2016/04/14

Belisarius in Italy and a modern "ink blot" land campaign against peer forces

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I recommend this text:

Those medium lancers with horsearchery skills did certainly put the early knights to shame. Belisarius essentially conquered Italy against a numerically vastly superior foe by defending fortified places, sallying with his cavalry (including pursuits) and waiting for his enemies to be melted away by plagues.

The closest I found as a symbol picture. Likely they had mail instead of scale armour and thus also a shield.

Reenactment of a contemporary Sassanid cavalryman. Again, add a lance and a shield to approximate Belisarius' non-auxiliary cavalry.
Armored cavalry was always an analogy to modern mounted warfare with armored vehicles,. Alexander the Great's companion cavalry used the inflexible yet robus phalanx line as a stable foundation for cavalry strikes similar to how the 85% infantry divisions + 15% fast divisions Germany army of 1940-1942 was employed: The slow, defensive troops establish and hold a line while the fast, offensive troops execute the decisive offensive manoeuvres.

It's thus worthwhile to look at whether maybe the example of Belisarius offers hints for modern warfare by being a useful analogue.

Defensible (instead of fortified) places of today would primarily be areas which have few relevant routes of approach (valleys, areas with surrounding thick or hilly woodland or with surrounding swamps), but could also be large settlements if there are enough non-armour troops (infantry, AT teams) to defend these places. Cavalry was difficult to sustain in cities (limited stocks of fodder for horses), and armoured troops are in major trouble if supply lines were cut as well.
Back in WW2 fast troops (tank divisions, motorised divisions, mechanised infantr divisions) were able to recover 'behind friendly lines' - behind a re-established frontline provided by infantry divisions. We will likely not have such a robust front line in modern (European) state-vs.-state conflicts for want of a sucessor to the 85% infantry divisions in an army.

Could future campaigns rest on relatively defensible places, with armoured battlegroups sallying out to cause attrition, to raid, to cause diversions, to force the opposing forces to defend places, and ultimately to enable rather defensive (motorised infantry-centric) forces to assault, occupy and defend additional defensible places?

A graphical depiction of such a campaign wouldn't be about lines, but about ink blots on a map, except that unlike in COIN theory these ink blots are not meant to expand till they cover the entire sheet. Instead, the the acquisition of additional ink blots with particularly useful locations would be the offensive core of the campaign. The raids on hostile supply convoys (or intercept or dispersed supply movements) from these ink blots would lead to a more Go-like campaign style in which cutting off areas without actually establishing uninterrupted lines to do so is at the centre of all offensive efforts.
We already had such a style of campaigning in Europe during the 17th and 18th century, particularly on France's Northeastern border where fortresses were arranged in depth. Supplies for army offensives were stored there, and invading armies would have thier own supply convoys be raided by troops sallying out from these fortresses.

fortresses in Northern France in the early 18th century, see also
Campaigns in such an environment were less about battles than about sieges, and in places with less fortresses such as Silesia the armies -always on the tether of supply convoy routes - manoeuvred to cut each other off from the supply route to the nearest well-stocked fortress or fortified city.

We are seeing something similar in the Ukraine, or at least I think I see something similar going on there. The published information about the war in the Donbass is still very sketchy, of course. 
Settlements serve as 'ink blots' of local control, with the surrounding country side largely vacated by armed forces, though major hostile troop movements there would be noticed. Relatively few armoured battalion battlegroups do occasionally sally out, though typically with little consequences unless forces that can establish another 'ink blot' by assaulting, occupying and defending a settlement accompany the sally and turn it into a limited offensive action. 
It's very much unlike the large encirclement moves of Panzerkorps in early European WW2 or the outright mass destruction of tanks in fierce clashes as known from the wars around Israel or from 1991.

Think about the missions of  the armoured forces that mimic Belisarius' cavalry: Clashes with peers happened, but weren't routine. Modern sallies might be more about intercepting supply movements or patrolling in very small teams than anything else, so once again I can refer to my faible for armoured reconnaissance and declare that we likely need more of it. The armoured reconnaissance would be the equivalent of light horsearchers (the "Moorish" and liekly many of the "Hunnic" auxiliaries of Belisarius, while main battle tanks would be the equivalents of the medium lancers / horse archers of Belisarius' regular Byzantinian caballarii/cavallarii and possibly involved cataphraktoi/clibanarii-type heavy (shock) cavalry. I dont to fuel the "wheels vs. tracks"debate, but low maintenance and low fuel consumption coupled with enough for onboard for long endurance might become much more prized than a nearly impenetrable glacis.
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A variation of the campaign approach can make use of hiding places instead of defensible places as (temporary) camps. This would require more movement (-> higher fuel and spare parts consumption), but it could be done with much less defensive forces and would thus be particularly useful in the early phase of a conflict, before enough troops were mobilised, prepared and deployed to secure the many 'ink blots'. I wrote about this particularly in 2009-2011, and likened it to light (horse) cavalry at times. The siting of the hiding places would not be as important as the siting of the defensible places, instead the ability to threaten lines of communication (supply routes) even far 'behind' the most forward hostile ground forces would be important. The hiding does of course require that civilians don't give away the locations, which can be largely ensured throguh various means (disrupting phone networks, civilians fled the area of operations, checkpoints to intercept motor vehicles) for a day. This approach may be particularly suitable to low density of population areas such as much of Eastern Europe or Northeast Asia.
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I'm still at the grand topic of how to replace the function of front lines, as already in 2009-2011. I never found a satisfactory answer to or even only a mention of this challenge in field manuals, and I've read field manuals of ground forces from several countries that should have covered this topic judging by their scope.
It may be that historical analogies from eras which knew no front lines are valuable; they may - within the limits of analogies - provide insights purchased in blood, that may be purchased again in blood if we refuse to pay attention to military history.

S O

P.S.: I did not write about using human shields as a land campaign strategy. The actual, real world  conventions would allow such a style of campaigning.
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28 comments:

  1. Wouldn't, if it is a serious war, there be a far greater mobilization that would allow proper front lines by "light" forces.

    With the small dismount strength, it would allow the other side to prevent such small scale raids, while consuming little own resources.

    Small nitpick, a first wave infantry division of the Wehrmacht was partially motorized, with over half the lift capacity being provided by wheeled transport.

    So it was a larger percent of forces that was operationally mobile then the 15% to 85% split.

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    1. Infantry divisions of the first four waves had a fine NOMINAL equipment and partial motorization, but the lorry detachments were needed to haul artillery munitions and oat much of the time.

      I suppose a major war in Eastern Europe would at first see less than ten NATO brigades involved. Over the course of half a year about a hundred brigades (brigade equivalents) would be added piecemeal, and another hundred in the following half year. To create, equip, train and deploy brigades that don't even exist as materiél stocks would likely require well over a year.

      With dozens of brigades destroyed or reduced to skeletons over the course of weeks or months, even the mighty NATO would struggle (in a long peer conflict) to establish and maintain a 1,000 km front line, even if it's only pickets, QRFs and arty.

      We had about 80 brigade equivalents for Central Europe (~ 1,000 km) by the 1980's, and that wouldn't have been enough to maintain a robust frontline, much less while having operational reserves or a Schwerpunkt.

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  2. The post WW2 forces were not built by military leaders trying to maximize they effectiveness, but by politicians trying to build the EU. Limiting the size of the Bundeswehr was important for the rest of Europe. NVA had one of the highest force readiness, and maintained around 6 active and 5 reserve divisions, or around 30 brigades.
    A similar percentage in the West would have allowed the Bundeswehr to have 90 brigades.

    It is not that the West can't support a much higher brigade count, it doesn't need or want it. Croatia had a force strength over 150 000 active soldiers, while now it is around 15000.

    Peer wars would lead to those limitation being lifted off.

    Those partially motorised divisions were very capable of operational manouver warfare and provided the basis for the motorised divisions.

    Barbarossa wouldn't have been possible if not for the majority of the forces being able to execute offenses.

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    1. No, the NVA of the DDR had 2 MRDs and one tank division - a single corps, same proportion as in FRG.

      You're also wrong about the West German forces. The NATO allies demanded and got promised 12 divisions, and the actual strength (11 divisions and nominally one more) was limited by domestic reasons (motivation to spend, drain of manpower from economy).

      And seriously, I wrote extensively about the fact that Eropean NATO / EU has much more land power than needed to keep Russia in check by quantitative (and qualitative) measurement. Only the delay in bringing this power to the Baltics is troublesome.

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  3. Thanks for an interesting post, once again.

    Ukraine indeed seems to confirm your theory with defensible strongpoints such as Debaltseve and Donetsk Airport being surrounded by contested territory where armoured battlegroups are attempting to cut the enemy off their supply.

    Syrian civil war kind of followed similar pattern, at least until Russian Air Force destroyed the rebels' network of settlements among supply routes.

    How do you see enemy air power would affect these "ink blots"? They should somehow be defensible also against a threat from air or they aren't defensible at all.

    Personally I doubt the survivability of an air force against a peer opponent in a contemporary conflict. Ukrainians tried to use air power until their air force was effectively shot out of their own skies. Russians withheld air power completely for political reasons but maybe also out of respect for Ukrainian air defence systems. Combat jets are very expensive these days.

    Perhaps in a future peer vs peer war air power will be a luxury asset, reserved for air defence and for the absolutely most important missions only. A bit like navies of the old.

    scip10

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    1. It's been rare in military history that two peer both had overwhelming defence and none dared to attack during wartime. It's difficult to tell what modern airpower would do, but my guess is that after initially severe losses one air force would be able to continue attacks with its remnant forces.

      The vulnerability of 'ink blot' defensible areas to air attack (and artillery) has a precedent (among many) in the hedgehog defence on the Eastern Front:
      http://usacac.army.mil/cac2/cgsc/carl/download/csipubs/wray.pdf

      The important point here is that though invulnerability is not affordable, those defensible areas would by definition be safer than their surroundings. They're not perfectly safe places, but places where forces could dare to rest, repair and wait.
      Land forces cannot be on the move all the time, after all.

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  4. When I read this article I thought of frontline/light cavalry articles of yours.

    http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/how-poland-saved-the-world-russia-15657

    I quote :
    "the East was simply too vast for armies to form continuous lines of troops, which made warfare far more mobile. The plains of Central Poland lacked defensible terrain, and neither side had the time or resources to build the trenches that stalemated the Western battlefields."

    They had some of the last literal cavalry fight. I wonder if you have looked into that conflict for more historical insight.

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    1. It's widely known that even during the First World War, the Eastern Front was nothing like the Western Front or Isonzo Front in most sectors. There were very defensible sectors such as at rivers, but in most places there was no defensible front line.
      The relatively few rail lines and their crossings were defining the campaign back then.

      The Polish-Soviet War is more interesting regarding the Polish mobilization from having no army or state to having a lightly equipped army of almost a million men in a few years.

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  5. Hello Sven,

    given that the defensible terrains you suggest as equivalents of fortresses consume large amounts of troops to make them defensible, I am starting to assume mass and deciciveness are relevant ideas no more in your conception of future warfare. Can you elaborate?

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    1. The defensible terrain isn't meant as fortress. I suggest certain places with limited approach routes, possibly a good lookout hill providing artillery superiority or simply enough buildings to defeat long range sensors would suffice. They wouldn't need to be defended by troops while for example a battalion battlegroup is on a sally.

      Massing could still be possible by multiple battlegroups converging in a cooperative or coordinated/synchronised effort.

      I didn't give up on "decisiveness" (and I rarely wrote about single decisive battles regarding future warfare in the past), but the 'ink blot' campaign style likely doesn't allow for a quick campaign. Quick campaigns are essential for keeping the harm done by warfare small, so this is rather a campaign style for when you already failed to keep the campaign short.

      I actually see potential for 'light cavalry' forces using the variation (hideouts instead of defensible places) being the campaign-ending ones rather than the heavy forces (which would rather avert or delay a more unfavourable end state), but that's a complicated story.

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  6. Hello,

    Your ink blots look very easy to defeat piecemeal, overrun or bypass and blockade to me. It isnt a stance for a dire scenario but for a winner that doesnt want to advance any further and is sure his enemy cant muster any sizeable offensive force anymore (like ukraine that doesnt want to invite another russian incursion by being too successful against a weak insurgent force). In a dire situation - I suggest - a commander would actually try to keep his force consolidated and flexible. A "frontline" of unsupporting strongpoints isnt for geometric reasons. Every detachement should occupy a larger amount of enemy troops than itself. A placement that biases force protection over tactical or strategical impact encourages the enemy to not bother. Even in an end state of mutual total exaustion your advice on positioning seems off. In such a case positioning would be dictated by political factors.

    In theoretical terms: I think it is more usefull to look towards the concepts of the use of detachements than towards the theory of the fortress.

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    1. The "bypass and blockade" part isn't new, and didn't work well against fortress networks such as the French ones as long as the garrisons weren't crappy. The "piecemeal" (serial) defeat is a historical counter, but this may work both ways, and it's obvious that the side with much superior forces will be more likely to suceeed with such piecemeal (historically: sieges) approach.

      Your notion of "consolidated and flexible" seems off in this case. "consolidated" translates into today's "radio communication" due to the high mobility, and "flexible" into the ability to break camp and move on short notice. Both fits to the 'ink blots' campaign style.

      Look, I'm still interested in how to replace the functions of front lines, and keeping an entire mechanised corps more or less together as if for a Kursk battle simply doesn't help when its vital main supply route could be raided by armoured recce at will.
      The massed tank forces of WW2 didn't face 100% motorised opposition that could drive past them in a few hours. The bulk of the army (infantry diisions) was enough of a threat (in front line or not) to threaten small raiding parties with getting cut off, deprived of logistical support and annihilated. Small raiding parties (CvC's "Kleiner Krieg") thus didn't matter very much (even Soviet partisan groups usually delivered but a minor disruption).

      Also keep in mind that the old adage "fighting united-marching divided" can be applied to the 'ink blot' approach; most of the time the forces are divided, but they CAN be united temporarily for a main effort. To stay in "defensible terrain" is primarily a method for reducing loss rates while preparing for the next main effort action, and as a side effect it serves a diversion, surveillance and tactical deterrence effect and enables a high readiness for delaying actions against a hostile main effort.

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    2. "keeping an entire mechanised corps more or less together as if for a Kursk battle simply doesn't help when its vital main supply route could be raided by armoured recce at will."

      The supply vehicles of all of the "ink blots" will be as well, given that they are much closer to the front line and have much less recources to protect their much more numberous supply lines. Similar considerations apply in regard to other support assets like artillery, air defense etc.

      Positioning a number of bataillon strongpoints along a line of contact with the enemy significantly reduces their flexibility. Any movement, appart from a unsupportet attack, needs to start with a break of contact or withdrawl. Only then can lateral movement toward the intended location start. Their closeness to the enemy makes them susceptible to fixing attacks. There is an example of a movement of this kind in the arab israeli war on the sinai in 1973. Unsuprisingly it was a total disaster.

      Consolidation - in contrast to the proposed dispersion - serves three functions: 1st it makes leading of a formation easyer, i.e. less friction. 2d it allows to concentrate the necessary troop densities for a sustained defense if only in a small area. 3rd as a guard against supprise, because forces are in battle ready condition even against a major attack, without need for complex maneuvers.

      By virtue of its size and placement in key terrain (which it is actually able to defend) such a "force in being" will extend its influence far beyond the space it actually occupies.

      Dont get me wrong Im not opposed to any kind of detachment of forces, but to the shematic approach presented hear. By definition you dislocate the majority of those scarce forces in ink blot stance. And I think you will get my drift if you remember your aversion to tripwire forces.

      In regard to frontlines: european armies fought without frontlines in from channel to swiss border sense for centuries. Especially the time around 1800 (because the growing size of armies made classic fortresses much less important, a state permanent to our times, allthough for different reasons) gives a good indication of how tactics works in their absence. So why not study how tactics change as a whole and stop bothering about replacing something that might be lost (until mobilisation kicks in)?

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    3. "The supply vehicles of all of the "ink blots" will be as well, given that they are much closer to the front line and have much less recources to protect their much more numberous supply lines."

      Actually, dispersed supply movement is a recognised logistics survival tactic. But more importantly, you seem to disregard the effect of depth and the mobile ("sally", "patrol") part of the concept. Only the most forward battlegroups would have similar supply issues as would a free-floating heavy corps.

      " Their closeness to the enemy makes them susceptible to fixing attacks."
      ...which would require a fixing force. I agree that with an 'ink blot' campaiggn stlye the average engagement would be smaller. That's part of the stabilising effect compared to a free-floating corps.

      "[Consolidation] 1st it makes leading of a formation easyer, i.e. less friction. 2d it allows to concentrate the necessary troop densities for a sustained defense if only in a small area. 3rd as a guard against supprise, because forces are in battle ready condition even against a major attack, without need for complex maneuvers."

      Actually, leading a massed force larger than brigade (~1,000 vehicles) is more difficult than leading a smaller force or multiple smaller fforces. You are forced to use multiple routes for rapi movement, or else you end up with a convoy length of 20 km and huge planning effort for even small movements.
      A division is so large that it cannot be led as one force.
      #2 is a recipe for encirclement.
      #3 - oh boy, I think I need to write that post quoting Leonhard on readiness and surprise after all. Besides, the "no need for complex manoeuvres" is at the same time a "almsot no ability to execute complex manoeuvres". You're much less predictable when your forces have multiple starting points prior to battle.

      Funny thing is, I thin of the battlegroups in defensible places as 'forces in being' as well, though I have become accustomed to think about small formations (even reinforced battalion battlegroups), for once agreeing with modern fashion. Meanwhile, you think of early WW2-like concentrated army corps.

      "And I think you will get my drift if you remember your aversion to tripwire forces."

      The tripwires (or anything that could be mistaken for some - I would rather draw a parallel to pickets or security patrols) wouldn't be the ink blots, but the platoon-sized elements of skirmishers in between and deep in front of the ink blots - the armoured recce platoons (which use stealth and speed for survival alternatingly).

      "Especially the time around 1800 (...)"
      ...a time during which campaigns were very quick and very unstable. Particularly the campaign of 1815, which was decided by a single small event. That's not about military art or theory, that's gambling.

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  7. Will this favour larger or smaller states?

    If a defence can be carried out successfully with limited resources, smaller states are an efficient solution. If expensive weapons are available that can knock out such defences, then larger states have an advantage. A historic example would be the small territorial splits due to fortresses and cavalry in the High Middle Ages, while in the Late Middle Ages artillery made larger territorial solutions of political entities opportun. The Vauban fortresses around France were quite expensive in comparison to pre-gunpowder fortifications and only affordable for a territory of such a large size and prosperity behind that hard shell.

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    1. I suppose it benefits those countries which don't have an army capable of rapid manoeuvres. It also benefits ad hoc alliances with poorly cooperating land forces, for less cooperation ("interoperability") is required.
      The trend since the 90's towards smaller manoeuvre formations (battalion- instead of brigade-level) also benefits smaller countries, which often don't maintain a single well-equipped division.

      Air power and electronic warfare on the other hand benefit large and well-funded armed forces with indigenous military electronics industries.

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    2. Are military electronics necessary and is there an option for EW-mercenaries? EW has a high degree of deniability, so anyone with such a skill and equipment could rent out.
      The current war in Ukraine presumably makes Russia such a future source of EW-mercenaries.

      If sufficient EW-capability is available on a market, major powers are reduced to air, space and naval power (blocking sea lines of communication) as cutting edge advantages. Air and space are intertwined with EW, while naval is not always of much value. Correspondingly, the capability of invading competent countries shrinks and alliances against such a threat lose importance.

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    3. The usual method is to simply ally with a country possessing the lacking abilities, but mercenaries were used as well -usually with their government's consent. Pakistani fighter pilots served in Arab air forces, Russian fighter pilots served in Russian fighter types in the conflcit between Eritrea and Ethiopia and so on.
      Some European countries like to send air defence units to assist countries under threat (because most type of AD are so wonderfully non-offensive). Germany sent air defences to Israel in 1991 and to Turkey early in the Syrian Civil War, for example.

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  8. he mobile ("sally", "patrol") part of the concept"

    Which is much more applicable to a larger concentration of forces.

    "heavy corps"

    Im not set on a corps. Only that bataillons are to small to sustain themselves. Strong Brigades would propably be the very minimum that can keep afloat in a defensive stance for a long enough time to acctually matter.

    "" Their closeness to the enemy makes them susceptible to fixing attacks."
    ...which would require a fixing force. I agree that with an 'ink blot' campaiggn stlye the average engagement would be smaller."

    A fixing force could be smaller than the bataillon itself, because of the terrain you want to base them in and the long way the bataillon has to move to become effective, thereby skewing the effective force ratio in favour of the enemy. Or he could use remote minefields which the dispersed engeneer forces cannot match, or or, or. Using dispersed units doesnt force the enemy to do anything detrimental as far as I can see, but opens a whole lot of exploits.


    "Actually, leading a massed force larger than brigade (~1,000 vehicles) is more difficult than leading a smaller force or multiple smaller fforces."

    Because a brigade isnt just an addition of three or four bataillons, but incorporates a pool of supporting assets and generates more military power than the sum of its parts (if properly led). You dont get those effects if dispersion outstrips the area covered by those supporting assets and units are to far appart to help each other out before one is knocked out as an effective fighting force. Nobody on the other hand is suggesting densities where a division needs to march on a single road.

    "#2 is a recipe for encirclement"

    Im not suggesting to defend some plot of land at all costs but to use it as a staging and rally area for the operation of a larger formation. The background for my remark was your concern with troop security. Furthermore commanders of old seemed to be very keen on establishing themselves in places the enemy had to give battle in.

    "oh boy, I think I need to write that post quoting Leonhard on readiness and surprise after all. Besides, the "no need for complex manoeuvres" is at the same time a "almsot no ability to execute complex manoeuvres"."

    I think you will be able to make an argument, that is not dependend on namedropping. Not even Leonhard believes that information technology can do away with uncertainty.

    A maneuvre of 20 Bataillons is certainly more complex than the maneuver of 2-3 divisions/brigades and some odd detachments, but is it more effective, even more supprising? Is the ensueing sternmarsch really that unpredictable? Above all does it create predictability for you, given that there is no consolidated force in the field, that is able to restrict the enemies freedom of movement in a significant way?

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    1. The more manoeuvre elements, the more options and thus less predictability, yes. This was covered by OR long ago.

      I still have a feeling that you don't quite get how much I emphasise the "how to keep them from advancing with their forces by 100 km a day" thing, especially coupled with my emphasis on deciding a fight before beginning it.
      A force disposition that allows the enemy to seek battle within hours, or to advance with little fear 100 km in a day isn't satisfactory to me.
      I want him to fear so much that his advance becomes methodical (such as creating a wide breach in the net of defensible places), and I want him to be in a horrible situation by the time that large formations do clash.

      There are multiple ways to pull this off, and their common theme is IMO that smaller manoeuvre elements than the main force (skirmishers) get involved. It takes 3-4 days till the opposing forces run out of fuel and artillery ammo, so the main fight (a formation-shattering converging assault if possible) should be delayed this long.

      When on the other hand you keep your forces massed (and thus not really nimble), you may be drawn into a major engagement really quick.

      Besides, freedom of movement can be restricted by delaying actions rather well. Every delaying action forces the opposing force to deploy for battle, usually also to deploy a hook move - this costs a lot of time, and it can be provoked by much smaller forces as long as they leap frog.

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  9. "I would rather draw a parallel to pickets or security patrols"

    So why not make them pickets and security patrols then? Why put scarce combat forces in bataillon strengh all over the place without clearly defined aims? Why make them defend an otherwise worthless plot of land?

    I could imagine a bataillon supporting a reconaissance and surveilance screen. But this wouldnt require them to defend any terrain but amount to a very force centric approach.

    "a time during which campaigns were very quick and very unstable"

    ... for objective reasons. The question in case is, would bloting the landscape with unsuported regiments stabilize the situation?


    I even get that bloting a white sheet with bataillon battlegroups looks neat. But try it with a real map and a concrete opfor and you will quickly identify more suptle approaches. For example: Would you defend the balitc states in your ink blot fashion? Certainly not. You would identify the corridor to Kaliningrad as key terrain and two or three places you are not to loose in order to control this corridor and concentrate forces accordingly.


    More on the meta side of this argument I suggest "my" book 2 chapter 6 to your attention.

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    1. "Why make them defend an otherwise worthless plot of land?"

      That's a common political objective, kind of the job of armed forces. Let's not pretend that NATO would be any more willing to plan for a retrograde movement towards Warsaw. Remember the forward defence doctrine of the Cold War?

      "The question in case is, would bloting the landscape with unsuported regiments stabilize the situation?"

      I suppose so, for an advancing army wouldn't want them in its back, nor able to reach its supply lines with ordinary arty shells. This requires at least a 60 km wide cleared corridor of advance. The battlegroups wouldn't necessary defend their defensible places, "defensible" is relative. A division.sized effort would be met with evasion in order to preserve the BG. Preferably, it would manoeuvre into the back of the hostile advance.

      "Would you defend the balitc states in your ink blot fashion? Certainly not."

      Actually, using defensible places as holdouts is about the only at least semi-viable early defence strategy for Estonia and Latvia...

      The geographical bottleneck only matters much if Belarus remains neutral in such a conflict. That's my standard assumption, but once you cast it away you find in Belarus one of the best terrains world-wide for the ink blot campaign style. Which of course means that the ink blot doctrine might deter an involvement of Belarus, which would be preferable.


      IIRC you know Leonhard's book on principles of war, so I recommend you re-read *his* book, specifically the chapter on "mass".

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  10. Your "light cavalry" could be armed pickup trucks (like the "technicals" of Africa). They wouldn't need any special infrastructure or support and - if you're looking for camouflage - they could be hidden or disguised as civilian vehicles.

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    1. Soft small motor vehicles have a role as relatively stealthy and nimble eyes, very rarely as combat vehicles.
      "Technicals" work in Africa and the Mid East because both sides do spray & pray there most of the time.

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  11. The size of the average battle-group depends on the force density and the operational unit size. If you have division as main operational units, the BG will be brigade sized. Brigade sized formations would form battalion BG and so on.
    The reason is that for any main effort or brigade maneuver the maneuver elements are not used as one.
    There is no reason to believe that this trend will be reversed with the switch to brigades. The German panzer brigades in WW2 were very much battalion battle-groups. In a higher density battlefield they didn't have the staying power to be effective.

    I see 6 active and 5 reserve divisions for the NVA in multiple sources.

    Syria has a low density battlefield between ISIS and the opponents, neither the SAA nor YPG are able to make enough ink to hold the supply lines safe unless they use much larger forces.

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  12. Sorry for answering late, busy week.

    "The more manoeuvre elements, the more options and thus less predictability, yes. This was covered by OR long ago."

    The number of maneuver elements is not affected by their disposition. I get that a very opend disposition reduces the propability of detection, but at a hefty price in coordination and mutual support.


    "I want him to fear so much that his advance becomes methodical (such as creating a wide breach in the net of defensible places), and I want him to be in a horrible situation by the time that large formations do clash."

    (given the late war/exaustion state I would very much fear the enemy methodicaly eliminating bataillon strong points by quick local concentrations.)

    On the overall intend I concur. But I contest that detachments should be subservient to the overall employment of the main forces, that is orientet toward forces (which are by axiom sparse) not on space (which is abundant).

    Political Objections: The EU changed a lot in regard to inner european policy but on the otherhand western european nations have been very reluctant to expend blood in the eastern european plains (ok, germany went their by accident and stupidity). West Germany was different because its eastern border was close to the rhine, an area western european nations tended to care about. Also Germany carried a much higher part of NATO defence than the eastern european countries do in EU defence. So my guess would be: western europeans will defend the eastern border of the EU if challenged, yet in a way that does not incur unnecessary risk. They can communicat the loss of Rēzekne to their voters better, than the loss of a division of compatriots

    "It takes 3-4 days till the opposing forces run out of fuel and artillery ammo, so the main fight (a formation-shattering converging assault if possible) should be delayed this long."

    That seems to be a very shematic assumption. Someone has to force them to do so. So the overall disposition of your detachements needs to be efficent in this regard. This aspect, and the considerations that follow are rather absent in your historical as well as theoretical remarks.

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  13. "When on the other hand you keep your forces massed (and thus not really nimble), you may be drawn into a major engagement really quick."

    I regard this risk minor to the risk of not being able to concentrate at all.

    "Besides, freedom of movement can be restricted by delaying actions rather well."

    Only if the enemy is forced to frontaly attack delaying forces. I understood your suggestion was to place them away from major axis of advance. The point of the enemy therefore does not need to deploy.


    "Actually, using defensible places as holdouts is about the only at least semi-viable early defence strategy for Estonia and Latvia..."

    There is at least the option of securing a foothold along the Düna river as a base for future operations. Then use follow on forces to attack Kaliningrad as a bargaining chip.

    Defending spread out along the borders would be an emediate victory for an attacking force. The corridor to Kaliningrad will be cut (because no concentration of forces at the key terrain of the theatre) and all forces predeployed to the baltics become a bargaining chip for the attacker.

    An involvement of Belarus would IMHO make necessary an early offensive action to secure a foothold for regaining control over the baltic countries.

    Regarding Leonhard on Principles:
    Invocing this book is not very compelling until you establish the extend of superiority in the hypothetical conflict we are talking about. Leonhard routinely confounds or misnames specific advice for a scenario of information superiority with principles of war. In short he is saying that our information superiority is/will be so great that the principle of mass will be irrelevant to us.

    On the practical side Leonhard makes the false assumption, that the information age has blown away the fog of war. Theoretical therefor armies are supposedly able to fight with a level of precision, that would allow them to use just the right amount of force. Both assumptions are dubious. Firstly information technology has at best gradually reduced uncertainty and is very vulnerable on the data to information link and to false positives. The more protection against observation and fire is dependend on active coutnermeasures, the more combat forces will need to concentrate around the emitter of said countermeasures. Secondly the causal relation between precision and mass/density is exactly opposite: If the enemy needs to saturate an area of 500x500m with massed fires to hit a target than there is ample incentive not to be within this area. If, on the other hand the enemy hits a target with 100% accuracy there is little use in being farther away than the area affected by the enemy munition. In a see all-all hit-all kill-scenario the force with the higher numbers simply wins. According to Clausewitz certainty leads to concentration of military actions in space and time.

    I dont see how your blog post of Leonhard on readiness supports dispersion into smaller, unsuporting fractions. Concentration allows for an overall lower readiness.

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  14. I came to the conclusion that my choice of words is misleading. "defensible place" does not mean a place that would likely be defended against assault.
    It means a relatively secure resting place that reduces the security effort required and greatly limits observation by opposing forces. Actual defence of the position would only happen aaginst weak forces such as armoured recce or at msot equal size battlegroups.
    Maybe "secured bivouac" would work better.

    A major attack in its direction would almost certainly be answered by a mobile delaying action. Maybe even some longtime readers didn't notice yet, but I'm a delaying action fanatic. I think delaying actions should be the dominant combat actions in a war between states.

    There were cold war discussions on meeting engagements that focused on who gets to flank whom first. I'd rather advise to delay with two or three small forces, conduct counterrecce at both flanks and only then execute a swift flank attack for an impact when the opposing force isn't deployed at the moment, but already tired by the delaying actions.

    Doctrines treat delaying actions as primarily something for locally inferior forces, I consider them as (enablers for) battlefield shaping.

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