclusions without reports from the last Boer War.

The seemingly unavoidable stalemate of continuous front-lines facing each other seemed to be almost unbreakable. Low level manoeuvres (squads and platoons exploiting micro-terrain features such as shell craters, ditches, defilades instead of corps marching around an opposing armies' flank) wre not yet developed.

Or were they?

Well, yes. They existed - and had existed most likely for thousands of years (the first warriors were hunters, after all!).
A relevant example were the light infantry outfits, the skirmishers, of the 18th and early 19th century.

In 1813-1815 the Prussian skirmishers performed pretty well.
A member of Prussian 12th Brigade wrote, "We moved up via Meusdorf and the brickworks against Probstheida. The first thing that hit our skirmishers - of which I was one - was an artillery crossfire. It didn't take long for us to be scattered. We reformed and threw ourselves into a sunken road up against the loopholed garden wall of the village. We waited until the French had fired a full volley at our main body, jumped out of the road and rushed forward to take half the village. The surprised French fell back before us, abandoning a battery of 10 guns in the centre of the village." (Digby-Smith - "1813: Leipzig" p 195)

In 1815 during the battle of Ligny, Bünau's battalion (II/19th Infantry) had spent much of the day fighting either in skirmish order or in small battle groups. The skirmishers often had to crawl through gaps in the fences and hedges or very quickly move from one place to another. If all Prussian infantry was like Bünau's battalion, Ligny would probably never fall into French hands.
(taken from here)

How could this have happened?

There was apparently a really, really weird twist of military history during the mid-19th century.

# The old system of light troops mostly with rifles and line troops with muskets was broken apart with the unified infantry of the all-blackpowder rifles age (1840s to 1880's). The new, standardised infantry had rifles that matched or exceeded the rate of fire of earlier muskets and matched or exceeded the accuracy of earlier pattern rifles.
Regrettably, this advance in equipment quality was not matched by a sufficiently strong advance in doctrine and training towards the former light infantry patterns. Instead, we kept line infantry - just armed them with rifles.

# The large U.S. Civil War saw millions of troops with weapons of average modernity, but they were raised quickly and trained poorly by officers and non-commissioned officers who were themselves mostly trained in military skills only after the war broke out.

# One major European war of the period - the Crimean War - did expose many deficiencies, but told us very little about infantry.

# The other major European wars of the period - Prussia  vs. Austria and German states vs. France - were relatively quick wars without much influence of field fortifications.

So basically the skill set was in part existent and the tools were advanced for tactical success. The lack of proper infantry training and doctrine led to tactical offensive impotence and thus to operational impotence once the field armies were deployed properly.

Some sought a solution fro the problem in more and better weapons of war (poison gas, tanks, mortars, submarines, aircraft, airships, flamethrowers), others sought them in proper infantry training (Germany, Italy and belatedly Austria-Hungary).

The whole initial mess of late 1914-early 1917 was probably in great part avoidable if only the majority had not dominated the new standard infantry. On the other hand, anticipating the problems was already a major achievement that deserves recognition and fame, especially in Bloch's case since he was a civilian. The choice of a suitable solution was apparently out of reach until after many, many bloody lessons.



Photo? Handcuffs!


Now if anybody uses the stupid "Land of the free" phrase in my presence without sarcasm, I'll have one more point to throw at him.

(As if the Patriot Act wasn't enough...)


Authoritarian reflexes


I really wish I (we) knew a reliable immunisation against authoritarian reflexes.

So far it seems as if careful examination of politician's character, written constitutions and public resistance even to the tiniest salami slice tactic steps are needed to keep the problem in check.



What's so bad about being encircled?

The classic answer is that encircled troops lose confidence and are cut off from their camp. Encircled armies in the age of sword, spear and bow were usually defeated.

Encirclements began to look different later on, in 1870-1914. Armies didn't have such a reliance on camps, but employed railway lines. The basic understanding about why encirclements were bad wasn't changed, though.

The real change came in 1940 when railway logistics, (supposedly) continuous front lines and (partial) encirclements were combined. This is the period that interests me most, for it comes the closest to our time.

A logistician would say being encircled is bad because they cut lines of supply.
Others might say it's bad because you suddenly have to provide security all-round (strangely, this didn't seem to bother the encirclers so much).
A theatre commander might regret that the encircled troops will not be available for his operations.
Everyone will agree that encircled forces suffer badly and are often lost.

The real core behind all this is what's really interesting, what lies behind the petty surface:

Forces being encircled means that they don't meet their purpose (any more).

Their purpose was usually either to attack or to hold a part of the (continuous) front line. Neither is possible for encircled forces any more. The loss of their functionality is an immediate blow tot heir whole army.

Forces getting encircled was in part so horrendous because World War Two forces in Europe were so very much dependent on continuous front lines for man, many purposes.
This aspect is lost. Nowadays there's likely not going to be a real continuous front line anyway due to lack of forces. This explains in part why nowadays the logistical and attrition effects of encirclements are so very prominent in our thought.

I wrote several (unpublished) drafts to approach the issue of functions in military theory. We don't pay enough attention to them.
Sure, we know how to encircle (in theory), we know what providing security means etc - but few people still seem to reason about the function of tools, weapons and methods.(1) We're looking very much at resembling historical examples or at technical specifications of hardware. Yet, what exactly ire the functions of a tank, of a front line, of firepower, of reconnaissance?

Even I - complaining about it myself - didn't pay attention to it every time. Once I wrote about what armoured reconnaissance is good for. Yet, I omitted the very basic raison d'être for recce troops:
You expose few to great hazards in order to spare much more.
Yes, armoured reconnaissance is about sacrificing a part of your forces for overall success and survivability. This was somehow lost in the age of near-zero casualty campaigns.

I will - sooner or later - write an exhaustive blog post about the (lost) function of front lines, and I wrote already a lot about how to replace said functions within current resource constraints.
This example - lost function due to a method that slipped out of use - shows the importance of a theoretical understanding of functions. Without it, you may not see clearly what you're missing, what you need to get a substitute for somehow.

Without a clear theoretical understanding of functions in warfare we'll blunder in our next great war, being no better than the ill-prepared blunderers of 1914.




An analysis of late propeller era combat aircraft

Back in the early 30's bombers were still crude: The were meant to take off, cruise, drop bombs, cruise possibly fend of fighter with machine guns and land. This was quite the same approach as in the First World War. In fact, night bombing (which happened to small extent in WW1) was included, but not exactly popular due to poor accuracy. This dominant bomber concept was so crude that Ju 52/3m passenger aircraft were adaptable as auxiliary bombers.

This primitive model of a bomber was shaken in the 30's by two new concepts; the dive bomber (for better accuracy of bomb drops; notably the Ju 87) and the fast bomber (for avoiding fighters; notably the early Blenheim, early Do 17 and SB-2).

The machine gun defence proved to be unsatisfactory. It was difficult to add more defensive machine guns, while fighters increased their weaponry from two to up to eight machine guns. Armour plating, armoured windshields and self-sealing fuel tanks plus the increasing strength of airframes reduced the effectiveness of normal machine guns. Fighters were able to cope by adding 20 mm autocannons, while the same calibre was very unwieldy in movable installations for bomber defences.

Bombers needed better survivability than armour and machine guns could afford. Four approaches promised relief; flying higher, flying faster, flying in darkness and flying with escort fighters.
To fly higher was no good solution (for bombers) because of the inherent accident and reliability issues (due to freezing temperature), added aircraft cost, low payload and poor accuracy of bombing runs.

To fly faster was a questionable solution (for bombers) because it was a time of rapid improvements of top speeds in aviation. A bomber prototype could easily fly faster than all contemporary fighters and still find itself to be much slower than hostile fighters during a war only a few years later. The Mosquito was later on successful with this approach, but only so because it faced opposing forces that were limited in their performance (especially at high altitude) in part by an inferior raw materials base. Propeller aircraft were also bound to meet the limit of their potential at about 800 km/h, and without the introduction of turbine engines we'd have seen an air war scenario in which almost all aircraft would have had a very similar top speed again (as they had already in WW1).

To fly in darkness meant high training and avionics costs, a high accident rate and a typically poor accuracy.

To fly with escort fighters proved to be most successful, but that wasn't about bomber design itself.

- - - - -

Reconnaissance aircraft of the late 30's looked still a lot like First World War reconnaissance aircraft, but they had badly fallen behind fighters in both cruise and top speed. The Hs 126 is a typical example. The poor survivability of such recce aircraft called for new approaches.

One approach was to fly higher - this proved less problematic for (photo) reconnaissance than for bombing, and the Ju 86P was one of the extreme examples.
Another approach was to fly faster, and this worked for recce better than for bombing simply because air forces needed fewer recce aircraft and the fast fighters could be adapted to photo reconnaissance. The Spitfire PR versions are a good example, also the F-4/-5/-6 U.S.A.A.F. aircraft and the Bf 109 and Fw 190 with recce kit (a specific "Rüstsatz"; mission module). There were also successful two-engined reconnaissance aircraft and even some dedicated fast photo recce aircraft.

The highly successful Japanese Mitsubishi Ki-46 III high speed photo reconnaissance aircraft

To fly in darkness proved to be a niche escape, for both illumination/flash bombs and infrared photography were apparently not fully satisfactory.

To fly with escort fighters - a typical WW1 approach - was unsuccessful because it was both uneconomical and because the ground control for interceptors enabled the defenders to face such a recce package with altitude and numerical superiority just about every time. This in combination with the fact that a single recce aircraft suffices to make photos while a single bomber doesn't suffice to bomb a target properly defined the recce aircraft as unique. They were usually alone on their missions. This influenced which survivability strategies did work and which didn't.

A unique alternative for battlefield recce aircraft was to fly too slowly. Fighters had advanced in top speed at the cost of aerodynamics that led to a high stall speed. The Fi 156 was very successful as a short range battlefield reconnaissance aircraft in part because even fighter aces had difficulties to get a Fi 156 into their crosshairs if they managed to do it at all. It was just too damn slow and agile. The same effect was observed in trial mock dogfights against Fl 282 helicopters. Very slow recce aircraft were only suitable for very short range aerial recce and very vulnerable to anti-air weapons, though.

The next analysis is about fighters. There were basically two directions for fighter philosophies in the 30's; the manoeuvrability school (Italians, Japanese, Czechs) that emphasised dogfights and even aerobatics (overall a similar philosophy as in WW1 air combat) and the high speed school (Germany) that emphasised a superior speed. The Russians initially followed both schools with their I-16 (fast monoplane) and I-153 (more agile biplane).

The high speed school was typically combined with low drag liquid cooled engines that were less powerful than radial engines (during the 30's) and did thus initially lack a superiority in climb rate over the more agile fighter designs. Liquid-cooled engines caught up with radials when radials grew to the limits of single radials (the solution was the double radial engine, but that brought cooling issues) at the end of the 30's. By 1939/1940, both liquid and air cooled engines were at about 1,000 to 1,300 hp. By this time liquid cooled engine-driven fighters had caught up with comparable radial-driven fighters in climb rate.

The whole competition changed during WW2. The high manoeuvrability school lost out in Europe; faster fighters were dominant because they chose when to fight and only they were able to cope with fast bombers. The Japanese stuck to the manoeuvrability school with few exceptions, Italy did too (and failed for several reasons) and the British did at least keep a better manoeuvrability than Bf 109 fighters.
The new conflict was different than the 1930's conflict between fighter philosophy schools: All fighters had to have a similar top speed to be competitive, but they proved to have different manoeuvrability strengths.
The vertical air combat manoeuvrability school emphasized climbing and diving and in some cases also a high roll rate. The horizontal air combat manoeuvrability school emphasized tight turns and a low stall speed. The vertical school won, as evidenced by the Fw 190's success over Spitfires and the 1943-1945 success of U.S. fighters against most Japanese fighters. The reason was simple; the vertical school was again dominant, for it was the key to offensive manoeuvres. The horizontal manoeuvring was only at its premium in defensive manoeuvring and at very low altitudes.

Vertical air combat manoeuvre example: A Bf 109 expert vs. defensive fighter ring
To fly tight turns was mostly about shaking off a pursuing fighter (and had little chance of success if employed offensively), while climbing and diving was mostly about attacking a fighter (often with the deadly advantage of surprise). Defence may be stronger than offence most of the time, but offence is decisive. The vertical air combat manoeuvrability school was furthermore still potent in numerical inferiority situations.

Another division between fighters was between fighters for high altitude and for low altitude. Eastern Front and Pacific air wars were mostly about low altitudes, while Western European air combat was mostly about high altitudes. There was a spiral for ever greater practical flight ceilings whenever high altitude combat became dominant in a theatre. The Allies won this race in 1942-1944 thanks to the British lead in two-stage superchargers and the American ability to supply the necessary heat-resistant alloys for turbochargers. The Germans trailed in both regards, but jumped far ahead in 1944 with turbojet engines (even though they lacked heat-resistant alloys and had a very short lifespan, poor reliability and handling characteristics).

It's also possible to divide between short range and long range fighters; long range was important for escort fighters and over the vast expanses of the Pacific theatre, while short range was sufficient for interceptors and fighters supporting ground warfare.

- - - - -

The post-WW2 period saw competing philosophies for fighters as well:

# Short range ("WVR") vs long range ("BVR") air combat
# Short range fighters vs. long range fighters
# high performance vs. huge numbers
# pursuit of superior speed and altitude performance after the first Mach 2 generation (mostly MiG-25, later F-22)
# low visibility to sensors ("stealth") vs. much external hardware
# avionics with finesse vs. brute power avionics (example for the latter: MiG-25 radar)

- - - - -

It's interesting stuff (to me), but I'm not so sure about the lessons.
Aircraft kept becoming more capable, more refined, more oriented at their purpose.
There's an eternal development for better survivability.
Superior offensive qualities tend to dominate over the superior defensive qualities in air combat.



Public debt and the military

Maybe you expect some commentary on the effect of public debt on security policy on this blog?

Nahh, I paid attention to that combination back in 2008, when it wasn't fashionable and when it did not look as if a "very serious" person writes "very serious" stuff when you wrote about it.


Long story cut short:

In my opinion
a huge public debt is an important dampener for arms races and baseline military expenditures in peacetime. A badly indebted country becomes less likely to cope properly with a rising threat.

France and especially the UK of the 1930's are good examples in my opinion.



"Helmets and Body Armor in Modern Warfare" by Bashford Dean, 1920

I recommend this very interesting old book about WWI-era helmets, shields and body armour.

book cover

I am in awe of the researching skills that authors needed in the pre-internet age. This author certainly had huge travel expenses for this book.

Especially interesting to me were the good reviews for the "jazeran" body armour (p. 255ff):

The jazerans illustrated herewith furnished a remarkably comfortable body defense; they were worn hours at a time and under difficult conditions by various experimenters. The reports declare that they did not cause great discomfort, even though their weight was considerable (eleven pounds). The scales of plates of which they were made up were pressed in manganese steel of helmet thickness and were then riveted to a leather lining; they withstood the test of service ammunition with revolver. These defenses of both types were sent abroad and tested at American Headquarters. The report upon them stated that they have "excellent qualities" and were "recommended as a body armour, thoroughly practicable, no inconvenience to wearer, comfortable, silent."
related Defence and Freedom text:
Another shot at the historical failure of fragmentation protection vest procurement



On multinational formations


I'd like to hear your thoughts on the prospects for the Eurozone joint strike force, especially given the current financial problems.

There are multiple joint European (or at least multinational) paper tigers, such as Eurocorps and a EU Battlegroup. I already planned to write about this in general. The short version is that I like multinational corps as peacetime formations, but dislike multinational divisions and brigades. My rationale is about the inner workings of an army and about budgets, it's not about foreign policy.

I postponed this topic in a faint hope that my opinion would evolve into something better, but it seems as if I am simply done forming my opinion on this topic.
Thus let's elaborate a bit:

There's generally much to learn if you haven't been at a real war for generations. Multinational formations are great opportunities (easily wasted) for exposing your forces to better practices of foreign forces.
Multinational formations are furthermore extreme challenges for interoperability. A country which expects to be brothers-in-arms with another country in a future conflict can expect benefits from multinational exercises. Multinational formations aren't truly necessary for this, but they kind of serve the same purpose.

Multinational army corps make a lot of sense for economies of scale, as well. Small alliance members may not have corps-sized ground forces in peacetime and may thus be unable to prepare their officer corps properly for corps command and higher. Multinational corps are a good approach here, for they add foreign forces and thus enable the formation of a peacetime army corps.
This is only purposeful for actual army corps, of course. Paper tiger corps which have no or few direct and permanent subordinate formations make no sense whatsoever. They're just dead weight, jobs for staff personnel - waste of taxpayer money.

Now that's the good side of the coin. The advantages are all about preparing for defence.

- - - - -

Now about the problems, and I think I need to elaborate on the background a bit:
#1 Cohesion
#2 Cohesion
#3 Cohesion

A formation without good cohesion is prone to fall apart in a battlefield crisis. The German army of the First World War had great cohesion because - as a heritage of the multi-state past - its divisions were Bavarian, Hessian, Prussian and so on. The personnel was very homogeneous at least in regard to geographical origin.
The German army of the Second World War remembered the cohesion advantage of those older units and built most infantry divisions with a high degree of homogeneity of regional origin. Divisions had their area of origin, so you could tell whether a division was Bavarian, Hessian and so on - often times the regions of origin were even much more focused.

This has been identified as being one of the hidden sources of strength of the German army in WW2.

Cohesion can be built at much smaller levels - down to company level, for example. Your odds of getting a good cohesion with a multinational personnel pool are rather sub-average no matter how much attention you pay to unit and small unit cohesion, though. Ask the Russians.

This is my core argument against multinational units and formations.

The look great on paper (to civilian politicians), they are interesting in several regards, they are possibly even a good idea in peacetime - but they are horribly poor ideas in wartime. Actually, advocating multinational units or formations for wartime purposes is in my opinion a tell-tale sign for incompetence in ground forces affairs (it's all very different in air and naval forces).

Multinational small units, units and formations are prone to fail in wartime moments of crisis due to the ceteris paribus reduction of their cohesion by multi-nationality.

This tells pretty much everything about my opinion on European military integration:
Air force; maybe. Navy; maybe. Army; keep formations national!


P.S.: I skipped the problem of friction (language, regulation, culture and hardware compatibility) because it's so utterly obvious.


This happens when...

... I don't post that much any more!

Back in early February I boasted my record results (page loads) from January, a month with more blog posts than days.
Well, that was not exactly indicative of the trend in the following months - neither page loads nor blog posts.

This is how it looks today:

Not that high any more, rather back to 2010 levels!

 Quick, we need an excuse!

 Yeah, that works as an excuse.
I didn't post that much, thus readers came less often to the blog.
(Don't even consider to blame a drop in quality ;) ).

Now we've got disappointing numbers and a sorry excuse. 
Well, what's left to do?

Right, crunch the numbers in Excel OpenOffice.org Calc till something looks good for you!

 Here we are. Page loads per blog posts keep growing.
I feel the readership's love again! :)

This helped, too:
(Statcounter screenshot)