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Saturday, November 23, 2013


Steve Cole's thoughts on military history.

1. There is endless debate over who was the greatest general in all of (Earth) history. I have long ago settled on Genghis Khan. He was a national leader (which lets out the likes of Patton, Montgomery, Lee, and Grant) who conquered a vast empire (only Alexander the Great comes close). Genghis made more military innovations than Alexander (who made none other than lengthening the spears his father had issued) and the empire of Genghis survived centuries after his death while Alexander's crumbled within months.

2. Who was the greatest general of the Civil War? Well, Grant is a strong candidate. While he was a bloody butcher who just hammered the rebels, but he did display some brilliant leadership at Vicksburg and some dogged defensiveness at Nashville. Mostly what he did was fail to read the memo previous Union generals read, the one that said "When Lee whips you, you're supposed to go home for a few months." Lee is a sentimental favorite and master of defensive warfare, but his ability to maneuver died with Stonewall and his only two offensive operations failed. Sherman has to be considered in that he conducted bold operations over long distances, and fought more than a few major battles to victorious conclusions, and I'd almost consider him over Grant. Thomas is one almost no one remembers, but he may have been the best of the lot.

3. Sad to say it since I am an American soldier, but the US Army has never really understood squad tactics, and gets by with massive artillery and air support. I mean, we went into World War I with that moronic chautchaut thing as our squad machinegun, and into World War II with the very nice B.A.R, but neither of them was what we needed and everyone else had: an actual squad machinegun like the Bren or MG34. Look at the squads of other armies, and you find a machinegun in every group of ten soldiers. The machinegun does the killing while the riflemen just carry ammo, keep enemy soldiers out of hand grenade range, and occasionally take over the enemy foxholes.

4. The Marine Corps "island hopping" campaign of World War II deserves a serious look by someone who examines the question: Why didn't they just bombard the island the Japanese were on and invade the empty island next door? That's how the Army did it. (Once they took the empty place, the built an airbase and cut off supplies to the Japanese island they bypassed.)

5. I read something interesting the other day. The US Army (during WWII) took pictures of every damaged B17 and B24 that came home. They mapped out every bullet hole or flak fragment hole in them onto a single model of each aircraft. Certain areas stood out as devoid of any damage, which meant that any aircraft damaged in that spot crashed. These spots were then given some armor plating.

6. The British have long claimed that the debacle on Omaha Beach was because the US did not use British special engineer tanks for obstacle breaching. There are conflicting sources on this, some saying that the US tried to get these special tanks but the British factories could only make enough for the British beaches, others agreeing that the US didn't really think they needed the special tanks. A careful analysis of the battles on Omaha Beach do make it clear that the special engineer tanks would have added little to the chaos that happened there. The problems were multiple. The naval barrage did far less damage than anyone expected (on every beach). The aerial bombardment was wasted because bad weather meant planes had to drop bombs blind, and they were told to avoid hitting US troops and so ended up hitting nothing. Nobody (British or American) noticed that the German 352nd Infantry Division had taken over the sector three months earlier, meaning that the defenses were much stronger. The four "draws" that allowed access from the beach to the top of the cliff were all blocked by unexpectedly strong fortifications. The precise schedule of the landings meant that useless anti-aircraft and other units were sent into a beach that was expected to be clear of Germans, but in fact was not.