The Cepia Club Blog

The Cepia Club Blog: The Cepia Club believes individual awareness and activism can lead to a peaceful and prosperous world. This blog contains the pertinent literature, both creative and non-fiction, produced by the Cepiaclub Director and its associates.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Part IV: Military Lessons Applied in the Second World War

[This is part four following the three previous postings of "The New World War." Stay tuned for further sections].

The symptom of failure of all organizations, large or small, forces change–any change, like the US Army after the Vietnam War–back to a traditional core mission. Less change was needed for the other three services, whose overall purpose, design and doctrine survived Vietnam. What the Air Force, Navy and Marines learned from Vietnam was their basic operational methods were sound, within margins; they just needed newer equipment to maintain traditional doctrine–air and maritime supremacy, and maneuvering from sea to shore for expeditionary warfare. The four services’ (and the civil/military Coast Guard’s) basic purposes, roles, missions, weapons, and doctrines formed their “legacies” from the Second World War.
When businesses are in trouble, they change, re-invent, reform or structure. The alternative for any corporate body is to go out of business. For a nation at war, going out of business can mean defeat and/or occupation. For a nation’s military, in peace or war, the dollars always flow as long as the nation’s faith and credit survive. In turn, the immediate price for military failure is political and economic in upheaval, with results therefrom. The inevitable cost from failure in a major war, though, is greater payment in social and cultural stability and identity in the long run. Short term, people die–friends, enemies, and innocent. Property as well as people are destroyed or used up at an incredible rate. War is expensive and destructive in all its ways.
Institutions, like a military organization, tend to grow confident, arrogant, and conservative when experiencing any successes, or even if lacking experience of any sort. As with all institutions run by bureaucracy, a lack of innovation in the present to see a vision of the future conserves the traditional viewpoints. The peacetime management via comfortable and ignorant seniority tends to become too timid, even when expecting war. The corporate system inhibits personal innovation and professional risk management on the off chance of “getting it wrong.” It is usually safer to stick to the old methods. New methods based on history, experience, research and development receive no or little voice at first.
More often in a catastrophe, as America discovered AFTER the 1943 Kasserine battles in North Africa, do military corporations react to the dangers and implement change: Following the damage done. In the German counter-offensive in February 1943, Panzer Army Group Africa attacked the inexperienced American II Corps. American troops in the European Theater had not as yet confronted German units, which had fought hundreds of battles in three and a half years of warfare. Second Corps was overrun, and retreated. The troops performed poorly. The defeat was not necessarily the fault the soldiers themselves. It did crush national and military morale at home and on the front.
As the adage goes, there are no bad troops, just bad leadership. If that was true, then the solution would be better leadership. The commander of all America’s soldiers in Europe, General Eisenhower, recognized that fact. The II Corps commander was relieved and sent home. Soon-to-be Lt. General George S. Patton, Jr. replaced him. Immediate changes took effect. By focusing on basic discipline and self-confidence, training, and accountable leadership at all levels of command below him, Patton had II Corps in the thick again a month after Kasserine, and the troops responded, marching all the way to the coast of Tunis within two months.
Patton’s personality, methods and style may be debated by historians. His results, on the other hand, are indisputable. Strict in self-discipline and a believer in his own abilities, Patton was also an innovator in the army as a cavalryman during the First World War who adopted modern AirLand Battle operations into his battle-management for the Second. If Patton had a major failing, he lacked humility. Furthermore, he cared not about the politics of war and lacked personal diplomacy. Worst of all, from the 21st Century viewpoint, he glorified warfare as a code of glorious chivalry long lost to “civilized warfare,” living in an age when war was made on women and children as well as old and young men. The results, especially in command of 7th Army in Sicily and 3rd Army in France and Germany, proved that innovative leadership makes all the difference. When the conservative, old and traditional ways prove disastrous, realists leadership that reforms military shortcomings find their calling. The question then becomes: Why wasn’t Patton in command at Kasserine in the first place; or why do reformers, innovators, and visionaries not receive due opportunity before disaster? Thus is the central point, historically unanswerable.
In World War II overall for the United States, the necessary changes in how armies, navies and marines, and air forces needed to fight the next battle were learned, forgotten, and relearned, often in the matter of months. For example, after four near-catastrophic foul-ups in combined air, land, and sea assaults in the European theater–North Africa, Sicily, Salerno, and Anzio–the lessons had been carefully applied in the toughest assault of all, Overlord–a.k.a. Normandy. That two and a half month campaign was more difficult than anticipated and closer to the brink of failure than commonly admitted. The blood wages of a test-commando raid at Dieppe, France, in 1942 paid for the success of gaining a second front. As the mostly Canadian soldiers at Dieppe discovered, unrealistic, conservative and two-dimensional leadership causes a s lot of dead people.
In the Pacific, lessons were learned immediately. In the first hour of the hostilities on December 7, 1941, battleships-of-the-line which had dominated naval warfare for three hundred and fifty years became in an instance obsolete as the platform of decision in naval operations. Pearl Harbor demonstrated the ability of carriers in combination with each other to launch masses of aircraft to dominate the skies and sink combat and support facilities and ships. The conservative “big gun” admirals who placed their faith in heavy ship-borne artillery and heavily armored decks and waterlines had dominated the naval thinking since the invention of ship-borne aircraft capability mid-way of the First World War.
Since the 1920-21 Washington Naval Conference, US reform admirals fought for every penney to give life and form to the doctrine and the equipment for aircraft carriers. Without those battleships sunk or damaged at Pearl Harbor, carriers (the sole three in the Pacific absent from Pearl Harbor on December 7th) in small combinations with destroyers, cruisers, and submarines and support trains became the only effective weapon for the US to stem and reverse the tide of Japanese conquest in May and June 1942, in the battles of the Coral Sea and Midway. Between the crushing naval victories on each side, Pearl Harbor for the Japanese, Midway for the US, Midway ultimately proved more decisive. Combining signals intelligence, and either plain stupid luck or divine providence, at Midway a combined task force of US ships at a 1-5 disadvantage in numbers defeated a Japanese fleet of 199 ships. How? The US naval air arm burned and sank four Japanese “fleet” class carriers, with Japanese losing over 400 of their most experienced and best carrier pilots. The US lost one carrier out of three and retained a core experience for carrier pilot expansion.
Air power dominated the ocean surface as well as the islands upon it. Even with carriers, escorts and fleet trains for support, islands were necessary for advance bases: both for supply but also for land-based air craft operating in support of maritime operations. Carriers are few and expensive and cannot be everywhere all the time. The crippling of the US Army Air Forces in the Philippines on December 8th demonstrated the futility of owning real estate amidst several million square miles of ocean without adequate air power. (The Army Air Force’s destruction in the Western Pacific resulted from the conservative, narrow-minded, and absolute poor leadership of General Douglas MacArthur). Within five and half months of Pearl Harbor, the US and its allies had to retreat all their forces out of the Western Pacific and Southeast Asia to either India or Australia. Air power’s example early in the Pacific war taught the overall lesson of an “operational network maneuver:” AirLand Battle applied equally to maritime operations in its own context of ships, marine infantry, and aircraft.
The operational lesson about air power was learned and applied in the flesh-slog battles to Japan’s home islands and toward its unconditional surrender. Taking islands for air and supply bases, though, would not prove easy. Air power just made it easier. The direct US Marine assault on Guadalcanal, on the Japanese-fortified island of Tarawa, and later the Pelileu assault, showed the need for better ship-to-shore craft, like amphibious tractors; better loading of gear beforehand to unload on shore when required; and more effective naval-air-marine (or army) command, control, coordination and communications during the assaults–all functions of logistics or informed command.
The bloody lessons on the islands themselves could be applied only at the level of small units on Iwo Jima and Okinawa, resulting in slow, methodical, bloodbaths through firepower. The Japanese fought fanatically and left few survivors to surrender. Overall, even that lesson was effectively, even brutally, implemented elsewhere in the overall strategy. Japanese held islands and bases got bypassed whenever possible. Important naval bases like Rabaul and Truk were pulverized and made inoperable by combined naval- and land-based air power.
The US submarine blockade became a weapon of indiscriminate warfare. The blockade left Japan starved of food, as well as raw materials for war industries. Significantly, Japan’s oil tankers were sunk in droves, without new replacements. Without oil reserves at their home bases, Japan’s few carriers and its surface and submarine fleets stayed more dispersed and closer to the source of fuel in Borneo and Indonesia. Pilots could not be trained at home adequately for lack of fuel. Most important, the Imperial Japanese Navy could not concentrate naval and air power for a counter-offensive under threat of Allied air power. In the last ship-to-ship fleet action of the war in October 1945, three Japanese fleets started from different directions. Neither fleet supported the other due to the timing and spacing involved. The US Seventh and Third Fleets sunk or turned back the Japanese attacks. Japan’s fleet at that point ceased to be a major factor in the war.
Other of the “hard and destructive” lessons of fighting the Japanese imposed moral questions. The US resorted to firebombing and nuclear combat instead of direct assault of Japan’s home islands themselves, or allowing the naval/air blockade to force Japan’s suit of peace. No one is competent or worthy to judge these decisions, for they belong to dead: Those who decided the fates and those who were killed–on both sides. All things combined to bring the military defeat of Japan and their unconditional surrender on September 2, 1945 (unconditional minus the emperor remaining the spiritual figurehead of their nation). And on a similar level of death and destruction through military means, the fate of Nazi-governed Germany was decided with similar consequences and results that previous May, without the atom bomb. Japan and Germany suffered millions of dead soldiers and civilians and millions more wounded. Furthermore, their defeat left their nations economically devastated. And a new age of world civilization followed the Allied victory.


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