“Now Understand This! Now Understand This!” Military Reading List Part 2

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Lines of Departure - Military Reading List

Continuing from last week, my not entirely random selection of books to give the reader a better understanding of war, the father of us all.

(If you haven’t read the first half of the list, you can do it now.)


“Si vis pacem, para bellum.” If you want peace prepare for war. This is a message often difficult to get through the head of even a fairly normal human being, let alone a pacifist leftist. “Why not,” asks the latter, “if you truly want peace, prepare for peace?” The message itself admits of a number of interpretations. One is that by being prepared for war you frighten off another attacker. Another is that by preparing for peace, which is to say, by disarming, you invite attack from outside.1

The core of the problem, in any case, between the pacifistic or just hopeful man or woman, and the realistic or militaristic, is that war – human conflict, generally – does not follow linear logic. It has, instead an inverse logic. To get an understanding of that, I know of no single work better than Edward Luttwak’s Strategy.

Strategy is available for a very reasonable price.


Sometimes books by the same author, but which have no obvious correlation, still will tend to reverberate off of each other if they are read in pari materia. Such is the case with Luttwak’s The Pentagon and the Art of War, which was, I think, published before Strategy. In this case, by looking at our rather screwy and unmilitary way of doing business – as true today as it was in the mid-80s – and bouncing that off of the non-linear logic of war, I think one would get a better understanding of both. At least, I did. Pay particular attention to the way the research and development bureaucracy defeats good sense and economy every time. Then contemplate the Littoral Combat Ship, the F-22, and the F-35.

It’s available for dirt, used, from Amazon.


There are few indictments of our largely box-o-rocks stupid general officer corps worse than the damage they’ve done or allowed to be done to Artillery, “the killer.” Damage? Yes, among the other incredible idiocies of the brigade combat team, this son of Pentomic division (itself an organizational disaster from which the US Army never has and never shall recover), is that we’ve nearly wrecked our artillery. I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to full effectiveness this branch that, more than any other, made US forces nearly unbeatable on the battlefield, but a good place to start would be reading Marine Bruce Gudmundsson’s On Artillery.

It’s available at a fair price via Amazon.


In yet another instance of the utility of pairing somewhat dissimilar books by the same author, I also recommend Gudmundsson’s Stormtroop Tactics. You see, artillery doesn’t seize military objectives, it demoralizes, stuns, and kills enemy who may be on them. To seize them requires ground gaining combat arms, Infantry, Armor, and Combat Engineers. The tactics used by those, however, derive pretty much entirely from those developed by the Germans in the latter half of the Great War. If you want to know where you’re going or which direction to turn in, it’s useful to know where you came from. Gudmundsson provides the map of the passes and turns behind us.

It’s available at a fair price via Amazon.


This is a first half of the last pairing I’ll offer. Though it comes under fire sometimes, still, S.L.A. Marshall’s Men Against Fire remains a classic of the psychology of men in battle, of how to command them, and how not to. The fire the book, itself, comes under is sometimes phrased as doubting Marshall’s integrity in reaching his conclusions. I leave those charges to others, but I am not quite persuaded, myself. I think a more important factor in attacking him and the book is that the military is a very liberal institution, liberal in the sense that the common outlook is one of supreme optimism that man’s character can be profoundly and lastingly changed by training, education, social engineering, propagandization, and relentless bloody nagging. “Well it ain’t, see?”2

It’s a short book and worth more than you will pay for it.


I’ve commented on it in a previous column in this space, but we are never going to beat lightly armed and equipped, but highly dedicated, tribesmen until and unless we chop the load on the troops’ backs; yes, I mean the load that renders them doubly safe, safe from being harmed and safe from harming anyone else, either. You can go back and read the column, if you like, or you can – and I recommend you do – go to the inspiration and read Marshall’s Soldier’s Load and the Mobility of a Nation. It was true when it was written and it is as true today. Moreover, while I think both this and Men Against Fire are valuable, I give pride of place to this. After all, the soldier spends a lot more time marching than shooting or being shot at.

It is also a short book and worth more than you will pay for it.


“You are well aware that it is not numbers or strength that bring the victories in war. No, it is when one side goes against the enemy with the gods’ gift of a stronger morale that their adversaries, as a rule, cannot withstand them.” ~ Xenophon, Anabasis

Morale is a relatively difficult thing to pin down. It’s not just about whether or not the troops are happy at a particular time. They can be very happy and have wretched morale. Neither is it about whether they are unhappy; they can be miserable and their morale still be holding up firmly. It is also difficult to compare it across cultures. Fortunately, despite our being separated by a common language, the cultures of the United Kingdom and of the United States still have enough in common that lessons applying to one will frequently be applicable to the other. Thus, for one study of morale under the very worst sort of adversity, I recommend John Baynes’ Morale, which revolves around a Scottish regiment in the Great War, shot to bits and still ready to fight after that.

Get it quick because I doubt it’s going to be in print much longer. Just one of those feelings.


There are ways in which war never changes. There are also ways in which no two wars are alike. There are are different kinds of wars even within a particular sub-set. For example, there are a number of different modes for guerrilla warfare: ranging from Maoist Peoples Revolutionary War to urban guerilla war, most notable for the spectacularly disastrous way in which it fails. There will, no doubt, be further refinements and approaches in the future. The important thing, therefore, is to learn how to think about war flexibly, so that no war is completely beyond one’s ability to understand.

One form of guerrilla war, a local variant on people revolutionary war, occurred in Malaya in the late forties and fifties. One of the movers and shakers of that war was Sir Robert Thompson. Thompson, a friend of both democracy and the United States, attempted to steer us clear of some highly questionable actions and procedures during Vietnam.

Personally, I doubt that we’d have won by following his suggestions. Our war in Vietnam was always a tougher proposition, and against a tougher enemy, than the UK’s in Malaya. That’s not what’s important. What’s important is looking at a kind of war from a different perspective than that of the normal conventional soldier. Though he wrote several books on the subject, the one I find best for my purpose here is No Exit from Vietnam.

It’s out of print and available used for a reasonable price, or new for something your wife will nag you into an early grave over spending.


Armies exist mostly in peace and prepare in peace for war. Hopefully, they do, anyway. I was in the Army that came out of Vietnam, shortly after it came out. It was a horror show, rife with drugs, racism (on all sides), indiscipline. You just wouldn’t believe. It took a lot of things to fix that dump. One was the natural, quasi-Teutonic love affair between the American people and their armed forces. Another was the gradual dying away of the memory of defeat in some circles, oddly coupled to a determination never to suffer that kind of loss again, in still others.

Another factor that doesn’t get nearly enough credit was a book by a retired Lieutenant General, one Arthur S. Collins. The book was Common Sense Training and, although perhaps a bit dated now, it still has more concentrated wisdom on how to do that preparation for war than anything else in existence. Read it, apply it if that’s your job, and you will never be entirely wrong. Now, with the armed forces coming out of another couple of lost campaigns, we need this book in wide usage again.

It’s still in print and you can get it for dirt if you want to buy used.


My last recommendation for this series is a sobering and disheartening one. Niall Ferguson’s The War of the World. You needn’t agree with everything he says, but you ought to at least take it under consideration.

It’s available, new or used.

And that’s my twenty suggestions to start yourself on the road to understanding this thing, war. They’re not exclusive nor even exhaustive. If you read them and it sparks you to read a 21st volume by someone I’ve never heard of, GREAT!

Remember, Ferguson notwithstanding, the next century may be worse than the last.


1 I won’t get into inferences, like, “If you want peace, buy a Luger.” Extra points for whoever gets that joke.

2 An unknown corporal before the walls of Troy, as quoted by Robert A. Heinlein.

Tom Kratman is a retired infantry lieutenant colonel, recovering attorney, and science fiction and military fiction writer. His latest novel, The Rods and the Axe, is available from Amazon.com for $9.99 for the Kindle version, or $25 for the hardback. A political refugee and defector from the People’s Republic of Massachusetts, he makes his home in Blacksburg, Virginia. He holds the non-exclusive military and foreign affairs portfolio for EveryJoe. Tom’s books can be ordered through baen.com.

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  • Mavwreck

    Completely OT – congratulations on being nominated for a Hugo; condolences on not winning one. Any thoughts on this weekend’s Hugo results? (or a pointer if you’ve discussed it elsewhere)

    • https://plus.google.com/+JoelCSalomon J. C. Salomon

      Considering the topic of this essay, and the general applicability of said topic, your comment isn’t completely off-topic…

    • Tom Kratman

      No, it isn’t.

    • Tom Kratman

      Why condolences? The Hugos and Worldcon are the enemy’s Firebase Future. Getting them to nuke five of the literary awards, themselves, was a victory for the right and for the right. Conversely, what possible value would someone like _me_ find in approval from people like them? I’d spend the rest of my life wondering where I’d gone wrong.

    • svartalf

      It’s almost *always* better to let the Enemy make their mistakes than interrupt them- especially with something like the Hugos as evidenced this last week. I’d have to concur about the wondering where in the HELL my life went sideways to be caring about approval such as theirs.

    • Mavwreck

      Fair enough. I wonder…will this mess change the Hugos’ commercial value? I.e., will having a Hugo still help an author’s advances or book sales?

    • Tom Kratman

      Commercially Hugos are very nearly worthless. It may help with getting a not totally laughable advance, but that advance still has to earn out. Hugos don’t help with that much, and may even hurt. IOW, the most they can do is change the timing of when you get paid, but the amount? Little or none.

    • Neil

      Heh. I wish I could nominate you for a Nobel Peace Prize, just to watch the reaction.

    • Tom Kratman

      Can I just have the money?

  • Men Against Fire?

    The issue of Marshall’s honesty is important because it bears on the validity of his thesis that 75 to 90% of the men directly engaged in combat don’t shoot at the enemy. Do you believe his “ratio of fire” theory? And do you believe the stated cause for it, i.e., an inborn unwillingness to kill?

    • Tom Kratman

      The thing there is, no one knows what to believe about Marshall’s methodology because, as mentioned, his results are an insult to the Army Weltanschaung. What that means is that his detractors cannot be counted on to be honest, either.

      He gave more than one cause, actually. One was an unwillingness to kill (if one didn’t have to, at the time). Others included a feeling of futility, because one’s rifle was so mere and trivial in comparison to everything else that was flying around.

    • Men Against Fire?

      Eh, either he did the interviews or he didn’t. Absent positive written evidence that he did… which apparently does not exist… we have to assume he didn’t.

      Fred Smoler is a professor at Sarah Lawrence. He has no reason to care about the Army’s Weltanschauung, and he thinks SLAM is an inveterate liar.


      All that aside, do you believe that most soldiers don’t fire when they have a valid opportunity to do so?

    • Tom Kratman

      Nah, you’re missing the point. He said he did. Some others said he didn’t. He may have had reason to lie or he may have been mistaken. They DO have reasons to lie or they may be mistaken. You…I…we…we simply can’t tell what is the truth from what isn’t. Just can’t. A zillion angels and a zillion devils all looking alike and sincere and swearing that X is Y or Y is Z still won’t prove anything.

      Your question isn’t on point. Marshall, himself, agreed that, following the Army’s taking up the problem and putting real emphasis on both moral and tactical techniques to get people to shoot, the rates went up to somewhere between 55 and, IIRC, 75 (sometimes 90)%. What does that say about what soldiers were doing before that? Absolutely nothing. So try to rephrase the question. Do I think that prior to 1945 most (especially conscript) soldiers in open order combat (which is easily distinguishable from massed ranks firing on command ) usually would not shoot? Yes, I suspect that was so. Do i think most will shoot now, now that they are trained differently and are volunteers? Yes, I do.

      Smoler’s account doesn’t really have the overall ring of truth to me. It does smell, at least a little, of partisanship.

    • Men Against Fire?

      If you’re a historian then the existence of records to prove your claims is always on point. If he said he did the interviews but there’s no paper to prove it then you must conclude (if you’re a historian anyway) that he didn’t do them.

    • Tom Kratman

      All right. I sense that, no matter what, you have decided one way and just want an anti-Marshall cheering section. Okay, I’ll play along: “YAY…TEAM.”

      No, that wasn’t really sincere.

      However, speaking as someone not entirely unfamiliar with the rules of evidence, no, you don’t have to do that. There is verbal testimony. The is recollection, recollected. There are interviews after the event. Or are you going to claim that none of Thucydides is valid because he had to talk to people after the events in question? And you do realize that, for some things (yeah, I was an IG, too) you expressly do NOT make records so that people will speak freely, yes?

    • Men Against Fire?

      Other than being contrary to simple logic and common sense (guys being shot at won’t shoot back? really?) and having no written evidence to support it, “ratio of fire” is a completely convincing theory.

      Cornelius Ryan in The Longest Day produced a completely valid and convincing work (though not perfect or error-free) based on recollections and interviews after the event. Yet we have abundant evidence, now on file in Ohio State, that he actually did thousands of interviews. Similar evidence from SLAM is lacking, which ought to raise serious questions… maybe if you were looking at it with a prosecutor’s eye rather than a defense attorney’s eye.

      Army logistical planning for the 1944 campaign did not assume that most men would not fire. If most men actually did not fire, contrary to this expectation, then the Army would have enjoyed a surplus of small arms ammunition. Yet the opposite was the case – small arms ammunition expenditure in Normandy exceeded expectations and there was an ammunition shortage. Clearly somebody was doing a lot of firing…

      One might also ask – did the Soviets also suffer from unwillingness to fire? Did poor training and high regard for human life prevent most Ivans from shooting? I suspect not. Do we have any German accounts to the effect of, “hey we always got five times as much small arms fire from the Russians than from the Americans”? Not that I know of. Did the Japanese Army have the problem? Seems unlikely. Yet we don’t see any accounts to the effect of, “the Japs were really pouring it onto us and our guys didn’t shoot back.”

    • Justin Watson

      Racial hatred plays into it. As a generality we HATED the Japanese far more than we hated the Germans. Same thing between the Soviets and Germans, AND German training and morale were, by and large, superior to the average Ameican infantry unit’s. I recommend Max Hasting’s books Armageddon and Retribution.

    • Justin Watson

      Furthermore, anecdotally, yes, some people do fail to shoot back, even WITH improved training methods.

    • Tom Kratman

      Yep, the best we can do is imperfect. It’s just a question of _how_ imperfect.

    • akulkis

      Case in point: Buddy of mine was on a roof putting up an antenna. It was INSIDE the base a not so nice section of Ramadi. With him, fulfilling the same role as a chaplain’s assistant for a chaplain, was one of the 11B’s from HHC. My buddy reports that some local on another rooftop fired at them, and says that within seconds, the 11B dropped his weapon and went back down to the ground as quickly as he could. So my commo buddy picked up the M-4 and fired back in the direction the fire came from.

      So the guy whose JOB SPECIFICALLY WAS to fire back in the event that incoming fire arrived… wigged out, and left his weapon.

      Buddy also reports that before returning the 11B’s weapon, he butt-stroked him in the groin.

    • Tom Kratman

      That’s the thing, It’s NOT contrary to logic and common sense. Logic and common sense is that people generally disappoint. One of the reasons Marshall resonates so well is that, if you’re not stuck in convincing yourself what a great job you did, you tend to be, and should be, highly suspicious of how much change you’ve effected in men via training. You have heard of the notion of supressive fire, yes? Okay, do you have reason to believe it doesn’t work? There’s an instance of men being shot at and not shooting back? So what point does your question have? None.

      Yes, and that says that for X book someone in a non official capacity did interviews. So? Does that mean that an IG – and, by the way, Marshall was in large part doing an IG’s job, as it is done today – who does not keep records for certain interviews did not do the interviews? Poppycock. Conversely, I have, indeed you provided, a poorly thought out hit piece from someone – an historian for things other than military – who hasn’t clue one about combat, couldn’t filter what he was told for bullshit, and was told some serious bullshit, from the very kind of people who deeply resent and have always resented Marshall’s thesis. So?

      How do I get the issue of timing through your head? What the Army did, logistically, before Marshall made his thesis available is irrelevant to anything he said, because he said it LATER, what with no time machines being available and all. That the Army may have understated how much ammunition would be shot says precisely nothing about how many people were firing. (That said, you did note, did you not, that it took much longer to take a port than anticipated and that the Mulberries didn’t do so well? What, you didn’t? Tsk.)

      If X army is doing a poor job of training people to fire in action, what possible difference could it make what W,Z,X and Y armies are doing, if they are not doing a poor job of training people to shoot in action. ISTR that Marshall said the Huns and Nips did substantially better, which is important to the question of how we might do better, which we later did, not the question of whether we were doing poorly, before we learned to do better. Or is there a tiem machine out there for use after all. Damn that Center for Military History who didn’t inform me of this when I was at Carlisle!

    • Bill Befort

      S.L.A. Marshall’s major mistake was dying 12 years before the critics went for him. They never had to worry about his firing back. His lesser mistake was suggesting, with academic terms like “data basis,” that his unit interviews of combat survivors were more formal, and his recordkeeping more structured, than was ever likely in the catch-as-catch-can circumstances under which he habitually worked.

      To this Vietnam rifle squad leader, no professional but with a continuing interest in military affairs, Marshall’s reconstructions and analyses of American 20th century combat actions ring true. I detest his sloppy maps and diagrams; but even when I’m left with questions, I never feel I’m getting anything but his unvarnished views. And whether he’s discussing the slipshod fortifications of the UN forces in Korea, or our sophomoric patrolling against the Chinese, or how we blundered into ambushes on the Cambodian border, he customarily goes to the root of the matter in command and training, and spares the junior officers and EM trying to carry out orders.

      So his observation, in Men Against Fire, that GIs failed to shoot seems somewhat uncharacteristic; and since the charge of falsifying data on that point has been the foundation for a quarter-century of character assassination – some going so far as to blame nearly everything that’s gone amiss with the Army since WWII on Marshall’s baleful influence – it’s worthwhile putting the record straight.

      The issue probably arose (setting aside Leinbaugh’s professional resentments) because Sarah Lawrence College didn’t subscribe to Infantry Journal. If they had, Prof. Smoler might have come across the April 1945 issue, and known from it that GIs’ reluctance to engage the enemy with rifle fire was already a matter of widespread, serious concern in the Army two years and more before Marshall addressed it. The citation for the article in question is:

      Moore, Lt. Col. R.E. 1945. Shoot, Soldier! Inf. Jour. 56(4):21

      Appearing in the last full month of the war in Europe, “Shoot, Soldier!” begins –

      “As early as the Tunisian campaign, reports began to trickle back that something was wrong, something we had not foreseen: ‘Our soldiers are not firing their rifles enough.’ This simple statement was so unexpected, it seemed almost ridiculous. Those soldiers all had weeks and months of progressive training from rifle marksmanship through field target firing . . . . Surely there must be some mistake! . . . .

      “Then came Sicily, Italy, and finally France. The trickle of reports grew to a torrent. Always it was the same simple ‘Our soldiers aren’t firing their rifles enough.’ . . .

      “A lot of officers in the 3rd Infantry Division asked this question way back in Sicily and during the early stages of the Italian campaign. They asked the soldiers themselves, often while under enemy small-arms fire. Usually they got one of three answers:

      “1) I can’t see anything to shoot at.
      2) I’m afraid I’ll give my position away.
      3) My squad leader hasn’t given me any order to fire.”

      Lt. Col. Moore goes on to explain at some length what’s wrong with each of those excuses, and what junior leaders can do in the way of “applying a little sound psychology” to encourage their men to shoot when “all they know about the business of battle is what we’ve taught them in our training centers.”

      It’s well worth reading, and students of Men Against Fire, published two years later, will recognize in these brief excerpts several themes Marshall would elaborate in that book: “combat isolation” on the empty modern battlefield, “fire as the cure” for inertia, “the multiples of information” that combine isolated individuals into a team. But chiefly, at once, most of all, they will recognize the “ratio of fire” issue implicit in the plea to “Shoot, Soldier!”

      So: throughout the ETO war, a distressingly high proportion of GIs refused to engage the enemy with their rifles; this was widely known and remarked upon, even in the redoubtable 3rd Division; the problem was explicitly recognized in an official Infantry School publication towards the end of the war; and new methods of weapon training were seen as necessary to correct it in the longer term.

      S.L.A. Marshall did not imagine this problem. He did not have to make up any numbers. His thesis in in 1947 – whether backed by a carefully tabulated “data basis” or not – was founded on what he and many officers in the infantry divisions saw and heard and knew about, and submitted a “torrent” of reports on during the war. Of all US soldiers in Europe, Marshall was probably the one man whose duties as a combat analyst gave him the best perspective on the prevalence of the problem. But he was far from alone in perceiving it, inquiring into it, and commenting on it.

      His authority should have been respected. There were no grounds for supposing he was trying to misinform his readers or mislead the Army. Yet he has been traduced on this matter for 25 years, and his many other contributions to military knowledge posthumously discounted.

    • Tom Kratman

      Excellent comment, enough so that I wish you had found this column 8 or 9 months ago.

      Marshall actually had another problem, beyond the timing of his death. He tended to pad his resume a bit, which gave all kinds of ammunition to his detractors. Nonetheless, for most anyone in the business his observations on soldiers in combat ring true.

    • Bill Befort

      One seldom encounters in any academic controversy a single piece of evidence so decisive as that April 1945 Infantry Journal article. It absolutely annuls the charge that Marshall’s ratio-of-fire argument in Men Against Fire was his personal invention. It was that charge, as laid out in the New York Times more than a decade after his death:


      – which became the line of departure for all the subsequent derogation of his motives and reputation. It would be interesting to know whether those who made it in 1989 were aware of the Infantry Journal article’s existence then, or became aware of it later and decided to ignore it. I can find it cited in only one or two places.

      To me it seems to call for repentance in sackcloth and ashes on the part of Marshall’s detractors, but I won’t hold my breath. I wish I knew anyone with enough horsepower to attempt his rehabilitation in some military journal.

    • Tom Kratman

      It’s too late, really. Any rehabilitation attempt is going to have to prove that it’s still true, which can’t be proven because – as that general noted in the article said – all the key conditions have changed enough that we’ve largely (not entirely, that will never happen) overcome the problem, not least insofar as we teach combat marksmanship the way Marshall suggested.

      But it also doesn’t much matter, as a personal thing. Marshall’s dead. His kid, whose book I have around here on the to be read pile, was sort of on the other side anyway so doesn’t care. What matters is whether it was true before and could be true again if we stop training, organizing, and leading in the right ways.

    • akulkis

      Started reading The Longest Day… after about 20 pages, I couldn’t take any more of the utterly self-serving BS that Ryan was using as his source material.

      Seriously, The Longest Day is at the top of my list as WORST military history book which I have ever held in my hands. And I have read, cover to cover… hundreds of them.

  • Mavwreck

    You decried the decline of artillery in
    the modern US army. I know the changes that you pointed to occurred some time ago – before any switch to a counter-insurgency model. Do you think that artillery can find a use in low-intensity guerrilla war?

    • Justin Watson

      It’s a misnomer that we (the Artillery) weren’t used. What is true is that we were used in a lazy, largely ineffective manner which atrophied our skills.

    • Jack Withrow

      I saw a lot of artillerymen running mounted patrols and guarding FOB’s in Afghanistan and there were no tubes in sight. They deployed them as quasi infantry. And IIRC wasn’t Abu Graib at one time guarded by and also staffed by an Artillery Bn?

    • Justin Watson

      There were a ton of howitzers in Afghanistan depending on where you were and at what times. We were also deployed as make-shift infantry in both Iraq and Afghanistan. I think you’re right about Abu Garib, but I think they were an MLRS unit, not cannon.

    • Justin Watson
    • Justin Watson
    • Tom Kratman

      Artillery in COIN allows the stabilizing power to use smaller units, hence to be more places and control or secure more places and people at once, without undue risk. It needs some control, yes, over and above what is normally required for conventional war.

      My objection is to the disbanding of divisional artillery, concommitent with the creation of the never sufficiently to be damned brigade combat team/Pentomic Battlegroup 2.0, and thus the undermining of the artillery principle of “maximum feasible centralized control,” which is valid for them, but only for them.

    • Justin Watson

      You are quite correct. Artillery is at its least effective when it is passed out in spent in driblets. Putting a crosshair on every terrain feature in your sector does not a fire support plan make.
      I know you know this, sir, but I’ll elaborate for our studio audience that the elimination of the divisional Artillery commands (or DIVARTYs) severely damaged the development of junior and field grade artillery officers. A good maneuver (armor or infantry) brigade commander can make any officer of any branch a better officer in general through mentorship (at least theoretically), but to be good at FA, you require both creativity and a VERY soild grasp of the technical details of gunnery and fire support planning.
      Of the twelve FA field grades I worked with at Carson, four were technically and tactically incompetent, four were marginal, three were reasonably solid (one of whom actually did know gunnery better than I did, but was not as solid tactically at either FA maneuver or Fire Support) and one was actually technically and tactically brilliant–too bad he was an awful human being and leader.

    • Tom Kratman

      Sad, is it not, that a grunt knows this and even, within his limited purview, fights for it, while any number of red leg flag officers, before this organization abomination was adopted, did not?

    • Justin Watson

      I think one could describe it as tragic, at least in its implications for the next war, without much hyperbole.
      Part of the problem is that FA officers should, due to their job description, average smarter than Armor and Infantry officers (no offense). I’m not convinced we do (no offense to my redleg brothers, but seriously, look at our, well, your peers and superiors). The resulting lack of smarts, both street and book, ends in a succession of lost political battles AND substandard performance in our fire support billets, which is where we’re supposed to sell FA as a concept to people like you.
      I recall one of my three FA battalion commanders in Germany admitted, publicly, without shame, that he could not work basic functions on an AFATDS, much less perform manual gunnery as if it were a laughing matter.
      Now, before someone points out that an FA battalion commander hardly needs to be in a fire direction center during the fight calculating missions himself, let me say that is true. But he absolutely does need to know it well enough to evaluate his subordinates for THEIR ability to do so and have actual, valuable feedback to make them better, thus developing and preparing them to do the same for others.
      While I’m no grunt, I’m pretty sure an Infantry battalion commander who has forgotten how a fire team works is just as wrong, even though he, likewise, shouldn’t be directing them as a matter of course in battle.

    • Mavwreck

      Please forgive my ignorance – I’ve never been in the military, much less artillery. What benefit do you get from centralizing artillery control? I can see why you’d want a division’s worth of artillery when attacking a large target, but what benefit do you get when attacking multiple smaller targets? Wouldn’t the fire missions just have be parceled back out to smaller groups?

    • TBR

      Preface: I am only half a disciple of Barbara, being Navy. But one of my ships held the trophy.

      In artillery volume of fire creates effect. In many tactical situations it makes sense to concentrate artillery fire to reach a certain volume threshold. You have physical and psychological effects that only occur in a tactical or operational meaningful way if the fire on the objective rises above a certain volume threshold within a short timespan. It is akin to a multiplication effect, if a number of rounds hits within a short enough time span their effect is multiplied, if the span is to long their effect is just the mere sum of the rounds, if that.

      This thinking (and “shoot and scoot” to avoid counterbattery fire) is behind the multiple round simultaneous impact functionality of modern howitzers and, at the more macro level, behind the “time on target” salvo developed by the US-Army in time for WWII, which is a prime example of the effect achievable by divisional and even corps level artillery concentrations.


      The big innovation of the Germans was the general readiness and the quickness of delegating the control over those concentrated artillery recources to relatively low tactical levels even in fluid battles. This does however NOT mean every battalion or even company had their “own” artillery on call but that fire support teams in those German battalions and companies had access to the concentrated volume of fire of divisional and even corps assets easier and more quickly than, say, the Soviets.

    • http://blog.timp.com.au TimP

      The advantage of more centralised artillery is that even with smaller engagements you actually only have one or two engagements at a time.

      Right now Lt. Bob’s platoon can have the entire division’s worth of artillery supporting him, even if in half an hour all that artillery will need to be supporting Cpt. Frank’s company. This can make a significant difference.

      (Of course I’m still dubious about the usefulness of artillery in COIN)

    • Tom Kratman

      This is to both you and TBR…well, to the entire crew, really.

      There’s a chart in one or the manuals that shows relative effectiveness based on number of tubes. To get X effect from an entire Divarty, 54 guns then, requires, say, 54 rounds. To get the same effect from a battalion of 18 required 5 rounds per gun, or 90 rounds. I think a six gun battery had to fire something like 270 rounds, if memory serves, or 45 rounds per gun. A single gun had to sit there and throw – I shit you not – 1054 rounds, to get the same effect as 54 in a Divarty time on target.

    • Justin Watson

      Very good, sir. I won’t even add the qualifier “for an infantryman.”
      You first volley will do the most damage. It’s all diminishing returns (for the same number of shells per volley) afterwards.

    • Justin Watson

      It’s not very useful the way we do COIN now because we’re too fucking sensitive.

    • Tom Kratman

      It’s called Time on Target, or TOT. I refer to the effect below. The short version is that, after the first impact, the target, having no wish to be emulsified, takes cover, spreads out, scatters, maybe even calls in counterbattery.

    • Jack Withrow

      Col, Supposedly DIVARTY is coming back according to some. I pointed out the loss of DIVARTY in a thread in the Keller after you took your hiatus and was told it is coming back. I have not personally seen anything to prove or disprove that.

    • Tom Kratman

      Yeah, but the damage is done. Pentomic lasted about 18 months in the late 50s. We were still paying for it 40 years later. We’re still paying for it now. This abortion has gone on 10 years. We so fucked that they’re going to have to come up with a new word, because simple “fucked’ won’t cover it anymore.

    • Justin Watson

      The DIVARTY is coming back, they were standing up one at Carson for 4th ID right before I got out, one of my buddies was tagged to command the HHB there after his line battery.

  • Justin Watson

    Thank, sir. About a third of these I’ve never read and another third I haven’t read in many, many years. I think I’ll pick up Ferguson’s book next.

    • Tom Kratman

      Oddly enough, you’re not my target audience here. You’ve studied the matter and lived the matter, and will continue to study. My list of 20 is for the interested amateur or non-participant, and the junior service member who wants to understand his profession better. If someone

    • Justin Watson

      So I figured, but I still derived value from it. I’ve also been slacking in my non-fiction reading so this is a good place to start picking it up again.

  • svartalf

    The problem with many “getting” it on this subject is that they don’t clearly understand what people refer to when they say, “human nature”. Until you find an appropriate redirection and outlet for the impulse in question, you will always have “war” in it’s traditional sense. It’s wired in our genetics to do this thing.

  • DaJefeMax

    This comment goes to both lists

    The Luttwak books are really good, specially “Pentagon and the Art of War.” HIs “Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire From the First Century AD to the
    Third” is worth a look, if only because the United States has some of the same
    overstretch problems that bedeviled the Romans.

    I need to get back to Nevins one of these days, but on the Civil War I really like Foote better (3 vols). Don’t miss Sherman’s memoirs either. I’m from the South, but I quite agree with the Col. about Sherman’s greatness as a soldier.

    On the subject of Napoleon, Chandler’s good, but I’d put in a plug for Elting and Esposito’s “A Military History and Atlas of the Napoleonic Wars.” Much, much more than an Atlas, the work is a good military history of the period from the operational/strategic level, although it probably assumes more basic knowledge of the period than Chandler.

    • Tom Kratman

      Plugs for other books that advance the cause are certainly welcome.

  • Jack Withrow

    Col, You mentioned Paul Carrell in your earlier column in the comments on this subject. While Carrell is obviously biased, I highly recommend him for one simple reason. He does a very good job of showing what combat is like from a personal point of view. Charles MacDonald did the same thing in “Company Commander”. Ambrose’s “Band of Brothers” is another good example of that. None of them provide in depth analysis of what happened and in the big scheme of things get quite a few facts wrong, but they tell things from the viewpoint of the men involved.

    If you decide to do another recommended reading list on the military, I would suggest the next one be devoted to the bird’s eye view of combat. Let those that have never served get a partial idea of what it is like. That I think is one of the huge problems facing combat veterans today. The average civilian has no clue what they went through and as such either views them as Hero’s or Villains depending on their political persuasion. When in truth they are not, they just want to be treated as everyone else is.

    And for others not familiar with the Col’s fiction, he does an excellent job of conveying what it is like to be on the sharp end.

    • Tom Kratman

      Yeah…that’s a good thought, if I someday expand my minimal list past 20.

  • Neil

    “I can deliver 1000 20-foot dorata to King Agamemnon’s specification, estimated price and delivery shall be 10,000 drachma and five years, on a cost-plus basis.”

    -Unknown Greek defense contractor, tablet delivered from Argos and found near the walls of Troy.

    • Tom Kratman

      I wonder if he ever got paid.

    • Neil

      Maybe, maybe not, but I’ll bet Agamemnon didn’t get much good out of the spears.

    • Tom Kratman

      Well…maybe for a while. These things wear out.

    • Neil

      Hey, was it the contractor’s fault there was no MTBF in the spec? I think not.

  • akulkis

    No Sun Tzu?

  • John Cristiano

    I had not heard of “Common Sense Training” before this. It is one of the few professional development reads that makes me start taking notes in the margins. Pretty much all of the problems outlined in the first few chapters are still problems (or are larger problems) today.

    Some of the fixes that he posited have been institutionalized and then corrupted. The biggest among them being the company commander’s courses. These have become an exercise in administrativa with no relation to what the author created in the 70′s.
    Otherwise I am stealing a good bit of this for my battery LPD program (seeing as I’ve never seen one actually happen this should be interesting).

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