Drakkar – Defence, Strategy and Security Blog: Three years

 

Time is one of the elements in the universe that remains a constant. But despite this supposed constant nature, perception of its speed can be quite relative. Three years ago, on a day that looks quite far away, this blog was established with the initial purpose of serving as a branch, a specialized complement for a former and previous initiative. Initiative whose inner dynamics gave further reasons for this blog to emerge, yet to serve as an independent and individual initiative. Three years seem indeed like a long time, yet this time went by with quite a fast speed.

During this time the Blog and the author both witnessed many interesting events and milestones. In the mid-2016, number of viewers and visitors skyrocketed. In March-April 2016 the author was given the opportunity of contributing to a very interesting and equally promising project called Plane Encyclopedia, providing some articles reviewing warplanes of various periods in aviation history. I strongly recommend it to be visited, as the warplanes reviewed and illustrated are rich in detail and also in an insight of the operational needs and strategic context – or combat experiences – that gave way to those incredible machines. The work of everyone taking part of Plane Encylopedia is also another reason that makes the site worth of a visit. Many thanks to them, by the way, for allowing me to help in crafting such interesting initiative. In fact, one of the people involved in Plane Encyclopedia contributed to ‘Drakkar’ with a renewed and better looking logo. Many thanks to that person.

Back to ‘Drakkar – Defence, Strategy and Security Blog’. The growth in terms on quantity, a bit on quality (though clearly more need to be done on this regard) and the number of views and visits is quite impressive. At the turn of its first year, for example, the number of viewers and visitors was around 150 and 91 respectively. By the third year, the abovementioned rise in viewers and visitors resulted in a total of 7,983 viewers and 6,143 visitors (by the time of writing this reflection). Something that exceeded even my most optimistic expectancies. It is a very good development, all in all.

Also, the number of articles reached a total of nearly 50 pieces, with half of them being of the times where the ‘Drakkar’ was sailing on its own. Yet mere statistics are not enough to fully evaluate and assess the performance of this initiative, even less to see if its meeting its initial purpose and objectives. Like the Prussian General Staff, it is time for a feedback and self-examination of ‘Drakkar – Defence, Strategy and Security Blog’ after this time.

First of all, the birth of ‘Drakkar’ took place during quite stormy days, days that pointed out the need and the advantages of sailing by my own, to do my own ways, instead of sailing with unreliable and not-so dependable company. Three years after such a stormy birth, ‘Drakkar’ is validating the idea of autonomy and of doing things by oneself as worthy. There is indeed an ample degree of autonomy and of application of one’s own standards, priorities, schedules, topics and path.  But as autonomy is a perk, this is also a big challenge. As Friedrich Nietzsche once said: “Freedom is the will to be responsible for ourselves”. It is not only the will but also the required characteristic freedom or autonomy ask. In other words, walking on your own allows you to enjoy autonomy and freedom, but also requires a high degree of responsibility. It is a very asking and challenging path. It asks a lot of yourself by pushing you to give the best of talents and qualities to deliver a good article, thus testing yourself at unexpected ways. It is easy to escape the big and asking responsibility freedom and autonomy asks by taking the easy path of pleasing others by submitting to their standards and requirements. But it is hard to be asked to be responsible to yourself and your own projects for the level of discipline and hardship is even higher. One needs to be though and brave to take such an endeavouring path.

Simply because one is placing oneself under a hard test every time a new piece is to be written, every time a careful and detailed research is required to craft such piece, every time editing an article is like the little devil mocking and pointing out the mistakes and failures detected on each draft. Because every new article and topic is a jump straight into the unknown, every article is a test by itself, a challenge to be able to deal with failure, to learn from it, and improve on the march while learning. It is also because it challenges to write in a language that it is not the mother language, and also to deal with other languages one can master at some degree.

But responsibility is not only required: discipline, constancy, commitment, a strong will and dedication are also required in order to undertake the task of walking by oneself and run a project that it is very asking. Capacity to deal with failure and mistakes, to have the strength and patience to deal with the loads of information during research and to have a clear aim for each piece, and to avoid monotony or repetition are all required as well. To make every article interesting or readable is a challenge on its own. And to do much with the very scarce resources one has.

So, we have responsibility, discipline, constancy, dedication, strong will, patience and strength as requirements autonomy/freedom requires. You need to love what you do, you need to be interested and be passionate for what you do; yet love and interest and passion are not enough. The abovementioned traits are required to put such love, interest and dedication to have a goal and advance towards it. Yet another important lesson ‘Drakkar’ – and the topics treated here – is flexibility. It acts as an antidote to discipline becoming a strait coat rather than an asset; it also enables one to have better reaction capacities or responsiveness when the way is not appropriate to reach into an aim. The secret is to learn to balance both and advance with both.

Second, ‘Drakkar’ was intended to be a self-learning process for many aspect, ranging from professional to personal. The abovementioned first point is a first evidence that it is fulfilling its (self)educational purpose. This comprises the first set of lessons learned since this project began to run. The other set of lessons ‘Drakkar’ has provided is that one indeed learns in many ways, from the same topic one is working on, to the realization of the things needed to undertake a project run basically by one person. Moreover, one is enabled to improve, to experiment and to decide the course of action product of such learnings.

This learning purpose of this project is providing lessons useful for Life and for the various aspects of a person: from personal to professional aspects, that allows self-examinations aimed at yielding improvement.

This brings us to the third purpose of ‘Drakkar’: to highlight the gaps and shortcomings and solve issues, and to recognize and further strengthen the advantages and assets. But such highlighting is not enough if a good spirit of self-criticism is not developed. One must always criticize everything, but mainly one must criticize oneself in order to allow such self-improvement and learn more about what one is capable of and what not.

Fourth, ‘Drakkar’ is serving its purpose of further increasing my knowledge on topics that are of both personal and professional interests, as every article requires a research that brings more lights and knowledge. It is also purposed at contributing with its content to the knowledge of anyone interested in the topics covered by this blog.

Now, on the shortcomings or issues ‘Drakkar’ might be having. This project has allowed me to work, write and structure the content the way I consider more suitable. This could be a problem considering that English is a language were brief and direct texts tend to be preferred over very lengthy and detailed ones. I’m aware I might be jumping over more than one rule of writing in English. Also, our times require texts to be short and brief as the rhythm of life puts speed and briefness as main preferable traits.

But the level of detail and length of the articles (at the point of having many parts) are of my preference for many reasons. One is the clear interest for the topics. Another is the high value I put for detail, for everything is detail from my perspective. Le Diable est dans les details. The more the details about a problem, an event, a battle, a strategic position and objectives, or a military system, the easier the comprehension of them. Details allows a better understanding and to grasp the nature and the elements and factors of the subject of study and analysis, let alone the implications and lessons the subject might provide. It might be at times misleading for the minds that prefer a more direct and direct approach, and they might be right. Yet detail allows a better understanding of the subject, a better learning from it. To say that a given Great Power has a number of warships is not enough to get the whole picture and to understand why the number of warships is having is important. Detail allows one to know how those warships can contribute to its power projection and security, how they enable said power to wage war or meet its strategic interests. Because it is also important to know the strategic needs, the strategic and operational concepts and doctrines that resulted in such warships – or the development of naval power – to be developed and built, the operational behaviour, the strong and weak points of those commanding those warships and the skills of those crewing them. It is necessary to understand the mindset that framed the development and deployment – and operation – of said warships. It is necessary to know the political elements and the role played by geography in conjunction with the strategic interests in the development and operation of those warships. Detail allows one to do so.

Moreover, the nature warfare, military history and military affairs, defence, security and strategy have is, from my point of view and despite the idea of being ‘direct’ topics, complex. It is complex as the articles have made evident so far. And given such complexity, detail is necessary to be able to understand their nature and the nature of the problem(s) they are dealing with. Indeed, the idea is not to be stuck with details, yet a brief and simple approach is not helpful when studying on analysing those topics; it might even mislead or give the wrong ideas about them.

Now, the time that takes between one piece and another is very lengthy. This is true, and it might signal laziness, lack of commitment and lack of constancy and dedication. Yet the reality is very different. One is the call by other duties. Another is my preference for such amount of time to allow the readers to have their time to read, enjoy and analyse the lengthy and detailed articles. I also prefer to avoid delivering content at a high frequency that could be self-defeating by ‘bombarding’ the public with content each two or three days. Moreover, ‘Drakkar’ is still small like to reach such frequency. I also prefer to take time to prepare a good or decent article by doing a careful and exhaustive research: if time is needed to craft something of value or with a decent degree of quality, I prefer to take such time instead of producing far too general and superficial content.

The idea behind this Blog and its content is not to have ‘far too general’ and ‘rush’ articles. Instead, the idea is to have articles to read carefully, to read and re-read them time and time again so to absorb, debate, discuss and learn from the information given. This Blog wants to deliver articles to be read while taking a warm cup of coffee or tea while the reader reads the details of the content. This Blogs seeks to contribute to their inner debates, curiosity, interests and personal or professional formation in the sense of providing another source among many of knowledge and debate on certain topics. This Blogs wants people to take their time to read and absorb the information given. To enjoy what their are reading. These approaches might be the curse of my philosophical side, but I wanted this Blog to be a source of lessons and knowledge not only for me, but also for those interested in the same topics as I. If the reader feels this Blog is contributing to their intellectual curiosity, if the reader is ‘forced’ to ask, to question… then ‘Drakkar’ is fulfilling another one of its purposes. Of course, I don’t pretend to be an authority, for I am also learning in the process, being ‘Drakkar’ the tool for that. There might be also gaps, missing points or point one might disagree with. After also, mine is only but one voice among many, some with more expertise than I. Yet I hope that my voice is a contribution to the people taking their time to read, as well as for myself.

There is a lack of illustrations and maps. This is definitely true, and it is something I must work on, so to make the article more user-friendly, more dynamic and less heavy to grasp. The idea is to work soon on acquiring the needed skills to incorporate illustrations and maps where needed.

And many projects are pending. That is also true. At the moment there are other priorities, but I haven’t lost the aim of materializing them. When I finish with the current schedule, I will set myself to put those projects into fruitions.

This reflection is going a bit long… unsurprisingly. But the time, the reach and the things that took place in these three years this project have been running worth it. The exercise is – and will always be – necessary.

Now, what does the future holds? Who knows? The idea is to keep the gradual growth and to see the possibilities ‘Drakkar’ might have, the heights it can reach, the paths it might take, the possibilities it might open, and the pace it might acquire. For the time being, it is still an exercise, a firing range, a field or an intellectual manoeuvre and exercise aimed at testing abilities, hone skills, detect the shortcomings and to see how improvements can be made, as well as to keep its purpose of being a learning tool and a way to… know more myself and improve myself.

After these three years, ‘Drakkar’ is still a small initiative, with a high chance to grow. Back in the time between the 8th and 11th centuries, men from the north took sail in longships to seek for new – needed – lands and fulfil their thirst for discovering new lands, unbeknown to them the destiny the winds would be taking them, the things they would encounter, the fate of their expeditions and their very lifes. The same is going on with ‘Drakkar’. I don’t know where the winds might take this ship product of intellectual and personal curiosity and of the need to discover new professional and intellectual ‘lands and seas’. But like the Norsement of those days, the unknown might lead to new promising paths and events, to possibilities I cannot imagine, even now. Only time will tell.

And last but not least, I want to say a special thanks to the people that took their time to read the very lengthy and heavy pieces talking about a topic that is not – apparently – that attractive or interesting considering the prevailing mentality and ideals nowadays. thanks for their patience and curiosity, and if there are people keeping track of ‘Drakkar’, thanks for waiting for the next piece(s). As I said before, I hope that I am a contributing voice here.

Many thanks once and again.

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The Prussian General Staff: Meritocracy in Arms. Part 4a.

‘Berliner Siegessäule monument’. By Mario Zorro (author). All rights reserved

 

Conclusions and analysis

The battle is over, and the enemy is entirely defeated. The officer is proud; after many years of careful preparation, the outcome has been entirely positive. Yet he knows victory is not only due to preparation and planning alone. The high degree of autonomy and room for initiative he was allowed to exert allowed him to react to many unexpected situations both he and his troops faced during the encounter. And now, as he stands proud and looking at the battlefield, little he suspects his nation is about to change History for decades to come, thus shaping a century. All thanks to the victory of that day. And all thanks to a very unique and remarkable military institution and system: the Prussian General Staff.

Legendary

The Prussian General Staff became a very influential and legendary institution in History and in Military Affairs, becoming also the trademark of a nation and its armed forces. This is not a surprise, for it forged its fame through the impressive victories achieved by Prussia in the last half of the 19th century, forging the tactics and techniques that revolutionized warfare, emerging from defeat during the Napoleonic Wars. That defeat sparked the emergence of this institution and sparked the changes it introduced; even after the 1918 defeat, the General Staff introduced further changes by crafting new tactics and doctrines that are now a cornerstone of modern warfare and of many armies.

Innovations with a deep impact weren’t only of tactical and operational nature, as it focused on the quality of officers, their education and preparation – at the point of enabling them to have initiative instead of blindly following orders – thus contributing heavily to warfare. Indeed, the best armies are those having the best warriors within their ranks, or the best soldiers or even the best leaders; the General Staff crafted the most remarkable armies by crafting those guiding the soldiers in the field, those materializing the strategic intentions of the top leaders. The General Staff also made of the military an art and a discipline by emphasizing in the study of warfare and every aspect of it. It also brought meritocracy in the art of war.

However, its place of origin and effectiveness sparked several myths. Other myths also emerged due to the close relation to the particular place it emerged from, being that place rather polemic.

 

The myths

Since Prussia-Germany is the place of origin of the General Staff, it is quite inevitable that the general perception of it as a negative factor in German and Universal History, due to the role of the country in the last two centuries. In addition, several misconceptions about the essence of the General Staff and the Prussia-German army emerged thanks to the depiction of both elements in popular culture and the general imaginary.

In the light of this, it is necessary to review and debunk these myths again, with the sole aim of contributing to a more accurate – and less ideologized – image on the General Staff, the Prussian-German armed forces and on Military Affairs in general.

The first myth is precisely about Military Affairs, with the general perception being that the militaries are just about simply following orders and of a rather uneducated and unprepared, instinctive and ‘brute’ mindset and essence lacking any intellectual activity. The same Prussian-German Army is viewed as such too. This study shows that reality is very different. As von Scharnhorst once put, warfare requires a large amount of intellectual work and preparation: the strategy and tactics are something to be carefully considered, the adversary is to be deeply studied and understood, and history and other disciplines are deeply study in order to perform either in peace or wartime, according to Schoy (n.d.). Moreover, initiative and responsiveness are required many times to allow the fulfilment of the general objectives or to solve an operational problem thanks to a careful intellectual training aimed at enabling careful evaluation of a given situation; the General Staff instilled this. This rebukes this first myth[1].

This takes us directly to the second myth, concerning the Prussian-German Army: the myth of this army being a very strict, vertical and authoritarian army operating with mathematical precision, being then inflexible and perfectionist, neutralizing any chance of initiative. The fact is that this army, thanks to the General Staff, allowed a wide degree of autonomy and initiative, learning from mistakes, avoiding pressure and evaluating its performance, using debriefings to address operational issues (Bergamino & Palitta, 2015; Cau, 2011; Condell & Zabecki, 2009; Corum, 2009; Klein, 2001; Millotat, 1992; Schoy, n.d.). Even during the Third Reich, these were core operational principles.

The next myths stand on the political dimension. The third myth, for instance, is about the supposition of the General Staff working very closely with the National Socialist regime in preparing for WWII, mainly due to the widespread association of the German military and its military traditions and culture with the Nazis and with Militarism, thanks to the image forged by the Allies after both World Wars. In reality, the General Staff was part of the ‘old’ Prussian traditions the Nazis – and Hitler, most of all – despised. Also, tactics used by the Wehrmacht were devised during the Weimar Republic, thanks to the efforts of Hans von Seeckt and the keeping of traditions and functions of the General Staff thus laying the ground for the revenant armed forces. And relations between the Führer and the General Staff were rather strained and conflictive due to three reasons: opposing principles, strong disagreements on operational aspects, and political opposition at the point of many General Staff officers taking part in the 20th of July 1944 assassination plot against Hitler. The result was the relegation of the General Staff to a secondary role during the war[2].

The fourth has two dimensions: one, that a non-democratic system cannot spark a system like the General Staff nor to spark militaries having flexibility, responsiveness, adaptability and initiative; that more liberal and democratic regimes are the perfect ground for this. Second, the idea of Prussia and the Imperial Germany being authoritarian societies with little political participation to the citizens.

A first observation on the myth’s first dimension: the Prussian General Staff was in fact part of the needed military and political reforms Prussia needed in the early 19th century, rooted also in liberal and reformistic ideas incarnated by von Scharnhorst and his principles on education, merit, autonomy and impartiality, as Görlitz (1985), Gunther (2012), Klein (2001) and Schoy (n.d.) clearly pointed out. Also, by the times of Friedrich II Der Große and afterwards, a proto-General Staff emerged that laid the foundations of meritocracy, independent command and freedom on action, even though they were more the product of operational needs during the 7 Years War, according to Görlitz (1985), Klein (2001) and Millotat (1992).

Furthermore, the German Army that emerged after WWI and in the early years of the Nazi regime had as core principles flexibility, responsiveness, responsibility, adaptability and initiative. Even despite of the characteristics of the same German society. As Condell & Zabecki (2009) point out, whereas the German Society is based upon acceptation of authority, social rigidness and bureaucratism along and the clear verticality of the political system prior WWII, the Wehrmacht was based upon Auftragstaktik, freedom of movement and initiative. Moreover, the commander was tasked with communicating clearly the orders or intentions and even to clarify them to the subordinated officers did not understood them; the subordinated commander was allowed to request such clarification. And even the chain of command was that smooth that diminished the barriers between ranks and prompting the officers to “live with and share the same experience of the troops” (pp. 19-27).

Interestingly, even the Allies ended in mirroring and incorporating many German operational principles into their own so to defeat the Wehrmacht, with the Americans showing particular interest and basing their operational principles in the early Cold War upon those of the Wehrmacht (Corum, 2009, p.10 and p. 13; Condell & Zabecki, 2009, pp. 35-36).

The conclusion here is that a system and an army with the abovementioned principles and characteristics can emerge regardless of the type of political regime, and even that a liberal/democratic regime are not necessarily a requisite for those principles and characteristics.

Now we can analyse the second dimension of the fourth myth, of Prussia and the Imperial Army being authoritarian and allowing little to none political participation to the citizens, so to test the perception of their “undemocratic” nature and considering it was under these two political systems the General Staff emerged and evolved. If looking at Prussia and the Imperial Germany from a current point of view, the indeed might appear entirely “undemocratic”. However, the reign and reforms introduced by Friedrich II Der Große were rather liberal as his mindset was “Liberal” considering the trend of absolute monarchies then, and thanks to the influence of Enlightenment, Illustration and of Voltaire in Alte Fritz, as Schmitz (2012) points out[3].

Also, the socio-economic and political reforms – and their already mentioned impact in the military sphere – during the Napoleonic Wars led to gradual but increasing liberalization of the Prussian society, with relatively widespread education, liberalization of peasants and the emergence of important industries – whose role would be crucial in the future – taking place. Of course, these reforms were scaled-down after the defeat of France, but their pace was irreversible in Prussia, as Bömelburg (2012) remarks. With the event of 1848 more advances took place, with a Constitution and a Parliament – the Preußischer Landtag – emerging and based upon a “3 class-system”, despite the brief length of such events, following Barth (2012a) and Barth (2012b)[4]. In fact, even one of the main philosophers of liberalism stated that Prussia was an ideal model for English politics, according to Clark (as cited in Barth & Schmitz, 2012, p. 126).

After the Prussian victory of 1971 and the emergence of the Empire, the previous reforms further consolidated along Liberalism, being strong in the Western provinces (Rheinland, Baden and Württemberg) thanks to the influence of the French Revolution ideals and as trade was their main economic activity. Prussia and Bayern remained strongly conservative, with the Junkers being the most influential actor within Prussia and with the peasant, small bourgeoisie and city inhabitants being liberal, according to Guillen (1973). A new Constitution emerged as well, which incorporated many of the previous reforms and allowing the provinces a wide margin of autonomy, with Bayern and other even allowed to keep their own armies and Defence Ministries and their own bi-cameral Parliaments. The Landtag became a representative organ for the provinces with elections by voting upon the abovementioned three-class system, with participation being limited (Guillen, 1973).

A national representative Parliaments emerged in the shape of the Reichstag and Bundestag, consolidating the emergence and role of political parties, being a key in counterbalancing the power of the Kanzler[5]. The Reichstag indeed controlled the actions of the government, legislating to vote the laws and blocking those proposing by the Kanzler, forcing von Bismarck to seek ad hoc coalitions or even to threaten its dissolution[6]. Even von Bismarck, despite his despise for a Parliamentary regime and the emerging democratic political dynamics, introduced universal vote yet for limiting the autonomies of provinces (Guillen, 1973).

The same emergence of political parties further evidences the quite democratic and free nature of German Imperial Politics. As Guillen (1973) points out, the Reichstag enabled their role despite their initial inability to make use of mass political participation and other issues that limited their impact. This resulted in little participation and prevalence of interest groups. In any case, political parties were crucial in allowing or denying the Kanzler to advance on his policies through support or opposition, with the latter being common[7]. Participation increased, however, thanks to the increasing social issues and demographics, increasing political mobilization and participation and making politics more dynamic, at the point of many sectors calling for a British-style Parliamentary-Monarchy. This led to clashes prior and during WWI that sparked timid reforms and promises for additional ones after the war. In addition, the Kanzler and even the Kaiser had to wage political campaigns to secure seats for their parties of preference at the Parliaments. And the same Kaiser Wilhem II had an initial liberal orientation, aiming at a ‘popular monarchy’ despite a return to conservatism, following Guillen (1973).

Indeed, the people was not the main sovereign as it is nowadays, nor the Imperial German politics were a Parliamentary-Monarchy strictly speaking with the Kaiser often having the last say, yet it was very far from the very authoritarian and absolutist state it is usually depicted.

And clearly this dynamic and participative political system affected the military more than once, rebuking also the ideas of Militarism being the strong political force and orientation in Prussia and the Imperial Germany. The military budget was one of the main sources of tensions between the Kanzler and the Legislative and representative bodies, which repealed many times any military reforms or increase of credits for the military. This was the case in 1863 with the Liberals rejecting a proposed military reform and budget by the King and then Kaiser Wilhem I, and in 1906 with a similar event with a proposed increase of the budget to support military operations in Southwest Africa and a proposed military law by Kanzler Caprivi. Approvals were quite occasional, like that of the proposal to reinforce the army and the navy in 1907, following Barth (2012b) and Guillen (1973).

With the myths and misconceptions being addressed, it is now time to talk about the disadvantages and advantages of the (Prussian-German) General Staff system.

 

The shortcomings of a system

The General Staff system has a registered good performance, with countries that adopted or introduced this system faring well in conflict, chief among them Israel, or giving a good fight despite facing the odds, like Germany in WII. But this system is far from perfect, having faults and defects that hampered its performance and that of the armed forces. These issues were of inherent nature or due to external factors.

The first issue consisted on the everlasting problematic relation between the General Staff – and the military – with the political sphere in the shape of the strong intervention in politics during the Imperial Era, specially under von Moltke the Young and von Schlieffen, as it intervened heavily in the decision-making and framing of foreign policies (Epkenhans, 2010; Klein, 2001; Millotat, 1992). Israel faced a similar problem prior and during the Yom Kippur War[8].

The second issue, very related with the previous ones, was the lack of political and military clarity under von Moltke the Young and von Schlieffen, with serious consequences for the Imperial Germany and worsened by the strained relations between Kaiser Wilhelm II and the Chiefs of General Staff. The same Kaiser lacked strategic and political clarity at the point of being ignored and replaced by Hindenburg and Ludendorff, as Epkenhans (2010).

The third issue, operational in nature, is the limitations and problems caused by Auftragstaktik, with issues taking place during the War with Austria and the Franco-Prussian War as many units executed wrongly manoeuvres that resulted in heavy casualties and even jeopardizing the outcome of the whole campaign, following Kennedy (2005) and Gunther (2012).

The fourth issue affected the debriefing and feedback principle due to external factors. For instance, as wave of overconfidence, stagnation and arrogance became a trend after 1971, with exercises and manoeuvres being more a biased way to validate preconceived ideas on plans and the army’s capacity. Strategic, political and diplomatic aspects were also set aside (Herwig, 1998). Israel faced this problem too, as an accurate political evaluation on Syria and Egypt was absent and intelligence information was fitted to preconceived ideas on the adversary by the Israeli top brass, with arrogance, stagnation and overconfidence emerging too (Herzog, 2003; Herzog, 2006; Murray, 2009).

The fifth issue is the risk of the officer – usually a high rank or the same Chief of General Staff – concentrated more on ‘doing politics’ or in pleasing political figures and leaders and other high ranks to advance his career, instead of – and at the expense of – fulfilling his duty of preparing and fitting the armed forces for having a good level of preparedness and capacities. This is the danger of the ‘courtesan officer’ that compromises the efficiency of the General Staff the same Armed Forces alike and of military-civil relations. Autonomy and initiative of field officers, detection and correction of operational – and other – issues, and the definition of strategic consideration being hampered too[9].

A sixth issue – related to the first one – is the concentration of the military and the General Staff on dictating politics instead of being aware of domestic and potential adversaries’ political developments, as it was the case prior and during WWI with the military basically running the German Empire (Epkenhans, 2010; Klein, 2001; Millotat, 1992). This prevents the military of performing well given its intervention in a foreign field and its usual mismanagement that compromises strategic aspects.

A seventh issue, of more contemporary nature and rooted in some concerns (especially within the Bundeswehr), is the possibility of the advising officer or the field officer undermining the authority of the commander, and of meritocracy being negative to the officers’ corps (Millotat, 1992; Schoy, n.d.). This situation can take place despite the General System being designed to orientate officers at assessing and being capable of taking decision on their own if needed, increasing also the effects of the fifth issue and with inner rivalries or something similar emerging.

And eight issue is the tendency to focus on the tactical aspect at the expense of the strategic aspect – even despite the fact of strategic aspect considered as crucial – and the emergence of operational issues in consequence. This was a problem the German Army had during WWI, but the Wehrmacht suffered especially from this, as preparation of air and land assets had a more tactical nature with strategic considerations being ignored, leading to defeat. As Condell & Zabecki (2009) pointed out, the Truppenführung – the field manual of the Wehrmacht – and operational doctrines developed prior and during WWI were strongly focused on tactical and operational aspects leaving strategic and political aspects behind (pp. 20-23, and p.32). Artillery, combat intelligence and logistics were also dismissed by the German General Staff when framing the Truppenführung, having a heavy toll in operations during WWII, following Condell & Zabecki (2009).

This problem took place in other armies that implemented the General Staff system, being the IDF the most remarkable – and strikingly similar – case: the IDF General Staff and the same IDF were concentrated on air power and armoured warfare while lacking a combined-arms doctrine and infantry and artillery support, as well as infantry-tank co-operation and neglecting infantry weaponry and night warfare[10].

This is one of the most serious issues the General Staff system had, hence being a sort of ‘fabric defect’ of this system, rooted in the mindset of the military that sparked and developed it. This is something every officer and Chief of General Staff shall correct by taking into consideration the political and strategic factors, crucial in any war, and regardless of the preference for operational and tactical aspect – that might be framed by the same strategic and geographical situation.

 

System of advantages

The abovementioned issues clearly evidence that the General Staff system is far from perfect. Yet despite them, the General Staff system was – and still is – a very effective and functional system. of course, and as Kennedy (2004) remarked, it was not mistake-proof. But it was the study by General Staff officers of past issues and their corrections what enable the system to work properly.

This is the first advantage of the General Staff system. The study of the past was of high importance for the Prussian General Staff to learn from the past and apply the lessons mainly by debriefing and feedback, alongside education and study of military history and of past wars and campaigns to encourage reflections on their origins, developments and lessons by such wars and campaigns. Those studies also allowed officers to reflect upon military topics, as weel as by a comparative analysis with reading used as tool for this (Dimarco, 2009; Guderian, 2006; Herwig, 1998; Klein, 2001; Millotat, 1992; Schoy, n.d.). This study of the past is crucial even nowadays, for its provide armies with invaluable lessons form past campaigns and wars to look for lessons in future conflicts, enabling also the officers to have a high analysis capacity thus maximizing their operational performance, thanks also to debriefing and feedback.

The second advantage is advanced planning for the next – potential – conflict in peacetime. It is quite obvious nowadays, but this was an important innovation made by the Prussian General Staff, allowing and enhancing the preparation of armed forces to deal with any potential situation and scenario. This is complemented by the devising of new ways to wage war – in tandem with technological innovations – and by preparation of defensive and offensive/counteroffensive plans, along the study of mobilization and detection of operational and asset issues to address them[11]. Being intertwined with study of past conflicts and campaigns, their lessons were applied to the solution of current issues alongside exercise and manoeuvres.

The third advantage is the focusing on the education and preparation of low and middle ranks (or officers) and the remarkable mixture between theory and practice, and the application of acquired knowledge in practical aspects, maximizing the previous advantages. The results were – and are now – highly skilled and well-prepared officers capable of compensating issues at strategic and leadership levels (Dimarco, 2009; Guderian, 2006; Görlitz, 1985; Gunther, 2012; Kennedy, 2007; Herwig, 1998; Klein, 2001; Millotat, 1992; Schoy, n.d.; Vego, 2012). This is an accurate approach, considering that it is on the soldiers were the efforts of war are being carried, with officers and sub-officers being important as they direct the troops, hence in both lies the key to success and the fulfilment of tactical and even strategic aims. War is decided by soldiers and officers in the field, highlighting the importance of the latter as they can issue the orders and take crucial decisions capable of deciding or altering the course of a battle, of a war and even of history. Hence the importance of their education and preparation.

The fourth advantage is the Auftragstaktik (or general-command) principle, which further increases the preparation and performance of officers thanks to the room for initiative and independence of decision and movement, taking place at unit, army or group of armies levels. General strategic and operational objectives, lack of constraints and a decentralized command and control maximizes the effects of this advantage. The room for interpretation or modification of orders by the officer(s) is also crucial, as he, unlike the superior officer(s), is actually in the field hence having a better judgement and evaluation of the situation[12]. Flexibility, absorption of risk and failure, and the commanding officer assuming responsibility increased the benefits of this advantage too (Görlitz, 1985; Gunther, 2012; Kennedy, 2007; Klein, 2001; Millotat, 1992; Schoy, n.d).

In addition, interoperability and interdependence between units is considered as such is crucial for fulfilling general objectives as units are required to support each other, as well as different arms, hence being combined-arms tactics central. This increases the firepower and operational optimal performance when in operations, in conjunction with the other principles of Auftragstaktik. (Guderian, 2007; Jackson, 2012; Kennedy, 2007; Klein, 2001; Millotat, 1992; Murray & Millet, 2005).

The fifth advantage is the importance given to meritocracy, aimed at ensuring high-quality and good preparation of officers, and to improve leadership and compensating also the abovementioned issues, and to ensure a top-quality advice to field commanders, benefiting the armed forces in general. This also work in tandem with education and the study of the past, enhanced by removal of dogmas or ideological/political preconceptions, doctrines and ideas to allow an officer to have an independent, receptive, flexible, realist, practical and responsive mindset; all crucial to deal with the unpredictable nature of war (Dimarco, 2009; Görlitz, 1985; Millotat, 1992; Schoy, n.d.).

The sixth advantage is the implementation of manoeuvres and exercises, as the allow testing and enhancement of plans and assets, tactics and doctrines, and to find and solve issues alongside debriefing and study of the past (Guderian, 2007; Herwig, 1998; Jackson, 2012; Klein, 2001; Murray & Milet, 2005; Schoy, n.d.). These tools are also useful for training both troops and officers given their value for learning and provision of near-combat training.

The seventh advantage, close to the previous one, is the implementation of wargaming for similar purposes (Bergamino & Palitta, 2015; Klein, 2001; Millotat, 1992; Murray & Millet, 2005; Schoy, n.d.; Vego, 2012). Though not precisely introduced by the Prussian General Staff, it was an important element within that system, contributing to education and preparation of officers, as Vego (2012) remarked.

The eight advantage is the emphasis placed on technology. Nowadays it is normal and taken for granted, but it was the Prussian General Staff system what maximized the combination of technology with military aspects, grasping its benefits. It was von Moltke the Elder and von Schlieffen who introduced the consideration of technological advances and innovations into operational, tactical and strategic considerations (Bergamino & Palitta, 2015; Chant, 1999; GlobalSecurity, 2011; Görlitz, 1985; Gunther, 2012; Guderian, 2007; Herwig, 1998; Jackson, 2012; Kennedy, 2007; Klein, 2001; Herwig, 1998; Millotat, 1992). This advantage allows any army to have cutting-edge assets and capabilities, operationalizing technology and incorporating into command and control and assets, contributing to preparedness. This is very important as technological advances are faster, introducing new elements and dimensions and hence new threats and challenges.

The ninth advantage is a sum of the previous ones, in the shape of the series of innovations introduced in technological, operational and tactical aspects, being the Panzerdivisionen and the same Blitzkrieg the inevitable examples, since they were the result of studies of the past war – WWI – and the absorption of innovations introduced by the allies then, alongside exercise and manoeuvres to test and improve the new techniques (Bergamino & Palitta, 2015; Cau, 2011; Chant, 1999; GlobalSecurity, 2011; Görlitz, 1985; Guderian, 2007; Gunther, 2012; Herwig, 1998; Jackson, 2012; Kennedy, 2007; Klein, 2001; Millotat, 1992; Murray & Millet, 2005). The General Staff system allows any armed force to grasp the benefits and possibilities brought by technological developments and innovations and to devise new operational techniques, doctrines and strategies; this is valid also for the detection of innovations and developments introduced by past or potential future adversaries.

The tenth advantage, a derivate from the Auftragstaktik principle, is the smooth chain of command thanks to the wide degree of initiative and direct communication between commanders and subordinated commanders and officers, facilitating transmission of orders. It also enhances relations and performance of the chain of command overall from the top to the bottom and vice-versa, enabling the field commander/officer to prepare and execute plans independently while making use of responsiveness and high capacity for reaction. It allows him to detect and take advantage of opportunities when possible (Görlitz, 1985; Gunther, 2012; Herwig, 1998; Kennedy, 2007; Klein, 2001; Millotat, 1992; Murray & Millet, 2005; Rommel, 2006).

The eleventh advantage is also a very crucial one as it involves politics. The General Staff required – and still does – the officer to have awareness of political developments at home and abroad to grasp the influence of politics in the shape and objectives of his own armed forces and those of the potential adversaries, allowing also evaluation of their performance and characteristics prior and during a war. This is also helpful to grasp strategic and national objectives his own nation and other might have and how they might model their armed forces in accordance[13]. The requirement for having awareness of socio-economic, cultural and other factors is also largely beneficial (Clausewitz, 1999; Dimarco, 2009; Herwig, 1998; Millotat, 1992, Schoy, n.d.).

And the last, twelfth advantage is the value and operational principles laid by the Prussian General Staff, made evident already at this point and that framed the mindset and guidelines of officers, complementing the formation for operational purposes with value-based orientation and formation. The effects are the good performance and contribution by officers to the war waged by their countries with their integrity and ethics being framed and applied. These principles by the General Staff should be the north for every officer in any armed forces.

With the debunking of many myths surrounding the armed forces, the Prussian General Staff and the Prussian-German armed forces and its the advantages and disadvantages being discussed, the benefits the General System has for current armed forces is made evident on a general sense. The next part will discuss the role and benefits a General Staff system could have for armed forces facing reforms and reduced defence budgets. It will also discuss the role the General Staff might have in the light of the current types of conflicts and wars.

 

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Footnotes

[1] Of course there are armed forces where this is not the case, but I think it depends more on the (military) culture framing said armed forces.

[2] Cfr: Condell & Zabecki, 2009; Guderian, 2007; Jackson, 2012; Klein, 2001; Millotat, 1992; Murray & Millet, 2005.

[3] Nevertheless, the system of rule under Alte Fritz was less dependent on rank and function and more on the proximity to the sovereign, as Schmitz (2012), remarks.

[4] Similar representative bodies emerged also in other German States.

[5] The Kanzler, in turn, was chosen by the Kaiser hence being subordinated to him, exposing inly the intended political courses to the Reichstag, as Guillen (1973) remarks.

[6] As Guillen (1973) pointed out, the Bundestag was its equal, capable of blocking laws approved in the Reichstag, approve taxes and other economic and trade affairs, and influence on foreign affairs, as well as to be able of dissolving the Reichstag.

[7] This generalized opposition but also some temporal support, mainly by parties of the Left and the Liberals before and after the Unification, are made evident by both Barth (2012b) and Guillen (1973).

[8] See: Herzog (2003), Herzog (2006), and Murray (2009).

[9] See: Schoy (n.d) and the Part 2b of this study. In addition, this problem is related with the other side of the coin, which is the sovereign having a very negative impact a policymaker could have in the military sphere, at the point of either hampering its performance or preventing it to meet any set strategic and national objectives. All due to mere political reasons at the expense of strategic objectives. Cfr: Part 2b.

[10] See: Herzog, 2003; Herzog, 2005; and Murray, 2009. This problem might be also by the focus of the Prussian-German Army on deciding a conflict on a fast manner, following Condell & Zabecki (2009).

[11] See: Bergamino & Palitta, 2015; Cau, 2011; Chant, 1999; GlobalSecurity, 2011; Görlitz, 1985; Guderian, 2007; Gunther, 2012; Herwig, 1998; Jackson, 2012; Kennedy, 2007; Klein, 2001; Murray & Millet, 2005; Schoy, n.d.

[12] Orders, in turn, have to be brief and direct so to allow agility and to facilitate relations between the high and field commanders and officers.

[13] This also requires a deep study of the political mindset or ideologies framing the politics and strategic objectives of a given country.

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Midway: When the Airplane Sunk an Empire (Part IV)

Image: ‘U.S. Navy ships sail in formation during a live-fire gunnery exercise‘. by Official U.S. Navy Page. Released under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) License.

Analysis and Conclusions

 

The Empire of the Falling Sun and the Rise of the Eagle

The waves settle down beneath a blue sky and the warmth sun of the Pacific. The waters that were the scenario of a very intense and violent action, are returning to their previous calm state once the battle is over. Yet the seas were the only thing able to return to its previous state; Japan and the United States were very different once the battle was over.

For instance, when the battle started, Japan was the undisputed owner of the Pacific; as the battle ended, the bulk and best of the Japanese aircraft carrier fleet went beneath the waves, decimated. With them the aims of Japan and its quest for defeating the US Navy were shattered beyond point. Also, and as the aircraft carriers were the main assets for the encounter, being used in large scale and with no other warship taking direct part, the battle was historic.

The outcome of the Battle of Midway was unmistakably decisive for the War in the Pacific, not to say for the fate of the belligerent countries. At first, it changed the tide in the favour of the United States, giving it almost entirely the initiative afterwards, benefited by it industrial and economic weight. Yet Japan was far from absolute defeat, and more battles and campaigns – like Guadalcanal and the Gulf of Leyte, to name a few – would be necessary to defeat them and destroy their Navy. As Dahms (1963) Murray and Millet (2005) pointed out, Japan was still having a very good fleet with good quality traits, such as the very skilled artillerymen skilled enough for night-time combat and armed with good guns (as the Battle of Guadalcanal would make evident). And it still decided to carry on with the operations to seize some islands in Melanesia. Nonetheless, Japan was on total decline after the battle.

This decline was due to the heavy losses suffered by Japan, which were hard to replace as the economic and industrial might of Japan were very weak. But there was another factor that accelerated such decline and hampered Japan’s performance (for the rest of the war). Indeed, Japan proved to be a hard enemy to defeat, but as Canales & del Rey (2016) and Murray & Millet (2005) explained, the Imperial Navy kept the outcome of the battle from the Army, worsening the clash between both branches, and also lost its aggressiveness and initiative, relegated to a mere defensive strategy. This despite having 4 aircraft carriers, numerous island and naval bases at its disposal, and the chance to replace the losses (yet at a lengthy and costly process, worsened by the extension of the war in time).

As it became a mere defensive weapon, the Japanese yielded the initiative almost entirely to the US Navy and put itself under the mercy of a determined and advancing US Navy, thus weakening and defeating itself. The US Navy, on the contrary, was about to receive new and better naval aviation and aircraft carriers, acquiring the needed tools to push the Japanese back regardless of costs and time… as time was clearly in favour of America.

Being a mere defensive tool meant that the Japanese Navy contributed in consolidating the initiative the US Navy acquired, and also ended in placing itself under the crosshairs of the advancing US Navy under a long and painful self-weakening dynamic. A US Navy that was about to receive more advanced fighters, torpedo-bombers and bombers, alongside new and state of the art aircraft carriers that would enable it to push the Japanese back, no matter the costs and no matter the time – and time was definitely in favour of the Americans.

Worse enough, the defeat at Midway only worsened the serious issues within the Imperial Navy and the Armed forces in general. First, the rows between the aircraft carrier school and the battleship school, with the latter prevailing and making the Navy to look for a decisive encounter with battleships, so to repeat the deed of Tsushima, even for a good time after Midway, as Gibelli (1972), Kennedy (2007) and Thomas (2007) remarks. This, of course, is one of the most basic strategic mistakes Japan made: to repeat the same strategy and formulas of past conflicts – which normally are different in context and nature. This is but one of many strategic mistakes of Japan, which will be reviewed below.

Lessons from the high-seas

Every battle provides two series of lessons. First, lessons related to international affairs and geopolitics, considering that battles are not only part of a conflict but – like wars – a result of years of tensions and competition between two or more powers over a given geographical area, with such tensions and competitions having a crescendo when colliding at any point. Even if that point is located in the middle of nowhere. Second, lessons of military nature: this means, strategic, tactical and operational lessons, being all intertwined.

War is politics by other means…

This is one of the main statements by Clausewitz about war, very crucial to understand the factor behind a war and a battle[1]. As such, the place where politics by other means can take place might be at that same given point in the middle of nowhere, with an apparent lack of strategic value – having in fact a lot, as it was reviewed. Battles have a tendency to take place in locations of some value for either side or both, even if those locations are not located at places that could be considered valuable – like a crossroad, a pass, or a geographical area and accident. Actually, areas of strategic interest for naval purposes can be islands or straits far from inhabited areas and from the shore, increased only if located near important SLOCs. In fact, trade and economic interests can add value to such position; even more, interests elsewhere could make that given point even more important, moreover if it is vital to protect those far interests. This was the case with Southeast Asia, Pearl Harbour and the same Midway for Japan and the US. For the former, to protect the conquered territories of Indochina and Indonesia and their valuable oil and other resources. For the latter, to support its advance to the Philippines and to protect both the Hawaii Island and the continental territory. Midway was simply a valuable platform for supporting national interests and projecting power either east or west[2].

This importance was correctly assessed by both sides simply because of its location in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, hence making vital its control or neutralization. Since the US controlled it, it was pivotal for US naval (power) projection into the Philippines and to protect its territories.

Given the important geographical location of Midway, the second lesson is that geography and geopolitics are important, even more during battles. Moreover, when considered in group alongside previous and current political development and a large historical background, one can understand the strategic and national objectives and interests as they can be framed by the aforementioned factors[3]. This is when war becomes politics by other means, as it becomes necessary to meet them and/or assert them vis-à-vis the adversary.

This holds even more true when two or more competing nations have overlapping interests right over the same area[4]. Therefore, competition will inevitably follow, even reaching an open conflict; prior the conflict and during the “peaceful” stages of competition, competing powers would be placing their military assets at locations crucial for asserting and protecting their interests, and to project thus their power towards the area of interest[5]. Those assets would be ready to defend those areas when conflict sparks, with battles normally deciding who controls what and who can’t. Like the Battle of Coral Sea.

Since competition is inevitable, the period prior Midway showed that diplomacy and rapprochements might not help in preventing the inevitable, as rivalling powers will see each other with concern and suspicion, even preparing for conflict during rapprochement and diplomatic efforts. As they assessed the other as a threatening competitor, they will be preparing the war – and plans – against the other, even if at a point both sides are allies for a period of time. Moreover, diplomatic bargains and agreements can be counterproductive, as concessions by one side can further stimulate the ambitions of the other, as it could see them as a blank check to advance further on its interests. The deals between Japan and the US are the example here. And such bargains can only give one side more time to prepare for war.

In the same way, measures aimed at curbing the interests – and advances towards – of one side could further stimulate its assertiveness and aggressiveness instead of halting it, as that said might see it as a blockade against it thus being encouraged to be more aggressive. This is very likely when concessions took place previously, or if that said power is forced to give up on its gains, being resentful at the point of being alienated. If there are pressing economic concerns worsened by sanctions and blockades, odds for open conflict – strategically questionable or not – will be very high.

At sea is not a chess but a game of Go…

As it was stated in the partIIIa, strategy is very similar to the ancient Chinese game of Go, where the aim is to surround the enemy by occupying the most number of tiles. On naval warfare this is the main principle driving its action, be peacetime or wartime. It might sound simple, but this is far from reality. Indeed, land warfare also requires the control of important strategic locations, but encounters are more like a chess; naval encounters might have this chess-alike nature, but battles tend to have more the essence of Go behind. The common underlying element is that warfare at any dimension are still rules by the general principles of strategy.

Naval warfare requires a good level of preparedness and responsiveness, simply because the commander of naval forces must be aware of threats above the sea, on the sea and under the sea; it is also subjected to the fog of war, which has a larger extension thus making harder for him to detect the enemy fleet while avoiding detection at the same time, and despite the current technology. As such, naval warfare is not only a set of Go, but also a game of cat and mouse where both are more like ghosts looking for each other.

In the light of this, Midway provides a good number of lessons of strategic and military/naval nature. Lessons that could be useful even in the light of high technology and powerful naval weaponry.

The first one is the abovementioned desire of the old battleship school to wage the tactics and strategy of a past war. Not only because it is a repetition of the same formula that will work only once, but also because of the big technological difference between Tsushima and World War II: on the former the battleship, still ruled by most of the traditional naval tactics; on the latter, the aircraft carrier. It is unwise to use the tactics that were useful in a past war. As Musashi (2007) puts, repeating the same technique is wrongful. Another important strategic mistake the Japanese made is the most common and most harmful of all mistakes possible: they underestimated the Americans at the point of thinking they would not be willing and ready to take on their challenge[6]. This was further stimulated by Japan’s overconfidence on its on assets and capacities, and the relative easy victories they achieved for the first six months, which made them think they were invincible. They underestimated their enemy while overestimating themselves.

This mistake prompted, in turn, a third mistake. This was comprised by arrogance, which might benefit the adversary, as it did in the end. As arrogance, overestimation and overconfidence usually do, the Japanese thought that further military victories and conquests were possible. This not only led to an overstretching of the very scarce resource of Japan, worsened by the fact that the war was becoming lengthy against their best hopes. This attitude also resulted in giving the Americans the chance to understand and know better the Japanese, and to realise their strong and weak points, thus adapting themselves to be able to defeat them. Midway was the result of such process of ‘understanding the adversary’. And this is a rule in every conflict. Arrogance is the worst enemy of every army, and warfare is about understanding the enemy while being adaptable[7].

But there are more strategic mistakes made by the Japanese. For instance, be by bad luck, wrong evaluation or both, it failed in destroying the warships that ultimately allowed the US to put in practice its pre-war plans and exert a flexible and mobile initiative and offensive, let alone to set in motion its overall strategy. As the aircraft carriers were left untouched, the US kept the assets enough to strike back despite inferiority, with the Tokyo Raid being an example. When attacking, the objective must be accomplished at its fullest[8]. Also, despite a recognition to the dire situation and no alternatives for Japan, a surprising and pre-emptive strike could be a self-defeating move, even more if the enemy is not evaluated correctly. As Japan attacked Pearl Harbour, it filled the US with determination enough to make use of its industrial and economic power; this might be the additional consequence of unprovoked pre-emptive strikes, as they can simply give the targeted nation to be fully determined in defeating the aggressor. Any force must consider carefully who attacks, and where is about to hit.

There were two additional mistakes by the Japanese. First, the division of forces weakened the strength of the attack. Second, the operation lacked adequate preparations and, as it will be reminded below, there were serious issues with the chain of command. In any case, the chain of mistakes of strategic and operational nature compromised the very scarce but valuable naval assets of Japan. As such, it is important to remind that, given the importance warships have for the strategic objectives, power projection and prestige of a naval power, naval operations require a very careful planning so not to lose these same high valuable assets that are quite hard to repair, unless having enough industry to cover the losses at a good rate. In any case, the loss of warships is also a serious issue, as they are useful for harming the adversary strategically by controlling areas of the sea and denying the adversary to control them, or even access them, at the point of hampering its same economic interests and stability as a nation[9]. In the light of this, the aim of Japan of destroying the US Navy in a single encounter by ambushing the bulk of its diminished fleet was in strategic terms, very accurate. It was the strategic and operational mistakes what doomed the plan.

But additional factors other than strategic also contributed to the outcome of the Battle of Midway, providing also a wide array of lessons.

As a matter of fact, the composition of forces and assets of both sides were equal at a first glance, since Japan and the US were having aircraft carriers, naval aviation – fighters, bombers and torpedo bombers embarked in the aircraft carriers – and their respective intelligence services, which were very capable and skilled with good preparation and training. But a closer look reveals the how the crucial differences between the two adversaries played a role in the battle, and in the end, in the war.

For instance, the strategic and material superiority of the Japanese Imperial Navy and the very dire and inferior situation of the US Navy was deceitful. As such, an adversary with superiority in numbers and with a good strategic situation facing a weakened adversary does not have its victory granted.

Here is where the first difference takes place. This is the aircraft carrier and its air power. As it was reviewed in part IIIa, both sides committed at developing the aircraft carriers in technical and operational aspects, at the point of having the most operationally efficient and capable warships of this time, capable of carrying a large number of airplanes and anti-air defences. Even their designs were very similar, which enhanced flight deck operations and allowed to concentrate the electronic equipment in a single area. Also, both sides developed and designed the airplanes purposed to be operated in the vessels, with well-designed, sturdy, capable and well-armed airplanes. In other words, assets matters; but even more, technology matters. Simply because good assets can make the difference when facing the adversary in battle.

The keywords for this acquisition of good assets are “right policies”. Such policies are the main requirement and the crucial element behind the creation of assets needed to meet and/or asserting national interests (defence and deterrence included), let alone to allow a nation to fight a war. Assets are also crucial for the conflict that would be foreseen by the strategists of each nation, as it was the case with Japan and the US, for both clearly assessed that war with other was inevitable at a certain point. Given how crucial is the preparation of assets prior a conflict, it is also important to implement any military build-up very carefully, as the most minimum fault might have very serious consequences for the fate of a nation. here is where the second difference lies. And it is here also where Japan was filled with several fault-lines that resulted in its defeat at Midway, and in the end, costing it the war.

As it was remarked, the Japanese focused on having very high-quality aircraft carriers and other naval (air) assets, which can be a very good input for operations. The problem is that elite-based forces and assets are also very hard and costly to replace, even more when those are the set of initial forces. In addition, they are especially vulnerable to exhaustion and attrition, with losses forcing the quality of the armed forces and fleet to be sacrificed for quantity. This negative effect is further worsened if the bulk of the armed forces is based upon elite forces, moreover if the abovementioned lack of financial and industrial solid basis is present. This was the first fault-line that costed japan the battle of Midway[10].

If the material resources available are very scarce, making difficult the replacement of losses, such difficulty will worsen if there are strong competition and rivalries within the armed forces as it was the case between the Japanese Imperial Navy and the Army. Political aspects were also present, especially the bitter clashes between the civil government and the armed forces. All of the previous factors, when combined, constitute the second fault-line: the resulted in a lack of cooperation between the Imperial Navy and the Army and a lack of cooperation between the government and the armed forces, and also in a lack of overall unified (strategic) criteria. The Japanese attack against Midway had their forces divided; in reality, there was a strong and self-defeating division within Japan that weakened the force of its offensive and the force and solidness of its armies and fleets. They were defeating themselves long before the battle. A similar situation can defeat any nation beyond any repair.

The third fault-line within Japan, which also nearly neutralized any advantage Japan had thanks to the initial superior quality of its assets, was the abovementioned prevalence of the ‘Old Battleship School’. In a more general sense, any current within the armed forces in favour of an outdated and strategically irrelevant assets, will result in hampering the technological development by denying their own armed forces of assets and weaponry that could bestow a better firepower or a certain advantage vis-à-vis any adversary. This could also result in ignoring other types of weapons that can be useful for securing the country in wartime or allowing the armed forces to effectively threaten the enemy; Japan ignored anything related to submarine and anti-submarine warfare, increasing the vulnerability of its sea-borne supply lines as the US submarines were free to strangle Japan by attacking the commercial ships. Submarines were also used as mere scout during the battle.

This is a sharp contrast with the case of the US Navy, as it implemented more efficiently the policies oriented at creating the needed assets (and the needed quality), alongside the devising of the needed tactics and operational aspects of both aircraft carriers and naval aviation, and the appointment of skilled officers – familiar with that type of assets – as commanders. Innovations that enhanced capacities of both warships and warplanes were the product of exercises and drills, which effectively complemented the abovementioned measures. More importantly, the Navy’s own flexible and independent structure, the attention given to AA defences on the ships, and the available resources enabled the US to create a good quality Navy in basically every aspect. This quality would make itself evident during the Battle of Midway. And basically, for the rest of the war.

Strategically speaking, the US did something that now we can evaluate as pertinent, if not entirely correct, and this is to take initiative. Despite facing adversity and having numerical or material inferiority, not to mention that strategically speaking, it was a compromised situation, the US Navy decided to have some aggressiveness and initiative right immediately after Pearl Harbour, from the Tokyo Raid that had a very strong psychological impact[11], and the limited but fiery offensives at basically all the fronts in the Pacific. This initiative also helped the Americans in gaining valuable experience and learning more their adversary, identifying the Japanese strengths and weaknesses and thus devising both the weaponry and tactics to deal with them. Initiative is to be maintained always, even when facing the odds. The Americans knew their enemy by experience. This accumulated experience, as a result, prepared the US Navy for the battle to come. In relation to this, and as it was abovementioned, the wrongful Japanese against Pearl Harbour awoke the “sleeping dragon” the US was, then using all its available resources to wage war against Japan, enhancing its forces and their performance upon the abovementioned accumulated experiences. In contrast, the Japanese were subjected to exhaustion, attrition and losses[12]. The Americans were able to turn defeat into victory by adapting and maintaining initiative, being able to overcome themselves in the process[13].

The US Naval intelligence proved to be much better than that of Japan, acknowledging that both were of good quality. Sun Tzu once stated that war is basically based upon deception[14]. As such, it is in the intelligence services where the capacity to set the deception or to detect it lies. This is the main reason why they are a very important element within any armed forces, as well as the fact they can penetrate deeper into the fog of war. Or more practically – and related to the Battle of Midway – it can break through the codes of the enemy, deciphering them and then capable of detecting its intentions[15]. In addition, a good intelligence service can be a very helpful tool for a commander to gather, process and evaluate the information correctly and efficiently – as it was the case with Admiral Nimitz – so to devise good strategies and plans for the battle. Hence, a good intelligence service is simply a must. On this way, it is also imperative to protect the own information – not to say the codes for such information – so to prevent the enemy to know one’s intentions. And a good intelligence service could dismantle the adversary’s own deception by setting a counter-deception, at the point of making it to make mistakes and to ‘reveal’ itself and its plans. Intelligence is as vital as information is. It is crucial to know the intentions and essence of an enemy[16]. As Musashi (2007) remarks, it is vital to have intuition. This intuition can be in great part thanks to good intelligence services.

As it was made evident, the commanding factor is equally crucial during any battle and war[17]. Mainly due to the fact that good leadership is vital, and even more for naval warfare. Traits such as character, personality, skills, training and formation, alongside flexibility, and capacity for initiative and responsiveness are all vital when a commander must take a decision during a very crucial – and often heated – moment requiring split-seconds decisions. Nimitz and the American subordinates were an example of this. Also, the Americans were able to grasp the possibilities and the aims of the Japanese.

In the same way, shortcomings will become that evident at the point of damaging the operational outcome of forces beyond repair. The Japanese, in fact, were having a large number of shortcomings on the commanding factor. For instance, the Japanese commanders were very strict and stuck to the textbooks, blindly following orders thus lacking flexibility and responsiveness and lacking initiative. Moreover, some of the Japanese commander were not the adequate commanders for the type of operations and assets used. There was also hesitation and lack of decision, as Nagumo lost valuable time when deciding the tack of attacks to execute after the initial bombing of Midway; it was because of this lack of decision that ordnance was stored on deck, being vulnerable to the bombs of the American SBD Dauntless dive-bombers.

If the commanders are full in overconfidence and arrogance, they and their forces will be going to battle blind to the real nature, strengths and capacities of the adversary, clearly underestimating it. This is worsened if there is no concrete information on the enemy, or if the same enemy has set a rouse to further deceive the commander in question, aided by his arrogance and overconfidence. As such, there is a general tendency for evaluating and expecting the enemy to behave in accordance to the ideas, preconceptions and prejudices… or basically to expect for the enemy to behave the way one would like upon oneself logic. This was the greatest mistake of Yamamoto, and a mistake that is a direct way to an important defeat.

Additionally, a good chain of command is important as it transmits and materializes orders and plans efficiently and right time, managing properly the action of subordinates and troops or sailors. As such, a good chain of command giving room to initiative, flexibility, responsiveness, independence and a sort of deliberative attitude can achieve a better operational performance resulting in a good outcome. The US was able to win at Midway thanks to this fact as well. On the contrary, a very authoritarian, inflexible and rigid chain of command that prevents initiative, flexibility, independence, responsiveness and subordinates to do suggestions will lead any force into bad performance and defeat. And a strong reliance on textbooks and preconceived ideas also denies capacity to react to situation out of the textbook of the plans, resulting in mistakes and consolidating the path towards defeat.

…until the time for the encounter arrives

With this said, now there can be a closer approach to the battle itself. First, an important battle can be – most of the times – pre-defined by previous encounters and events, as well as by elements beyond the military ones. The Tokyo Raid is a clear example, as it impressed the Japanese very deeply, at the point of insecurity. That insecurity and other considerations made japan to execute further operations, with Coral Sea and Midway included. The same Coral Sea battle played a role by diminishing the Japanese naval forces, diminishing the imbalance in number of forces and highlighting the US capacity to recover from any loss[18]. And the Japanese offensive against Ceylon delayed the changing of the codes, giving ample time for their deciphering by US Naval intelligence. In addition, Japan failed in neutralizing the most important naval asset of any navy – even then when attacked Pearl Harbour. It was their ‘lost opportunity’[19].

Secondly, and as it was briefly pointed out above, the Battle of Coral Sea gave the US Navy to take the initiative, and also the opportunity to test and hone tactics, being able to ‘measure’ and understand better its adversary. This is the observation here: well-learned lessons and the implementation of those from past encounters and operations can enable one to prepare well the own forces, and to wage with optimal performance a battle.

Third, luck and chance are, inevitably, elements that will be present in any battle[20], with the outcome of any being almost decided by these two factors. They can overcome the most fully prepared plans by any army or navy. As von Moltke once stated: “plans never survive the first encounter with the enemy”, with von Clausewitz remarking that luck is the ultimate element both in war and battle[21]. As such, it was at a good extent a chance and luck that the US Naval intelligence was able to break the Japanese coded due to their slight mistake of not changing them for a while; it was a matter of luck that the US carrier forces were able to detect first the Japanese the same way the Japanese submarines were not able to detect the US aircraft carrier forces as they were delayed in reaching their ordered position. It was also a matter of luck that the American dive-bombers found the air defence system of the Japanese concentrated on other threats, finding their way open, and exhausted by the actions of the previous uncoordinated waves of airplanes. And its was a matter of luck that all the dive-bombers converged almost simultaneously, with luck being the factor that made those airplanes to sink and empire, when a series of bombs happened to strike just were the ordnance was accumulated, sentencing the Japanese aircraft carriers and its aims.

And fourth, battles can be a decisive moment, yet not enough to put a war to an end inmost of the times; more encounters, a large campaign and more battles might be needed for one side to entirely defeat the other side.

At the seas, airpower is king

When thinking about naval warfare, the first thing coming to mind is about warships, facing each other with their guns or even with their missiles, and about submarines chasing each other or even threatening the commercial or military ships of the adversary. This is still true, somehow, but since the wake of the 20th century and both world wars, four new weapons emerged as important, with two of them becoming the capital ship for every important navy: those are the submarine, the missile, the aircraft carrier and the naval aviation. The last three are the ones that changed the shape of naval warfare. As controlling the air space is essential for any country during any war or campaign, having a warship capable of carrying airplanes is important to gain that control over the skies, so to protect the own forces and to defeat effectively the enemy forces, is important[22]. But also having the right airplanes for the task is necessary: planes able to neutralize the enemy air assets, airplanes capable of hitting the heart of the enemy territory, airplanes capable of defending the own naval forces, airplanes capable of hitting the enemy ships and submarines that are far away from the own forces[23].

The battles of Coral Sea, of Midway, of the Gulf of Leyte, the Falkland Wars, the same Battle of the Atlantic, and the series of small conflicts and interventions taking place in the third world after WWII, are all an evidence of the importance the aircraft carrier and naval aviation has regained for naval warfare and for the abovementioned operational objectives. Moreover, the aircraft carrier and the naval aviation are now an essential asset – and tool – for every major navy to assert its interests, project its power and determine the outcome (be military or political, or both) of any situation or crisis taking place somewhere else and that might affect those interests[24]. Also, the primacy of the airplanes shows how a small and comparatively cheap asset can change the course of a conflict or assert/deny the interests of a given nation, in a short period of time and with more room for action and agility in comparison to sea-based assets. And as with Midway, how a few decimated the best of a fleet.

In the light of this, it is clear that naval warfare evolved in both World Wars at the point of becoming the main weapon in relation to sea power, as its capacities allowed any navy to effectively neutralize and/or destroy the naval assets of the adversary, altering or changing the outcome of a conflict. The airplane proved its value and dangerousness as it was able to destroy the bulk of a carrier force in less time than an encounter with warships would have required, as it was the case in Midway. Or the capacity of the airplane to dislodge the ‘choking’ campaign against the shipping lanes by the U-boots, as it happened in the Battle of the Atlantic with the escort carriers and the aviation embarked there. Even more, the naval airplane proved to be capable of changing the fate of a nation, shattering its strategic and national objectives and ambitions or consolidating its hegemony over a disputed territory, let alone the national and strategic interests. Naval warfare has changed for good, with (naval) air power becoming as important as the battleships and guns were once. There is however, one striking similarity: as the old battleships and gunships, the aircraft carriers and their air assets are used as a political tool for intervention and crises. In any case, the introduction of new technologies hints that in the future, the carrier-based airplane will remain crucial in an era where power is airborne and where pilotless and intelligent air assets are gradually becoming mainstream. It is yet to be seen, however, how naval warfare will be changed by those new technologies and developments.

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Footnotes

[1] See: Von Clausewitz, 1999, p. 37, p. 47, and pp. 291 – 309. And: Herwig, 1998, p. 70.

[2] Also, a war elsewhere can bring a given rising power into the area of interest of a local power – like the US-Spanish 1898 War did with the US – that will feel challenged, even more as the new power can see necessary to protect the newly acquired territories closer to the mainland of the local great power. This protection requires military/naval assets, obviously.

[3] As Friedman (2015) puts, Geopolitics basically frames the behaviour and pursuit of national interests by the nations – and their leaders – and other international actors (pp. 30-31). Owens, in turn, points out that Geography constraints or facilitates the foreign policy and strategy of every nation, and the way they assess their (in)security vis-à-vis other states (pp. 59-60).

[4] This competition can take place between a rising and a traditional great power, two rising powers or two traditional powers. And even between a local and an outsider great power.

[5] This lesson is similar to the one reached during the analysis of the Battle of Kadesh… simply because this is a sort of general law when studying the dynamic between great powers and the inevitable tendency for competition and conflict. See: The Battle of Kadesh, part III.

[6] To be fair, the Americans also underestimated the Japanese seriously up until Pearl Harbour, as Murray & Millet (2005) pointed out.

[7] Adaptability is a ‘must have’ attribute for every armed force, air force and navy, according to Murray (2009). Cfr. p. 1. In relation to arrogance, this is listed as one of the worst faults of the commander by Sun Bin (1996).

[8] See: Musashi, 2007, p. 39 and p. 49.

[9] The most prolific examples are the blockade of Germany by the Royal Navy in WWI, the German submarine campaigns in both world wars, and even the American submarine campaign against Japan in WWII. See also footnote 19.

[10] As Sun Bin (1996) puts, trying to compensate the things that are lacking and that an enemy state has in large surplus will harm the own forces. See: p, 143.

[11] Striking fear by a surprise in the hearts and minds of the enemies is an important tactic for Musashi (2007). The Tokyo Raid did basically that.

[12] As Murray & Millet plainly put, Japan simply made a political – and strategic – mistake when attacking US territory. See: p. 261.

[13] Following Musashi (2007), it is imperative to adapt by experience to the enemy, and to overcome and improve oneself, as well as to have always the initiative.

[14] See: Sun Tzu, 2014, p. 37.

[15] The Japanese lack of care with their own codes contributed the US Navy intelligence to break their codes and uncover their plans. And set the famous rouse.

[16] Knowing the enemy and knowing oneself is something that both Musashi (2007) and Sun Tzu (2014) point out as essential for any war or battle.

[17] Following Musashi (2007), the general – or admiral – is like the master-carpenter, managing the forces and how the plans will take place, while the soldiers – or sailors – are those who put into practice the plans (pp. 17-19).

[18] The reparation of the USS Yorktown, which was damaged in the Battle of Coral Sea, in a very short period of time, is a feat and an example of US capacities to recover any sort of loss. Noteworthy to remind that the Japanese actually considered her as sunken.

[19] Cfr. Cau, 2011, p.169; Macdonald, 1993, p. 64; and Canales y del Rey (2016).

[20] See: The Battle of Kadesh, part III.

[21] See: Von Clausewitz, 1999, p. 44.

[22] Cfr. Bergamino & Palitta (2015), Canales y del Rey (2016), Crawford (2001), and Kaplan (2008).

[23] As Ross & Sandison (2008) points out, aircraft carriers – and embarked air assets – have at either peace or wartime 9 tasks: corrective force; preventative force; precautionary force; demonstrative force; disaster relief; ASW; air defence; strategic/tactical reconnaissance and strike; and air-to-ground support (p. 79).

[24] As Kaplan (2008) points out, and in a more general approach, fleets are important instruments for political power, as it is the mean that facilitates the most the projection of national power far from the main territory, even more in combination with the air power – naval or land-based – and exerting political and diplomatic pressure (pp. 78-79). Friedman (2015) also points out that naval power is important for the control of the two main oceans, as well as of the international economic system (p. 23). This allows to understand more the capital importance aircraft carriers have for both naval and national power.

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Sources

 

Bergamino, G. &., Palitta, G. (2015). El Gran Libro de la Guerra. [L’arte della guerra, Herminia Bevia, trans.]. Madrid, Spain: Editorial Tikal (Original work published in 2015).

Canales, C. &., del Rey, M. (2016). De Salamina a las Malvinas. Madrid, Spain: Editorial EDAF.

Cau, P. (2011). Batallas del Mundo. [Battaglie, Maria Pilar Queralt, trans.]. Madrid, Spain: Editorial Tikal (Original work published in 2006).

Crawford, S. (2001). Portaaviones y Acorazados [Battleships and Carriers, José Luis Tamayo, & L. Martín, trans.]. Madrid, Spain: Editorial LIBSA (Original work published in 1999).

Dahms, H. G. (1974). La Segunda Guerra Mundial. [Das Zweiten Weltkrieg, Victor Scholz, trans.]. Barcelona, Spain: Editorial Bruguera (Original work published in 1963).

Friedman, G. (2015). Los Próximos 100 Años. [The Next 100 Years, Enrique Mercado, trans.]. Mexico, D.F.: Editorial Océano (Original work published in 2009).

Gibelli, N. J. (1972). La guerra se aproxima Australia. In La Segunda Guerra Mundial (Vol.4. pp. 97–120). Buenos Aires, Argentina: Editorial Codex.

MacDonald, J. (1993). Grandes Batallas de la II Guerra Mundial (pp. 64 – 71). [Great Battles of World War II, Luis Ogg, trans.]. Barcelona, Spain: Ediciones Folio (Original work published in 1993).

Murray, W. (2009). Military Adaptation in War. Alexandria, Virginia: Institute for Defense Analyses. Retrieved from: http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/dod/ona_murray_adapt_in_war.pdf on 26.06.2017 (IDA Paper P-4453).

Murray, W. & Millet, A. R. (2005). La guerra que había que ganar [A War to be Won, Critica S.L, trans.]. Barcelona, Spain: Critica. (Original work published in 1998).

Mushashi, M. (2007). Artes de Combate Samurai. [Gorin no-sho, Horacio Lasalle Ruano, trans.]. Buenos Aires, Argentina: Editorial Quadrata. (Original work published in c.a. 1645).

Owens, M. T. (Autumn 1999). In Defense of Classical Geopolitics. Naval War College Review, 52(4), 59-76.

Ross, A. T., & Sandison, J. M. (2008). A historical appreciation of the contribution of naval air power. Papers in Australian Maritime Affairs, 26. Retrieved from: http://www.navy.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/PIAMA26.pdf on 29.11.2017

Sun Bin. (2005). El Arte de la Guerra II. Versión y comentarios de Cleary, T. [The Lost Art of War by Sun Tzu II, Alfonso Colodrón, trans.]. Madrid, Spain: Editorial Edaf. (Original work published in 1996 by Cleary, T.).

Sun Tzu. (2014). El Arte de la Guerra. (25 Ed.). Madrid, Spain: Ediciones Martínez Roca.

Thomas, E. (2007). Mar de tormenta. La última gran campaña naval de la historia [Sea of Thunder. Four Commanders and the Last Great Naval Campaign 1941-1945, Critica S.L, trans.]. Barcelona, Spain: Critica. (Original work published in 2006).

Von Clausewitz, C. (1999). De la guerra. [Vom Kriege, A. Díez, trans.]. Barcelona, Spain: Idea Books. (Original work published in 1832).

Defining Neutrality II – Sweden (3a)

 

The case of Sweden (Part III)

When the Cold War ended, a wave of optimism emerged, as peace was thought to would remain almost perpetually, with history supposedly coming to an end as the competition between the two superpowers was over, ending 42 years of constant tensions and threat of large-scale conflict. Sweden adopted this approach rather enthusiastically, having some cautions nevertheless. This period also brought challenges and new dilemmas to neutrality policy, at the point of losing its centrality; a strong defensive approach was no longer necessary hence redefinitions, due to the end of the Soviet Union, new international dynamics and political processes – like the European integration project – and new security threats.

Non-alignment, due to these factors, became the main Swedish foreign and security policy framework, with neutrality remaining only nominally. Interestingly, after the Cold War, Sweden set aside and then retrieved – partially – armed neutrality, mainly due to the comeback of the Russian threat.

This period is indeed very interesting and complex, as Swedish neutrality was defined again and again. To understand how this complexity took place and why it forced such frequent re-definitions, it will be reviewed in three small periods. The first period is between 1991 and 2001, with the post-cold War reforms – based upon the period’s optimism – and the new international dynamics, including the crises at the Balkans and other new security threats, sparked the first reforms to neutrality. The second period spans from 2001 to 2014, with further new security threats – terrorism mainly – and the re-emergence of old threats taking place, thus sparking more re-redefinitions. And the last period spans from 2014 to nowadays, with Sweden concentrating mostly on the re-emerging old threat.

The Post-Cold War: Neutrality after the winds of change (1991-2001)

This period was characterized by the abovementioned post-Cold War approach, and the emergence of new political processes and security threats, with Sweden implementing several foreign policy and military reforms, redefining neutrality thus making it very particular.

It lost its ‘armed’ element, becoming mostly into ‘non-alignment’, product of the reforms. Firstly, Sweden began to focus on domestic affairs as defence was not urgent (Tirpak, 2017). Secondly, engagement with international organizations and institutions was furthered. It joined the North Atlantic Cooperation in 1992, the NATO Partnership for Peace (PfP) in 1994, it took part in two NATO-led operations in the Balkans (IFOR and SFOR), it joined the EU and the Western European Union – as observer – in 1995; all of this took place despite non-alignment being the main policy and mostly because of economic considerations[1]. By the end of the Cold War, defence spending was high – 1.3% of GDP – and then were reduced following the end of the Cold War; new security threats, the spark of inner conflicts near Europe with serious effects should spilling, all required military-civil tools and international cooperation, hence the reforms (Bergman, 2004; Basset, 2012; Gotkowska, 2013; Hetmanchuk, 2012; Lindström, 1997; Pashkov, 2009; Sweden.se, 2014; Swedish Defence Commission, 1999; Westberg, 2013; von Sydow, 1999; Vaahtoranta & Forsberg, 2000).

The Swedish Armed Forces (Försvarsmakten) received new operational missions through reforms. Focusing on interoperability with international organizations, neighbour countries and regional partners, and focusing on reduced size for flexibility and mobility took place. Also, conscription was evaluated while the Home Guard (Hemvärnet) was to be expanded (Bergman, 2004; Swedish Defence Commission, 1999; Vaahtoranta & Forsberg, 2000; von Sydow, 1999). Capacities to provide and receive support in a cooperative solidarity spirit, and interoperability during crisis management operations were given to the Försvarsmakten, becoming also their main framework. They were implemented when deployed in the Balkans, with Sweden contributing to protection of civilians and regional stabilization. Sweden, then, relied on collective security and international law while national defence capacities were reduced (Gotkowska, 2013; Westberg, 2013, von Sydow, 1999).

Nevertheless, Sweden still assessed that some important threats were present. Indeed, despite no large-scale attack was not considered as military power and political differences around were reduced, political instability and potential limited attacks – through cyberwarfare and terrorism – along weapons of mass destruction and airstrikes required Sweden to retain considerable defence capacities. The abovementioned reforms were oriented also on this direction, thus merging civil and military crisis management assets, including civil defence and infrastructure protection (Swedish Defence Commission, 1999; Vaahtoranta & Forsberg, 2000; von Sydow, 1999).

Reforms and joining multilateral instances could be perceived as going against neutrality and non-alignment. Very far from it. For instance, Sweden considered that shared values, respect for international law, diplomacy and multilateralism with the EU were valid to join it. This also allowed Sweden to take part in NATO and EU-led peacekeeping operations, to achieve peace and prevent conflicts with both organizations as a mean, being PfP very ideal given its flexibility and freedom of participation. The EU was also deemed an alternative for security due to its cooperation by consensus and economic collaboration basis, being Sweden’s way to open to Globalization. Also, non-alignment was set as pre-condition for participation in operations abroad, with cooperation going beyond the military and into non-military aspects (Bergman, 2004; Lindström, 1997; von Sydow, 1999; Vaahtoranta & Forsberg, 2000)[2]. This became a turning point in Swedish neutrality[3].

Sweden became more involved with Europe and with its most immediate neighbourhood, with the EU membership being a vehicle for such. The same with UN peacekeeping operations, since like those of NATO and the EU, were a way to prevent conflict, achieve conflict and fulfil its own norms, Human Rights and values-based foreign and security policies. In fact, they became a good complement for non-alignment. Cooperation was central indeed, as Sweden would provide any EU – and Nordic – country victim of an attack or a disaster with assistance, expecting the same from them (Bergman, 2004; Pashkov, 2009; Westberg, 2013)[4]. Relations with the US became as important as relations during the Cold War, becoming more formal. Sweden considered the transatlantic relations crucial, while considering the EU should have valued more US presence – and NATO – in Europe; the same EU was deemed a very weak actor, especially in crisis management (Vaahtoranta & Forsberg, 2000).

The flexibility and adaptability of Swedish neutrality was made evident. It managed to adapt itself and the Försvarsmakten to the EU Common Defence and Security Policy (CDSP). The first re-definition of neutrality in 1992 allowed this, as it stated that neutrality was to be maintained – and ensured as an option – in wartime, avoiding alliances in peacetime. It was also stated that the EU security equalled that of Sweden, enabling it then to address any crisis or conflict in the vicinity. This opened also the door for close defence cooperation with other Nordic states, regardless of their varied security mechanisms, and having political consultations (Basset, 2012; Bergman, 2004; Lindström, 1997; Ugwukah, 2014; Vaahtoranta & Forsberg, 2000). This Nordic-based security cooperation remains, being very important for Sweden.

A similar security cooperation with the Baltics emerged, being equally important for Sweden. For instance, Sweden would intervene if any Nordics or Baltics were attacked. Sweden also co-operated with its neighbours in operations, like the Nordic-based battalion in Bosnia under UN command in 1993, which was the product a Nordic/Baltics-based defence structure idea, with joint battalion deployed mainly for peacekeeping. Baltics troops were also deployed under Swedish command. In addition, efforts with Finland to enhance the EU conflict management capabilities took place alongside strong bilateral cooperation in security[5]. Contacts with NATO and Russia took place as well[6]. And PfP became a tool for the Nordic/Baltics-based defence cooperation and by taking part in exercises, discarding the Baltics ‘neutralization’, supporting instead their armed forces’ establishment with material, assets and instructors. It also supported their path towards NATO (Lindström, 1997; Swedish Defence Commission, 1999; von Sydow, 1999; Vaahtoranta & Forsberg, 2000).

Sweden further contributed to the EU. It helped in shaping the EU as a security actor by insisting on the integration of the Petersberg Tasks within the EU core security tasks and in CSDP, helping it to meet its objectives and own security aims. Yet non-alignment remained as a pre-condition for taking part in EU-led operations, with the EU not to become a collective defence body and remaining a cooperative defence body only (Bergman, 2004; Basset, 2012; Westberg, 2013)[7].

The post-Cold War re-adaptation wasn’t smooth, though. During the Kosovo crisis, Sweden did not intervene until the aftermath, as there was no UN approval for use of force against Serbia and Sweden objected NATO interventions. Its own principles forced also such absence. A sense of regret emerged later as Sweden stood idle while the crisis unfolded. Then, neutrality was again re-defined so to address the issue of similar crisis requiring no UN approval for intervention, maintaining the multilateral and regional approach, alongside the no-alliance and non-alignment principles (Bergman, 2004). This event highlighted the limits the Swedish humanitarian side had when colliding with Neutrality and non-alignment

From the 9/11 to Crimea (2001-2014)

The turn of the new century brought further reforms and new re-definitions to neutrality and non-alignment. New security issues emerged along those already manifesting since the 90’s; old threats also began to re-emerge.

After the 9/11 attacks, a new re-definition came to be necessary. The no-alliance, non-alignment and the EU as a vector of regional stability principles were maintained. But further flexibility was given, allowing Sweden to take part in EU-led operations and to contribute to its rapid reaction forces, since they were considered a force for peace and stabilization, capable of enforcing Human Rights, and a good tool for Baltics security. It was also recognized that neutrality was not central or possible anymore. Also, the requirement for cooperation, with the EU not to become a collective defence body, was kept (Bergman, 2004).

Foreign policy aims remained the same. Maintenance of peace and autonomy, safeguarding Swedish citizens, contributing to international peace and security remained central; security co-operation by political consultations with the Nordics as well (Bergman, 2004; Ugwukah, 2014). In fact, this cooperation became further important, evolving to become a genuine security tool having an Arctic/High North security scope, materialized in the shape of the Nordic Defence Cooperation (NORDEFCO). It has as four pillars: developing a Scandinavian Rapid Reaction Force; a Joint Naval unit for patrolling; to control the Icelandic airspace; and to work in other security aspects. The focus is placed on the member states’ air forces with exercises in the High North, Southern Sweden and Northern Denmark, and with the Swedish, Finnish, Norwegian and Danish air forces taking part. There was also aims of participating in NATO Iceland Air Policing (Gotkowska, 2013; Pashkov, 2009).

The Försvarsmakten was a subject of further reforms too. Internationalization and further reductions took place, thus taking part in global and regional deployments – like EU-led operations Artemis and Concordia – while deepening participation in NATO’s assistance to Baltics defence. PfP exercises are joined by the three services so to gain further interoperability and to show Sweden as a reliable and capable partner. Human Rights and rule-of-law remained as frameworks. Interestingly, Sweden participated in NATO-led ISAF in Afghanistan and its reaction forces, in the anti-piracy operations in Somalia, in rescue operations in Chad and Mali, supported Security Sector Reform in Kosovo, and in NATO intervention in Libya[8]. CSDP and the EUBGs became additional main security frameworks for Sweden, with a 2004 Security Strategy stating that Sweden would act in case any EU was attacked. Conscription was finished in 2010 in favour of a rapid reaction force on a volunteer-basis and with interoperability, flexibility and versatility as principles (Bergman, 2004; Basset, 2012; Göranson, 2012; Gotkovska, 2013; Pashkov, 2009; Swedish National Audit Office, 2014; Tirpak, 2017)[9].

With terrorism becoming the main security, measures to tackle it emerged. This took place regardless of Sweden being neutral and not a likely target, affecting neutrality. In fact, terrorism and its impact prompted such measures, alongside the new threats, both requiring multilateral approaches to address them. Hence, the new re-definition confirmed the obsolescence of neutrality and non-alignment. Its participation in ISAF was due to the understanding of non-state actors in international security and the emerging security issues[10]. It also explains its implementation of anti-terrorism measures, advancing also on a EU-based security architecture (Basset, 2012; Bergman, 2004; Pashkov, 2009).

As the decade was coming to a close, a threat of old began to arise again. For instance, the 2008 Georgia War, Russian assertiveness and cyberattacks against Estonia in 2008, alongside mock nuclear attacks against Sweden made the public to support a military strengthening. Also, a new 2009 Defence Decision and Security Strategy emerged, assessing that though direct attacks were unlikely, they weren’t impossible. National defence then became a priority again alongside crisis management operations, with increased issuing of armament and equipment to some units, and reintroducing regional commands. A new Defence Decision followed in the earlier 2010’s, keeping Sweden’s commitment to any Nordic or EU state in case of attack or natural disaster, keeping also solidarity and interdependence as tool to secure Sweden (Gotkowska, 2013; Tirpak, 2011). A debate on joining NATO also emerged, as it was becoming attractive due to Russian assertiveness in the vicinity, alongside event in the Arctic, where Sweden is having strong interests, following Pashkov (2009).

This period marked the end of the post-Cold War optimism, and evidenced the damage made by reforms. It also evidenced some things, as the return of Russia made solidarity – and cooperation – with the EU and the Nordics more necessary, as well as the need to overhaul the Försvarsmakten. This became even more evident as the Försvarsmakten was left almost unfit for national defence given the previous reforms, with Russian assertiveness threatening to further stretch the scarce defence resources (Gotkowska, 2013).

Hence the need to address this issue affecting the Försvarsmakten, along with other related problems. The 2012 Royal Swedish Academy of War Sciences, in fact, made a study given the regional instability, reaching interesting conclusions. First, the ‘declaration of solidarity’ was deemed unfit for dealing with Russian military and intelligence activities. Second, the Försvarsmakten has good expeditionary capabilities, good assets and well-trained personnel, but the problems were gaps on national defence and nearby high-intensity conflicts capacities. Third, there was a lack of AA defences and of personnel, with the navy lacking AA defences forcing the Swedish Air Force (Flygvapnet) to do AA defence, lacking long-range attack capacities. And fourth, there was a lack of priorities. It was concluded the reforms were to be blamed, as they made the Försvarsmakten to have few units, few personnel – given issues on recruitment – and lacking financial resources for defence for long periods of time, requiring assistance[11]. Moreover, the lack of economic growth could hamper the acquisition of needed new equipment – such as submarines, UAVs, infantry fighting vehicles and transport planes (Gotkowska, 2013; Swedish National Audit Office, 2014).

Problems affecting the Försvarsmakten are not the only source of concern, as it seems the EU is not positively evaluated. Hence Sweden is not considering furthering cooperation with the EU given its lack of military focusing, having capabilities only for interventions but not collective defence. NATO was considered not to be mirrored or the US to be set aside. Also, Poland was deemed a potential good element for defence cooperation – though not a secure one – as there could be shared threat assessment and close cooperation for prevention and cooperation. And Sweden is looking for new ways of military cooperation and new partners to advance on interoperability and participation under NATO Reaction Force, and to work on new security threats (Gotkowska, 2013).

The re-emergent Russian threat would become worse. The annexation of Crimea, the refugee crisis and the increased threat of terrorism would prompt further debates on neutrality, non-alignment and NATO membership, following Tirpak (2017). The need to overhaul the Försvarsmakten would be highlighted too.

The Bear returns (2014-today)

The world was taken by surprise and in shock when Russia annexed Crimea, and conflict in eastern Ukraine involving a Russian-backed separatist group. The geopolitical and security implications were important for Sweden, given Russia’s proximity and as its assertiveness is taking place the most in the Baltics and the arctic, where Russia and Sweden are having interests.

Sweden felt then the need to do something, as the adverse conditions were worsening. As a result, readiness and deterrence were to be enhanced, with the Flygvapnet becoming important for national defence, readiness and deterrence. The public kept its support for the Försvarsmakten overhauling and modernization[12]. Incidents involving Swedish and Russian fighters and surveillance and SIGINT planes – even an airliner was involved – justified further such support. Sense of vulnerability was increased as Russian assertiveness was taking place in the Arctic, as a potential clash might take place given overlapping interests there. The 2015 Parliamentary White Paper recognized this issue: it reaffirmed Sweden as neutral, yet it stated Sweden would fight alongside other states while increasing defence spending to 2.2% of GDP. This was also a recognition that military force was again a foreign policy tool (Gotkowska, 2013; Tirpak, 2017).

Redefinition of neutrality and non-alignment became inevitable, along other measures. Increased military relations with other countries, the EU and NATO were deepened, with Sweden seeking to establish stronger transatlantic links with the US, including interoperability between Swedish and American forces, joint training and exercises, cooperation on armaments, R&D, multinational operations and a development of a joint trainer jet – the Boeing/Saab T-X. Cooperation between the Flygvapnet and the US Air Force in technology, ammunition and interoperability was aimed too. In addition, and as an alternative to NATO membership, further defence links with Norway and Finland were established, including exercises at squadron level with air forces; increased focusing to the Baltics as a main security area took place too[13]. The ‘dispersed air base’ system was re-introduced while partnership were further implemented alongside interoperability (Gotkowska, 2013; Tirpak, 2017; Sweden’s Defence Policy 2016-2020, 2015).

In addition to the realization of fixing the damage done by reforms, a debate on joining NATO emerged. Membership was indeed considered, yet some political sectors are insisting on the post-cold War optimism and underestimating the threat Russia is to Sweden and its neighbourhood. Interestingly, convergence on threat assessment with the EU and NATO resulted in Swedish mechanized units taking part of NATO Northern Group despite being out of NATO official defence discussions (Gotkowska, 2013).

Discussions on the need to reinforce the Försvarsmakten yielded important steps to be taken and solve the issue(s).

Fixing an army

One of the most important steps taken by Sweden is the Sweden’s Defence Policy 2016-2020, published in 2015. This document manages the military overhauling, preparedness and interoperability, being a product of the aforementioned debate and a materialization of measures.

This policy aims at increasing the Försvarsmakten combat capabilities and to ensure collective force. As such, it defines its tasks as four: protection of life and health; ensuring society functioning; protecting values, rule of law and Human Rights; and protecting interests, rights and sovereignty. They are framed by a solidarity-based security; war prevention and rise of threats against Sweden, her neighbours and the Baltics and Europe; a support to the UN and EU aims of promoting peace and democracy. The Försvarsmakten also have to assist civil agencies when required and protect civil society, with cooperation with NATO being important, mostly for acquiring capabilities – including all weather/arctic capabilities – and for contributing to international security, let alone for accomplishing their tasks. Cooperation with the Nordics, the Baltics and the US remains core principle, alongside territorial defence with Finland (Sweden’s Defence Policy 2016-2020, 2015). Hence, cooperation remains fundamental and useful for the Försvarsmakten to become stronger and more capable.

The policy proposes 9 measures to strengthen the Försvarsmakten. First, the implementation of new training system for officers. Second, to increase presence in the Baltics and in Gotland, as the island is a cross-point between sea and air lanes. Third, to upgrade the AA defences. Fourth, to increase the quality of the Home Guard (Hemvärnet). Fifth, to reorganize the Army (Armén) into 2 mechanized brigades. Sixth, to retrieve the Civil Defence as it could support the Försvarsmakten in war time, protecting and securing vital social assets.  seventh, to acquire enhanced cyber capabilities. Eight, to modernize psychological defences given their importance on keeping the democratic order during a crisis. And ninth, to acquire long-range precision strike capabilities, mainly for the Flygvapnet. In addition, a merge between the Försvarsmakten, the civil society and political, diplomatic and financial means is considered, so to enhance Sweden’s security while cooperating with other states and organizations (Sweden’s Defence Policy 2016-2020, 2015)[14].

What Sweden needs for materializing military overhauling is the same thing the EU needs to achieve security: an increase to defence budgets. Such increasing would give the Försvarsmakten the capacities to manage the current unstable scenario, enhance its combat capabilities and increase intelligence through increased training and exercises[15]. Moreover, there is a need for investing in basic material and logistics; to add a motorized battalion; to deploy regiment units with mechanized and armoured companies in Gotland to make a battlegroup; to upgrade the armoured and infantry combat vehicles; to add more bridge layers and new anti-tank weapons, plus 4 mortar platoons for the Hemvärnet. Active cyber-defences, renewed civil defence and more investment on recruitment and sustaining of soldiers were also deemed necessary (Sweden’s Defence Policy 2016-2020, 2015; Tirpak, 2017).

The three services, in turn, will receive important additions in assets and equipment, to enhance capacities, evidencing how Sweden will manage a renewed threat by retrieving many aspects of the previous version of neutrality[16]. First, the Armén would receive the abovementioned investment in basic equipment, logistics, training and exercises, and anti-tank missiles, deployed mainly in Gotland. These measures will enable the Armén to withstand high intensity conflict with increased reconnaissance, armoured, mechanized, AA assets and other battalions and companies: battle tanks and combat vehicles are to be upgraded with AA mid-range missiles to be acquired too (Sweden’s Defence Policy 2016-2020, 2015).

The Flygvapnet and the Navy (Svenska Marinen) will receive additions as well. The Svenska Marinen would implement mid-life upgrades to 2 Gävle-class corvettes with additional corvettes of this class, 2 Gotland-class submarines, 7 patrol boats (4 to be fitted with SW capacities), and 2 Stockholm-class corvettes to be re-fitted as patrol boats. New anti-submarine light torpedoes and helicopters, more crews, a new SIGINT vessels and 2 new submarines would be added. The Flygvapnet will receive 4 Wings enhancing all-time readiness, an air transport squadron, and air combat control and air surveillance battalions, and a new helicopter Wing (which would reinforce Svenska Marinen and the Armén with ASW and transport, respectively), would be activated. Trainers would serve alongside fighter in wartime, with the latter increasing in number of units to be received – reaching a total of 70 units. The AA capacities would be increased by fitting the Saab J39 Gripen with missiles – and short and medium range AA missiles (Sweden’s Defence Policy 2016-2020, 2015; Tirpak, 2017).

And as a last, recruitment is to be re-established. This has the purpose of increasing retention of soldiers and personnel and to increase social support. The reserve system is to be restored too, focusing on a cost-effective system by high quality training. Interestingly, a dual volunteer-conscript system was considered (Sweden’s Defence Policy 2016-2020, 2015).

Some steps have materialized or are in the verge of, with some unspecified additions that could benefit the Försvarsmakten. For instance, the main Swedish submarine builder might fit the new A26 submarines with vertical launchers capable of firing Tomahawk cruise missiles, or installing them in vessels to receive mid-life upgrades. Although not openly mentioned for Sweden, it would be no surprise if it receives those submarines with the new weapons systems or even those currently in service; it must be reminded that acquiring long-range strike capacities is one aim[17].

Moreover, Sweden will increase military spending. Defence budget would be of additional 8.1 billion kronor for national defence, alongside an annual increase of 2.1 billion kronor. Conscription will be indeed re-established with troops deployed in Gotland and becoming closer to NATO, yet not ready to join the Alliance (Reuters, 2017)[18]. An additional deal to invest in defence took place, with 6.8 billion kronor for the Försvarsmakten, and 1.3 billion kronor for the Civil Defence. this to increase the former’s capacities by purchasing new vehicles and ammunition, increasing available positions in officer education and training, and receiving more soldiers. These steps could benefit cooperation abroad (The Local Sweden, 2017).

Yet while the reforms were clearly harmful for Sweden’s defence, by no means it means new assets wouldn’t be received. While not as extensively produced, new assets and weapons systems were introduced in the post-Cold War period. Many were product of developments during the Cold War while others were brand new. All were optimized to fulfil the new operational tasks and conventional defence. The most remarkable, being the spearhead of Sweden’s defence is the Saab JAS 39 Gripen, developed in the late 70’s to replace older platforms such as the J 37 and the J 35, and in service since 1995, being a capable multi-mission platform receiving upgrades and updates. The Saab 340 AEW&C (S 100B ARGUS) tasked with electronic surveillance and early warning was introduced in 1997. The Armén received important new combat vehicles, chief among them the Stridsvagn 122 (a Leopard 2 partially made in Sweden) and the CV-90 infantry combat vehicle and CV-90-120 light tank. The Svenska Marinen modernized and re-fitted the Stockholm and Göteborg class corvettes (retiring 2 of them after the Cold War) for operations abroad, being deployed off the Lebanese coast during the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah War and in the anti-piracy operations off the Somalian coast in 2009. The new generation stealth Visby class corvette was also introduced from 2002 to 2015 (5 units), providing Sweden with state-of-the-art surface combat systems. And Gotland class diesel-electric submarines, fitted with AIPS (air-independent propulsion system) were also introduced (Sharpe, 2001; Turner, 2003; Chant, 2006; Jackson, 2012).

NATO: to join or not to join? That’s the question

Since the end of the Cold War and especially today, in the light of Russian assertiveness, the question of joining NATO has been lingering in the air, involving the issue of neutrality and non-alignment. Yet it is clear that Sweden needs NATO as much as NATO needs Sweden. This is very true for Sweden, as its location has always made it vulnerable to Russia’s power, even more today due to three reasons: first, its location makes its especially vulnerable to Russian assertiveness. Second, any crisis in the Arctic will affect Sweden directly. And third, the Baltic sea is especially vulnerable, especially the island of Gotland, making it crucial for Sweden. This results in Sweden being of the middle of strategic triangle or arc, with Russia being a threatening factor against its three sides.

Sweden and NATO are no stranger to each other, since Sweden joined the PfP in 1994, and took part in many NATO post-Cold War interventions to develop its capabilities and ability to co-operate with NATO forces and partner countries, mainly for peace-support operations. Tensions with Russia have prompted NATO, Swedish and Finnish increased cooperation. Sweden is highly valued by NATO as it has provided important contributions and its location makes it very important for its security efforts (Aronsson, 2015; NATO, 2017). This could hint closer cooperation between Sweden and NATO for its defence and for securing the ‘Eastern flank’.

The US also values Sweden and its contribution for European security and stability. For instance, the US Army commander in Europe considers Gotland a strategically important point for countering Russia in the Baltics (The Local Sweden, 2017). Russia also has its evaluation on Sweden and NATO, being a negative one. For instance, Russia threatened military action if Sweden joins NATO as it considers such event a threatening encroachment. Sweden, as a result, declared her willingness to keep non-alignment, as it kept Sweden safe from threats[19]. But Sweden is facing a tragic situation, as Russian actions pushed Sweden closer to NATO and the US. And it seems the same US is contributing to this, as the current administration has casted doubts over cooperation agreements, of which Sweden has some with the US: Sweden might move closer to NATO as it needs security reassurances against Russia, although Sweden keeps insisting on staying out of NATO due to historical factors[20]. It seems that Sweden will have no choice but to join NATO, alongside the implementation of other security measures and policies.

In the light of this: what is the best course of action for Sweden then? Should it join NATO or remain by the sides? In fact, can Sweden remain by the sides in the light of the current crisis with Russia, or it will have to implement a new re-definition of neutrality, or to abandon it entirely? Will the proposed military modernizations suffice to protect Sweden? These questions and others will be answered in the last (analytical) part about Swedish neutrality.

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Footnotes

[1] Interestingly, PfP was evaluated as a possible way onto NATO membership, though such remains very controversial. Nonetheless, it became crucial for the cooperative security approach, mainly by exercises, common standardization in equipment and other aspect with NATO Allies (Pashkov, 2009).

[2] In fact, the ‘humanitarian’ leg of Swedish foreign policies were kept and enhanced, with large flows of aid to developing countries, following Bergman (2004).

[3] However, neutrality as such was set aside following Sweden’s joining in the EU, as Bergman (2004) points out.

[4] Close cooperation with many EU countries’ defence industries was established, so to address an almost dependence on US-made equipment, and to acquire better equipment, according to von Sydow (1999).

[5] Cooperation is focused on 5 pillars: arms procurement, maritime surveillance, peace support, exchange of personnel and civilian crisis management. Defence structures were also harmonized, with Sweden fighting alongside Finland should it joins NATO (Vaahtoranta & Forsberg, 2000).

[6] Dialogues with Russia were taking place while there were concerns over the Baltics joining NATO, with Russia being considered a reduced threat yet a factor to be considered in the area, given the political instability then could have sparked a rise of nationalism, following Lindström (1997).

[7] In any case, Sweden supported the EU collective defence despite objections on collective defence, considering such a helpful tool against terrorism, and deeming the EU to have an integrated approach on defence with conflict prevention and peace support (Bergman, 2004).

[8] It was the second time Sweden took part in an intervention abroad using air assets like in Congo in the 60’s. 8 JAS 39 Gripens with more fighters for recce, and a C-130T transport airplane took part tasked with enforcing the no-fly zone, under PfP frameworks. See: Basset, 2012., and Göranson, 2012. Though Sweden ended its participation in NATO-led KFOR in 2013, three military advisors remain at the NATO Liaison and Advisory Team and the HQ of KFOR. In Afghanistan, it remains part of NATO Resolute Support Mission with advisory teams to the Afghan armed forces and support personal at the HQ in the north, a German hospital, and airfield and support units for troops. See: Mission of Sweden to NATO. (n.d.). Ongoing mission: RSM and KFOR. Sweden abroad. Retrieved from: http://www.swedenabroad.com/en-GB/Embassies/Nato/Sweden–PFP/Sweden-in-NATO-led-operations–sys/Ongoing-operations-RSM-and-KFOR-sys/ on 02.11.2017

[9] Defence industry and integration with industries of the UK, Spain, Italy, Germany and France take place since then, focusing on R&D and capability creation. See: Pashkov, 2009.

[10] Sweden remained there until 2014, leading the northern provinces PRTs after being present initially in Kabul, using civilian and military assets – including heavy ones – while engaging the Taliban; it sought to provide stability and development and humanitarian support (Göranson, 2012; Sweden In Afghanistan, 2017).

[11] The needed assistance could be problematic, as it can spark Russian retaliation or a pre-emptive strike, since Sweden could be used by NATO as a base for supporting the Baltics. But NATO stated in 2012 it would not responsible for non-allies’ security, with Norway stating a similar thing, according to Gotkowska (2013).

[12] It is noteworthy to remind how Russia was evaluated after the Cold War. See footnote 6.

[13] The most remarkable cooperation agreement is that with Finland, considering both nations are the most directly affected by Russian threats, and that both are neutrals or non-aligned nations. Established in 2013, it is aimed at improving security in the region and a better and more cost-efficient use of resources and defence related aspects, as well as to increase interoperability and joint action both home and abroad. Training and exercises, air and maritime surveillance and possible use of basic infrastructure are the tools for this cooperation, which could seek to develop a Finnish-Swedish Naval Task group to be operational by 2023, increased interoperability between the Swedish Air Force and the Finnish Air Force – mainly on joint operation capacity, common base operations and common Command and Control – and a joint Finnish – Swedish Brigade. See: Government Offices of Sweden. (2015). Defence Cooperation between Sweden and Finland. Government Offices of Sweden. Retrieved from: http://www.government.se/government-policy/defence/defence-cooperation-between-finland-and-sweden/ on 01.11.2017.

[14] That cooperation would have a regional, national defence and planning for wartime scenarios focusing, plus a global insight. The Baltics are important for Sweden’s defence strategy, according the Sweden’s Defence Policy 2016-2020 (2015).

[15] This is useful to fight hybrid warfare and propaganda and cyber-threats, as they could hamper Sweden to have autonomous foreign and defence policies.

[16] Interestingly, a joint forces approach is a main scope, stimulating cooperation between services, enhancing interoperability and flexibility, adaptability and responsiveness.

[17] See: Yeo, M. (2017). Saab A26 submarine gets vertical launched Tomahawks. Defensenews. Retrieved from: http://www.defensenews.com/air/2017/05/17/saab-a26-submarine-gets-vertical-launched-tomahawks/ on 14.10.2017

[18] Conscription was retrieved due to the increasing insecurity around Sweden making readiness a must, and as the volunteer system was not giving enough personnel. The result will be a mixture of volunteer and conscript. US conditioned support to NATO, strong public support and concerns over Baltics security also prompted this retrieval, according to Roden (2017) and the Government Offices of Sweden (2017).

[19] See: Gutteridge, N. (2017). ‘A threat that must be eliminated’ Putin’s chilling message to Sweden over NATO membership. Sunday Express. Retrieved from: http://www.express.co.uk/news/politics/813166/NATO-Russian-president-Vladimir-Putin-chilling-threat-Sweden-join-alliance on 29.10.2017

[20] See: Milne, R. (2016). Swedes Ponder Joining NATO as Trump Presidency Focuses Minds. Atlantic Council. Retrieved from: http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/natosource/swedes-ponder-joining-nato-as-trump-presidency-focuses-minds on 29.10.2017

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Turner, J. (2003). Tanques y Vehículos Militares Modernos [Tracked Firepower. Mighty Military Machines, José Luis Tamayo, Juan José Guerrero, & Fernando Tamayo trans.]. Madrid, Spain: Editorial LIBSA. (Original work published in 2002).

Ugwukah, A. (2015). Neutrality as Foreign Policy Principle: A Historical Evaluation of Swedish Posture. Historical Research Letters 17, 27-42. Retrieved from: http://www.iiste.org/Journals/index.php/HRL/article/view/20141 on 16.10.2016

Vaahtoranta, T. & Forsberg, T. (2000). Post-Neutral or Pre-Allied? Finnish and Swedish Policies on the EU and NATO as Security Organizations. UPI Working Papers (29), 2-43. Retrieved from: https://www.files.ethz.ch/isn/19260/WP29.pdf on 16.10.2016

Von Sydow, B. (1999). Sweden’s Security in the 21st Century. Ministry of Defence. Retrieved from: http://www.army.cz/images/Bilakniha/ZSD/Swedens%20Security%20in%2021st%20centurystr.pdf on 28.07.2017

Westberg, J. (2013). Sweden’s policy of neutrality. In: Novaković, I. S. (Ed.). Neutrality in the 21st Century – Lessons for Serbia, Essay Compendium. Retrieved from: http://www.isac-fund.org/download/NEUTRALNOST-ENG-F-2WEB.pdf on 16.10.2016

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The Prussian General Staff: Meritocracy in Arms. Part 3b.

Image ‘PB383’ by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Released under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) License.

 

The Prussian General Staff influence and legacy (II)

In the previous part, the legacy and influence of the Prussian General staff in the current German armed forces and the US armed forces was reviewed, pointing the elements that remains in the case of the Bundeswehr along those absent while considering Germany is the main inheritor of the Prussian General Staff. The interest and slow but steady adoption – and implementation – of the General Staff system and its principles within the American armed forces.

The US is not the only example of an army interested in adopting the General Staff system and its principles. For instance, the British Empire, Russia/Soviet Union and France also introduced this system in full or in part, and just like the US, as a result of a needed change of doctrines evidenced by their own operational experiences. But it was during WWII, that such adaptation became necessary so to match the Germans’ doctrine in the case of the US, Great Britain and Russia, following Corum (2009).

The British Empire

In the British case, such implementation was gradual, with WWII being the final catalyst. British implementation and adaptation of the General Staff system started after witnessing the impressive performance of the Prussian Army in the German Unification Wars and the Franco-Prussian War, with the Boer War sparking further reforms. By 1912, a publication structuring the British Staff functioning appeared, being a mixture of the Prussian/General Staff with the British approach[1]. During WWII, Bernard Montgomery, head of the 8th army and rival of Rommel, further introduced the General Staff system in that army. Nevertheless, the figure of Chiefs of Staff was only for units of corps level upwards, until the 1980’s (Johnston, 2008). This was a stark contrast with Prussia/Germany.

The Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force (RAF) also established their own Staff Systems. In the Royal Navy’s case, in 1911 a General Staff was implemented by Winston Churchill after a strong opposition by many Sea Lords, with a dual staff system being implemented in the interwar period with a Chief of Staff for operations and an officer for support. A supporting body denominated the ‘Secretariat’ was also established. But this Staff was not as functional as that of the British Army (Johnston, 2008). In the case of the RAF, its own General Staff system was a product of the Army’s strong influence during its emergence. The RAF General Staff had three branches: air, technical and administration, having equal ranking and separate heads at tactical level, with the last two branches working under a single officer and the air branch having its own officer (Johnston, 2008).

Russia/Soviet Union

The Russian/Soviet case is also interesting in the way the General Staff system evolved there. Following Eisel (1993), a first stage is when the General Staff system (on its Frederician format) was introduced by Peter the Great, due to his admiration for the West thus basing such on the Prussian and Swedish models. It was enhanced through time mainly on its education and selection processes, addressing perceived gaps. A second phase is a more sophisticated and complex Russian/Soviet General Staff, yet suffering a direct and high political influence. This version is product of the training provided to Soviet officers by German officers in exchange for clandestine facilities for manoeuvres in the USSR[2]. In peacetime, the Soviet General Staff was subordinated to the Ministry of Defence; in wartime, it was subordinated to the STAVKA, the highest instance with decision-making powers in the USSR, and the Secretary General of the Communist Party, along many top officers being part of it (Eisel, 1993). The odds for political influence in the military, hampering its performance, were pretty high, since important political figures were part of the high commanding body (in wartime) and the General Staff was a mere subordinate. The risks of the “courtesan officers” keen on playing politics were also high, as well as politicization of the army, nepotism and corruption.

The Soviet General Staff had a similar role like its Prussian/German counterpart. According to Eisel (1993), the Soviet General Staff was tasked with basic strategic planning and defining missions for each service, with the particularity of being comprised by officers from all branches (evidencing a highly centralized command structure), and with their organizations’ performance and individual fidelity to the party and its affairs as grounds for promotion and future assignments. This also increased the risks mentioned in the previous paragraph.

France

The French case is equally interesting, considering that France was the nation that suffered the most under the efficiency and abilities (not to say the principles) of the Prussian/German General Staff. Such background also forced this nation to adopt many of the principles of the Prussian General Staff after its defeat in 1871. First, and following Eisel (1993), the French military realized the need to overhaul its own staff system, which was organized upon functional lines but came to stagnation after Napoleon I disappeared, considering such system emerged during his reign[3]. Then, a Staff training school was established in 1818, with Staff Officers having a rotary service between staff and field tasks like the Prussian General Staff officers. An 1833 reform made officers to serve for General Staff after being selected, and to include in the curriculum planning and drafting of maps; despite this, bad performance and defeat were the final outcome given the way the General Staff system was implemented by the French.

The resulting operational (bad) performance and defeat in 1871, prompted the French Army to implement reforms more in line with the Prussian General Staff principles. According to Eisel (1993), after the Crimean and Franco-Prussian War, educational reforms were implemented with officers rotating between General Staff and field tasks. And after WWII two military bodies were established in 1950 to enhance preparedness. There is a National Defence General Staff with a military officer as a head and who in turn is subordinated to the French Prime Minister, followed by the Armed Forces General Staff with its own Chief of Staff.

Israel: General Staff with a special touch

Israel is another example where the General Staff system and its principles are being applied; if not entirely, at least in part and with the incorporation of very particular characteristics. The direct influence of Prussia in the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) is yet to be established[4]. However, it is clear that many IDF operational principles are similar – or at least are an adaptation of – to those of the Prussians. The context, location, culture and strategic and operational needs of Israel might explain such close resemblance[5].

More in detail, and following Murray (2009) and Senor & Singer (2011), the IDF relies heavily on professionals and the reserve force – similar to Prussia back in the bismarckian era – due to its own population size, which is very small. This requires the IDF to have a small force capable of mobilizing the scarcely available human resources[6]. In addition, the very limited space Israel has, reduces the margin for reaction, all while facing multiple threats and even with a dual-nature threat by facing adversary neighbouring hostile forces and irregular warfare. This also results in a very small number of officers, who also have to manage with tasks more common to higher ranks.

On the same General Staff System, the IDF General Staff is headed by the Chief of General Staff and the Chief of the ground forces, followed by the heads of the Navy and the Air Force, which are the second branch. The heads of different military affairs (Intelligence, Manpower, Operations, and Planning, Technologies and Logistics Directorates) come as the third branch, with the Heads of Operational regions/Theatres (which are four) being the fourth branch, and the heads of various military affairs or officers serving as liaison between the military and the politicians, among others[7].

There are two remarkable characteristics of the IDF General Staff. First, the Intelligence Division, which was – at least by 2002 – the main military intelligence gatherer and analyst of the Middle East and worldwide strategic context, acting also as political advisor to the government and the Defence Minister and the Prime Minister, yet unable to intervene in politics and decision-making, according to Peri (2002). The fact that this division is mainly tasked with awareness of the strategic context resembles another similarity between the IDF General Staff and the Prussian General Staff, as such awareness is crucial for assessing the strategic context and any threat from the surroundings.

But if the Intelligence Division is unable to intervene directly in politics and decision-making processes, the Planning Division of the IDF General Staff can do so. Following Peri (2002), this division can have a role in politics and in any policy-making regarding defence. This division also emerged from the Operations Division and only for military planning, covering in 1969 strategic planning as well as national interests, including political-economic aspect of national security. This is another important parallel of comparison between the IDF General Staff and the Prussian General Staff; while the latter took such aspect into account but not entirely, the former clearly considers such with special attention, recognizing the influence of politics influence in operations, war planning and national defence. This gives the impression that the IDF General Staff is more advanced or complex than the Prussian system on this sphere.

Interestingly, this division became an independent branch within the IDF General Staff with special scope and functions. As Peri (2002) points out, the Planning Division became a fully independent branch of the General Staff, yet subordinated directly to the Chief of General Staff and the Defence Ministry; it is also a joint military-Defence Ministry unit, with faculties to jump into civilian and political spheres. There is another interesting trait of the IDF General Staff. For instance, and according to Peri (2002), the Chief of General Staff acts as the commander of all the branches or services of the IDF, and tasked with preparing for war and of building military power and managing military operations. The Chief of General Staff is also a link between the military and the politicians, being the main military advisor to the government, meaning that politics can permeate heavily the military. The members of the General Staff have, in fact, an important political weight and influence, being crucial in many political processes and events besides the strategic ones, following Murray (2009) and Peri (2002).

One of the most particular characteristic the IDF General Staff has, similarly to the Prussian General Staff are the debriefings. Following Senor & Singer (2011), debriefings take place on a daily basis, for either operations or exercises, including a self-examination even if operations are successful. In addition, sub-officers have more autonomy (planning included) during operations, having also a very adaptable mentality that enables creativity and complexity, at the point of finding solution to problems on their own while in operations (as the Prussian General Staff established in principle), which resulted in new tactics, like those designed in the field by tank crews facing the anti-tank missiles in 1973[8]. This is possible due to the value the IDF gives to flexibility, initiative and innovation. This characteristic is not perfect nor entirely functional or applied entirely, as it will be explained below.

But the most Israeli characteristic that permeates its General Staff system is the same cultural approach this country has. For instance, and according to Senor & Singer (2011), the IDF is framed by two particular cultural approaches: rosh gadol and rosh katan. The first refers to a culture of following orders under what could be an Auftragstaktik approach, while placing aside mere discipline and even challenging the chief or officer; this is the prevailing approach there. The second refers to mere following of orders. That there is a wide rosh gadol approach means that there is a lack of rigid hierarchies with performance being the main criteria and the reason for subordinates to evaluate and even remove a high rank officer. And this cultural trait played a role in two important wars Israel faced: The Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War, as it keeps doing so now.

In relation with the Officers’ Corps, Senor & Singer (2011) remarks that, as the high officer ranks are understaffed (mind the abovementioned population limit), the mid and low rank officers are the most crucial piece within the IDF performing tasks normally a high-ranked officer would do, which benefits the IDF as it stimulates initiative and boosts operational flexibility. This was also critical for the abovementioned wars and the current operations. Combined with the cultural approach mentioned above, the operational efficiency of the IDF is maximized.

Two additional elements increase the impression there are strong similarities between the IDF General Staff and Prussian/German General Staff system, not to say some influence of sorts. First, the high sense of self-criticism and self-learning, along with the premise that mistakes are an acceptable source for learning and improvement, while avoiding ‘standardizations’ (Senor & Singer, 2011). Second, the importance given to technology. However, technology seems to be both an aid and a handicap, as it results in commanders relying heavily on such, losing the ‘sense’ of being in the battlefield and potentially hampering their operational performance when in combat (Senor & Singer, 2011).

Just like the Prussian/General Staff (and the German army), the IDF General Staff and the IDF were tested in combat, highlighting the latter’s qualities and deficiencies. They also provide an empirical example on how the system can contribute a military to address an intense crisis. These tests were the Six-Day War and the War of Atonement[9].

The deficiencies of the IDF General Staff system were very numerous, and at both command and operational level with serious consequences for the IDF performance in combat, which became very evident during the Yom Kippur War.

First, mobilization of reserves was delayed, rushed and disorganized, lacking also a proper alert as the control of the Sinai Peninsula meant that chances for a timely alert were reduced. Reserves weren’t the only units facing problems of mobilization. In fact, the armoured units and the artillery also lacked early warning and were slowly deployed given the same mobilization problems as such was improvised, worsened by the lack of decision (and even the negative by the Defence Minister) by the top-brass to execute a fast mobilization once the conflict started (Herzog, 2006; and Murray, 2009)[10].

Second, the astonishing victories of the Six-Day War and events during the Attrition War made Israel to commit serious strategic mistakes. It underestimated both Syria and Egypt, ignoring that Egypt (specially) began a process of evaluating its own military and the mistakes of 1967, thus failing in detecting Egypt and Syria’s hostile intentions and resulting in operational mistakes that will be explained below. It was estimated that Egypt would not wage a war until having recovered its air power, evidence of the sense of security. In addition, the 1967 victory also resulted in a lack of – crucial – self-examination or criticism and debriefing after the war, preventing the analysis of operational mistakes which were simply ignored, and missing the fact the Egyptians were not well deployed in 1967. It also prevented Israel to foresee the abovementioned evaluation and adaptation process by the adversaries, and their political aims behind a new (limited) war with strong diplomatic manoeuvres[11]. Overconfidence, relaxation, stagnation, arrogance and complacency were also factors behind the wrong assessment on the intentions of the adversary and the capacity of the own forces, as they were considered enough to deal with an aggression. To have some strategic depth was important for Israel (and even so nowadays). Yet paradoxically, the strategic depth the Sinai provided after its seizure in 1967 also reinforced the beliefs the Egyptians would not attack, as their airfields and Israeli southern towns were now wide apart (Herzog, 2003; Herzog, 2006; and Murray, 2009).

Third, operational mistakes with serious implications took place, which were many. For instance, the high emphasis placed on armoured warfare and aviation meant that a doctrine of combined-arms, infantry weaponry and mobility, and night-time warfare were neglected. There was an over-focusing on the tactical sphere at the cost of the overall management of large units in a general (strategic) context or even in the battlefield. Tanks and aviation were considered more than enough for any conflict, even to deal with the AA missiles. The armoured units also lacked good support by the infantry, given this over-focusing at the cost of proper infantry support and mobility, which took some toll on the tanks. Artillery was also hampered, which strained the same Israeli Air Force (IAF) and denying the troops proper fire-support once the IAF was affected by the Egyptian AA missiles. To make matters worse, mobility did not receive enough attention and forces were divided and uncoordinated (benefiting the strategy of the adversary and weakening any counterstrike), along with the fact that the supply system performed poorly as it was strained. The same Bar-Lev line became a problem itself, as it neutralized the Israeli superiority in mobile warfare when it became mere defensive line, and many tactical factors were ignored, like the sand-wall made by the Egyptians as platforms for attacks. There was widespread relaxation and discipline issues, with half-trained reservists manning the Bar-Lev line and accidents and negligence being the norm (Herzog, 2003; Herzog, 2006; and Murray, 2009)[12].

Fourth, the same military intelligence, enrooted within the General Staff, was riddled with mistakes and issues that resulted in the crisis at the earlier stages of the Yom Kippur War. The intelligence failed in providing accurate assessment and early warning to Israel; it did not provide the political and military high command with solid information, hampering a timely mobilization of the reserves as well. Even worse, it dismissed solid evidences on the imminent attacks by the Egyptians and the Syrians, preventing also the acknowledge of data on certain weaponry, like the ‘Sagger’ anti-tank missiles, preventing the adoption of tactics and awareness by the crews of the tanks prior the conflict. Even worse, the information gathered by the Military Intelligence was ‘accommodated’ so to fit in the preconception the adversaries wouldn’t be able to attack, strengthening the deceitful sense of security based upon a wrong evaluation on the adversaries, considering an attack would take place when their air power would be fully re-established. In contrast, the adversaries had an enhanced intelligence that was even capable of ‘penetrating’ the IDF at the point of having sensible information on the Israeli units deployed at the Sinai (Herzog, 2003; Herzog, 2006; and Murray, 2009).

And fifth, the political and high command level had considerable failures with a considerable impact in the IDF performance during the war. For instance, the political leadership failed in providing good guidance prior and during most of the conflict to the military, as well as to wage a counter-diplomacy to answer that of the Egyptians and Syrians, underestimating also their capacity to launch a new attack. Equally, the military leadership – mainly at theatre of operation level – also had important operational and command and control issues. It failed in defining solid and accurate solutions to the problems posed by the Bar-Lev Line, and it failed in assessing and associating correctly events at both the Golan and the Sinai prior the war, and during the conflict it tended to issue wrong orders[13]. Both political and military levels failed in detecting the political aims behind the war by Egypt and Syria, and even the deployment of AA missile defence system by the Egyptians while taking advantage of a ceasefire during the War of Attrition (Herzog, 2006; Murray, 2009).

Such mistakes are explained by a series of political events in the Middle East, which also led to wrong assessments and overconfidence. Following Herzog (2006), the first was the US support and supply of weaponry to Israel; the second was the US defence of Jordan as Syria intended to invade it during its September 1970 Civil War; and the same conflict within Jordan that yielded peace at the border between Jordan and Israel. Interestingly, the IDF General Staff committed another crucial mistake regarding the political context, as it seems that, following Herzog (2003) and Herzog (2006), it ignored the role of the Soviet Union’s critical supplying Egypt and Syria with weaponry as well as with political support, encouraging somehow the 1967 and 1973 wars and the regional instability. It also ignored the weaponization of oil as a mean to support in politics what was to be done through the military.

More in detail, the key political and high military level figures had serious mistakes that, if it wasn’t for the military culture of Israel and the General Staff system, would have had terrible consequences for Israel. Following Herzog (2006), the Ministry of Defence was having interest in some aspects of the armed forces (like frontline and operations and plans) but not in the more daily aspects, neglecting the aspect that ensured the functionality of an army. He also tended to leave most of the responsibilities to the General Staff and the Chief of General Staff as well as the Ministry’s personnel.  And during the crisis, he was unable to cope with it, as he was very cautious, delaying the mobilization orders, and unable to impose his will or reach a decision. The Prime Minister, in turn, tended to be authoritarian, doctrinaire and inflexible, not allowing alternative evaluations and exerting an unorganized style of government (Herzog, 2006). And the same Chief of General Staff was in part responsible for the wrong assessment, although he was also deceived by the wrong intelligence provided. The most worrisome issues regarding the same General Staff were those related to the performance of its different branches, affecting troops discipline, intelligence, equipment and supplies (Herzog, 2006).

But there weren’t issues only at the top political and military levels, as the field-grade ranks or unit-level command had its considerable problems too. For instance, and according to Herzog (2006) and Murray (2009), the Southern Command HQ (Suez Canal/Sinai) was the most problematic, as its commander was still in process of getting used to the scenario (yet this issue was due to the problematic policy of rotational command by the IDF, which limited the commander’s performance), being also the most sceptical commander at field level on the capacity and intention of the adversaries to wage war. He was also deceived by the wrong intelligence. But he was also unable to exert a good command of the troops thus being incapable of addressing the crisis and even contributing in immobilizing the troops at the Bar-Lev Line, worsened by the inaccurate plans the previous commander – Sharon – which consisted on the IDF resisting and then counterattacking as soon as possible without waiting for the reserve forces. And when it counterattacked, it resulted in heavy casualties as such lacked coordination and proper artillery support, as well as lacking concentration. Orders were also inaccurate.

The Northern Command HQ (Golan) was also having issues of its own, but were a fairy-tale in contrast to those the Southern Command HQ faced. This Command was having a very competent commander, but it failed in having a common HQ for the two armoured brigades that allowed independence but at the cost of coordination. Yet one of the brigades had an officer that also underestimated the Syrian while dispersed too much its armoured units. Here, the lack of infantry support to the tank units was also being felt. Nevertheless, operations here were more successful than in the Sinai (Murray, 2009).

As it was abovementioned, these operational and command issues were neutralized by the IDF capacities and by the same General Staff system, as well as the skills the high command and the single soldier had. The following positive aspects and measures taken during the conflict evidence the possibility of the General Staff system to neutralize or compensate for these kind of issues, as it was intended originally to do; this was maximized by the fact it was implemented within a proper (military) cultural context. The adversary also played a role in helping the IDF and its General Staff system, as it committed more mistakes than the Israeli alongside its own operational and command issues. Curiously, and following Herzog (2006), some of the issues in the IDF also had a positive role that sparked adaptation during the conflict.

On the chapter of mobilization and mobility, the Israelis were able to exploit their doctrine of mobilization of reserve forces, which fought well thanks to the training and experience. In addition, the high capacity for adaptation (with agility) yielded a positive outcome for the IDF during the war, alongside the focusing of the IDF in small units. The fact that the main HQ and the Northern and Southern Commands exerted no direct control over the units meant that they could operate with full autonomy and to exert initiative and implement ad hoc measures, despite the lack of a sort of Auftragstaktik, this also gave rom for improvisation during combat, as an improvised combined-arms tactic was implemented. This situation allowed units to ignore or contest orders that were not accurate or even disconnected with the reality of the battlefield, in 1967 and 1973. Each and every single unit of the IDF, from commissioned and non-commissioned officers to the most single soldier and tank crew behaved like this even without any support from the top-brass, thus changing the very adverse situation Israel was facing. Other factors such as skills, motivation, quality of the chain of command – after all – and the courage and perseverance, were factors that contributed to this (Murray, 2009; Herzog, 2006).

The top-brass and the unit-level command also contributed to the impressive victory Israel achieved against all odds. First, the same Chief of General Staff and the Defence Minister gave some warning. Also, the later assessed accurately the role of the USSR and did the right appointments during the conflict, while the former acting with determination by ordering a general mobilization and exerting a good command, let alone to send the right units at the right time and materializing an early counterstrike by thinking with anticipation. They also replaced a bad commanding officer with a good commanding officer at the Southern Command, prioritizing also the Northern Command, which was the most threatened. Second, the Prime Minister issued the military with strong leadership and good decision making (like rejecting the proposed pre-emptive attack against Syria by the Chief of General Staff), thus providing the military a clear direction of the war from the political side at least on that aspect. Third, Generals Sharon and Bar-Lev good commanders and high level of initiative, capable of addressing a very intense crisis (and despite Sharon’s tendency to have public rows with other officers). Generals Gavish and Eytan wer also cautious enough to train and prepare its units under their command for the incoming war and weaponry they would be facing. And fourth, the military command was able to exploit Egypt’s mistake of advancing further the Suez beachhead to support Syria, allowing Israel to exploit its superiority in armoured warfare and to counterattack, taking advantage of its offensive mentality (Herzog, 2005; Murray, 2009).

As it was abovementioned, the same adversaries contributed to Israel’s victory and the proper functioning of the General Staff system and its principles, mainly by their own operational issues. Indeed, as Murray (2009), Herzog (2003), and Herzog (2006) explain, Egypt designed a war with a limited objective while learning from the lessons of 1967 and taking into account the strengths and weaknesses of Israel, making use of a combined-arms tactic and training that focused on crossing the Canal and securing a bridgehead. They exploited the surprise factor, the Israeli overconfidence and misjudgements, and international diplomacy, focusing on neutralizing the tanks and the air power, the bedrocks of the IDF military doctrine, and attrite Israel while dividing its forces.

But as soon as war became unpredictable with its ever-changing circumstances during combat, Israel could exploit its adaptation capabilities, which the adversaries could not match, changing the course of the war in favour of Israel. As soon as the Egyptian and Syrian were forced to deal with unpredictable situations, their armies were required to improvise, to have quick thinking and take responsibility; abilities they clearly lacked. They were simply not prepared to deal with unpredictable situations during combat, resorting heavily on the authority given the rigid and inflexible mindset framing their militaries, and their strong focusing on planning. The IAF also contributed in limiting the Egyptian and Syrian advance, as it forced them to be anchored to the AA missiles; once the adversaries were forced out of these aegis, it had no problem on destroying the Egyptian ground units in conjunction with the armoured units (Murray, 2009; Herzog, 2006).

The example of the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur war allows to understand the benefits and limits the General Staff system has. Many of the limits might have origins from other factors beyond the same General Staff system, yet clearly will end in affecting it one way or another. But the General Staff system – and/or some of its principles – fulfilled its purpose, which is to compensate for strategic, operational and command problems – even overcoming pre-conceptions on the adversary – with the Auftragstaktik, adaptation, flexibility, the independence and space for initiative at unit-level command and troop, as well as at high command level. It even led to victory when defeat looked certain. An ample discussion on the advantages and limitations of the Prussian General Staff system will be the topic of the next – closing – part of this study.

 

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Footnotes

[1] This approach, having roots in the New Army Model by Cromwell, consisted on three main bodies: A Staff for operational aspects, another for personnel and administrative affairs, and a ‘quarter-master’s staff’ for logistics. Usually, the last two bodies worked as a single one, hence having two Staff officers. See: Johnston, (2008).

[2] But also, the implementation of German-like operational doctrines, as Corum (2009) remarks. See above.

[3] The French system is denominated by Johnston (2008) as the ‘bureaux’ approach at both high and field HQs, having four main sections: one tasked with administrative tasks; another with armaments, hospitals and engineering; another with operations and communication; and a fourth for HQ tasks. All were headed by an adjuntant general and with a Chief of Staff as main commander. By WWI this transformed into a three-branched General Staff, one for administrative issues, another for intelligence, and a third for operation and planning affairs. See: pp. 27-28.

[4] Many Israelis were of European origin, making the country and its military Western in essence, according to Murray (2009). This might explain why the General Staff system is implemented in Israel.

[5] For instance, the geographical context and territorial limit was very similar to that of Prussia, meaning that Israel indeed lacks strategic depth. This forced the IDF to have an offensive mentality, framing its operational doctrine and making it to seek for a counterattack as soon as possible and deep into enemy territory, so to decide the conflict (Herzog, 2006; Murray, 2009).

[6] This system would be put under heavy test during the 1973 Yom Kippur (or War of Atonement), mainly due to political considerations and the fact it took place during one of the holiest periods for the Israelis, following Herzog (2005), Herzog (2003) and Murray (2009). In addition, a partial mobilization in May upon inaccurate alerts and the economic costs of such deterred a timely mobilization prior the war according to Van Creveld (as cited in Murray, 2009, p.19).

[7] See: Israel Defence Forces. (2015). The General Staff. Retrieved from: https://www.idfblog.com/about-the-idf/general-staff/

[8] Yet at least one commander trained his units to face this particular threat, as it will be pointed out below.

[9] The War of Attrition, which took place between 1967 and 1973, was also crucial for the Yom Kippur War, as it was the conflict taking place in a very decisive scenario as the Sinai and the Bar-Lev Line were. Egypt waged very limited attacks to attrite and test the Israelis while seeking to create the conditions for recovering the lost territory, taking advantage of the static situation the Israelis put themselves in by relying heavily on the Bar-Lev Line (Herzog, 2006).

[10] See footnote 6.

[11] Murray (2009) remarks that such attitude is widespread, as the militaries worldwide are not that keen on accepting criticism from lower ranks and from people outside it. Nevertheless, self-criticism, self-examination and debriefing are pillars in the Israeli military culture.

[12] Nevertheless, and according to Herzog (2006), the armoured units were very crucial in the battlefield prior a good planning, suffering only a 25% of casualties by infantry-operated anti-tank missiles.

[13] Interestingly, and according to Murray (2009), there was no control of units in the field during the Six-Day War. Units acted upon their own judgement, exerting initiative, as there were no direct orders or an efficient communication system delivering them to control their actions.

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Sources

Lt. Col. Corum, J. S (2009). Prefacio. In B. Condell., & D. T. Zabecki (Eds.), Wehrmacht – El Arte de la Guerra Alemán. [On the German Art of War. Truppenführung, Alejandro Pradera, trans.]. Madrid, Spain: La Esfera de los Libros (Original work published in 2001).

Maj. Eisel, B. (1993). An American General Staff: An Idea Whose Time Has Come? Fort Leaveworth, Kansas: School of Advanced Military Studies. Retrieved from: http://www.dtic.mil/get-tr-doc/pdf?AD=ADA274042 on (ADA274042).

Herzog, C. (2006). La Guerra del Yom Kippur. [The War of Atonement, Gerardo di Masso, trans.]. Barcelona, Spain: Inèdita Editores (Original work published in 1975).

Brig. Gen. Herzog, M. (2003). Introducción. In C. Herzog, La Guerra del Yom Kippur. [The War of Atonement, Gerardo di Masso, trans.]. (pp. 11-22). Barcelona, Spain: Inèdita Editores (Original work published in 1975).

Israel Defence Forces. (2015). The General Staff. Retrieved from: https://www.idfblog.com/about-the-idf/general-staff/ on 25.06.2017

Maj. Johnston, P. (2008). Staff Systems and the Canadian Air Force: Part 1. History of the Western Staff System. The Canadian Air Force Journal, Summer 2008, 1(2), 20-30. Retrieved from: http://airforceapp.forces.gc.ca/CFAWC/eLibrary/Journal/Vol1-2008/Iss2-Summer/AF_JOURNAL-Vol1-2008-Iss2-Summer_e.pdf on 24.11.2016

Murray, W. (2009). Military Adaptation in War. Alexandria, Virginia: Institute for Defense Analyses. Retrieved from: http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/dod/ona_murray_adapt_in_war.pdf on 26.06.2017 (IDA Paper P-4453).

Peri, Y. (November 2002). The Israeli Military and Israel’s Palestinian Policy. From Oslo to the Al Aqsa Intifada. (Peaceworks No. 47, November 2002). Washington DC, USA: United States Institute of Peace. Retrieved from: https://www.usip.org/sites/default/files/pwks47.pdf on 25.06.2017

Senor, D., & Singer, S. (2011). Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle. New York, USA: Twelve.

The Prussian General Staff: Meritocracy in Arms. Part 3a.

Image ‘170331-D-PB383-041’ by Joe Robinson. Released under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) License.

 

The Prussian General Staff – influence and legacy (I)

The history of the Prussian General Staff is a very interesting one, being the product of particular circumstances affecting a nation having a strong military culture, as it was forced to re-adapt to the military and political innovations sparked by the French Revolution[1]. As Goerlitz (1985) puts, it was an important milestone as it established cooperation between an army commander and a military theoretician, becoming a trend up until the 20th century. And even nowadays with different shape. Therefore, it could be stated that the Prussian General Staff is relegated to a given period of time and only to the Prussian/German case, having no place in the post-1945 and 21st century world. But reality is that the Prussian General Staff and its philosophies are still impregnating many armed forces around the world, or they are integral part of their doctrines and strategies, directly or indirectly.

This influence, noteworthy to be reminded, took place even prior WWII, as many strategies and doctrines were based upon those of the Prussian General Staff, which based the strategic and operational mindset of the Germans. In fact, and according to Millotat (1992), the (Prussian) General Staff remains a strong sociological and political phenomenon up to this day and despite the German defeats, mainly due to the impressive victories achieved by Von Moltke against Austria and France in the 19th century. Furthermore, those same impressive victories achieved by Prussia prompted a global emulation of the General Staff, and even local, as Bavaria set up its own General Staff and War Academy, under the command of the local Ministry of War, although it was more focused on theoretical than operational issues[2]. Even the impressive performance of the General Staff during both World Wars, alongside the 19th century victories, prompted a request for Prussian/German advisors, according to Herwig (1998).

Nowadays, many armed forces have incorporated, adapted or modified many or some of the Prussian General Staff principles to their own armies’ General Staffs.

Germany: The Bundeswehr and the Prussian legacy

Germany is clearly the first example that comes to mind, being the direct inheritor of the Prussian General Staff. As Klein (2001) puts, the Prussian General Staff system became a very important foundation of many armies and their own similar systems. The Bundeswehr is clearly an example of this, as it is heavily influenced by the Prussian General Staff in two ways: its own General Staff is set upon most of the old system, and the philosophy of von Scharnhorst is both enrooted and applied as well. This is evidenced in the way Command and Control is applied, the same selection process, and the education and training of officers at a high military academy, with those officers having an advisory role and urging action to the unit commander if needed. At unit level – division, brigade and corps – the General Staff Officer has the highest position and is allowed to provide advice, to inform the commander about important decisions, and even to take decision in case the commander or his deputy are unavailable (Schoy, n.d.)[3].

This example is interesting not only because of the obvious fact the Bundeswehr is continuing the tradition set by Prussia in the 19th century anyhow, but also because of the way it works now and the criticism it has sparked. Following Millotat (1992) and Schoy (n.d.), the General Staff is considered as a factor capable of undermining the commander’s authority and damaging the unity of the officers’ corps, given that a small but very skilled group of officers is posted at most senior or high positions.

Such critique aims at authority issues within the armed forces, along with concerns about meritocracy and its effects over an institution or a large group of individual part of it and their career advancement, with opportunities being supposedly scarce as very few would be able to meet requirements thus being a small but selected group directing such institution.

Yet the General Staff is, like on its early days, a helpful and beneficial tool for the Bundeswehr. It might be a challenge for the commander and the main staff assistants, following (Schoy, n.d.): First, the commander needs to know the General Staff officers, advising them not to erode his authority but rather to strengthen it throughout their tasks, with the General Staff officers enabled to exert Command and Control. Second, the same General Staff officer needs to ensure his advice is accurate and correlated to the decisions of the commander. This is a positive aspect. But a third challenge is that ambition remains, which results in careerism, with (adapted) officers focused on making a good impression to their superiors but not concentrated on doing their tasks, following Schoy (n.d.). This is related to the problem mentioned previously: the “courtesan officers” (or even high commanders) that are more focused on pleasing his superiors – either high rank officers or politicians – so to advance on his own interests, at the expense of preparing the armed forces to defend their country, or of providing a careful assessment to his superior or commanding officer. This ends in hampering the effectiveness, functionality and preparedness of any army, as careerism or “politics” are placed before professionalism and duty.

In any case, the current General Staff system benefits the Bundeswehr[4]. First, operational (and hierarchical) functionality is ensured by the emphasis on commanding tasks, training, education and mission-oriented leadership. This is reinforced by the instilled senses of obedience, discipline and courage, mutual support between the commander and the subordinates, and by ruling out bureaucracy and routinization. Second, the demand for independently formulated decisions for the commander following consultations with his principal staff assistant, and upon high quality advice[5]. Third, the same principles laid by Von Scharnhorst are being applied, with the best able to access top positions hence improving the quality of leadership; this thanks to the fact there is a General Staff comprised by a small number of officers and working at political and operational level of command[6]. Military organization is strengthened as a result, ensuring the quality of the officers’ corps by rewarding merit and achievements, making of the General Staff important for the Bundeswehr and any armed force. And fourth, Auftragstaktik and position weighting over ranks are maintained as well, with character, ability, mental power and resolution and initiative being essential elements (Millotat, 1992; Schoy, n.d.)[7].

These four factors also solve the critiques and dilemmas against the General Staff regarding the commander’s authority and the role of the General Staff Officer. They rebuke the argument of an elite of highly skilled officers endangering the cohesion of the officers’ corps, as selection process and changes for selection are the same, with an objective selection criteria. Also, the General Staff is an organic element within the armed forces, regardless of its particular nature. In addition, advice to commander are a core element, with the adviser helping the commander in dealing with the inherent complexities of operations through those same advices, and after consulting with the commander’s staff assistant. In relation to the “democratization vs meritocracy” debate, this is neutralized by the fact leadership positions remain open, with standards being high given their meritocratic-based process (Millotat, 1992; Schoy, n.d.). Furthermore, if quality is needed so to create a body of capable officers providing high quality advice, a very high standard is needed, even if it goes against the “democratization” criteria. This to ensure also proper functionality and effectiveness of the officers’ corps and the armed forces[8].

Equally important – and helpful too – is the principle of Staff Assistants (and officers, basically) to be aware of the world and the political, social, cultural, economic and ethical factors around them and that either impact or shape military affairs, just like in the times of Von Scharnhorst, according to Schoy (n.d.). Such awareness enables the General Staff and the same armed forces to have a good assessment of potential adversaries and allies, reaching a clearer strategic view. Another fact that is important and beneficial is that the principles of an officer being silent, unselfish and dutiful with political sensitivity remain, according to Millotat (1992). This makes sure that the General Staff is comprised by focused and well-prepared officers capable of comprehending the political factor that is intertwined with war.

Considering the previous presentation, it looks that only the German Army could be the only capable of developing and implementing a General Staff system, limiting it to that country only, given the history of the General System and of Germany. But, as Schoy (n.d.) remarks, the current armies are facing the same challenges as the Prussian army faced back then, considering that war is in constant transformation thus bringing more complexities to military affairs. Space, time and forces are all factors that need synchronization in a multidimensional and non-linear way, considering that pace is increased and information is abundant and dynamic. A General Staff system (and officers) helps the commander not to be overwhelmed by these factors, while providing a figure that giving enhanced decision-making through high-quality advice.

Yet Germany is not implementing the General Staff entirely. It seems to exist at a minimal size, with the system being implemented at unit level instead of the autonomous, big and important military institution it once was. In fact, the Bundeswehr tried to mark distance from elements that could have sparked some controversies as a result of assessments based upon historical experiences. The General Staff is being kept with a limited level by a small corps of officers and with the Ministry of Defence as the main commanding instance[9]. The Allies are also behind this, as they tried to ban the General Staff and the War Academy since both were behind the German ability to inflict damage to the Allies’ forces, fearing them and having repulsion as they considered them symbols of German militarism[10]. Currently, a Chief of Staff acts as the main advisory body and represent the army before the government, having also planning task. But operational command falls in NATO hands in wartime thus integrating the Bundeswehr in NATO’s structure, so to defend the national territory in case of invasion or attack. This means that the General Staff cannot be the main instrument of national defence nor to have the scale it once had; but the figure of the Chief of Staff remains as well as the training of qualified staff assistants. And indeed, the General Staff Officers retain their advisory roles to commander without commanding roles, with commanders mandated to listen to them. Education of the officers remains separated yet NATO oriented, forcing students to think and act at both operational and strategic and military-political level. Nonetheless, Auftragstaktik and Von Moltke’s principles are still implemented (Gunther, 2012; Klein, 2001; Millotat, 1992)[11].

The United States: overhauling an army

The General Staff system could benefit any other army given its characteristics and principles. In fact, the US Army has been particularly interested in the General Staff system, as it considers it could benefit its officers’ corps and compensate for strategic failures or the bad leadership in high rank officers. Yet such interest is not that recent, as Von Moltke was already being analysed in the US[12].

The General Staff could benefit any other army considering its characteristics and principles. The US Army has been particularly interested in the General Staff model, as it considers such could benefit its own officers’ corps and compensate for the bad leadership in the high rank officers or strategic failures. But this interest is not entirely new, as von Moltke was studied by the United States ever since. As a result, the US adopted some aspects of the Prussian General Staff at army, corps and division levels – similar to Prussia – so to achieve a rapid, decisive victory for its military operations. This makes of the US one exception in contrast to other armies adopting the General Staff system, as such adoptions generally speaking lack many main traits like independent tasks and the special training and selection processes, the small number of General Staff Officers with advisory roles, and the Auftragstaktik (Gunther, 2012; Herwig; 1998; DiMarco, 2009; Millotat, 1992)[13].

The US example is a very interesting one, as it can be compared with the Prussian Army in the sense both needed re-adaptation at a point, and as it is one of the most interested in the Prussian General Staff. A first similarity comes from the fact that, like Prussia, the US relies heavily on coalitions for legitimacy and to be able to challenge the interests of another state or competitor[14]. But this interest emerged only after the US military changes it perception on the Auftragstaktik, especially when it realized that within the Prussian Army, the role of a small group of very educated officers was crucial, as they were able to execute complex tactical challenges. This resulted in the beginning of a strong cultural change for the US Army – similar to that of Prussia during the Napoleonic Wars – as it is based on personalities or conditions, instead of initiative by highly educated officers. Hence, Auftragstaktik was adopted in 1986 (and included in the manuals in 1993) as it encouraged personal initiative thanks to orders being not-prescriptive thus allowing freedom of action (Gunther, 2012).

This adoption of the General Staff system and its principles came as a result of needs highlighted by operational experiences. For instance, and following DiMarco (2009), experiences in Iraq made evident the need for enhancing the training of senior leaders, the need to address problems of mediocre leadership and to fill the gap since there is no professional body of General Staff Officers supporting field commanders. Also, according to Kaplan (2008), reforms are a product of operational needs faced by the US during Iraq and in the light of the War on Terror, as the new battleground within such context requires sub-officers and other low-ranked officers to have more power and authorization to act on their own, alongside intelligence supporting such actions. Sub-officers, in fact, where in charge of sectors very often, in an independent and autonomous matter, the same way their Israeli colleagues (Kaplan, 2008). Senor & Singer (2011) explains, however, that the US army needs a top-heavy approach (opening ample room for leadership issues) given its own – large – size and the very distant wars it wages. This results in particular logistical and command challenges. Not to say operational challenges as well. But changes are taking place on this area as well. This is also a challenge for an army with a long structural and operational tradition that acknowledges the need for reforms and changes similar to the precepts of the General Staff.

These challenges could be addressed via a General System, enhancing the field-level command. But it is fair to mention that such issues are not exclusive of the US Army[15]. Following DiMarco (2009), issues of leadership quality are rather a constant throughout time, which can be rarely solved; yet modern warfare can displace the main leadership as a General Staff can contribute in solving this issue and ensuring success.

This might bring the issue of the ‘military genius’. According to DiMarco (2009) an inspired and talented leadership equals better combat effectiveness, but no army is able to recognize and give way to the ‘military genius’ to be the main commander ever, being the few cases a very rare exception. Nevertheless, success of battle command might depend of that genius, enhanced by education and experience, and requiring only the existence of ability a priori. In addition, careful education, training, mentoring, organization and advising the brightest minds within the army can produce a ‘military genius’ enough to compensate a bad leadership by a given general. The General Staff is – unsurprisingly – the ideal tool for this, as it is the way for the best to have commanding influence and enhance operational performance, benefiting the US as it did to Prussia (DiMarco, 2009).

Regarding the issue of the ‘genius in war’, Von Clausewitz (1999) has a very interesting exposition about it, not to mention he is the main military theoretician who introduced such concept. By taking a closer look at it, it could be understandable the relation between such genius and the General Staff, being this one a maximizing factor for his aptitudes and abilities. Von Clausewitz (1999) explain that some activity with a particular nature – warfare on this case – requires special skills of comprehension and temper (that war more than anything else requires), which manifest through the ‘genius’, with such abilities concentrating upon himself and being rather an exception. But such exception might be frequent if it emerges from a people with high military spirit, and even more when a given nation is very civilized but bellicose at the same time. As war and politics converge, the ‘military genius’ is required to manage both spheres and understand the State’s politics, to sense the political relations of the State – I suspect both the inner and foreign relations – and to know what can be done with the available resources and assets for war (cfr. pp. 67-68 and pp. 85-86).

What is the place of the General Staff in this case, and how it might benefit a country like the US? Taking into account the explanation by von Clausewitz and DiMarco, and taking into account the essence and functions of the Prussian General Staff, it can be stated that: first, the General Staff system allows the military genius to exploit enhance his skills while benefiting the army with such, either by commanding or providing advice to a commander, let alone the education given. Second, the General Staff over the paper requires the officer to consider the political element among others, being also the place where both can be conjugated when considering the strategy or defence policies while taking account the political aspect of the State, both within and outside. The US, given its position of dominating power in the international system and of its democratic nature (which makes of politics a quite complex and delicate exercise), is required to implement from time to time operations and campaigns in order to protect its interests and national security, actions with high political impact in the US and abroad. A General Staff could help any military genius in the US army or any officer, be of high rank or at field level, to manage the political and military spheres for any operation abroad, enabling him to consider and address the political challenges of a given operation, for both domestic and foreign politics. Not to mention that such system would provide flexibility – or enhance the existing one – during operations, enabling also initiative for the troops and officers and their ability to deal with the unexpected, enhancing the optimal outcome and political-strategic impact of those operations waged under a changing nature of war[16].

Despite these advantages, even the adoption of the Auftragstaktik wasn’t that smooth in the US. According to Gunther (2012), factors like the mentality of a soldier tasked with ‘what to think and not how to think’; reliance on doctrines and drill (signalling lack of flexibility); initiative not being valued at the point of neutralizing operational initiative and manoeuvring; and the prevalence of procedures all remained almost untouched, hampered implementation of Auftragstaktik. Nevertheless, Auftragstaktik was finally incorporated in the 2012 US Army manual. It would be a very interesting exercise to evaluate it evolution and implementation, and to see it there has been innovations as a result, if it has enhanced the principle itself and what original elements were incorporated.

It seems that many principles of the Prussian General Staff are being applied by the US Army – or some of its branches – as a result of the abovementioned reforms[17]. At first, sub-officers address the superiors with confidence, being an important element behind performance. Secondly, the emphasis is placed on small combat groups, maximizing the role of sub-officers. Third, and very remarkable, a focusing on few elements for training and deployments, alongside low-profile incursions and the study by both sub-officers and officers on their own initiative of wars similar to wars and operations they are executing (Kaplan, 2008)[18].

In addition, the US Army is further implementing the 1986 and 1993 reforms. A first is the increased inter-operation between services or branches. A second, the decreasing vertical approach and increased focusing on brigades, reducing bureaucracy and saturation of higher ranks, allowing lower ranks to adapt more easily to a given situation during operations. Technology is a factor, as the Stryker armoured vehicles enables increased autonomy to sub-officers and enhanced relations between them and the heads of battalions (at their HQ). The increased implementation of the ‘special forces-model’ and of networked intelligence, also allows more freedom of action and initiative (Kaplan, 2008)[19].

Overall, the US is the most recent and palpable example of how the General Staff system is being implemented at its fullest or in some parts, and more because of operational experiences than the idea of transitioning into a Prussian-styled operational command. But there are other remarkable examples besides the German and the American cases. Nations like Great Britain, France, Russia and the Soviet Union, and Israel are among the most remarkable cases where parts of the General Staff system and philosophies were adopted, or adapted according to their needs and context, with some cases even adding elements of their own or having a “special touch” when putting in practice this system. Experiences also resulted to be valuable lecturers for those nations, thus prompting the adoption of the Prussian General Staff system as a whole or partially. Those are the cases for the next part.

 

 

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Footnotes

[1] It must be reminded that the same Prussian General Staff emerged as an adaptation and response process to those same changes introduced by France given the peculiar nature of its own political process (than impregnated its military) in the period. It also emerged as the reaction by reformists within the Prussian Army to replicate the same French novelties and to exploit the potential of skilled junior officers, placing training, identification, education and mentoring as the way to give the Prussian Army enhanced responsiveness (DiMarco, 2009; Schoy, n.d.).

[2] It seems that the Prussian Army, the embryo of the General Staff, was a model for the early revolutionary France, according to Goerlitz (1985). It is also important to point out that Bavaria, Saxony and Würtemberg kept their own armies, yet subjected to the German Imperial Army, as a product of special concessions given to these Länders, so to facilitate their integration into the Empire. See: Guillen, 1973, p.8.

[3] He is also required to inform the General Staff about relevant decisions advised to the commander, following Schoy (n.d.).

[4] In fact, all service branches of the German Armed Forces have their own General Staff with their own education systems, all aimed at preparing the officers for General/Admiral Staff tasks in an independent and responsible manner during peacetime or wartime, and also for NATO-level duties, according to Millotat (1992).

[5] Furthermore, the General Staff Officer is to be held accountable for his advices and his responsibilities on this sense, as his advice is to be based upon qualified reasoning and thought, instead of mere wishful thinking, according to Millotat (1992).

[6] Other principles still maintained are those of valour, veracity, critical judgement, objectivity and intellectual versatility; personal force, self-control and sound esteem. The conformation of meetings and associations, just like in the early times of the Prussian General Staff, are also maintained (Millotat, 1992).

[7] This is also strengthened by the fact that, like the original General Staff and under Scharnhorst’s, the best minds are cultivated through studies on historical experiences (so to absorb the lessons of past wars) and other military issues, aiming at providing a safety against mediocre leadership or to provide responsiveness should adversity is present. It also enhances the benefits of highly skilled and flexible officers with initiative, capable enough to ensure operational success (DiMarco, 2006; Millotat, 1992).

[8] The German Army in fact tried to reduce the required time for training for Staff Officers in the light of “democratization” and equal opportunity, yet it maintained the principle of merit above any other consideration for General Staff Officers, according to Millotat (1992).

[9] One of those experiences was the high degree of political power the General Staff acquired prior and during WWII, with strong debates sparking in Germany after the war as many considered a General Staff was unnecessary in a democratic state, being also elitist and thus against democracy itself, following Millotat (1992).

[10] In fact, and according to Millotat (1992), the General Staff was basically irrelevant during WWII. It was also banned or hampered after both World Wars.

[11] The value Auftragstaktik has for freedom of action is clearly valued, with such becoming a standard for other armed forces, according to Millotat (1992).

[12] The US was having already a General Staff system of their own by WWI, based upon the French model (see footnote XX), according to Johnston (2008). Cfr. p. 28.

[13] The US used many principles of the General Staff to be incorporated within its financial and management system, following Millotat (1992).

[14] See also: Kaplan, 2008, p.486.

[15] In fact, the US Army enjoyed a considerable degree of success thanks to a superior staff work that managed to compensate for poor leadership, and managed to ensure best use of resources. Still the War College and the same US Staff are both underrated and not sufficient, with the last one lacking independence and having instead a mere supplementary role (DiMarco, 2009).

[16] Cfr, Ellis, 1993, pp. 39-41. A full detailed explanation of the benefits the General Staff would have will be the topic for the last part.

[17] The US Army received some primeval influence of the Prussian style of warfare back in the Independence War, as the Prussian baron and officer Friedrich von Steuben made of the nascent army an army of sub-officers, with a de-centralized command where basic commands were decomposed through the chain of command. Cfr. Kaplan, 2008, p.20.

[18] Those wars are the Indian Wars, according to Kaplan (2008), as they were having ambushes, skirmishes and sudden strikes.

[19] The United States Marine Corps (USMC) is the maximum expression of this dynamic, as it is cored by sub-officers with a good amount of experience and leadership skills, with units depending on sergeants and corporals, following Kaplan (2008). Furthermore, structure was not that rigid, and during operations or missions the higher ranks would yield command to low-rank officers, reflecting also the Prussian General Staff principle of rank having little weight when circumstances called for this.

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Sources

Maj. Eisel, B. (1993). An American General Staff: An Idea Whose Time Has Come? Fort Leaveworth, Kansas: School of Advanced Military Studies. Retrieved from: http://www.dtic.mil/get-tr-doc/pdf?AD=ADA274042 on (ADA274042).

Goerlitz, W. (1985). History of the German General Staff, 1657-1945. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press.

DiMarco, L. A. (2009). The US Army General Staff: Where Is It in the Twenty-first Century? Retrieved from: http://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/the-us-army-general-staff-in-the-21st-century on 04.06.2016

Herwig, H. H. (Spring 1998). The Prussian Model and Military Planning Today. Joint Force Quarterly, 18, 67-75. Retrieved from: http://www.dtic.mil/doctrine/jfq/jfq-18.pdf on 03.06.2016

Guillen, P. (1973). Historia de Alemania. 2. El Imperio alemán, 1871-1918. [Histoire de l’Allemagne. 2. L’Empire Alemand, 1871-1918, Miguel Llop Remedios, trans.]. Barcelona, Spain: Editorial Vicens-Vives (Original work published in 1970).

Maj. Gunther, M. J. (2012). Auftragstaktik: The Basis for Modern Military Command? Fort Leaveworth, Kansas: School of Advanced Military Studies. Retrieved from: http://indianstrategicknowledgeonline.com/web/Auftragstaktik.pdf on 04.06.2016 (AY 2012-02)

Maj. Johnston, P. (2008). Staff Systems and the Canadian Air Force: Part 1. History of the Western Staff System. The Canadian Air Force Journal, Summer 2008, 1(2), 20-30. Retrieved from: http://airforceapp.forces.gc.ca/CFAWC/eLibrary/Journal/Vol1-2008/Iss2-Summer/AF_JOURNAL-Vol1-2008-Iss2-Summer_e.pdf on 24.11.2016

Kaplan, R. D. (2008). Por tierra, mar y aire. [Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts, Jordi Vidal, trans.]. Barcelona, Spain: Ediciones B (Original work published in 2007).

Col. Klein, F. (2001). The Myth of the Prusso-German General Staff. Baltic Defence Review, 2001 (5), 133-144. Retrieved from: http://kms1.isn.ethz.ch/serviceengine/Files/ISN/115399/ichaptersection_singledocument/e5d57ca7-d0bb-4bcf-a3ac-9133f90c1578/en/01_01_16.pdf. on 03.06.2016

Oberst. Millotat, C. O. E. (1992). Understanding the Prussian-German General Staff System. Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania: Strategic Studies Institute. Retrieved from: http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a249255.pdf on 03.06.2016 (AD-A249 255)

Senor, D., & Singer, S. (2011). Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle. New York, USA: Twelve.

Oberst. Schoy, M. (n.d). General Gerhard von Scharnhorst: Mentor of Clausewitz and Father of the Prussian-German General Staff. Retrieved from: http://www.cfc.forces.gc.ca/259/181/82_schoy.pdf on 03.06.2016

Von Clausewitz, C. (1999). De la guerra. [Vom Kriege, A. Díez, trans.]. Barcelona, Spain: Idea Books. (Original work published in 1832).

Midway: When the Airplane Sank an Empire (Part IIIb)

Image: ‘80-G-7878’ by National Museum of the U.S. Navy. Released under Public Domain Mark 1.0 License

Destination: Fate. The battle.

The pilot detects his target: there it lies, a visible warship beneath his SBD Dauntless dive-bomber wings, having a remarkable wide red circle at its deck. He also realizes that there are no enemy fighters to stop them. He decides to attack, and orders his squadron to attack the warships and other similar ones that were also detected. The planes dive towards their targets while facing as only opposition the Japanese flak. In a full display of bravery, they execute their attack with determination and cold blood. When they are flying away from the enemy fleet, the leave 3 Japanese main aircraft carriers in flames, doomed to lie until the end of times at the bottom of the sea. but not only the Japanese carriers are doomed, as the attack shatters the aims of Japan to be the dominant power in the Pacific. The brave US Navy pilots changed a war and History with a dozen of planes and bombs.

Midway is among the most decisive and great naval battles in History, like the battles of Salamis, Lepanto, the defeat of the Spanish ‘Invincible Armada’, Trafalgar and Jutland/Skagerrak. Yet the Battle of Midway stands for being the first decisive battle where the airplane and the aircraft carrier decided the outcome of a battle – and even a war[1]. This naval battle basically represents the rise of a new type of warship, which back then was received with mixed assessments and serious doubts, and faced the opposition of those preferring the battleship over those that envisioned the aircraft carrier as a decisive weapon, displaced the battleship as the capital ship, according to Crawford (2001).

As it was reviewed in the first part, Midway became important as it allowed the US to guard the routes going to the east towards Hawaii, guarding also these islands, the naval base of Pearl Harbour and the American Pacific coast. It was also important for supporting any operations with the air and naval base placed there, being also a relay station for a trans-Pacific submarine cable connecting Hawaii and the Philippines. For Japan, it was valuable a prize to win, as it would allow the Japanese Navy to reach Hawaii and the continental US, providing also a shield to operations – and conquests – in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific. It would provide also a platform for naval power projection to neutralize US efforts.

Considering these factors, it was a matter of time for Midway to become the scenario for an epic and decisive battle between two regional hegemons, that decided the fate of the Pacific War and of two great – naval powers. And it was the scenario where History would be changed, being the zenith of the geopolitical competition unleashed by the US and Japan, and the ultimate clash between Leviathans. And just like the encounter between the two gigantic mythological creatures, the seas (and the world) would shake tremendously.

A haunting air raid and a prelude

The Battle of Midway was preceded by another battle roughly a month, often shadowed by the Battle of Midway, which prevents people to realize the importance of this preceding battle: the Battle of Coral Sea. This battle is important as it meant an opportunity for both contending navies to have a brief and preparatory encounter, all under a set of naval operations that reinforced or diminished their operational capacities of either side, or simply pushed to commit all. And even this battle made one of the sides to have a wrong assessment of its opponent, which would be decisive in Midway.

As it was aforementioned, the Battle of Coral Sea was the very first naval encounter where the aircraft carriers became the main warship of choice, where direct contact between both fleets did not take place except the embarked naval planes. The battleship also played no significant role here (Canales & del Rey, 2016; Cau, 2011).

The battles of Midway and Coral Sea were possible thanks to an apparently unrelated event that would prove crucial for the Pacific War. This event was the air raid by Major “Billy” Mitchel against Tokyo and other cities 18th of April, 1942[2]. This air attack, performed by a mere dozen of B-25 Mitchell medium bombers which was at first mocked by the Japanese press, managed to instil fear and insecurity in the Japanese high command and main admirals. First, it managed to highlight the vulnerability of Japanese cities to American air power. Second, doubts were casted over the established Pacific security zone. As a result, many concluded that the bombers couldn’t have taken off from aircraft carriers given their size, but rather from an airbase in an island. As Midway became the obvious answer to this question, Yamamoto and the Japanese Imperial Navy considered necessary to seize Midway to prevent further similar attacks. It was also necessary to meet other objectives in China and near Australia so to stop renewed ‘hit-and-run’ American, and cut supply lines between the US and Australia. The Japanese were conscious of the value of Australia as a forward base for the US to retake the Pacific, along with the fact that General Mac Arthur was actually based there, hence the importance of isolating it (Dahms, 1974; Gibelli, 1972; Murray & Millet, 2005; Rothberg, Fredericks & O’Keefe, 1969; Thomas, 2007).

The ‘Operation MO’ was hence devised, aiming at attacking the Tulagi, the Salomon Islands and Port Moresby; with New Caledonia, Fiji and Samoa to be targeted so to besiege Australia. The Japanese Imperial Navy advanced towards the targeted areas, dividing its forces, but unaware that the US Navy was ready thanks to its intelligence services. The Battle of Coral Sea started in consequence: when the Japanese seized Tulagi, the USS Yorktown attacked, while the USS Lexington attacked the Japanese convoy. After this, the Japanese decided to look for the American aircraft carriers to no avail, as both fleets were not able to detect each other. Mistaken sightings by both sides, whose planes thought they detected the main fleets, led to ineffective attacks and sinking of tankers and destroyers mistaken for battleships and aircraft carriers (Gibelli, 1972, Canales y del Rey, 2016).

At a point, both fleets detected each other, unleashing the first aircraft carrier battle in History: The Japanese carriers Shoho, Zuikaku and Shokaku fought the US carriers USS Lexington and USS Yorktown. The result of the battle is hard to determine at first sight, as the US Navy clearly took a comparatively hard rate of losses, by losing the USS Lexington and having the USS Yorktown severely damaged, considering the US Navy was short of aircraft carriers. The Japanese managed to weak the US Navy further, yet they missed an opportunity to destroy the US naval forces deployed thanks to the indecision by the Japanese commanding officer to pursue the American warships. This mistake would have severe consequences for the Japanese in Midway[3]. But the Japanese suffered the loss of the light aircraft carrier Shoho, and with the Zuikaku and the Shokaku having lost most of their air wings, hence being neutralized, even more as the last one suffered heavy damages. Tactically, the Japanese were clearly victorious. But in a strategic sense, the Americans managed to ward off Japan and to neutralize its aims of landing in New Guinea and block Australia, as Japanese air superiority was neutralized and the landings were forced to be cancelled (Cau, 2011; Canales & del Rey, 2016; Dahms, 1974; Gibelli, 1972; Murray & Millet, 2005; Ralby, 2013; Rothberg, Fredericks & O’Keefe, 1969). That is one of the important elements the Battle of Coral Sea had.

Yet there were other factors behind this battle’s importance for the Battle of Midway. For instance, the battle provided the US Navy with an opportunity to implement operational and tactical lessons learned at the ‘hit-and-run’ limited operations implemented in the islands of Wake, Rabaul and New Britain; and to test its strategy to fight the Japanese. It also benefited the US Navy by providing enhanced knowledge over its adversary, which would be crucial for the incoming battle. And as a last, the fact that two Japanese aircraft carriers were neutralized, denying them to take part in Midway, allowed the US Navy to face the Yamamoto more easily, as the balance of power was slightly reduced. The outcome of the power would have been different if the Zuikaku and the Shokaku would have taken part in the Battle of Midway (Canales & del Rey, 2016; Gibelli, 1972).

Noteworthy to remark, that the intelligence played a vital role in this battle, the same way as it would do in the Battle of Midway, as it alerted Admiral Frank Fletcher bout the Japanese aims and intentions, prompting him to gather a naval force to thwart such plans at the north of Australia (Canales & del Rey, 2016; Rothberg, Fredericks & O’Keefe, 1969).

A Navy against the ropes

After the Battle of Coral Sea, and despite managing to dislodge and even neutralize the Japanese plans, the US Navy was in a bad shape to still face the Japanese on a head-on confrontation. It was already weakened after Pearl Harbour and the aforementioned battle further weakened it, thus facing the adversary in inferiority of conditions, having only 4 aircraft carriers in contrast to 10 of the Japanese. Yet it must be reminded that the fast repair of the USS Yorktown made it to be the 4th carrier, while absence of the the Zuikaku and the Shokaku, and the loss of the Shoho meant the Japanese were having 7 aircraft carriers in reality. In any case, even the two task forces assembled by Admiral Nimitz to face the Japanese Imperial Navy, the Task force 16 and the Task Force 17, were very small and having scarce assets. For instance, Task Force 16 was comprised by the USS Enterprise and USS Hornet, 6 cruisers and 11 destroyers; Task Force 17 was comprised by the USS Yorktown, 2 cruisers and 6 destroyers[4]. Both forces were very small in contrast to the total force deployed by Japan in Midway and their supporting operations: 9 battleships, 5 aircraft carriers (one was a light carrier), 14 cruisers, 32 destroyers, 21 submarines and 700 airplanes (Canales & del Rey, 2016; Cau, 2011; Macdonald, 1993; Murray & Millet, 2005; Rothberg, Fredericks & O’Keefe, 1969).

Clearly, the US Navy was facing a dire situation, as it was at absolute disadvantage and facing a very resolved enemy willing to use his naval superiority to destroy its opponents, and expanding further while consolidating its advances. But as the US Navy was between the wall and the sword, it began to learn how to deal with the sword. Following Gibelli (1972) and Murray & Millet (2005), the US Navy began to wage some limited but important counterattacks in the islands of Wake, Rabaul and New Britain; at these operations, the US Navy learned how to match the Japanese naval and army aircraft. Also, the US Navy numerical inferiority was compensated by two important elements: the quality of the command, in the person of Admiral Nimitz, and the excellent intelligence service that gave a hint about the Japanese plans. As it was reviewed in the previous part, all of these factors were decisive in the Battle of Midway.

The Encounter: A Chess at the Seas

Operations at Midway were part of the general aforementioned plan by the Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, so to tackle the American limited ‘hit-and-run’ type operations, including the ‘Doolittle Raid’ over Tokyo. As a result, the Imperial Navy would advance towards Midway to seize this valuable strategic outpost, and to destroy the US Navy aircraft carriers by ambushing them into a decisive encounter. The aims were to further secure the territories and resources recently seized, but also to seize Hawaii and seeks a beneficial armistice, destroying also the US naval power before its industrial might would change the balance of power. Hence, an amphibious force would take Midway, placed at the reserve force and under Yamamoto’s direct command, which included battleships like the famous Yamato. The advance would be in three axis of advance: a fleet under Admiral Chuichi Nagumo’s command would attack Midway, having the bulk of the aircraft carriers; another fleet under Admiral Boshogiro Hosogaya’s command would execute the diversion attack against the Aleutians; and a reserve fleet under Admiral Nobutaka Kondo’s command having a couple of aircraft carriers and battleships, which would seize Midway after the US Navy destruction (Canales & del Rey, 2016; Cau, 2011; Dahms, 1974; Gibelli, 1972; Macdonald, 1993; Murray & Millet, 2005; Rothberg, Fredericks & O’Keefe, 1974)[5].

The Japanese were positive that the plan would work and that they would be facing a very weakened enemy, as they thought they would be facing only two aircraft carriers and a navy diminished in firepower, heavily affected by the series of defeats prior the battle, sailing towards battle in full overconfidence. Little they knew that the Americans were not only ready to face Japan on an intelligent manner, but also that they were having a third, unexpected carrier: the same USS Yorktown the Japanese thought it was sunk at Coral Sea, as it was quickly repaired and put back into service. First, Admiral Nimitz was already informed of Japanese intentions and plans thanks to the intelligence services, being able to devise a proper answer while setting his own counter-trap and creating two task forces: 16 and 17, the former having the USS Enterprise and the USS Hornet under Spruance command, and the later having the Yorktown and under command of Fletcher. The surprise factor was lost for the Japanese as their plans were discovered, while advancing in confidence (Canales & del Rey, 2016; Cau, 2011; Dahms, 1974; Macdonald, 1993; Murray & Millet, 2005; Rothberg, Fredericks & O’Keefe, 1969; Shepherd, 2003; Thomas, 2007).

Nimitz’s was prepared to face the Japanese and not to fall on their deception at the Aleutians, mainly thanks to the work of the intelligence services that deciphered the Japanese code, denying the Japanese the element of surprise. His sixth sense contributed to prepare the US Navy to face the Japanese more efficiently, as he ignored the fleet of Hosogaya when a scout plane detected it, judging correctly that it was a diversionary attack and not the main advance force. He also suggested Fletcher and Spruance to take advantage of Midway as a ‘fourth carrier’ impossible to sink and reinforced with further airplanes and AA defences, advising them to concentrate on taking the Japanese aircraft carrier while avoiding the Japanese battleships. This evidences Nimitz’s – correct – recognition of the potential the aircraft carrier-based aircraft attacks groups to counter the Japanese (Cau, 2011; Dahms, 1974; Murray & Millet, 2005; Rothberg, Fredericks & O’Keefe, 1969).

The battle began at 4th of June 1942 with two simultaneous events: first, the attack made by around 100 Japanese planes departing from all the 4 Japanese aircraft carriers against Midway at 0430 hours, that destroyed deposits and facilities but failed in neutralizing the base entirely, as the airstrips were left mostly intact and all the base airplanes were able to strike back[6]. Second, the sighting of the Japanese fleet some 1,125 km southeast off Midway by a PBY-40 Catalina at 0552 hours. After Midway was bombed by the Japanese, the American launched a series of counter attacks between 0705 and 0837 hours; this was the second stage of the battle, with the Midway-based airplanes trying to attack the Japanese aircraft carrier fleet to no avail, falling victims of the Japanese AA and fighters[7]. Another air attack at 0920 by the US Navy followed, having the same results yet forcing Nagumo to change the position of his aircraft carriers; this attack also gave Nagumo a hint on the American aircraft carriers position. This situation made the Americans to look for the Japanese aircraft carriers, which were detected by mere chance: when the American airplanes where returning from another unsuccessful attack, they spotted a lone Japanese warship, which led them into the bulk of the Japanese fleet as they decided to follow it. At the same time, Japanese scout planes detected the American aircraft carriers (Canales & del Rey, 2016; Cau, 2011; Dahms, 1974; Gibelli, 1972; Macdonald, 1993; Murray & Millet, 2005; Pacific War Historical Society, n.d.; Rothberg, Fredericks & O’Keefe, 1969).

The third stage of the battle began when the US Navy launched another attack against the Japanese aircraft carrier from all the three aircraft carriers between 1020 and 1022 hours, though uncoordinated and with some airplanes – especially the torpedo-bombers and the fighters – nearly wiped out by the Japanese AA defences and fighters once again. This time, however, the attack would be benefited by three factors, thus being the decisive one. First, the combination of good luck for the Americans along (and due to) the mistakes of Nagumo. As it was reviewed in the previous section, Nagumo ordered the aircraft carriers to give priority to the planes coming from the attack against Midway, yet being undecided on the type of armament to install on the reserve planes. Midway was not entirely neutralized thus a new attack was deemed necessary, while his subordinates were advising an attack against the recently detected American fleet[8]. Nagumo then changed his mind, but only after 40 precious minutes were lost after the scout managed to confirm the composition of the US fleet, after detecting it at 0728 hours[9]. Second, the previous American attacks against the Japanese aircraft carriers forced their fighters to fly at low altitude and to be on low fuel and ammunition; this allowed the SBD-3 Dauntless dive-bombers to find no opposition and to reach their targets undetected until it was too late for the Japanese. These planes managed to destroy the best of the Japanese aircraft carrier fleet and the Japanese aim of expansion, changing the course of the war, as the Kaga, the Akagi and the Soryu were destroyed[10]. And third, Spruance’s initiative and aggressiveness that actually set most of the American attacks against the Japanese fleet: this attitude allowed the Americans to exploit their assets thus achieving an impressive victory (Canales & del Rey, 2016; Cau, 2011; Dahms, 1974; Gibelli, 1972; Macdonald, 1993; Murray & Millet, 2005; Pacific War Historical Society, n.d.; Rothberg, Fredericks & O’Keefe, 1969).

The fourth stage of the battle was when the Japanese decided to strike back against the USS Yorktown from the surviving aircraft carrier Hiryu with two attacks between 1054 and 1245 hours, after receiving the shocking information that they were facing not two but three aircraft carriers, including the USS Yorktown. They inflicted several damages to the American aircraft that ended in sinking it, along with a torpedo fired by a Japanese submarine that sentenced the ship, which sank at 0458 hours of the 7th of June[11]. This, however, would be a very short lived victory for the Japanese, as the US Navy counterattacked with the planes of the USS Hornet and the USS Enterprise, sinking the Hiryu at 1703 hours. After these events, both fleets tried to detect each other to no avail, with Yamamoto resolved to destroy the US Navy remaining aircraft carriers and Midway’s base with his battleships and cruisers, failing in that purpose as well. Both fleets withdrew from the scene. Yet adversity was not over for the Japanese yet, thanks to the decision of Takeo Kurita, commander of a small squadron of 4 cruisers and 2 destroyers tasked with shelling Midway, to sacrifice the cruisers Mikuma and Mogami that collided during the night while escaping from a US submarine that detected it. This submarine directed the embarked airplanes to attack them, sinking the Mikuma and heavily damaging the Mogami by the 5th of June. The Japanese left Midway in full shock after losing 4 of their main and best aircraft carriers, along 275 aircraft and 3,500 skilled sailors and aviators to an adversary having fewer units, and having in comparison fewer losses: the USS Yorktown, 1 cruiser, 1 destroyer, 50 airplanes and 307 men (Canales & del Rey, 2016; Cau, 2011; Dahms, 1974; Gibelli, 1972; Macdonald, 1993; Murray & Millet, 2005; Pacific War Historical Society, n.d.; Rothberg, Fredericks & O’Keefe, 1969; Shepherd, 2003; Thomas, 2007).

Yet the Japanese were reluctant to accept defeat. Following Dahms (1974), the Japanese still considered possible to win the war and to recover from the hit received at Midway. But such optimistic assessment was met with the crude nature of reality, as the defeat imprinted a heavy psychological impact in the Japanese military. Despite of the fact it was still having superiority in quantity and quality of naval and air assets, in reality, the losses were heavier for Japan: it lost the best air and naval assets it had, which were hard to replace given the mentioned system in the previous part, the lack of enough skilled pilots and instructors, and the lack of enough resources to replace the material losses[12]. This was worsened by the fact that a fast and decisive victory was not achieved, dooming Japan to wage a long war it could not sustain. Even worse, the initiative was now in the hands of the US, as the Japanese shifted to a mere defensive stance, being reluctant to face the US Navy in a direct encounter until the epic and massive Battle of Leyte Gulf in 1944. Yamamoto also lost support for new daring and risky operations, and the Imperial Navy doomed to gradually retreat and lose territory – and warships – to the United States, as it lost its supremacy at sea and became unable to advance further at sea. Japan’s stubbornness in trying to establish bases remained as they tried to establish bases in Guadalcanal: the upcoming long battle there would finish what the battles of Coral Sea and Midway achieved (Canales & del Rey, 2016; Cau, 2011; Gibelli, 1972; Murray & Millet, 2005; Rothberg, Fredericks & O’Keefe, 1969).

The Battle of Midway proved to be very decisive for the war between the United States and Japan, as it changed the course in a definitive way, at the point that at least in the Pacific Ocean, it made Japan to retreat and lose territory to US advance, being a long and steady decline of the Japanese Empire that ended in its ultimate defeat. For the United States, Midway meant its consolidation as the main Pacific power, along the point in which it was able to stop the advance of an enemy that had the upper hand in the earlier phases of the war. Yet after Midway, the US had a long way to bring the Japanese Empire down and become the hegemonic nation in the Pacific. Nevertheless, Midway was a decisive victory for the US Navy that allowed the American industrial might to give the US the assets to emerge victorious. The eagle simple emerged victorious after the battle.

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Footnotes

[1] Of course, Midway was not the first battle of aircraft carriers: the first one where these vessels were used, was in the Battle of Coral sea, whose outcome also contributed in the outcome of the Battle of Midway, as it will be explained below.

[2] Following Dahms (1974), the ‘Doolitle Raid’ also prompted Japan to reject proposals of common operations by Germany and Italy.

[3] The Japanese thought that both US aircraft carriers were sunk, as the USS Yorktown was badly damaged. This optimistic assessment led to miscalculations that led to overconfidence by Yamamoto and ultimately, his defeat at Midway (Gibelli, 1972).

[4] Canales & del Rey (2016) point out that the US was having only 19 submarines available for the battle.

[5] Noteworthy to point out that, as the Japanese were not having the Radar like America, they had to resort to submarines to detect the American aircraft carriers. This was another disadvantage as the submarines were in position with some delay, as well as the main force of Yamamoto (Gibelli, 1972; Macdonald, 1993).

[6] At the same time, a scout plane was launched from the cruiser Tone; this plane would detect the American fleet and become the eyes of Nagumo. See: Pacific War Historical Society, (n.d.). and: Canales & del Rey, (2016).

[7] This first counterattack was possible also by the fact the aircraft were ordered to either disperse or to become airborne and to counterattack or meet the Japanese attack. See: Pacific War Historical Society, (n.d.).

[8] The inability to neutralize Midway was a result of Nagumo’s decision to arm some of the planes with torpedoes, in fear of encountering US naval forces, following (Canales & del Rey, 2016).

[9] These changing decisions had as a result that the ammunition was not correctly stored, but rather scattered in the hangars as well as on the flight decks, which were also full of planes; this fact alone maximized the effects of the bombs dropped by the SBD-3 Dauntless. See: Canales & del Rey (2016), Murray & Millet (2005), and: Macdonald (1993).

[10] The Hiryu was spared because at that very moment it was sailing in a more advanced position than the other carriers, following the Pacific War Historical Society, (n.d.)

[11] Interestingly, and according to Pacific War Historical Society, (n.d), the Japanese were not aware that they were attacking the USS Yorktown for a second time.

[12] In fact, and following Dahms (1974), Japan only managed to build 2 new aircraft carriers to cover the losses, while the US was able to build 6 main aircraft carriers plus 19 escort aircraft carriers.

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