View Full Version : Chasing U-Boats and Hunting Insurgents

01-18-2006, 09:12 AM
A unique - and interesting - comparison from the current issue of JFQ...

Lessons from an Underhand Way of War (http://www.ndu.edu/inss/Press/jfq_pages/editions/i40/i40_commentary_01.pdf)

...The soldier’s horror at “war in the shadows” and the sailor’s disgust at war “below the belt” are rooted in two sources. The first is a moral and professional revulsion against what is seen as a particularly nonheroic and inhumane form of warfare. Submarines and insurgents do not fight according the Western way of war, in which the opponents declare themselves and slug it out face to face. Because of the way submarines have been used in two World Wars, they and insurgents share a reputation for being indiscriminate. Because the U-boats refused to distinguish between civilian and military shipping, or between neutrals and enemies, they acquired the “terrorist” sobriquet. The second, more practical reason for the submarine and the insurgent’s ill repute has to do with the difficulty for the conventional sailor and soldier in finding—and therefore defeating—their respective opponents. Submarine and insurgency opponents involve asymmetric warfare; both have historically tied down disproportionately large numbers of forces. As many as 10 counterinsurgent or antisubmarine defenders can be needed for each enemy operative...

Tom Odom
01-18-2006, 03:20 PM
Overall I found the comparison stretched and in fundamentals flawed. First of all if you read the submarine and anti-submarine histories of WWII, you will find that in the professional Navy submarine warfare was accepted as a matter of course. In the eyes of the American (and generally Allied) press, abhorence at German pursuit of unrestricted submarine warfare was matched by absolute glee (especially in WWII) of US and Allied unrestricted submarine warfare.

Secondly I believe the British hesitation to shift back to convoys is overstated. The Brits--and especially the Canadians--became the masters of such operations by the time the US openly entered the war (versus the shadow war of 1939-1941). It is accurate to say that the Brits along with the US lagged behind in developing ASW technologies between the wars--as we did in most other technolgical fields as applied to warfare. We--the US--failed to field a reliable torpedo until (as I recall) late 1942 or early 1943.

Third the author misses two of the key elements in what became an EXTREMELY successful ASW fight by mid war. The enigma code breaking allowed much defensive success through U Boat (and Wolfpack) detection. Second the use of combat air patrols--especially the introduction of the Jeep Carrier task Force--meant the German U Boat force was driven umder. Innovations such as snorkels helped them survive; but they essentially surrendered all initiative once that happened. Indeed assignment to the U Boat force by late 43 into 44 was a death sentence.

As for COIN and strategies, I don't get his point beyond one cannot pursue a tactical military campaign as the sole element in COIN. I do not believe any commander sees such a tactical solution as the answer. he also seems to confuse/equate "search and destroy" ala Viet Nam with Cordon and Search in Iraq. The two are NOT the same.

Just as U-boat commanders were instructed to avoid tactical encounters with the convoy escorts and concentrate on the convoy itself, so insurgent violence is aimed less at the government’s and population’s
physical capacity to resist than their moral stamina.The defender’s strategic goal follows logically; it is to defeat the insurgent’s physical and moral capacity to create and sustain an environment of physical and moral insecurity.

And looking the above quote drawn from the conclusion, I have no disagreement with the idea. Indeed I believe it is on the mark. But I also see it as missing 50% of the point. If the solution is strategic, efforts at tactical solutions are not by defintion wasted. The ASW forces of WWII had to pursue tactical options even as they developed strategic (at least if you accept the premises of this paper) solutions. Tactical operations are a necessary corallary to strategic operations. Otherwise you end up with the extreme version of Liddel Hart's indirect approach: you never really have to fight. You out position the enemy until he gives up. Sometimes you have to fight and in COIN you have to be seen to be taking the fight to the enemy.

Now one thing that has not been mentioned on here or elsewhere as an offensive tool in COIN is the use of infiltrator/impersonator anti-insurgent forces along the lines used by the Brits agains the Mau Mau in Kenya with great success and by the Rhodesians (Selous Scouts) in that civil war. Perhaps a move along those lines might offer a blending of the tactical and strategic espoused by this paper.

Don't get me wrong. I do encourage reading this paper. It is as Jedburg states.
unique and interesting


01-18-2006, 04:35 PM
Interesting review of the use and success of the Morice Line in Algeria. I was surprised that the only comparison made was to the failed McNamara Line, and not to the Israeli Barrier or Indo-Paki barrier.

Tom Odom
01-18-2006, 07:30 PM
Same tactics applied in Rhodesia with belts of mines along the borders with Zambia and Mozambique. Somewhat effective but at the same time offered a ready supply of explosives for the audacious and lucky insurgent.

Another is the "good fence" established along the Israeli border with Lebanon; of course, the Israeli security zone established 1978 was actually north of the fence and included Major Haddad's South Lebanese Army.

Then again we can go waaaaaaay back to Hadrian's Wall in Britain or even the Great Wall of China.

I too was surprised that he would offer the McNamara "wall" which was an electronic sensor field reinforced with firepower, much the same way the US at times tracked the ever shifting Ho Chi Minh Trail. My very first platoon was the Unattended Ground Sensor platoon in the 82d that used the same systems. The 101st had one and the Marines had an equivalent structure.

01-18-2006, 08:09 PM
Then again we can go waaaaaaay back to Hadrian's Wall in Britain or even the Great Wall of China.
Since we're on the subject, last week's Economist had a bit of a sarcastic leader taking a swipe at proposals to build a barrier along the US-Mexican border that you may find amusing:

Bothersome neighbours? Build a fence. That's what the United States will do if the House of Representatives gets its way. Try as they will, the authorities seem unable to reduce very much the number of people who cross the Mexican border illegally. They are catching more—over 1m last year—but still they come, so the House has voted to put up some 1,125km (700 miles) of fencing—at a cost, it is said, of $2.2 billion.

The Mexicans think this is all rather unAmerican. Whereas Europeans nearly always mark the boundaries of their property with walls or picket fences—and the unsociable British sometimes retreat behind a hedge of Cupressocyparis leylandii—friendly Americans often erect no backyard barriers. Yet wasn't it Robert Frost, Yankee to the core, who said good fences make good neighbours? And, anyway, there is a homeland to protect these days. So the border will not be marked by a hedge, nor even a line of cactuses. It will get a proper security fence, complete with lights and cameras.

Don't say it won't work. Congressmen are not stupid. They know that the Maginot line, built to guard France's frontier with Germany, did not hold Hitler up for more than ten minutes in 1940: he simply went round the end. They also know that Germany's counterpart, the Siegfried line, did not perform much better, scarcely delaying the American Third Army at all in 1945. They know, too, that the Scots were wily enough to see that, if they scaled Hadrian's wall and jumped down the other side, they were in England, and the Welsh formed the same opinion about Offa's dyke. They know, too, that China's Great Wall proved no impediment to Genghis Khan when he started his big sweep early in the 13th century. In fact, if you take a trip into space, you may look down and see the remains of pointless walls all over the place—in Greece, Iran or Korea—and, if your eyes are good, you may even discern the remains of Jericho and Troy. Remember what happened to them.

Some of those lines and walls actually did do their job for a while, keeping the hordes back, or forcing them along to some spot where guards could resist them more easily, or just causing a bit of alarm and despondency. Even so, Congress was plainly not inspired by them. It obviously took heart from another, better wall: the “anti-fascist protection structure” put up in Berlin in 1961. It performed pretty well over 28 years, allowing only some 5,000 people to cross it illegally.

If Congress wants its anti-Mexican fence to be as effective, it should take some leaves out of the East German book. First, forget about lights and cameras; that's Hollywood stuff. Choose instead bunkers, anti-vehicle trenches, lots of concrete and even more barbed wire. Round all that off with minefields, booby-traps, tripwires and machinegun-posts. East Germany was virtually enclosed, so think big: the border barrier will have to be coast-to-coast, 3,200km long, and in the end a fence will not do. It will have to be a wall, as the East Germans discovered. If the Israelis had a bigger budget for their West Bank barrier, they might have gone straight to concrete for all of it, by-passing old-fashioned fencing altogether.

The downside, of course, is on the public-relations front. This just has to be accepted. In fact, all barriers designed to stop people going from one place to another have turned out to be as much about public relations as anything else. That's why China's emperors went on building the Great Wall long after Genghis Khan had shown it to be an utter failure at doing what it was supposed to do. Congress knows that—doesn't it?