Category: History

Learning from Our Military History The United States Army, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and the Potential for Operational Art and Thinking

“The Army University Press is pleased to publish “Learning From Our Military History: The United States Army, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and the Potential for Operational Art and Thinking”, another book in The Art of War Series.

LTC Aaron Kaufman examines how the US Army was successful in Operation Iraqi Freedom. He notes that some tactical organizations, companies included, learned and adapted, whereas others accomplished little and made the environment worse.

The interviews conducted and personal reflections
confirmed that a deeper and more historical understanding is required. He concludes that OIF demonstrated the need for operational art and thinking, particularly in commanders of relatively junior rank. This work offers an explanation on how we learned and adapted in OIF, not for the purposes of a definitive military history, but only as an intellectual way point that may lead us to useful military history for the future of the Army.”

Learning from Our Military History The United States Army, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and the Potential for Operational Art and Thinking

The Low Point

Though the battlecruisers didn’t return, Yamamoto’s cruisers worked over Henderson Field every night. The Haruna and Kongo drank too much fuel, so he didn’t send them back down the Slot after their devastating raid on Henderson Field on the night of the 13th. For the American Commander – South Pacific, Vice Admiral Robert Ghormley, that was just as well. The overworked and stressed Ghormely had barely left his flagship at the docks in Noumea since the Marines landed on Guadalcanal. The French colonial authorities on New Caledonia refused to give him any administrative space on the island, so he and his staff worked out of the dank corridors of the supply ship USS Argonne. If he wasn’t a broken man before, October 13th, 14th, and 15th, 1942, broke him.
 
The Haruna and Kongo’s bombardment put the Cactus Air Force on the canvas. If they would have come back, it would have been over. As it was, it took Herculean efforts to patch the airstrip; not to mention fly 55 gallon drums of aviation gas to the island, or even worse transport them by submarine. 30 or so replacement aircraft were ferried over from “Button” i.e. Espirtu Santo, but there simply wasn’t enough fuel for all the missions. A few frugal supply officers with some foresight stashed some fuel in the jungle, and the mechanics drained every drop from the destroyed aircraft. But it was barely enough for a single sortie. The Japanese convoy was unloading tanks and heavy artillery at Tassaforanga Point barely ten miles away, in full view of Marine scouts, but just out of artillery range. The Cactus Air Force put a dozen fighters and dive bombers into the air but only managed to damage just three transports, and after they had already unloaded.
 
By the 14th, the Japanese had control of the Slot. Their two fleet carriers were on the prowl, and now it was the Americans turn to only operate around Guadalcanal at night. Rear Admiral Scott’s Task Force 64 was held back against the multitude of Japanese ships in the area. A convoy with avgas and ammunition sent that evening was turned back after it was spotted by the ever present Japanese submarines, and its escorting destroyers damaged or sunk by air attack. The only available aircraft carrier, the USS Hornet, was enroute with the battleship South Dakota, but to Ghormely they weren’t enough except to cover the evacuation of the Marines and Army personnel after the inevitable Japanese onslaught on the Henderson Field perimeter.
 
The Japanese had at least 20,000 fresh assault troops on the island. The Marines and Army had 23,000, but Vandergrift had an entire perimeter to defend. Vandergrift’s spoiling attacks and raids over the Matanikou River broke up obvious Japanese concentrations in September, but in the second week of October they were death sentences – there were too many Japanese. And the Americans were tired. Two months of constant vigilance and fighting in the jungle was a long time, and with little sleep. Washing Machine Charley started off as a joke, but two months of being violently woken up every night was no laughing matter. Dysentery, malaria, and jungle rot, among many other horrible tropical diseases, took their toll.
 
It was even worse for the pilots.10-12 hour daily missions broke lesser men. According to medical interviews after the battle, at four weeks of constant operations off of Henderson, a pilot began to slack off mentally, not scanning the sky, inadvertently daydreaming during a mission etc. and made himself an easy target. At six weeks, a pilot began to slack off physically, i.e falling asleep at the stick, and accidents and crashes increased exponentially. At seven weeks, if he didn’t crash, the pilot was a flying zombie. “You might as well paint a flag on some Jap’s plane.” October 15th was exactly six weeks since the first pilots arrived on Guadalcanal.
 
That afternoon, Vandergrift asked Ghormely for another entire division to clear teh Japanese from the island. His men were in no shape to conduct offensive operations, and even if they were, it was all they could do to secure the perimeter. The 164th was badly needed, but much to its commander’s chagrin, Vandergrift broke it up and gave each one of his regiments an army battalion, if only to stiffen the line with fresh men. The 164th’s regimental headquarters company became the airfield quick reaction force, to plug the gaps from the inside. Vandergrift had no way to stop the Japanese build up if the Navy wouldn’t.
 
That evening after the air attack on the transports and in the midst of a bombardment from the new Japanese cannon, the fuelless pilots and ground personnel were told to find some rifles and attach themselves to the nearest Marine unit. Vandergrift’s staff came together to plan the evacuation and began burning their papers.
 
Just before midnight, Vandergrift sent a terse message to Ghormely. It read, “Security of Cactus depends on additional forces not now in sight. Cannot remain effective indefinitely under such conditions.”

All Hell’s Eve

Despite the losses to the Japanese bombardment group off of Cape Esperance, the transport group managed to safely unload its troops and heavy cargo onto Guadalcanal. Yamamoto ordered another run to build up an overwhelming superiority of troops on the island. He assembled another transport group to deliver two more regiments of infantry, with a company of tanks, and two batteries of heavy artillery to Guadalcanal. Since the Japanese had not encountered any American battleships, he concluded that he could risk some of his to escort the convoy, sweep away any remaining American cruisers and destroyers, and then smash Henderson Field with their big 14”guns. This should prevent the Cactus Air Force from attacking the slow convoy as it made its way down the Slot.

On 13 October, the two fast battlecruisers, IJS Haruna and IJS Kongo, sprinted down the Slot ahead of the transport group accompanied by just one cruiser and a few destroyers. They encountered no opposition from Rear Adm Scott’s Task Force 64 which was refueling far to the south at Espirtu Santo, the main American naval base in the South Pacific.

At 0133, on 14 October, 1942, the Kongo and Haruna opened up with their combined sixteen 14” guns, and 32 6” guns from just 16,000 yards off shore. (To put this into perspective, a 14” shell is 356mm, and a 6” shell is 152mm. Most mortars flung at FOBs in Iraq and Afghanistan were 82mm, and the vast majority of the rockets were 107mm or 122mm. The “Big One” that landed outside the dining facility on Camp Victory in 2007 was a 203mm.) For 90 minutes, the Kongo and Haruna fired 973 14” high explosive shells and an untold number of 6” HE shells at the Marine and Army perimeter on Guadalcanal, most of which fell on the small space occupied by Henderson Field. That’s one massive shell every six seconds, and making a conservative estimate that the 6” guns fired three times as fast, that’s one smaller, but still pretty big, shell landing every two seconds; for an hour and a half. It was the heaviest and most concentrated shelling Americans experienced since World War One 25 years before.

The attack caught the entire airfield by surprise. Most Marines casually disregarded the inaccurate Japanese artillery fire or the nightly bombing raids by the notorious “Washing Machine Charley”, who did little but keep everyone from getting any sleep. Vandergrift’s intelligence officer briefed a “shoes off night” because of the victory at Cape Esperance. The concussion from the first shells physically threw everyone out of their bunks. In seconds, 1200 US Army, Navy and Marine Corps personnel sprinted to their trenches, while being thrown about by the explosions. Each shell took a truckload of dirt out of the island and flung it into the air, along with anything else nearby. The ground heaved as if it was an earthquake. One Marine ammo handler said it took him over two minutes to reach a trench a hundred yards away because he would get up, take six or seven steps and be tossed to the side by the next shell, and dazedly repeat the process until he reached the woodline. He was one of the lucky ones.

After “The Bombardment” stopped, and everyone dug themselves out of their foxholes, they found the airfield ablaze and wrecked seemingly beyond repair. The airfield personnel suffered 41 killed and about 200 wounded. 48 of the 90 aircraft of the Cactus Air Force were destroyed, and the rest damaged to some degree. The airfield facilities were flattened including the repair and parts huts, the maintenance area, and the makeshift tower. Vandergrift’s Headquarters took a direct hit, and so did his tent. The runway was cratered and unusable without significant reconstruction. Most of the shell holes were “deep enough to hide a jeep”. The most damaging though was the fate of the stockpile of aviation gas. It was completely destroyed. As far as the Marines knew, there wasn’t a gallon of avgas on Guadalcanal that wasn’t already in an aircraft’s tank. Even if the Cactus Air Force had the aircraft to stop impending the convoy, it didn’t have the fuel to keep them in the air.

The night of 13 to 14 October 1942 would go down in Marine lore as “The Night”, or “All Hell’s Eve”.

The Japanese bombardment group sprinted back up the Slot. And the transport group would continue on, safe in the knowledge that the Cactus Air Force wouldn’t come for them when the sun rose.

Friday the Thirteenth

After the Fall of Acre in 1291, the Crusades into the Levant ended and the crusading orders of Christendom dispersed throughout Europe. The Knights Hospitaller turned to the sea and continued their fight from the islands of the Mediterranean, first Cyprus, then Rhodes, and finally Malta, against the spread of Islam. The Teutonic Knights turned to the pagan lands of the Prussians, the Lithuanians, and the Baltic tribes of Eastern Europe. The Knights Templar went back to Europe to protect pilgrims on the road, and in the process, immersed themselves in banking and politics. They had chapter houses and churches in every major town and city, and widespread influence at even the local level.
At the end of the 13th Century, the ambitious Phillip IV “the Fair” of France attempted to centralize the French monarchy, place his relatives on the thrones of his powerful neighbors, and consolidate control under his rule of the disparate fiefdoms of the former Angevin Empire. But these tasks were expensive, especially when it came to war. Phillip IV might have been a shrewd and cunning administrator, but he was not a great military mind. He lost a very expensive war in Flanders against the English.
To pay for his ambitious plans, and to further the centralization of his power, Phillip first turned to the French clergy, and confiscated lands and taxed them for half their wealth. This of course brought Phillip into conflict with Pope Boniface VIII. But even threatened with excommunication, Phillip didn’t back down and prevented the clergy from remitting gold and silver to Rome, upon which the Papacy depended. Furthermore, Phillip went on the attack and accused the Pope of all sorts of heinous crimes, such as heresy, sodomy, use of magic, worshiping false idols etc. Boniface also wouldn’t back down. Eventually, Phillip had Boniface abducted and beaten, after which Boniface died. Phillip then used his money and influence to make sure his friend and relative, Raymond Bertrand de Got, was elected to the Holy See in 1305, as Pope Clement V. (After the convenient and untimely death of Benedict XI, who was only Pope for eight months. Also, Clement V refused to move to Rome, so the Papacy moved to Avignon, France, where it would stay until 1376.)
But the Church’s wealth wasn’t enough. Phillip required significant loans from Jewish moneylenders and the bankers of the Knights Templar, to whom he became massively indebted. Unable to repay, Phillip seized Jewish assets in France and forcibly expulsed all Jews from his lands in 1306. However, he could not do the same to the Knights Templar. They were much better armed and open warfare would result. He planned to do it in secret and by surprise.
On Friday, the 13th of October, 1307, Phillip’s agents simultaneously arrested nearly 5000 Knights Templar across France. Phillip accused them of all of the same crimes he had accused of Boniface and had them thrown into his vassals’ dungeons. However, most of the gold and valuables that Phillip expected to seize were gone. It is speculated that Grand Master Jacques de Molay got word of the impending mass arrests and spirited everything away. (There is a single reference of ships that departed France in secret that morning, but the destination is unknown. Popular speculation ranges from the Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland to Oak Island in Nova Scotia. In any case, from this single reference, the author Dan Brown built his entire career.)
At Phillip’s behest, Pope Clement V issued a Papal bull ordering all Christian monarchs and rulers to arrest Templars in their lands. Most did to some degree, but many refused. Over the next years, the captured brothers were systematically tortured, especially in France, and “confessed” to their crimes. At their trials, no evidence was presented, except for their coerced confessions. Most of the captured Knights Templar were burned at the stake.
In 1308, Clement realized the folly of his ways, and recognized the consequences of Phillip’s power grab. He formally exonerated the Knights Templar of any wrong doing (“The Chinon Parchment”). However, the damage was done. The Knights Templar were finished as a holy order, and were disbanded in 1312 at the Council of Vienne. As Phillip couldn’t afford to administer the seized Templar lands, Clement managed to transfer most of the Templars’ holdings to the Knights Hospitaller to replace the Templars as a bulwark of the Papacy. However, some rulers formed their own knightly orders from Templar assets and refugees, such as the Order of Montessa in Aragon, and the Order of Christ in Portugal.
On 18 March 1314, the Grandmaster of the Knights Templar, Jacques de Molay, was burned at the stake. He maintained his innocence until the flames consumed him. Legend has it that he cursed Phillip and Clement with his dying breath. Whether or not this is true is unknown. Nevertheless, both Clement V and Phillip the Fair were dead within a month.

The Battle of Tours

By the beginning of the 8th century CE, Islam had overrun nearly 2/3 of Christendom. In 711, Berbers loyal to the Umayyad Dynasty in Damascus crossed the Straits of Gibraltar onto the Iberian Peninsula and smashed the Visigothic Kingdom of King Roderic. Over the next 15 years, the Berbers and Arabs overran the remaining small Christian kingdoms and consolidated their control of al-Andalus. In 720, they crossed the Pyrenees Mountains in force, and began raiding into Gaul, which was nominally under control of the defunct Frankish Merovingian kings. In 721, they were defeated by Duke Odo, the nearly independent ruler of the Duchy of Aquitaine, outside Toulouse. But the writing was on the wall, and it was obvious the expansionist Emirate of Cordoba, the ruler of al-Andalus, would be back.
 
Meanwhile, Charles Martel, aka Charles the Hammer an Austrasian warlord, was the power behind the Merovingian throne as their “Mayor of the Palace”. Throughout the 720s, he consolidated his power in Frankia and brought the wayward Merovingian dukes of Burgundy, Austrasia and Neustria under his control, at the expense of his own king.
 
In 730, Odo tried playing both sides, and allied himself with some rebellious Berber chieftains who were eventually subdued. Two years later, at the head of a large army of Berber and Arab horsemen, Abu Said Abdul Rahaman ibn Abdullah ibn Bishr ibn Al Sarem Al ‘Aki Al Ghafiqi, the Wali of al-Andulus and Emir of Cordoba crossed the Pyrenees to chastise Odo for his support of his unruly subordinates. Once there, Abdul Rahaman was determined to conquer Aquitaine and raid the other rich Frankish lands to the north. Odo again marshalled his army, but this time he was defeated outside Bordeaux. However, Odo escaped and fled north. He appealed to Charles for assistance in regaining his duchy. Charles did so, but only after Odo recognized his suzerainty over Aquitaine.
 
In early October 732, the 60,000 light cavalrymen of the Umayyad army raided and sacked the Frankish city of Poitier near the border of Frankia and Aquitaine. Further up the road towards Tours, the Frankish army of Charles Martel quickly assembled on a high wooded plain anchored between the rivers Clain and Vienne, blocking the road.
 
The Muslims had no issues with defeating even large numbers of Vandal and Visigothic infantry in North Africa and Hispania with their fast moving horsemen. Also, Abdul Rahaman had had little problem overrunning small bands of Frankish infantry. He had done so easily in the streets of Poitier the day before. But the sight of a solid wall of 30,000 Frankish heavy infantry which could not be outflanked, gave him pause.
 
Unlike the Vandals and Visigoths which were more tribal warriors in nature, the Franks of the seventh and eighth centuries continued the Greek and Roman tradition of the heavy infantryman. In northern Europe, cavalry was expensive, and not nearly as cost effective as an infantryman. For the cost of a single mounted horsemen, ten heavy infantrymen could be trained and equipped. Furthermore, raising horses was a luxury, and in Charles’ time a single horse was worth fifteen cows. Moreover, widespread use of the stirrup was still a hundred years in the future. Only the most important lords were mounted, and still fought on foot most of the time.
 
In the heavily wooded valleys and hills of northwestern Europe, the Merovingians relied on the small landowning farmers to provide the bulk of their armies. Under Charles, each family was required to provide one fully armed and armoured foot soldier for the Frankish army, the Landwehr. The relative prosperity of the Frankish farms allowed for the purchase of well-made armour and weapons. Additionally, the Landwehr served every fighting season until they died or were too old to fight, and was then replaced by their families. This wasn’t a feudal obligation but more of a holdover from Roman times, and similar to the Byzantine thematic system. In any case, this created a degree of discipline and professionalization in Charles’ army. On the road to Tours, Abdul Rahaman looked up at a solid shieldwall of chainmail and steel cap clad Frankish spearmen.
 
For a week there was an impasse. Charles couldn’t attack because that would break his formation as he descended down the valley and leave his men vulnerable to slashing counterattacks that were the tactics of choice for Muslim cavalry. Abdul Rahaman couldn’t attack because there was simply no weak points in Charles’ line. No matter how well trained, a warhorse will not impale itself on a wall of spears. The horse will inevitably halt and rear up, throwing its rider before an unwavering spearpoint. But Charles was patient. He knew Abdul Rahaman had to attack lest the proud Arab lose face. Moreover, the first nips of frost were in the air. The Umayyads had to attack soon or withdraw. On a Saturday in mid-October (the 10th, 11th, or 12th, or 23rd, 24th, or 25th, no one knows for sure) 732, Abdul Rahaman could wait no longer, and attacked.
 
The Muslim cavalry charged up the slope, but the Franks “stood like a wall of ice”. The horses were unwilling to skewer themselves on the Frankish spears. So the light cavalrymen rode up to the shieldwall, shot arrows, jabbed with their lances, and slashed wildly at the steadfast Frankish infantry, and tried to create an opening. They were met by spear thrusts and throwing axes, both of which were especially effective against the mostly unarmored horses of the Muslims. A fallen cavalryman was as good as dead. Soon, the dead horses formed an impromptu rampart, further impeding the Muslim attacks. All day, Abdul Rahaman’s horsemen charged uphill and fell back, then reformed and charged again. With great courage, bordering on fanaticism, the Muslims repeatedly threw themselves at the unwavering Frankish wall. They broke though just once, but Charles’ own guard sealed the breach.
 
That evening, a rumor began to circulate that Frankish scouts were looting the Muslim camp which was filled with slaves and the consolidated looted treasures of the towns and churches from Bordeaux to Poitier. The Umayyad warriors began to withdraw to protect their plunder. Abdul Rahaman himself attempted to rally his men to prevent a full retreat, but in the process was surrounded and killed. His men withdrew to secure the camp.
 
The next morning, Charles reformed his shieldwall, and prepared for another day’s fight. But the Umayyad army was gone, the camp abandoned. With no leader, the Muslim warriors took what they could carry on their horses, and abandoned everything else, including hundreds of pack camels loaded with valuables.
 
The Battle of Tours, sometimes known as the Battle of Poitier (Not to be confused with the battle of the same name in 1356 during the Hundred Years War), was the high water mark of Muslim expansion in Western Europe. In the contemporary chronicles of the battle, we see the first uses of the word “European” to describe the multinational Frankish/Gallic/Burgundian/Lombard nature of Charles’ army. Charles Martel would go on to form the Carolingian Dynasty, and his grandson Charlemagne would extend Frankish Empire across Europe. In al-Andalus, first the Franks, and then the Spanish Reconquista would slowly roll back the Muslim conquests. In 1491, almost 760 years after the Battle of Tours, Granada, the last Muslim outpost on the Iberian Peninsula, fell to the forces of Ferdinand and Isabella, the Catholic king and queen of Castile, Leon, Aragon and Sicily.

The Battle of Cape Esperance

Just like Nimitz, Yamamoto’s biggest issue in the South Pacific was fuel. Tokyo is actually farther from the Guadalcanal than Pearl Harbor, and like the Americans, the Japanese lacked sufficient tanker capacity. But by October 1942, the Japanese had finally committed to destroying the Americans on Guadalcanal, and enough fuel was allocated for Yamamoto’s big battleships to operate from their anchorage at Truk. For lack of fuel, they had been sitting there for months, derisively referred to by the overworked destroyer and cruiser sailors as “Hotel Yamato” and “Hotel Musashi”.

After the battles at Coral Sea, Midway, and the Eastern Solomon’s, Yamamoto had a healthy respect for American airpower, and Henderson Field was an unsinkable aircraft carrier from which the Cactus Air Force sank everything that came down the Slot in daylight. The only option to neutralize Henderson Field was a run down the Slot at night by fast battleships which could pummel the airstrip. Then, sufficient troops and heavy equipment to secure the island could be landed on Guadalcanal from the big slow transports that Japanese couldn’t use as long as the Cactus Air Force roamed the Slot. Thereafter, Japanese troops on the island would be of sufficient quantity to be able to penetrate the Marine perimeter, and overrun the airfield. With the airfield out of action, Yamamoto could then send the Combined Fleet, spearheaded by the mighty Yamato and Musashi down the Slot without fear of air attack from Guadalcanal, and decisively defeat the American Fleet. The fast battleship run was scheduled for the night of 15 October. Until then, the Tokyo Express would put every ship it had into reinforcing Guadalcanal, and bombarding the airfield in preparation.Throughout September and October, Maj Gen Vandergrift’s Marines on Guadalcanal had defeated everything the Japanese had thrown at them, but the Tokyo Express continually poured fresh troops onto Guadalcanal. Even U.S. Marines can’t hold out indefinitely. Additionally, the poor rations, constant fighting and the debilitating effects of living in the jungle were taking their toll on the Americans. Though they would never admit it, the Marines needed help. That help would come in the form of the US Army 164th Inf Regt, from the Americal Division which was formed from the AMERIcan defenders of New CALedonia. The convoy from New Caledonia was escorted by cruisers and destroyers of Task Force 64, led by Rear Admiral Norman Scott.

When Scott took command of the American escort force, he was keenly aware of the sorry state of American surface forces. He was not about to repeat the same mistakes as his predecessor, who had been ignominiously defeated at The Battle of Savo Island in August, known amongst the crews as “The Battle of Five Sitting Ducks.” To Scott, night surface action was about one thing, and one thing only: “the first effective salvo, though the second and third didn’t hurt the cause either.”

To this end, Scott instituted a night gunnery training program that had his crews at general quarters every evening and early morning conducting gunnery excercises. He designated areas of the sea and squared his captains off against each other. During these gunnery drills the turrets were offset several degrees so the shells safely landed behind the target. But the big splash to the stern let the opposing crew know without a doubt when they were “hit”. And everyone had friends on the Vincennes, Quincy, and Astoria, resting below in “Ironbottom Sound”. Battle Drills became second nature. Moreover, Scott changed the culture of his surface ships. He lobbied to have his cruisers operate independently of Adm Turner’s transports when they weren’t directly involved in actual escort missions. After Nimitz’ visit to the South Pacific in early September, Scott was granted his wish. His command was elevated to a separate Task Force, Task Force 64, on par with Turner’s transports and Fletcher’s carriers. Scott changed his mission from escort to “screening and attack”, and let his captains know that he intended to take the fight to the Japanese. The Tokyo Express had to be in and out of the waters around Guadalcanal before the sun rose. That made them predictable. Scott planned to exploit that.

Scott got his chance on the night of 11-12 Oct 1942. Rear Admiral Aritomo Goto was escorting a massive Tokyo Express Run of almost 11,000 Japanese troops, and included two sea plane tenders that carried much needed heavy equipment such as trucks and artillery pieces. Goto’s run was divided into two groups, a transport group with a bombardment group in the lead. As Scott’s task force was escorting the 164th to Guadalcanal, coastwatchers and reconnaissance planes spotted Goto. Scott sent the transports safely away with a few destroyers, and moved to ambush the Japanese north of Guadalcanal’s Cape Esperance. Just before midnight, the Japanese bombardment group, consisting of three cruisers and two destroyers, was picked up on radar and Scott ordered his column of five destroyers, and three heavy and two light cruisers, to change course in order to cross the Japanese T. Goto, whose ships relied on flares and visual identification, and had no reason to expect cruisers in the area from the so far passive Americans, had no idea what was about to hit him.

Unfortunately for Scott, the watch officer of the lead cruiser, the San Francisco, didn’t turn where the lead destroyers turned, and instead turned turned simultaneously with the lead destroyer as soon as the order was given. In Army terms, he executed a “Left Flank, March”, instead of a “Column Left, March”. The rest of the formation followed. This put the lead three destroyers out of position, and even worse, in between the Americans cruisers and the Japanese.

For several critical minutes, confusment reigned in the American formation as Scott and his captains attempted to ascertain the exact location of the destroyers in order to prevent fratricide. All the while, the Japanese closed the distance, to the point where they became visible in the darkness. One exasperated gunner complained, “What are we doing? Waiting to see ‘the whites of their eyes’?” The captain of the new light cruiser USS Boise finally said, “I know what I’m shooting at”, and opened fire. Everyone else followed suit.

American naval doctrine at the time said that distances less than 17,000 yards were “close contact”. Off Cape Esperance, they were less than 4000, and closing rapidly. At this distance, it wasn’t the big manually controlled 8” guns of the heavy cruisers that would be responsible for the bulk of the damage, but the radar controlled rapid fire 6″ guns of the American light cruisers, the Boise and Helena. The Japanese complained they fired “like machine guns”, and at a distance where it was impossible to miss. It also didn’t help that the Japanese ships were initially loaded with high explosive rounds to bombard Henderson, not ship killing armor piercing rounds. The two American light cruisers savaged the two lead Japanese cruisers.

However, not everything worked in Scott’s favor. In the confusion, fire control was lacking and the task force’s fire was not distributed properly. The lead Japanese cruiser, the Aoba, took the bulk of the fire while the rear most Japanese cruiser was initially not fired upon at all. And the Kinugasa made the Boise pay for firing first. Even worse, the American heavy cruisers lacked the new fire control radars of their little brothers, and inadvertently fired upon the wayward destroyer squadron, sinking one and damaging another. In less than 30 minutes, one Japanese cruiser and one destroyer were sunk, with the rest badly damaged, at the cost of two American cruisers and one destroyer damaged and another sunk by friendly fire.

The Battle of Cape Esperance was the first time the US Navy defeated the Japanese in a surface action in World War Two and provided a much needed morale boost to the Allied destroyer and cruiser crews, who up to this point were consistently outperformed, out-maneuvered and out-gunned by their Japanese counterparts. However, the confusion caused by the San Francisco cost the Americans dearly. In addition to the ships damaged, and sailors killed and wounded in battle, the Japanese managed to unload all of their reinforcements on Guadalcanal. Many Marines and soldiers (The US Army’s 164th Regt would land a day later on the 13th) would pay a heavy price for Goto’s successful Tokyo Express run, even if he didn’t survive to see it

The attritional battle for Guadalcanal would continue.

The First Balkan War

In the first decade of 20th century, the Ottoman Empire was in decline, and at the time commonly referred to as “The Sick Man of Europe”. Several small states arose in the Balkans among the Christian minorities of the dying Muslim Empire: Serbia, Greece, Bulgaria, and Montengro. To complicate matters, they were interspersed among the Ottoman’s remaining territories. In 1908, the Young Turks rebelled to modernize the Ottoman Empire in an attempt to stem the tide of Slavic and Bulgar nationalism.
 
During the chaos, the Austro Hungarian Empire seized Bosnia Herzegovina, just ahead of a nascent Serbia after it declared its intention to unite all ethnic Serbs. Afterward, about 1/3 of Bosnia’s Muslims relocated to the Ottoman provinces of Kosovo and Macedonia, where instead of providing a check on Serbian aggression, they immediately joined the neighboring Albanian revolt against their Ottoman co-religionists.
 
Stymied in the north by the Austrians, Serbia looked south and hungrily eyed the lands embroiled in the confusion caused by the Albanian revolt. They were not strong enough to take on the Ottoman’s themselves. However, they found willing but tenuous allies among Bulgaria, Greece, and Montenegro who also sought take advantage of Ottoman weakness. On 10 October 1912, the Kingdom of Montenegro was the first to declare war, ostensibly to unite Serbs but actually to acquire territory from Albania and the Ottomans.
 
The First Balkan War ended in 1913 with the Ottomans effectively thrown out of Europe except for Istanbul and a small slice of Thrace. However, Bulgaria was unsatisfied with their new territorial acquisitions, and felt cheated. (Historically, the land of the Bulgars was much bigger, particularly in the Middle Ages.) This perceived slight would eventually lead to the Second Balkan War which began shortly after the first concluded in 1913.
 
The Second Balkan War was a disaster for Bulgaria, and it lost even more territory. However, its conclusion in 1914 ended the Ottoman threat to the Balkans. As result, Serbia, with its ally Montengro, would again look north to the ethnic Serbs in the Austro-Hungarian province of Bosnia-Herzegovina. They were not strong enough to militarily overthrow the Austrians, but their battle hardened armies were strong enough to prevent Austria from invading Serbia. Unable to attack the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Serbia decided upon war of terror against the ruling Austrian Hapsburg elite. In the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo in the summer of 1914, Serb nationalists assassinated the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the spark that ignited World War I.

The Battle of Bemis Heights

By early October, 1777, the feud between Horatio Gates, the commander of the Continental Army in the Hudson Valley, and his best general, Benedict Arnold came to a head. Arnold was furious that Gates had not mentioned him in the dispatches to Washington about the victory at Freeman’s Farm, a victory that was solely due to the aggressive Arnold. Gates confined him to his tent, and Arnold offered to return to Washington in Pennsylvania, but he didn’t.

The Battle at Freeman’s Farm prevented Gen Burgoyne from attacking Bemis Heights, where Gates had entrenched his Army, blocking the passage south to Albany. Burgoyne was short on all types of supplies, particularly food. The Battle of Bennington had stripped him of his Indian allies, who lost faith in Burgoyne after the Hessian defeat there. Moreover, Daniel Morgan’s Riflemen were expert woodsman and harassed the British formations day and night, and even worse, prevented Burgoyne’s foraging parties from scouring the countryside for supplies. Burgoyne decided to wait for relief by Henry Clinton’s columns that were supposed to attack up the Hudson Valley from New York City. But Clinton wouldn’t arrive for another two weeks. Burgoyne’s Army would starve before then.Uncharacteristically, Burgoyne called for a council of war with his officers, and they almost all advocated to retreat back to Canada. The proud Burgoyne refused. He decided to attack. The entire army would punch through Gate’s left flank on the Bemis Heights and continue on to Albany, while the Continental Army was reeling from the assault.

On the morning of 7 October, 1777, Burgoyne launched a 1500 man reconnaissance in force to identify weak points in Gate’s left flank. The Americans, swollen with militia from the surrounding area after the recent victories, outnumbered the British nearly 2-1 and Gates saw an opportunity to make the odds even better.

Gates attacked the British force. Morgan’s Riflemen, with no British light infantry or Indians to oppose their movement through the woods, snuck around to their rear and took a frightful toll on the British and Hessian officers and NCOs. Morgan’s men even almost killed Burgoyne, who while observing the battle from afar still had a hole in his coat, hat, and saddle from the riflemen. Gates nearly destroyed the force, and was prepared to return to the entrenchments: A day’s work well done. But then Arnold showed up.

Arnold took the force forward against Gates’ orders and attacked the British camp. Gates had no choice but to reinforce the aggressive Arnold and Morgan as they stormed the British redoubts. The fighting was fierce, but reinforcements in the form of Benjamin Lincoln’s men from the right half of the Bemis Heights’ entrenchments carried the day. In the final moments Arnold’s horse was hit, and when he fell, crushed Arnold’s leg. Gates’ messenger finally caught up to Arnold, and he returned to his tent, carried by his men in a litter.

As darkness fell, Burgoyne realized he couldn’t hold the camp against a determined American attack the next day. He retreated to Saratoga, harassed by Morgan the entire time. Gates’ initially couldn’t follow, his two best line commanders, Arnold and Lincoln, were both wounded, and the army disorganized. But it didn’t matter, Burgoyne couldn’t go anywhere – he was surrounded, and out of supplies.

On 17 October, 1777, Burgoyne surrendered his command at Saratoga to Gates. 5900 British, German and Canadian troops marched into American captivity. Gates and Arnold moved south to deal with Clinton’s excursion up the Hudson Valley, and the British and Canadian troops around Lake Champlain and Fort Ticonderoga retreated back to Canada.

The American victory at Saratoga sent shockwaves throughout the world. News of the victory reached Paris in December, and by February, Benjamin Franklin convinced France’s King Louis XVI to support the nascent American republic against the British monarchy.

In 1778, the American Revolution became a world war.

The Bridge Over the Mae Klong River

The Japanese offensive in early 1942 against the Allies in Burma wasn’t stopped by any successful defensive action on the part of Allied troops, but by the monsoon and lack of supplies. The British just retreated to India faster than the Japanese could advance. Furthermore, the British retreated towards their supply depots while every step forward took the Japanese further from theirs. Moreover, Japanese supplies couldn’t come directly from their bases in Vietnam due to the harsh terrain of the northern Thai Highlands and the Shan Hills of eastern Burma, both “foothills” of the Himalayas. They had to be shipped down around the Malay Peninsula and Singapore, and then back up to Rangoon, where the transports made excellent targets in the confined waters for Allied submarines. In order to mitigate this extended logistics chain, the Japanese decided to build a railroad through the forbidding jungle and over the steep mountains from Bangkok to Thambyuzayat, Burma, where they could be easily ferried to Rangoon. This would cut weeks off the supply timeline, and save countless ships.

To construct the 250 mile long railroad, the Japanese conscripted 270,000 local civilians, many of whom supported the Japanese (Thailand was a Japanese ally in World War Two), and 61,000 British, Australian, Dutch, and American prisoners of war taken during the successful Japanese campaigns in Malaya, Singapore, and the Dutch East Indies. The 330,000 workers were overseen by just 14,000 Japanese. Their treatment ranged from lethal neglect to sadistic torture and mass murder. The terrain of western Thailand and southeastern Burma is some of the most forbidding terrain on the planet, and consists of thick jungle, steep gorges, and fast flowing rivers.

The most famous portion of the Burma Railroad was the Bridge over the Mae Klong River, a tributary of the Khwae Noi River whose valley the Burma railroad followed. On 4 October, 1942, the first Australian troops arrived at a prisoner of war camp at Tamarkan, Thailand. They would start work two days later on two bridges over Mae Klong River. Bridge 277 was a temporary wooden trestle bridge. It would be used until Bridge 278 was completed further upstream. Bridge 278 was a permanent metal and concrete structure assembled from a Dutch bridge dismantled in Java and transported to Thailand. The workers were given just 250 grams of rice a day to eat, in addition to what they could scrounge from the jungle. On 6 October, the Australians and British at Tamarkan numbered 1700.

Bridge 277 was completed in February, 1943, and the Bridge 278 in October 1943, about the same time the Burma Railroad itself was completed. The Burma Railroad was completed ahead of schedule but nearly 66,000 workers died as a result, including 1300 during the construction of the Mae Klong bridges. Just 400 remained to repair the damage caused by Allied air attacks later in the war.

The plight of the prisoners at Tamarkan and the construction of Bridge 277 was immortalized in the 1952 of the fictional book “Le Pont de la Rivière Kwai” (The Bridge on the River Kwai) by Pierre Boulle, and the 1957 David Lean movie of the same name, starring Jack Hawkins, Alec Guiness (Obi Wan Kenobi), William Holden and Sessue Hayakawa. “Kwai” (Burmese for water buffalo) is an English bastardization of “Khwae” (Burmese for tributary). Surviving British and Australian workers despised the movie for the “wonderful” treatment of the Allied characters by the Japanese, and Japanese veterans called the movie racist because they were depicted as unable to complete the bridge on time without the willing help of the Allied prisoners.

In 1970, the Thai government renamed to the Mae Klong River to Khwae Yai (“Big Tributary) due to tourists wanting to see “The Bridge over the River Kwai”.

How Dangerous Ideas Crumbled France in Six Weeks: The results of relying on the wisdom of man

“As British historian Paul Johnson wrote, ‘The study of history is a powerful antidote to contemporary arrogance. It is humbling to discover how many of our glib assumptions, which have been to us novel and plausible, have been tested before, not once but many times and in innumerable guises; and discovered to be, at great human cost, wholly false.’

How Dangerous Ideas Crumbled France in Six Weeks