Evaluation of the Performance of the U.S. Army

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Andreas
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Post by Andreas » 01 Dec 2005 14:51

Qvist wrote:
I am having trouble with the Clausewitz statement in a modern context, where I can not off the top of my head think of a single defense that led to operational or strategic victory (as opposed to stalemate).
I should have to consult my Clausewitz to be sure here, but for my part I have never understood his argument to be that it would? Indeed, if defense is the stronger form of warfare and if it was more likely to lead to strategic or operational victory, why would anyone ever attack?
Just a quick one. A number of reasons come to mind:

- Estimation of ones abilities and the potential to overcome the inherent disadvantage of attacking.
- Political necessity (war has to be won in this campaign/a victory is needed/the harvest season is near and the troops want to go home).
- Operational/tactical necessity (only way out of a tight operational/tactical spot)

Just that it is the stronger form of warfare does not mean it is the only form that ensures victory, as you quite rightly point out. I do however find it puzzling that in WW2 it appears never to have been a form that ensured strategic victory, and one that probably only rarely ensured operational victory. While in earlier times this was possible, because the outcome of wars hinged far more on a single campaign, or even battle.

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Post by Qvist » 01 Dec 2005 15:13

Hello Andreas

I agree there is a clear contrast with earlier epochs, for a very large number of reasons (which would be very interesting to go further into). But I am less sure that this is because the outcome of wars formerly hinged on single battles. Delbrück, for example, makes IMO a strong argument that in the early modern age, the decisive battle was rarely a worthwhile objective to pursue, and that wars were far more likely to be decided simply by one of the sides running out of means (financially speaking, for the most part) to continue to pursue it. In effect, field campaigns usually had a limited effect on control over territory, which largely depended on fortified places that usually could only be reduced at great cost in time, money and men. In the 1940s by contrast, wars were fuelled by whole complex economies, not by the limited financial resources of the crown, the distinction between field campaigns and control over territory in a more lasting sense was gone and the complete control of the enemy state was an attainable aim.

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Post by JonS » 01 Dec 2005 22:19

Andreas wrote: I ... find it puzzling that in WW2 it appears never to have been a form that ensured strategic victory, and one that probably only rarely ensured operational victory. While in earlier times this was possible, because the outcome of wars hinged far more on a single campaign, or even battle.
Would Burma (14th Army) fill your criteria? The British forces were on the strategic and operational defensive from early 1942 through to ?mid?-1944. And they won. (Except when they tried to go on the offensive during that period, when they lost. Badly.)

After the last Japanese offensive was stopped at Kohima and Imphal (a clear defensive success) the British were able to sweep right down to Rangoon - but they needed to go on the offensive to regain that ground.

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Post by Andreas » 01 Dec 2005 22:25

Yes, I guess it would. Is that the exception that proves the rule?

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Post by JonS » 01 Dec 2005 22:45

Andreas wrote:Is that the exception that proves the rule?
I doubt it, it's probably just the biggest, longest example.

Is Leningrad another example, or the whole Finnish front north of Leningrad? (I don't know, but it occurs to me it might be a good candidate to investigate).

Actually, the whole Russian conduct of the first couple of years might be another good example. (maybe?)

I'm also thinking of Wavells approach to the problems in the Med during 1940-late 41. Huge area, little fires breaking out all over the place, and desperately few forces with which to do anything about it. So, he went on the strategic/operational defensive in most places, then moved his forces around putting out one fire after another with local offensives. Is this another example of defensive victory?

Then there is the BoB and the Battle of the Atlantic, though applying Clausewitz to air and naval ops might be getting a little esoteric.

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Post by Qvist » 01 Dec 2005 23:12

I think the main thing to bear in mind is that the outcome of any major operation is really a result of a complex set of interacting factors, of whom posture is merely one.

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Post by Andreas » 02 Dec 2005 13:45

JonS wrote:
Andreas wrote:Is that the exception that proves the rule?
I doubt it, it's probably just the biggest, longest example.

Is Leningrad another example, or the whole Finnish front north of Leningrad? (I don't know, but it occurs to me it might be a good candidate to investigate).
Not really, in my view. The Soviets came perilously close to losing Leningrad, and may well have been saved by the German decision to not take it, rather than their own defense. The whole defensive effort in the Baltics and on the approaches to Leningrad was not particularly impressive. For the Finnish front, I think that had more to do with a Finnish unwillingness to really try to get into Leningrad.
JonS wrote:Actually, the whole Russian conduct of the first couple of years might be another good example. (maybe?)
I considered that, but unless your definition of success is to lose the whole of Ukraine, the Baltics, and the most important part of the rest of your country while an invading army is within reach of your two capital cities, I would think not. ;)

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Andreas

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Post by PaulJ » 02 Dec 2005 18:03

Iron Duke wrote:
PaulJ wrote:...where the German Army really excelled was in the speed of their "battle procedure" and similar skills.
I tend to characterise it as "tempo of operations".
Iron Duke ... well, I would suggest that there is a difference. "Temp of ops" is the speed at which ops are prosecuted. There are ways to achieve that other than with fast battle procedure, which is a specific military skill.

For instance, the Red Army achieved a high tempo of ops (for specific bursts at any rate), by echeloning forces and then launching them one after the other into battle. In that fashion, no one unit had to have rapid battle procedure, but the Germans were always being hit (by a new unit), which gave them no respite and kept up a high op tempo. overall

What I am talking about is the ability to take a unit, turn it around (so to speak), prepare it and launch it into a new battle.

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Post by PaulJ » 02 Dec 2005 20:53

Qvist wrote:
I am having trouble with the Clausewitz statement in a modern context, where I can not off the top of my head think of a single defense that led to operational or strategic victory.
I should have to consult my Clausewitz to be sure here, but for my part I have never understood his argument to be that it would? Indeed, if defense is the stronger form of warfare and if it was more likely to lead to strategic or operational victory, why would anyone ever attack?
I never expected this to spin off into a discussion of Clausewitz's comments about the defence, but for the record, what the old master wrote was:
Clausewitz wrote:16. Attack and defence are things differing in kind and of unequal force...
If there was only one form of War, to wit, the attack ... then in this sort of fight every advantage gained on the one side would be a corresponding disadvantage on the other...
But action in War is divided into two forms, attack and defence, which ... are very different and of unequal strength.

17. The effect of polarity is often destroyed by the superiority of defence over the attack, and thus the suspension of action in war is explained.
- On War, Book I, Chapter 1, Sections 16 & 17

What he was on about here was one of his favorite themes -- an analysis of why war in practice did not become an absolute unrestrained clash, which he thought it ought to as a matter of principle, since it must be what we would today call a "zero sum game." A disadvantage for one side must be an advantage for the other. Why then, would an attacker ever pause, other than for his physical inability to attack? History clearly shows that there have been many such pauses, even when both sides were physically capable of attacking. How to explain this?
Clausewitz wrote:The third cause which catches hold, like a ratchet wheel in the machinery, from time to time producing a complete standstill, is the greater strength of the defensive form. A may feel to weak too attack B, from which it does not follow that B is strong enough for an attack on A.
- Book III, Chapter 16

No one (least of all Clausewitz, I am sure) would suggest that strategic victory can be achieved by the defence. The point is simply that it is harder to attack successfully than to defend successfully.

To bring this thread back a bit towards the history of the Axis in WWII, did the Germans not officially rate their divisions as: "fully attack capable", "limited attack capable", and "capable only of defence", or words to that effect? Which reflects the simple fact of the greater (tactical) effectiveness of the defence in action.
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Post by Qvist » 02 Dec 2005 21:57

Thanks Paul for that little piece of scholarship, and for this:
The point is simply that it is harder to attack successfully than to defend successfully.
which sums up the point I attempted to make far more succinctly than I managed.

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Post by PaulJ » 03 Dec 2005 18:59

JonS and Qvist,

Now that it is the weekend again, and I find myself sitting here sipping my morning coffee and procrastinating, let me address some of your comments:
JonS wrote:...it seems like you dance up and down the tactical-operational-strategic staircase fairly loosely, and I wonder if more rigour there might be illuminating too.
Doubtless. I did not, in fact, distinguish between levels of war in my little diatribe. Any thorough analysis would have to do so, and ensure that like was compared to like. Not sure off the top of my head what that might reveal. Perhaps that the German advantage peaked somewhere around the upper-middle? (about army-army group level?)

Broadly I would suggest that in tactical-operational terms, the higher level one goes up to, the greater the challenge to deftly and rapidly conduct nimble operations. (Its far easier to be nimble with a well trained platoon than to keep tens of thousands of troops from becoming a ponderous mass. Thats one reason why we start officers off with platoons, right?) So the higher up the level of command one goes, the more effect the German advantage has. (Or so goes my reasoning.) But at a certain point, other effects begin to predominate. I think it is safe to say that most agree that, strategically, the Germans were a mess (in both wars actually). So their advantage peaks at some level of command (as I said, say, army group level), and then begins to decline again. (What do you think?)
Qvist wrote:PaulJ: An extremely interesting notion [compared with] ...the more traditional mode of effeiciency assessment - losses inflicted relative to force deployed
Sure, that is the more "traditional" measure. I won't attempt to rehash some of the debate we just saw in this thread about statistical analysis, but suffice it to say that I've always been "cautious" about such a "bean counting" approach to warfare.

First of all, casualties are not, in fact, the point to warfare. The point is to achieve the aim (whatever that might be). The true measure of effectiveness is how quickly/effectively/deftly etc the aim is achieved. The problem with that, of course, is that that measure isn't necessarily terribly helpful when seeking to analyze specific military forces or campaigns, least of all at the tactical level. Perhaps one side did indeed achieve their aim, but only because they completely outnumbered the other side. Thus might a militarily force of marginal capability defeat another force that, individual to individual as it were, is far superior in quality. (This, of course, is exactly the traditional argument about the defeat of Germany in WWII, in particular on the Eastern Front.) Certainly it is the argument made in their memoirs by all of those former German generals after the war. (That and they were hamstrung by Hitler's faulting strategic decision making and/or Allied air power.)

The only way around this is to begin to analyse how well a force actually fought. Ideally, by some objectively quantifiable measures. In that context, relative casualty rates can, I believe, be informative. Other measures (off the top of my head):
- speed of advance;
- (and therefore, conversely) length of delay imposed in the defence;
- success rate in each individual action (ie, did their tactical forces achieve their actual assigned objectives in each specific operation they undertook, or not? Surprisingly, this is often overlooked.)

Plus certain more technical issues like:
- expertise at getting fire onto a target (ie, how much, how quickly, can they get on target?)
- logistics (ability to sustain operations. boring, but critical, in many cases decisive even.)
- intelligence (how accurate were they generally at understanding what they faced and anticipating what their opponent was going to do next?)

And finally, thanks for the kind suggestions about my website on tactical air power in Normandy ( http://tactical-airpower.tripod.com ), which alas I have not worked on in quite some time. My most recent work has been to broaden my study out from the Brit/CW 2nd TAF to include US tactical air power, the fruit of which led to my most recent publication, "The Question of British Influence on US Tactical Air Power in World War II", in the Spring 2005 edition of Air Power History ( http://pauldjohnston.tripod.com/brit-us-tacair.pdf ).

See my personal website at http://pauldjohnston.tripod.com/

Cheers,

paulj

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Post by Qvist » 05 Dec 2005 10:03

Hi Paul

Thanks for a thoughtful and well-written post. Some further thoughts occur to me too, inno particular order:
First of all, casualties are not, in fact, the point to warfare. The point is to achieve the aim (whatever that might be). The true measure of effectiveness is how quickly/effectively/deftly etc the aim is achieved.
True, but the point isn't if casualties are the point of warfare. Rather, the question is if they are a measure of performance, which is not neccessarily the same thing, and if so, the performance of what exactly. I can see at least a couple of attractive points with the notion of losses inflicted relative to force employed, and also a few problems wit the alternative notion you suggest. One is pragmatical - different engagements have, as you point out, different aims. Hence, it is not possible to use them as the basis for an evaluation over longer periods of time or for broad sections of frontage - unlike casualties, they cannot be defined in a way that is generally valid for all engagements. Secondly, I do not see that the fact that most military operations aim at something more than merely inflicting losses is neccessarily an objection to using losses as the basis for evaluations of performance. No matter which type of objective is pursued, pursuing it consists in engaging the enemy's forces and attempting to defeat them, and the measurable outcome of this activity is losses. Thirdly, it is by definition more efficient to achieve any given objective with lesser loss than it is to achieve the same objective with greater loss, hence there is a direct link between efficiency and losses. Fourthly, performance as hitherto understood is by definition a relative concept, and as such cannot be reconciled with such a definition as you suggest - only one side can normally achieve its objective, and the two sides' objectives (to the extent that they can be precisely defined) are not neccessarily diametrically opposed. Fifthly, and perhaps most fundamentally - whether a given aim can be reached, or how quickly, depends on a large number of factors besides performance or efficiency, hence it cannot be a measure of efficiency or performance.

Generally, I would say that any reasonable definition of efficiency or performance must be understood as in some sense achievement relative to means, and also I have some difficulty with how it can be fruitfully defined as anything but a relative concept. In this sense (and I would like to stress that the analogy does not go further than this), war is much like football. If you put 11 players on the pitch with no opposing side, there is no performance to evaluate, though there are certainly a set of individual skills that you can measure. There is no performance or effectiveness other than what emerges from actual games, and that performance can only be understood as relative to the specific opposing team. In much the same way, combat is in an essential sense a reciprocal activity. Finally, anything that is used as a measure of performance needs to have a predictable relation to it. Outcome for example does not have such a relation, but losses do. But you touch upon many of these points yourself.

I really am not competent to judge the statistical nitty-gritty of specific models of quantitative analysis that are in use. But at least in principle, I think the link between losses and efficiency is intuitively very strong. If an army proves itself capable of consistently inflicting disproportionate losses on its opponent after other factors have been accounted for, it is quite simply reasonable to conclude that the reason for this is that it is on the whole a more efficient instrument of war than its adversary. This superior efficiency may be present generally or it may be present only under certain circumstances or during certain periods. Furthermore, efficiency is neccessarily a composite concept that subsumes a large number of specific characteristics, and the advantage of a general assessment based on losses is that it can be said to reflect the sum total of them – in itself a valuable advantage analytically speaking, compared to attempting an analysis that assumes that a certain characteristic always has a certain weight (which is inherently virtually impossible). An underlying assumption, and in my opinion a reasonable one, is that all aspects of the fighting organisations’ efficiency –including such things as intelligence, f.e. – in the end manifest themselves as a factor on the battlefield, even if the characteristic is not in itself directly combat related. Hence, they also impact on (and are reflected by) the distribution of losses.

Efficiency so understood implicitly must accept some limits in application, in several senses. Firstly, this type of analysis is only really viable on the tactical level, for clearly delimited engagements. More general conclusions can be drawn from a large set of individual cases. In more macro terms – such as basic data for strength and losses for whole fronts over long periods of time – the logic can only be applied tentatively and with great care, and I think that firmer conclusions are only possible if the data are very one-sided and clear (as they are for most of the war in the East). There are also limits of application inherent in the very concept. It can only say something about the efficiency of a given army as a battlefield organisation, and there are many critical aspects of a more broadly understood efficiency it can say nothing about. One obvious example is the force generation and economic mobilisation of a warring state, which is largely an autonomous process rather than a reciprocal one, and which manifests itself more fundamentally in the force relation than in performance. Another is strategy and high-level decisionmaking, which for a number of reasons is not readily susceptible to be integrated in any general judgment on performance. Firstly, it can less obviously be assumed that performance in this regard is a general characteristic of the organisation, as it is much more reliant on a small number of people. Secondly, it cannot readily be quantified, and its level of impact cannot be generalised – sometimes it has little effect on events, at other times its impact is critical. Thirdly, and most importantly, it cannot essentially be understood as a relative concept. Strategy relates to the ends and means of one’s own side primarily (though it is of course impacted by the actions of the adversary). Strategy prioritises ends, and seeks the optimal attainment of them by the most efficient use of the means available. It goes towards the use of the instrument of war rather than the general performativity of the instrument, to put it like that.
The only way around this is to begin to analyse how well a force actually fought. Ideally, by some objectively quantifiable measures. In that context, relative casualty rates can, I believe, be informative. Other measures (off the top of my head):
- speed of advance;
- (and therefore, conversely) length of delay imposed in the defence;
This however depends on many other factors than performance - including terrain, weather and communications.
- success rate in each individual action (ie, did their tactical forces achieve their actual assigned objectives in each specific operation they undertook, or not? Surprisingly, this is often overlooked.)
Ditto - it is difficult to see how this would reflect performance in any predictable way.
Plus certain more technical issues like:
- expertise at getting fire onto a target (ie, how much, how quickly, can they get on target?)
Well, arguably the losses inflicted would be both a simpler, more useful and more relevant measure of the effectiveness of the fires?
logistics (ability to sustain operations. boring, but critical, in many cases decisive even.)- intelligence (how accurate were they generally at understanding what they faced and anticipating what their opponent was going to do next?)
It would seem possible to argue that the extent to which effectiveness in logistics and intelligence were translated into battlefield advantages, their effect would be to heighten the practical combat power of that side's forces (allowing them advantages of such things as sustained mobility, greater firepower and engagement on favorable terms) - which should again manifest itself in the balance of losses.

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Post by JonS » 05 Dec 2005 18:47

Qvist wrote:
Plus certain more technical issues like:
- expertise at getting fire onto a target (ie, how much, how quickly, can they get on target?)
Well, arguably the losses inflicted would be both a simpler, more useful and more relevant measure of the effectiveness of the fires?
Except that it completely misses the point of suppression.

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Post by Qvist » 05 Dec 2005 21:43

Hello Jon

The effects of suppression, insofar as it affects the ability of defending units to function, also is ultimately reflected by the losses.

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Post by JonS » 06 Dec 2005 00:34

Qvist wrote:The effects of suppression, insofar as it affects the ability of defending units to function, also is ultimately reflected by the losses.
Well, yes, but its full effects tend to be a bit delayed. For instance, some of the effects of suppression at ElAl2 in Oct/Nov '42 were realised as 'casualties' (POWs) at Tunis in May '43. Similarly, some of the suppression 'casualties' from Normandy in Jun/Jul/Aug '44 weren't realised until the Ruhr Pocket in 45, etc.

An alternate way of looking at this is that the mass surrenders in Tunis, Northern Italy and Germany were not solely the result of the battle on the previous day, but the cumulative effect of all the battles that had preceeded them. The suppresion that was integral to the success of those individual battles - even if it caused no immediate casualties - allowed the acheivement of a series of objectives which led to the ultimate collapse.

Unless they are counted you are basically saying that the British weren't as good as the Germans at applying German doctrine. It may be true, but it isn't terribly insightful.
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