The Other Fight: Understanding Conventional Warfare by Bill Buppert

Publisher’s Note: Many worthies, ordinarily self-professed “special operators,” (I never knew so many could exist) have been making much of the American if not Western expertise in building, fighting and dashing enemies with unconventional warfare (UW).

This is a myth.

Per UW, modern post-WWII US special operations forces never do long dwell-time partisan/guerrilla creation and improvement. Foreign Internal Defense (FID) does not a guerrilla make. They didn’t even do it in Vietnam (six month rotations in and out). The 39th Special Forces Detachment, 1st Special Forces Regiment was apparently tasked with this mission in Berlin for partisan activation but demobilized in 1984. The mission never materialized.

Of course, some secret squirrel government apparatchik can huff and puff it’s been done but it’s a state secret, don’t you know. Yeah, right.

I find it most interesting that counterinsurgency dominates all the statist literature on how to prosecute these conflicts. Think of this much like the foolishness of counter improvised explosive device (IED) task forces and think tank bloviations on how to technically defeat mine warfare which has been in existence for millennia. Why haven’t the mandarins bothered to nominate massive brain trusts and expenditures of tens of billions on counter-rifle warfare or such arcana?

As a matter of fact, when things get really sporty in the coming Endarkenment descending on the USSA and the Slave Forces (SLAVFOR) start fighting against the inevitable insurgency that is germinating in the states, watch how well that works out. I assure you it will be much like the bloody Kansas and Missouri conflicts in the South before the War of Northern Aggression where Federal involvement built and motored a southon resistance from scratch with scorched earth tactics.

You should read the interview I appended with the fascinating German General Hermann Balck, which I refer to below in the essay. He proposed that a way to make mines work even better is to emplace dummy mines at a ratio in excess of 50:1 to drain enemy time and resources. Food for thought for the coming festivities.

In order to contest an insurgency, one must understand why they occur and what machinations make them remain afloat and expanding despite the massive influx of First World military technology, manpower and vast treasure. Well, the answer is rather simple: invasion foments insurgency and the more of the former the more robust the latter in response.

The West for all its trillions spent, tens of thousands injured and time and resources utterly wasted can’t seem to grok that rather simple fact.

Want to win a counterinsurgency? Pack up and leave. No Muslim insurgency since the end of the War to Save Josef Stalin has been defeated.

Enough of that, I owe the readership a list on 4GW but today we’ll tackle a top five list of readings in the conventional spectrum and I will not endorse Clausewitz despite his titanic presence in these strategic circles that discuss warfare.

Here’s the bottom line: the US has not won a conventional conflict much less an unconventional conflict despite the trillions spent and the wholesale creation of one of the largest and most technologically advanced armed forces in the history of mankind since the end of the War to Save Josef Stalin.-BB

I have tackled reading lists for military matters before that I crafted. So I wanted to update the list with a more focused addendum that discusses how and why mass conventional armies operating on the full spectrum of conflict behave in success and defeat.

There are plenty of serviceable unconventional/4GW/guerrilla lists out there but I think my readership deserves one I would recommend. That will be forthcoming after completing this one.

But first, I’ve crafted this top five list on a more conventional military perspective of military reading for Second and Third Generation baseline military theory and practice because if you don’t know that, you can’t fight 4GW; how can you guerrilla if you don’t know what are centers of gravity, command echelonments and logistical needs for SLAVFOR in both meat-space and decision cycles? There are many other concerns in addition to these.

I’ve spent a little time in combat zones and can claim no great laurels whatsoever but I have had my eyes open and opened.

Much of IRB/IRA leader Michael Collins’ success is that he had a fair amount of former veterans of the British Army in his flying columns. Not special operators (isn’t every vet nowadays?) but regular mud-boggers who had seen the grinding death-machine of the British Army in France during WWI. Collins was a titan in guerrilla warfare in the 20th century but many of his methodologies were born of observing first hand how conventional units behave.

It’s been December of 2001 in Afghanistan for nearly 14 years, ground-hog day from the Chief of Staff of the Army to the lowest Afghanistan National Army private. The day the last Western boot leaves Afghan soil, Kabul will come under siege and fall in a month. Again, trillions wasted to make the military industrial complex flush with money and the region awash in corpses and mayhem after the Western incursion.

I would suggest that American arms and lesser so Western armies have a reputation for fighting efficacy that they are unworthy of.

Want to get into the mind of a superb conventional combatant? Look to the Germans.

General Hermann Balck

Want to get into the mind of a superb unconventional combatant? Look to the Germans.

General Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck

We’ll discuss Lettow-Vorbeck more comprehensively in the 4GW list.

Frank Kurowski has done a good job of compiling the citations for the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes) in his Aces series which gives a fair overviews of the German combat experience in WWII. The translation can be challenging and the descriptions don’t nuance the individual but it gives credence to why the Allies had their hands full fighting German forces in parity up until  May 1945.

The Knight’s Cross had five levels of award with the highest being the Knights Cross with golden oak leaves swords and diamonds and awarded to a single man, Hans Ulrich Rudel.

Rudel’s war record is simply amazing in any scale. He began the war as a reconnaissance pilot and was training to convert to a dive bomber pilot during the invasion of France. His  career finally began with the invasion of Russia in June 1941, and he served in the Russian front until the end of the war, except for short periods in Germany as instructor and test pilot.

In the next four years he flew a total of 2530 combat sorties in which he destroyed 519 Russian tanks, 150 artillery guns, 1000 vehicles, a battleship (USSR Marat), two cruisers, a destroyer, 70 landing craft, and also shot down 11 aircraft. He was shot down 30 times, lost a leg, which didn’t stop him at all, and performed numerous acts of sacrifice and heroism. Rudel had the rare combination of great warrior skills and tons of luck, and years of intense daily fighting to fully exploit them, which is how he reached such an amazing record for which he became the highest decorated German soldier.

What is the fulcrum of German brilliance in warfare? The Germans codified and trained an adaptive awareness of evolution of arms down to platoon level during a conflict and employed  Auftragstaktik (Mission Command) down to the lowest level possible. They pressed home the advantage of initiative in every combatant scenario. The entire army was built around the concept that friction always sunders the best laid plans and a full knowledge of intent for the mission will allow commanders to be flexible and creative in meeting the end-state. “Everything in war is very simple,” Clausewitz notes, “but the simplest thing is difficult.” If you take the time to read the interview with GEN Balck, you will see where this is possible with entire armies.

Sure they lost but the grand strategic incompetence/incoherence of National Socialist cognitive indifference to emerging events, a craven and politically cowardly German General Staff (much like the American Pentagram today) and kakocracy assured no victory would come no matter how ferocious or effective German arms.

Be very careful in what you read in history and consider the author’s vantage point. There has been a huge historiographical error in the West in attempting to demonize all things Germans because of 12 years of political mayhem in a country that wasn’t fully born until the 1870s. The same has also occurred in assessing what I consider a miraculous turnaround for Soviet operational and strategic competence from 1943-45. I suspect the world has never seen such a rapid martial maturation. I happen to think US entry into both World Wars was a tremendous error but the Communist beat the National Socialists not the West. And, of course, the Commies had plenty of help from the West.

I get the importance of Small Unit Tactics (SUT) at squad and platoon level and there is no doubt FREEFOR has some talent but the fight will be longer and harder than anyone can envision right now.

Guess what, none of the green-suiters (retired or otherwise) have the answer for FREEFOR, at least none that are still alive.

So here’s five authors in no particular order whose writing will lend a less tin ear to how Second and Third Generation armies work in the full spectrum of conflict.

Sun Tzu Brilliant, simple and still relevant and much better than Clausewitz to distill the essence of both direct and indirect approaches. I recommend his grandson, Sun Pin as an accompaniment to this text.

The translator Ralph D. Sawyer has done a terrific job translating many ancient Chinese military texts for modern audiences. I can’t recommend his work highly enough and the totality of the reading is a tremendous boon to the armchair strategist.

Sun Pin The great grandson of Sun Tzu, he took his ancestor’s writing and gave it a new twist that resonates to this day.

COL John Boyd Boyd is one of my favorite post-WWII military thinkers who really expands the edge of the cognitive envelope. He is responsible for popularizing (discovered?) the concept of the OODA Loop. He is one of the few folks here who wielded a tremendous influence without leaving behind a significant book or even library of works to cogitate on. He did have a famous slide deck called Patterns of Conflict that has made the rounds for decades and it is worth your time to mull it over. I happen to think thought more deeply in the American armed forces after WWII than Boyd who made the elegant observation that all strategy boils down to variants on isolation and alliance to achieve victory.

Donald Vandergriff Don and I are personal friends and a fellow enthusiast for the German way of conflict like Mr. Muth below who gives a scintillating reading of the German General Staff from 1901-1940 (the evolution actually begins in 1806) while Don and I have filled in the blanks on some of the advantages of German staff systems when we both advised in Afghanistan. Don is a champion of the concept of mission-type orders I mentioned earlier and I daresay the foremost authority in America on that very topic. Despite his decades-long battle to get the US armed forces to make it part of the way it does business, they simply give it lip service while retaining the Sovietized and sclerotic Frankenstein’s monster that is the Pentagram today.

I have all his books but find Raising the Bar to be the best introduction to the nuts and bolts of applying the German methodology to Western forces today. He calls his methodology the “adaptive course model” (ACM) and states its purpose as ” … creating leaders who understand and practice adaptability, while encouraging Army senior leaders to nurture this trait in their subordinates.” For those who have never been in the Legions, I suspect his ambitions will never see the light of day in the US Army.

Jorge Muth I love Martin van Creveld and thought that Fighting Power was ground-breaking but it left me wanting a fuller analysis and on that Muth delivers. Command Culture: Officer Education in the U.S. Army and the German Armed Forces, 1901-1940, and the Consequences for World War II provides that more rigorous analytical framework that van Creveld uncharacteristically left standing. Trevor Dupuy agrees in his seminal work on the subject. Dupuy’s Encyclopedia of Military History (Second Edition) has been a constant desk companion for years.

Like all areas of inquiry, one can start to get what Mortimer Adler called “syntopical” reading where a conversation and interrogation of three to five books on a subject will get the intellectual engines roaring. The subject is vast and complex but you do not have spend half a lifetime in the legions to understand it. Most retired veterans I know have zero historical context nor a middling grasp of operational and strategic art.

This is just the beginning because these authors tend to be heavily referenced and footnoted in their texts, which will open up even deeper venues to plumb.

Read and prepare to resist.

The worst is yet to come in America.

14 thoughts on “The Other Fight: Understanding Conventional Warfare by Bill Buppert”

    1. Leonard,

      Thanks for the post, I cannot ever recommend any autobiography like Hackworth’s book because they belong on the fiction shelf in my estimation. It is simply the nature of that literary sub-genre. Look at my brief commentary in the Beck articles I linked about Churchill’s six volumes on WWII. Mind you, there are some splendid memoirs and the more self-deprecating the better for me like Fraser and Hal Moore.

      About Face was a gripping read but I took it with a grain of salt.

      I like Weigley but he will bore a new reader to death.


      1. About Face remains on my shelf – but the quote from a friend I loaned it to – who was there – sums it up – “Someone may have done that stuff…no ONE did ALL of that stuff…”

  1. I found this very well composed essay a definitive expose on insurgency/counter insurgency of inestimable value.
    Not so much for what the author puts forth in accounting of how the war was conducted materially, but for what he only pays lip service to in regards the natural innate state of failure of the state.
    As the author is a product of the state, it may be at the least he could never delve into its utterly corrupt illegitimate nature, or maybe is incapable of grokking this, as he himself is a wholly indoctrinated product of it himself.

    Fascinating and insightful in itself.

    What I found ironic, the author could have swapped out the USSR for the USA in the course of writing, and barely missed a beat in his essay.

    What I gleaned from it that I found of such rich cautionary value of history of tyranny verses liberty, was not just the factual accounting of the warring participants, their tactics, strategies, and implements of war, but the indomitable will of the insurgency as a whole, their religious beliefs notwithstanding, as a cautionary tale of why the state, for all its resources, its power, its blood thirsty motivations, is its own worst enemy. That it is always in a constant flux of trying to survive its own illegitimacy. And for all its illusion of big omnipotence and power, it is constituted of petty bankrupt humans who got lucky through influence and opportune politics and grabbed the reigns of power.

    Nothing more.

    And because of that, none of its power or resources, in the face of an indomitable people who refuse to comply and choose to rebel against it, those actors and their state can not survive that illegitimacy.
    There is no way around this natural law of freedom and liberty for them. All they can do is try to murder as many as possible, quickly as possible, and hope to stave off their inevitable demise for a little longer.

    Not sure who said it, but it is a splendid axiom, as it is a fitting tribute to this essay above, and resistance to tyranny as a whole:

    “Ripping the chainsaw from the grasp of the political class as they hack away at the tree of liberty will be difficult at first but once they start folding (a quality they all share thankfully) it will come fast.”

    Without doubt, a most accurate observation. Rightfully so. For in a nation as armed and as awakening as America, for all our warts and foibles, it is the egregious and corrupt nature of the state and its actors, which as it is collectively its own greatest enemy, its is a leviathan so large and grotesque, it is matched only by how fragile and ripe for collapse from natural moralistic domestic insurgency against its tyranny it is.

    I say, as Freemen, we don’t always measure up to the ideals of our sovereign and primal liberty, indeed, yet the existence of these ideals is paramount in our actions to live as free men.

    And that applies to our acumen as warriors of liberty and the insurgency which is forthcoming in this long time war of tyranny verses liberty.

    We may not measure up material wise, training wise, tactical and strategy wise, as those who have wore the uniform of the states army of aggression, but we have one weapon they could never have. Will, and an indomitable spirit too never be a slave to the state.

    And that is a far better thing to have, the winning thing, than all the beans and bullets in the world.

  2. Your point about context is well taken. We are not in the same context as WWII. The rise of super empowered individuals, demographic changes, and the death of distance and time make for changes in the ways and means of conflict that exceed government stovepipes. At the military strategic and operational level some works by Alberts and Gartska from the Command and Control Research Project are pretty solid discussions.

    I think some reading at the truly grand strategic might be useful. Any suggestions?

    1. David,

      The Pentagram is convinced WWII is alive and well; simply look at weapons systems choices:

      Kill the A10?

      Replace the next gen fighters with un-affordable manned anachronisms like the F22/35 platform instead of UCAVs?

      Clinging to the idiotic idea of carrier projection and associated flotillas? Why have a surface fleet at all? The carrier is a stunning contemporary example of the British lancer cavalry titling against German machine guns in WWI.

      Great paper on the imbecility of carriers.

      Completely flush down any institutional knowledge and application of light infantry capable of marching long distances and fighting in the end?

      Match that with a strategic framework completely driven by budget and big-money programs, it puts the cart before the horse. Unlike the Chinese , the West suffers from severe strategic deficit disorder.

      The list goes on.

      Per grand strategy:

      Boyd is the best strategic thinker in my mind but you can’t go wrong with Colin S. Gray.

      Try Fighting Talk and Strategy & History. I also recommend Johnston’s Cultural Realism: Strategic Culture and Grand Strategy in Chinese History.

      I love Robert Greene’s work and his 33 Strategies of War is outstanding.

    1. Thanks, Jack; not sure if the name variant range between Pin and Bin for the same but my Chinese is rather sub-standard. 🙂

      Both the great-grandfather and grandson are available in the one edition I cited. Some enterprising scholar should do a comparison.

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  8. Bill, the more I read your stuff the more things make sense. Thank you SO MUCH for putting your time and effort in to teach us. You should consider a podcast or at least write articles more often. 😉

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