Category Archives: national security

The Death of Ukrainian International Airlines 752: Shot Down or Not? Accidental or Intentional? The Need for a Transparent Investigation

 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The past few days have been weird for me. Wednesday I was sick, and since yesterday I have been steadily recovering. I went to work and was very busy. was very busy with work tasks and personal visitations, and I had to make a lot of medical appointments for the coming weeks. Today I was back at work and the spent the afternoon with my audiologist at the Naval Medical Center to get more performance out of my hearing aids. But I digress…

Of course I have been following the Iran-Iraq-Trump brinksmanship of the past week, and then the crash of a Ukrainian airliner shortly after takeoff from Tehran which resulted in the deaths of 176 innocent civilians, close to a third, Canadians.

The crash it turns out that the Iranians very well might have mistakenly shot it down.  Western intelligence sources have identified, based on radar, satellite, and video imagery, the latter taken by Iranians on the ground, believe that an Iranian military, Russian built SA-15 or TOR-1 missile battery operated by the Revolutionary Guard shot it down minutes after it took off from Tehran using two missiles which fatally damaged the aircraft. The theory, which must be confirmed is that two missiles exploded near the aircraft, shredding it with shrapnel and that the crew attempted to take the aircraft back to the airport and crashed as it came apart in mid-air.

The fact that this happened shortly after the Iranians had shot several dozen missiles at U.S. Facilities in Iraq, purposely avoiding causing actual casualties after the United States killed Iranian General Qassem Suleimani in an orchestrated assassination when he was on a mission to speak with the leaders of Iraq.

Certainly, having Suleimani killed, and being in the midst of their own strikes, and possibly expecting imminent American attack it is likely that they made a mistake, a case of nerves and readiness to shoot and ask questions later. The Iranians wouldn’t be the first. Even President Trump said so, although he didn’t mention that a US Navy ship, the USS Vincennes while engaged with Iranian Naval forces, shot down an Iranian airliner killing 290 people. Nerves, mistaken identity, and itchy trigger fingers are common in combat situations. Commanders of military units, even experienced ones, sometimes make bad decisions in real time. It is part of the human condition.

There is the possibility that the shoot down could have been deliberate, but from what I see, Iran had nothing to gain by such action, but one never knows. Iran is strenuously denying any military involvement, unintentional or intentional. Since military action was ongoing the prudent course would have been to close their airspace to civilian air traffic until they were sure that the danger had passed, but they didn’t. Likewise, the Iranian public which had United after the killing of Suleimani, is once again divided by this.

Other possibilities could include mechanical failure, sabotage, or an explosive device.

Much more investigation needs to be done to determine the truth about what happened to the Ukrainian airliner, preferably by representatives of a neutral power that has the capability of investigating and reading the facts from the radar, satellite, video, and black box information, regardless of who it implicates.  Truth matters more than bluster and war.

As a historian, priest, and military ethics professor, there is not a lot to go on. I can only expect that things will not get better. I trust neither the Iranians, or President Trump, however, the Iranians seem to be approaching things with their usual circumspection, a trait that allowed them from the days of the Persians, to survive the Greeks, Mongols, Romans, Byzantines, and Ottomans for millennia, and to have one of their Emperors, Cyrus the Great, to be considered a liberator of the Jews. Something that some of Trump’s Evangelical supporters claim for their support of him. History, and theology sometimes make curious bedfellows.

I do not presume to know what is going to happen next, but I will posit that either Trump, the Iranians, or one of the many other state and non-state actions in the region will make a mistake and a general war will ensue. One or the other will do something that neither side will be able to back down from, and a devastating regional war, with potential global implications will ensue.

So I am going to leave it at that for tonight. There are more questions than answers, and at this point in time the word of the United States has been diminished by the constant lying of the President and members of his administration. It is hard to trust the words of the US Government, and it is impossible to trust the words of the Iranians who have been lying for decades.

I pray the truth comes out. While nothing can bring back the dead, the truth matters, especially if it helps to stop a potentially devastating war before it can happen.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under aircraft, Foreign Policy, middle east, national security, News and current events, Political Commentary

A Man’s Got to Know His Strategic Limitations: President Trump and the Current Middle Eastern Crisis

        Turkish Protestors in Istanbul 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

As I watch the crisis between the United States, or shall I better say President Trump and Iran unfold, and have talked with various friends about it in person and on social media I am reminded of a couple of different definitions of patriotism. Now since I have served the United States as a military enlisted man, and officer in both the Army and Navy in Peace and War, I think that I love my country and should be considered a patriot. I am not blind to our shortcomings, nor things that have been done in the name of the United States that go against the will of our Founders, the ideals of the Declaration of Independence, and the law embodied in our Constitution. Liberal or not, I am a realist. I don’t like to us to lose unnecessary wars.

Likewise, as my favorite theologian Harry Callahan said in Magnum Force: “A man’s got to know his limitations.”  Our President, nor his Cult  do not understand reality. Despite the comparative easy Assassination of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard General Qassim Suleimani, regardless of how bad of man he was, the President has opened a potentially apocalyptic Pandora’s Box which will bring about worse for the United United States, the region and the world.

None of our allies anywhere in the world, including the Israelis, who hate Iran, have officially offered us their support. The Iraqi Parliament has passed a resolution asking the government to order the United States military forces to leave the country. That may not happen, but it will place our very limited and scattered forces in Iraq at the mercy of Iraqi Militias supported by Iran, and quite possibly regular Iraqi and Iranian forces. It could be a death trap for the 5,500 or so American troops in Iraq, not to mention those in Kuwait, those based in Syria, Bahrain, and Qatar, or on ships in the Arabian/Persian Gulf.

American military power is not what it used to be and the President has not considered the second, third, fourth, fifth, or more effects of this strike. Our military readiness is not good, our ability to project power and sustain our forces is worse than it was in 2003, and now we have no allied support. Likewise there is no telling what the Russians, Chinese, North Koreans, or other competitors/enemies will do.

The Iranians have announced that they will not abide by the nuclear accords reached with the West during the Obama Administration, which they abided by even after President Trump renounced that accord. Likewise they have promised vengeance against American military targets and a eulogist at Suleimani’s funeral put an 80 million dollar contract for anyone who kills President Trump.

I neither want a wider war or for that matter for the Iranians to succeed in assassinating President Trump. As much as I oppose the President’s policies and think of him as a dangerous man, his death would only serve to make things worse. He would be succeeded by Vice President Pence, and his cult would demand its own vengeance, regardless of the military, diplomatic, and economic cost.

The “Mistake” Letter

Today the situation continued to escalate as the Iraqi Parliament continued to press for the removal of American and foreign forces from Iraq, backed now by the Iraqi President. President Trump threatened to attack religious and cultural sites in Iran, in violation of treaties we have signed and if carried out would be war crimes. He was countermanded by Mark Esper, the Secretary of Defense.Trump continued to reiterate his threat about 52 targets in Iran based on the number of hostages taken by Iranians during the takeover of the American Embassy in 1979, to which the Iranian President reminded the United States of the 290 passengers lost when the USS Vincennes misidentified and shot down IR-655, an Iranian passenger plane on a scheduled flight in 1988. In response the the Iraqi Parliament vote Trump ordered the administration to draft  sanctions against Iraq. During the day a draft of a withdraw letter was mistakenly released by the commander of American Forces, which was almost immediately denied as a mistake by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and Secretary of Defense.

If you ask me, things seem to be spiraling out of control, and nobody seems to be at the helm of the ship of state. This is not a good position to be in.

But now the dice have been thrown, the wager has been made, and the outcome is at best an uncertain gamble. I fear for our soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen in Iraq and the Gulf. The Iranians can easily shut down the Straits of Hormuz, their Yemeni allies can threaten the Bab El Mendeb, the other major maritime choke point in the region. Likewise, in defiance of Trump the Iraqis could cut off supplies from the American troops scattered across the country if they do not withdraw or some kind of accord is reached for them to stay. Likewise, the Iranians, while not the military equal of the United States do have enough power to endanger every American facility in the Persian Gulf, kill tens of thousands of Americans, and seriously disrupt the world economy, yet leaving the Russians, and Chinese greatly strengthened.

I do not know what will happen over the next few days or weeks, but the President has backed us into a corner with little room for maneuver, diplomatically or militarily. Even long term allies like the Israelis, British, and Australians have not offered support. Neither have the Saudis, the mortal Sunni enemies of the Shia Iranians. Certain pundits have, but not their governments.

This is a watershed moment, things that Americans and the world trusted to remain as they were will no longer be the same, and we will not be the better for it. Things will not get better and they will very likely get worse and very possibly bring about the Armageddon that many of Trump’s followers, as well as certain groups of Sunni and Shia Muslims, and others fervently pray for.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under ethics, Foreign Policy, History, iraq,afghanistan, middle east, Military, national security, News and current events, Political Commentary

An Act of War: Trump Has Iranian General Assassinated

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The great Prussian military strategist Carl Von Clausewitz wrote:

“No one starts a war–or rather, no one in his sense ought to do so–without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by the war and how he intends to conduct it.”

Late Thursday night I saw that the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps “Al Quds” division, General Qasem Soleimani was assassinated by an American Air Force Drone strike, which killed the leader of many of Iraq’s Iranian allied Shia militiamen. This was a day after the Shia militia withdrew after attacking the American Embassy in Baghdad’s Green Zone.

Rather than maintaining a policy of plausible deniability like the Israelis, Russians, Chinese or North Koreans, President Trump had the Defense Department almost immediately claim credit for the strike. Don’t get me wrong, I shed no tears for Qasem Soleimani.

He was responsible for the deaths of hundreds, if not more than a thousand American troops in Iraq, by supplying completed and equipment used to make Improvised Explosive Devices to Shia militants. Thousands of others were wounded, and throughout Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, the Gulf States, Saudi Arabia, and even Israel. Militias that he supplied and that are allied with Iran have killed countless Sunni, Kurdish, Sufi, and Christian Arabs. Quite simply, there is no love between the Persians and the Arabs, it is a hatred that preceded the foundation of Islam, or Christianity for that matter. The Persians have always treated the Arabs as inferiors regardless of religion, one reason that some of the most powerful Iraqi Shia leaders remain Iraqi nationalists.

The smart thing to do would have been to use locally manufactured weapons, or those common in the region from Russia, China, North Korea, and European nations, to kill him, and then say nothing. That is how intelligent nations assassinate their opponents, by maintaining plausible deniability. Pardon my less than Christian interpretation of such actions, but beating your chest after such an action as President Trump did today only serves to embolden one’s opponents.

Iran was in the midst of disintegration, protests and deteriorating economic conditions were making it ripe for revolution, but every authoritarian government knows, the easiest way to unify a divided country is war, especially when a longstanding enemy launches a surprise attack that kills a man not only considered a military leader but an national icon. Likewise, the killing of Soleimani will do nothing to change the course of Iran or its policies anywhere. His successor is the man who has been his deputy since the late 1990s. Rather than dividing Iran, this will unify it, against the United States.

One should expect attacks by Iran’s allied militias in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, the Persian Gulf, and Yemen against American, western, Israeli, and Saudi interests. Likewise one can not calculate the actions of the Russians, Chinese, North Koreans, or others, even friends will be. We could easily find ourselves fighting on multiple fronts without allies or support.

This is uncharted territory. The President did not seek the advice and consent of Congress for  an action that was a functional declaration of war, neither sanctioned by international law, nor in any way covered by the 2001 Authorization for Use of Force sought by the Bush Administration to take action against Al Qaida and Afghanistan; a document used by every succeeding administration for use of force around the world, whether connected with Al Qaida or not. At no point has Congress asserted its authority to declare war. In fact it hasn’t been since President Roosevelt asked for and got a declaration of war against Japan on December 8th 1941, and Germany and its allies when they declared war against the United States a few days later. Since then Congress has yielded to the executive branch and President in every subsequent occasion. Even the War Powers Act, enacted after Vietnam has done little to curtail the actions of each succeeding Presidency. As such this is not just a foreign policy and potential war action, but yet another assault on the Constitution; but then the Constitution hasn’t mattered to most Americans in decades, especially when it comes to military action.

Sun Tzu wrote: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

I feel that Americans by and large neither know ourselves, or our enemies, and that this is most exemplified by the example of President Trump. that my friends saddens me.

We believe that our military is the strongest and most capable in the world, which it would be if it had not been gutted by 18 years of war, which despite the vast sums spent on it is now less capable of projecting military power than it was in 2001. Likewise, massive debt of the country impedes the overall economy, the President’s attacks on the nation’s intelligence and free press have harmed our ability to gain information as well as use information to our advantage, and finally the gutting of the State Department has devastated our ability to use diplomacy rather than force to solve problems.

Every instrument of what American diplomats and strategists have called the DIME, the Diplomatic, Information, Military, and Economic pillars of national power are crumbling and neither the President or Congress has the honesty to say so, even though unclassified reports of all of the above are readily available for anyone to see. But many, if not most Americans prefer ignorance of the law, the Constitution, and facts to reality.

Expect cyber attacks, terrorist attacks on Americans overseas and quite possibly attacks in the United States itself. War could easily consume most of the Middle East and world. While the United States military would probably destroy most of Iran’s conventional military, and infrastructure, it will be a great cost. American losses will be more than OIF and OEF combined. The videos of American Warships burning and sinking from saturation attacks by Iran’s vast number of surface to surface anti-ship missiles, swarm attacks by Iran’s missile and torpedo boats, and speedboats laden with explosives piloted by suicide crews will be hard to fathom. Iranian attacks on U.S. bases in Bahrain, the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia with ballistic and cruise missiles will also overwhelm available missile defenses.

This may sound like a bleak estimate, but I study, I read, and I know.

I don’t know how to end this article but it just seams to me that the President has sown the wind, leaving his military and people to reap the whirlwind. I sincerely hope that I am wrong. But as Admiral Josh Painter, played by the late actor and Senator Fred Thompson said in the Hunt for Red October: “This business will get out of control. It will get out of control and we’ll be lucky to live through it.” 

In 1920 T. E. Lawrence wrote of the continuing British intervention and occupation of Iraq: “The people of England have been led in Mesopotamia into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honour. They have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information. The Bagdad communiqués are belated, insincere, incomplete. Things have been far worse than we have been told, our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows. It is a disgrace to our imperial record, and may soon be too inflamed for any ordinary cure. We are to-day not far from a disaster.” 
I feel much as Lawrence did at this moment in time, and I so want to be wrong.

It is very late and I am tired. Likewise I only think that things will get much worse before they get better.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, Foreign Policy, History, iraq, iraq,afghanistan, middle east, Military, national security, News and current events, Political Commentary, Religion, terrorism, War on Terrorism

The Pinnacle of Naval Superiority or Obsolescence: The Battle Cruisers of 1920 and the Aircraft Carriers of 2020

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Artists Depiction of G3 Battlecruiser 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The next few days I will be reflecting on the old year and the coming new year, but tonight I decided to tweak and republish an article from about four years ago dealing with the battle cruisers being built by Great Britain, Japan, and the United States after the First World War. They represented the pinnacle of naval design for their era and would have been far superior to their adversaries had technology and war remained static. As Admiral Ernest King noted:

“Nothing remains static in war or military weapons, and it is consequently often dangerous to rely on courses suggested by apparent similarities in the past.”

As the First World War ended a new Naval Race was heating up. The United States had announced its intention during the war to build a navy second to none while Imperial Japan was making plans for a fleet that would give it superiority in the Western Pacific. The British, though still be far the largest naval power in the world were burdened by the massive costs of war and empire, but also seeking to maintain their naval dominance and to that end they were in the process of building a class of massive super-Dreadnought battleships, and Battle Cruisers.

Much of each powers actions in the coming years would be based on internal politics, foreign policy, and the simple economics of how much each power could afford to spend on their militaries after such a costly war. The result was the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 which limited the signatories to specific numbers, tonnage, and armaments each Navy would be allowed. Do to those reasons the massive Battle Cruisers planned by Britain, the United States and Japan were canceled. The Japanese and Americans would choose to convert two of their incomplete ships to aircraft carriers, while the British would convert the already completed ships of the Courageous Class battlecruisers (Courageous, Glorious, and Furious) into aircraft carriers as though none of the G3 ships had been laid down.

The ships known as the G3 battle cruisers were first designed by the British Royal Navy as a compliment to the all big gun Dreadnought battleships. The Battle Cruiser concept was for a ship of roughly the same size and firepower as a Battleship, but sacrificed armor protection for greater speed, endurance and range.  The United States and Japan joined in the Battle Cruiser race before and during the war. However, Britain the United States had concentrated on building battleships during the war but following the war began to design and build its own classes of massive battle cruisers.

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HMS Invincible Blowing Up at Jutland 

During the war the weaknesses of the battlecruisers as a type were exposed during the Battle of Jutland where three British Battle Cruisers, the HMS InvincibleHMS Indefatigable and HMS Queen Mary blew up with the loss of most of their crews; of the 3311 officers and sailors on the ships only 26 survived. The HMS Lion was almost lost in a similar manner but the heroic actions of her crew saved her from her sisters fate. The British ships had glaring deficiencies in armor protection and the arrangement of their ammunition magazines and hoists which certainly contributed to their loss. Their German counterparts on the other hand proved much tougher and though all sustained heavy damage while engaging British Battleships and Battle Cruisers, only one the Lützow was lost. She absorbed over 30 hits from large caliber shells and only lost 128 crew members. However, though a battle cruiser Lützow, and other German battle cruisers wer designed for relatively short range operations which meant they neither sacrificed armor protection, speed, or firepower as did the British ships which were designed for missions far and wide, needing more displacement for fuel and crew supplies, often sacrificing armor protection in order to maintain their high speed capabilities.

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HMS Hood

As the war progressed other Battle Cruisers were built, the British launched the HMS Repulse and HMS Renown and completed the HMS Hood shortly after the war was over. The Japanese built the four ship Kongo class from a British design, the first of which, the Kongo was completed in a British yard, the others Haruna, Hiei, and Kirishima were built in Japanese yards. The Kongo Class would prove to be the workhorses of the Battle Force of the Imperial Japanese Navy, all seeing significant combat action.

As the powers embarked on the next Naval Race planners and naval architects designed ships of massive firepower, better protection and higher range and speed. All would have been better classed as Fast Battleships, a better description of the Kongo Class or the Hood than previous ships.

The British designed and funded the G3 class in 1921, while the Japanese began work on the Amagi Class, and the United States the Lexington Class. However the construction and completion of these ships as Battle Cruisers was prevented by the Washington Naval Treaty.

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The treaty, which was ratified in 1922 limited the United States and Great Britain to a maximum of 525,000 tons in their battle ship fleets and 125,000 tons in aircraft carriers.  The Japanese agreed to a limit of 315,000 tons and the French and Italians 175,000 tons each. Tonnage for battleships was limited to a maximum of 35,000 tons with a limitation on guns size to 16 inches.  Since the bulk of the ships planned or being built by the US and Japan exceeded those limits they would be effected more than the British whose post war shipbuilding program had not begun in earnest, in fact the G3 Class had just been approved for construction and there is no proof that construction had begun on any of the ships.

The G3 class would have comprised four ships and been similar to the N3 Class Battleships. They were very well balanced ships and would have mounted nine 16” guns in three turrets on a displacement of 49,200 tons and deep load of 54,774 tons. They had an all or nothing protection plan meaning that the armored belt was concentrated in vital areas around the armored citadel, conning tower, turrets and magazines and engineering spaces. Their armor belt would have ranged from 12-14 inches, deck armor from 3-8 inches, conning tower 8 inches, barbettes 11-14 inches, turrets 13-17 inches and bulkheads 10-12 inches. Their propulsion system of 20 small tube boilers powering 4 geared steam turbines connected to 4 propeller shafts would have produced 160,000 shp with a designed speed of 32 knots.

The four ships, none of which were named were ordered between October and November of 1921. Their construction was suspended on November 18th 1921 and they and the N3 Battleships were cancelled in February 1922 due to the limitations of the Washington Naval Treaty. Many concepts of their design were incorporated in the Nelson Class battleships which were a compromise design built to stay within the limits of the treaty.

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Amagi Class as Designed, Akagi as Completed (below) 

JapaneseAircraftCarrierAkagi3Deck_cropped

The four planned Japanese Amagi Class ships would have mounted ten 16” guns on a displacement of 47,000 tons at full load. Their propulsion system 19 Kampon boilers powering four Gihon turbines would have given them a maximum speed of 30 knots, They would have had less protection than the G3 ships being more of a traditional Battle Cruiser design. As a result of the Washington Naval Treaty the Japanese elected to convert two of the ships, the Amagi and Akagi to aircraft carriers. Amagi was destroyed on the ways during the great Tokyo earthquake and Akagi was completed as a carrier. The other two vessels were scrapped on the ways. To replace Amagi the Imperial Navy selected the incomplete Tosa Class battleship Kaga. 

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The United States Navy planned the six ship Lexington Class. These ships would have mounted eight 16” guns on a ship measuring 874 feet long and 105 feet in beam, displacing 43,254 tons at full load, or nearly the size of the Iowa Class battleships. They would have had a maximum speed of 33 knots being powered by 16 boilers which drove 4 GE electric turbines producing 180,000 shaft horse power. Theirs was a massive engineering plant and while the class did not have as heavy armor protection as either the G3 or Amagi classes, they were superior to them in speed as well as endurance. Upon ratification of the Washington Naval Treaty four of the six ships were cancelled and the remaining two, the Lexington and Saratoga competed as aircraft carriers.  Had any of the ships been completed as Battle Cruisers it is likely due to their speed that they would have operated primarily with the the carriers that the US Navy built during the 1930s.

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One can only speculate what the navies of World War II would have looked like had the Washington and the subsequent London Naval Treaties not been ratified. One can also only imagine how the war at sea would have been different had the ships completed as carriers been completed as Battle Cruisers. It is certain had the Royal Navy, the Imperial Japanese Navy, and the United States Navy Not Converter These ships, that Naval Aviation would have take years, or maybe more than decades to reach its potential.

However that was not to be, of the planned 14 ships of these three classes only three were completed, all as aircraft carriers, ships that helped to forge the future of naval operations and warfare for nearly a century. Thus the uncompleted ships are an interesting footnote in naval history yet have their own mystique.

                 HMS Queen Elizabeth 

Yet nothing remains static. The carriers have ruled the waves since December 7th 1941. But the massive aircraft carriers which have ruled the seas since the Second World War are not necessarily invincible and depending on how technology progresses could be heading into obsolescence, and may end up serving in support roles or being paid off. Yet that being said the United States is continuing to construct carriers of the Ford Class, the British the Queen Elizabeth Class, while the Chinese and Indian Navies pursue the development of new super carriers, while the French Navy operates the CVN Charles De Gaulle.  

But with the development of more and more relatively cheap, long range, and maneuverable land based anti-ship missile systems, and the capabilities of modern submarines we have to ask the legitimate question, is the aircraft carrier’s reign of the seas in jeopardy? This is a good question, but not the only one because since World War II there have been no carrier versus carrier engagements on the high seas. There are some places that are outside the range of land based anti-ship weapons, although submarines may prove a problem for surface forces to deal with, and for carriers their survival.

But since there have been no carrier versus carrier actions since the Second World War it would be interesting to see how the current carriers now operational or being developed would fare against each other if such an encounter occurred. It would be a test of air wings, ship design, and the protective capabilities of their escorts, as well as the cyber realm, on, above, and below the surface. Until such an engagement occurred all opinions, even those done in computer simulations are at best guesses as most of the weapons systems have never been tried in actual combat against peer competitors. Thus, like the carriers and their escorts designed before the Second World War, they will have to be tested in combat to see if they are still relevant in their designed role, or if they will be relegated to support roles which could be done by less costly alternatives such as the LHA/LHD type ships of the United States, France, Japan, and South Korea, or the the Sea Control Ship derivations in other smaller Navies in Europe and Asia.

Perhaps to meet some missions smaller and cheaper carriers will be developed, or existing platforms modified to carry more capable aircraft as the Japanese are doing with their Izumo and Hyuga Class “Helicopter Destroyers,” and the South Koreans are doing with their two Dokto Class LPH (Landing Platform Helicoptor) both of which may soon begin to operate the F35B fighter aircraft purchased from the United States, the same aircraft with will operate from United States Navy LHAs and LHDs as well as the British Queen Elizabeth Class. 

JMSDF “Helicopter Destroyer” Kaga 

Thus, one might wonder if the large new aircraft carriers currently being built by the United States, Britain, China, India, and other nations will also be displaced by advancing technology as were the battlecrusiers of the 1920s. It is a question that must be asked. There are certainly arguments for them, but what would the effect be on the United States Navy if one of the Nimitz or Ford Class carriers was sunk by the Chinese, or evening the Iranians? My guess is that it would be the same kind of shock that hit the Royal Navy after Jutland, and the U.S. Navy after Pearl Harbor.

I still believe in the aircraft carrier, as a weapon of deterrence, support of operations ashore, and against enemy ships on the high seas. But eight decades is a long run for any weapons system, and it is possible that despite the major power’s investment in carriers, that their reign may be coming to an end, at the same time it may be too early to count out the Super Carriers. Perhaps their mission will be modified to support smaller ships in sea control missions and reserved for potential combat with countries which have no answer to them, or against similar platforms in open ocean battles.

USS Gerald R. Ford 

I believe that the future has not been decided in relation to the aircraft carrier and much of that will have to do with how the operators of such vessels adapt to a changing world with many more threats, in order to maximize their capabilities while minimizing the dangers to such expensive national security assets. This is the aspect of war and national security that is within the control of human beings. I think of Admiral Arleigh Burke’s words at times like this:

“For in this modern world, the instruments of warfare are not solely for waging war. Far more importantly, they are the means for controlling peace. Naval officers must therefore understand not only how to fight a war, but how to use the tremendous power which they operate to sustain a world of liberty and justice, without unleashing the powerful instruments of destruction and chaos that they have at their command.”

he other possibility is that the navies that operate them decide that they are too expensive, and that their vulnerabilities outweigh their capabilities. This was the case in the 1920s with the battlecruisers then under construction.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, Military, national security, Navy Ships, News and current events, US Navy, World War II at Sea

Wacht am Rhein: The Battle of the Bulge at 75, Still So Much to be Learned

battle-bulge

Friend’s of Padre Steve’s World,

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the beginning of the German offensive known as Wacht am Rhein, but better known as the Ardennes Offensive or it’s popular name The Battle of the Bulge. The battle was for all intents and purposes a suicide mission for the remnants of the German Wehrmacht, Waffen SS, and Luftwaffe Paratroop divisions.

The offensive was the brainchild of Adolf Hitler, who over the objections of many military leaders, who wanted to conserve their last remaining Panzer and infantry reserves for holding back the final Soviet attack in the East, while preserving just enough strength to hold the West Wall defenses, while preserving fuel reserves to counter Allied incursions into the heart of the Reich. It was an all or nothing gamble by the German dictator, who had succeeded in many of his military gambles earlier in the war. However, now desperately trying to change the course of the war, he threw his best forces into a battle with almost no chance of success; but such is how despots in dire situations react. They become even more desperate to win.

Such could happen today with the United States. After 18 years of war our forces, though considered the strongest in the world are functionally broken. The numbers of Army combat brigades, Air Force and Navy Air Wings, and Navy ships and battle groups unable to deploy remains staggering, and forces remain stretched to meet peacetime missions and deployments, even while still engaged in parts to the Middle East and Central Asia. There is also the real possibility of war on the Korean Peninsula, the South China Sea, the Middle East, the Persian Gulf with Iran, or on the Eastern areas of NATO. None of these need necessarily happen, but could through mistakes caused by wrong intelligence, misguided policy, or unstable authoritarian leaders looking to shore up support at home by engaging in war. Any such war will not necessarily lead to the end of the United States, as Hitler’s did the Third Reich’s, but any would make the wars of the past 18 years look like child’s play. The human and material casualties will dwarf those wars and the very real threat of physical and cyber terrorism could destroy the economy and give whoever remains in charge the opportunity to create a police state and dictatorship.

Since President Trump has for the most part torn down the Constitutional and institutional guardrails against such an action, whether by him or any subsequent President, nothing can be regarded as impossible. As Trump feels the pressure of impeachment or the possible loss of office in the 2020 elections, his behavior may become more erratic, and either intentionally or unintentionally bring about an American Götterdämmerung.

So until tomorrow, and maybe some more from Sophie Scholl and the White Rose, I wish you a good night.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Hitler’s Decision 

 

Adolf Hitler gathered with the Chiefs of Oberkommando des Wehrmachton September 16th 1944 at his “Wolf’s Lair” headquarters in East Prussia.  The situation was critical; he had recently survived an assassination attempt by Army officers led by Colonel Klaus Von Staufenberg at his Wolf’s Lair headquarters in East Prussia.  When the assassination attempt took place the German situation in Normandy was critical.

The Americans broke out of the Normandy Bocage at St. Lo and spread out across Brittany and the interior of France with Patton’s 3rd Army leading the way.  Even as his commanders in the West pleaded for permission to withdraw to the Seine Hitler forbade withdraw and ordered a counter attack at Mortain to try to close the gap in the German line and isolate American forces. When the German offensive failed the German front collapsed. 40,000 troops, hundreds of tanks and thousands of vehicles were eliminated when the Americans and Canadians closed the Falaise pocket.

Despite this cadres of decimated divisions including SS Panzer, Army Panzer and elite Paratroops made their way out of Normandy.  With the Germans in full retreat the Allies advanced to the border of the Reich itself. On the Eastern Front as well disaster threatened when the Red Army launched an Operation Bagration which annihilated the German Army Group Center, wiping out over 300,000 German troops. The Red Army advanced to the border of Poland before outrunning supply lines and stalling on the Vistula River just shy of Warsaw.

Tiger II Advancing in the Ardennes

Since Normandy Hitler had wanted to counter attack but had neither the forces nor the opportunity to strike the Allied armies. As the Allied offensive ground to a halt due to combat losses, lack of supplies and stiffening German resistance Hitler maintained a close eye on the situation in the West.  He believed that despite their success that the Americans and British alliance was weak and that a decisive blow could cause one or both to drop out of the war. During a briefing an officer noted the events of the day on the Western Front including a minor counterattack by kampfgrüppen of the 2nd SS Panzer and the 2nd Panzer Divisions which had made minor gains in the Ardennes, Hitler rose from his seat ““Stop!” He exclaimed. “I have come to a momentous decision. I shall go over to the counterattack….Out of the Ardennes, with the objective Antwerp.””[i]

 Thus began the planning for the last great German offensive of WWII.  Hitler “believed that sufficient damage could be inflicted to fracture the Anglo-American alliance, buy time to strike anew against the Soviets, and allow his swelling arsenal of V-weapons to change the course of the war.”[ii]  It was a course of born of desperation, even admitted by Hitler in his briefings to assembled commanders in the week prior to the offensive, one officer noted his remarks: “Gentlemen, if our breakthrough via Liege to Antwerp is not successful, we will be approaching an end to the war which will be extremely bloody. Time is not working for us, but against us. This is really the last opportunity to turn the war in our favor.”[iii]

US Soldiers manhandling a 57mm Anti-Tank Gun into Position

Despite shortages of men and equipment, continuous Allied assaults and over the objections of General Guderian who argued to reinforce the Eastern Front[iv], the OKW staff secretly developed detailed plans. The planning was so secretive that the “Commander in Chief West and the other senior commanders destined to carry out the attack were not informed.”[v] The plans were submitted to Hitler on October 9th [vi] and presented to Field Marshalls Von Rundstedt and Model at the End of October. General Hasso Von Manteuffel, commander of 5th Panzer Army commented that: “The plan for the Ardennes offensive…drawn up completely by O.K.W. and sent to us as a cut and dried “Führer order.”[vii]  Likewise Model and Von Rundstedt objected to the scope of the attack. Von Rundstedt stated: “I was staggered…It was obvious to me that the available forces were way too small for such an extremely ambitious plan. Model took the same view of it as I did….”[viii]  Model, who is sometime referred to as “Hitler’s Field Marshall”, reportedly said to General Hans Krebs: “This plan hasn’t got a damned leg to stand on.”[ix] And “you can tell your Führer from me, that Model won’t have any part of it.”[x] Sepp Dietrich, the old SS fighter and commander of 6th Panzer Army expressed similar sentiments.[xi]  Despite the objections by so many senior commanders Hitler scorned Model’s attempt to float a less ambitious plan to reduce the Allied salient at Aachen. Likewise Von Rundstedt’s desire to remain of the defense and wait for the Allies to attack using the armored forces to launch against any breakthrough was rejected.[xii] Hitler’s mind was set and the preparations moved forward.  The plan was complete down to the timing of the artillery bombardment and axes of advance, and “endorsed in the Führer’s own handwriting “not to be altered.””[xiii] Such a plan flew in the face of the well established doctrine of the Auftragstaktik which gave commanders at all levels the freedom of action to develop the battle as the situation allowed and opportunities arose.

SS General Sepp Dietrich Commander of the 6th SS Panzer Army

The Allies also made mistakes in calculating German capabilities because of their success after Normandy. The Germans who the Allies presumed to be at the brink of collapse made a miraculous  recovery following their ghastly losses in Normandy. Kampfgrüppen and remnants of divisions bled the Americans at the Huertgen Forrest and blunted the British attempt to leapfrog the Northern Rhine at Arnhem decimated the British First Airborne division and causing heavy casualties among other British and American units during Operation Market Garden.

The German 15th Army avoided disaster when the British failed to close their escape route from Walchern island allowing 60,000 troops and much equipment to escape.  The Germans we’re able reform, reorganize, and stabilize the front by October. They pulled back many units of the 5th and 6th Panzer Armies for re-fitting and diverted nearly all tank, armored fighting vehicle and artillery production to the West at the expense of the Eastern Front.

The Germans called up 17 year olds and transferred young fit personnel from the Navy and Luftwaffe to the Army and Waffen SS.  Here they were trained by experienced NCOs and officers and brought into veteran units alongside hardened veterans who showed taught them the lessons of 5 years of war.[xiv]  However the rapid influx of new personnel meant that they could not be assimilated as quickly as needed and thus many were not as well trained as they might have been with more time.[xv] Many infantry and Parachute units had received inexperienced officers, taken from garrison duty, simply because so many experienced officers were dead, to fill key positions a problem that would show up frequently during the offensive.[xvi]

Panzer IV Ausf H of an SS Panzer Divsion in the Bulge

 The Germans were aided by the caution displayed by the Allies throughout the campaign in France which allowed the Germans to reconstitute formations around veteran headquarters staffs.[xvii]  The Germans built up the 5th and 6thPanzer Armies as the Schwerpunkt of the offensive giving them the lion’s share of reinforcements and pulling them out of the line during the fall battles along the Seigfried line and in the Alsace and Lorraine.  The plan was for the two Panzer armies and 7th Army to punch through the Ardennes, cross the Meuse, drive across Belgium, capture Antwerp and severe the link between the British and the Americans.

The spearhead of the assault was 6th Panzer Army Commanded by SS General Sepp Dietrich. It was composed of 1st and 2nd SS Panzer Corps and Army’s LXVII Corps.  The 6th SS Panzer Army included some of the best formations available to the German Army at this late stage of the war including the 1st  SS Panzer Division, the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, the 2nd  SS Panzer Division Das Reich, the 9th SS Panzer Division Hohenstaufen and the12th  SS Panzer Division Hitler Jügend. It’s ranks were filled out by the 3rd Parachute Division, the 501st SS Heavy Tank Battalion (attached to 1st SS), the 3rd Panzer Grenadier Division and the 12th, 246th, 272nd, 277th and 326th Volksgrenadier or Infantry divisions. The 6th Panzer Army would be the northern thrust of the offensive and its ultimate objective was Antwerp.  The 6th Panzer Army would be aided by a hastily organized parachute battalion under Colonel Von Der Heydte[xviii] and the 150th Panzer Brigade under SS Colonel Otto Skorzeny which included teams of American dialect speaking soldiers in American uniforms and equipment that were to spread confusion and panic in American rear areas.[xix]

Bradley, Eisenhower and Patton at Bastogne

 To the south was the 5th Panzer Army commanded by General Hasso Von Manteuffel.  The 5th Panzer Army was to advance alongside of the 6th Panzer Army with Brussels as its objective.  Composed of the XLVII and LVIII Panzer Corps and LXVI Corps the major subordinate commands included the best of the Army Panzer divisions including the 2nd Panzer, Panzer Lehr, 9th and the16thPanzer division. It also had the elite Führer Begleit Brigade composed of troops from Panzer Corps Grossdeutschland and commanded by Otto Remer who had help crush the coup against Hitler in July.  The 5th Panzer Army also included the 18th, 26th, 62nd, 560th and later the 167th Volksgrenadier divisions.

The south flank was guarded by 7th Army commanded by General Erich Brandenburger composed of LIII, LXXX and LXXXV Corps.  It included the Führer Grenadier Brigade and later the 15th Panzergrenadier division.  It was the weakest of the three armies but eventually included 6Volksgrenadierdivisions of varying quality and strength[xx] and the veteran 5th Parachute division.[xxi]  However with only 4 divisions at the start of the offensive the 7th Army was the equivalent of a reinforced corps.

While this force seemed formidable it had a number of weaknesses beginning with tank strength.  The 1st and 12th SS Panzer divisions were only at approximately half their established tank strengths and faced severe shortages in other vehicles.[xxii]  2nd SS and 9th SS of II SS Panzer Corps reported similar shortages.[xxiii]The shortage of other motorized vehicles, even in Panzer divisions was acute.  “Even the best equipped divisions had no more than 80 percent of the vehicles called for under their tables of equipment, and one Panzergrenadier division had sixty different types of motor vehicles, a logistician’s nightmare”.[xxiv] Panzer Lehr was so short in armored half tracks that only one battalion of its Panzer Grenadiers could be transported in them while others had to use “trucks or bicycles.”[xxv]

Limitations on equipment as well as fuel were not the only challenges that the Germans faced. The US V Corps launched an attack on the Roer River Dams just before the offensive making it necessary for the Germans to divert some of the  6th SS Panzer Army’s infantry divisions and Jagdpanzer units to be used by 6th SS Panzer Army away from the offensive.  One regiment of 3rd Parachute Division and over half of a second division could not take part in the initial 6th Panzer Army attack. Likewise some Jagdpanzer and Sturmgeschutzen units did not arrive until three days after the offensive began.[xxvi]

Allied Response: Before the Battle

While the German commanders sought to implement Hitler’s plan Allied commanders looked only to completing the destruction of Germany not believing the Germans capable of any major operation.  The Allied commanders with the exception of Patton did not believe the Germans capable of any more than local counter attacks.  Patton’s 3rd Army G-2 Colonel Koch was the only intelligence officer to credit the Germans with the ability to attack.[xxvii]  Most allied commanders and intelligence officers discounted the German ability to recover from disastrous losses, something that they should have learned in Holland or learned from the Soviet experiences on the Eastern front.  Bradley noted in his memoirs “I had greatly underestimated the enemy’s offensive capabilities.”[xxviii]  Carlo D’Este noted that “there was another basic reason why the Allies were about to be caught with their pants down: “Everyone at SHAEF was thinking offensively, about what they could do to the enemy, and never about what the enemy might do to them.””[xxix]   This mindset was amazing due to the amount of intelligence from Ultra and reports from frontline units that major German forces were no longer in the line.[xxx] Additionally nearly all commentators note that American units in the Ardennes did not conduct aggressive patrols to keep the enemy off balance and obtain intelligence.[xxxi]  One describes the efforts of 106th Division as “lackadaisical” and notes that enemy before the offensive was not the Germans but the cold.[xxxii] Max Hastings noted that: “the Allies’ failure to anticipate Hitler’s assault was the most notorious intelligence disaster of the war.”[xxxiii]

The Allies also were in the midst of a manpower crisis. Eisenhower did not have enough divisions to establish a clear manpower advantage as “there were not enough Anglo-American divisions, or enough replacements for casualties in the existing divisions.”[xxxiv]  No more American Infantry divisions were available as the Army had been capped at 90 divisions and infantry replacements were in short supply.  This shortage meant that Eisenhower could not pull divisions out of line to rest and refit. He could only transfer divisions such as the 4th and 28thInfantry divisions to the relative quiet of the Ardennes. He had no ability to “create a strategic reserve unless he abandoned the broad front strategy.”[xxxv]The Germans knew of the allied weakness and believed that they could achieve local superiority even if they did not believe they could reach Antwerp. Model believed that “he was sure that he would reach the Meuse in strength before the Americans could move sufficient reserves to halt his armies or even head them off.”[xxxvi]

The German Breakthrough and American Response

German-Troops-at-the-Battle-of-the-Bulge

The German assault began on December 16th. Some breakthroughs were made especially in the vicinity of the Losheim Gap and the Schnee Eifel by the southern elements of 6th Panzer Army and Manteuffel’s 5th Panzer Army. However the Germans could not break through around Monschau and Elsenborn Ridge held by the inexperienced but well trained 99th Infantry division and elements of the veteran 2nd “Indianhead” Division.  In the far south near Diekirch the 4th Infantry Division held stubbornly against the attacks of 7thArmy’s Volksgrenadiers. The Germans achieved their greatest success at Losheim where SS Colonel Josef Peiper and his 1st SS Panzer Regiment had driven off the US 14th Cavalry Group and penetrated 6 miles into the American front.  5th Panzer Army made several breakthroughs and isolated two regiments of newly arrived 106th Infantry Division in the Schnee Eifel. Manteufel also pressed the 28th Division hard along the Clerf River, Skyline Ridge and Clairvaux.

Yet at ‘no point on that first day did the Germans gain all of their objectives.”[xxxvii]  The credit goes to US units that stubbornly held on, but also to the poor performance of many German infantry units.  German commanders were frustrated by their infantry’s failure even as the panzers broke through the American lines.  Manteuffel noted his infantry was “incapable of carrying out the attack with the necessary violence.”[xxxviii]

US Airborne Commanders James Gavin (R) and Matthew Ridgeway (L)

 The initial Allied command response to the attack by senior commanders varied.  Bradley believed it was a spoiling attack “to try and force a shift of Patton’s troops from the Saar offensive back to the Ardennes.”[xxxix] Courtney Hodges of 1st Army agreed with Bradley and refused to allow General Gerow, commander of V Corps to call off 2nd Infantry Division’s attack against the Roer dams on the 16th in order to face the German offensive.[xl]  Gerow was one of the first American commanders to recognize the scope of the German attack but Hodges, perhaps the least competent senior American commander in Europe failed to heed Gerow’s advice. Soon after making this decision Hodges “panicked” and evacuated his headquarters at Spa fearing that it would be overrun by the advancing Germans.[xli] Eisenhower when informed of the news realized that something major was occurring and ordered the 7th Armored Division from the 9th Army and 10th Armored Division from 3rd Army into the Ardennes. On the 17th he made other dispositions and released the 82nd and 101stAirborne Divisions from SHAEF reserve at Rheims to the Ardennes under the command of XVIII Airborne Corps.[xlii]  However during this short amount of time Mantueffel’s panzers had advanced 20 miles.

SS Panzer Troops of Kampfgruppe Knittel on the advance.  Photo has often been identified for decades in books and other publications as Waffen-SS Colonel Joachim Peiper the commanding officer of the 1st SS Panzer Regiment and Kampfgruppe Peiper. This has been refuted by recent study.  Peiper is pictured below.

At the command level Eisenhower made a controversial, but correct decsion to divide the command of the Bulge placing on a temporary basis all forces in the northern sector under Montgomery and leaving those to the south under Bradley.  Montgomery according to one commentary initially “had been astonishingly tactful in handing his American subordinates.”[xliii] However he quickly made himself obnoxious to many American commanders.[xliv]Following the battle Montgomery made the situation worse by claiming to have saved the Americans and giving credit to British units which scarcely engaged during the battle.[xlv]  Eisenhower also ordered Patton to launch a counter-attack along the southern flank of the German advance.  However Patton was already working on such an eventuality and promised to be able to launch a counterattack with three divisions by the 22nd.[xlvi]  Bradley praised Patton highly in his memoirs noting: “Patton’s brilliant shift of 3rd Army from its bridgehead in the Saar to the snow-covered Ardennes front became one of the most astonishing feats of generalship of our campaign in the West.”[xlvii]

The Americans Hold the Shoulders 

  688px-Bulge_stvithroad_1945jan24_375

The 99th Division’s position was precarious, its right flank was subject to being turned and it was suffering severely at the hands of 12 SS Panzer and several Volksgrenadier divisions.  Gerow reinforced the 99th with elements of the 2nd Infantry division even before he had the final authorization to end its attack.  The two divisions stubbornly held Elsenborn Ridge and the villages of Rockerath, Krinkelt and Büllingen. By the 20th the 9th and 1st Infantry divisions arrived to strengthen the defense and lengthen the line to prevent it from being rolled up by the Germans.  The stubborn resistance of the Americans and arrival of reinforcements meant line was proof “against anything Sepp Dietrich might hurl against it”[xlviii]  By the 23rd Dietrich and 6th SS Panzer Army conceded defeat at Elsenborn and “turned its offensive attentions to other sectors.”[xlix]  German commanders like General Priess the commander of 1st SS Panzer Corps believed that terrain and road network in this sector was unfavorable to the German offensive and had proposed moving the attack further south.[l]  The Panzers could not deploy properly and the German infantry was not up to the task of driving the Americans out of their positions before the reinforcements arrived.

In the south the 4th Infantry Division held the line though heavily pressed by Brandenburger’s 7th Army.  The division was reinforced by elements of both 9thand 10th Armored divisions on the 17th and generally held its line along the Sauer River around Echternach “largely because the left flank of the enemy assault lacked the power-and particularly the armor-of the thrust farther north.”[li]

Turning Point: The Destruction of Kampfgruppe Peiper

While V Corps fought the 6th Panzer Army to a standstill, to the south 1stSS Panzer Division led by Kampfgrüppe Peiper split the seam between V Corps and VIII Corps. The Kampfgrüppe moved west leaving a brutal path of destruction in its wake, including massacres of American POWs and Belgian civilians.[lii]  However its advance was marked with difficulty. On the night of the 17th it failed to take Stavelot. After clearing the American defenders from the town after a hard fight on the 19th it failed to capture a major American fuel dump a few miles beyond the town.  When the Germans approached the American commander ordered his troops to pour 124,000 gallons down the road leading to the dump and set it on fire, depriving the Germans of badly needed fuel.[liii]  Combat Engineers from the 291st Engineer Battalion blew a key bridge across the Ambleve at Trois Ponts and another bridge across the Lienne Creek which left the Germans bottled up in the Ambleve River valley.  This bought time for the 30th Infantry Division to set up positions barring Peiper from the Meuse.  The 30th would be joined by Combat Command B of 3rd Armored Division and elements of 82nd Airborne. These units eventually forced Peiper to abandon his equipment and extricate some 800 troops by foot by the 23rd after a hard fight with the Americans who had barred his every effort to break through to the Meuse.

Turning Point: The Crossroads: St Vith & Bastogne

American_7th_Armored_Division_Shermans_taking_up_positions_outside_St._Vith,_1944

The battle rapidly became focused on key roads and junctions, in particular St. Vith in the north and Bastogne in the south.  At St. Vith the 7thArmored Division under General Hasbrouck, who Chester Wilmont calls one of the “great men of the Ardennes”[liv] completed a fifty mile road march from Aachen to St. Vith.  On his arrival he deployed his combat commands around the town which was the key to the road network in the north and also to the only rail line running west through the Ardennes.[lv]  Hasbrouck gathered in Colonel Hoge’s Combat Command B of 9th Armored Division and the 424th Infantry Regiment of the 106th Division into his defensive scheme as well as the survivors of the 112th Infantry Regiment of the 28th Infantry Division which had escaped the German onslaught after holding as long as possible along the Clerf River and Skyline Drive.[lvi]  With these units Hasbrouck conducted “an eight-day stand that was as critical and courageous, as the defense of Bastogne.”[lvii]  After holding the Germans at St. Vith the units were withdrawn to another defensive position along the Salm and Ourthe Rivers and the village of Viesalm.  This was done at the behest of Montgomery and General Ridgeway of XVII Airborne Corps whose 82nd Airborne had moved into that area on the 19th.  The arrival of the 82nd greatly assisted Hasbrouck’s force holding St. Vith whose defenders had lost an estimated 5000 casualties.[lviii]

The stand at St. Vith confined the “confined the Sixth Panzer Army’s penetration to a chokingly narrow corridor.”[lix]  It also posed a problem for German command and control which because it was out of the 6th Panzer Army’s area of operations Dietrich was unable to lend his weight into the fight.  “Hitler himself had strictly prohibited deviations from the zonal boundaries”[lx] which left the fight for St. Vith in the hands of 5th Panzer Army who felt the impact of the stand as the Americans “also choked off one of the Fifth Panzer Army’s best routes to Bastogne, almost nullifying the significance of the captured road junction at Houffalize.”[lxi] 

EA-48892

To the south of St. Vith lay Bastogne, another key road junction needed by 5thPanzer Army for its advance.  On the night of the18th Panzer Lehr division came within two miles of the town before being checked by resistance by units of the 10th Armored division, remnants of 28th Division and misdirection by “friendly” Belgian guides onto a muddy path that helped halt their advance.[lxii]  This gave the 101st Airborne just enough time to get to the town and prevent its capture. The siege of Bastogne and its defense by the 101st elements of 9th and 10thArmored Divisions and 28th Division became an epic stand against Manteuffel’s Panzers which had surged around the town.  Wilmont comments that “had the Germans won the race for Bastogne, Manteuffel’s armor would have had a clear run to Dinant and Namur on December 19th and 20th” [lxiii] when there were only scattered American units between them and the Meuse. Manteuffel b bypassed Bastonge after the failure to capture it and masked it with 26thVolksgrenadier Division and a regiment of Panzer Lehr.  The remainder of Panzer Lehr and the 2nd Panzer Division moved to the west. [lxiv]  The garrison endured numerous attacks and on the 22nd one of the most celebrated incidents of the war took place when Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe responded to a demand for the surrender of the town with the reply; “Nuts.”  The town would continue to hold until relieved by 3rd Army on the afternoon of December 26th.[lxv]

The American Counterattack

 

The Allied counterattack began with 3rd Army in the south on 21 December.  Patton’s initially proposed to attack toward the base of the Bulge in order to cut off the largest number of Germans possible.  Eisenhower dictated an attack further west with the goal of relieving Bastogne.  Eisenhower wanted to delay the attack to concentrate combat power while Patton wanted to attack sooner in order to ensure surprise. Patton got his way but attacked on a wide front.  The attack lost its impetus and bogged down into a slugging match with 7th Army’s infantry and paratroops along the southern flank. [lxvi]  Patton’s failure to concentrate his forc forces for the advance to the north diminished his combat power.[lxvii] While Patton attacked from the south the 1st Army dealt with the advanced spearhead of 2nd Panzer Division which had reached the town of Celles and ran out of gas just four miles from Dinant and the Meuse. The 84thInfantry Division stopped the 116th Panzer division from being able to effect a relief of the 2nd Panzer the US 2nd Armored Division and allied fighter bombers chopped up the virtually immobile 2nd Panzer division completing that task by the 26th.[lxviii]  

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To the north Montgomery launched a cautious counterattack which slowly and methodically took back lost ground but allowed many Germans to escape. While Montgomery moved south Patton faced heavy German resistance from elements of 5th Panzer Army, reinforced by 1st SS Panzer Corps and 7th Army.  The rupture in the American front was not repaired until 17 January when the American forces met at Houffalize.[lxix] Bradley took over for Montgomery and the Americans pushed the Germans slowly back across the Clerf River by the 23rd.  The advance was hampered by tough German resistance and terrible weather which forced much of the attack to be made by dismounted troops as the roads had completely frozen over.[lxx]

The Allied counter attack has been criticized for allowing too many Germans to escape what could have been a major encirclement.  Patton recognized the incompleteness of the victory in the Ardennes stating: ““We want to catch as many Germans as possible, but he is pulling out.” The “but” clause, the note of regret, the awareness of the imperfection of his victories typified Patton.””[lxxi]  Patton in his memoirs noted: “In making the attack we were wholly ignorant of what was ahead of us, but we were determined to strike through to Bastogne.”[lxxii] Max Hastings simply said: “the Allies were content with success.”[lxxiii]  Murray and Millett place blame on Bradley and Hodges for choosing “merely to drive the enemy out of the Ardennes rather than destroy him.”[lxxiv]

Analysis: Could Wacht Am Rhein Have Worked?

Could Wacht am Rhein worked?  If much was different, yes. Success of the operation depended more on ifs that the Germans could not control, than events they had the power to influence. If the German had been stronger in tanks and vehicles and had adequate stocks of fuel; if their infantry was better trained, and had the Americans not resisted so stubbornly it might have at least got to the Meuse.  Perhaps if the the bad weather held keeping Allied air forces away from the Germans, or had St. Vith and Bastogne been taken by the 18th or 19th, they might have reached the Meuse. Likewise, had the Germans executed their plan and coordinated their assault better[lxxv] in the 6thPanzer Army sector, and had the 7th Army enough strength to conduct offensive operations in depth and secure the left flank the attack might have succeeded. But only revisionists and fiction writers could construct such success.

Because the Americans held the shoulders and road junctions, Manteuffel’s 5thPanzer Army, the only force besides the regimental sized Kampfgrüppe Peiper to actually threaten the Meuse was forced to advance while attempting to take Bastogne and defeat 3rd Army’s counterattack. Whether they could have made Antwerp is another matter.  Nearly all German commanders felt the offensive could not take Antwerp but did believe that they could inflict a defeat on the Allies and destroy a significant amount of allied combat power.

The German offense was a desperate gamble.  Too few divisions, scant supplies of petrol and ammunition, formations that had recently been rebuilt and not given enough time to train to the standard needed for offensive operations coupled with Hitler’s insistence on an unalterable plan kept them from success. It was a part of Hitler’s Cloud Cukoo Land.

At the same time the Allies were so weak in troops and overstretched because of their losses during the Normandy Campaign, Market Garden, and the Huertgen Forrest, Eisenhower had no strategic reserve save the two American Airborne Divisions.  All reinforcements to the threatened sector had to come from the flanks and by the middle of the battle the 9th Army was drawn down to two divisions.

Russell Weigley noted how the constraints imposed by the 90 division Army, and of the limited stocks of artillery ammunition hurt the allies.[lxxvi] If the Germans had more forces they might have inflicted a significant defeat on the Allies had they been able to reinforce their success in depth. Despite this they still inflicted punishing losses on the Americans though suffering greatly themselves.  Hastings noted that the real beneficiaries of the Ardennes offensive were the Russians.[lxxvii]  In the end the conclusion had to be that German success was unlikely and that the offensive could have never achieved Hitler’s goals of taking Antwerp and fracturing the British-American alliance.

A Postscript About other Parts of the Campaign in France

The Riviera and Rhone

The campaign in south France was strategically wise although opposed by the British to the last minute because they felt it would take away from Overlord.[lxxviii] Though delayed the campaign was well executed by 7th Army, particularly Lt. General Lucian Truscott’s VI Corps of 3 American divisions. Truscott believed “destroying the enemy army was the goal”[lxxix] managed the battle well and skillfully maneuvered his small forces against Blaskowitz’s 19thArmy inflicting heavy losses, though some German commanders noted the caution of American infantry in the attack.[lxxx]  Only Blaskowitz’s tactical skills and the weakness of the American force prevented the Germans from disaster. The seizure of Marseilles and Toulon provided the allies with sorely needed ports that were invaluable to sustain the campaign.[lxxxi]

The Lorraine Campaign

Patton attacked in the Lorraine with the goal of crossing the Moselle river and attempting to break into Germany. He doing so he ran into some of the strongest German forces on the front and his troops became bogged down in the poor terrain and mud of the region.[lxxxii]  Patton was convinced that he was delayed in making his assault due to his place “at the far end of the logistics queue.” during Market Garden. [lxxxiii] Despite Patton’s efforts, German forces skillfully defended the ancient fortress of city Metz forcing the Americans into a protracted campaign to clear the area with the last strongpoint surrendering on 13 December.  Patton is criticized for his failure to concentrate his forces[lxxxiv] but American tactics were less to blame than the weather, German resistance and shortages of infantry.[lxxxv] In some cases American infantry units performed admirably, particularly 80th Division’s assault on the Falkenburg Stellung.[lxxxvi]Liddell Hart criticized the Allies for failing to attack through the then weakly defended Ardennes, commenting: “By taking what appeared to be the easier paths into Germany the Allies met greater difficulties.”[lxxxvii]

The Huertgen Forrest

The Huertgen Forrest was the worst managed American fight Western European campaign. [lxxxviii] General Courtney Hodges leadership was poor.[lxxxix] In the Huertgen he fed division after division into a battle that made no strategic sense.  American infantry performed poorly and took extremely heavy casualties leaving four divisions shattered.[xc]  Poor American tactics demonstrated by attacking into a forest in poor weather without concentration negated all of Hodges’ advantages in tanks, artillery and airpower. The forest contained no significant German forces capable of threatening any American advance[xci] and its gain offered little advantage.[xcii] Hastings noted that the gains the only saving grace was that it made it easier for the northern shoulder of the Bulge to hold[xciii]  General Model and his subordinates expertly handled their handful of excellent but weary divisions in this battle using terrain, weather and prepared defensive positions to contest nearly every yard of the Forrest.[xciv]

Conclusions

The lessons of the Bulge and the other campaigns on the German-French border are many and can be gleaned from Allied and German mistakes. On the Allied side the most glaring mistakes were assumptions prior to the German attack that the Germans were incapable of any serious offensive and ignoring the fact that the Germans had attacked through the Ardennes in 1940.  Likewise the self limitation of the American Army to 90 divisions for world-wide service meant that there were no more divisions in the pipeline and that worn out divisions would have to be reinforced with inexperienced troops while in the front line which ensured a lack of cohesiveness in many divisions, especially the infantry.  Allied intelligence failures as well as their reliance of forces much smaller than they should have had for such a campaign ensured that they would suffer heavy losses in the Bulge while poor planning and execution by Hodges wasted many good troops in a senseless battle.  The Germans were hamstrung by Hitler’s fantasy that the Western Allies could be forced out of the war or the Alliance split by a defeat in the Ardennes.  Likewise German forces, even those so quickly reconstituted were often short troops, tanks and vehicles.  German commanders were forced by Hitler’s rigid insistence on not altering the plan to not be as flexible as they might have been in earlier offensives to adjust according to the situation on the ground.

None of these attitudes is exclusive to the Allied and German commanders during the campaign in France and the Battle of the Bulge. They are common throughout history and have been repeated in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan by the United States military. It would be easy for Americans to believe that in future conflicts we will be victorious when despite our massive military budgets many if not most of our combat forces could not be deployed to a conflict at short notice and those in theater could be overwhelmed by enemies who exploit our weaknesses rather than directly engage our strengths.

Notes


[i] Dupay, Trevor N.  Hitler’s Last Gamble: The Battle of the Bulge December 1944-January 1945Harper Collins Publishers, New York NY 1994 p.2.

[ii] Hastings, Max. Armageddon:  The Battle for Germany 1944-1945 Alfred A Knopf, New York NY 2004 p.197.

[iii] Reynolds, Michael. Sons of the Reich: II SS Panzer Corps; Normandy, Arnhem, Ardennes, and on the Eastern Front.  Casemate Publishing, Havertown PA 2002 p.186

[iv] Ibid. p.198

[v] Warlimont, Walter. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-1945 translated by R.H. Barry. Presidio Press, San Francisco, CA 1964. p. 480

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Liddell Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. Originally published 1948, Quill Publishers Edition, New York 1979 p.274.

[viii] Liddell Hart, B.H. The History of the Second World War G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York NY 1970. p.646.

[ix] MacDonald, Charles B. A Time for Trumpets: The Untold Story of the Battle of the Bulge William Morrow and Company, New York, NY 1985 p.35.

[x] [x] Newton, Steven H. Hitler’s Commander: Field Marshal Walter Model, Hitler’s Favorite General.DeCapo Press, Cambridge MA 2005. p.329

[xi] Ibid. Hastings p.198.  Hastings quotes Dietrich: “All Hitler wants me to do is cross a river, capture Brussels, then go on and take Antwerp. And all this at the worst time of year through the Ardennes when the snow is waist-deep and there isn’t enough room to deploy four tanks abreast let alone armored divisions. When it doesn’t get light until eight and it’s dark again by four and with re-formed divisions made up chiefly of kids and sick old men-and at Christmas.”

[xii] Ibid. Liddell-Hart The German Generals Talk p.276

[xiii] Wilmont, Chester. The Struggle for Europe Harper and Brothers Publishers, New York, NY 1952 p.576

[xiv] Ibid. p.557.

[xv] Ibid. Hastings. p.199. Hastings notes that Manteuffel said: “It was not that his soldiers now lacked determination of drive; what they lacked were weapons and equipment of every sort. Von Manteuffel also considered the German infantry ill trained.”

[xvi] Ibid. Dupay.p.47  Dupay notes that in 3rd Parachute Division that most of the regimental commanders had no combat experience.

[xvii] Weigley, Russell  F. Eisenhower’s Lieutenants: The Campaign in France and Germany 1944-1945. Indiana University Press, Bloomington IN 1981 p.432.  Weigley speaks of Allied caution and predictable strategy, caution in logistical planning which did not allow the Allies to provide the fuel needs for a rapid drive into Germany and caution of operational commanders.

[xviii] Liddell Hart discusses the issue of paratroops at length in discussions with Manteuffel and General Kurt Student. At the time of the operation there were very few jump trained paratroops available for the operation as most of the 6 organized Parachute Divisions were committed to battle as infantry during the 1944 battles in the East, Italy and in the West. German Generals Talk pp.282-285.  Although Liddell Hart makes note of the employment of these troops and talked with Model and student about why they were not used to seize bridges and other critical terrain featured ahead of the Panzers instead of the use as a blocking force, I have found no one who questioned why the Germans did not use small glider detachments for the same purpose.  The Germans had demonstrated with Skorzeny when they rescued Mussolini from his mountain prison that they still retained this capability.  The use of the SS Paratroop battalion which could have been assigned to Skorzeny as a glider borne force could have been decisive in capturing the key bridges and terrain ahead of 6thPanzer Army.

[xix] Skorzeny’s operation was Operation Greif designed to sow confusion in the Allied Ranks.  His brigade numbered about 3500 men and had a good number of captured US vehicles including some tanks and tank-destroyers on hand to confuse American units that they came in contact with.

[xx] Ibid. Hastings.  p. 199.  Hastings quotes the Adjutant of 18th Volksgrenadier Division who “felt confident of his unit’s officers, but not of the men “some were very inexperienced and paid the price.”  MacDonald notes that the division had many Navy and Air Force replacements but was at full strength. p.646.

[xxi] See MacDonland pp. 644-655 for a detailed commentary on the German Order of Battle.

[xxii] Reynolds, Michael. Men of Steel: 1st SS Panzer Corps;  The Ardennes and Eastern Front 1944-1945 Sarpendon Publishers, Rockville Center NY, 1999. pp.36-37.  Reynolds notes that the 1st SS Panzer Regiment only had 36 Panthers and 34 Mark IV Panzers to begin the operation (excluding the attached 501st SS Heavy Tank Battalion).  He also notes that many of the tank crew replacements had no more than 6 weeks of military training and some of the tank crews had never been in a tank.  Similar problems were found in all the Panzer Divisions.  Severe shortages of armored half tracks, reconnaissance vehicles and other vehicles meant that Panzer Grenadier and Motorized battalions lacked the lift needed and some went on foot or on bicycles.

[xxiii] Ibid. Reynolds. Sons of the Reich. P.183

[xxiv] Ibid. MacDonald. p.44.

[xxv] Ibid.

[xxvi] Ibid. Dupay pp. 27-28.

[xxvii] Ibid. MacDonald. p.52.  MacDonald notes that Koch warned that the Germans were not finished, that “his withdraw, though continuing has not been a rout or mass collapse.” He calls Koch a “lone voice” in the Allied intelligence world.

[xxviii] Bradley, Omar  N. A Soldier’s Story Henry Holt and Company, New York NY 1951. p.459.  Weigley makes some poignant calling Bradley’s comments  “contradictory” and states that: “his apologia is hardly a model of coherence. (p.461)

[xxix]  D’Este, Carlo. Eisenhower: A Soldier’s Life Owl Books, Henry Holt and Company, New York NY 2002. p.638

[xxx] Dupay and others talk about this in detail. See Dupay pp. 35-44.

[xxxi] Ibid. p.38.

[xxxii] Ibid. Hastings. p.201

[xxxiii] Ibid. Hastings. p.199

[xxxiv] Ibid. Weigley. p.464

[xxxv] Ibid.

[xxxvi] Ibid. Wilmont. P.581.

[xxxvii] Ibid. p.583

[xxxviii] Ibid. Hastings. p.223

[xxxix] Ibid. Weigley. P.457

[xl] Ibid. p.471

[xli] Ibid. Hastings. pp.205-206

[xlii] Ibid. Wilmont. pp.583-584

[xliii] Murray, Williamson and Millett, Allan R. A War to Be Won: Fighting the Second World War The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge Massachusetts and London England, 2000 p.470 The authors must base their conclusion on the fact that Montgomery who mentioned to Eisenhower that Hodges might have to be relieved, did not do so and by the next day told Eisenhower that the action was not needed.  A  few other American commanders in the north were favorable to Montgomery but this appears to be a minority view.

[xliv] Ibid. Weigley. pp.504-506.  Weigley and Wilmont both note the comment of a British Staff Officer the Montgomery “strode into Hodges HQ like Christ come to cleanse the temple.” (Wilmont p.592)

[xlv] Ibid. Hastings. pp.230-232.  Hastings is especially critical of Montgomery.  Weigley, equally critical notes regarding  the January 7th press conference, Montgomery’s “inability to be self critical at any point.” p.566.

[xlvi] Ibid. Weigley. p.500.

[xlvii] Ibid. Bradley. p.472  Other commentators differ in their view of Patton’s movement.  Wilmont notes that Patton had no “equal in the on the Allied side in the rapid deployment of troops. (p.589) Weigley urges readers that “it should be kept in appropriate perspective; it was not a unique stroke of genius.” And he compares it to Guderians disengagement with Panzer Group 4 and 90 degree change of direction and assault against the Kiev pocket in the 1941 Russian campaign (p.500)  Hastings notes that “Patton had shown himself skilled in driving his forces into action and gaining credit for their successes. But he proved less effective in managing a tough, tight battle on the southern flank.” (p.230)  Regardless of the perspective and criticism Patton’s movement was unequaled by any Allied commander in the war and had he not moved so quickly the 101st Airborne might not have held Bastogne. Admittedly his attack north was dispersed along a wide front but part of the blame for this must be assigned to Eisenhower who dictated the attack toward the west vice the base of the Bulge where Patton desired to make it.  A note I would make is that being a cavalryman Patton thought like one and when faced with the tight battles in close quarters was not at his best.  Similar comparisons could be made to J.E.B. Stuart at Chancellorsville when he had to take command of Jackson’s Corps.

[xlviii] Ibid. Weigley. p.475

[xlix] Ibid. p.474

[l] Ibid. Reynolds Men of Steel pp.51-52.

[li] Ibid. Weigley. p.470

[lii] The worst of these took place at the village of Malmedy where Battery B 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion of 7th Armored Division was captured and about 150 soldiers were rounded up and machined gunned in a field with survivors killed with pistol shots in the head.

[liii] Ibid. Weigley. pp.478-479.

[liv] Ibid. Wilmont. p.584

[lv] Ibid. Weigley. p.487

[lvi] Ibid. Weigley. pp.486-487

[lvii] Ibid. Hastings. p.215. Hastings gives most of the credit to Brigadier General Bruce Clarke of CCB 7th Armored Division for the stand.

[lviii] Ibid. MacDonald. 481-487.  MacDonald notes that following the war that the commanders of the units involved “would be grateful to Field Marshal Montgomery for getting them out of what they saw as a deathtrap for their commands. (p.487)

[lix] Ibid. Weigley. p.487

[lx] Ibid.

[lxi] Ibid.

[lxii] Ibid. Hastings. p.217 Also  MacDonald. p.289 who talks of the confused situation east of Bastogne both for the Americans and Germans.

[lxiii] Ibid. Wilmont. p.598

[lxiv] Ibid. Liddel Hart. The German Generals Talk. p.288

[lxv] The defense of Bastogne would continue until after the 1st of January as Hitler renewed the attempts to secure the town in order to push on to the Meuse. Other German formations including units of 1st SS Panzer Corps shifted south from their original attack would make determined efforts to dislodge the stubborn American defenders.

[lxvi] Ibid. Weigley. pp.500-501.  Bradley gives Patton more credit than later commentators. Wilmont notes that the Germans though “amazed at the speed with which Patton had disengaged from the Saar and wheeled them northward…they received due warning of his movement by monitoring the radio net which controlled American traffic, and they were braced to meet his assault. (p.599).

[lxvii] Ibid. Weigely. Pp.520-521

[lxviii] Ibid.  pp.535-537

[lxix] Ibid. pp. 558-561

[lxx] Ibid. pp.563-564

[lxxi] Ibid. p.566.

[lxxii] Patton, George S. War as I Knew It  Originally published by Houghton Mifflin Company NY 1947, Bantam Paperback Edition,  Bantam Books, New York, NY 1980 p.364

[lxxiii] Ibid. Hastings. p.230

[lxxiv] Ibid. Murray and Millett p.471.

[lxxv] Hastings notes that “Tactically, the Ardennes was one of the worst-conducted German battles of the war, perhaps reflecting that none of the generals giving the orders saw any prospect of success. (p.236)

[lxxvi] Ibid. Weigley. pp.567-572

[lxxvii] Ibid. Hastings. p.236-237.  Hastings believes that the employment of the 5th and 6th Panzer Armies in the East “made the task of Zhukov and his colleagues much harder.”

[lxxviii] Ibid. Weigley. p.236. I find it interesting that neither Hastings nor Liddell Hart mention the Riviera and Rhone campaign.

[lxxix] Ibid. Weigley. p.236

[lxxx] Giziowski, Richard. The Enigma of General Blaskowitz  Hippocrene Books Inc. New York NY, 1997. p.328

[lxxxi] Ibid.  Weigley comments on how much the overall supply situation was aided by the operation and capture of the ports and notes that the pace of the Cobra breakout had created a crisis in supply and “without the southern French ports the crisis would have been insurmountable.” (p.237)

[lxxxii] Ibid. p.397.  Weigley notes: “The immobilizing mud and the enemy’s recalcitrant resistance had fragmented the battle into affairs of squads, platoons, companies and battalions….and Patton’s juniors more than he controlled the course of action, to the extent that control was possible.”

[lxxxiii] Ibid. p.384

[lxxxiv] Ibid. p.390 Weigley states: “The American disinclination to concentrate power was rarely more apparent.” comparing the frontages of 1st, 9th and 3rdArmies and notes that Patton attacked along his entire front.”

[lxxxv] Ibid. Weigley. pp.400-401.  Weigley spends a fair amount of time on American infantry shortages in 3rd Army.

[lxxxvi] Ibid. Weigly. P.400.  Weigley notes a German General Wellm attributed part of that victory to the “prowess of the American infantry.”

[lxxxvii] Ibid. Liddell Hart. The History of the Second World War p.560

[lxxxviii] Hastings and Weigley both note how many American division and regimental commanders were relieved of command for their failures in the Huertgen.

[lxxxix] Ibid. Hastings. p.179.  Hastings notes that “instead of recognizing the folly of attacking on terrain that suited the Germans so well, Courtney Hodges reinforced failure.”

[xc] Ibid. Weigley. p.420.  Weigley notes the high numbers of ballet and non battle casualties in the 4th, 8th, 9th and 28th Divisions as well as CCR of 5thArmored and 2nd Ranger Battalion.

[xci] Ibid. Hastings. p.275.  Hastings notes that defending 275th Division “were poor grade troops who-like the garrison of Aachen posed no plausible threat to the flanks of an American advance to the Roer.”

[xcii] Weigley compares the battle in its effect on the American army to Grants “destruction of the Confederate army in the Wilderness-Spotsylvania-Cold Harbor campaign expended many proud old Union army formations…” (p.438)

[xciii] Ibid. Hastings. p.215

[xciv] Ibid. Newton. p.324

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“An Exercise in Exceptions” Faith in the Evil Age of Trump

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The English Mathematician and founder of Process Philosophy, Alfred North Whitehead wrote:

Religion carries two sorts of people in two entirely opposite directions: the mild and gentle people it carries towards mercy and justice; the persecuting people it carries into fiendish sadistic cruelty…” 

I find much truth in Whitehead’s words. Those who follow my writings know how much I struggle with faith and doubt on a daily basis. I believe, but as the man told Jesus when he asked Jesus to heal his child “I believe, help my unbelief.” I no longer believe in the “absolute truths” that I once believed.

Of course to some this makes me a heretic or worse. That being said, as a Christian, I have faith in a God I cannot see or prove. I have faith in a God who Scripture and Tradition clothes himself in human weakness and allows himself to be killed based on the trumped up charges of corrupt and fearful religious leaders aided by fearful politicians. For me this is part of being a theologian of the Cross in a post-Auschwitz world.

Jürgen Moltmann, a German theologian who wrote the book The Crucified God answered a question about believing in God after Auschwitz:

“A shattering expression of the theologia crucis which is suggested in the rabbinic theology of God’s humiliation of himself is to be found in Night, a book written by E. Wiesel, a survivor of Auschwitz:

The SS hanged two Jewish men and a youth in front of the whole camp. The men died quickly, but the death throes of the youth lasted for half an hour. ‘Where is God? Where is he?’ someone asked behind me. As the youth still hung in torment for a long time, I heard the man call again, ‘Where is God now?’ And I heard a voice in myself answer: ‘Where is he? He is here. He is hanging there on the gallows…’

Any other answer would be blasphemy. There cannot be any other Christian answer to the question of this torment. To speak here of a God who could not suffer would make God a demon. To speak here of an absolute God would make God an annihilating nothingness. To speak here of an indifferent God would condemn men to indifference.

(Jurgen Moltmann, The Crucified God, p 273-274)

In answer to the question “How can we believe in God after Auschwitz he responded:

“In whom can we believe after Auschwitz if not God?

Likewise, Rabbi Emil Fackenheim noted:

If we abandoned our faith in God after Auschwitz, we would give Hitler a posthumous victory.

And as long as we know that the ‘Sh’ma Yisrael’ and the ‘Our Father’ prayers were prayed in Auschwitz, we must not give up our faith in God.”

Thus, while I believe, I have a problem with Christians or members of other religions try to use the police power of state to enforce their beliefs on others. In this belief I am much like the great Virginia Baptist leader, John Leland who was a driving force behind the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights who wrote:

“Is conformity of sentiments in matters of religion essential to the happiness of civil government? Not at all. Government has no more to do with the religious opinions of men than it has with the principles of mathematics. Let every man speak freely without fear–maintain the principles that he believes–worship according to his own faith, either one God, three Gods, no God, or twenty Gods; and let government protect him in so doing, i.e., see that he meets with no personal abuse or loss of property for his religious opinions. Instead of discouraging him with proscriptions, fines, confiscation or death, let him be encouraged, as a free man, to bring forth his arguments and maintain his points with all boldness; then if his doctrine is false it will be confuted, and if it is true (though ever so novel) let others credit it. When every man has this liberty what can he wish for more? A liberal man asks for nothing more of government.”

When it comes to God, I believe, but my doubts are all too real. Frankly I cringe when I hear religious people speaking with absolute certitude about things that they ultimately cannot prove, and that includes the concept of justice, which cannot always be measured in absolutes.

Captain Jean Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) noted in the Star Trek the Next Generation episode Justice: 

“I don’t know how to communicate this, or even if it is possible. But the question of justice has concerned me greatly of late. And I say to any creature who may be listening, there can be no justice so long as laws are absolute. Even life itself is an exercise in exceptions.”

I have found and learned to accept that life as we know it “is an exercise in exceptions.”  We all make them, and the Bible and the history of the church is full of them. So I have a hard time with people who claim an absolute certitude in beliefs that wish to impose on others.

True believers frequently wrap themselves in the certitude of their faith. They espouse doctrines that are unprovable and then build complex doctrinal systems to prove them, systems that then which must be defended, sometimes to the death. Eric Hoffer wrote:

A doctrine insulates the devout not only against the realities around them but also against their own selves. The fanatical believer is not conscious of his envy, malice, pettiness and dishonesty. There is a wall of words between his consciousness and his real self.”

Henri Nouwen, the Priest who wrote the classic book on pastoral care, The Wounded Healer, and many other works wrote:

Theological formation is the gradual and often painful discovery of God’s incomprehensibility. You can be competent in many things, but you cannot be competent in God.” 

No one can be competent in God, I certainly am not. I am sure that even well meaning people who claim to be are hopelessly deluded, and those that those that use their alleged competence in God to prop up evil are far worse, they are evil men masquerading as good.

Those men and women that speak of absolutes and want to use the Bible or any other religious text as some sort of rule book that they alone can interpret need to ask themselves this question, “When has justice ever been as simple as a rulebook?” The Bible is not a rule book, but a story of imperfect people trying to understand and live an experience with a being that they, like us, can only imagine and often misunderstand.

Sadly too many people, Christians, Moslems, Jews, Hindus, and others apply their own misconceptions and prejudices to their scriptures and use them as a weapon of temporal and divine judgement on all who they oppose. However, as history, life and even our scriptures testify, that none of us can absolutely claim to know the absolutes of God. As Captain Picard noted “life itself is an exercise in exceptions.” 

It takes true wisdom to know when and how to make these exceptions, wisdom based on reason, grace and mercy. Justice, is to apply the law in fairness and equity, knowing that even our best attempts can be misguided. If instead of reason we appeal to emotion, hatred, prejudice or vengeance and clothe them in the language of righteousness, what we call justice can be more evil than any evil it is supposed to correct, no matter what our motivation.

But we see it all too often, religious people and others misusing faith or ideology to condemn those they do not understand or with whom they disagree. It is happening again.

When such people gain power, especially when the do so supporting a leader who is they tend to expand that power into the realm of theocratic absolutism and despotism. As Captain Jean Luc Picard noted in the Start Trek Next Generation episode The Drumhead: 

“We think we’ve come so far. Torture of heretics, burning of witches it’s all ancient history. Then – before you can blink an eye – suddenly it threatens to start all over again.”

It is happening, all around the world, and it could easily happen here. The unwavering support of Evangelical, Charismatic/Pentecostal, and other conservative Christians for Trump, people who believe that anyone who opposes Trump is an enemy of God demonstrates that.  Our founders realized how easily it could happen, and they warned us about it; but they are dead, and neither Trump or his followers give a damn about them or the Constitution that they crafted.

How can it not be. This is nothing new. In discussions with aides concerned about the more onerous provisions of the Patriot Act renewal, President George W. Bush became aggravated and shouted: “Stop throwing the Constitution in my face,… It’s just a goddamned piece of paper!”

Personally I, believe that Bush uttered those words in a time of stress and anger. Could he have been reacting emotionally to resistance from his staff? I think that is a real possibility that is the case. On the other hand, it could have been what he really thought of the Constitution, especially in light of the fact that of many of his staff, cabinet, and advisors had all been convicted of crimes during the Reagan administration. Many would influence Bush’s decision to attack Iraq in 2003. But I digress.

Many followers of the current President are far more dangerous than Trump, because they will outlast him by a generation, or more, always waiting for the chance to grab power by any means possible. A prime example is the heretical and money grubbing Paula White, who is now the President’s “spiritual advisor.” Likewise they are true believers in authoritarian, theocratic government, and are no better than the Taliban, the Iranian Ayatollahs, or the Saudi Mullahs.

Trump is a problem, and he needs to be impeached and convicted, or voted out of office, I personally believe him to be malfeasant and evil, but some of his action and behaviors could be related to some form of dementia, that has only made his narcissist tendencies worse.

But his supporters should know better, especially the ones who claim to be Observant Christians, or Jews. How anyone who supposedly studies the Jewish and Christian scriptures and traditions, yet supports and defends Trump is beyond me. It is more about faith than politics for me, though mine do often intersect. Being “pro-life” means much more than being “anti-abortion.” Being “pro-Christian morality” means more than being “anti-gay.” Being pro-Religious Freedom means more than being more than supporting policies that only benefit Christians, and I am a Christian. Some may take exception to that, Conservative Christians especially, but those of other religious as well as non-believers as well. However, it has been my experience that Atheists and Agnostics, as well as others that do not subscribe to my faith hold the Constitution in higher regard than most of the Christians that I know, or for than matter Muslims who have grown up as citizens in this country, and serve in our Armed Forces.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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“You Went Along With it All…” A Warning to Those Who Claim “Gott Mit Uns” in Terms of Nationalism and Criminal Wars

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

One of the more sobering war movies that I have ever watched is the film Stalingrad. Released in 1993 it is the story of four soldiers of a platoon of soldiers of the 336th Pioneer Battalion. The Pioneers were the equivalent of American Combat Engineers. It is a sobering film to watch. In a way it is much like the film Platoon. Director Joseph Vilsmaier made the battle and the human suffering come alive with realism. There is no happy ending and there are few if any heroes. The men see, protest, are punished, and then are ordered to participate in war crimes.

The battle of Stalingrad was one of the turning points of the Second World War, over a million Russian, German, Romanian, and Italian Soldiers died in the battle. Of the 260,000 soldiers of the German Sixth Army which led the attack in Stalingrad and then were surrounded by the Soviet counter-offensive, very few survived. Some escaped because they were evacuated by transport planes, but most perished. Of the approximately 91,000 German soldiers that surrendered only about 6,000 returned home.

I’ll write about that battle again around Christmas and on the anniversary of its surrender at the end of January, but there are two sequences of dialogue that stood out to me. The first is at the beginning of the battle where a German Chaplain exhorts the soldier to fight against the “Godless Bolsheviks” because the Germans believed in God and the officially Atheistic Soviet Union and its people did not. In his exhortation the Chaplain calls attentional the belt buckles worn by every soldier in the Wehrmacht, which were embossed with the words Gott mit Uns, or God is with us.

In light of President Trump first pardoning and then appearing with convicted war criminals at a campaign dinner, I have a hard time believing that God can be with a nation which with each passing day becomes less and less free, and where the Church by and large has fallen in line with a lawless and Godless President, a man who sincerely believes that as President he is above the law and that his words trump the law, even the laws of God.

Likewise, in the reports released today, American Administrations, not just Trump’s, but the Bush and Obama administrations as well as the Defense Department have been lying about the Afghanistan campaign for years; claiming success while the reality on the ground was far different. If we had a public that actually cared about the truth, as well as the troops, this scandal would burn as bright as the release of the Pentagon Papers during Vietnam.

I am a a military Chaplain. I have been one since 1992, and the older I get the more distrustful I am of men who place a veneer of region over the most ungodly and unjust wars. For me that was frightening because I do know from experience that the temptation to do such things when in uniform is all too great, but how can anyone exhort people to acts of criminality in the name of God? I know that it is done far too often and I hate to admit I personally know, or know of American military chaplains who would say the same thing as the German Chaplain depicted in the film. Back in the Cold War while serving as an officer before I became a Chaplain I used to talk about the Godless Communists.

The second question is also difficult. I have been in the military for about thirty-seven plus years. Truthfully I am a dinosaur. I am the second most senior and the oldest sailor on my base. I have served during the Cold War as a company commander, was mobilized as a chaplain to support the Bosnia operation in 1996, I have served in the Korean DMZ, at sea during Operation Enduring Freedom and Southern Watch, and with American advisors to the Iraqi Army, Police, and Border troops in Al Anbar Province. I have seen too much of war but even though I could retire from the military today I still believe that I am called to serve and care for the men and women who will go into harm’s way.

That being said those who have read my writings on this site for years know just how anti-war I have become and why this dialogue hits so hard. Some of the members of the platoon are accused of cowardice and sent to a penal company in order to redeem themselves. The commander of the unit, a Captain who hold the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross is confronted by one of the men.

Otto: You know we don’t stand a chance. Why not surrender?

Captain Hermann Musk: You know what would happen if we do.

Otto: Do we deserve any better?

Captain Hermann Musk: Otto, I’m not a Nazi.

Otto: No, you’re worse. Lousy officers. You went along with it all, even though you knew who was in charge.

That is something that bothers me even today. I wonder about the men who go along with wars which cannot be classified as anything other than war crimes based on the precedents set by Americans at Nuremberg, and I am not without my own guilt. In 2003 I had my own misgivings about the invasion of Iraq, but I wholeheartedly supported it and volunteered to go there.

I was all too much like the German Captain. I went along with it despite my doubts. As a voter I could have cast my vote for John Kerry in 2004, but I didn’t. Instead I supported a President who launched a war of aggression that by every definition fits the charges leveled against the leaders of the Nazi state at Nuremberg. When I was in Iraq I saw things that changed me and I have written in much detail about them on this site, but I supported that initial invasion.

Now as a nation we are in a place where a man who openly advocates breaking the Geneva and Hague Conventions, supports the use of torture, and who both beats the drums of war, to the extent of appointing one of the most strident proponents of the invasion of Iraq as his National Security Advisor, before firing him a year later.

Likewise, the President holds the professional military, and State Department in contempt appears to be angling for war in the Middle East against Iran even as he excuses the criminal actions of Saudi Arabia in Yemen and against American residents, as was demonstrated in his wholehearted defense of Saudis after one of their officers killed three American military personnel at Pensacola Naval Air Station on Friday.

I have no doubt that unless something changes that a terrible war is coming and that our President will be a catalyst for it. But for the next eight and a half months before I retire, I will remain in the military to care for the sailors, soldiers, marines, and airmen who will have to go to war and perhaps fight and die.

The thought haunts me and makes it hard for me to sleep at night and I do my best to speak up and be truthful in fulfillment of my priestly vows and my oath of office. Today, unlike my younger years; one thing for me is true: I will never tell any military member that God is with us in the sense that all too many Christian nationalists have done in the past.

I don’t actually think that I ever said the words “God is with us” in regards to advocating war in my career as a Chaplain, but I am sure that my words, and public prayers could have been interpreted in that way when I was younger, especially in the traumatic days after September 11th, 2001.

Likewise, I did go along with the war in Iraq even though I understood what it meant! and what the men and women who engineered it wanted when they took us to war. Sadly, I trusted my leaders too much, especially when Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke before the United Nations to prove the case against Iraq just before the invasion.

Supreme Justice Robert Jackson, who served as the Chief American Prosecutor at Nuremberg stated in the London Agreement:

“If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.”

Now we live in a world where nationalism, ethnic, racial, and religious hatred are rising, and our own President seems to be abandoning the democratic and pluralistic ideas of or founders, while praising and tacitly supporting authoritarian and Fascist rulers around the world. Honestly, I dread what may befall us if he remains in power, or if someone worse follows him, backed of course by those who believe that God is with them. They of course are the true believers and as Eric Hoffer wrote:

“The impression somehow prevails that the true believer, particularly the religious individual, is a humble person. The truth is the surrendering and humbling of the self bred pride and arrogance. The true believer is apt to see himself as one of the chosen, the salt of the earth, the light of the world, a prince disguised in meekness, who is destined to inherit the earth and the kingdom of heaven too. He who is not of his faith is evil; he who will not listen will perish.”

Most of the German troops at Stalingrad marched into that battle believing a similar creed. I would dare say that many, if not most of the Trump followers, inside and outside the military believe the same. A recent poll conducted of the military indicated that the military is divided in terms of Trump. Younger white and more junior officers, as well as enlisted personnel support Trump, while Well educated and experienced senior officers, women, and minorities Of both officer and enlisted ranks do not. That is not a good situation, years of right wing propaganda have had a huge effect on many in the military. It took my experience in Iraq to cure me of nearly two decades of exposure to it.

The question today, is will we do the same. I cannot. I have to echo the words of German General Henning von Tresckow, one of the men who died in the conspiracy to kill Hitler wrote a number of observations of his time that are quite applicable to our own:

“I cannot understand how people can still call themselves Christians and not be furious adversaries of Hitler’s regime.” And “We have to show the world that not all of us are like him. Otherwise, this will always be Hitler’s Germany.”

Personally, I cannot abide this being forever regarded as Trump’s America. So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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