Some gripes concerning the usual pro-submarine talk

Submarines provide Australia with capabilities of stealth, reach, endurance and formidable striking power. While operating undetected, they can provide a wide variety of intelligence and enhance the range of options open to the government to protect national interests. [...] they do have unique capabilities, including the capacity to operate in areas denied to other forces. And in a maritime region where submarines are already proliferating, our own submarines have a vital anti-submarine role.
The inclusion of submarines in a maritime strategy is a force multiplier. Operating as part of a balanced, joint, integrated and networked force, submarines will often create the conditions necessary for sea control, allowing other components of the ADF to be effectively employed. These characteristics, coupled with the submarine’s ability to deny the use of the sea to a potential adversary are of significant deterrent value
from "Submarines and maritime strategy - part 1"
The Strategist [blog]
by Capt Justin Jones

This kind of talk about submarines is very widespread, and I understand Mr. Jones is in service of the Royal Australian Navy and represents the typical pro-submarine position, sans the talk about the specialities of nuclear-powered subs. I'll take his take on the matter as a representative of a broader mainstream attitude; I'm not particularly interested in Australia's subs or his person. He merely did a largely fact-free summary of the establishment's usual pro submarine arguments.

For once, I'll even mostly ignore the concentrated buzzword avalanche, save for mentioning it this one time.

Here are my gripes:

(1) "formidable striking power"

Against what? 
Submarines have extremely little striking power against anything but ships unless they make use of nuclear warheads. Their striking power against warships and submarines is probably well short of "formidable" because reliability issues with torpedoes and other equipment as well as countermeasures by surface ships may reduce the quantity of hits very much in comparison to the relatively simple slaughtering of freighters.

NATO ASW forces were deeply concerned about their false alarm rates and that they couldn't respond to all contacts on a single North Atlantic crossing because this would deplete their ships' lightweight torpedo supply. What exactly is the submarine's approach to such a fundamental problem? They cannot even probe the contact with active sonar without giving their location away to hostiles in a huge radius. This false alarm issue puts a further question mark behind the nominal ammunition supply of a submarine (and thus its "formidable striking power", as much of it may be expended prior to the first actual contact with hostiles).

It's fair to say that subs are more likely to cause devastation among surface ship targets than surface ships themselves, for the latter typically only carry a pro forma armament of four to eight anti-ship missiles nowadays and use gun calibres ranging from 57 to 127 mm; fine for causing secondary fires and damaging electronics, not so fine for actually sinking ships [edit: by gunfire]. That's why the primary ship killer has been the combat aircraft for seven decades.

It's also noteworthy that submarines have de facto no striking power at all against boats and will in most scenarios leave small ships alone. Submarines gave their guns off board during the 40's and 50's and ever since lack an appropriate replacement. Subs simply don't blow up a dhow with a 21" guided torpedo.

(2) "they can provide a wide variety of intelligence"

I am convinced that this line of argument is a post-Cold War pseudo justification for silent service budgets. I've never seen references to this purported value for intelligence older than from the mid-1990's.
There are some references to earlier intelligence collection, of course - mostly photographs of coastlines, collection of ships' audio profiles for the silent service's own use and infiltration/exfiltration of agents.

What exactly are these great or "wide variety" intelligence things subs can provide?
They cannot operate as radar picket ship. They cannot operate as ESM picket ship. They can do a lot with their sonar, but all of it is essentially about their primary task, sinking of ships (and thus no really separate strength). Electric field sensors provide no relevant intel, simple imagery of coastlines pales in comparison to what commercial satellite service providers have on offer.
Moreover, submarines cannot report whatever findings they have reliably. To transmit radio messages is inherently dangerous due to the hostile triangulation threat.

The Cold War's submarines were very specialised (not versatile) units and their supporting bureaucracies invented a supposed versatility for them during the early 90's in order to stave off budget cuts. Suddenly, submarines were marketed as intelligence collectors, commando transport vessels and so on. I don't buy it.

(3) "unique capabilities, including the capacity to operate in areas denied to other forces"

Well, this was quite a no_content statement. Guess what? Long range recon patrols can claim the same. Tanks can do. Combat aircraft can do. Hey, artillery can even hit where no friendly one could go. 
Subs can go to places where surface ships can't. So what? They cannot go to many places where combat aircraft can go, and those are not largely blind and extremely specialised during their mission.

(4) "in a maritime region where submarines are already proliferating, our own submarines have a vital anti-submarine role."

Grab a map of Australia and Southeast Asia. Measure how tiny circles with a few nautical miles radius are on such a map. Now try to explain Mr Jones' point about subs being fine against subs to me, for my problem with his assertion is that the subs are unlikely to find each other at all. See the Falklands conflict during which an Argentinian and a few British subs did not come in contact at about the same ratio of area to subs as Australia might face. 

A preferable course of action in regard to a huge theatre of war with few subs is to nail all or most of them at their base(s). Subs might attempt to do so with offensive minelaying, but that's unreliable and may take effect only after weeks (conventional subs cruise slowly). It's much easier to simply call the air force.

(5) "The inclusion of submarines in a maritime strategy is a force multiplier."

Now in addition to "force multiplier" itself being quite often an illusion since the multiplication effect is usually highly specific: No, it's not.
Submarines have a very different effect than multiplying anything. More about that under (6)

(6) "Operating as part of a balanced, joint, integrated and networked force,"

Which they don't, period. 
Subs ditch their stealth when they radiate much, so they need to limit their radio transmissions. They also ditch some of their stealth if they are feeling with antennas beyond the surface of the sea (and reduce their sonar performance and reduce their no-cavitation speed limit to a crawl due to the lower water pressure). There are buoy antenna solutions with a flexible mechanical/data cable connection which reduce this issue a bit, but in practice a submarine needs to give something valuable up for listening much to radio chatter. The only exception are very and extremely low frequency communications, which are known for their very and extremely low bandwidth and relevant only for receiving messages by subs, not for their transmitting messages by subs.

The submarine is the epitome of something being disconnected from any (notionally) network-centric force. It's a loner. A sub is not much joint, not much integrated and certainly not networked much.

He could have written about subs being part of a "combined arms" effort and I would have bought it, but that's probably too much like 1990's army talk and combining things does not require to buy or upgrade them anyway. The latter characteristic is probably why buzzwords like "combined arms" have become backbenchers behind buzzwords that further industrial interests well.

(7) "the submarine’s ability to deny the use of the sea to a potential adversary"

This is yet another fundamental misunderstanding, similar to the force multiplier thing. Subs don't "deny the use of the sea" unless your opposing force is meek or you flood the ocean with subs. Instead, they 'fix a tariff' for this use in form of attrition. Said hostile user of the sea may decide to not pay, which requires some suitable preparation and caution of his own and may reduce his offensive effects a lot. To smuggle something past a tariff is never as comfortable as a straight walk:

The mere presence of a submarine in the theatre of war motivates a hostile commander to be careful; his ships will probably move differently (more silently), use different formations, his helicopters will be employed differently, he may want to avoid staying in one place for long because otherwise the slow subs may approach his fleet etc..
This is a little bit similar to the role of land-based area air defence surface to air missiles, which also tend to first and foremost impose restrictions and costs on the attacker, thus at times justifying their expenses without much actual destructive effect.

Submarines are lone troublemakers. They are not networked or versatile and so on - the only fashionable buzzword that really applies to them is "stealthy".

The lethality aspect of submarines is of great interest to underdog navies, for their stealth and their ability to be somewhat effective even in small numbers benefits the weak.
The "tariff" thing about causing much trouble and provoking much caution is on the other hand of great interest to better-funded navies, as they can exploit these effects with their other forces ("combined arms").

Interestingly, Australia is in neither position. It's not an underdog due to its alliances and its naval budget isn't exactly overpowering either. Submarines can still be added to the mix, and one really interesting pro-submarine argument in such a case is that they provide essential aggressor training for the surface navy in peacetime exercises. This requires only a few subs, of course.

S Ortmann

P.S.: OK, I mentioned the buzzword thing a few more times. Well deserved.

Finally, some reason for pride

Now I'm proud.

symbol picture for "proud".
Don't laugh - find a better one!
I predicted at the Small Wars Council and Blog website (with alias "Fuchs"*) that the Mali intervention would
(1) be about the French conducting a quick campaign,
(2) it would rout the rebels,
(3) in the South,
(4) and the French wouldn't be dumb enough to care much about the desert settlements from where the trouble originated, leaving this to the Africans instead.

It seems I was correct (so far)!**
I didn't claim so here, in part because I attempt to keep the small wars theme low on my own blog.
This is about the first time I get a conflict "right", i.e. predicting how it will go. I didn't expect the Kosovo air War to last for so long and turn so much towards stupid, I didn't expect the Taliban to fold so quickly in 2001, I didn't predict the Iraqis to put up no substantial resistance even in closed terrain in 2003, nor did I expect it to turn into a quagmire as it did.
So finally I got something right in advance about an actual conflict, and it really doesn't surprise me that this was a conflict in which light mechanised, armoured reconnaissance-like, troops played a major role. It has turned into my area of speciality since 2008 due to my research.

To do list for the next decade:

(1) more money
(2) more women
(3) more wine
(4) more songs
(5) more power
(6) get book finished before 2014
(7) parachuting license
(8) learn to anticipate stupid leadership's actions, too.

I'm kidding.One point is out of reach.

S Ortmann

*: Don't expect to find much interesting stuff of mine written there; I have lower standards for posts in forums and comments elsewhere than for my blog.
**: Meanwhile, the usual whining about how the French lack this or that big toy for the intervention or may be overstretched was quite widespread in some places. As if such an intervention was about whether one has big toys or not. The public perception of military affairs has been taken over by the hardware-centric folks.

2013-03-10 edit: By now the French did make me wrong on (4) by actually going to the North, but they're still making relatively easy progress with no soldiers killed in action.

U.S. Cyber Command is growing, and my take on "cyber"-anything in general


I'm sceptical about such outfits because I doubt a bureaucracy is a reasonable form of organisation for whatever mission a "cyber command" could have.

My first reaction to the quantity of '+4,000 people' was to consider it a typical Niskanen's bureaucrat; growing at every opportunity if permitted to do so, no matter useful or not. To my surprise, my quick check revealed that Kaskersky has in excess of 2,000 employees, though. 
I may have underestimated the personnel requirements of IT security (or the efficiency of Kaspersky; keep in mind their revenues are global, while their wages are in great part Russian).

Still, I will not consider calling the "U.S.Cyber Command" or anything like it a good idea until they prove themselves. So far, reports indicated that the U.S. Cyber Command learns from public sources if there's a new virus, DDOS attack etc.
A bureaucrat's reaction to a dismal performance is "we need more personnel, budget", of course.

There are actually people with yet other people's microphones in front of their mouths who claim that electronic warfare/crime through civilian infrastructures ("cyber" something) is the next big thing. I doubt this very much. It's not comparable to the advent of submarines, combat aircraft, tanks, smokeless powder, 

"Cyber" warfare/crimes are rather comparable to a high seas blockade; this stuff can create troubles which require adaptation and then one can go on despite it, with certain restrictions and disadvantages.
"Cyber" something on the battlefield should be understood in the framework of well-known electronic warfare. It's subject to intense action-adaptation spirals and any new smart approaches such as infusing malware to read or remote control hostiles' hardware are going to be much, much more difficult in the civilian arena because of much more limited knowledge about the hard- and software involved (excluding very old or export hardware)

S Ortmann


Islamophobia is just another ideological BS which distracts us from useful thinking

Islamophobia crept to Germany only slowly. Too many notional Muslims in this country whom you never happen to see praying or doing anything extreme. Instead, they tend to sell you Döner Kebap snacks tailored to German preferences (now even with frites in a box), repair your mobile phone or deliver some postal packages.

Still, there was Islamophobia in the fringes of society. Surprisingly, the semi-organised far right was at first fine with the handful of Muslim extremists in Germany, for they were at least united in their aversion of some others. The Islamophobia showed elsewehre, for example in the comments at the online version of the newspaper Die Welt. Comments at this newspaper are a kind of the society's sewer system anyway. A few dedicated websites popped up as well, but I didn't pay much attention.

Islamophobia and the associated dumbness and intellectual laziness are creeping into the mainstream, though. 

Two examples are definitely stupid and hateful articles in the newspaper Die Welt; one as editorial and the other as an official newspaper comment.

(Islamism is in a world war against the West)*

(A world war)*

The firebrand is both times a Mr. Herzinger, but the responsibility for this rests on chief editor Peters and publisher Schmid.

Mr Herzinger appears to revive patterns from the Cold War, asserting that 'Islamists' in Mali are part of a global war and not quite isolated or maybe motivated by something other than religious ideology.

This is why I call Islamophobes intellectually lazy; they would have spotted early on that their ideology is crap if they hadn't been too lazy to check its correctness.

A soldier called Cheikna Traore, who is stationed at the garrison and said he hid in the town when it was overrun, showed us the wreckage of his home.
He said it had been deliberately targeted by some of his former colleagues who had swapped sides and joined the militants.
"Yes, I know their names. Lt Col Usman, and there was Cpl Abu," he said. "All these were here before, working with us. But they deserted a year ago."
Maj Traore said the men had apparently gone to join the forces of the MNLA, a Tuareg separatist group which launched a rebellion last year in northern Mali.
"But when they came back here, we found they were with the jihadists, and they wanted to take revenge on us. They want easy money. They think the jihadists have money - that's all. It's not about Islam," he said.
Another soldier, Roland Coulibaly, confirmed that account, claiming that many of the rebels were former army soldiers and declaring: "We will track them down now and kill them all."
It is a stark reminder of the fact that, while Mali may be grappling with international threats, the roots of much of the current turmoil here are home-grown, and highly complex.
by Andrew Harding, BBC's Africa correspondent

Jihadism is an ideology. Ideologies are simplistic answer sets for a complex world. Even stupid people can adopt an ideology and this way get the feeling of understanding the world. The drawback is that due to being simplistic, ideologies are almost always wrong on everything. It's like watching a black/white photo with many shades of grey and then settling on calling it either "black" or "white", disregarding its complexity.
This wrongness leads to horrible governance if ideologues rise to power. Speaking about rising to power; what ideology really does is to serve as a tool to harness the masses in support of a clique which intends to rise to power. Once in power, they're the new elite and no better than their predecessor. In fact, they're often much worse if the power struggle was violent and further corrupting the civility of the new elite and the rest of society.

Jihadism is a mere ideological cover with which some greedy asses were motivated into joining to overthrow the power structure in Mali. It's essentially no different than communism, anti-commuism and other ideologies.
The conflict is global, but it's one between ideology and pragmatism. This means Die Welt and Mr. Herzinger are rather on the troublemaker side, the side of the ideologues**.

Can we now go on and focus on improving what we have instead of getting all exhilarated about some imaginary world war? This political upstart business model of adopting an ideology has been known for 160 years already and had plenty forerunners.

S Ortmann

*: In case you get the paywall popup; don't worry. They're so dumb their paywall is useless.
When you see the popup simply click on the URL, press Enter, click on the "X" on the top right of the popup, next hit the "Back" button of your browser. Article revealed. Google translation should work fine, too.

**: Die Welt is clearly ideologically biased, as is its entire publishing house. I didn't go into the details about this here, though. It's well-known to all politically interested Germans.

edit: Related article from FP: "Mali is not a Stan"


A rather belated post on how the essence of the 'close fight' changed long ago

Back during the era of Frederick the Great, infantry combat was much about enduring artillery fire (gory, but short-ranged and slow-firing) and fearing cavalry so much entire infantry battalions changed formations to be able to survive a cavalry assault whenever they saw cavalry.

Muskets had incredibly short effective ranges and even within these the inaccuracy was so great there was little point in adding sights to a musket. You couldn't see much after the first few shots anyway - same blackpowder smoke issue as every year on January 1st, 0000 to about 0300 in many cities of Germany (just even more of it).

Military theoreticians of the time (= Generals and Field Marshals) often advocated to get over with it quickly; march to the enemy, fire one salvo, then assault with multiple battalions using the bayonet.
It was simply and in some cases reasonably effective, for such battalion on battalion fights often ended with a rout of the less resolute battalion.
You could rarely stop a resolute battalion with musket fire, so placing much emphasis on the close fight was a necessity even for the tactical defence.

Illustration of a scene during the Battle of Mollwitz, 1741
The close fight was considered decisive, while the stand-off exchange of lead balls was rather frustrating. This was rather misleading for the decision isn't always once it's there; the preparations and circumstances for a fight may be decisive without making such a spectacular impression as did masses of troops advancing till one line dissolves in a rout. Still, entering close combat clearly helped to accelerate the battle.
This was then, when ranged weapons were still quite frustrating.

It changed later on, as ranged fire lethality multiplied insanely while close fight lethality was not developing much and melée lethality even declining.

Army leaders began to value firepower more after the invention of the powerful smokeless powders, and it became more preferable to seek decision in ranged combat - at least if you had the heavy weaponry and logistics to see promise in this path. Some armies were more enthusiastic about it than others. By the mid-20 h century the close fight was considered messy and the long-range fight (albeit claiming more lives) became more inspiring to many.

Just look at the 'visions' of future (or modern) combat; how often are they about two men crawling into position to throw a hand grenade through a window? I recall a lot of visualisations of soldiers shooting stuff through windows instead. The close fight - that has become the messy thing which you cannot influence as much as you want.

Today (and ever since at the latest 1950 in my opinion) we may see two kinds of armies in a given conflict; those which believe it's safe to stay at a distance and those who believe the opposite.
Staying at a distance is obviously relatively safe if your enemy hasn't much heavy weaponry or generous logistics. Staying close was relatively safe when your enemy had, for many heavy ammunitions cannot be employed at short range without much risk to friendlies. This applies to a nuke as much as to mortar fire. The Soviet Union didn't expect to lack heavy weapons or logistical support, but it still divided combat into a zone of at most 300-400 metres and another zone beyond. The reasoning was that within 300-400 metres there could not be much indirect fire support applied on a regular basis. Infantry armament was thus required to cover this range spectrum.
Infantry-centric armies of the post-WW2 era have often 'hugged' superior firepower opposition; within rifle range, but preferably with cover against rifles.
This pattern may disappear soon, for guided ammunitions reduce the safe zone by a lot, especially if the better-equipped force is serious enough to keep its safety requirements low.

Close combat on a battlefield is often understood to be especially lethal (and the kill ratio difficult to influence). This assumption is in my opinion one of the drivers behind the unease with which the close fight is being treated, in addition to the problem that long range fires superiority doesn't count so much at short combat ranges.

I would like to point out a different problem or strength of close combat, tough. It's no earth-moving discovery for sure, but I feel it's rarely being taken into account.

Let's say there are two villages with each adjacent woodland, separated by a few hundred yards of open agricultural area. Two units face each other, both have some sensors, some indirect fire support and their infantry weapons at hand.
They wouldn't see much of their opponents. A few dumb or ill-disciplined soldiers will demonstrate their comrades the hazards of stupidity and then there will effectively be an empty battlefield. The ranged fires - sniper shots, machinegun fire, shells or mortar bombs - is not going to do much. Sure, it would if they met on an open field, but that's why they don't.
Now assume one commander decides to attack, arranges for some smoke on the agricultural area and rushes with his men across to seek a close fight. Most of his firepower would become almost unusable; rifles, the infantry's grenade ammunitions and bipod machineguns would form the mainstay of the firepower now. That's a far cry from the impact of a sophisticated 155 mm DPICM MRSI or similar* fire mission, for sure.
Still, losses would mount and if the troops don't get bogged down (which does happen often) in the woodland they will reach a rather quick conclusion of this tactical encounter.

Why? Well, it's easy to hide from people from afar, but very hard to do so close up. You can pull it off (with foxholes, discipline and camouflage), but hardly as an entire battalion in daylight.

The close fight's ability to counter the enemies' hiding capability (which became a necessity in face of modern heavy weaponry) is rarely emphasised in statements about the close or the stand-off fight (as far as I can tell, which is anecdotal evidence).

To me it appears as if we've come full turn in regard to the need to appraise the close fight as the kind of fight which reveals who loses more (and who "wins"), and relatively quickly so.

The reason for coming full circle in regard to the close fight is a different one than during the age of muskets and bayonets, though; it's not the lack of stand-off firepower, but the inability to aim it at opponents who have long since been forced to drop their colourful regimental uniforms in favour of disappearing in the landscape.

It is understandable that many become obsessed with making those enemies visible again - there are fortunes to be made in related businesses - but whatever is accomplished in this field will first and foremost provoke countermeasures.

Maybe we should look at this much less in terms of sensors and radio networks in pursuit of being able to aim stand-off weaponry well again.
Maybe we should pay more attention to
(1) proficiency in the close fight (ours and theirs)
(2) exploiting the restrictions imposed by existing stand-off firepower and sensors on the enemy's repertoire (such as relatively low mobility, for you don't tend to move much while hiding)
(3) pursuing the decision prior to the tactical engagement, on the operational level**

I'll never be hired for 'strategic communications' by an arms maker, ever.

S Ortmann

*: Translation from Milspeak to English: "Hell breaks loose on an area as large as multiple football fields for about ten seconds."
**: My personal focus.

[Fun] Now that's an impressive carrier

H/T China Defense Blog

I'm not really fearful.
Spiders, errorists, brown people looking funny - not impressed. I have no Germanophobia either. ;)

OK, heights. Working on that one and making progress.

Still, if the Chinese were building THIS thing for real, in full size, I would be impressed!

Not fearful. Impressed.

Aerial laser weapons, probably around the corner

(Next Big Future blog)

Well, judging by the illustrations known, "Fighter planes" is not exactly accurate. It's more like bombers and gunships; I remember concept drawings about such intents from the 80's.

100 kW laser output has been considered the threshold for an effective destructive* combat laser for a while; a 150 kW laser would be effective against a wide range of targets. That is, unless said targets employ countermeasures.

Destructive combat lasers would force lots of thoughts and lots of new dynamics onto the tactical level and also onto measures-countermeasures spirals in military tech R&D and procurement.

To be honest; I'm not particularly interested in destructive lasers. 
The attention and thought they would attract would divert from addressing more fundamental and less sexy problems in military theory and security policy. I can already imagine the voices which will claim that the force with the better lasers will dominate the battlefield. *Sigh*

*: I wrote this to point out the difference to lasers for ranging, beam rider guidances, illumination, obstacle detection, 3D sensor functions and dazzling.


Alliances in East Asia

by David Axe, 9/2012

I wrote about a similar topic already. Let's be serious; China would not attack the U.S. unless the U.S. is engaged in (South) East Asia.

The still U.S.-occupied Philippines were the reason for the attack on Pearl Harbour. Without them, the Japanese could have felt secure trying to focus on the British, Dutch and Australians (Dutch for their oil in SE Asia, British because it had the dominant base of Singapore on the way, Australians because they would fight with the British and could have set up a dominant base at Rabaul).
Alliances in East Asia do not serve the U.S.'s national security; they serve its great power gaming potential ("advantages") and the East Asian allies' national security.

It would likely better for (South) East Asian peace if the small powers in the region and Japan form one or two treaty-based collective defence alliances instead of being in some more or less binding alliance with the U.S. which appears to be more about some kind of containment than defence.

Well, I can be fine with it as long as Germany doesn't get involved by either war or its fallout.

S Ortmann


Thinking about Mali and mobilisation in general


Mali's southern people could easily fend off the Northerners. A single small city's population of unemployed, unwed military age males and a few dozen useful NCOs as well as a few million bucks for guns would suffice. They don't do it.*
Meanwhile, the troublemakers appear to originate from only a 1% share of the North's small population. It looks as if this one per cent knows how to mobilise.

It's always amazing to me how some societies fail to mobilise their population for war. Afghanistan's economy could easily sustain (=feed, clothe) a million men army with AKMs for years. It just fails to pull it off. They simply don't do it.**

Just as the late Roman Empires weren't able to raise more than 30k non-mercenary troops for a field army after the much smaller Roman Republic of the Punic Wars raised 80k men armies out of nothing within months. Another example; the late imperial China wasn't able to deal with a division-sized expeditionary force from Europe.

I believe it either takes a culture in which males are considered part-time warriors or an effective bureaucracy to mobilise the war-making potential of a country.

The great advantage of Europe over the rest of the world was probably that it survived the transition from one to the other (the Middle Ages).

This topic is probably about THE solution for Third World "national" defence: Any Third World country which is understood to be able to mobilise several per cent of its population into a lightly armed, effective militia or army would be effectively save from invasion (think of Rwanda, Eritrea). It's the conventional deterrence equivalent of having nukes in such regions.
I suppose the often multi-ethnic population and the often exploitation-oriented governments are unlikely to prefer the ancient warrior society approach. It's too much of a risk to their power.
On the other hand, they typically fail at setting up and maintaining an effective bureaucracy because they corrupt it top-down.

This - and not hardware arsenals or Gross Domestic Product - is probably the main reason for the great military weakness and fragility of almost all Third World countries.

The result are ridiculous conflicts such as the LRA surviving for decades, tiny Rwanda treating Congo as if it was a great power itself, Southern Mali being unable to fend off a handful of Northerners or a large country like Afghanistan falling to a few thousand resolute invaders.

I suppose if one wants to "stabilise" in the Third World, one should probably help the elites to enrich themselves with natural resources so they can somehow be kept from corrupting the bureaucracy and then one should rebuild the bureaucracy in order to create an indigenous war-making capability. Set up a few government-overseen workshops capable of small arms and ammunition production and no-one would want to invade them or start a guerrilla war, ever.

The other challenge would be to keep this war-making capability from being used on neighbouring countries - especially if they've become capable, too. Nobody wants an African World War I replay, after all. The utterly inept Gulf War '80-'88 was already too much of that sort.
Again, it would probably be advisable to address the indigenous elites who run and exploit the country. They need to have a vested interest in peace because war would be (made) bad for their business of extracting the fruits of others' labour.

*: A country with a city this big (1.8 million people!) needs foreign help to fend off a handful poorly armed warrior-mercs from a semi-arid region. Ridiculous. It's about time for them to man up.
**: (In case of Afghanistan likely so because stealing from the Western cash cow is so much more profitable to the "government").


Absurdity took over - long ago. Thoroughly so.

Going after AQ in a near-medieval landlocked Central Asian civil war country was unthinkable till everyone seemingly went mad.
Going after them in the Sahara, the epitome of a desert, is life ridiculing itself.

The biggest navy in the world, with aircraft carriers so big they should have their own postal code like a town, fears outboard engine boats.

Navies from many countries unit for the probably most multi-national task force. To patrol for years against "pirates" armed with man-portable weapons operating from shitty dhows. Nobody did anything about the handful of well-known coastal pirate villages, though.

Some military aviation programs run for so long, engineers who joined early on can retire before the new type has replaced its successor (if it ever does).

Western infantry hauls so much equipment, including armour, that a mounted medieval knight in full gear looks lightweight by comparison.

Hundreds of thousands of Western army and marine troops are busy doing superfluous occupation duties for a decade and (almost) nobody notices that this shows they were surplus all along.

Future generations will shake their heads and ask WTF happened to our brains, why did absurdity turn into reality?

S Ortmann


Warship classification systems

There have been a couple articles over the past few years complaining about the quite useless warship classification systems. Big and small carriers with totally different capabilities are being lumped together as "aircraft carrier" when people talk about them loosely, while the official classifications can be as ludicrous as helicopter destroyer.

Europeans often call a warship of theirs a "frigate" when they could just as well call it "destroyer".

The list of inadequacies is long, and it's entirely believable that the classification system(s) serve little purpose. They don't inform politicians and taxpayers well, for sure.

Some alternative classification systems have been proposed, often oriented at size or inspired by a pre-19th century system for ranking ships of the line by the quantity of their guns.
Symbol picture*
None of these proposals have convinced me so far. The only classification system which appears to be intuitive and have information value is in my opinion is the one in widespread unofficial use: Distinguishing warships by the focus of their capabilities or tasks.

A division of warship classes into
AAW (anti aircraft warfare; ships with a good area air defence capability),
ASW (anti submarine warfare, typically with powerful sonar and helicopter component), 
GP (general purpose),
mine countermeasures,
coastal attack craft (missile boats, coastal corvettes) and
OPV (offshore patrol vessel)

appears to be quite intuitive and informative.

Submarines are different; their big division is between nuclear and conventional, and this stems mostly from the nuclear subs' ability to deploy much quicker from one region to another and the conventional subs' ability to be practically noiseless. The difference between conventional with or without air independent propulsion (AIP) as well as the difference between nuclear-powered subs of the 'attack' and 'ballistic missile' varieties is rather small nowadays. Both pairs appear to consist of subs which are largely interchangeable for post-Cold War missions. A difference such as the equipment with submarine-to-surface missiles or not is of greater interest than the difference between conventional subs with or without AIP in my opinion.

I see no really informative classification system for carriers, albeit one could divide carriers into small ("light", "CVL"), big (or CVB) and amphibious ones. The current diversity of carrier classifications is so great that we're not far from assigning every carrier class its own.
One might consider calling them ACsomething (aircraft carrier ...), for "carrier" might become a handy term if mothership concepts become more popular in the future and I have a feeling that navies run by old admirals won't like to call their precious ships 'mother'-anything.

The inadequacy of the classification systems which have grown and diversified over more than a century of warship novelties ("destroyer" goes back to "torpedoboat destroyer"!) isn't only a nuisance to naval enthusiasts with too much idle time.

As mentioned before, there's some reason to complain about the lack of information value for the public. Few newspaper or TV news journalists convey the impression that they understand what a particular warship class can do or shall do, save for the difference between carriers, surface ships and subs. How could the public or the media keep an eye on military spending if even a rudimentary idea of what the billion dollar ship is capable of or meant to do is absent? A more informative classification system which is intuitive enough to not offend the taste of all people interested in naval stuff  is likely overdue.

Classification systems like "Warship 1st class, 2nd class ..." and similar are not going to be any improvement, though.

S Ortmann

*: One of the confusing things about the human mind is that actually rather distracting symbol pictures make long texts much more pleasant to read. This pic came up when I looked for "beautiful warship".


A British Parachuting Capability?

Referring to
The Journal of Military Operations
Col (Ret) David Benest  

He does refute some arguments against airborne troops, but he did not address the elephant in the room: Western air drop operations are no true combined arms efforts unless you count infantry + air support as such. (Their indirect fire capability is little more than a fig leaf.)

Combined arms can be defined differently. I consider a mix of infantry (including anti-tank defences), Armour, dependable support fires (arty or mortars) and combat engineers as combined arms, and strongly suspect electronic warfare should be added.

Well, what do Western paratroops forces have after an air drop?
(1) Infantry (with anti-tank defences depending on the shaped charge principle)
(2) Few mortars and/or howitzers (with precarious ammunition supply)
(3) Minimal combat engineer capabilities
(4) Minimal electronic warfare capabilities
(5) No armour (Wiesel is a weapons carrier and should NOT count as "armour".)

Western-style airborne troops may be overwhelming against some Third World thugs, but they're underwhelming against a capable opponent unless attached to better-equipped ground forces and employed as mere infantry reinforcements.

This inability is self-inflicted. We could equip Western airborne troops with armoured vehicles (mobility, protection, payload), better EW capabilities,  better indirect fire capabilities.

Russian airborne troops in a staged (stupid) combined arms attack attack
We don't.
Russian-style airborne AFVs are repelling to Western decisionmakers because they're merely protected against light HE munitions and 7.62 mm threats. Most of what would need to be given to airborne troops to make them more capable would be badly degraded by weight restraints. This includes indirect fire weapons, whose appetite for vast volumes and tonnages of ammunition is a supreme challenge for any logistically restrained force.

Furthermore, some countries (such as Germany) have redefined airborne troops into budget forces (a cheap 12th German army division during the Cold War) or into regular infantry (Germany has very little infantry forces other than mechanised infantry, airborne and mountain troops now).

Western airborne effectively is some kind of relatively cheap infantry force or a kind of motorised rifle division when deployed with surface transports. It is unlikely to come under unusual budgetary threat as long as it plays this role. 
The real question about Western airborne troops should thus not be whether we want them or not, but whether we want enable them into an airborne combined arms force that would actually pose an effective airborne threat to opponents better than Third World punching balls.

I guess this question depends a lot on whether we believe in being capable (and having big enough balls) to send a sizeable force on an airborne mission against capable opponents. Capable opponents might have some say regarding how much of said force arrives at all.



Counter-sniper systems and procurement in general

Think Defence wrote about the apparently new purchase of some laser-based counter-sniper sensor for the UK's army.
It's strange. All counter sniper sensor approaches appear to have substantial deficits (such as acoustic systems failing against subsonic bullets; an example for subsonic sniper rifle is  this), but I'm surprised anyone is still looking much at the "laser reflections give away optics" approach. This approach was already used during the early 90's in the "Stingray" modification of Bradley, and kept having troubles in several iterations as far as I can tell. 

One of the fundamental problems is that the sniper can basically counter it in a minute with duct tape. You probably know the anti(sun)-reflection device for sniper scopes; cover the lens with something, then add a slit into it. A surprisingly small slit suffices for almost unimpaired view. Example from quick google search: 

anti-reflection slit cover for the scope
It works also on binoculars. You would likely need to look directly at the sensor for the sensor to detect your optic despite this countermeasure.*

All you need to do is to disperse glass balls, 90° angled or curved reflectors (mirrors) and so on in the landscape. A smart opponent will do so once (s)he understands the challenge. 

Last but not least, a sniper does NOT need a scope. Open iron sights (such as diopter sights) are accurate enough out to 300 m without much training (I disliked the G3's diopter and have no steady aim, but I was good at least on the 300 m shooting range!), and out to 500 m under fine circumstances in skilled hands. Today's snipers pride themselves in their lethality at long ranges such as 700 m or more than a kilometre. Historically, almost all sniping was done at much shorter ranges, below 600 m with majority even happening within 300 m. This wasn't because of the limitations of the guns, but because opponents in a real war become careful and simply don't show themselves that much. You simply cannot see them that often at 600+ m.
The likely most deadly sniper ever did most of his kills with open sights.

All too often Western military equipment procurement fails to take into account basic countermeasures, betting on our opponents being incapable anyway. That's probably even a successful bet, but what does this tell about our employment of our military. How can incapable opposition be a threat to our security at all?

related posts:

2012-03 The missing information on equipment

2011-11 Sniping: History and theory

2010-08 The sense of smell for reconnaissance

2009-03 Acoustic sniper detection systems and their weak spot

*: To be honest, I'm not 100% sure this slit thing would work (I would love to see a test of it), but considering the other examples it doesn't really need to.


Naval and air warfare; the problem with technology assessment

Just a quick example on how tricky it is to assess technology and hardware optimums. I'll use a Second World War example, for it's so obviously low-tech by today's standards which makes the point (hopefully) more convincing.

Let's look att he optimal air defence armament of surface warships in the 1930's and 1940's period.

The legacy equipment from the 1920's was largely about guns calibre 75 mm to 90 mm, often with rather modest (light field gun-like) muzzle velocities. These guns were originally (pre-WW1) meant to chase away if not destroy dirigible airships. There were also some machineguns, of course.
More powerful anti-air weaponry was very rare during the 1920's.

The 1930's began, pre-1918 ships were increasingly replaced with new designs and there was a greater diversity:

(a) Very light anti-air wepaons of 12.7 to 20 mm calibre (HE shells for 20 mm), but usually only a few.
(b) Light AAA of intermediate calibres, typically 25-28 mm.
(c) Light AAA of the 37 - 45 mm calibres.
(d) Heavy AAA with time-fused HE shells of 88-90 mm calibres.
(e) Dual purpose guns capable of dealing with unarmoured ships and serving as heavy AAA; calibres 100 - 133 mm.

A German ship might have 20 mm, 37 mm and either 88 or 105 mm by 1939, for example.
Another example: The USN was very late in adoption of adequate light AAA and often only had 12.7 mm machineguns and 127 mm heavy AAA on its cruisers by the late 30's. Later it added 1.1" (~28 mm) weapons and then re-armed thoroughly by mid-WW2.

Wartime experiences showed that machineguns were almost 100% useless. The only utility was in deterring skip bombing and even that wasn't a safe bet.

20 mm Oerlion
Light AAA of around 20 mm calibre proved to be weak in effect and range, but was still worthwhile because the mounts could be made so small and lightweight that you could always find some spots otherwise left unused for such guns. Fire control was done with cheap ring sights and tracers only. The personnel demand wasn't great either - some surface gunnery sailors could double as 20 mm AA gunner and ammo porters, for example.

Intermediate calibres were promising, but the mounts ended up being about as demanding as 37-40 mm mounts while intermediate calibres lacked the range to really affect torpedo bombers or dive bombers much prior to release of their ordnance. The effective ceiling didn't prohibit promising level bombing attacks either. Finally, shells smaller than 30 mm -especially not thin-walled ones - were too weak to ensure a one-hit kill on single engine aircraft (even 37 mm was occasionally criticised for its effect). The IJN's (Japanese) 25 mm gun (developed from a French weapon) and the USN's.28 mm weapon fell into this category.
The German 30 mm Mk 103 might have saved the reputation of this calibre group if employed on 20 mm-like mounts late in the war, though.

37-40 mm were more promising calibres, and due to different designs the 40 mm solution in shape of the modified Bofors weapon proved to be a very good choice (the best among the ones pursued).

Heavy AAA (anti air artillery) of the pre-1942 period was a bitter disappointment. Much noise and small black clouds, but few kills. Heavy AAA meant much weight, much top weight (especially in cases such as the high superfiring centreline 127 mm or 133 mm twin turrets), the turrets were turning slowly, fire control was inaccurate and the fuze setting was usually incorrect. Double fuses with secondary impact function wouldn't have helped much because target silhouettes were usually rather small and direct hits very unlikely. The problems were worst with some poor 127 mm designs (not the 38cal U.S. gun) and the even heavier guns. 88 to 105 mm was relatively quick-firing, but still not very effective (the Japanese had successful high performance 100 mm gun in small quantities, though).

So what would have been the optimal AAA armament by 1939, for example?
Basically you could have stuck with 40 mm quads, 40 mm twins where is no space for quads, 40 mm single mounts where is no space for twins and 20 mm mounts where is no space for 40 mm singles. Heavy AAA was actually not worthwhile, albeit 120-133 mm dual purpose guns were justifiable thanks to their surface target role when there was no space for the more effective surface target guns of 138-155 mm calibres.

Did navies or even outsiders knew about this?
Not really. There was apparently considerable confidence in the heavy AAA and the range+effect limitations of 20-28 mm guns were not self-evident either.
The USN became even fatalistic about naval air defences after its dive bombers impressed much in fleet experiments.

Now fast forward to 1942, only a three years and some radar technology advances later.
Radars and computers had helped making heavy AAA more accurate and radar proximity fuses replaced the setting of time fuses (electrostatic fuses would have been possible as well).
Suddenly, the heaviest AAA became effective. The new fuses did not fit into the smaller heavy AAA calibres at first, though. 127-133 mm calibres were OK. 
By about 1944, 90 mm guns were capable of making use of the same fuses and their capability was multiplied as well.
Meanwhile, the 40 mm Bofors became understood to be the best light AAA gun. The demand for other light AAA calibres was small.

76 mm twin
Only a short time later by about 1945, proximity fuses were feasible for 76 mm heavy AAA. These were so quick-firing, compact, light and responsive that 76 mm was almost capable of replacing 40 mm on about a 1-for-2 basis (it was meant to happen, but turned out to be a bit bigger than this). 76 mm was capable of dealing with aircraft both in typical light AAA and typical heavy AAA situations and was thus able to replace both!

Post-WW2, 40 mm lost much relevance and few ships still received many such guns. 76 mm became more prominent until navies began to fear nuclear bombing so much that they largely shed the within visual range air defences in favour of at first very unreliable surface-to-air missiles.
Today, 57, 76 and 100 mm are popular naval dual-purpose gun calibres, with 20-30 mm being used in dedicated close-in weapons systems of often-questioned effectiveness. 40 mm guns are sometimes the lone pro forma weapon of minesweepers and the like.
114 and 127 mm calibres are in use for DP guns as well, but rather with an emphasis on surface targets due their lower rate of fire (especially true for U.S. pattern 127 mm gun).

So basically at first by '39 navies woke up to the previously widely underestimated need for naval air defence.
By 1942 ships were upgraded with more (mostly light) AAA, but wartime experiences revealed that the choice of calibres was mostly wrong.
By the time the 40 mm calibre was well-established (1943), the previously very inefficient heavy AAA had suddenly become powerful (at least for USN and RN).
By late war (late '44, '45), 40 mm was already deemed in need of a superior successor and the longer-ranged and potentially more deadly 76 mm gun was preferred, but the important fuse was not ready and upgrading hundreds of ships with new AAA would take years anyway.

Now think about it: What were the odds of outsiders getting this stuff right at the time? Almost zero in my opinion.

I strongly dislike it, but the more lever effect some small technological progress or some rather hidden property has, the lesser the ability of outsiders to guess (or analyse) correctly.
Sadly, insufficient testing may (and often did) also prevent officials from getting it right. Bureaucratic inertia, red tape, budgeting, egomaniacs in cock fights, business interests and so on may also lead to very much inadequate equipment.
See the Royal Navy's weak short range air defences in the Falklands conflict. Only the Sea Wolf-equipped ships were satisfactory up close.

So in case you wondered why I do not write much about naval or air warfare: This is why.
Too much uncertainty about effects of technology, which happens to dominate naval and aerial warfare much more than land warfare.



Wignam's report '43

There are a couple books, articles and other documents to which I appear to make references to (here and in general) a lot. A LOT. It's a group of about thirty documents overall, maybe a bit more.
One of them is Wigram's report from Sicily, which describes some human psychology elements of combat and some other details, but also coins him as a man who doesn't seem to think much about which reactions his actions could provoke.

Anyway, it's rather annoying to send it out individually again and again and a former link on an old blog post died, so I think I'll just quote it here in full. Being able to simply refer to one's blog instead of writing or attaching the very same things a dozen times or more often is one of the few actual benefits of blogging.

This is the version I have, including typos, OCR mistakes and so on. I strongly suppose there's no copyright problem. (The most interesting part is in chapter "2. ATTACK - BATTLE DRILL".)


Dear Brigadier,
As requested I am appending (In its original form this epistolatory opening runs straight on into the body of the report.) a report of the lessons of the Campaign in SICILY as they have occurred to me. As you know owing to the kindness of the Div Comd I was allowed to come over to SICILY as an observer at the beginning of the Campaign, subsequently rejoining 78 Div on its arrival. As a result of this I was able to see some eight or nine different Bns in action, and to study and compare their various methods. I was also able to meet a very large number of old students from BARNARD CASTLE of all ranks. I was able to discuss all the points I am making below with a large number of officers with considerable experience in battle, and I find that there is general agreement. As you know it also transpired owing to the fortunes of war that I found myself at different times commanding a Section, a Platoon, a Company and finally a Bn, and I was thus able to get first hand experience of many of the matters to which I refer.

The Germans have undoubtedly in one way scored a decided success in SICILY. They have been able to evacuate their forces almost intact having suffered very few casualties in killed and wounded. They have inflicted heavy casualties on us. We all feel rather irritated at the result, well as we have done.
Why has this happened? One hears it said on all sides that the country is mountainous and difficult, and therefore ideal for defence, impossible for attack.
In my view this is a completely erroneous impression of the country. It is true that the country is mountainous but it is everywhere close. Every hill is covered with olive groves, plantations standing crops etc, and in addition the system of irrigation by deep ditches, high stone walls and a great number of ditches and wadis makes the country perfect for individual infiltration. It is quite easy for the Germans to defend by maintaining a very thin screen of MGs and gunner and mrtr OPs sited on the reverse slope of the hills and to get magnificent cross-fire shoots both by day and by night. If we attack such positions frontally even with Hy Arty Supp we play right into his hands. He maintains his screen until the last moment inflicting heavy casualties, then as our attack pushes in, pulls out to take up a further position in the rear. So we find invariably that he has gone, and the small number of dead bodies found and the small number of Prisoners taken tell their own story.

To my mind we have not yet in our training put into practice the lessons learnt in the Battle of FRANCE, and more especially in the battles of MALAYA against the Japs. In MALAYA our own position was very similar to that of the Germans in SICILY. We had prepared our withdrawal from hill to hill expecting the Jap to attack us. He did nothing of the kind. By employing minute parties of specialist tps armed with TGs and MGs he filtered through the cover by night in ones and twos and was able every morning to establish road blocks in our rear to shoot up our tpt and communications, to pick off OPs and W/sets, and so to disorganise us that we were compelled to withdraw in disorder from position to position without getting a sight of the enemy: His tps who carried out this work suffered very few casualties.
I think that the whole key to our future success in the coming battles of EUROPE will lie in the organisation of similar forces. From now on the Germans are going to fight a series of rearguard battles wherever they happen to be. If each Bn could produce one or two Pls trained, I suggest, to work in threes, each group of three carrying one MG and one TG and each being prepared to work entirely on its own, the problem would be solved. As soon as contact is gained these tps would be sent out at dusk and would be in position behind the enemy by first light. This would invariably compel the enemy to withdraw.

I make the following points in regard to these suggestions:
(i) I am convinced that we have been too ambitious in trying to teach each soldier the art of infiltration. Even fanatics Like the Japs and Germans found that only a few men could be trusted to do this job, and they have always left it to specialists. It is an impossible ideal to hope to train the Army as a whole in it.
(ii) yet our men can do this job. Instance the Bn I am at present commanding, at RIVOGLIA Bn HQ was being constantly menaced by enemy snipers and MGs hidden in the rocks and trees at the foot of Mt. ETNA. I sent off a young Pl Comd to deal with the matter. He first of all tried to use his whole Pl but subsequently picked four men and with them fought an individual infiltration battle against the Germans which lasted the whole day. The result of the battle was as follows
- Our casualties nil Germans 3 killed for certain, 6 prisoners captured. German equipment captured - 2 heavy MGs and large quantities of sniping gear. I saw these men when they returned, they said they had been very frightened at first, but as the day wore on and they realised what rotten shots the Germans were they got a feeling of superiority and towards the end were thoroughly enjoying themselves.
I think that every Pl could find a few men like these.
(iii) All the evidence points to the fact that the Germans at any rate in SICILY do not withdraw on a timed schedule but `under pressure'. There is no recorded instance of them standing to fight to the last round and to the last man. They always cleared out as soon as they were really menaced, and the morale of those captured was decidedly low. This strengthens my view that they would clear out even more quickly if attacked from the rear (or merely threatened from the rear).
(iv) It has several times been suggested that the same object could be achieved by infiltrating whole Bns round to the rear. This may be so, but I do not think it would be nearly as successful and it would result in heavy casualties as the German always protects his flanks by MGs and gunner OPs. I do not think that even a Coy or a PI could do it successfully except on very favourable grd.
(v) Until we have these little groups trained I do not think Comds have any option but to continue the present costly methods. The matter is just one of training and I am sure it would only take a few days. I would very much like to have the opportunity of training and organising a force of this kind. There are all sorts of small points - camouflage, admin, comns etc.

It was my chief concern to see the application of Battle Drill to battle and I watched it very closely. I have come to the conclusion that a number of revisions are necessary if we are to deal with realities.
There is nothing wrong with Battle Drill in theory, but it presupposes that you have a PI team in which every individual knows his job and his place, and in which every man is brave enough and experienced enough to do as he is told. Of course in practice you have no such thing. Probably about half the Pl really understand the Battle Drill thoroughly, and as I shall show below in any case quite a number of the men in the Pl cannot be relied upon. I have, therefore, come to the conclusion that Battle Drill as at present taught is very useful training, and will give first-class results when applied by regular Bns who have practised it for many months, but we need something very much simpler for this war.
I want first of all to describe how Pls are fighting at the moment. Attacks are invariably carefully prepared, the tps go forward under arty concentrations or a barrage. When the barrage lifts (if the enemy has not gone) he opens up with his MGs, and it is here that the Pl battle starts and it is here that the battle itself is lost or won.

In very rare instances Pl and Coy Comds have applied some sort of Battle Drill to knock out these enemy MGs. Where they have done so they have invariably succeeded in taking the position with very few casualties.
But, in the very large majority of cases, no sort of Battle Drill is used. No attempt is made at Fire and Movement. The positions are taken by what I call `Guts and Movement'.
The battle goes something like this:-
Enemy MGs open fire, the whole PI lie down except the PI Comd and three or four gutful men. Five or six men start making tracks for home, meanwhile the gutful men under the PI Comd dash straight in to the enemy position without any covering fire and always succeed in taking the position. In some instances some positions are taken by as few as two men, and every Bn Comd will confirm that it is always the same group of nine or ten who are there first, and on whom the battle depends.
I have personally seen this method of attack used in all, except one, of the battles in which I took part, and this explains one of the mysteries I have never been able to solve before - that is the saying of many experienced soldiers that `you must never allow men to lie down in a battle'.

This method of attack is peculiarly British and from the point of view of sheer courage it really has no equal. I am convinced however that we can find other and better methods, and I make the following observations:
(i) Some Comds say that this method is successful with few casualties. This is true if you speak of casualties in quantity, but it is far from true if you speak of casualties in quality. The PI in action is almost invariably twenty-two strong and of whatever Regt good or bad, every Pl can be analysed as follows:
Six gutful men who will go anywhere and do anything, 12 `sheep' who will follow a short distance behind if they are well led, 9-6 who will run . away.
I have discussed these figures with many people and they all agree, although there is some slight disagreement on figures. These figures are roughly accurate as shown by the number of Court-Martials for running away that follow every Campaign. Every Bn has between forty to sixty and there are, of course, many others who aren't caught.
Looking at these figures it will be seen that the group from which casualties cannot be spared is the gutful group, yet I would say that casualties in this group are often 100 per cent per month. We must find a method of fighting which is more economical. .
(ii) Battle Drill or Fire and Movement is Not applied because in its present form it is too complicated, and it presupposes that when a Section is told to do a thing that it will do it whilst in actual fact, as the above Pl figures show, they will probably do little or nothing.
What we need is an extremely simple Battle Drill which takes cognisance of the fact that there are only 9--6 men in the PI who can be absolutely relied on to do as they are told under enemy fire.

The following is my suggested drill:-
(a) Night attack behind arty concs or barrage (commonest standard stroke employed out here).
The Pl of 22 men is divided up as follows:- ·
1st group - All the riflemen under the Pl Comd.
2nd group - 3 Bren groups (3 men to each gun) comd by the Pl Sgt. 3rd group - two-inch Mtr team follows up in rear of group 1.
The leaders of the above three groups have absorbed three of the reliable men in the P1. The other three reliable men will act as 2nds in comd to take over if the leader is killed or wounded.
The method of movement is simple as the Pl is handled as a Section. The rifle group will be in fairly tight night formation (patrol). (This is essential to make sure that nobody drops out.) The Bren groups will be in a similar formation and the two groups will move side by side (preferably Bren groups a little to the rear) with a gap of about 50 to 100x (according to the visibility between the two groups). The two-inch mrtr group keeps about 50x in the rear of the Rifle group.
As soon as the barrage lifts and the Rifle group is fired on, the Rifle group goes to ground. The Pl Sgt (who can really be relied on) at once gets his three Brens into action shooting at the enemy MG or MGs. This will invariably silence the enemy guns for the time being. I have made particularly careful observation on this point and have checked it up with a large number of Pl Comds. As soon as our MGs open up the Germans (who are always using tracer) stop. I think they do this because they are nervous or in order to observe our fire. They always keep quiet until we have finished our hate, then as soon as there is a lull they open up again. One almost never sees or hears Spandau and Bren firing together at the same time. It is always one followed by the other. Even inaccurate fire from our Brens will quieten the Spandaus until we have finished firing.
As soon as the Brens have quietened the enemy MGs the PI Comd gets on his feet, persuades all the rest of the riflemen to do likewise, and leads them straight into the enemy position under cover of the Bren fire. He may tell the
Mrtr to put down a bomb or two also if necessary. He will nearly always be able to make the enemy position in a single bound as the Germans, as a rule, hold their fire (particularly at night) until we are within 200x. If he cannot make it in a single bound he will have to lead his men forward into cover, open up with his two-inch mortar and get his Brens forward in this manner. This will complicate the operation but will rarely be necessary.

(b) Day attack with Arty concentrations
Same method of grouping, but groups move much more dispersed, men being at 5x intervals 1s. If forward movement is across country likely to be covered by enemy the PI Comd tells the Pl Sgt to position his Bren groups before moving himself, and the Pl advances by Fire and Movement handled as a Section in every way.

c) Day attack, little battle without Hy Arty concs (e.g. A single Coy sent up to picket a height.)
All Pls in the Coy will be organised as suggested above, and the leading Pl will move forward as described in (b).
If the leading Pl comes under fire from more than one enemy MG post it will be regarded as pinned and the Coy Comd will deploy the rest of his Coy round whichever flank offers the best cover. This sort of battle requires the most inf skill, and it should be practised at home as I think it will be often needed.
(i) There is this further practical point on grouping the Brens collectively. In
hilly country the speed of the Bren is far different from the speed of the rifleman with the result that it almost always happens that when the riflemen are caught under fire there is a frantic scream for the Brens who invariably are found to be a long way in the rear. With the system advocated the Pl Comd can watch the progress of the Brens so that he does not get out of touch with them. It may be argued that the Section Comds should be able to do this but, in fact, they are not able to do so.
Team work between the Pl Comd and the Pl Sgt is about 10 times more likely to succeed than team work between the Sects - that is my strong point for this very simple drill.

The Battle Schools have not gone far enough into this important subject and have missed the big point of it.
Even tps who have been in quite a number of battles are unable to distinguish between Bren and Spandau fire, between the whistle of our own shells and those of the enemy. They go to ground as soon as there is any noise of firing, although it is not directed at them. This often disorganises an entire battle, especially at night.
Comds come back to find their men, but they are seated at the bottom of deep holes and their Comds cannot find them and, because of the noise, they do not answer when called. This problem of offrs and NCOs losing all or a substantial part of their men in night attacks is a very real one and it happened in all the Bns I was with at some time or other. Tps coming up from the rear e.g. tpt, A tk guns etc, ordered to be up for consolidation at first light were particularly bad - there were often considerable delays because of the mere noise of firing.
It is only fair to say that the German appears to be the same. The noise of firing keeps him quiet for a very long time.
(a) I suggest that at all Battle Schools there should be the following deity Battle Inoculation. Every student to listen to the noise of the Bren; Spandau; Schmeiser and Tommy-gun.
(b) Advancing men to have firstly fire not directed at them, then directed over them, so that they acquire sufficient skill to know whether or not they are being shot at.
(c) It must be impressed on the men every day that . they have got to learn the difference between the mere noise of battle and fire directed at them. The have got to learn to keep moving fwd as fast as possible despite any noise so long as they themselves are not the target.

Events in this Campaign have proved that despite 'very heavy shelling a small remnant of the Boche will stay put. It is this small remnant that causes all the trouble. I have seen a lucky shot from a 25-pr set the ground on fire. The Germans immediately went although they were well dug in. I am sure that one of our best weapons is the three-inch mrtr smoke bomb used as a lethal weapon, that is fired directly at the enemy so setting the area alight with the burning phosphorus.
If we could throw some inc amn in our 25 prs we should have no further trouble with the Boche, and I suggest that something on the lines of the RAF oil bomb would be most effective. We can't blast him out but we could easily burn him out.

This is already out of date, and I hope the authorities at home realise it. The Bde Supp Gp is probably all right so far as the MGs are concerned although every Bn Comd to whom I have spoken would prefer to have the MGs in the Bn. The remainder of the Bde Supp Gp is unnecessary and quite useless for the following reasons:-
Four point two-inch Mortars
Very inaccurate - not as quick into action as 25 prs. There is nothing they do which the 25 prs do not do better. If OPs are difficult to come by they are yet another group of people occupying valuable space.
When suitable targets presented themselves they were far out of range, or could be adequately dealt with by the 25 prs. During a three-day battle when I was almost continuously at an OP, the 4.2 mrtrs fired no rounds during the whole period.
They have been used to thicken up fire when concentrations are being put down, but as there is nó shortage of guns it is rather a drop in the ocean to add 4.2-inch mortars to, say, 6 Fd Regts and 2 Med Regts. When they are so used they can be very dangerous as they are not accurate enough to do barrage work. During one attack of this kind we were continuously shelled by something very heavy on our own side and we all thought that this was the 4.2-inch mrtr (this may be doing them an injustice).
20 mm A/A
General Montgomery said at the beginning of the Campaign `I have no intention of starting the land battle until I have won the air battle.' This is obviously the policy which will be continued and as a result the 20 mm A/A is a complete anachronism. These guns were ordered at a time when our Forces in N. AFRICA were without adequate air cover and were suffering severely. This picture has now changed. These guns have hardly fired a shot and I suggest we cannot afford to tie up such a large number of men in a defensive role of this kind, whilst the inf remain desperately short in other ways.
I suggest that the bodies saved by doing away with the 4.2-inch mrtr and the 20 mm A/A gnns should be used in the following manner:(a) to provide an establishment for Pls of Specialist Infiltration Tps as referred to above.
(b) to in ease the size of the Section which is still always woefully short in actual fact when it gets into battle.

My principal object was to get careful first-hand notes of actual battles with maps, copies of orders, details, history of events so that our Training Schools at home could base their training on reality. I have kept very full notes of all battles I have seen, and feel at home these battles can be practised on similar ground and the lessons learnt with an accuracy which it has not been possible to achieve in the past. I think that the Campaign in SICILY has really been ideal from a training point of view. We have had every kind of battle - the advance to contact, the prepared attack on a big scale, the Pl and Coy battle, the pursuit and even the flank protection role. In addition we have been able to study the German methods of conducting a rearguard action in detail.

(1) Value of Smoke
Smoke has been little used in the Campaign, I feel that it might have been a great deal of use. It was used very successfully in the battle of RIVOGLIA by your Bde as you know.
(2) Drawing Fire
If the German sees a tank or some smoke he fires everything he has got at it always. This gives us two very useful openings:(i) a diversion
(ü) to locate his positions
I have tried out both these ideas successfully. They are old lessons but worth repeating.
(3) Patrolling ,
When ordered to send out patrols to regain contact with the enemy who had retired we tried out the idea of sending with them an 18 Set, borrowed from one of the Coys, which was in communication with another l8 Set close to the gunner OP. Whilst the patrol was moving out (in daylight) I manned the OP and carefully registered all likely places where the enemy might bc. As soon as the patrol came under fire they wirelessed back to me and we at once brought down the fire of one Fd Regt on the suspected place. This was always effective in silencing enemy fire, and it enabled the patrol to move forward about two miles and to occupy a good position forward of our line for 36 hrs without sustaining casualties.
(4) A Tk guns
It is almost a universal custom out here to group A tk guns under Bde collectively, and to make the Bde A tk regt comd responsible both for their training and their handling in war.
This method works extremely well and it relieves the Bn Comd, who has very many other things to do, of the job. Everyone says, also, how much better
gunner A tk gunners are than the inf, and I would suggest that these facts be recognised and the guns organised on a Gunner basis entirely.
The present system creates numerous admin difficulties as the guns a handled by Bde, but administered by the three separate Bns.
(5) Three-inch Mortars and Carriers
These were hardly ever used throughout the Campaign as the country was quite unsuitable for Carriers (movement off the rds was impossible), and the three-inch mrtrs invariably found that targets offered were out of range.
Our three-inch mrtrs (5 Buffs) did not fire a single rd throughout the Campaign. r
(6) LOB
Whatever we say about it at home the facts are that a Bn leaves a certain nucleus out of battle.
This usually comprises the 2 i/c, 2 i/cs of each Coy, and about six NCOs or men per P1. This practice should also be recognised at home, and Bns handled in training minus these percentages.
The size of the Sec should be increased if possible to allow for it a; the present size was determined on the assumption that there would be no LOB.
(7) Panic and Hysteria
When heavy shelling or mortaring starts it is not unusual to find some men here and there who lose complete control and start to clear out. These men are invariably known beforehand. Their actions may often have the most demoralising effect on the whole P1, which would otherwise behave very well.
I used to think that it was right to make chaps like this go into battle and take their medicine like everyone else, but I am quite sure now that : was wrong. They are too dangerous and can do too much harm.
Nearly every Bn has now come to this conclusion. They know they have about, say, 20 men who are definitely unreliable and they leave them right out of battle. This will now have the effect of greatly reducing the number a Court-Martials in this Campaign but it has not really solved the problem. I fee that a Bn Comd should be able to get rid of men like this simply by certifying that in his opinion X is not suitable for front-line inf fighting.
(8) System of Reinforcement
I do feel that this militates against highly skilled inf methods. Men an first dumped into reinforcement pools, then drafted anywhere. If this system is essential, it very much strengthens my case for specialist infiltration tps.

The Div Comd has agreed to allow me (subject to tpt difficulties) to use the present lull to go back for a few days to explain the lessons and to bring out training both in N. Africa and in England into line. Would you be kind enough to let me have your own frank comments on the above together with any additional points so that I can be quite sure that we are really training a the right lines.

(Sd) L. Wigram, Lt-Col.
Comd 5 Buffs, 36 Bde
In the Field 16 Aug 43


The Brits fought essentially against a delaying action. The tendency to yield terrain and low morale can thus be easily traced to the tactical mission of the defenders.

His observations are fine, but his conclusions about mortars, the possibility to use fire to capture mountains and so on are shockingly poor considering his rank and role.

S Ortmann