Stalin still had the power to sign a cease-fire with Hitler

Saturday, November 11th, 2023

Whether the landing on Normandy (Operation Overlord) was actually going to take place was the call of the three Allied leaders, Bevin Alexander explains (in How Hitler Could Have Won World War II), not the generals:

They did so at the Teheran conference in late November 1943.

Roosevelt was not as set on Overlord as Marshall, but if Stalin wanted it, he would demand it. Stalin still had the power to sign a cease-fire with Hitler. This was increasingly unlikely with the German retreat after Operation Citadel, but Roosevelt sought to avoid a separate peace at all costs. Beyond that, he was seeking a “constructive relationship” with Stalin after the war — a Soviet Union as a responsible member of the world community, not an agent of further disorder and war.

Consequently, at Teheran, when Stalin contested diversions in the Mediterranean that Churchill was seeking, Roosevelt announced he opposed any delay in the cross-Channel invasion. With that, the die was cast for Overlord.

The only thing remarkable about their deployments was the sheer number of artillery rounds they had fired

Thursday, November 9th, 2023

An investigation by the New York Times found that many of the troops sent to bombard the Islamic State in 2016 and 2017 returned to the United States plagued by nightmares, panic attacks, depression and, in a few cases, hallucinations:

Interviews with more than 40 gun crew veterans and their families in 16 states found that the military repeatedly struggled to determine what was wrong after the troops returned from Syria and Iraq.

All the gun crews filled out questionnaires to screen for post-traumatic stress disorder and took tests to detect signs of traumatic brain injuries from enemy explosions. But the crews had been miles away from the front lines when they fired their long-range cannons, and most never saw direct fighting or suffered the kinds of combat injuries that the tests were designed to look for.

A few gun crew members were eventually given diagnoses of PTSD, but to the crews, that didn’t make much sense. They hadn’t, in most cases, even seen the enemy.

The only thing remarkable about their deployments was the sheer number of artillery rounds they had fired.

The United States had made a strategic decision to avoid sending large numbers of ground troops to fight the Islamic State, and instead relied on airstrikes and a handful of powerful artillery batteries to, as one retired general said at the time, “pound the bejesus out of them.” The strategy worked: Islamic State positions were all but eradicated, and hardly any U.S. troops were killed.

But it meant that a small number of troops had to fire tens of thousands of high-explosive shells — far more rounds per crew member, experts say, than any U.S. artillery battery had fired at least since the Vietnam War.

Military guidelines say that firing all those rounds is safe. What happened to the crews suggests that those guidelines were wrong.

The cannon blasts were strong enough to hurl a 100-pound round 15 miles, and each unleashed a shock wave that shot through the crew members’ bodies, vibrating bone, punching lungs and hearts, and whipping at cruise-missile speeds through the most delicate organ of all: the brain.

More than a year after Marines started experiencing problems, the Marine Corps leadership tried to piece together what was happening by ordering a study of one of the hardest-hit units, Fox Battery, 2nd Battalion, 10th Marines.

The research was limited to reviewing the troops’ medical records. No Marines were examined or interviewed. Even so, the report, published in 2019, made a startling finding: The gun crews were being hurt by their own weapons.

More than half the Marines in the battery had eventually received diagnoses of traumatic brain injuries, according to a briefing prepared for Marine Corps headquarters. The report warned that the experience in Syria showed that firing a high number of rounds, day after day, could incapacitate crews “faster than combat replacements can be trained to replace them.”

The military did not seem to be taking the threat seriously, the briefing cautioned: Safety training — both for gun crews and medical personnel — was so deficient, it said, that the risks of repeated blast exposure “are seemingly ignored.”


The military for generations set maximum safe blast-exposure levels for eardrums and lungs but never for brains. Anything that didn’t leave troops dazed was generally considered safe. But that has recently changed.

Today, shooters wear hearing protection, even when shooting relatively low-power guns, like pistols, alone, outdoors, but it wasn’t that long ago that a machine-gunner was supposed to tough it out. The military didn’t address the problem until a new technology made it impossible to ignore.

A drone is simply a smartphone with wings, and the wings are the cheap part

Monday, November 6th, 2023

When it became clear that drones were playing a significant role in Ukraine, I decided to finally catch up on the topic, and I noticed that David Hambling, whose articles seemed reasonable and well written, had written a book on the topic back in 2013, Swarm Troopers: How small drones will conquer the world.

One of the first points he makes in the book is that the Pentagon used to always be 20 years ahead of the private sector:

Smartphone sales have accelerated from zero in 2006 to over a billion smartphones shipped in 2013.


Billions of dollars are spent annually on advancing technology just for small electronic devices.


These days soldiers are less likely to be awestruck at the gadgetry they are issued than shocked by how clunky it is compared to the sleek lightweight devices they have at home.


Selling to the military means extensive testing and certification, with the related delays and costs. Add to this a military bureaucracy that can take years to agree on the specification it wants in the first place, overseen by a political leadership that may cancel, delay, or divert any project depending on the shifting sands of expediency, and you have a recipe for a long time between generations.

Each generation of electronics roughly translates to a doubling of processing power, memory, pixels, or other relevant metrics. If a commercial product goes through a generation every two years, and the military cycle takes six years per generation, then in twelve years the military product goes from being four times as powerful as the competition to a quarter as powerful.


A drone is simply a smartphone with wings, and the wings are the cheap part.

The Mulberries veiled the biggest secret of all

Saturday, November 4th, 2023

The two greatest armored commanders in history, Bevin Alexander explains (in How Hitler Could Have Won World War II), clashed on the proper way to meet the Allied invasion of France:

Guderian came to his position from his experiences in the east with the Red Army, Rommel from his experiences in Africa with the western Allies. They proposed diametrically opposite solutions.


Panzer and panzergrenadier divisions, Guderian wrote, “must be stationed far enough inland from the so-called Atlantic Wall so that they could be switched easily to the main invasion front once it had been recognized.”

Guderian and Geyr proposed that the ten fast divisions Hitler had allocated to defend the west be concentrated in two groups, one north and the other south of Paris. Both officers recognized the immense superiority of Allied air power, and that it gravely affected German ability to shift armor. But they believed the problem could be overcome by moving at night.


Because of Allied air supremacy, Rommel said, there could be no question of moving large formations, even at night.

To Rommel the day of mobile warfare for Germany had passed, not only because of Anglo-American air power but because Germany had not kept up with the western Allies in production of tanks and armored vehicles—a result due more to the shortage of oil than to Allied bombing.

Implicit in Rommel’s theory was that the Germans must guess right where the Allies were going to land. If German forces could not move, they had to be in place close to the invasion site. Rommel decided that the Allies would land at the Pas de Calais opposite Dover.

Rommel ruled out other landing places, especially because the Allies could provide greater air cover there than anywhere else. Rommel wrote Hitler on December 31, 1943, listing the Pas de Calais as the probable landing site. “The enemy’s main concern,” he wrote, “will be to get the quickest possible possession of a port or ports capable of handling large ships.”

Guderian did not conjecture precisely where the Allies might invade. He thought they should be allowed to land and make a penetration, so that their forces could be destroyed and thrown back into the sea by a counteroffensive on a grand scale. This was in keeping with successful German movements in Russia. Although Rundstedt and Geyr accepted the idea, neither they nor Guderian had any idea how Anglo-American command of the air could restrict panzer movement.

Rommel did, and to him Guderian’s proposal was nonsense. “If the enemy once gets his foot in, he’ll put every antitank gun and tank he can into the bridgehead and let us beat our heads against it,” he told General Fritz Bayerlein, commander of the Panzer Lehr Division.

The only way to prevent this, Rommel wrote, was to fight the battle in the coastal strip. This required operational reserves close behind the beaches that could intervene quickly. Bringing reserves up from inland would force them to run a gauntlet of Allied air power, and take so much time the Allies could organize a solid defense or drive farther inland.

Rommel set about building a fortified mined zone extending five or six miles inland. He also built underwater obstacles along the shore—including stakes (“Rommel’s asparagus”) carrying antitank mines, concrete structures equipped with steel blades or antitank mines, and other snares. But his efforts came too late to be fully effective, and they were concentrated in the Pas de Calais, though some work extended to Normandy.

Rommel and Guderian were both wrong, of course. The Allies were not bound to take the shortest route to seize the closest port. Rommel did not understand the vastness of Allied maritime resources, and he was not aware of British ingenuity in building two artificial harbors (Mulberries) which could serve as temporary ports. The Mulberries veiled the biggest secret of all: the Allies did not have to capture a port to invade the Continent. This made possible a landing at the least likely place still under the Allied air umbrella: the beaches of Normandy.

Guderian was wrong in his belief that the Germans could duplicate anything like the vast sweeping panzer movements they practiced in Russia. There the Luftwaffe generally had parity with the Red air force, and could achieve temporary local superiority to carry out a specific mission. In the west, Allied air power was overwhelming and permanent.


Erich von Manstein had won the campaign in the west in 1940 by convincing Hitler to concentrate his armor. Now, at the moment of Germany’s greatest military peril, Hitler was dispersing his armor—all across the map. Furthermore, he kept a firm rein on most of these divisions, intending to direct the battle from Berchtesgaden.

If, instead, three or four fast divisions had been stationed directly behind the beaches at each of the potential sites, they very likely could have crushed any invasion on the first day.

The Allied high command’s dominating thought was to make sure of success

Saturday, October 28th, 2023

Marshal Kesselring had the most insightful comment, Bevin Alexander explains (in How Hitler Could Have Won World War II), on Allied leadership in Italy:

The Allied high command’s dominating thought was to make sure of success, a thought that led it to use orthodox methods and material. As a result it was almost always possible for me, despite inadequate means of reconnaissance and scanty reports, to foresee the next strategic or tactical move of my opponent.

The longstanding U.S. base is a radar facility

Friday, October 27th, 2023

Two months before Hamas attacked Israel, the Pentagon awarded a multimillion-dollar contract to build U.S. troop facilities for a secret base it maintains deep within Israel’s Negev desert, just 20 miles from Gaza:

Codenamed “Site 512,” the longstanding U.S. base is a radar facility that monitors the skies for missile attacks on Israel.

On October 7, however, when thousands of Hamas rockets were launched, Site 512 saw nothing — because it is focused on Iran, more than 700 miles away.


The $35.8 million U.S. troop facility, not publicly announced or previously reported, was obliquely referenced in an August 2 contract announcement by the Pentagon.


“Sometimes something is treated as an official secret not in the hope that an adversary would never find out about it but rather [because] the U.S. government, for diplomatic or political reasons, does not want to officially acknowledge it,” Paul Pillar, a former chief analyst at the CIA’s counterterrorism center who said he had no specific knowledge of the base, told The Intercept. “In this case, perhaps the base will be used to support operations elsewhere in the Middle East in which any acknowledgment that they were staged from Israel, or involved any cooperation with Israel, would be inconvenient and likely to elicit more negative reactions than the operations otherwise would elicit.”

Since I recently read The Puzzle Palace, I can’t help but notice that this sounds like a SIGINT collection facility.

From a monetary perspective, World War I never really ended

Thursday, October 26th, 2023

From a monetary perspective, World War I never really ended once it began in 1914, Lyn Alden notes:

In prior wars throughout history, wars had to be funded with savings or taxes or very slow debasement of coinage. Physical coinage held by citizens could usually only be debased by their government gradually rather than diluted instantaneously, because a government couldn’t just magically change the properties of the coins that were held by households; it could only debase them over time by taxing purer coins, issuing various decrees to try to pull some of those purer coins in, and spending debased coins back out into the economy (and convincing initial recipients to accept them at the same prior value, despite the lesser precious metal content, which would only work for a time and might not even be noticed at first). However, with the widespread holding of centrally issued banknotes and bank deposits that were redeemable for specific amounts of gold, governments could change the redemptive value with the stroke of a pen or eliminate redemption all together.

This gave governments the power to instantaneously devalue a substantial part of their citizens’ savings, literally overnight, and funnel that purchasing power toward war or other government expenditures whenever they determine that the situation calls for it.

The emphasis was more on secure communications and tradecraft

Tuesday, October 24th, 2023

Since 2015, the Washington Post reports, the CIA has spent tens of millions of dollars to transform Ukraine’s Soviet-formed intelligence services:

The Post vetted key details with multiple sources including Western officials with access to independent streams of intelligence. The CIA declined to comment.


“We never involved our international partners in covert operations, especially behind the front lines,” a former senior Ukrainian security official said. SBU and GUR operatives were not accompanied by CIA counterparts. Ukraine avoided using weapons or equipment that could be traced to U.S. sources, and even covert funding streams were segregated.

“We had a lot of restrictions about working with the Ukrainians operationally,” said a former U.S. intelligence official. The emphasis was “more on secure communications and tradecraft,” and pursuing new streams of intelligence inside Russia “rather than ‘here’s how you blow up a mayor.’ I never got the sense that we were that involved in designing their ops.”


Ukraine’s spies developed their own lines about which operations to discuss and which to keep under wraps. “There were some things that maybe we wouldn’t talk about” with CIA counterparts, said a second Ukraine security official involved in such missions. He said crossing those boundaries would lead to a terse reply from Americans: “We don’t want any part of that.”


The initial phases of cooperation were tentative, officials said, given concerns on both sides that Ukraine’s services were still heavily penetrated by the FSB — the Russian agency that is the main successor to the KGB. To manage that security risk, the CIA worked with the SBU to create an entirely new directorate, officials said, one that would focus on so-called “active measures” operations against Russia and be insulated from other SBU departments.

The new unit was prosaically dubbed the “Fifth Directorate” to distinguish it from the four long-standing units of the SBU. A sixth directorate has since been added, officials said, to work with Britain’s MI6 spy agency.

Training sites were located outside Kyiv where handpicked recruits were instructed by CIA personnel, officials said. The plan was to form units “capable of operating behind front lines and working as covert groups,” said a Ukrainian official involved in the effort.

The agency provided secure communications gear, eavesdropping equipment that allowed Ukraine to intercept Russian phone calls and emails, and even furnished disguises and separatist uniforms enabling operatives to more easily slip into occupied towns.

The early missions focused on recruiting informants among Russia’s proxy forces as well as cyber and electronic eavesdropping measures, officials said. The SBU also began mounting sabotage operations and missions to capture separatist leaders and Ukrainian collaborators, some of whom were taken to secret detention sites.

But the operations soon took a lethal turn. Over one three-year stretch, at least half a dozen Russian operatives, high-ranking separatist commanders or collaborators were killed in violence that was often attributed to internal score-settling but in reality was the work of the SBU, Ukraine officials said.


Even while helping to build the SBU’s new directorate, the CIA embarked on a far more ambitious project with Ukraine’s military intelligence service.

With fewer than 5,000 employees, the GUR was a fraction of the size of the SBU and had a narrower focus on espionage and active measures operations against Russia. It also had a younger workforce with fewer holdovers from Soviet times, while the SBU was still perceived as penetrated by Russian intelligence.

“We calculated that GUR was a smaller and more nimble organization where we could have more impact,” said a former U.S. intelligence official who worked in Ukraine. “GUR was our little baby. We gave them all new equipment and training.” GUR officers “were young guys not Soviet-era KGB generals,” the official said, “while the SBU was too big to reform.”

Even recent developments have seemed to validate such concerns. Former SBU director Ivan Bakanov was forced out of the job last year amid criticism that the agency wasn’t moving aggressively enough against internal traitors. The SBU also discovered last year that Russian-made modems were still being used in the agency’s networks, prompting a scramble to unplug them.

From 2015 on, the CIA embarked on such an extensive transformation of the GUR that within several years “we had kind of rebuilt it from scratch,” the former U.S. intelligence official said. One of the main architects of the effort, who served as CIA station chief in Kyiv, now runs the Ukraine Task Force at CIA headquarters.

The GUR began recruiting operatives for its own new active measures department, officials said. At sites in Ukraine and, later, the United States, GUR operatives were trained on skills ranging from clandestine maneuvers behind enemy lines to weapons platforms and explosives. U.S. officials said the training was aimed at helping Ukrainian operatives protect themselves in dangerous Russian-controlled environments rather than inflicting harm on Russian targets.

Some of the GUR’s newest recruits were transfers from the SBU, officials said, drawn to a rival service flush with new authorities and resources. Among them was Vasyl Burba, who had managed SBU Fifth Directorate operations before joining the GUR and serving as agency director from 2016 to 2020. Burba became such a close ally of the CIA — and perceived Moscow target — that when he was forced from his job after President Volodymyr Zelensky’s election the agency provided him an armored vehicle, officials said. Burba declined to comment for this article.
The CIA helped the GUR acquire state-of-the-art surveillance and electronic eavesdropping systems, officials said. They included mobile equipment that could be placed along Russian-controlled lines in eastern Ukraine, but also software tools used to exploit the cellphones of Kremlin officials visiting occupied territory from Moscow. Ukrainian officers operated the systems, officials said, but everything gleaned was shared with the Americans.

Concerned that the GUR’s aging facilities were likely compromised by Russian intelligence, the CIA paid for new headquarters buildings for the GUR’s “spetsnaz” paramilitary division and a separate directorate responsible for electronic espionage.
The new capabilities were transformative, officials said.

“In one day we could intercept 250,000 to 300,000 separate communications” from Russian military and FSB units, said a former senior GUR official. “There was so much information that we couldn’t manage it ourselves.”

Troves of data were relayed through the new CIA-built facility back to Washington, where they were scrutinized by CIA and NSA analysts, officials said.

“We were giving them the ability — through us — to collect on” Russian targets, the former GUR official said. Asked about the magnitude of the CIA investments, the official said: “It was millions of dollars.”

In time, the GUR had also developed networks of sources in Russia’s security apparatus, including the FSB unit responsible for operations in Ukraine. In a measure of U.S.-Ukraine trust, officials said, the CIA was permitted to have direct contact with agents recruited and run by Ukrainian intelligence.

The resulting intelligence windfall was largely hidden from public view, with intermittent exceptions. The SBU began posting incriminating or embarrassing communications intercepts, including one in which Russian commanders were captured discussing their country’s culpability in the 2014 shoot-down of a Malaysian Airlines passenger jet.

Even so, officials said the intelligence obtained through the U.S.-Ukraine cooperation had its limits. The Biden administration’s prescient warnings about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s determination to topple the Kyiv government, for example, were based primarily on separate streams of intelligence Ukraine wasn’t privy to initially.

In some ways, officials said, Ukraine’s own collection efforts fed the skepticism that Zelensky and others had about Putin’s plans because they were eavesdropping on military and FSB units that themselves were not informed until the eve of the war. “They were getting an accurate picture from people who were also in the dark,” one U.S. official said.

The Marines at their guard posts had been prohibited from having a round in the chamber

Monday, October 23rd, 2023

Shortly past daybreak on the morning of Oct. 23, 1983, Jack Carr reminds us, a Mercedes truck tore through the concertina wire that surrounded the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon:

The truck was loaded with PETN explosive wrapped in compressed gas canisters.

Inside the four-story Battalion Landing Team headquarters and barracks — colorfully known as the “Beirut Hilton” — some 350 American troops still slumbered. It was Sunday — a day of rest.

American troops were in Lebanon to help stabilize a nation torn apart by eight years of civil war that had killed tens of thousands and devastated the once-beautiful capital of Beirut, formerly hailed as the “Paris of the Middle East.”

The driver accelerated, covering the 450 feet that separated the concertina wire from the barracks in 10 seconds.

The Marines he passed at their guard posts had been prohibited from having a round in the chamber of their rifles.

The truck crashed through the sandbags stacked in front of the barracks and came to a stop 13 feet inside the lobby.

The subsequent explosion — immortalized on a clock in the building’s basement at 6:21.26 a.m. — proved to be the largest nonnuclear explosion on record, one that equaled as much as 20,000 pounds of TNT.

The blast claimed the lives of 220 Marines, 18 sailors, and three soldiers.

Another 112 were wounded.

Not since the invasion of Iwo Jima in February 1945 had the Marines lost so many men in a single day. A near-simultaneous bombing a few miles north killed 58 French paratroopers.

What followed is one of the greatest rescue stories in modern history.


American intelligence immediately zeroed in on the attackers, who were Iranian-backed Shiite terrorists, part of a new group that we know today as Hezbollah.

White House infighting blocked a proposed American retaliation, but French and Israeli planes attacked terrorist training camps in the Bekaa Valley.


In the immediate aftermath, Marine Corps Commandant General Paul Kelley testified before Congress. During a moment of frustration, as he grappled with myopic lawmakers, the general asked whether it would take a suicide bomber crashing an airplane for America to wake up to the reality of this new war.

Lessons from the Battle of Manila

Sunday, October 22nd, 2023

With approximately 800,000 residents, Manila was one of the largest population centers encountered by American forces in any theater in World War 2:

IJA General Tomoyuki Yamashita, who commanded all Japanese troops on Luzon, did not want to defend Manila for two reasons. First, he saw its mainly flammable wooden buildings as a death trap for his troops. Second, the large civilian population would require feeding and care, something his logistically starved troops could not do. However, the IJN commander, Admiral Sanji Iwabuchi, saw himself under no obligation to listen to orders given by his rivals in the IJA, and in hopes of regaining his honor, elected to stay with his forces and fight to the death while Yamashita and the majority of the Japanese retired from the city.

The defenders’ goals were to inflict maximum casualties on the US forces, delay the use of the port of Manila by the US Navy, and make the city unusable for military, civilian, or political purposes.


The Japanese, despite their extensive preparation of the battlefield, were almost doomed to fail as soon as the Americans had encircled the city. Once isolated, as seen in other urban fights, the defenders lost the ability to resupply, and were consigned to either starving or being rooted out one by one by the advancing Americans. With a force of nearly twenty thousand men, the Japanese should have been able to mount a counterattack and break out from the encirclement of only thirty-five thousand Americans in three divisions, but the lack of coordinated Japanese counterattacks and overall static defensive strategy allowed the Americans to effectively trap the defenders and clear the city.


Within Manila, the power plant, water treatment plant, port, Novaliches Dam, and San Juan Reservoir were seen by both as critical centers of gravity. Accordingly, the Japanese planned to destroy these as part of their scorched-earth campaign, while American forces sought to secure them intact.


The IJN plan to spoil the American victory and to further ensure the destruction of Manila as a functioning city was to include not only destroying critical infrastructure but also the deliberate murder of thousands of civilians. In scenes reminiscent of Nanking, thousands of innocent men, women, and children were shot, stabbed, beheaded, skinned alive, raped, and mutilated by Japanese forces in what became known as the Manila Massacre. Thousands more were driven from their homes and left without food, shelter, and access to medical care. Response to these mass atrocities committed within Manila became an additional mission of US Army forces across Luzon. US troops were tasked with caring for displaced persons. The care of civilians displaced from the battlefield became a major concurrent mission during and after the battle.

Urban battles do not occur in sterile environments. Within Manila, more than one hundred thousand civilians were killed either deliberately by the Japanese or caught in the crossfire. Current US forces need to be prepared to address the presence of civilians on the battlefield.


The high variability of Manila’s physical terrain that American forces encountered provides further lessons for modern observers. The city was composed of everything from small, wooden houses to massive, earthquake-resistant government buildings, such as the Manila Post Office that withstood days of direct artillery and tank fire. An entire squadron of the 1st Cavalry Division was forced to clear the Rizal baseball stadium that was being used as a Japanese ammunition dump, eventually driving tanks across the field to engage defenders fortified within the dugouts. The thick, Spanish-era forts and walls of the Intramuros further provided a unique challenge to the Americans, who had to contend with assaulting structures and reducing barricades that had been made to withstand sixteenth-century siege warfare.

Today, cities throughout Asia are also full of a diverse blend of architecture dating from dozens of distinct time periods. In Bangkok during the 2010 riots, the Thai military used armored personnel carriers and thousands of troops to clear a shopping mall full of protestors, resulting in massive fires throughout the area. In the Battle of Hue in 1968, North Vietnamese forces used the ancient Hue Citadel as a fortress, stymying American and South Vietnamese forces. More recently in Ukraine, the Ukrainian defenders of Mariupol turned the Azovstal steel factory into a nearly impenetrable fortress, defying the Russian invaders for months.


As in other urban battles, such as at Aachen, American tanks and artillery quickly became direct fire breaching assets that would punch holes into the thick walls of the Intramuros and government buildings, especially after MacArthur limited artillery fires in order to spare the city unnecessary destruction. Infantrymen also developed new clearing tactics, often using flamethrowers and bazookas to clear rooms and buildings. At the post office, infantry soldiers further innovated by bypassing the Japanese defenders on the heavily fortified ground floor and breaching the structure through a window on the second floor, then fighting their way downstairs.

The Germans saw in Russia that infantry actions were fought overwhelmingly at close range

Saturday, October 21st, 2023

In Africa and Sicily Anglo-American forces had seen elements of a new kind of close combat that the German army had developed in Russia, Bevin Alexander explains (in How Hitler Could Have Won World War II), but on the boot of Italy they came firmly up against it:

The Germans saw in Russia that infantry actions were fought overwhelmingly at close range, 75 yards or less, and introduced the MP38 and MP40 “Schmeisser” machine pistol that fired high-velocity pistol bullets, giving heavy unaimed fire to blanket an area and suppress enemy resistance. The Russians introduced a different sort of weapon that achieved the same effect, the PPSh41 7.62-millimeter submachine gun (burp gun). Supported by fast-firing portable machine guns, the MG-34 and MG-42, the Schmeissers gave Germans mobility and high volume of fire. They never replaced all their standard medium-range bolt-action rifles (the Mauser Kar. 98k) or employed many of the next-generation automatic assault rifles (Sturmgewehr), but Schmeissers and MG-34s and MG-42s gave them high capacity to defend against attacks.

The British replaced in part their medium-range bolt-action rifle, the Enfield No. 4, with various submachine guns (“Sten guns”) that fired the same 9-millimeter pistol cartridge as the Schmeisser, coupling them with the Bren gun, a reliable light machine gun.

The Americans were slower to replace the M1 Garand semiautomatic medium-range rifle. Wherever possible they used the Thompson M1928 submachine gun, firing .45-caliber pistol ammunition, but this weapon was in short supply. Americans made do with their M1s, Browning Automatic Rifles (BARs), and light machine guns. It was late 1944 before they introduced the M3 submachine gun (grease gun) in large numbers to compete with the Schmeisser.

The Germans learned to exploit the weaknesses of Americans under fire for the first time. In such cases Americans had the tendency to freeze or to seek the nearest protection. All too often American infantry merely located and fixed the enemy, and called on artillery to destroy the defenders. Only after much experience in 1943 did American infantry learn that the best way to avoid losses was to keep moving forward and to close in rapidly on the enemy.

Tanks could not be used in the mountainous terrain of Italy in massed attacks as Rommel had done in Africa. In Italy tanks largely reverted to the infantry-support role that the British had envisioned for their Matildas and other “I” tanks at the start of the war. However, American tankers and infantry had little training in this role. Infantry and tanks could not communicate with each other. Infantry could not warn tankers of antitank traps and heavy weapons, and tankers could not alert infantry to enemy positions. Consequently, infantry had a tendency to lag behind tanks, and Americans did not work out the smooth coordination of tanks, infantry, and artillery that the Germans had developed long before in their battle groups or Kampfgruppen.

Similar problems developed in the use of tank destroyers (TDs), essentially 75-millimeter guns on open-topped tank chassis. TDs were designed to break up massed German panzer attacks. The Germans no longer massed tanks, but used them as parts of Kampfgruppen. American commanders slowly changed the use of TDs to assault guns to destroy enemy tanks and defensive positions with direct fire.

Finally, the Allies did a poor job of coordinating air-ground operations. Allied fighter-bomber pilots flying at 200 mph often could not distinguish between friendly and enemy forces on the ground. The pilots could not talk to ground units, and vice versa. This resulted in many cases of Allied aircraft bombing and strafing friendly forces. Consequently, Allied troops often fired on anything that moved in the sky. Only in the spring of 1944 did the U.S. Army Air Force deploy forward air controllers (FACs), using light single-engine liaison aircraft (L-5s) that could direct radio communication to aircraft and air-ground support parties at headquarters of major ground units. It was a bit late: the Germans had employed this system in the campaign in the west in 1940 to direct Stuka attacks on enemy positions.

2,000 Lancets have destroyed 200 targets and damaged hundreds more

Thursday, October 19th, 2023

The Lancet loitering munition is a standout success for Russia:

While other weapons have performed below expectation during the invasion of Ukraine, this 35-pound kamikaze drone has proven capable of taking out a wide range of targets, including main battle tanks and parked aircraft, from far over the horizon.


After being used on a trial basis in Syria in 2021, the Lancet was rushed into full-scale service for this conflict. The first known use in Ukraine was in July 2022, some five months into the invasion. Since then it has been used in small but growing numbers.


At first only a handful of Lancet strike videos were posted each month. But this January, 22 Lancet attack videos appeared. That number rose to 62 in May, and 124 in August. The makers claim they are mass-producing the weapon at a new facility, so what we are seeing now is only the start. This growth in production is taking place despite the fact that the Lancet uses Western-made electronics, which in theory should be impossible for Russia to obtain.


The Lancet is launched from a catapult rail and transmits video back to the operator. Lancets are reportedly flown in conjunction with reconnaissance drones which spot targets and relay coordinates. The Lancet operator flies to the target area, visually confirms the target, and carries out the strike.

An electric propeller drives the Lancet at around 70 miles per hour. This slow speed makes it an easier target than a guided missile or other munition.

“Every day we shoot down at least one or two of these Lancets,” Yuriy Sak, an adviser to Ukraine’s defense minister, told Reuters. “But it’s not a 100 percent interception rate, unfortunately.”

Early Lancet attacks were all on static targets. More recent videos have shown hits on moving vehicles. This may indicate a change in doctrine or an improvement in operator skill levels.


According to Lost Armor, as of Oct. 3 there are 667 Lancet strike videos. Of these, 210 are classed as target destroyed (31%), 355 target damaged (53%), 48 miss (7%), and 52 are unknown (7%) . In particular, the heavy armor of tanks sometimes shrugs off the Lancet’s relatively small warhead.

This suggests that around 2,000 Lancets have destroyed 200 targets and damaged hundreds. That may seem low, but with each Lancet costing perhaps $35,000 and each target costing millions, the Lancet is extremely cost-effective.


By far the largest number of Lancet strike videos show attacks on Ukrainian artillery, both towed and self-propelled guns. As a recent report from UK defense think tank RUSI notes, Russian forces now use the Lancet extensively as a counter-battery weapon. Artillery is the traditional means of striking enemy artillery, but the long range of the Lancet, and its ability to seek out hidden targets on the ground, give it real advantages. Additionally, the Lancet operator remains hidden and will not be targeted by counter-battery fire.


Towed artillery is much harder to destroy than a self-propelled gun, even when hit. The latter is a tracked vehicle with a store of flammable fuel and explosive ammunition on board, either of which can be set off by a Lancet strike. A towed artillery piece, by contrast, is a more solid piece of machinery able to survive the blast and minor shrapnel fragments of a Lancet hit.

“The lethality of Lancet is often insufficient,” according to the RUSI report. “One officer also said that although he had seen his gun ‘destroyed’ several times online, it remained alive and well.”

This tallies with previous conflicts in which towed artillery has proven more robust to counter-battery fire. Crews may be injured or killed, but the guns themselves tend to survive and remain serviceable. In WWII, the loss rate for self-propelled guns was two to three times higher than for towed artillery. So many of the Lancet hits on towed artillery likely did not result in kills.

Thermal imagers are many years behind video cameras

Wednesday, October 18th, 2023

Both drones and thermal imagers have been game changers in the Ukraine conflict, but fitting a thermal imager to a drone is not so simple:

These days high-end drones, like smartphones, have high quality video: and it is possible to shoot impressive 4K video at 60 frames per second from a drone that fits in your pocket. 2.7k and 1080p video are routine on lower-cost models. But thermal imagers are many years behind video cameras, and resolutions are much lower.

You can get a low-cost thermal imager like the Seek Thermal Compact for under $200, but the resolution is only 206 x 156 pixels – fine for checking insulation and finding leaks around the house, but no good for seeing objects hundreds of meters away. Going up to 320 x 240 will double the price, but you will still struggle to tell whether you are looking at a truck or a tank. Part of the problem is that while a video camera can show differences in brightness and color, a thermal image is monochrome and only shows temperature. The details which help identify objects visually may be missing, an issue highlighted by how difficult it is to recognize faces via thermal imaging.

When discussing the issue of thermal imager on reconnaissance drones, an expert from Ukraine’s Aerorozvidka drone unit noted on social media that a Matrice drone with a thermal imager costing several thousand dollars could only detect Russian vehicles at 3-4 miles distance and even then distinguishing types was difficult. The daylight camera could pick out targets from 15 miles. They suggested spending the money on more batteries and an additional ground control unit as a better way of boosting the drone’s usefulness.

This applies even more so with FPV drones. The drone flies at high speed and requires a skilled pilot to avoid obstacles and successfully hit the target, so good quality video with a rapid refresh rate, and cheap thermal imagers will not do the job.


“Ukrainian manufacturers also have all these technologies and can produce FPV drones with thermal imaging cameras, but the main problem is the price,” an Escadrone spokesman told Forbes. “If a regular FPV drone costs $500, then the same drone with a thermal imaging camera will cost about $2,500.”


This type of issue highlights the difference between military-grade loitering munitions like the U.S.-made SwitchBlade 300. This is similar in size to an FPV drone and has daylight and thermal imaging, plus a lock-on-to-target function and numerous other features, but costs around $50,000 per shot.

Larger, reusable drones costing in the tens of thousands of dollars make far more sense for thermal imagers.

Hitler was committing the same error he had made at Stalingrad

Saturday, October 14th, 2023

The campaigns of 1941 and 1942 showed that German panzers were virtually invincible, Bevin Alexander explains (in How Hitler Could Have Won World War II), when they maneuvered freely across the great open spaces of Russia and Ukraine:

The proper decision for Germany in 1943, therefore, was to make strategic withdrawals to create fluid conditions so panzers could carry out wide movements and surprise attacks. This would have given maximum effect to the still superior quality of German command staffs and fighting troops.

Instead, as General Friedrich-Wilhelm von Mellenthin, one of the most experienced panzer leaders on the eastern front, wrote, “The German supreme command could think of nothing better than to fling our magnificent panzer divisions against Kursk, which had now become the strongest fortress in the world.”

Head-to-head confrontation was becoming increasingly unrealistic as the disparity of strength between Germany and the Allies grew. By mid-1943, even after urgent recruiting of non-Germans, Hitler’s field forces amounted to 4.4 million men. The Red Army alone had 6.1 million, while Britain and the United States were mobilizing millions more. In war production the Allies were far outproducing Germany in every weapon and every vital commodity.


As soon as the Russians launched an attack southward, he said, all German forces on the Donetz and Mius should withdraw step by step, pulling the Red Army westward toward the lower Dnieper River around Dnepropetrovsk and Zaporozhye. At the same time, reserves should assemble west of Kharkov, and drive into the northern flank of the Russians as they advanced westward.

“In this way,” Manstein asserted, “the enemy would be doomed to suffer the same fate on the coast of the Sea of Azov as he had on store for us on the Black Sea.”

Hitler did not understand mobile warfare, or surrendering ground temporarily to give his forces operational freedom. He rejected Manstein’s plan. He turned to the kind of brute force, frontal battle he did understand.


The Russians picked up evidence of the Kursk buildup from radio intercepts and a spy ring in Switzerland. They began to assemble overwhelming strength in and around the salient.

The only forceful opponent of the attack now became Heinz Guderian, whom Hitler had brought back in February 1943 as inspector of armored troops. At a conference on May 3–4, 1943, at Munich with Hitler and other generals, Guderian looked at aerial photographs showing the Russians were preparing deep defensive positions — artillery, antitank guns, minefields — exactly where the German attacks were to go in.

Guderian said Germany ought to be devoting its tank production to counter the forthcoming Allied landings in the west, not wasting it in a frontal attack against a primed and waiting enemy.


Hitler was committing the same error he had made at Stalingrad: he was going to attack a fortress, throwing away all the advantages of mobile tactics and meeting the Russians on ground of their own choosing. Besides that, he was concentrating his strength along a narrow front and gravely weakening the rest of the line, as he also had done at Stalingrad.


Russian defenses were formidable, and the main hope of the Germans, ninety Tiger tanks made by Ferdinand Porsche (who had designed the Volkswagen automobile), had no machine guns. As Guderian wrote, they “had to go quail-shooting with cannons.” The Tigers could not neutralize enemy rifles and machine guns, so German infantry was unable to follow them. Russian infantry, in no danger of being shot down, approached some of the Tigers and showered the portholes with flamethrowers, or disabled the machines with satchel charges. The Tigers were shattered, the crews suffered high losses, and Model’s attack bogged down after penetrating only six miles.


Immediately after Citadel, Rommel devised a method that would have worked: building a heavily mined defensive line perhaps six miles deep protected by every antitank gun the Germans could find. Russian tanks would bog down before such a line, and from then on would have to gnaw their way forward. Meanwhile the Germans could build more minefields and antitank screens behind.

But Hitler would not listen. When Guderian proposed such a line, Hitler asserted that his generals would think of nothing save withdrawal if he permitted defensive positions in their rear. “He had made up his mind on this point,” Guderian wrote, “and nothing could bring him to change it.”

The fiscal pressures generated by the expansion of army sizes induces the creation of the bureaucratic tax state.

Wednesday, October 11th, 2023

To the ranks of Maurician infantry, Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden appended two key innovations — a massive battery of field artillery and the cavalry charge — and he grew the Swedish army from 15,000 men in 1590 to a peak of 150,000 in 1639:

But larger armies, whether mercenary or conscript, were expensive. Paying for expansion and professionalization placed enormous demands on the primitive financial systems of European states. Rulers met these challenges by extending executive authority and increasing tax burdens (as well as corvees), which in turn required the creation of a new bureaucracy of administrative officials. The men had to be recruited, equipped, paid, and fed. They needed barracks, clothes, and roads — outside Italy, there weren’t enough roads capable of moving a large army, its supply train, and artillery.


In the military revolution model, the fiscal pressures generated by the expansion of army sizes induces the creation of the bureaucratic tax state.


Colonels were responsible for raising regiments through voluntary enlistment, selling captaincies to high bidders who then went around collecting men — some seigneurial lords rounding up their peasants, and other men raiding hospitals and prisons. These ‘military contractors’ were also charged with disbursing payments (which they reduced for their own profit), providing clothes and arms, and giving medical care to their troops. Faced with this perverse incentive, the commanders skimped on their responsibilities and flagrantly overcharged for what they did provide. Starvation and disease were rampant in the camps, from which desertion was equally common.

What held this motley crew together was not patriotism, but plunder—the opportunity to loot on campaign and thus replace what income the financially inept French state would provide. Richelieu encouraged plunder as an incentive for better performance. Towns could be nailed again under the ‘Contribution System’, pioneered by Portuguese pirates in the Indian Ocean, which allowed towns to pay cash in exchange for exemption from plunder. Beyond open loot and heavy taxes, citizens — in lieu of centralized barracks — were also forced to billet soldiers in their homes and provide them with food and bedding.

The increasing costs of raising large armies without adequate logistical systems induced state formation. As armies grew, they required larger foraging areas — effectively an invitation for foraging parties to desert. Desertion prevented the training essential to the function of a modern combat infantry and thus had to be stopped. The only remedy was improving systems of centralized taxation and supply.


By creating non-venal posts in the high command, Richelieu and the heads of the War Department gradually subordinated the officer class and introduced promotion by merit. Weapons production was standardized and centralized in state arms factories; magazines were established to supply the troops on home soil; French officers took responsibility for raising foreign troops; and in 1763 recruitment was made a royal monopoly.