Monday, June 12, 2017

Ike, Strategy Rant #1

Late Stephen Ambrose, who for a while was considered America's foremost scholar on Eisenhower, not for once commented to the effect that Ike was not necessarily that great of a strategist. These comments, evidently shared by some other American historians, good and bad, all derive from the Caesarist  (or Napoleonic, if one wishes) view of the warfare. American military bias to Napoleon and his campaigns is not surprising, Carl Sandburg in his Abraham Lincoln: The War Years (if my Alzheimer doesn't fail me. If mistaken I will correct the reference later)  wrote about frustration of US West Point-graduates with the fact that they, instead of studying Napoleon campaigns, were forced to study this Russian Suvara (Alexander Suvorov). Indeed, ideas of beautiful maneuvers, lightning strikes or strategies developed by a single brilliant military mind were all good for wars fought using linear tactics and cavalry, with set-piece battles. Yet, even those set piece battles culminated in a slaughter on unprecedented scale during the Battle Of Borodino and, in the end, tore away the mantle of pure strategic genius from Napoleon. Brilliant tactician certainly he was, a strategist? A strategy as a system of (military) measures designed to achieve  political objectives of a war (Clausewitz inspired definition, later adopted by Marxists) was something else completely and, when judged against the result achieved, tactical and operational brilliance means very little when the war is lost. 

By WW II, strategic thought became what we know it today--a function of military power, which, in its turn, encompassed a huge spectrum of national capabilities ranging from industries to public education and culture. Real strategists saw the world in a very different light than Napoleon saw it. Modern armies and navies required now immense industries, massive logistical chains, originating in national centers of industry and agriculture, new weapons such as radio, tanks and combat aviation changed the outlook of the war dramatically and changed the way armies were commanded and controlled. WW II was the first war with a full blown C3ISR complex becoming a decisive factor. To command a massive army group of 800 000 troops simultaneously required more than just ability to conduct brilliant maneuvers or inspire troops with pep-talks on the even of the battle, it required a profound understanding of the mechanisms of such a command and control and that, on a strategic level, that is level of large bodies of troops capable to influence the dynamics of a whole campaign, it meant the ability to harmonize a huge number of political, purely military, human and other factors. By 1939 to have such an ability one had to be extremely well educated not only as a good field officer, one had to have a serious both education and pedigree in (general) staff work. 

The fact that Ike graduated first out of 245 officers in Command And General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, KS, in 1925 should be emphasized together with Ike's serious staff pedigree prior to WW II. Yet, the shtick of many in contemporary (since WW II) US historiography, let alone vast US military history amateur circles, is pointing out that prior to WW II Ike didn't (field) command anything larger than tank battalion. But that immediately raises a question, why then, a number of battalion commanders want to attend General Staff  academies in any serious Armed Forces? It is because they know that these are academies which open the door to the command of a much larger units. How being a superb and experienced staff officer is considered a disadvantage, while, if anything else, it is an imperative for anyone who is to be considered a serious military strategist. One of the examples of such General Staff leap into the cohort of outstanding military leaders is Marshal Vasilevsky, who, and you may have guessed it already, never commanded, before entering in 1938 the world of General Staff, anything larger than regiment. Yet, one of the most outstanding military leaders of WW II emerged back into the full field command during Red Army's operations in East Prussia. All that, after Vasilevsky planned and coordinated such battles as Moscow 1941 counteroffensive, Stalingrad, Kursk and Operation Bagration.  Not too shabby for a staff officer. 

How Eisenhower's staff pedigree could be a disadvantage, as many profess, in the war where strategic inception (Zamysel) required immense planning, hence large staffs, remains a complete mystery to me. How being a star graduate of what amounted to Russian (Soviet) equivalent of General Staff Academy is not a perfect pedigree for command of large complex forces and being a good level strategist is also a mystery to me, when speaking about Ike who has an overwhelming empirical evidence in his favor. Serious wars are not fought without serious plans and Eisenhower sure as hell was a good military planner with a good grasp of what was at stake in WW II. It couldn't have been otherwise, since in many important respects serving under George C. Marshall's command was more than ample evidence of Ike's talents. Illiterate references (in many US sources) to Ike's "administrative", a euphemism for staff officer, talents merely underscore a complete lack of understanding what is involved in serious operational and strategic planning and Ike sure has done more than his share of it. He ended up, finally, the greatest American practitioner of military strategy, which becomes even more evident against the background of many today's general officer mediocrities whose "planning" (in reality promoting their own careers) helped to squander American resources and embroil her in useless and unwinnable wars globally. 

Yet, Ike's first attempt on real strategic planning was both noble and professional. The first thing Ike understood--a fact which is largely downplayed or deliberately ignored in many American sources--was the fact that successful Allied strategy in Europe hinged on Red Army. Compare this view with the view of then Senator Harry Truman: "If we see that Germany is winning we ought to help Russia, and if Russia is winning we ought to help Germany, and that way let them kill as many as possible." The contrast in attitudes and the level of a strategic thinking couldn't be starker, when Ike wrote in his diary in July 1942, after the Second Washington Conference rejected his and Marshall's Operation Sledgehammer Plan, in favor of Torch.  Depressed and dejected Ike wrote that the prize "we seek is to keep 8 million Russian soldiers fighting Germany. Failing to provide help to Russia will constitute one of the gravest mistakes in history" (need precise quote, this one from memory, but almost exact). You can find this entry in same Stephen Ambrose's national bestseller "The Supreme Commander". Ike's prophesy will come true but Cold War ideological realities helped to not only obfuscate but essentially completely reverse the clock work of the early WW II to a such degree that, in the end, real events and strategic discussions between Allies in 1941-42 have been completely overtaken by Hollywood imagery and a mythology which only now, not least thanks to immense academic efforts of Colonel David Glantz and Lt.Colonel Jonathan House, is being penetrated with the actual facts "on the ground".  

To Be Continued...

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