Secretary of Defense James Mattis once wrote, “Thanks to my reading, I have never been caught flat-footed by any situation, never at a loss for how any problem has been addressed (successfully or unsuccessfully) before. It doesn’t give me all the answers, but it lights what is often a dark path ahead.” He wrote this to impart how important it is for military professionals to study history. In this episode, Dr. Bruce Gudmundsson, a historian at the Marine Corps University in Quantico, VA, talks about why the study of history is important and how an earlier reform effort has shaped current military reform in the United States.
The British 3rd Commando Brigade “yomped” across East Falkland Island and successfully assaulted and occupied the five hill masses that surrounded Port Stanley to the west. The 3rd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment (3 Para) seized Mt Langdon with some difficulty, but was fixed by accurate Argentine artillery fire and could not continue on to seize its eastern most spur, Wireless Ridge, whose occupation would render Argentine defenses on Mt Tumbledown untenable, and isolate Port Stanley from the north. The task to seize Wireless Ridge was given to 2 Para, who was fifteen kilometers away on the slopes of Mt Kent as the brigade reserve.
On the evening of 13 June 1982, 2 Para yomped the 15 km to its assault positions north of Wireless Ridge. 2 Para’s new commander, Lt-Col David Chaudler who was recently flown in from Britain (!) and replaced the former commander killed at Goose Green, vowed that the battalion would not attack without adequate fire support again. So in support, 2 Para was allocated a generous allotment: two batteries of 105mm tube artillery, 3 Para’s mortars, two Scimitar tanks (skinny), two Scorpion light tanks (stubby… you know what I am talking about… The cards, man, the cards) from the Blues and Royals, and the 4.5 in deck gun of HMS Ambuscade (One of my favorite words. We need to get the term “ambuscade” into doctrine).
Just after midnight, 2 Para assaulted on line after a diversionary attack on Mt Tumbledown by the Scots Guards, and a short but vicious preparatory bombardment on the dug in Argentine positions. D Co would actually assault Wireless Ridge, while other companies seized the small hillocks to the north. The assault on Wireless Ridge was tactically polar opposite from Goose Green. Argentine resistance was systematically rooted out by superior firepower, by the light tanks, artillery, mortars and machine guns, upon contact. The Argentinian soldiers of the 7th Infantry Regiment usually broke before they were engaged in close combat with 2 Para infantry. There were four notable exceptions.
The first was not by 7th Inf Regt soldiers, but by a platoons worth of troopers from the Argentinian 2nd Airborne Regiment on their way to Mt Longdon, who counterattacked west directly into D Co as it assaulted east. D Co fought them off over the next several hours. The second exception was a dismounted counterattack by the crews of an armored car squadron (read “troop” or “company”), which was annihilated by heavy machine guns and the Scorpions and Scimitars. The third attack by the Argentinians was by a bypassed 7th Infantry Regiment platoon who struck the flank platoon of D Co. The Argentinian platoon leader was furious after hearing his friend was killed, and rallied his men to counterattack. The surprised defenders were led by a brand new lieutenant fresh from school. The Argentinians nearly overran their adversaries, but were brought under intense and accurate fire support by the British platoon commander, who had to drop down to the fire support net in the confusion and coordinate his own support. D Co (the main effort) didn’t have a forward observation officer (?), and the other FOO’s were prioritizing their missions. The young platoon commander just asserted himself into the net, and probably saved D Co a very bad morning.
The fourth and final Argentine counterattack came as the sun came up. 200 Wireless Ridge survivors and staff officers were rallied by the 10th Brigade operations officer and formed a hasty defense on the west side of Port Stanley. Since about 4 am, the remaining Argentine artillery fired on Wireless Ridge. As dawn broke about six, 50 members of the ad hoc defense, led by the 7th Inf Regt executive officer and regimental chaplain, assaulted the ridge with fixed bayonets under cover of the bombardment. The Paras were initially flabbergasted at the lines of Argentinian infantry singing as they advanced, but they were eventually beaten back with great losses.
The failure of the impromptu Argentinian dawn assault broke the Argentine defenses and the Argentinian infantry to the south and west on Mt Tumbledown routed and fled back to Port Stanley. That evening the Argentinian commander in the Falkland Islands, with no further help from the mainland, recognized the futility of the situation and surrendered. The British reoccupied the South Sandwich Islands, the last Argentinian conquest in the South Atlantic on 20 June, and both sides declared an end to the hostilities.
A History of Warfare. Field-Marshal Viscount Montgomery of Alamein. London: Book Club Associates, 1982.Field-Marshal Viscount Montgomery of Alamein led the British Eighth Army across North Africa in pursuit of Rommel. In 1944 he commanded the Allied land armies in the invasion of Normandy, eventually leading the 21st Army Group. Despite this experience, few give him…
Military history provides the required context, width, and depth to understand past ways and means in the absence of physical combat experiences. It allows professionals to test their knowledge and ideas against a framework of historical military experience. It also provides insights into successful methods and permits learning through vicarious failure. The study of history can also, as Richard Neustadt and Ernst May argue in Thinking in Time, stimulate imagination by seeing the past as a way to better envision the future.
Michael Howard has proposed the most compelling reason for studying military history is that unlike other enduring professions, the military profession is intermittent. In essence, military history is the case law for military professionals to prepare for future operations. And as Howard has also noted, military professional must hone “the ability to look at the past to see what works and what does not … the last war provides the only firm data that they have.” Military history provides an intellectual foundation for dealing with the ambiguity, uncertainty, and friction inherent in war…
All around excellent article. I wish I would have read it twenty years ago.
If you are a military/history/security professional, this’ll be the best 23 minutes of your day. The whole presentation is a moneyline. One of the nice aspects of being retired is that I can continue my professional education without the shackles imposed by the Division DTO or mandatory silliness, so I get to read and listen to speakers and lectures quite a bit more. If I had a capstone argument for everything I have learned in the last 18 years, this video is essentially it. Hybrid Warfare is just another name for warfare. If you aren’t preparing for it all, you’re just preparing to lose.
From the time my troop commander as a PL arrogantly told me, “We will NEVER wear our flak jackets in training because we will never wear them in combat”, through all of my body armored deps, to being the sole and only wide area security planner on each of the three brigade staffs I was a FG on, I’ve found that nothing in warfare is new and saying otherwise keeps biting us in the ass. Alexander’s men cutting six feet off of their sarissas (pikes) 2300 years ago to be better able to chase tribal insurgents through the Hindu Kush while he established what became the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom is conceptually no different than what we are trying to do today in Afghanistan. The concepts and principles don’t change.
The American people demand that its Army be competent in the ENTIRE spectrum of conflict. No excuses. Look how it worked out for us after June 2003. If you don’t have the mental or physical agility to move from decisive action, to wide area security, to stability, to peace operations, to foreign internal defense, to assisting civil authorities, and back and forth as the situation demands within weeks and days, and dare I say within hours and minutes, then you need to take a hard look as to why that is. Where have I heard that before? Oh yeah, in 1997 with a very prophetic marine talking about “Three Block Wars”. The American people demand no less. Defeating your adversaries demands no less. And you might just find you’ll have more tools in the kit bag than just a hammer. If you don’t have the training time, ask yourself “why?”. (I got in so much trouble when I kept bringing this up.) The successful armies in history figured it out, and they didn’t do it by just using one “form of warfare”. Saying, “But war is different now” is just an excuse, and an eye-rolling one at that.
“War. War never changes.”
It really bothers me that the speaker in this video in the “dissenting voice”.
Watch the video. Every one of the books he quotes is a great read as long as you take it in the context of when it was written.