Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The flaws behind "Shock and Awe"

I'm no military theorist or tactician, but I wonder whether the problems currently being faced by the coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan will make those people rethink their ideas on modern warfare.

The current thinking behind their methodology strikes me as being based pretty much exactly on an idea first used in 1939 - The Blitzkrieg.

Actually, Blitzkrieg was a not a new type of warfare, but the implementation of old tactics employed in a modern scenario, but I don't want to go on about that. The point is that warfare develops with technology. The principle behind Blitzkrieg was to avoid getting involved in long, drawn out pitched battles from entrenched positions. Instead the Germans used high mobility forces utilising armoured divisions preceded by coordinated air strikes. The idea was simple. The bombers go in ahead of the main attack and soften up the defence. The armour spearheads the main thrust and the infantry mop up afterwards. The whole thing then rolls on to the next objective with barely a pause. The defenders barely have time to regroup before they're being hounded by the bombers again.

As a tactic for defeating large armies quickly it was massively successful. The Germans were able to take on larger armies which - on the face of it - should have been able to hold off their foes easily enough. However, there are two major flaws with Blitzkrieg which our current military tacticians appear to have overlooked.

First of all, it is only effective if you can manage your supply line. It worked well for Germany in western Europe because the distances were not too vast, there were good transport and communication networks already in place and nowhere is very far from a port. Ports are important in war as they are necessary for resupplying an army of any size. Resupplying by air requires considerably more effort and is easier to disrupt. Road and rail are reasonably OK as long as the supply line is relatively short through hostile territory - the longer it gets the harder it is to defend and the more prone to disruption. Western Europe has plenty of coastline and plenty of ports so it was relatively straightforward to keep the Nazi war machine rolling.

This flaw of Blitzkrieg was fatally exposed when Germany invaded the Soviet Union. At first, Blitzkrieg appeared to be as successful there as it was in Poland or France, but as the supply lines lengthened then the difficulty of maintaining the advance increased. Nowhere was this more apparent than at Stalingrad where the German inability to supply their Sixth Army led to the defeat that was to signal the turning point on The Eastern Front.

When the US and UK invaded Afghanistan, they used exactly the same tactics - with a little modern modification - as Germany had used in 1939-1941. Blitzkrieg. Once more air power was used to disrupt enemy communications, soften up the strategic targets prior to the main assault and hamper resupply. Then the armour rolled in striking like a rapier to specific strategic targets which were then secured by ground troops. Then move on to the next target. Even with a relatively small area to conquer like Iraq, the problems of Blitzkrieg - or "Shock and Awe" as the US ridiculously called it (is there any modern war that isn't shocking and awesome?) - became apparent. Supply problems meant delays in the advance with the armour frequently having to pause. Even so, the Iraqi army was easily defeated and the coalition victorious.

It was then that the second flaw of Blitzkrieg became apparent. Blitzkrieg is a liberating tactic. It worked well for the Allies in WW2 because they were, for the most part, liberating occupied nations. As a result, once they had cleared the enemy army from an area, they were essentially free to move on without having to worry too much about disruption to supply lines. The indigenous people were generally friendly and not likely to cause to much of a nuisance behind allied lines. By the time the Allies rolled into Germany itself, the German people were utterly defeated. Years of bombing and deprivation had reduced their cities to rubble and their will to carry on to nothing. Germany itself was surrounded on all sides by hostile nations. There were no resources to fight on as a conventional army and no resources to wage a covert guerrilla war either.

But Germany herself had seen the problems that Blitzkrieg leaves behind when used as an occupying tactic. The swift victories of the early years had won the objectives and forced the surrender of armies and governments - but all done without really destroying the armies of their enemy. This meant that France, Poland, Czechoslovakia and the rest had thousands of skilled, trained men who were now located behind enemy lines - the secret armies. Once the Allies had devised methods of coordinating and supplying these secret armies they were able to cause immense problems to the German occupation.

These were the flaws of Blitzkrieg which our modern military planners appear to have forgotten - or chosen to ignore. As a tactic for quickly defeating an enemy it is unsurpassed, but longer term it will leave behind problems which nobody has yet devised a method of solving - well, that's not true as Britain devised a way during the Malayan Crisis called the "Briggs Plan", but that gets ignored too, these days.

Like many people, I was in favour of both the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, but the operations should, in my opinion, have been swift and decisive with the objective of deposing the regimes. Go in, do the job, get out. The alternative was always going to require far more time and considerably more troops than the original invasion and subsequent victory obtained through the Blitzkrieg technique.

2 comments:

Sir HM said...

Blitzkreig is still the best tactic ever devised for defeating an enemy army.

However, that's all it is: a tactic. To defeat a country and a people - which is not the same as defeating their army - you need a Strategy.

That's what was missing in Iraq (and Afghanistan - which is why we'll lose there too) which is why we're on a hiding to nothing despite our overwhelmingly successful blitzkreig.

The strategy has to involve more than just one or two countries. It has to take into account Islam itself. And it has to be extremely ruthless ... bit like the way we dealt with Naziism really - only more thorough. It's ISLAM that has to be killed, not individual armies or countries here and there. DEAD!

A Domestos for Islam, if you like.

This has nothing to do with race. It's all about ideology.

But who listens to scrotes like us, eh Stan?

bernard said...

Blitzkrieg:'Lightning War'. It's refreshing to read a blog posting that shows some off topic, lateral thinking on pre-existing news.
Too many blogs just regurgitate the current news, and get all huffy about it. Very predictable.
Carefully picking an item that you feel confident about and then drawing a lesson from it, (in this case, historically) provides food for thought.