Friday, June 15, 2018

Fullbore Friday

Do you know who Bill Slim is? You should. Maybe this will help.
Lieutenant-General Sir William Slim, KCB, CB, DSO, MC ("Bill") is 53, burly, grey and going a bit bald. His mug is large and weatherbeaten, with a broad nose, jutting jaw, and twinkling hazel eyes. He looks like a well-to-do West Country farmer, and could be one: For he has energy and patience and, above all, the man has common sense. However, so far Slim has not farmed. He started life as a junior clerk, once he was a school teacher, and then he became the foreman of a testing gang in a Midland engineering works. For the next 30 years Slim was a soldier.
A reader sent along a recommendation of Slim's book, Defeat Into Victory: Battling Japan in Burma and India, 1942-1945, and reading up on the man - someone who I only read about in passing - all I could think of is, "More Slim."

Talk about a Vince Lombardi of leadership. I could do a years worth of FbF on the guy - so I'm not going to get in to any specifics. Let me just give you a few things to ponder in order to have you do some of your own research.
He began at the bottom of the ladder as a Territorial private. August 4, 1914, found him at summer camp with his regiment. The Territorials were at once embodied in the Regular Army, and Slim got his first stripe as lance-corporal. A few weeks later he was a private again; the only demotion that this Lieutenant-General has suffered.
Field Marshall Viscount Slim was referred to by Admiral of the Fleet Earl Mountbatten, who was Supreme Allied Commander of Southeast Asia, as "the finest general World War II produced". After the war he was head of the Imperial General Staff, Britain’s top military post, from 1948 to 1952, and was governor general of Australia from 1952 to 1960. This article is reprinted from a 1945 issue of Phoenix, the South East Asia Command magazine.
Again - not just he accomplishments on the field of battle - but his thoughts on leadership demand thought. Nothing radical or new - but they need repeating and if you want to know what makes successful people successful, listen to what got them there.

Want to be successful? Start by benchmarking the best.
Officers are there to lead

Then Slim relates at one critical point in the retreat in a jungle clearing he came across a unit which was in a bad way. "I took one look at them and thought ‘My God, they’re worse than I supposed.’ Then I saw why. I walked round the corner of that clearing and I saw officers making themselves a bivouac. They were just as exhausted as their men, but that isn’t my point. Officers are there to lead. I tell you, therefore, as officers, that you will neither eat, nor drink, nor sleep, nor smoke, nor even sit down until you have personally seen that your men have done those things. If you will do this for them, they will follow you to the end of the world. And, if you do not, I will break you."

The General stepped down from the ammunition box and replaced his hat. The division rose as one man, and cheered him. A few weeks later, these troops were to cross the frontier river at the point Slim had led his indomitable, ragged rearguard three years before. They dug up the tank guns which the old army had buried there when they abandoned their tanks, and they used those guns to blast open the road to Mandalay.

The spirit which Slim breathed into that division, on that blue, sunny morning in Palel inspires the whole of the 14th Army. His victorious host has now marched back a thousand miles, planted its battle flags on the citadel of Mandalay and above the capitol city of Rangoon, killing 100,000 Japanese on the way. Their achievement must be attributed in large degree to the character of their Commander. Slim does not court popularity, and he hates publicity. But he inspires trust. The man cares deeply for his troops, and they are well aware that their well-being is his permanent priority. The 14th Army has never been out of his mind since that day nearly two years ago when Mountbatten appointed him to the command. Of the Mountbatten-Slim partnership history will record that it was one of the rock foundations of our Jungle Victory.

Slim talks little and swears less, but one day at Army Headquarters the roof lifted when he received a demand that mules should be installed in concrete floor stables in a training camp, well in the rear. "My men are sleeping on earth, and often on something worse. What’s good enough for British soldiers is good enough for mules of any nationality." Slim set his Army hard tasks, but none have been beyond their power. After the great battles of Imphal and Kohima, where five Japanese divisions were destroyed, Slim called on his exhausted soldiers to carry on relentless, final pursuit. "So great were the dividends that could accrue," he confesses, "that I asked for the impossible - and got it!

Slim affirms "that the fighting capacity of every unit is based upon the faith of soldiers in their leaders; that discipline begins with the officer and spreads downward from him to the soldier; that genuine comradeship in arms is achieved when all ranks do more than is required of them. ’There are no bad soldiers, only bad officers,’ is what Napoleon said, and though that great man uttered some foolish phrases, this is not one."

What has a soldier got, asks Slim, and answers it himself. "He has got his country, but that is far away. In battle, the soldier has only his sense of duty, and his sense of shame. These are the things which make men go on fighting even though terror grips their heart. Every soldier, therefore, must be instilled with pride in his unit and in himself, and to do this he must be treated with justice and respect."

Slim says that when he was in civvie street he saw men who were fathers of families cringing before a deputy-assistant-under-manager who had the power to throw them out of their jobs without any other reason than their own ill-temper or personal dislike. "That, at any rate, can’t happen in the Army," he declares. "You don’t have to cringe in the Army, though it’s true some incorrigible cringers do. In the Army you don’t have to go out to dinner with a man if you can’t stand the sight of him."
People like to make fun, Monty Python like, of British General Officers, shame though - almost all I read about are more like Slim.
From January to August 1944 a series of decisive battles was fought along the India-Burma border which resulted in the turning point for that theater of war. After two years of failure the Allies wrested the initiative from Japan and destroyed the myth of Japanese invincibility.

The Allies were successful despite a number of challenges, many self inflicted. The first challenge was to organize and resource defenses of the India-Burma border. The second challenge was to train the soldiers to fight in the jungle clad mountains that typified the area of operations. Inextricably tied to this was the challenge of moving and supplying forces in the rugged environment. Developing a feasible and acceptable plan despite the absence of a coherent theater strategy was the next challenge. This challenge was made more difficult by the complex and dysfunctional command relationships. Finally, there was the challenge of defeating an aggressive and fanatical enemy who had an unblemished record of success in the India-Burma Theater.

Fortunately, the Allies had an answer to these challenges in Lieutenant General William Slim. It was Slim who established the training program that taught the soldiers to fight in the jungle, developed the tactics and techniques to move and sustain forces in the arduous terrain, provided the leadership to overcome the dysfunctional command relationships, and unified the theater strategy. Finally, and most importantly, it was Slim who developed and executed the plan that drew in and defeated the Japanese 15th Army thereby setting the conditions for the successful re-conquest of Burma in 1945.

First posted Feb. 2012.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Off Yemen, the Future Speaks

Ignore the PPT.

Blow off the Beltway prophet.

Bind your mind instead to what is happening now.

This week, look to Yemen's main rebel held port.

I'm discussing over at USNIBlog.

Come on by and give it a read.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

When You're Weak in "M" & "E" - Push "D" & "I"

Ukraine is, was, and will be in a tough spot. Geography is as unkind to her as history is. 

She will never have a secure and friendly relationship with her big neighbor, Russia. The reasons could fill a small library, but she must try her best to remain independent and prosper in the modern world.

All you have to do is look at her per-capita GDP to see how far Ukraine has to go to even nibble at what some of her other Slavic neighbors have been able to achieve since the fall of the Iron Curtain (Ukraine $3,700; Serbia $15,200; Bulgaria $21,500; Poland $29,300). She is not an economic powerhouse.

Militarily, she is no match for the full force of Russia should she wish to use it.

As such, she needs to work the diplomatic and information fields of national power as much as possible in order to buy time for her to continue to evolve in to what she wants to become.

You can tell that she very much wants to be part of the West, and perhaps she can drift that way - but for now there are larger problems to deal with. Russia is unrelenting.

Ukraine's small navy will never be able to stand for long against Russia, but short of combat, there is much it can do to bring the attention of a busy world to what Russia is doing on her borders.
The blocking of the Mariupol and Berdiansk ports is already an act of aggression. ... According to Klymenko, the Ukrainian naval forces had to act more decisively toward the aggressor by attracting the attention of the international community.
"If there was an order from Kyiv, they could do more. For example, I would give such a mirror response. On May 21-23, Russia announced a large area south of Berdiansk closed for gunnery drills. I would have responded by declaring the area near Yeysk or Temryuk, or Kerch closed, i.e. where the Russian ships pass from Rostov through the Sea of Azov to the Kerch Strait," (Andriy Klymenko, editor-in-chief at BlackSeaNews) said.
A risky game ... but one she needs to think about - and a lesson about the various things a navy can be used for short of war.

Monday, June 11, 2018

British Frigates

Like all sensible people, I know each Monday you wish that you had the opportunity to start your week right by thinking about frigates.

Well, we have just the tonic for you. 

Though focused on the Royal Navy, the general concepts and discussion would be of interest to any navalist.

For example;
... (the challenge is) in delivering small, agile warships that meet the Royal Navy’s minimum baseline for a globally deployable combatant. However, this is about capabilities, not just costs – it is essential to ensure that our warships have a minimum capability, or else it is all a waste of money (or worse, a target).
That should get you to read more from a nice bit of work over at Verdigris.

Give it a full read.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Fullbore Friday


In 1940, Bedford, VA had a population of 3,973.
When the National Guard’s 116th Infantry Regiment was activated on February 3, 1941, Bedford bestowed its soldiers in Company A to their ranks. By D-Day in 1944, there were still 37 Bedford soldiers in that company which became part of the 1st Infantry Division.
They were slated for the D-day invasion.
“When Company A landed on target and on time at Dog Green beach – one of only a handful of units to do so – they received the fire intended for a much larger force. For Bedford, the result was especially devastating. Of 37 assigned to Company A, 31 loaded into a landing craft and headed for Omaha Beach in the first wave; the remainder belonged to supply details and would arrive later.

“En route, a landing craft struck an obstacle and sank, stranding dozens far from shore, including five of Bedford’s boys. The remaining 26 successfully reached Omaha Beach, where 16 were killed and 4 wounded within a matter of minutes. Three others were unaccounted for and later presumed killed in action.

“Another Bedford boy was killed in action elsewhere on Omaha Beach with Company F, bringing Bedford’s D-Day fatalities to a total of 20.”
20 out of 38. A 52.6% casualty rate, in one day.

Now upscale that. 20 is .5% of the city's 1940 population.

In 1940, Baltimore, MD had a population of 859,100. That same loss rate, in one day, for Baltimore would be 4,298.

No consider this, for those who grew up in a small town.

In Bedford, most went to high school together. Grew up together. Their families all knew each other.

They died for ... what? For whom?

That is war. That is why it is so horrible. That is why it must be avoided until there are no other options.

And it will always be with us.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

FITZ & MCCAIN - what will we learn?

Will there actually be change for the better after a cold, hard look at ourselves after the horrible year for the surface navy that was 2017?

There might be reason to be optimistic. I'm discussing over at USNIBlog. Come on over.

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Japan Steps Out from History's Shadow

As I said almost a half-decade ago, say hello to the return of the Japanese flattop;
The ruling party endorsed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's call to remove a 1 percent psychological cap on defense spending against gross domestic product that has been in place since the 1970s.

In line with the more ambitious spending policy, Abe's Liberal Democratic Party on May 25 also gave its blessing to refit the helicopter carrier Izumo into a full-fledged aircraft carrier.
All smart-thinking navalists should welcome this move by Japan. Though their own distinct culture, the Japanese are firmly in the Western camp and are a good and just people. WWII notwithstanding, they have never been a natural enemy of the United States.

As China rises, a strong Japan will with each year be an important part of keeping her in check - or at least looking over her shoulder. At a time when working with China requires certain "expectations" from smaller nations, a strong Japan will give other smaller Asian nations someone else to look towards as a partner that won't have the same strings attached.

The Japanese are an insular and proud people, and that is fine and good. They are our friends, and man for man are an exceptionally good military.

As we finish up our Midway remembrances, it is good to remind ourselves it is 2018 and Japan needs to be a full partner.

Now, spend some of that money on some F-35B and get to work on a larger follow-on class of CV.