Manouevre, Attrition and Future Army Cuts

Discussion in 'Staff College and Staff Officers' started by fas_et_gloria, Jan 11, 2005.

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  1. 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. msr

    msr LE

    Or are we small, because that is all we can afford?

  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. msr

    msr LE

    Presumably we do not intend to face that sort of enemy in the foreseeable future.

  7. 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.


    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)


    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...
  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;

    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. 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.
  14. Well, how serious do you have to be about attrition? Nuclear powers can be very serious.
  15. OK, then: Falklands. Manoeuverist or Attritional? You could argue that the last battles were attritional (operationally), along the whole of the Argentinian front line......