Best sapper-related pic I was able to find.

It's strange to me how sappers never seem to inspire much imagination, never seem to get good stories in military journals. They resemble military intelligence and military police in this regard.

There were interesting technological developments for army engineers, of course. Sadly, the only reports (such as conference documentations) about their stuff sent even me to sleep.

One such example was a mid-90's hype about quick dry cement. It sounded like the answer to most questions of army engineering nature. 

Build obstacles in hours? Quick dry cement!

Build buildings in hours? Quick dry cement!

Repair roads or bridges in hours? Quick dry cement!

Build field fortifications in hours? Quick dry cement!

Somehow, some researchers were extremely enthusiastic about quick dry cement for army engineers. I had difficulties to imagine anything more boring than cement, though.

Meanwhile the German military journals annoyed me by repeating assertions about the greatness and innovation of the Keiler, a simple 40 years late vehicle that based on a British '42 invention. Those articles usually made more the impression of an "armour"-themed article than an "sappers"-themed one.

There could be so very interesting articles about sappers.
They have the (often unofficial) role of emergency auxiliary infantry, and some of their outfits were indeed (in some countries) meant as crack specialist assault troops.
It's been known for decades that support troops need to be more capable of self-defence than they are; a secondary mindset, equipment and small unit organisation for this might make sense (I know that many have given up any hope in regard to rear personnel fighting capabilities and equate 70% of army forces to the trail of non-combattant traders and craftsmen that followed pre-18th century field armies). 
Sappers are the most obvious starting point for a movement towards this.

Wouldn't it be nice for a change to see some articles in the general military journals about how some sapper battalion can turn into a dismounted area defence battalion within five minutes, about what it figured out concerning the training schedule, concerning mindset, leadership requirements, weapons and munitions compromises?

Then again, German sappers (Pioniere) have a reputation that was coined by the personnel system's  low intelligence requirements for their recruits. They drew much of their leadership from their recruit pool. Maybe this is a more widespread issue and they're the last ones to expect major innovations from?

S Ortmann


Five years of madness

It's been five years of madness already!


I happened to attempt to beat up the small wars fashion in my very first blog post, back at its zenith. Guess I'll never join the mainstream.

The blog actually started elsewhere and was migrated to this place in late 2007 because of design issues. Sometime in between, there was a second minor design makeover with the green background (supposed to be the colour of a factory-fresh 60's-80's German moleskin battle dress uniform) and the header collage featuring the recent German camouflage for European terrain. By the way; the Scutum (Roman late Republican and early Imperial era infantry shield) is meant to represent defence and the statue is meant to represent thought. I did not find any graphic to represent freedom. My favourite graphics search method (google image search) only yielded the same painting of a half-naked French revolution woman over and over again.

Regarding the content; I had an initial list of about two dozen topics when I started this blog and it was meant to be complete when all topics were covered. Strangely, the list grew quicker than I could write blog posts. After a year or two it was so long and full of topics that I hadn't bothered to write about that I ditched the list.
Nowadays, its equivalent is a list of 20-30 blog post drafts in the blogger interface - some of them lingering there and waiting for final polish or dismissal for months. Record-holder is a post which I wrote in 2009. I wanted to hold back those thoughts, but a recent look at it revealed that my thoughts on the topic had advanced well beyond and I had already written well beyond the scope of that old draft.
There are already about 950 blog posts on this blog.

Visitor-wise, there was first a steady growth, then an up and down with an overall stagnation. As far as I can tell only about 15% of my visitors come from a German-speaking country (Austrians are especially rare visitors, and I have almost no idea why). The very rare bilingual blog posts are a residue of ~30% German visitors from earlier years and of my original intent to pull this off in a bilingual fashion. The workload would have been crazy with that idea.
The small German readership is a bit saddening, for I'll most certainly blast off at the German army reform in the near future. Frustration with it is accumulating already.

In case you wondered why blogging became so slow during May; I have had  several breakthroughs that finally make me comfortable about beginning to write a book draft in earnest. My level of confidence was previously hampered by a couple of unsatisfactory gaps.
There will certainly be no publication this year. The book draft will be recognisable for blog readers as my work, but I held back enough thoughts to make it a very different beast than the blog.
Well, that and the other reason I didn't write much in May is because I fell sick for a while.

Finally, here are the visitor statistics, as logged by Statcounter since early 2008 (visitor count in 2007 was only below 10-20 per day, including robots):

(click on it for a bigger, readable version)
S Ortmann


Nice find

Old documents can be real treasures.

A couple years ago I read that the bunker penetration capability of cruise missiles was increased by adding a shaped charge to their nose that opens a hole in and weakens the structure. The principle has since been applied to warheads with "follow-through" function. Everytime I read about such a warhead the reports make it sound as if it was a great feat of engineering.

Now imagine my astonishment when I saw this

edit: Better try this volume.



Rank inflation in the Bundeswehr

The political leadership of the Bundeswehr wasn't convincing since, well, since the end of the 80's.

One of the symptoms of this is the personnel system mess in the Bundeswehr - "too many chieftains and not enough Indians", as it's usually called.

The government doesn't raise the pay appropriately and doesn't make service attractive, so the only way out for recruiting and retaining was to promote many soldiers to higher ranks.

Back in the 80's a tank driver was an enlisted conscript, now he's rather a junior NCO.
Back in the 80's a Feldwebel (lowest senior NCO rank) was respected for his training and experience - nowadays you first need to get to know him, for he could be anything from useless to competent. Staffs are huge, too.

One of the reasons for rank inflation at high levels (among professional officers) is likely NATO; you cannot send an NCO pilot to a staff where his colleagues with comparable qualification are ranked major or more. Certain positions de facto require a certain quantity of stars or a certain officer rank, so the Bundeswehr provides this rank (and doesn't do so only temporarily).

Multiple rounds of cutting the personnel size of the Bundeswehr affected mostly the short-serving soldiers of low ranks, while the professional and long-term volunteer soldiers were not cut away. Nowadays there's no useful balance between "chieftains and Indians" any more.

Global Observer has figures about the planned new Bundeswehr structure:

18.31% officers
32.94% senior NCOs
19.73% junior NCOs
29.02% enlisted personnel

71% "chieftains"!

Everybody knows that this sucks, and everybody knows that this is the result of a bureaucracy following its momentum, not a result of deliberations about how to be able to expand the forces quickly if the need arises.
Those junior NCOs are effectively glorified enlisted personnel. The phenomenon known as "Neckermann Stuffz"* (a soldier who has the second junior NCO rank already on day one of his basic training) has been known since the mid-90's at the latest.

This rank inflation erodes confidence in superiors, confidence in subordinates and is generally an example of how corrupting language harms overall communication.

I consider the cutting of the Gordian rank inflation knot as the litmus test for a good minister of defence; every really good minister of defence would cut it. The others only administrate the misery.

S Ortmann

*: Neckermann is a mail order retail company.


German patriotism


Patriotism in itself is neither good nor bad; the problem with it is about how easily it can be exploited and turned into aggressive jingoism, arrogance and xenophobia. It can also be exploited in order to distract from domestic problems. The attention span is limited; a nation that's bathing in jingoism might forget about its solvable problems. It might even be stupid enough to overextend its resources because of jingoism fantasies.

That being said, outbursts of patriotism or nationalism (or even jingoism) have been very rare to non-existent in Germany during the Cold War (both East and West).
The 1989-1991 period (reunification) saw a revival of the "nation" idea. The old generation was fully aware that Germany was a divided nation, but for many of the young generation the German states were already different countries (similar to Germany and Austria today, but shh! - don't tell Austrians I wrote this!).

The football world championship 2006 hosted by Germany was IIRC the tournament that brought the breakthrough. Suddenly, we had all those German flags on cars, hanging outside windows - black-red-gold decoration everywhere. Almost like Christmas, only different colours and more. That was a very uncommon sight, but the later football championships (European and World) saw repetitions of the pattern, and it has become a custom. We're patriots in public for a couple weeks every 2nd year now.

The European Football Championship 2012 in June will show this again.

Don't be scared if you see lots of German flags. We don't have enough tanks these days to ruin your lawn. Everything is fine. ;)

S Ortmann


About ceasefires for war zones

The ceasefire plans for Syria don't seem to be a lasting success, and it really astonishes me why anybody ever thought such a thing could succeed.

I understand it's the UN's job to work for a non-violent solution to (international) conflicts and for some reason this has begun to include domestic conflicts (as long as no very important country is involved).
That's fine, as far as it's about the prevention of large scale violence.

What's badly lacking among foreign politicians is the insight that hot large scale conflicts can usually not be solved with a truce and negotiations. That only happens when at least one side is exhausted / defeated.

There has been some criticism directed at the UN about how its peacekeeping efforts often only prolong violent conflicts instead of allowing for the 'natural' solution by arms (which is usually unfair, of course!).

Could we please forget about stupid ceasefire plans? There's no way how the Assad regime and the minorities which back it can coexist with the rebels, and they won't give up without losing the fight simply because the repercussions for decades of oppression, corruption and discriminations are worse than giving the warfare option a chance. Likewise, the rebels obviously won't tolerate the regime any more. This conflict will almost certainly be decided by gunfights, not by pen and paper.
Let's look if the UN and other external factors can influence the fight for power in Syria towards a less bloody, even quicker course. You're not going to find a non-violent course. Period.

I fully understand the desire to do something about a horrible conflict, but ratio and the knowledge of history should tell us that at times there's simply nothing we can do about it without doing more harm than good.

It sucks, but you know what sucks more? To make it worse.

S Ortmann

edit: Replaced "peace" with "ceasefires" in the title.


Soviet weapon air and ground systems in 1941

It has fascinated me for a long time how well-timed really good Soviet weapons arrived just prior to 1941. Some of them were still in infancy, and in need of improvement - others were already good enough to still be among the world's best in their class by '45.

They didn't just arrive shortly before WW2: They arrived almost at once, transforming the Red Army and with a short delay also its image among foreign intelligence services.

Let's look at it in detail, first the aircraft. Most combat aircraft of the Soviet Union in 1941 were obsolete models which had been great only a few years ago, but its most important designs were already in service:

1939: Li-2
transport aircraft
This was simply a licensed copy of the Douglas Dc-3 / C-47 design and accordingly a hugely useful and successful transport aircraft. The only major disappointment regarding the Li-2 that I'm aware of was the ineptitude of its pilots in regard to dropping airborne troops at least in about the correct region of the designated landing zone. Engines differed and it was redesigned for metric unit construction.

1940: LaGG-1
This evolved into the useful LaGG-3 (plagued by poor production quality control) and the re-engined La-5 and La-7  fighters. The family semblance is strong enough to consider it one basic design, comparable to Bf 109, Spitfire, Ju88 and other aircraft which received new engines and major fuselage modifications without redesignation.

1940: Yak-1

This one evolved into Yak-7, Yak-9 and Yak-3 fighter series, with even greater family semblance than the aforementioned fighter. It was among the few greatly successful lightweight fighter designs of WW2.

1941: Il-2
armoured close air support aircraft
This is the classic Sturmovik, diminished in its effect mostly by the overcautious tactics employed (typical: crossing front-line high, making a single ground attack pass at high speed and low altitude flying towards friendly lines on the way back - rarely penetration deeper than 10 km) and the often too limited training of its pilot. The greatest modifications to the basic design were the addition of a rear gunner (without armour protection) and improvement of armament.

1941: Pe-2
light bomber / multi-role aircraft
One of the few truly excellent light bomber designs of WW2, rivalling the Ju 88 and Bf 110 at the same time. Its effectiveness was diminished by their pilots' habit of flying at full throttle most of the time (high engine wear) and attacking rarely at substantial depth (most attack at less then 50 km depth). Only late in WW2 the medium Bomber Tu-2 added much to the Pe-2's services. The other really important early WW2 Soviet bomber was the long-range Il-4, which was more like an equivalent of the He 111.

These aircraft were enough; the only other major front aircraft of the Red Air Force were the MiG-1/-3 fighters (no better than Yaks and LaGGs in most cases), the Tu-2 and Il-4 (both could have been be substituted for by the Pe-2) and Lend-Lease aircraft. No other air force of World War Two had all necessary basic combat aircraft designs already in place when it entered the war. Only Germany came close with its Bf 109/Ju 88 combination.

- - - - -

Now let's look at the tanks. Most '41 tanks of the Soviet Union were obsolete fast or slow tanks (neither shell-proof) as well as some amphibious tankettes and a few oversized "heavy" tanks with still only bullet-proof armour.
The other breed of Soviet Union tanks were the shell-proofed tanks, which became the Red Army armour mainstay in WW2. They were still plagued by  suboptimal turret lay out (2-man concept) and a lack of radios till mid-war:

1939: Kliment Voroshilov
heavy tank
This was the first really shell-proofed heavy tank of the world, and a huge success. Later on this one evolved into casemate tanks and the Josef Stalin heavy tank series. The latter evolved farther to the post-war T-10 tank, a feared heavy tank at the height of the Cold War. The KV's armament and armour were most impressive at first, but did not keep pace well till the IS-2 offspring of '45 was fearsome in both regards again.

1940: T-34
medium tank

Probably the most important tank of WW2, second-most produced tank of WW2 and widely considered to be the first tank that balanced the firepower-mobility-protection trinity really well. It was a crude design with serious defects and its initial relative excellence in regard to brute strength was overshadowed by mid-'43, but it was obviously a good enough tank with good enough growth potential till '45. As far as I know there were still some seen in combat during the 90's. The T-34 also spawned considerable offspring; especially war-time casemate gun tanks.

These two tank designs were actually one more than necessary; the KV series could have been substituted for by the T-34. Many light tanks were produced alongside both, but that wasn't out of preference; the available factories were incapable of producing a T-34 and did thus produce the T-60, T-70, Su-76M etc..

The artillery branch became the principal strength of the Red Army. Artillery fire plans did not require much training or cohesion, but lots of brute strength. The Soviet artillery was fearsome in 1943-1945, even though it wasn't good at supporting manoeuvre forces with indirect fires. The Soviet Union did not have a great history of producing heavy ordnance till the 30's; Tsarist Russia had imported most of its artillery and wasn't able to produce nearly enough during 1914-1917. The Soviet Union had developed its heavy industries during the 30's and was in an altogether different league. Its heavy artillery was typically longer-ranged than the German counterparts and the light field artillery was of lighter construction. Problems of Soviet field artillery were quality of ammunition, quantity of ammunition, insufficient radio supply and not enough leader training.

(heavy gun-howitzer)
The Russians were especially fond of the intermediate concept of a gun-howitzer since the 18th century. Such a gun easily out-ranges a howitzer while having its utility and versatility. The gun was still in service in the Third World a few years ago.

(intermediate calibre field howitzer)
This was a hard-hitting howitzer. The calibre led to a gun too heavy for horse artillery under Eastern front conditions, but the Soviets had enough motor vehicles. The gun out-ranged the basic German 105 mm light field howitzer. The 122 mm calibre was a typical one for Russia, and only fell (mostly) out of favour when cargo (bomblet) shells made the heavier 152 mm calibre more efficient.

(light field cannon)
This was a fine light field cannon, but nothing special initially (the gun-laying was rather complicated for direct anti-tank defence, for example). It only became special when the gun was mated with the carriage of the 57 mm AT gun and turned into the ubiquitous 76.2 mm ZIS-3 gun. Only really good armour protection was enough against these guns, and they were more feared by German tank crews than the smaller calibre AT guns.

1941: 57 mm ZIS-2
(anti-tank gun)
This high-performance anti-tank gun was overengineered and expensive by Russian standards with its extremely long barrel. Its penetration did put to shame every other anti-tank gun in the world of 1941 that did not depend on more exotic ammunition (such as 7.5 cm Pak 41). The ZIS-2 production was restarted in 1943 when it proved to be necessary for countering heavy Tiger tanks (it punched easily through the Tiger's side armour). The 57 mm ZIS-2 gun was the best-performing WW2 anti-tank gun that was still lightweight enough for crew-handling during combat (100 kg more would already have been too much). The German AT gun situation of 1941 looked ill-guided, the British and U.S. AT guns of 1941 looked utterly obsolete in comparison to this gun. The Soviets' biggest problem regarding this gun was its expensiveness, thus they had to produce lots of not so outstanding 45 mm AT guns which ran into the same problems as foreign counterparts of the 37-47 mm range.

- - - - -

Mortars, anti-air artillery and multiple rocket launchers. This wasn't exactly a weakness of the Soviets either; in fact, they were world-best with some of this equipment:

(heavy mortar)
This was a Soviet offspring of a 120 mm mortar designed by the French company Brandt (Mortier Brandt de 120 mm mle 1935), the leading mortar developer of the inter-war period. The development apparently saw a detour through the company Tampella, Finland. The Soviets later further simplified the production of this mortar into a new version (1943). Germans encountered this mortar concept already in France 1940, but only understood the extremely great value of the concept later in Russia. Germany began to copy this copy almost without any modification. 120 mm is today world-wide a most important mortar calibre and almost the only reason for the disappearance of infantry guns.

This was the Soviet version of the French 81.4 mm mortar (Mortier Brandt de 81 mm mle 27/31) that revolutionised infantry battalion fire support all over the world. The slightly modified version of 1941 was standard till long after the war. The Soviets loved mortars (probably because the artillery was often unresponsive when the infantry needed help) and produced this one and others in unbelievable quantities (about 350,000 Soviet mortars produced during WW2!).

(light mortar)
A light mortar with bipod similar to the Brandt pattern, used as company mortar. Modern mortars of this kind dispense with the bipod and are used for direct fire (and the Soviets dispensed with the bipod in 1941, too). The design was more sound than the German and Italian light mortars, which were both over-engineered. Being among the best light mortars of the world (the Brandt Mortier 60 mm de mle 1935 was a good foreign model) didn't save it from being regarded a bit weak with its light mortar bomb and production of such mortars was discontinued in 1943.

(heavy anti-air artillery)
The Soviets toyed around with 76.2 mm cannons as heavy AAA, but quickly realised that their 85 mm cannon was an outstanding design. The fire control wasn't top notch for anti-air purposes, but the powerful ballistics turned it into the primary Soviet answer to the heavy armour plating used by new German tanks 1943-1945. This gun was often compared to the German 88 mm Flak, and in fact only slightly less powerful.Germany re-bored such guns to 88 mm calibre for use as homeland defence AAA.
Strangely, the Soviets did not introduce this gun as a field cannon / AT gun. One such 85 mm gun arrived in 1944, but it was a very different design.

(automatic anti-air artillery)

This was a typical, albeit not outstanding AAA gun. It was good enough for service during the whole war, comparable to famous counterparts such as the 3.7 cm Flak 36 or the 40 mm Bofors L/56.

(c) RIA Novosti, see here
(Multiple rocket launcher)
The Russians got it right in regard to small rockets during the 1930s; fin stabilised and solid rocket fuel. The RS-132 rocket (originally meant for aircraft) was adapted for use as artillery rocket (and old idea which never proved to be particularly good in the preceding centuries) and had great success with it. The compressed firepower of a rocket battalion equipped with cheap launchers of this kind was awesome. The short range and tell-tale signature required a self-propelled launcher, though. The Soviets developed further MRL designs, but the original one was good enough and most important.

- - - - -

The Red Army's infantry also received lots of high quality new weapons in the same timeframe (excluding mortars, since they were already mentioned):

(very heavy machine gun)
This was the equivalent of the U.S. Browning M2HB. It was a respectable weapon against low-flying aircraft (more frightening to pilots than really scoring many kills) and deadly to the lightly armoured German half-track or wheeled armoured recce vehicles. The aircraft gun of the same calibre (UB) was more important than the ground version.

(C) Deutsches Bundesarchiv, see here

(self-loading rifle)
This was an imperfect, but still very useful self-loading rifle and a favourite among Germans - once captured. Practical self-loading rifles were rare at that time because the powerful rifle cartridges (designed with stopping horses in mind) made it difficult to develop a safe and reliable mechanism at a weight acceptable for a rifle (some such attempts yielded rather failures or light machine guns a.k.a. "automatic rifles" such as the BAR).

The only indispensable pre-1937 weapon designs of the Russian infantry were machine guns; the outstanding DP 1928 light machine gun and the old Maxim PM 1910. The attempt of a modern heavy machinegun proved to be a failure and thus the iconic PM 1910 had to fill the gap till a true successor was available in 1943. On top of that, the old Mosin-Nagant repeating rifles and carbines were still in use as well, and the Mosin-Nagant sniper rifle proved to be substantially more accurate than the SVT-40.

Infantry weapons violate the pattern of Red Army modernisation in 1937-1941: The Tokarev wasn't fully satisfying, the PPSh-1941 submachinegun was only ready for production months after the invasion, the new heavy machinegun was a failure, the old light machinegun was still unsurpassed and only a single weapon (DShK) fits to the pattern of modernisation known from the heavy weapons and aircraft.

- - - - -

Overall, the influx of high quality weapon types in 1937-1941 was most remarkable and in stark contrast to all other countries but the re-arming Germany. I wonder how we would react if an unfriendly, powerful country had such an influx of new and modern if not world-leading military hardware in the near future.


P.S.: Having so many new weapons is of course a problem in regard to the reserve; reserve conscripts were mostly trained on the First World War weaponry, and in First World War tactics.


This will probably save more lives than an anti-terror law or budget


By the way; I have added an e-mail subscription gadget on top left. Dunno if or how it works, but maybe someone has a use for it. It'll move farther down on the left frame in a few days or weeks.

S Ortmann


Low force density

Some comment replies are simply too long for the comment section:

Matthias WildeMay 3, 2012 05:30 AM
A short detour, Sven, which I would like to post at a more relevant article; problem is, though, nobody responds to the older ones.

Regarding force density: I concur that much lower force densities are an obvious fact at the current time. The Bundeswehr, for example, has probably about 120K people under arms right now, compared to more than 400K during the Cold War.

It makes perfect sense to cut the size of your military when you don´t have a real enemy, but why do you assume this would be the case when another "Big One" comes around?

You yourself said that societies as a whole could switch to war mode quite quickly; so if SHTF what reasons would prevent western states form forming large militaries again? Why do you assume that future wars will ipso facto be low density wars?

The long-expected world war type of war would probably see a force buildup that allows for multi-million (wo)men armies (NATO could within months mobilise about 120 brigade equivalents on a European theatre, with about 80 more away from the battlefield). The principal challenges would be 
(1) conversion to a war economy
(2) sustainment of a war economy (maritime trade, electricity supply)
(3) how to wage modern war with beginners.

We'd lack the reserve pool of experienced leaders after a decade or two of having tiny pro forces. "90 day wonder" 2nd Lts (U.S. in WW2) could have a comeback.

Also: Remember that NATO had 26 divisions in Central Europe during the Cold War. Even counting airborne and French reinforcements, we'd probably not have had more than 30 divisions for a front that's ~1000 km wide if drawn as a straight line. We (and the Reds as well) were stretched thinly enough to prevent regular operational reserves in-theatre. All divisions would have been expected to fight with a vastly lower force density than known from Europe 1939-1945 (save for Yugoslavian campaign, the Steppe south of Stalingrad and few other places). The first two weeks were widely considered crucial.

A huge conflict might be decided or very much influenced before the bulk of the military potential arrives. An armoured recce company raiding the last opposing military airfield at 700+ km depth has a certain appeal and its experience would not be close to Seelow heights '44.

Low force density is of even greater interest in another threat scenario; a more sudden escalation on an even more stupid "reason" for war than a World War - without lengthy force build-up. This has its greatest potential in sudden flare-ups of border conflicts à la South Ossetia as well as in regard to a Ukraine breakup scenario or a Baltic coup de main scenario.
An aggressor might see his chance in a coup de main (strategic surprise) coupled with deterring a counteroffensive with fait accompli and nuke threat. Would we really risk WW4 armageddon if the Russians had overrun and annexed Estonia by next week? Would we launch a conventional offensive to liberate it? Russia ain't Iraq, it has nukes. A low force density counteroffensive might actually stay below this deterrent 's actual threshold (this idea would require a lot of elaboration, of course).

Even "big" wars might have lots of low density fighting because of the full motorisation.
Traditional front lines had up to 10 km depth, and greater battlefields were difficult to cross on a day for an Infantry Division. Today battlegroups/Gefechtsverbände could scoot forward and backward by 100-200 km per day at ease and no continuous trench or outpost line would deter or slow them This greater depth reduces the density.
Additionally, reinforcements might trickle onto the battlefield and be reduced quickly because of attack overmatch over survivability (remember the unbelievable loss rates in Near/Mid East tank battles and in exercises!). In the end, maybe few troops would be on the (wide) battlefield at any one time.

Last but not least; my ideas/opinions do include two components for local high density combat (heavy brigades, reserve infantry formations).


P.S.: Bundeswehr strength is more like 200k now and 500 k then, and I remember 650k mob strength from just a few years ago. IIRC 150 k active is the new plan.