Each company fought alone

Sunday, November 1st, 2020

There was massive American weapon power, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), in the hills of Korea:

There were regiments, battalions, a whole division. But only companies fought, and each company fought alone, out of sight, often out of knowledge of any other American unit. The battle boiled down into how long individual companies, singled out and enveloped on all sides by overwhelming numbers, could hold out.

It was weird fighting, such as the United States Army had not seen since the days of Fort Phil Kearney, the Washita, the Little Big Horn. And what the Army had learned on those fields had long since been discarded on the battlefields of Europe. Unable to maneuver where its wheels could not go, unable to emplace and effectively use its big guns, unable to see or communicate in these hills, the United States Army was being bitten to death rather than smashed down by numbers.


  1. Kirk says:

    The really astonishing thing about the Korean War is just how little the US military really learned from it.

    You can still find a very strong thread of fantasy through all of our doctrine and planning, and that fantasy is that there is any such thing as a “safe area”. There isn’t. Korea was really the first time we had our noses rubbed in that fact, and we’re still in denial over it all. Even after Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, the brass still thinks in terms of a linear battlefield where modern-day knights in shining armor tilt at each other in mutual ritual combat. The fact that this is fantasy has yet to penetrate past their overly-thickened skulls into their walnut-sized brains.

    The dinosaurs still believe in the fantasy, and refuse to acknowledge the facts on the ground. Witness the deliberate manner that they dismantled all the various “Personal Security Detachments” cobbled together from internal elements, which were critical to enabling the commanders to do their jobs and get out on the battlefield to see what the hell was actually going on. The fact that there’s always been a need for these elements escapes them, and instead of institutionalizing the PSD, they shut them down. Next time we go to war, they’ll have to reconstitute them again, and strip the line units of personnel and equipment yet again in order to do so.

    They should have built them into the MTOE, providing men and equipment such that the elements could exist, and then train with them in place. Instead, most of the units training at the various training centers behave as though there will be no necessity for the commanders to conduct a “fight for command and control”, which is what it amounts to.

    Likewise, the idiots completely leave the enemy alone in this regard. There are no American hunter-killer teams out looking for enemy leadership elements and making their lives difficult in their “rear areas”. It’s a conceptual vacuum on our parts, and indicative of the fact that our military is both inflexible and not at all adaptive. The reality is that this sort of war has been the “way things are” since Korea, and we’re just the only idiots who can’t (or, worse, won’t…) recognize that set of facts on the ground.

  2. Gavin Longmuir says:


    It is hard to disagree with your observations. But let’s consider an extension — We still think of conflict and wars in mainly military terms, without realizing there are other forms of conflict which are potentially much more effective.

    Your point about “safe areas” is well-taken. The feature of ICBMs and nuclear warheads is that no country has a “safe area”. Politicians in the capital city are just as exposed as the grunts on the front line once the missiles start to fly. Consequently, smart politicians will chose methods of achieving their aims which do not risk triggering a nuclear response.

    The West (not just the US) is now heavily dependent on China for everything from medications to smart phones to nuts & bolts. Every year, our industrial base shrinks and we become even more dependent on China for goods & services. In WWII, Germany & Japan lost their capacity to continue the fight through destruction of their industries by bombing.
    In the last two decades, the West has lost much of our industrial capacity without a single bomb being dropped.

    Consider the possibility that the nature of war has changed. There is more than one way to destroy an adversary’s capacity to resist. And we have been losing that economic war without even realizing we were engaged in conflict.

    Sun Tzu would be impressed!

  3. VXXC says:

    Anyone with a brain and usually those with experience leave the military, nothing will change until the actual decision makers – the Civilians in DOD – are on their knees in a Pentagon Parking lot being forced to surrender at bayonet point. < For it is little old ladies and fat old men in suits who set our policies, determine our actual policies.

    The "Green-Suiters" are voluntary conscript labor.
    One step above convict labor socially, maybe.

    The military, yes especially our Generals, don't set military policy. Civilians, not even elected or political appointees but career civilian bureaucrats set our policies.

    Of course nothing changes. The Post office or really sub post office caliber people make all the decisions, the only smart ones are corrupt and only going for the money.

    Sure we actually do have a great warrior military, but their legally and in terms of power American Janissaries. Our real Generals are career Civil Service, SES like Dr. Fauci. The titular Generals are just that….frontmen, figureheads.

    We don't learn because there is no "We", the decision makers are utterly isolated from consequences.

  4. Kirk says:


    I would both agree with you, and yet still disagree.

    The nature of war hasn’t changed, particularly. What’s changed is that our military has ossified in its visualization, thinking about, and preparation for war as it is, rather than war as they wish it to be.

    You didn’t have to be a freakin’ genius to recognize that there was a 100% probability that we’d have to fight something like the IED campaign in Iraq. The handwriting was on the wall as far back as the Eastern Front in WWII, where the Soviets did unto the Nazis as they later taught the rest of the world to do unto the Western powers as they did. The only people who really recognized the reality of it all, and then adapted successfully to it were the Rhodesians and then the South Africans. The US military dealt with a lot of the same issues that the South African military discovered, and their reaction was not to adapt, but merely to throw a few more draftees onto the fire, so to speak.

    The real crisis with this has nothing to do with China, and goes back well beyond the development of the Chinese threat–It isn’t the threat, even. The real issue is an essential and ingrained inability to recognize reality and adapt to it.

    Had the US Army paid attention to its internal voices pointing out that what was going on in Southwest Africa was likely to be something we would have to cope with, we’d have developed our capabilities accordingly. Instead, military and civilian authorities within the defense establishment stuck their forefingers deep into their ears, went “NA-NA NA-NA”, and ignored the entire issue of IED and rear-area battle. It was like they didn’t want to have to recognize that war wasn’t as they visualized it, with great sweeping movements of men and tanks across entire sub-continents, and ample range for nascent Pattons to play out their little ego-trips.

    War is not, I am afraid, as we would like it. There is a reality there, that has to be dealt with, and just like the French defense establishment before WWI, which was so focused on elan that it couldn’t see the coming barb-wire debacle barreling down on it… Well, we’re blind to the implications of it all.

    I don’t see it getting fixed, either. Even the adaptations we did manage to make, after Iraq and Afghanistan? They’re being abandoned, wholesale.

  5. Phil B. says:

    Regarding Kirks “there are no safe areas”, this book, written by Vladimir Bogdanovitch Resun under his nom de plume of Victor Suvorov describes in fine detail the role of the Soviet Spetsnaz forces in a conventional (and even a nuclear) war. Political and other assassinations to decapitate the country and the armed services will take place. I doubt very much if the Soviets have abandoned their philosophy, even after all that has happened in their country since 1989.

    Anyway, here is the book, chapter by chapter:


  6. Kirk says:

    Much of what Rezun wrote about Soviet military affairs has to be taken with a heavy dose of salt, but there are a lot of underlying truths woven into his accounts.

    Personally, I rather suspect that an awful lot of Soviet and Russian military theory is entirely too precious for itself–Sure, Giap launched the Tet Offensive thinking it would result in a general uprising across South Vietnam, but what was the result? Near-total destruction for the Viet Cong movement…

    Which is not to say that it is all so much specious bullshit, but that it does have its intrinsic issues. After all, despite managing very well-developed IED/mine campaigns in Vietnam, southern Africa, and Iraq/Afghanistan, what did those Soviet pupils really accomplish? Did any of them win their wars in a tactical, operational, or strategic sense?

    The fact that the US military was poorly prepared for those campaigns, and didn’t particularly ever address them effectively is to some degree irrelevant; in the end, all three campaigns were decided by other factors that were only peripherally related to the issues created by the IED and mine strategy.

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