A Truly Forgotten War

Just about every American knows that we sent large numbers of troops as the American Expeditionary Force to fight in Europe during World War One. But very few realize that American troops fought against the Bolsheviks at the same time.

True or false: America once invaded Russia.

Nice try. The answer is true.

Although few people know it, in 1918 President Woodrow Wilson sent 5,500 American soldiers — including some from Missouri and Kansas — to northern Russia in the last days of World War I. Thanks to harsh conditions that cut off communications, the troops were left there for eight months after the war ended.

With dwindling supplies and no word from home, many wondered if their country had forgotten them.

The linked article focuses on the Polar Bears, the US 31st Infantry Regiment (a name they still carry to this day). The other major us unit involved was the US 27th Infantry Regiment.  Ever since they impressed the Russians with their ferocity, soldiers of the 27th have been known as The Wolfhounds.

The Wolfhounds regimental crest pays homage to their history in Siberia, with a polar bear, and the large “S” for Siberia.

The Distinctive Unit Insignia also honors the regimental history, with a depiction of a Russian Wolfhound.

The Regimental motto, “Nec Aspera Terrent” can be interpreted loosely as “No Fear On Earth.”

The Wolfhounds are also one of the very few units authorized by the Department of the Army to maintain a mascot. Kolchak, a Russian Wolfhound, has long been known to every trooper in the regiment.

To this very day, I’m always proud to say, “I am a Wolfhound”

A Co, 1st Bn, 27th IN, 1986-1987

The Band of Brothers, and a band of another sort…

Neptunus Lex brings us the sad news that MAJ Dick Winters, brought to public attention via Stephen Ambrose’s excellent book, and the magnificent miniseries by the same name, is approaching that time which comes to all men. In recognition of his sterling wartime service, and as a testament to all those unsung heroes like him that fought in “The Great Crusade” in Western Europe, funds are being sought to erect a monument to him in Normandy.

An 11-year-old from Lebanon County, he has long been fascinated by World War II and one old soldier in particular — Dick Winters, the Easy Company commander made famous by the HBO mini-series “Band of Brothers.”

Mr. Winters, a Lancaster native who lives in Hershey, is 92 and has Parkinson’s disease.

But a statue of him is going up in France, and Jordan has taken it upon himself to raise money for it by selling $1 rubber wristbands in the tradition of Lance Armstrong’s yellow “Live Strong” bracelets.

These wristbands are olive green, the color of U.S. Army uniforms, and say “Hang Tough,” which is what Mr. Winters told his men in combat in Europe. In later years, that phrase became his motto.

Jordan has raised $21,000 since he started selling bands in May and says his goal is $100,000. The monument in Normandy is expected to cost about twice that.

“We need to thank these heroes before it’s too late,” Jordan said.

How true, Jordan. 

Should you wish to aid this cause, you can get your wrist band here. 

As noted in the comments at Lex’s place, t’would make an excellent stocking stuffer.

25th ID in Vietnam

I was poking around youtube looking for fuzzy kittens and came across this little clip. I hate Dan Rather, but it IS an interesting clip. Notice the M14s, and M14E2s. Also, the heavy artillery, the 175mm gun? Look at the size of the powder charge they put in that thing. No wonder the 175mm was the longest range tube we had.


Need a little Hoohah! this morning?


My first assignment was with the 25th ID, and while it was a hard life, it was an excellent unit. I’ve still got a strong attachment to the Electric Strawberry. The division has changed in so many ways in the past quarter century, but they still know how to kick ass and take names.


So I’m cruising along the I-10 today, and come across an armored vehicle on the back of a flatbed truck. It was a newly refurbished AAVP-7 amphibious armored assault vehicle.


It’s fairly common to see military vehicles being transported on I-10, but I do believe this was the first time I’ve seen an AAVP-7.

The Marines were justly famous for their many amphibious assaults in the Pacific Theater during WWII. We commonly envision them charging down the ramps of small landing craft. And they did. At first. But early on, the Marines realized that troops were incredibly vulnerable to the enemy right at the shoreline. Somewhat serendipitously, an inventor in Florida named Donald Roebling had spent the 1930s developing an amphibious tracked vehicle for search and rescue in the massive swamps of Florida. Eventually, the Marines got wind of this, and via a long and painful development process, came up with the Landing Vehicle Tracked, which was an armored tracked vehicle that was seaworthy enough to manage the run from ship to shore, but could also move inland, away from the worst kill zones on the beach. Several variants were used in the war, by the Marines, and by the US Army. Postwar developments and deployments led to today’s AAV-7 family of vehicles.

The personnel carrier version is a big vehicle. It has to be, to carry the 25 Marines it is loaded with, in addition to its three man crew. There are also recovery and command versions of the vehicle. It can swim at about 8 knots in the ocean, and make about 35mph on land. Originally designed solely to transport Marines ashore for the assault, since Desert Storm, the Marines have used it mostly as an armored personnel carrier.

The AAV-7 is also pretty old. It first entered service in 1972. The fleet underwent a Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) in the early 1980s, giving them an improved engine and transmission, and upgrading the weapon station from a single .50cal machine gun  to a station with both a .50cal and a 40mm Mk19 grenade launcher. An additional rebuild program started  around the turn of the century. The latest improvements include another new, larger engine (the same 600hp diesel as the M2 Bradley) and other improvements to the suspension system to increase ground clearance and ease maintenance. Given the additional armor the Marines have added to them over the years, the improvements were needed just to regain the original level of capability.

The Marines currently intend to replace the AAV-7 fleet with the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, a smaller, much faster, more heavily armed vehicle, but that program has its neck on the chopping block right now in these austere times. In an age when a Bradley or a Stryker costs about $4 million the price of the EFV in 2007 was listed as an astonishing $22 million dollars! That’s half the cost of a MV-22 Osprey. The money spent on the development of the EFV alone would have more than paid for recapitalizing the AAV-7 fleet.

To go back to the early LVTs in WWII, it is interesting to look at the differences between the philosophy of the Army and the Marine Corps when addressing amphibious operations. The Army didn’t use many LVTs in the European theater. They mostly stuck to small and medium sized landing craft, while the initial waves of almost all Marine landings went in on LVTs. Why?

Well, most Marine assaults were on relatively small islands. Almost every square inch of any island they landed on  was fortified, and under the guns of the Japanese. There was no room for maneuver. The Marines were pretty much forced to charge straight into the teeth of the defenses.  Following the initial landings, there would be a sharp, relatively short fight for the island. Cut off from reinforcements, the Japanese could do little beyond delaying the inevitable loss of the island, and extract a high price in blood.

The Army’s amphibious operations in Europe were of a different nature. Rather than seizing a small island cut off from other resources, these invasions were generally to gain a foothold into a new theater of operations, such as North Africa, Sicily and Italy, and most famously, Normandy as the gateway to Western Europe.  Given the large size of these theaters, the Germans could not defend as densely every possible landing site. This gave the Army a good deal of leeway to maneuver in terms of choosing the exact landing sites. But the initial landings weren’t the point of the fight. The only purpose of the landings was to secure a means of bringing in the huge follow-on forces needed in these theaters. That meant the huge fleet of amphibious ships that landed the first wave of Army forces had to turn around immediately, and start shuttling in the next wave of divisions. For instance, the US Marines and Army landed on Okinawa on 1 April 1945. By the end of the second day, virtually all of the over 100,000 troops who would fight there were landed. But contrast that with Normandy, where the first day was just the kicking in of the door. The buildup of troops to fight in Western Europe would go on almost until the end of the war.

Given the limited numbers of amtracs available, and the differing nature of amphibious assaults between European and Pacific theaters, the decision was made to give the Marines (and, of course, the large number of Army units in the Pacific) priority on production. After WWII, the Army generally abandoned the amphibious assault mission, leaving that mission to the Marines.

Davey, Davey Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier

So, I’m making my morning rounds of the internets this morning, and see YouTube recommended this video for me:

It’s a bit of a long watch, at 17 minutes and change. But it is interesting on a couple of different notes.

Ivy Flats

First, it has just about the only footage I’ve ever seen of a real Davey Crockett shot. The M65 Davey Crockett was a man portable recoilless rifle that fired a sub-kiloton nuclear projectile. It was conceived in an era when it was just assumed that small nuclear weapons would be used on the battlefield. By the time it was actually fielded, people began to realize that using any nukes would soon lead to larger and larger exchanges, until Armageddon was at hand. Plus, the range of the Davey Crockett was so short, friendly troops were as likely to be endangered as the enemy.

I was surprised by just how small the blast was. And I was really surprised by just how ineffectual it was. Tanks almost directly at the site of the blast could survive. With that minimal damage, what’s the point of shooting it?

It was a  bit of a trip to see M113s running around with troops armed with the M1 rifle. You’d think for a high visibility test like this, they’d pick a unit that also had the M14. Still, seeing M113s rolling around brought back some fond memories.

Finally, it was fun to see 1st Bn, 12th Infantry in action. I spent four very fun and rewarding years with The Warriors. It was then, and indeed, always has been, a good unit.

Random thoughts on Grant and attrition warfare

Attrition warfare has a bad reputation. It is traditionally scorned by the intellectuals of military thought. It is seen as wasteful and slow. Especially after the slaughter of static trench warfare in WWI, the focus on military thought was on finding ways to avoid the stalemate of attrition warfare. The results of this school of thought include the Wehrmacht’s Blitzkrieg, and the US Army’s obsession with mechanization in WWII. Indeed, to this day, the US Army and Marines have placed enormous emphasis on maneuver warfare. Even in this day and age of COIN warfare, the land forces still discuss what is essentially an attrition campaign in maneuver terms.

The Civil War in many ways presaged the horrors that would be fully implemented 50 years later in Flander’s fields. It saw some of the first examples of trench warfare, and was on the cusp of the age of rapid fire infantry weapons. The formations of troop units were still those of the older age, where massed units were a necessity to mass the firepower of slower firing weapons. The speed of advance, on the battlefield itself, was that of a slow walk. But it was not uncommon for commanders to move units between theaters at the previously unheard of speed of locomotives.

The Civil War remains our deadly conflict. Roughly 600,000 dead. And in many ways, it really was a war of attrition. The North tried to attrit the South to destroy its ability to rebel. The South tried to attrit the North until such time as the North decided it was not worth the price to pay to keep the Union whole.

Grant gets a lot of credit in the general public for winning the war. But he’s often held in some suspicion by the military intellectuals for waging a campaign of attrition rather than one of maneuver. He fought Lee at damn near every opportunity, rarely taking the time to improve his approach or muster larger forces.

But here’s the thing about Grant’s attrition campaign in the East. It worked. It worked where every previous campaign had failed. And that’s all that matters.

Why did Grant succeed where his predecessors fail? All the previous commanders in the East had sought a decisive engagement with the Army of Northern Virginia (ANV). Each and every time the Army of the Potomac attacked, it was intended either as a knock-out blow that would destroy the ANV or to capture Richmond and force an end to the rebellion. Before every attack, the Union generals would amass troops and supplies. Time would be spent to move troops and equipment to launch the attack. Each time, the Union leadership would struggle to achieve sufficient mass and concentration to force a decisive engagement.

The problem was this. Not a one of the Union generals was even in the ballpark when it came to Lee’s talent. Lee is greatly thought of as a master of maneuver warfare. And he truly was. But he was also brilliant at the defense, and had the finest touch for economy of force.

Lee repeatedly attacked north into the Union, not to achieve a specific territorial gain, but rather to disrupt Union plans (spoiling attacks) and to force the Union to disperse its forces in the defense of its territorial integrity. There was always a great deal of fear that Lee might actually seize Washington, DC (remember, the Brits had burned it down only 50 years before, and the Potomac area was not the most Union friendly part of the world).

Also, whenever Union generals paused to prepare for their attack, Lee worked like a madman to prepare defenses to meet them. He would defend and draw a heavy price from the attacker. Either his defenses would bleed the Union troops white, or he would place them in such disarray that he could fall back from his defenses with little fear of a vigorous pursuit.

Grant took a more aggressive approach. Rather than spending time amassing all the troops available, he’d take those at hand (which always outnumbered the ANV anyway) and attacked. Relentlessly. Grant was not trying to achieve a decisive victory. He was trying to kill enemy troops. He knew that his hasty attacks would cost enormous numbers of Union casualties, but he also realized that he would receive replacements and reinforcements far faster than Lee could ever hope for.

Grant grasped that the South’s only ability to continue the rebellion was to have an army in being, namely the Army of Northern Virginia, and he realized that any other objective was purely secondary. Destroying the ANV was the Army of the Potomac’s only real objective. But Grant didn’t try to bring the ANV to decisive battle.

By attacking every time the opportunity presented itself, he slowly whittled away at its strength. He bled it of its core of veteran leadership, and hardened campaigners. It’s level of skill dropped precipitously as more and more of its replacements were mere boys or old men.

By attacking at the earliest opportunity, Grant denied Lee the chance to improve his defensive positions. He was able to inflict greater casualties on the AVN, and force it to displace sooner. Eventually, Grant was able hound Lee to the point where, at Appomattox, a decisive engagement was inevitable. It is easy to say that this attrition strategy was wasteful. But, again, it worked, where other approaches had failed. Indeed, had Grant been on hand to pursue such a strategy sooner, it may well have materially shortened the war, and reduced the bloodshed. Grant played to his strengths, and prevented Lee from capitalizing on his. That’s a sure sign of good generalship.

Interestingly, after shunning attrition warfare in the 20 years after WWI, searching for a workable maneuver warfare doctrine that would reduce casualties and force decisive engagements, the Allies in Western Europe, under Eisenhower, would actually use a very similar strategy. Eisenhower resisted advancing with one powerful thrust to the heart of the German land. Instead, his first objective remained the German armies in the field and by attacking across a broad front, he decimated the German armies.

One wonders if our current leadership in Iraq and Afghanistan have studied and appreciated the advantages of attrition warfare.

The state of the Army

The US Army has been constantly at war since 2001. For nine years now, the Army has fought active campaigns on two separate fronts, and conducted warlike missions across the globe. The soldiers of the Army have endured a deployment rotation schedule that was unimaginable during my time of service. They have been hardened by combat, and seen their efforts sneered at by liberal and elites that have little comprehension of the hardships they face, and less inclination to learn.

The Army has changed in many ways. Virtually every piece of personal equipment a soldier uses today was not in the inventory, or at least not in widespread issue, in 2001. The  tasks and missions a soldier is called upon to execute today are far, far more complex than those an infantryman of the Cold War was expected to train for. But for all the changes in the force today, the basics are almost immutable. Learn how to shoot, move and communicate, and you can adapt and overcome anything else. Much of the Army’s training of late has been focused on CounterInsurgency Warfare. But we’re starting to see the Army lean back a little to conventional warfare (what the Army’s current doctrine calls “Full Spectrum Warfare”).

If a world crisis erupts affecting national security, the first U.S. unit ordered into action would almost certainly be the 82nd Airborne. The division is the nation’s designated “global response force” — what paratroopers call “the president’s 911 call.” One brigade is designated to be first on call — at the moment, the 3rd Brigade.

The paratroopers could be ordered to support special operations forces attempting to rescue civilians held by terrorists, or to assist an ally’s troops in a military crisis. They also could be sent to assist civilians in a natural disaster or humanitarian crisis.

They could face a showdown with a conventional army as well, Korb said. For instance, the Obama administration has said that military action against Iran is an option if that country continues to develop nuclear weapons.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the Army is currently trying to read the tea leaves and discern what types of war it will have to fight in the future, and it will quite likely be a hybrid of conventional war and insurgency.

From the LA Times article:

“This is about as hard as it gets,” LaNeve said as his paratroopers boarded their planes. “If you can get this right, you can do anything.”

Like I’ve said before, it is a heck of a lot easier for a conventional force to downshift to COIN warfare than for a COIN force to cope with conventional war.


Ejericito de Colombia celebrates 200 years

Columbia is a nation at war. They’ve fought a brutal civil war against FARC and other rebel groups for 30 years. And while we gringos may have a tendency to look down on our little brown brothers, that’s a serious mistake. Operating on a shoestring budget and with a pool of recruits that lack the level of education of ours, they’ve managed to field a very professional army.

And much like our Army, they use television ads for recruiting purposes:


Cheerfully stolen from John Boq at The Castle. Go ahead and click the link. You need to see the other video.