Military Incompetence

Discussion in 'General' started by canuck, Apr 10, 2011.

  1. canuck

    canuck Token Colonial Patron

    While I stand in awe of the exploits and sacrifice of our veterans, it is a recurring theme, at least to me, that so many died needlessly from a myriad of ill advised, badly planned or poorly led military actions or campaigns. France 1940, Singapore, Hong Kong, Dieppe, Arnhem, Failure to take Antwerp, strategic bomber offensive and the many small unit actions (Hill 195) where troops were decimated, are but a few examples.



    I would be interested to hear what our veterans and those who have served in the military feel about this subject. It is a complex subject with many variables. The disaster at Dunkirk could easily be laid at the feet of the politicians who committed a poorly equipped and unprepared force vs. a pure military explanation. However, some would argue that the military heirarchy can cause this to occur. In his book, On the Psychology of Military Incompetence, Norman F. Dixon notes that nearly every military disaster that was caused by incompetent leadership was because the leader had an authoritarian personality with the following four characteristics:
    • an obsessive attention to neatness and detail and a need for an ordered tidy world with few complexities and complications
    • emotional coldness where they don’t really empathize or warm to colleagues
    • excessive deference to superior authority, which meant that they often reversed this and bullied those who they saw as their inferiors
    • an excessive fear of failure and of getting things wrong, which meant that they were less likely to innovate or do something different or make radical changes.
    My own experience suggests that any large organization, military or otherwise, are by their very nature, prone to inefficiency and failures.

    Thoughts?
     
  2. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    poorly equipped and unprepared force vs. a pure military explanation.


    I'm not so sure that statement is that accurate for 1940. For example the BEF was virtually a mobilized army with very few horses in 1940 -Quite the opposite for the Germans who relied heavily on horses throughout the war not just 1940.

    Together the Allies had more men and equipment or at the very least matched the German equivalent and the French had arguably the best tank on the battlefield in 1940 and plenty of them.


    I don't think the Germans were really that good in 1940, I think its easy to make someone look good if the opponent is that bad.
     
  3. canuck

    canuck Token Colonial Patron

    I'm not so sure that statement is that accurate for 1940. For example the BEF was virtually a mobilized army with very few horses in 1940 -Quite the opposite for the Germans who relied heavily on horses throughout the war not just 1940.

    Together the Allies had more men and equipment or at the very least matched the German equivalent and the French had arguably the best tank on the battlefield in 1940 and plenty of them.


    I don't think the Germans were really that good in 1940, I think its easy to make someone look good if the opponent is that bad.

    So, it was a leadership issue?
     
  4. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    That is my take on things if you include tactics and the fact there was eventually a multiple of countries/nationalities in the coalition so you have the command and control issues of the right hand not knowing what the left is doing etc.
     
  5. Smudger Jnr

    Smudger Jnr Our Man in Berlin

    Good leadership, good training with good equipment plus good communications makes for a good fighting force.

    Take away the good communications and everything goes downhill.

    Regards
    Tom
     
  6. HelpTheAged

    HelpTheAged Junior Member

    DD Tanks sinking at Omaha

    82nd and 101st misdrops all over Normandy.

    Oh, and the 4th Infantry not even landing at Utah.

    tbh America made a complete balls up of D-Day.
     
  7. Oldman

    Oldman Very Senior Member

    DD tanks at Omaha were released by the naval forces far to early and got swamped on the run in to the beach.
    As already stated on these posts communications and lack of played a major part in the failure of certain actions also the thoughts of generals also got in the way of battle plans.

    If you read Tom Canning's posts on the desert war you will come across his thoughts on the tank generals who up until 1943 wanted to fight tanks as cavalry and actually said this to Monty.
    Read about 1st El Alamein when Monty held the armour back, Rommel was a little non plussed that the armour did not follow his onto the waiting anti tank gun screen (88's) as normal.

    Also deliberate ingnoring of orders to break off action resulting in excessive tank and crew losses by junior officers.
     
  8. Tab

    Tab Senior Member

    What ever you plan it can go tits up in no time flat. Arnhem...had that operation gone in two or three weeks earlier it would have been a great success, but instead a SS Division went there for a bit of R&R and to rearm and we dropped right in the middle of them.
    The BEF now it only had the the early Matilda tanks that only had mainly machine guns for troop support some had the the 2 pounder and although well armoured their lack of fire power caused any attacks they launched to fail, mind you they almost killed Rommel and they did kill his No2 standing beside him and it took the 88 mm AA guns to knock them out. Still we were always playing catch up on tank development.

    Dieppe......Yes Britain and Canada lost a lot of men on this raid and it was a trail of tactics for the main invasion and the lesson learnt brought success on D.Day
    Things that were learnt..Security as soldier were talking all about the Dieppe raid long before it took place.
    There was a range of specialised equipment brought out for D Day with a whole range of tanks to do different jobs. There were carpet laying tanks so that all the transport could get of the beach with out getting bogged down. then there were Mulberry Harbours which were a great bit of kit.
    Antwerp.....Well that was captured okay but the problem was taking all the little islands along the river that had been turned into fortresses. When the Americans to Cherbourg they found that the Germans had destroyed it and planted booby traps all over the place.
    Singapore well what can I say that it was poor leadership and should never happened.
    Hong Kong we never had the man power to cover all these places with the numbers required to hold them.

    Strategic Bomber Offensive....Well may have lost a lot of men and bombers doing this but it tied up over a million Germans to man all of this, which could have been used else where. Okay at the start of the war we did not have the bombers or the skill to be effective but from late 1942 onwards the tide started to turn. In the finish the RAF could drop a bomb using radio and radar and get it with in 100 feet of its target.


    Organisation.....Well the bigger an organisation gets the bigger chance you have of getting an idiot making decisions beyond his capabilities
     
  9. Steve Mac

    Steve Mac Very Senior Member

    What ever you plan it can go tits up in no time flat. Arnhem...had that operation gone in two or three weeks earlier it would have been a great success, but instead a SS Division went there for a bit of R&R and to rearm and we dropped right in the middle of them.


    Monty didn't want to go to Arnhem. His original plan was to go for Wesel, but the RAF declined on the basis of anticipated RAF personnel and materiel losses.

    It was six months later that the Airbourne/Monty got to cross the Rhine in Operation Varsity (part of Plunder). Guess where? Wesel and its surrounds!

    If his original plan had been supported, maybe the war in Europe would have finished sooner and East Germany, Poland et al wouldn't have been under the heel of the Soviets.

    The man was a genius and should have been backed...

    Best,

    Steve.
     
  10. WhiskeyGolf

    WhiskeyGolf Senior Member

    Good leadership, good training with good equipment plus good communications makes for a good fighting force.

    Take away the good communications and everything goes downhill.

    Regards
    Tom

    I have to agree with you there Tom.

    Many of the books I have read/am reading tend to show that those in 'ultimate command' were in nice warm offices looking at maps and thinking they knew best, when on the ground things were completely different and changing all the time. Goes back to communication, but also a trust in those you have in command on the ground.

    W
     
  11. Rav4

    Rav4 Senior Member

    I once loaded a book to someone about Military Incompetence and it was never returned. Forget the name and author of the book.

    One item I remember took place during the Suez Crisis. It seems that some of the British supply ships had their cargo’s loaded with the first items needed in the landings loaded first. This meant that when the time came to supply the troops the items needed first were at the bottom of the cargo. Comes under the category of a “cock-up”.
     
  12. Mike L

    Mike L Very Senior Member

    Rav4, was it a squaddie you lent the book to? That might qualify as military incompetence. Re Suez, a basic 'logistics' problem clearly understood even in WW1 (if not before) obviously lost in the interim.
     
  13. A-58

    A-58 Not so senior Member

    DD Tanks sinking at Omaha

    82nd and 101st misdrops all over Normandy.

    Oh, and the 4th Infantry not even landing at Utah.

    tbh America made a complete balls up of D-Day.
    I'm not sure it was a complete "balls up" as you say on D-Day. US forces persevered, got ashore, moved inland and managed to even break out and cause the Germans more than just a little headache in the process. Not everything goes to plan all the time. You must be able to improvise and be flexible don't you think? I think that US forces managed to help out just a little in spite of problems encountered on D-Day.

    And keeping with the thread, I believe that the invasions of Tarawa and Peleliu were completely useless in the prosecution of the war in the PTO. Bungling at the highest levels allowed these offensives to go on. There was nothing positive to be gained in those operations. Lots of good men were lost there needlessly.
     
  14. Mike L

    Mike L Very Senior Member

    A-58, I have often thought of Tarawa as a sort of American Dieppe - many valuable lessons learned, albeit at the cost of many lives.
     
    A-58 likes this.
  15. A-58

    A-58 Not so senior Member

    A-58, I have often thought of Tarawa as a sort of American Dieppe - many valuable lessons learned, albeit at the cost of many lives.
    Yes, I've read that many times before, all the lessons learned concerning assaulting a heavily fortified beach frontally. That's a cheap way to pass the blame I believe. To me, that makes about as much sense as the repeated charges from the trenches across no-man's land in WW1. Look at all the lessons learned and learned and learned and learned there at what cost.

    I'm not snapping at you Mike L at all, so please don't take it that way. But I like your analogy with Dieppe, never thought of it that way. Good point.

    But the lesson wasn't learned, dum-ass'ed mistakes were repeated at the cost of lots of good men. They did it again at Peleliu. The 1st Marine Division was wrecked and unusable for almost 6 months later - at Okinawa, and the US 81st Infantry Division was pretty beat up too, and didn't see action again until July 1945 on Luzon. These assets could have been used properly in the PI, helping with Mac's triumphant return.

    It seems that the ones learning the lessons never get the experience first hand. They always learn it from de-briefings and after action reports at a safe distance from the fighting.
     
  16. canuck

    canuck Token Colonial Patron

    While a lack of experience was good in the sense that Canadian officers could develop their own tactical methods, the Canadian Army seemed plagued by bad leadership when they first went into action. In the months following D-Day in northwest Europe, a high number of battalion and brigade commanders were sacked. During the long period of preparation in England, many Canadian officers had taken too casual an approach to training their men. Many officers felt that when the time came, the men would be ready for combat, and there wasn't much that could be done to prepare them for it. Unfortunately, many of the poor Canadian officers were often not spotted and removed until after they had been identified in action, sometimes after serious consequences had resulted from their inadequacies. As was the case in the British forces, most of the best and brightest professionals had joined the Air Force, and the Army suffered accordingly. The most able leaders that the Army was able to attract seemed to come from civilian life - by early 1945, of the ten senior staff appointments, not one was a pre-war Regular; of the five Canadian divisions, only two were commanded by pre-war Regulars, and both of the two independent armoured brigades were commanded by citizen-soldiers.
     
  17. John Lawson

    John Lawson Arte et Marte

    Hi Canuck,

    I beleive I made a similar point with regard to British commanders; in that Montgomery wanted leaders who wanted to get on with the job and not have their decisions/planning confined by worrying about career or promotion. Although, I think Tom Canning may have a difference of opinion with me on that one.

    However, as a German General once said, "no plan survives first contact". German equipment wasn't that much better than the Allies (I'm talking 1940 here), in fact sometimes it was worse, they just used it in a more imganitive way. The Germans tended to use the line of dislocation; concentrate mobile forces, hit a weak area, then range around in the rear areas hitting HQs and logistics dumps etc, thus cutting the teeth arms from their command and supply. "A bad plan is one that cannot be changed", who said that?

    In certain cicumstances it was the mere fact that an enemy formation turned up unexpectedly in a rear area location that panicked soldiers, not the weight of vehicle or size of ordnance it carried.

    Which makes me wonder how the BEF command managed to keep command, control and communication of and with their forces when they were being constantly outflanked by some of the more mobile German forces.

    "There are no bad soldiers, only bad generals"
     
  18. Oldman

    Oldman Very Senior Member

    There are and always will be natural leaders who will grasp the moment and lead by shear will or personality the available forces and inspire them to do the impossible, Utah beach is an example of this.

    Control of battle disappears with the first shot and is often left to the man on the spot to control its course, the problem therein lies with the officers who do not have the grasp of what is happening around them that time after time they commit the same errors.

    Allowing officers to get away with this is incompetence at its worst it breeds more incompetence they cost lives and rise to a high level
     
  19. Alan Allport

    Alan Allport Senior Member

    The most able leaders that the Army was able to attract seemed to come from civilian life - by early 1945, of the ten senior staff appointments, not one was a pre-war Regular; of the five Canadian divisions, only two were commanded by pre-war Regulars, and both of the two independent armoured brigades were commanded by citizen-soldiers.

    Interesting, though certainly not reflected in the British Army of 1939 to 1945. Of 160 men of major-general rank or higher who commanded at least a field-force division at some point during the war, only four were not regular officers - and of those four, three were Territorials and one in the Indian Army.

    Best, Alan
     
  20. Warlord

    Warlord Veteran wannabe

    Two reflections here:

    1.- Barrie Pitt writes it down very clearly in the "Crucible" series when he refers to the "Old Boy" mentality which prevailed in the forces fighting in the Western Desert, before Monty's arrival: He who came from a family with military heritage and didn't go against the rules with "outside-the-box" ideas, was a better chap - and as such, better ranked - regardless of martial skills, than your ordinary cockney trying desperately to win a ruthless war.

    2.- Western powers went to war in the Far East thinking that the mere presence of the white soldier was enough to beat the myopic, obsoletely-equipped hordes from Nippon; they were in for a deadly surprise...

    A racial thing? A social thing?
     

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