The Evolution of Operational War fare

Blitzkrieg to Desert Storm: the Evolution of Operational War fare

Gregory Fontenot

Blitzkrieg to Desert Storm: The Evolution of Operational War fare. By Robert M. Citino. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 2004.418 pages. $39.95. Reviewed by Colonel Gregory Fontenot, USA Ret., former Commander of the Battle Command Training Program.

In some ways the title to Robert M. Citino’s Blitzkrieg to Desert Storm is misleading. It really should be “The Evolution of Operational Warfare from World War II to Desert Storm.” That is his subject. This is not a narrative history of combat operations since the German blitzkrieg, but rather an essay on the evolution of the operational level of war as practiced since 1940. This distinction is important since the title suggests tanks thundering around a relatively open battlefield. Citino is insightful, provocative, and unstinting in his analysis of doctrine and the facts surrounding the combat operations he uses to make the case that, at the operational level, it is the intellectual component rather than platforms that make the case. Put another way, perhaps god favors the strong battalions, but they do not always win. Citino argues also that while Western theorists and soldiers may have some claim on the “invention” of the operational level of warfare, they do not have a monopoly on excellence in the field and have in the last decade walked away from the concept in theory and practice.

Citino begins as promised with the evolution of German doctrine that led to the blitzkrieg while accounting for similar developments in Russia. Fundamentally, the author asserts that the stunning German success in Poland and Western Europe stemmed from a concept that capitalized on mobility, effective use of combined arms, and careful planning. The Germans won not only because they achieved penetration and moved rapidly, but also because they could sustain attacks to the operational depth of their opponents. Citino is not, however, captured by the Western model. He rightly points out that to understand the operational art, American soldiers should not confine their studies to the Germans or to Western sources alone.

Citino’s accounts of the Chinese infiltration of X Corps and 8th Army in Korea in the early winter of 1950 and the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 clearly illustrate two of his salient points. First, things or platforms do not a revolution in military affairs make, and “The great powers of the world have not had a monopoly on operational excellence in the twentieth century.” His chapters on the US Army concisely and brilliantly recount the Army’s failures in Vietnam and the post-Vietnam renaissance. Citino is equally fearless in challenging the Army’s thinking and conventional military historiography. He debunks the late Russell Weigley’s influential but mistaken view, based on his jaundiced analysis of Grant’s campaigns in 1864 and 1865, that the Army and America eschewed maneuver for attrition.

American soldiers who have trained at one of the combat training centers will read Citino’s section on the importance of the National Training Center and the OPFOR with some pride and perhaps a bit of chagrin when they recall their summons to Eccles Wadi or some other equally difficult-to-find site to hear from the observer/controllers how they had done. But any remaining glow about how good their Army is will wear off when Citino turns to analyzing the 1993 FM 100-5 and the current FM 3.0. He argues that the Army has moved away from serious consideration of the operational level of war since 1991 based on what he refers to as several “highly dubious notions.” Among these, Citino includes the notion that no foe will ever challenge the United States in conventional warfare, that “friction” will disappear as the Army fields better intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance (ISR) tools and technology, and finally that technology has changed the very character of war.

The author believes this muddled thinking stems from a number of sources, including the Army’s decision to reduce funding in the US Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), which ostensibly does the Army’s thinking about the theory and principles of the operational level of war. In his view, there are too few people left at TRADOC to do what TRADOC should do. But he reserves his harshest criticism for the gurus of defense “transformation,” noting that the current infatuation with light, speedy forces reflects classic interwar cost-reduction strategies. According to Citino exactly this kind of thinking following World War I led the British and others to favor small, fast tanks and “tankettes” that went to their doom in 1939 and 1940. In short, Citino does not subscribe to the idea that it is the end of history and that some new order is at hand which will no longer require thinking at the operational level.

Citino concludes his fascinating if occasionally vitriolic essay with a two-page reduction of the “shock and awe” campaign in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In his summary he argues that there was little in the operation that was new. To Citino the operational level of war remains important, and failure to think clearly at the operational level still matters. Although the author notes that it remains too early to tell what Operation Iraqi Freedom will mean with regard to understanding the practice of the operational art, he hints at what it might mean when he notes that behind the lightning drive on Baghdad was not “occupied territory, but a yawning void.”

Soldiers who take the time to read Robert Citino’s book carefully will find themselves sometimes irritated, sometimes embarrassed as they recall their own short-comings, but always stimulated by Citino’s fast-paced narrative and logical argument.

COPYRIGHT 2004 U.S. Army War College

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