Tuesday, May 3, 2016

SHTF Self-Education Series From the Library: Battle Leadership

     I wanted to write about a book that I have had on my professional book stack for years.  I bought it as a young(-ish) 2nd Lieutenant.  The tag on the back reads MCX LEJEUNE, and I paid the amazing sum of $2.50 for it back in the day.  There are those that consider the price of the book is commensurate with the value of the contents.  I assure you that the relationship is nonlinear, which is why I want to communicate to you that good information is where you find it, and that you don't need to spend a King's ransom to get it.

I bought this book because it was on the "Commandant's reading list" at the time.  I am advised that that list is flexible these days and seems to be veering away from actually fighting wars to Who Knows What.  I looked at Gen Neller's list and it thankfully is still on there.  I met him when he was a Colonel, no one in his TOC could help him out and that is when I was called in from another Regiment.... my kingdom for a proper hard drive, in summary.  Maybe Gen Neller can preserve the USMC from the onslaught of the apparatchicks and political decrees, who knows.  Just pray for the man and his Marines in general when you thank God every evening.  He needs all the divine assistance he can get.

This is probably the copy you will remember, good info NEVER goes out of style!

     A brief word on the author of this work.  He wrote this based upon his experiences as a junior officer in the Imperial German Army circa 1917.  The book itself was copyrighted in 1933, when the author was a student at the American School of Infantry at Fort Benning.  His experience spans 1914/Belgium as a platoon commander.  In 1915/East Prussia he fought in meter deep snow at the winter battles of the Mazurian Lakes.  He advanced through Warsaw and into Russia.  All of this means his experience in open warfare and small unit tactics is quite deep.  He fought in the Carpathians, as well as against the Bolsheviks (as many of us still do to this day).  Take note, Readers that the breadth and scope of an officer such as Von Schell dwarfs what we see in America today.  We have a force that is heavily driven into COIN (Counterinsurgency) and as heavy motorized infantry supported by a vast fires capability.  What Von Schell provides is insight as to how it goes when those luxuries did not exist.  In short, what many envision a post SHTF world would look like tactically and operationally.

     The first chapter sets the pace and tone of the work, it is titled 'Battlefield Psychology".  The words of 1914-1918 are familiar to a contemporary audience..
"we no longer fight in great masses, but in small groups, often as individuals.."
While the author states that the knowledge of men cannot be learned from books, I suggest that by reading books such as "Battle Leadership", one gains insights and perspectives in absence of battles and combat that can and do help the commander or soldier understand how to inspire men on the field of valor.  In the end, the learning only comes by the doing, the leading and the toil shared with your men/group/squad/fireteam.  The human element in this most human of endeavors cannot be ignored or turned into a powerpoint presentation with a sign in sheet.  You either lead and get the job done at minimal cost, or you don't.
This Passchendaele map shows fire support measures and the synchronized apex of planning. If only life were so simple.
     Chapter Two deals with staff assignment churn and the leadership chaos that results from people being unfamiliar with one another, both the led and the leader.  I think at this point in time unit cohesion and personnel management have largely rendered the chaos he describes a thing of the past, but I am sure that there are exceptions out there.  I just have not seen anything that messed up in my own career.

     Chapter Three is somewhat quaint in the concept of the great decisive battle.  In this case, the Marne.  The author paints an excruciating picture of confused staff actions and the accordion-like effect it has on the troops marching to and fro, seemingly to no aim whatsoever. This speaks to the lack of communicating "Commander's intent", so that even the lowest Private can understand the overall goal of what the plan is.  Back then, it appears that this was not "a thing", as the cool kids and coffee sipping hipsters might say.

No "pajama boys" to be seen in that suck.

     Chapter Four is about comingling battle hardened troops with the raw recruits.  Consider how this applies to YOU, and your plans for SHTF.  You have to have a mechanism for transmitting that knowledge base to "the new guy" so that he can make it long enough in combat to meaningfully contribute, and maybe even become one of the old hands that helps the new guys by passing on the arcane and arduous body of knowledge that is small unit work amongst infantry.

"lack of knowledge of the enemy is a normal thing... absence of information does not justify withholding an order when an order is needed"

     Chapter Five is possibly most important for the new Company Commander.  It deals with dynamic situations and the ability to process new developments on the fly.  Put out of your mind some of the antiquated aspects and go for the overall flow of the narrative.  In reading these narratives of combat, you may come to the point at some junction of your education and begin to recognize situations and common elements.  These will allow you to make better, faster decisions.  Chapter Six is an extension of Five, and illustrates the absolute necessity of plenty of good maps and provides the juxtaposition of the more complex the situation, the simpler the order must be.

     At the tail end of Chapter Eight, the reader is rewarded with a concise distillation of much of the wisdom of the work.  Six profound points that you must have followed the narrative across the interminable expanses of Eurasia and through the confusion of staff sections in disarray.  I will cut to the chase and offer them to you here as an excerpt:
  1. Attacks must be well prepared and discussed if they are to succeed.
  2. There is only one opportunity to issue detailed orders and that is before battle.  When the action has actually begun, orders must be short and simple.
  3. Every fight develops differently than is expected.  Officers and troops must realize this in peace, in order that they will not lose courage when the unexpected occurs in war.
  4. Little is known of the enemy in war.  The attack is the best way to dispel this uncertainty.
  5. Reserves must be employed at that point where troops have been successful and not where they have failed.
  6. And finally, it is again seen that success and a knowledge of battlefield psychology are powerful influences for inculcating a sense of confidence and security in troops.  Nothing will strengthen their ability to resist the disconcerting impressions of battle more powerfully than these.
      Chapters Eight and Nine deal with the development of the German Army since WWI and the American Army.  So much water has passed under that bridge as to make it a mere historical curiosity.

     This book is suitable for young guys to read and comprehend that the chaos and disorder are historical norms, that the contemporary practices with GPS this and that, maps galore and intelligence feeds enough to make your eyes bleed are not par for the course.  The experienced out there will recognize in the stream of combat vignettes a continuum of conflict throughout history.  It is my sincere desire that readers take from this book  the importance of a leader, executing the basics competently to the overall conduct of any event, from small unit combat to a church social luncheon.

Thank you for stopping by and visiting, reading and hopefully sharing with others.  Supporting this blog by shopping through one of our Amazon links is greatly appreciated.  Comments, questions or concerns are always welcome - you can contact us via E-mail or follow us at Twitter via @Partyzantski or @Stopshoutblog.  You can also sign up via e-mail for new posts (we do not sell or share your e-mail contact information with anyone). Comments/feedback are welcome and valued, however, all comments are moderated and will be posted after we have time to review and release. Thanks again!

"Battle Leadership" is part of our Tuesday Book Review series ~ Written by StopShoutingBlog contributor and #FAB50 Blog Award Winner Partyzantski, coolest cat on teh inner webs, retired Mustang, former FID embedded military Advisor, SASO trainer and scenario developer, Electronic Warfare Aviator, PME instructor, certified Force Protection and Anti-terrorism officer and combat seasoned USMC (0202) field grade intelligence officer. When not blogging or maintaining weapons proficiency at the range, he enjoys cat herding and travel to off-the-beaten-track locales. You can follow him on Twitter @Partyzantski   


Anonymous said...

Excellent review. I enjoy your writing style. Have you thought about writing a book about your experiences (career)?

SemperFi, 0321 said...

Still have my USMC "Handbook for NCO's" from when I attended NCO School, Camp Geiger,March-April 1976. Another one of those books worth hanging on to for 40 yrs.

DTG said...

Read this excellent short book and was amazed at the time-tested lessons within. Leadership by personal example; confidence; surprise; the importance of physical training; how the commander (leader) may impact team and individual morale (personally defined as, "the willingness to continue the mission in light of extremely adverse conditions") by his own actions (or lack thereof).

Great little suggestion and book! In the library now.