Hit hard, quick, where it hurts

Harry G. Summers Jr.

February 19, 1991|By Harry G. Summers Jr.

FOR A hint of how the allied ground offensive in the Persian Gulf that many now believe is imminent would proceed, study the campaigns of Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in the Civil War. That's the advice of Field Manual 100-5, the Army's primary warfighting manual.

It's not the bloody 1864 battles of attrition (wearing down the enemy by brute force alone) at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor, where Grant lost 7,000 soldiers in the first eight minutes of an assault on the Confederate trenches, that are held up as examples. Rather it is the maneuver of his 1863 Vicksburg campaign which, the manual states, "exemplifies the qualities of a well-conceived, violently executed offensive plan."

In that campaign, Grant, cutting himself loose from his base of operations, masked his movements with raids and demonstrations and "setting a pace of operations so rapid that his enemies could not follow his activities," the manual says, "he defeated the forces of Gen. (Joseph E.) Johnston and (John C.) Pemberton in five successive engagements. He covered 200 miles in 19 days . . . driving the defenders of Vicksburg into their trenches . . .. Within six weeks . . . the Vicksburg garrison surrendered, giving the Union uncontested control of the Mississippi and dividing the Confederacy.

"The same speed, surprise, maneuver and decisive action will be required in the campaigns of the future," states FM 100-5. It goes on to quote approvingly British Field Marshal Viscount Slim's advice to "Hit the other fellow as quick as you can, as hard as you can, where it hurts him most, when he isn't looking."

Acknowledging that frontal attacks sometimes may be necessary, the manual points out that they should be undertaken "only when no other approach is possible or will accomplish the mission." Army and Marine Corps attack doctrines emphasize maneuver characterized by surprise, concentration, speed, flexibility and audacity.

Surprise is achieved by striking the enemy at a time or place, or in a manner, for which he is unprepared. As FM 100-5 points out, Germany's victory over France in May, 1940, for example, resulted in large measure from the surprise created by attacking through the "impassable" Ardennes Forest and notes that "four years later, German armies surprised American forces by attacking in the dead of winter over the very same ground."

Thus, those speculating on the timing of the beginning of the allied offensive in the Gulf, based on the best weather and the best terrain, may look in the wrong direction.

In words that almost certainly will apply, however, FM 100-5 points out that "deep ground attacks can achieve surprise simply through the rapidity with which they move, by confronting rearward enemy forces with a wholly unanticipated threat," and cites the Israeli attack in the Sinai in June, 1967, as an illustration of such surprise-gaining agility.

"Virtually all modern offensive operations have been characterized by sudden concentrations," states the manual, "followed by rapid, deep exploitations." Examples include Germany's attack through France in 1940, the Soviet attack into Manchuria in 1945, MacArthur's counteroffensive in Korea in 1950 and Israel's seizure of the Sinai in 1967. Although concentration of effort is essential to success, the great danger traditionally has been that by bringing your forces together in one place you present the enemy with an attractive target. This ** was especially true when the enemy had nuclear weapons or a significant air attack capability. Iraq has neither, making

concentration of allied ground forces a less risky endeavor.

Still, concentration can tip off the enemy as to where the main attack is coming from. As allied forces move forward into their attack positions, they must take care to "mask patterns of movement and preparatory activity which might reveal the direction or timing of attack," the manual says. Reports Sunday (Feb. 17) from the Gulf that the Iraqis have stepped up their reconnaissance-in-force efforts are evidence that the enemy knows an attack is coming and is trying to locate the points of allied force concentration.

Thanks in large measure to allied air operations, these enemy probes have been turned back, suffering heavy losses. In particularly timely words, FM 100-5 emphasizes that "tactical air operations will be vital at every stage of the attack -- offensive and defensive counter air to protect the concentration from detection and attack, reconnaissance and interdiction to delay and disrupt enemy counter-concentration, and close air support to weight the main effort and especially sustain the momentum of the attack."

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