Category: Professional Development

PODCAST: Dr. Bruce Gudmundsson on Military History

PODCAST: Dr. Bruce Gudmundsson on Military History

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 Battle for Wireless Ridge

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.

The USS Stark

During the Iran-Iraq War from 1980-1988, there was a low level parallel naval conflict in the Persian Gulf known as the Tanker War, where each side tried to sink as many of their adversary’s oil tankers as possible. Iran relied exclusively on tankers to export its oil which was its sole source of funding for the war. Iranian mines, and Revolutionary Guard small boat attacks and airstrikes forced Iraq to export most of its oil via pipelines to friendly Saudi Arabia. However, Iran expanded its attacks to neutral flagged ships of those countries friendly to Iraq, such as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, to intercept Iraq’s oil. Along with the British and French, the US deployed a Mid-East Task Force to the Persian Gulf to protect neutral flagged ships from both Iranian and Iraqi attacks.
On 17 May 1987, a US Navy Oliver Hazard Perry class frigate, USS Stark FFG-31, sailed on a routine patrol in the Persian Gulf just outside of Iraq’s declared war zone, as part of the Mid-East Task Force. About 1900 that night (7 pm) a joint US-Saudi Arabian E-3C Sentry aircraft acquired what it thought was a French made Iraqi F-1 Mirage but it was actually a militarized business jet converted into a long range reconnaissance plane and armed with several air to surface missiles. The Sentry passed the contact off to the USS Stark at 2055. The plane was more than 200 miles out.
The Stark knew about the incoming aircraft for fifty minutes at that point, flipped on her air search radar, and belatedly acquired the aircraft after wrestling with several false reports of a surface contact nearby. (Turning on a powerful radar like the SPS-49 makes the ship a big target for surface to surface missiles.) Just before that, the electronic warfare officer (EWO) went to get a cup of coffee. The Stark’s tactical action officer (TAO) in the combat information center (CIC) ordered the comms duty officer (the acronym for that is insane) to wait on hailing the approaching aircraft as it looked as if the plane would pass benignly by. As the unidentified aircraft continued to approach, the TAO ordered the weapons control officer (WCS) to go find the EWO because his console controlled the chaff (“chaff” are small metal strips launched into the air to confuse incoming radar lock missiles) and was one of the only two stations in the CIC where an incoming threat could be tracked and a weapon assigned (guess where the other one was…). This action left both the EWO and WCS stations vacant, though the ship’s executive officer did enter the CIC on administrative business, and occupied the WCS’ station to observe the TAO while he waited.
At 2104, the TAO gave permission to the comms duty officer to hail the aircraft, presumably because the XO was watching. The aircraft did not respond, and turned slightly toward the Stark to further close the distance, though this was missed by the air tracker watching the radar. At 2108, the Stark tried communicating with the aircraft again, which was 32 nautical miles out and well within range of known Iraqi and Iranian air to surface missiles, and again received no response.
As the Stark was futilely trying to contact the aircraft a second time, the Iraqi pilot launched his first French made Exocet missile. After another minute inputting data into the fire control and locking on a second missile, he launched another Exocet. He was less than twelve miles out.
The Exocet (French for “Flying Fish”) flew across the Persian Gulf three meters above the water at nearly Mach one. As “sea-skimming” missiles, they were never picked up by the air-search radar, and the only stations with the capability to detect the incoming threat were vacant with one’s operator getting coffee, and the other looking for him.
At 2109, the TAO ordered a young ensign to occupy the WCS’s console to activate the weapon systems and the fire control radar. This included a young sailor running topside to manually turn on the chaff launcher, which was completed and probably saved the sailor’s life. As the young ensign jockeyed with the intimidating executive officer at the WCS station, a lookout topside using a pair of binoculars and Mark 1 Eyeballs spotted a white glow on the horizon and spoke into his mic “Missile Inbound Missile Inbound”. The first Exocet struck the USS Stark four seconds later.
It penetrated the hull just below the CIC but didn’t explode. Its remaining fuel spread fires throughout its path into the ship, particularly in the petty officers quarters, where it came to lie. The Stark’s luck however would not repeat: 30 seconds later, the same lookout said, “inbound missile, port side… all hands brace for shock!”; the second missile struck eight feet forward from the initial hit, and exploded. 29 sailors were killed instantly, many in their sleep or burned to death shortly thereafter. Eight died later of their wounds or were lost at sea. Twenty more were wounded.
From aircraft acquisition to detonation was just 14 minutes. From the first hail to detonation was less than four minutes.
The Stark never fired any of her weapons. The Perry class frigates are primarily surface combatants or escorts conducting anti-submarine warfare, activities for which they are admirably equipped. They rely on other ships, or preferably planes, for wide area anti-aircraft coverage. They possess point air defense weapons i.e. self-protection only, in the form of the 20mm Phalanx CIWS (Close In Weapons System, a giant Gatling gun) for just such incoming threats. However, the system was down with parts on order, and the crew mistakenly believed they couldn’t calibrate the auxiliary targeting system except in an approved gunnery area. The CIWS was never activated and remained on “stand-by mode”, even though it was operational. Furthermore, there was confusion as per the rules of engagement/readiness condition – The CIC crew believed they could not fire unless fired upon, which was not the case. They could have defended themselves any time after the plane didn’t respond to queries and continued to approach. (Condition III Yellow vs Condition III White, or for US Army folks, roughly the difference between Yellow Tight and White Hold).
If the first missile would have exploded, the USS Stark would have been a catastrophic loss. As it was, “only” a 10’ by 13’ flaming hole was bored into the ship. The fires created by the missiles destroyed the storesroom, the berths, the small postal room, and eventually the CIC. The damage created a severe list which was counteracted by reverse flooding to keep the hole above the waterline. However, the essentially Second World War damage control techniques barely kept the 3000 degree fires and list from sinking the ship. The fires were twice as hot as needed to melt the bulkheads. One third of the crew was incapacitated, and there were simply too many tasks needed to be done. Furthermore, the water used to fight the fires threatened to capsize the ship despite the counter flooding. This fate was avoided by the time consuming and difficult process of sledgehammering holes in the aluminum bulkheads to redistribute the water. The Stark had no modern rescue equipment such as cutting torches or Jaws-of-Life. Only the timely arrival of the destroyer USS Waddel several hours later prevented the exhausted and wounded crew from succumbing to the list and flames. The Stark was further aided by the USS Conyngham who departed Bahrain with only a third of her crew: the rest were on shore leave and couldn’t be found. The fires raged for 24 hours. It was only the combined effort, ingenuity, and perseverance of the three crews that saved the Stark. The next day they managed to escort the stricken ship back to port.
Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi government initially blamed the US for violating the declared war zone, but when confronted by conclusive evidence to the contrary, apologized for mistaking the Stark for an Iranian tanker. The attack on the USS Stark was the first incident in the increasingly larger American involvement in the Tanker War.

A History of Warfare by Field-Marshal Viscount Montgomery of Alamein

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…

via #Reviewing A History of Warfare — The Bridge

“Mastery of Military History…”

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…

via Mastering the Profession of Arms, Part III: Competencies Today and into the Future — War on the Rocks

All around excellent article. I wish I would have read it twenty years ago.

“Hybrid Warfare” is just another name for “Warfare”

Great Video. 7 Brigade Hybrid Warfare Symposium: Prof Michael Evans Challenges ‘Hybrid Warfare’

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”.

/rant over.

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.