On Infantry

Discussion in 'General Military Arms & History Forum' started by Guest, Mar 3, 2003.

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    17th FA Bn
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    (2/12/02 9:53:20 am)
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    I recently finished reading "On Infantry", by John English and Bruce Gudmundsson. It is the study of infantry in the 20th century. The book tends to slam the U.S. and British infantry. U.S. infantry (this includes Army as well as Marine infantry) in particular is blasted for an over reliance on Artillery and Air support. They say the U.S. units at platoon and squad level tended to show little initiative. The U.S. units they were studying were in W.W. II, Korea, and Vietnam. No mention was made of the Persian Gulf War, even though the book was copyrighted in 1994.

    From my reading of U.S. military history in W.W. II, the performance of our Infantry units would have to be called uneven. Green units facing veteran formations tended to do badly in their first fights, but did better in subsequent actions. There are two exceptions to this. 1. Units that had plenty of time to train, such as the 101st Airborne did very well in their first actions against veteran German formations. 2. Units that had suffered high casualties, and received large numbers of poorly trained replacements, with out time to further train them and integrate them into the unit, tended to do worse in combat as the war continued.

    I think most every one would agree that the replacement system used by the U.S. in W.W. II, Korea and Vietnam bordered on criminal. Some units such as the 104th Infantry Division did an excellent job of integrating new men into the Division. But most others did not. My father was drafted in 1950, into the Army and trained as an amphibious specialist to drive D.U.C.K.s. When he landed in Korea in 1950 with a boat load of replacements, they were all randomly assigned to various units with no rhyme or reason. Dad was sent to an Artillery unit were his amphibious training was of no use.

    I wish the book had commented on U.S. infantry performance in the Persian Gulf War. By this time the Army was attempting to correct the mistakes it had made in the last three wars with it's replacement system.

    Edited by: 17th FA Bn at: 2/12/02 3:03:36 pm

    Xracer
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    (2/12/02 11:20:19 am)
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    "I wish the book had comented on U.S. infantry preformance in the Persian Gulf War. By this time the Army was attempting to correct the mistakes it had made in the last three wars with it's replacement system."

    Apples and Oranges.....In the Gulf War, the core of our military were professionals...backed by a large Reserve and National Guard, all of whom had considerable training together. The "pros" and Reserves did beautifully. Especially the AF and Navy Air Reserves. Even many of the NG units performed well.

    We started WWII (and to a certain extent, Korea, too), with a very small professional Army, backed by a small National Guard (many units of which were more of a social club than a military force), and a practically non-existant Reserve (though in Korea, many of the "involuntary Reserve" callups were WWII veterans). The bulk of the military were made up of draftees who were rushed thru boot camp, and thrown into battle with no experience and little training.

    Judging from the results of "Desert Storm" and Afganistan, we've learned our lesson.

    polishshooter
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    (2/12/02 1:04:08 pm)
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    17th, I'm not familiar with thebook, but a question...

    What nationality were the authors?

    And how did they treat German, British, and Russian?

    When you get into discussions like this, and even more the "apples and oranges" argument X mentioned, the biases really come into view.

    I've heard the "...too reliant on artillery and support" before, usually from German apologists.

    But the simple response is if you got it flaunt it....the Germans WISHED they were able to use artillery to root out a sniper for example, instead of sending a patrol...there are many examples of German officers expressing disdain for "extravagant" artillery use like this when it could have been done by a patrol, and making the leap that this was because the Americans were either lazy pr cowardly...but this represents more of a cultural and economic difference than ability.

    The Germans NEVER were able to produce enough artillery ammo to even THINK of H&I fire, or to use arty against INDIVIDUAL targets, it was never a concern to Americans...the other is cultural...Germans, and Russians, even if the latter COULD afford the artillery expenditures, and to some extent the British, were taught to SAVE the ammo and equipment...this was also because of peacetime economies, but also to some extent that "life was cheap."

    Any American would rather spend equipment, rather than a life, if it was possible. And we can afford it, so no "apologies" are necessary, IMO.

    Some more objective authors, like even Keegan who IS British, give American Infantry credit for having MORE initiative than others...but mainly to "get the job done so we can go home," as well as for being able to THINK and use new and imaginative ways to deal with a problem than what the testbooks say.

    For example, INFANTRY manhandling the 105s down the street in Cherbourg to blast the fortress doors point blank...the Germans complained about that tactic as being "unfair...: (???)

    Later, those M12 SP 155s were used in street fighting, that they were NEVER designed for, but did the job better than an assault in some places...

    Or how quick in street fighting "green" American troops figured out the quickest way to move through and clear a town without casuaties was THROUGH walls room to room, not through doorways and down streets...it worked, as long as you have enough C-4...which the Americans DID, so they used it...is that tactic "Wrong", or "Cowardly" because that's "not the way the Germans or Russians did it?"

    The other "initiative" cited was how quick Americans were to continue the attack after goals were met, if they saw advantage to it, sometimes without being ORDERED to by even their Company grade officers...for example, if they were ordered to only take a town, took it, and saw a ridge outside the town that they recognized would be used against them, many times the US infantry would KEEP GOING without orders, and take it...where the Germans MIGHT, but usually needed to be ordered to do it by Company grade officers, Russians wouldn't unless ordered period, British would stop and "brew up..." and look at you funny if you SUGGESTED they keep going...they DID what they were ordered to do, that's all they were going to do today, no matter HOW easy or hard the objective was....that complaint is common in US histories about British Infantry....

    Funny, but not uncommon, how US "initiative" could have diametrically opposed opinions.

    Another thing "apologists" cite is "lack of discipline" of US troops...but usually this is in comparison to Germans, Japanese, Russian, or to some extent, British continueing to attack even when taking horrendous casualties...just because they were ordered to...more often than not, American soldiers, once they realized the futility, stopped and tried to figure out a "better way..." and usually did...some authors simply see the "valor and discipline" instead of the "stupidity."

    BUT, when they say that, I betcha they CONVENIENTLY ignore Omaha Beach, Tarawa, Iwo, or the Huertgen Forest.... There are PLENTY of evidence Americans could show discipline and continue to attack, no matter what the loss...they forget "Damn the Torpedoes, Full Speed Ahead" is an AMERICAN phrase, and not always Naval....


    I love reading history where I can spot bias or mistakes by otherwise learned historians.

    Facts and Figures don't lie...it's the INTERPRETATION or REPORTING of those facts that is open to discussion...in history as well as anything else...


    That's why history is an ART not a science...No opinion, if adequately backed up is necessarily wrong, but that same opinion is not necessarily RIGHT either...


    There is another book I recommend, I believe it's called "How the US Infantry Won in WWII" (I'll check the exact title, it's relatively new...) that would refute alot of those allegations pretty well...

    But yes, the US replacement system used in WWII until Vietnam was criminal, and what was used in Vietnam was just as bad...

    BUT what was the alternative? We were not set up like the Brits or Germans with a history of traditional "Regiments" or "areas" to recruit from , like all Infantry would be from the Northeast States, all Armored troops from the Midwest, all cavalry from the South, etc...or where we could call up in "waves..."

    And we DEFINITELY were not like the Russians, with NO replacement system, where divisions were treated like boxes of ammo, and used up until they were ineffective or destroyed, then broke up.

    Is ANY replacement system for a protracted war efficient? I always hear how bad the repple depples were, but all comparison is to German or British syatems...again, apples to oranges....NOBODY successfully fought a "two front war" anywere, or at any time in history, except us, especially over such vast distances as the US did in WWII...so maybe it WASN'T so bad...


    We must make war as we must; not as we would like. - Field Marshal Kitchener, 1915

    LIKTOSHOOT
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    (2/12/02 1:31:17 pm)
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    No wonder I couldn`t get in here, that durn Polish....sucked up all the air. Dang! Durn! Pow! Zip! Holy Cow Batman!!! We`ve been short-shucked again.....watch that slide, little man!!!!

    17th FA Bn
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    (2/12/02 3:16:26 pm)
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    Polish the authors were British. They where also critical of the British army. They tended to praise the German, Japanese, Russian, Vietnamese and even surprisingly the Chinese. One of their contentions was that countries that could not afford lots of armor, artillery, and aircraft tended to stress infantry more.

    LIKTOSHOOT
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    (2/12/02 3:44:03 pm)
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    That just proves the point Polish made, we not only have the skills and power to produce goods. We also believe human life is worth more than they do. Can`t use what you don`t have. All of those countries have proven human life means little to them and Patton said it best. Regards LTS

    17th FA Bn
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    (2/12/02 6:57:31 pm)
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    I remember a quote I heard on the history channel "I am stingy with my men's lives, but generous with my ammunition, when it comes to the enemy". This was a marine commander who was being jacked by his commander, General Geiger walked in and said that was the smartest thing he had heard in the meeting. I may be wrong but I think the commander doing the jacking was Chesty Puller.

    polishshooter
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    (2/13/02 9:31:49 am)
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    I've heard that quote somewhere else too, but can't remember where or who...

    Most of the countries named had no CHOICE but to stress "Infantry first," they couldn't AFFORD the alternative...

    ...except maybe the Russians, but since peasant farmers aren't REALLY human anyway, what did it matter?

    And to think that is somehow noble, or a positive, the counter argument is that Americans are SMARTER...and learn from their history....WE won a war based in many circumstances simply on manpower, attrition, and "acceptable casualties," and figured their HAD to be a better way....we called it our "Civil War..." That's why we did NOT suffer the same proportionate level of casualties when we finally got into WWI...Americans would NEVER have allowed the mass attacks and slaughter of American soldiers like the rest of the Europeans "accepted" for the first 2 or 3 years of that war, and I BET you if Americans had been in the war in 1914, "Tanks" would have been on the battlefield, in NUMBERS, in 1915....it wouldn't have taken almost 3 years, a loss of whole GENERATIONS of young men, and a NAVAL minister to develop them.



    I'd also like to give a counter argument to the one that "glorifies" German Infantry tactics in WWII...

    The Germans downplayed the role of the individual infantryman at the small unit level, he existed ONLY to support and protect the LMGs, which granted MAY have been the best in the world at the time, but kept the Wehrmacht married to a bolt action rifle longer than most armies by CHOICE, which LIMITED what action their Infantry could do, and forced THEM to actually hold up advances until the STGs or artillery or tanks or Stukas could deal with the problem...(Americans did this by CHOICE...Germans, who could not afford (literally)a protracted campaign, and thus could not afford to have an attack held up, were FORCED to do it...)

    Americans, with the Garand, and the less sustainable but emminently more portable BAR, and to a lesser extent the British with the superior firepower of the SMLE compared to the Mauser, coupled with the more portable Bren, were MUCH more flexible, and could "fire and maneuver" better than ANY typical German Infantry unit, especially with accurate long range RAPID firepower from individual soldiers on the move....

    And it FORCED the Germans into adopting the "assault rifle..." to give individual soldiers more "firepower," but actually turned them into cannon-fodder even more due to limited range, (All due to the fact the "Firearms Genius" Paul Von Mauser couldn't ever design a Semi-auto battle rifle that worked....)
    We must make war as we must; not as we would like. - Field Marshal Kitchener, 1915

    Xracer
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    (2/15/02 4:58:19 pm)
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    I remember reading in one of my books of an incident that points up American infantry tactics nicely.

    This occured as the U.S. forces were trying to take a small German town.....they were held up by a German sniper in a church bell tower. They brought up a 155 and, at point-blank range, blew the damn tower down.

    Suddenly, German soldiers started appearing from everywhere with their hands up. The German officer in charge is reputed to have said: "Ven Amerikans use vun-fifty-fives for counter sniper fire, ve giff up!"

    Maybe true, maybe not.......but it's a good story.
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