Wednesday, June 5, 2013
On to another military post! Rommel is sort of a mixed bag in terms of acclaim; his successes in World War 2 were exceptional for a time but he did eventually lose; the extent to which his losses were due to Hitler's incompetence is not quite as clear. Rommel was the golden goose and thus received much more support than Manstein did on the Eastern front; both had a demonstrated tactical competence of the highest level. However they both fall short when compared to Napoleon, Hannibal, Julius Caesar, and the other "Great Commanders;" and nominally fall into the 2nd category of exceptional military leaders but not quite pre-eminent; alongside amongst others The Duke of Marlborough, Wellington, Cao Cao, and Robert E. Lee. Generals that are worth studying but not necessarily beyond reproach.
However, Rommel's exploits in World War I are absolutely incredible and this book describes them in great detail. His tactical awareness, shrewdness, and efficiency at the front in extremely stressful situations is incredible; and there is no doubt that he had the capacity to become as irreproachable as Napoleon; he simply was never in a commanding enough position to do so. I want to focus on one particular even and contrast it with a few other events and then make a stipulation regarding them.
Amid the 12th Battle of Isonzo Rommel led a significant detachment of around 500-600 crack Mountain troops; he was still just a Lieutenant at the time though his accomplishments should have put him on track to much greater success (though oddly his advancement was not especially merit based; where he was meritorious he did not advance swiftly, only being the equivalent of Lt. Colonel by 1933. Instead a fondness from Hitler is what resulted in his eventual elevation to Field Marshal). He led these troops against fortified Italian positions and captured 9000 men over the course of 3 days. At one specific point he breached enemy lines, unbeknownst to the enemy, and held a meandering road, capturing the unaware piecemeal supply trains of the enemy for a time.
Eventually an Italian brigade, 2000 strong, approached his position and he attempted to make them surrender; but they would not and instead attacked. However Rommel's position was so impressive that with only 150 men he was able to greatly depreciate their morale after several failed assaults and eventually capture them. With superior terrain, men, and tactical awareness he was able to improvise and capture a full brigade with little more than a company. Essentially he was able to defeat a foe 13 times his size.
There are other similar tales in history, Thermopylae is often well regarded as a smaller force holding a larger one. But Thermopylae was still a defeat, even if it was a militarily significant one. Much more impressive are those cases where a smaller force defeats an enormous one. Zhang Liao is said to have fought of an army of 100,000 men with a force of 800 at He Fei; Hao Zhao is said to have held off 300,000 with 1,000 at Chencang; both of these victories securing. Now both of these figures are almost certainly apocryphal; so the question becomes; with what size of force can one defeat a much larger force in a realistic circumstance.
We have a clear documented case of 13 times that was done with relative ease, the fighting was fierce but not astoundingly so; can an army of 30, 40, 50 times the size of the other be defeated? Well given enough incompetence I would say almost any military force can fail; but realistically given two opponents of similar technological capabilities 20 times is the cut-off. Rommel's case is probably the best I've found to demonstrate how this is possible; even given not an extensive planning session beforehand.
Utilizing superior troops, terrain, and morale one can force the opponent into a disadvantageous position and cause them to capitulate. While completely eradicating an enemy many times your size is often impossible simply destroying their morale and will to fight is not; destruction of the opponent's morale is what one should focus on. Imply that your force is larger than it is by presenting a fortified front or by using decoys; at the crucial points of impact place the greatest amount of firepower and deliver a sort of lethality only thought possible by an equal or greater force. Deception is of vast import on the military front; and in order to utilize deception the commander must have the "General's Mandate;" a free hand to do whatever he wants with no political machinations to stop him or delay him.
If it takes hours or days to verify a simple military order than any and all efficiency on a strategic level is lost and the only thing that is left is technological advantage and attrition; one does not want to fight attrition based battles in a case where one is outnumbered. Ingenuity is the route to success; not simply brute force. Generals and men of the military should be men of the highest standing in society; so well respected and thought of as some of the most intelligent men of their age; Frederick the Great was a well regarded philosopher prior to his turn as an incredible general; Julius Caesar was an exceptional politician in addition to being a superb marshal. When the term "Military Intelligence" becomes a joke or a pun you've run into quite the troublesome situation; lack of respect and lack of meritorious advancement and competence at the highest level will only lead to catastrophic defeats when faced with an opponent of equal strength.