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Fourth International, June 1941

 

James Cadman

After The Blitzkrieg:
The New American Army

 

From Fourth International, Vol.2 No.5, June 1941, pp.138-142.
Transcription & mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

 

The American war machine now in the process of creation is planned to reach its peak in 1945. It will be a product of the military lessons now being gained from the German campaigns – plus the greatest industrial machine in the world.

Perhaps the profoundest difference between the army of today and its predecessors is that now the army is completely integrated with the industrial capacity of the country. The army has become the most concentrated expression of the most advanced technological development. This, coupled with the absolute necessity in modern armies for a highly trained and mechanically skilled body of soldiers to cope with the new techniques and modes of war, has fostered a growing contradiction between the needs of the army and that of the home industries. The increased need of the army for many more technicians, engineers and mechanics throws a constant strain on the industrial machine which itself requires this same personnel if it is to operate efficiently. This means that, in both the army and industry, the industrial proletariat is now, far more than ever before, the decisive factor.

The new army necessitates a different conception of the training of the soldier and his position in the new army, as compared to that in the old. This is particularly evidenced in the changes in the infantry division, this being the largest self-contained army unit, composed of foot soldiers, the largest numerical body in any army.
 

The Old Infantry and the New

The old infantry division was quantitatively large and bulky; and its artillery and transportational facilities were greatly limited. The troops were trained chiefly in the old parade-ground “drill ’em till they drop” methods. One typical American infantry company in 1935-36, for example, out of a total of 334 hours of instruction, spent 280 hours on parade drill, 50 on bayonet instruction, three on attack drill and one on combat tactics.

The infantry was trained to operate in large bodies under the constant supervision of their officers. They attacked in on-rushing masses with the bayonet and rifle as their principal weapon, incurring severe casualties. If repulsed, they fell back on their own line to “dig in” and wait perhaps several weeks or months until slow-moving reinforcements and supplies reached them. The soldiers, not being equipped very extensively, knew little or nothing of any other kind of weapon except the rifle and bayonet; thus the soldier did not have to be highly skilled or resourceful. In the officers corps initiative and enterprise were squelched and discouraged. Promotion was gained either through seniority or social status and bureaucratic conservatism was rampant.

An entirely different set of concepts is demanded by modern war. The speed and scope of modern military operations necessitates in actual combat the breaking up of large units into small groups, and the dispersal of these groups over wide areas, often far behind the enemy’s own front. Fighting thus in small units, often without being led by commissioned officers, infantrymen must be trained to manifest more individual initiative in action. They must, indeed, know as much as officers in the old army concerning combat tactics.

Furthermore, they are being equipped with and trained in the most effective use of new types of small arms (semi-automatic rifles, sub-machine guns, etc.) and even flame throwers and dynamite. They are being encouraged to improvise weapons (e.g. hand grenades out of gasoline bottles) in the event that they lack them, and finally they are being, taught to march prodigious distances under full pack and the pack, unlike the old, is primarily armament. Infantry field manuals have already been revised to include instructions in the new tactics. Some of the old commands – “Squads Right,” “Parade Rest,” “Port Arms” and “Right Shoulder Arms” etc. – which have been the bane of many a soldier’s existence, have been vastly simplified, and others entirely cast aside. Troops must be trained in the art of anti-aircraft protection in the field through equipping them with the necessary weapons to repel air-strafing; and on the march by the new two-column formation which facilitates the easy taking to cover in the event of enemy aerial attack. Training, in a word, is almost entirely confined to combat tactics.

The structure of the different parts of the infantry division has also been altered to conform with the new theories. The company has been divided into three squads of 36 men each, including light machine guns and trench mortar groups. These changes have resulted in the increase of the company’s fire power and in its ability to operate independently of the main body. Other parts of the infantry division have undergone similar changes. Changes in divisional artillery have been most significant, with the introduction of numerous powerful new weapons, the value of which have been confirmed on European battle-fields and American testing-grounds. Among these are the new 105 mm. howitzer, the 88 mm. anti-aircraft gun, and the powerful M-1 infantry rifle.

The old division has been superseded by the adoption of the “triangular division” (so-called because of its three regiments) of 14,500 men, the addition of special motorized facilities to augment its mobility (under ideal conditions the division can cover 75 miles a day) and the inclusion of a special chemical-warfare battalion equipped with 32 chemical mortars together with the deadliest flame-thrower and poison-gas devices.

On the march, the infantry and its equipment train now move in parallel lines with adequate anti-aircraft and aerial protection at all times. March outposts must be constantly maintained and there must be no cessation of direct communications between unit commanders and field headquarters.

In action, artillery fire must be coordinated with the infantry advance and these, together with their reserves and motorized vehicles, must move by “leaps.” That is, they are literally to “leap” from position to position under aerial or artillery protection. Infantry attacks now follow the pattern of the “Infiltration Tactics” first made famous by Ludendorff during the Picardy Offensive in March, 1918. This calls for small combat groups of superbly trained and equipped storm troops whose task it is, on the one hand, to follow up tank advance to penetrate the enemy line at numerous points, feeling out weak spots; on the other hand, to storm and capture hostile pillboxes and fortified positions. This new type of warfare requires new forms of training and, indeed, mental and physical requirements far higher than ever before. The very flower of the population, the most superior youth, are now indispensable.
 

The Problem of Officers and Discipline

The new warfare also demands an officers corps capable of adapting itself to new conditions, ready to adopt new weapons and tactics and ready to engage in radical, audacious experimentation. The Nazis have met this problem by drawing into the officers corps – formerly limited to the Junker aristocracy and the big bourgeoisie – large numbers of the petty-bourgeois Nazi party members. The American army has attempted to secure similar results by appointing younger and more capable men to high posts. The American officers corps, however, still remains encumbered by old-time bureaucrats with antiquated ideas. By and large it is still a body of men drawn from the bourgeoisie.

The question of training new officers constitutes a major problem. It is one thing to instruct thousands of draftees in the rudiments of military tactics; it is an entirely different thing to produce thousands of well-rounded army officers thoroughly versed in methods which German officers have absorbed through actual experience under fire. Both the facilities and the instructors to train them are at the present time lacking and not much hope is placed in the Reserve Officers Training Corps whose training can never be expected to produce officers measuring up to the high standards required under modern conditions of war.

Probably the most formidable problem with which American military experts must cope is that of teaching the infantryman to rely on his own judgment and initiative – and yet at the same time to keep him under domination of the officers. The fear of the bourgeoisie of arming the proletariat was counter-balanced in the past by the superior position of the officer who was to continually control and watch his men, command them, and think for them. To the army officer the new form of war poses the question of how to preserve his control while at the same time fostering the use of individualized tactics.

The Nazis have two major advantages over bourgeois democracy in working out this officer-soldier relationship. First of all, the Nazis destroyed the labor organizations and political parties; i.e., the organized sources of “infection” of troops. The Nazi army can thus permit a narrowing of the old gap between officers and men – in knowledge, initiative, training, etc. – with more impunity than the bourgeois democrats. Secondly, the mass base of fascism provided the German army with big cadres of youth who, even before Hitler’s assumption of power, were trained in the Nazi military formation, and then were trained for seven years as a vast reservoir of officers. These Nazi officers, able to call many of the men under them their “party comrades,” are an important factor in maintaining discipline by a relation to their men different from that in the traditional bourgeois army.

We must leave for another time a full discussion of the gravity of this problem facing the American General Staff which, under cover of lip-service to democracy, is seeking ways and means to imitate the Nazis in wiping out all possible sources of “infection.”
 

The Mechanized Divisions

The most striking and certainly the most publicized of the new army installations are the mechanized Panzer (armored) divisions. The maxim, “Get thar fustest with the mostest,” enunciated by General Bedford Forrest, is no longer quite true, if Forrest meant the most men. The concentration of numerically superior forces at the field of battle was at one time almost certain to insure victory. Now, however, Forrest’s principle must be modified to state: “Get thar fustest with the most fire power.” For in the mechanized division is accumulated an aggregation of war materials sufficient to render impotent the resistance of any foe not so equipped.

The personnel of such a division is composed almost entirely of highly skilled industrial workers and technicians. The mechanized divisions that the United States is organizing each require more than 200 fully trained engineers, and almost 2,000 mechanics and technicians among a total force of 9,000 men, all skilled in one or more mechanical trades. Thus one modern mechanized division, besides having more than four times the equipment and 30 times the fire-power of the old infantry division, requires more than nine times as many skilled men.

America’s mechanized divisions (there are two now, and there will be eight by the time the present program is completed) are based on their German counterparts of which they are probably the closest existing reproductions. But they are founded for the present on different tactical considerations. The task of penetrating vast systems of fortifications, and the problem of having to contend with hostile powers on every flank, were the tactical considerations motivating the structure of the German Panzer. The American General Staff does not visualize itself facing such problems and finds it unnecessary to create mechanized divisions of equal size and striking power to those of Germany. Thus the American Panzer, while proportionally more motorized than the German, is decidedly inferior in the quantity of its tanks and heavy artillery, although somewhat stronger in its light mechanized and light artillery sections. Its principal unit is the tank brigade, composed mainly of 287 small 3-10 ton machines, used for reconnaissance and pursuit or in attacks on lightly-held outposts. For thrusts at heavily fortified positions or clashes with hostile mechanized forces, the remainder of the tank brigade consists of 110 machines of 10-30 tons. Because available data concerning the huge German monster tanks of 50-80 tons is still indefinite and vague and because their value has as yet not been completely ascertained, the War Department has till now awarded no contracts for their construction.

The American mechanized division includes also motorcycle and light armored-car patrols for scouting and reconnaissance, a motorized infantry regiment composed of “shock” troops, numerous batteries of mortars, howitzers, field pieces and anti-tank guns and, what is absolutely indispensable for transport and supply purposes, 1,008 trucks.

The mechanized division is (like the infantry division) divided and sub-divided into brigades, regiments, battalions and companies. These sections are self-contained, have their own tanks and artillery (in proportion to their size) and, while capable of operating independently of one another, function as a unified force if maximum striking power is desired or if stiff resistance is encountered.

The Panzer advances not, as is commonly supposed, in waves, but in columns across flat country, along roads, through valleys, or over plateaus. In Jugoslavia they went through mountain passes and valleys. Preceding the armored division are light scouting and patrol forces which fan out in all directions in order to keep the main body informed of the whereabouts of the foe and to feel out weak spots in his lines. If the enemy is encountered in weak strength, or if his positions are not easily defensible, he will be dispersed with ease. If a formidable and strongly entrenched foe is contacted, the main body of the armored division will strive either to out-flank and envelop him, cutting his communications and striking him in the rear or, if this is impossible, attempt to crash directly through.

This latter alternative is not preferable from the point of view of the Panzer’s objective which is, if at all possible, to avoid head-on engagement which, if the foe is formidable, can result, even if successful, in slowing up advance and in suffering severe losses. Rather, the Panzer aims to sweep the enemy’s flanks, depending on momentum to carry the offensive deep into the interior, and on speed and surprise to disorganize the enemy’s troop concentrations. If the momentum is maintained and the opponent is out-flanked and enveloped, his communications harassed and insecure, the opponent will be forced to retire under continual air bombardment. Should the retreating force be unable to reorganize and reform behind some natural or man-made barrier, it will probably disintegrate and lose all semblance of order.

It cannot be repeated too often that to carry out such operations successfully requires more than material strength. It requires the highest form of training and physical fitness among both men and officers for tasks which will strain their mental ingenuity and physical capabilities to the utmost. In the recent mechanized maneuvers of Fort Benning, Georgia, the War Department was more interested in testing the endurance and dexterity of the men and officers than in the physical properties of the machines.

Modern tactics can be successfully carried out in Blitzkrieg fashion only in the case where two armies of unequal strength are engaged. In the event of the clash of two military forces approximately equally supplied in mechanized divisions, air forces and all the other paraphernalia of war, the struggle may very well degenerate into a stalemate, to be decided eventually by the industrial and economic strength which the combatants possess.
 

The Changes in the Cavalry

Another ancient and hallowed military institution which has come in for total reorganization has been the cavalry. The mistaken idea is held that modern war has rendered cavalry obsolete and antiquated. Actually, military operations are shaped by many factors among the most important of which is the topography and terrain of the theaters of battle, and the Western Hemisphere is especially adapted to the use of horse troops. Another misconception is that a cavalry division is entirely mounted and that the personnel is equipped with sabres and lances with which to cut down their foes in Hollywood fashion. This is not at all true.

The new theories on fire-power have resulted in the introduction into the cavalry division of motorized and mechanized squads plus several light artillery and machine gun batteries. This reorganization was undertaken when American military officers observed with what astonishing ease Poland’s picturesque but futile sabre-slashing cavalry was routed by the Nazi mechanized columns. The War Department decided that cavalry forces must be adequately equipped to defend themselves against such tactics. With its new equipment the cavalry division is enabled to carry out its tasks of scouting, reconnaissance, pursuit and screening the main force.

Just as in other parts of the army, cavalry squads have been taught to fight with greater elasticity and initiative and the fire-power of even the smallest units has been greatly increased. What is even more striking, however, is the fact that American cavalrymen are instructed and equipped to fight also as infantry in the event they are forced to dismount on encountering strong resistance.
 

The Engineers, Backbone of Blitzkrieg

An arm which has never figured so prominently in previous campaigns as it does today is the engineering corps. Concerning its newly acquired importance, it suffices to say that without it mechanized warfare would be absolutely at a standstill. This much has been stated by the German high command, which unquestionably possesses the finest engineering corps in the world. The watch-word of mechanized warfare is speed, speed which must remain unchecked throughout all operations. It would be impossible for armies to advance with equipment and supplies at a great rate, if they were continually encountering blown up bridges, blocked roads, and numerous other obstructions set up by the retreating foe to hinder their movements. It is the task of the engineering corps to keep these vital arteries clear at all times.

Engineering battalions are now being assigned to all parts, of the American Army, equipped with pontoon bridges, inflated rubber boats, and countless tools and devices, as well as being armed with rifles and pistols to defend themselves.

from attack. The increased use of engineers again demonstrates to what degree modern warfare has become dependent on the industrial apparatus of the nation – that is, on the industrial proletariat.
 

Parachutists and Air-Borne Troops

Another recent development in the fighting forces, but one whose possibilities have not yet been wholly tapped, has been the introduction of parachute troops. Here is a weapon so radical and unconventional in conception and design that, if used expediently and expeditiously against a foe unprepared to take measures, it can cause irrevocable damage to both materials and morale. While its tactical and strategical potentialities are extremely vague and still cloaked largely in speculation, the American General Staff considers it potent enough to have already instituted parachute training within the regular army.

One thing is already clear. Only if large home defense units on the pattern outlined by Tom Wintringham in his New Ways of War are organized among the civilian populations, can parachutists be quickly and easily dispatched before they can do their work. The parachutists wipe out the distinction between front and rear.

Parachutists are usually the cream of the army both as far as physique and intelligence are concerned. They are trained and instructed in the language of the country against which they must operate, in the handling of their own and their enemy’s weapons and in their repair and improvisation.

The utilization of planes for carrying parachutists has also raised the possibility of ferrying entire infantry divisions and their supplies. The successful use of this mode of transportation during the Norwegian campaign has induced the American Army to experiment with it. Today the General Staff is organizing its first air-transport division, smaller and lighter-equipped than the normal infantry division, which will be the first of six.

The value of transporting troops by air arises chiefly where other means of transportation are unavailable, and where speed and reinforcements are essential. These troops are not landed behind the enemy front as are the parachutists (although this possibility is now under consideration [1]) but at airports and bases near the battle front to which they can be quickly moved. The use of planes to land or drop food and light equipment to troops in action was most effectively demonstrated by the Italians in Ethiopia in 1935-36, and has been tested by the American Army at the Fort Benning maneuvers.
 

New Developments in Artillery

The artillery has been doing its work for almost five centuries and each new development in the military field has served only to confirm its indispensability and its ability to fit harmoniously into any new pattern of warfare. The great General Clausewitz once said that infantry and cavalry together were a weaker combination than either one combined with artillery.

The artillery differs in organization from the other sections of the army in that it is not a separate or distinct force, but is assigned to every branch of the fighting forces in greater or lesser degree, depending on the size of these branches and their arms. The word “artillery” itself is a general term comprising every type and caliber of howitzer, mortar, and gun, whether in the Army, in the Coast Defense, or in the Navy. The use of artillery on the battlefield, both light and heavy, has five major purposes:

  1. To pound one point in the enemy line until it cracks, following which the infantry attacks (“Concentrated Fire”).
  2. To clear the battlefield of enemy field posts, pillboxes, and forts before the infantry attacks (“Clearing Barrage”).
  3. To box in one specific area in order to cut it off and isolate it from the rest of the line (“Box Barrage”).
  4. To clear the path of the advancing infantry by firing in front of them as they advance (“Creeping Barrage”).
  5. To support infantry in repulsing enemy tank attacks or other enemy onslaughts.

These tasks entail the use of several different types of guns which are in turn divided into different calibers. Briefly, the main difference between a gun, a howitzer, and a mortar, is one of trajectory, or height of fire. Its caliber (the diameter of the shell) determines the range of its fire.

Artillery is divided into three categories: field pieces, consisting of those small and light enough to be moved quickly and easily with the troops; siege pieces, consisting of those whose cumbersome size makes it necessary to keep them a certain distance behind the front; and finally, the huge railroad pieces which are brought up by railroad and situated far in the interior whence they carry out long distance shelling.

Under the old conditions, the siege and railroad guns were extensively used. The slowness and rigidity of the old time battle front made it possible to bring these unwieldly monsters into position behind the lines. These intensely pounded the enemy lines before the troops attacked, and during the infantry advance they gave as much support as possible, considering their clumsiness and the great trouble of moving them to keep up with the advance. Light artillery such as the famous French “75’s”, were only occasionally used, and then to clear enemy battlefields of pill-boxes, etc., or to aid in repulsing enemy infantry attacks. Infantry regiments, moving slowly, had little use for light artillery, and were seldom even equipped with it. The huge, heavy, siege guns were the mainstay of fire-power.

Now, however, the speed and fluidity of modern war has greatly limited the use of heavy guns (except in cases of naval bombardment, coast defense, or where cities are under protracted siege) and has made it necessary to equip even the smallest infantry units with mobile but high caliber guns which can keep up with the breakneck speed of the mechanized and motorized divisions. These guns have been used with such telling effect by the Germans that America’s artillery force has been reorganized to include many of the German types. Several of these, such as the 105 mm. howitzer, the 61 mm. mortar, and the 37 mm. anti-tank gun, have enormously increased the fire-power of individual army units.

New tactical ideas for the use of mobile artillery have also been evolved. More discretionary powers are allowed to the battery commander, but at the same time coordination between batteries must be increased in the highest degree. More individual and scattered artillery posts are set up to eliminate the old rigidity of the front and to lessen the danger of direct hits being scored on the battery. Mortar commanders are instructed to concentrate more on enemy communications. Mortars are attached even to infantry companies to enhance the independence and effectiveness of these units.

Anti-tank units must be mobile as well as of high caliber to facilitate their easy distribution to any sector where needed. Artillery men must also be trained and equipped with rifles, because the swiftly changing scene of battles might find them under assault by hostile infantry. Bicycles and motorcycles must be issued to artillery personnel to strengthen coordination between batteries. Artillerymen must be trained in the use of camouflage and natural obstacles to improve their defensive position. Thus, like all the other soldiers, the artilleryman – always a skilled worker – must now be trained in many fields.

Revolutionary as are the developments in artillery that we have described, they constitute developments within the old conception of artillery. But that old conception can hardly be expanded to include dive-bombing or, for that matter, any form of airplane bombing. Yet, it is plain, air-bombers are being used in this war to carry out tasks hitherto assigned to artillery. All the major purposes traditionally associated with artillery, which we have listed above, are now being attempted, and with great success, by air-bombers, with the possible exception of the “creeping barrage.” In no sense, however, have air-bombers displaced any form of artillery. On the contrary, this revolutionary development has given an entirely new importance to the role of artillery – if by that term is meant the old conception of artillery combined with the air-bombers.

It must be emphasized at this point that any separation between “army” and “air force,” even for purposes of discussion, is quite artificial. So, too, any separation between “naval power” and “air power.” The new army and navy are, in reality, extremely complex coordinations of the various weapons – and included in these coordinations are not only weapons but the economic power of the nation.

Coordination is, indeed, the key to understanding the new warfare. Coordination has a new meaning. Coordination of infantry, cavalry and artillery was understood very well in the past. The new coordination, however, produces something quantitatively and qualitatively different from the old. The new seeks coordination into one perfectly functioning machine of infantry and mechanized divisions, artillery, parachutists and air-borne troops, the various types of airplanes, – coordination of all this with naval power – and coordination of all this with the home front. In a word: totalitarian war, whether waged by totalitarian or “democratic” state.
 

The Illusory Dream of a Small Army

None of the ruling classes of the world desired to bring about totalitarian war. On the contrary, the general staffs of all the great powers dreamed, in the interval between the two world wars, of finding a system of “limited warfare” (Liddell Hart), or a speedy and conclusive decision by a single arm (the air force, in Italian General Douhot’s theory) or a small, professional army (Von Seeckt). All the general staffs have feared what one American military writer, Hoffman Nicker-son, has called “the armed horde” – the mass army which began with “the people in arms” of the French Revolutionary Armies of 1793. They hoped to find in mechanization a professional, specialized and smaller army which would be immune from the mutinies and revolutions which came everywhere in Europe in 1917 and 1918.

Instead, what is loosely called mechanization has served to integrate the military and home fronts into what must be a coordinated whole if war is to be waged at all. The dream of a small and “safe” army proved to be the most childish wishful thinking on the part of ruling classes fearful of the great masses whom they exploit and oppress. Far more than ever before the most decisive factor in warfare is the industrial proletariat.

(This discussion of the new warfare will be continued in succeeding issues of Fourth International. The next article will deal with air power.)

 

Footnote

1. This appears to have been done by the Germans in Crete.

 
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