Manouevre, Attrition and Future Army Cuts

#1
' ...Reductions in heavy armour, heavy artillery and the infantry will be accompanied by an increase in key specialists ….. to develop a more deployable, agile and flexible force.'

Rt Hon Geoff Hoon

http://news.mod.uk/news_headline_story.asp?newsItem_id=2959
‘In reality ‘manoeuvre’ and attrition are two ends to a dialectical problem and, doctrinal concepts aside, one without the other is vain... in an ideal world, it is necessary not to become too attached to 'manoeuvre'. This is reflected in a flexible American doctrine that gives credence to both approaches and advocates their use depending on the environment. Unfortunately this luxury is not available to Britain… In this respect, full adoption of 'manoeuvrism' is predominantly because 'it is attractive to a numerically inferior side, or to a stronger side which wishes to minimise the resources committed'.

[Clausewitz, Liddell Hart, and the 'Manoeuvrist Approach' P Robinson]


So, here’s my question. Are we manoeuvrist because we are small or are we small because we can achieve, relatively, so much by being manoeuvrist?
 
#2
Or are we small, because that is all we can afford?

msr
 
#3
I think manoeuvrism is a strategy of the numerically/technically inferior.

Wehrmacht - Smaller and technically inferior to the French Army.
Soviets and Americans - Used manoeuvre, but also knew how to apply attrition in a very big way.
British - Not historically very good at the manoeuvrist approach, relied on a great deal of atttition in WW2, until we started to run out of blokes. Manoeuvrist approach now relied upon because we are now technically/numerically inferior? Probably.

Perhaps the greatest modern proponents of the manoeuvrist approach are the Iraqi insurgents (amongst others). Avoiding strength and attacking weakness (Iraqi Police and NG, convoys), appears to be their tactic of choice.
 
#4
I was vaguely hoping that the MAW had been adopted because it was the best option. Actually, I suspect you're right. We're small because there are internal political/budgetary requirements to be small and since, recently our doctrine has failed to let us down, we are perceived to be able to keep doing more and more with less and less.

The problem, as I see it, is that manoeuvre is fine up until the point when the other guy decides to focus on the other end of the 'dialectical problem' and focuses on attition from a position of numerical and internal political strength - then you can manoeuvre to your heart's content right up to the point where the enemy still has 163 Divisions at 100% CE and you're calling up the ACF...

In which case is it all just a sop to the politicians and to our own pride in order to allow us to continue to achieve anything at all rather than simply becoming the 51st state? :(
 
#5
I don't know this P Robinson but is he missing the point?

Attrition and manouevre aren't opposed; the former is part of the latter - as indeed the man says. A blithe example of this is the main defensive position that forms the killing area, attrits the en and is the focus for the mighty armoured hammer that knocks seven bells out of them, having shaped the battlefield blah di blah in the close op, while deep ops strike their C3 (etc).

No matter what the size of the force it's always going to have a manouevrist approach - isn't it? It's always going to try to identify the centre of gravity, unbalance the en, overload and immobilise C3 and their OODA loop (sorry, too many doctrinally correct terms here, I'll flagelate myself later) by simultaneity, ISTAR to pinpoint key en capabilities (etc) - isn't it?

This argument seems to say that if an army is large enough it will go for attrition as opposed to manouevre because it can afford the manpower or resources - but 3rd Shock Army didn't seem to have adopted that when I was a nipper.

Perhaps if I knew the book I'd understand more what the guy is driving at because in this limited context it looks like balls to me... Part of me wonders if he really understand the difference between manouevre as in 'moving about' and 'manouevre' as an approach to warfare - i.e. clever warfare, not a slogging match (2 up, bags of smoke, huazzah and hurrah); but no, he couldn't be that thick....
 
#6
fas_et_gloria said:
The problem, as I see it, is that manoeuvre is fine up until the point when the other guy decides to focus on the other end of the 'dialectical problem' and focuses on attition from a position of numerical and internal political strength (
Presumably we do not intend to face that sort of enemy in the foreseeable future.

msr
 
#7
stabtastic said:
This argument seems to say that if an army is large enough it will go for attrition as opposed to manouevre because it can afford the manpower or resources - but 3rd Shock Army didn't seem to have adopted that when I was a nipper.
Not quite; it says that if an army is small enough, it will go for manoeuvre rather than attrition because it doesn't have a choice, which isn't quite the same thing.

As for 3SA, well if driving in a straight line for the Rhine, through NORTHAG, with massive use of NBC, isn't attritionist (as blunt, unsubtle, don't-give-a-f*** warfare rather than a cunning use of ), what is? The arguments as to whether you can be attritionist at a tactical/operational level while being manoeuvrist at the strategic/grand strategic level, or any other combination, are left as an exercise for the spotter.

You could argue that COIN is a combination of the two; the clever, subtle, reptilian stuff allied with the unsubtle, plodding, long-drawn-out, footsoldiering stuff. Each without the other is less effective. Claiming that we can suddenly change how we do things is the mad part of FAS, and the equal of Rumsfeld's claims that the US "didn't need that many troops to invade Iraq".
 
#8
The MA originated with Bagnall's reforms in the 1980s. It was a function of size, to some extent, but also had much to do with FM Bagnall's conviction that the doctrine for dealing with 3 Shock Army was not the best use of the forces we/ NATO had.

Certainly Staff College teaching (at least in my syndicate) stressed (or is meant to, according to the pinks) the fact that the MA can involve both manouevre and attrition - with the caveat that the en is the one who suffers the bulk of the attrition if all goes to plan - leading to a good ten minutes of semantic debate over 'Manouevrist' versus 'Manouevre'.

I've not seen the book, but it looks as though Robinson may have missed the point and hasn't spotted the distinction between manouevre and manouevrism: I tend to agree with Stabtastic's assessment...
 
#9
[quote="Gravelbelly
As for 3SA, well if driving in a straight line for the Rhine, through NORTHAG, with massive use of NBC, isn't attritionist (as blunt, unsubtle, don't-give-a-f*** warfare rather than a cunning use of ), what is? The arguments as to whether you can be attritionist at a tactical/operational level while being manoeuvrist at the strategic/grand strategic level, or any other combination, are left as an exercise for the spotter.

[/quote]

Here you go then: Eisenhower's 'broad front' strategy where the allied advance from Normandy formed an expanding bubble that encompassed the low countries and the entire French border (rather like the 'partridge drive' in Tunisia)

vs.

Montgomery's plan (not adopted by Ike) for 80 divs to thrust on a narrow frontage through the low countries and pivot east into the Ruhr while the Germans were still trying to reorganise after the Falaise Gap and the other pastings in Normandy.

Which is more like 3SA? And which is 'manouevre' (and in this case 'manouevrist') and which is 'attritional'?

Enough said.

Why would a small army always go for manouevre? Surely if it's so small it would be unable to do anything much apart from sit inside a MDA (although this also refers to will - witness the huge French Army and its willingness to sit inside Maginot) and hope to attrit as much as possible and so not not expose itself to the risks (or rewards) associated with manouevre? Of course it could still adopt a manouevrist approach within that attritional approach - tactically, though not strategically. But again, if I say that, I'm labelled a spotter, so best desist...
 
E

error_unknown

Guest
#10
Surely the bottom line is that nuclear powers can always afford to be manouevrist - and indeed are almost required to be. I would argue that this is why the Indo-Pakistani conflict has been just about kept off the boil for the last couple of decades.
 
#11
CP

are you saying that the possession of nuclear munitions acts as a notional massive force that deters an opponent from trying to win too hard?

I don't quite follow?
 
#12
I have, perhaps, taken Robinson out of context. The passage is from an essay assessing the view of Clausewitz in light of the fairly thorough ragging he gets from Liddell-Hart. Robinson basically argues that Clausewitz wasn't as total war/attritionally obsessed as LH has led us to believe all these years but rather that there is plenty of the MA in his work. The idea of engineering the enemy's will to fight is expressed in markedly 'effects based' rather than 'capabilities-based' ways in On War , for example. This passage is from the conclusion and is attempting to bring together the direct and indirect approaches in On War rather than drive a wedge between them as LH did, coloured as his thinking was by his experience of First War attrition at a tactical and operational rather than strategic or grand strategic level.


The whole essay is at;

http://www.wargame.ch/wc/nwc/newsletter/22nd_edition/Newsletter22/Manoeuvrist.html


As for the nuclear powers argument, I'm not sure I can see, in a short-termist political environment which allows simultaneous treasury led cuts and an expanding operational portfolio, any PM allowing the use of WME when they are only ever 5 years from the next general election. [Less a PM who has already decided to retire and wants to keep his neighbour out of office...]
 
#13
stabtastic said:
are you saying that the possession of nuclear munitions acts as a notional massive force that deters an opponent from trying to win too hard?
ISTR we used to use it as a deterrent; it was one of the reasons that the Warsaw Pact could offer a "No First Use" treaty for nukes, as evidence that they were peace-loving treehuggers, while the evil NATO types refused to discount the first use of tactical/theatre nukes.

Added to that, if you drop a "tactical" nuke too near French soil; they might interpret it as "strategic", and reply in kind.

Apocrypha: apparently, Corps HQ exercises in the 1960s assumed that in order to stop the Red Hordes (tm) Div Comds would be asking for nuclear release after three or four days; by the 1980s, apparently, this had extended up to a couple of weeks.
 
E

error_unknown

Guest
#14
stabtastic said:
CP

are you saying that the possession of nuclear munitions acts as a notional massive force that deters an opponent from trying to win too hard?

I don't quite follow?
Well, how serious do you have to be about attrition? Nuclear powers can be very serious.
 
#15
stabtastic said:
Here you go then: Eisenhower's 'broad front' strategy vs. Montgomery's plan.

Which is more like 3SA? And which is 'manouevre' (and in this case 'manouevrist') and which is 'attritional'?

Enough said.

Why would a small army always go for manouevre? Surely if it's so small it would be unable to do anything much apart from sit inside a MDA (although this also refers to will
OK, then: Falklands. Manoeuverist or Attritional? You could argue that the last battles were attritional (operationally), along the whole of the Argentinian front line......
 
#16
Trying not to appear dim, but doesn't the nuclear deterrence aspect make arguments about whether you are manouevrist or attritional irrelevent because you'll never ever use your forces anyway? I don't think nuclear is an issue - when war does kick off you'd seek to use your land forces to best advantage by using whatever approach worked for you and hope you'd never use the nuclear option.

Ref Clausewitz, his main claim to fame is the linking of economy, politics and army to create the concept of 'total war', and I think people have latched on to the attritional sounding part; certainly vs France in 1870 wasn't attritional by any means - but ignore that, it's straying a bit.
 
#17
Gravelbelly said:
stabtastic said:
Here you go then: Eisenhower's 'broad front' strategy vs. Montgomery's plan.

Which is more like 3SA? And which is 'manouevre' (and in this case 'manouevrist') and which is 'attritional'?

Enough said.

Why would a small army always go for manouevre? Surely if it's so small it would be unable to do anything much apart from sit inside a MDA (although this also refers to will
OK, then: Falklands. Manoeuverist or Attritional? You could argue that the last battles were attritional (operationally), along the whole of the Argentinian front line......
Good one - small force, limited options for manouvre (limited by capabilities, political constraints etc). The final battles? Manouevrist - the idea was to ring Stanley with Brit-held key terrain, making Stanley untenable. In the individual Bns' attacks, well... perhaps two up bags of smoke was the only option. Certainly those places couldn't be avoided and bns has very limited options.
 

OldSnowy

LE
Moderator
Book Reviewer
#18
As to the Nuclear Deterrent...

1. It is a political tool.

2. It is NOT for fighting or winning wars.

This is current HMG Policy. For more info, consult the SDR and subsequent Defence White Papers. Basically, we are not going to do anything that is contrary to international law - and that circumscribes the conditions for the 'legal' use of NW very closely indeed.

Also, regarding No First Use, we have never signed up to a 'NOFUN' policy - or a 'first use' policy either, for that matter.

NOFUN has to be my favourite acronym of all time 8O
 
#19
stabtastic said:
Ref Clausewitz, his main claim to fame is the linking of economy, politics and army to create the concept of 'total war', and I think people have latched on to the attritional sounding part; certainly vs France in 1870 wasn't attritional by any means - but ignore that, it's straying a bit.
1. The thesis here is that the 'latching on to the attritional sounding part' is done off the back of Liddell-Hart's own particular agenda with respect to attrition and how Clausewitz was essentially to blame for the way in which 1914-18 panned out.

2. First Battle of Sedan cost the Germans 460 officers and 8500 men. The French losses were far greater: 17,000 were killed or wounded - the work principally of the strong force of German artillery - and 21,000 were taken prisoners in the course of the action, and 83,000 surrendered. Three thousand Freanch had been disarmed on Belgian territory. The trophies at Sedan consisted of 3 standards, 419 fieldpieces, and 139 guns; 66,000 stands of arms; more than 1000 baggage- and other wagons, and 6000 horses fit for service.

This by any means is attrition. [but at a tactical/ operational level within a manoeuvrist operational/strategic level approach?]

As for CORPORATE, Thatcher's gameplan could have the blue print for;

...shattering the enemy's overall cohesion and will to fight is paramount. It calls for an attitude of mind in which doing the unexpected, using initiative and seeking originality is combined with a ruthless determination to succeed...
 
#20
WW1 is a can of worms in the manouevre v attrition debate! At the risk of shaking the tin, the game-plans of most commanders were manouevrist. The problem was in breaking through the front-line and then keeping movement going (limited to walking and horse-pace) at a pace that the en could not tackle by entraining reserves to that sector. The attrition was largely a product of this stalemate. However, there were certain French commanders - Foch is one - who actually did adopt attrition as his strategy - criminal in the extreme.
At JDSC we did the battle presentation exercise when we had to present manouevre through using a particular battle. Mine was Megiddo, Palestine in 1918, and I was astounded by the number of indicators of 'manoevrism' in the campaign; the use of aircraft to simultaneously bomb HQs, destroy telephone lines, TE Lawrence in deep ops on the MSRs (railways), massive deception plans, the works. All incredibly impressive stuff.
Glad someone's sunk the nuclear red herring though.
 
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