Report from the 26th of March 2003
During this war in Iraq, I can not help being an armchair general and think about lessons that the Americans and the British should draw from the German invasion of the Soviet Union, “Operation Barbarossa”, and what followed, of which the Russian, “Operation Uranius”, is very interesting. It is easy to compare the three campaigns, since they both were made rapidly, with big forces over long distances, over great plains, in a hostile environment. There are also many things that differ, which might be decisive for the Anglo-American forces. The development of the Iraqi war will prove if I am right, or not.
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Father Winter and Mother Summer
The Anglo-American Coalition stormed into Iraq the 18th of March, after many delays, due to discussions in the UN. The Coalition was anxious to get started before the Great Heat starts. Even in March, it’s a bit late, since it starts to get hot already in the middle of April. Adding to this, March is right in the middle of the so-called, “Khamsin”-season, when sandstorms sweep over a large part of the Middle East.
The Germans were also too late in 1941, with horrible consequences later on. They started the 24 of June and thought they would have a quick campaign (like the Coalition) that would be finished before “Father Winter” came, - the great cold.
The Coalition now faces the entrance of “Mother Summer”, which could have serious difficulties, especially for the troops that have to wear chemical suits. But the tanks will not be as hot as they were in the Libyan Desert, since they are air-conditioned.
Concerns have been raised that the Coalition forces are too few. According the figures released by the press, the Coalition has 250 000 American and 45 000 British troops to conquer and occupy Iraq.
In “Operation Barbarossa” the Germans attacked with 3 million men, and just to take the Baltic states and Leningrad they used 500 000 men, 1 070 airplanes and 1 500 tanks. When the Russians made the final assault at Germany itself in the “Operation Uranius”, the 23rd of January 1945, they had massed 2,2 million men, who started to break into East Prussia.
I believe that modern warfare needs less man, since everything right now is mechanized and airlifted. You have fewer, bigger trucks that need fewer drivers. The logistics are far more easily and better organized today. The Germans relied much on horse drawn artillery and charts, which swallowed lots of men, and slowed down the pace of advance.
The Germans had the same problems as the Coalition has today. They attacked swiftly and had not time to secure their rear, the lines of support got very thin and vulnerable and troops and material got worn out. The result of the rapid offensive was an active partisan activity, which the Germans had to pay dear in losses of men and material that was needed at the front.
An other, more accurate comparison, is the offensive by the German Afrika Korps, led by the “Desert Fox”, Erwin Rommel, in the deserts of Libya and Egypt in 1943.
From the beginning the German involvement of the Italian war in North Africa was just thought of as a prop up for the staggering Italian Army. But despite the few resources Rommel had available, he managed, thanks to excellent tactics and bold execution, to penetrate deep into Egypt. Hitler gave him orders to go on, when he discovered how popular Rommel and the Afrika Korps became in Germany. Rommel, on his hand, knew from the beginning that it was a mission impossible, but had to go on. His biggest problem was maintenance and the long lines of support, which in the end brought him down
The Coalition has also made a very quick advance and has difficulties of securing their rear. The line of support seems to be vulnerable, which demands a lot of men to secure, men who better could be used in active battle. They do no not have the means to spread out a lot of troops to secure every village and town in the occupied areas. A fact that could be very expensive for them. I would not be surprised if the commander, general Franks, demands more reinforcements.
The Russians took no chances and had probably learned their lessons from the German mistakes, so they attacked with an overwhelming force, spearheaded with good equipped and well-trained assault troops, followed by second grade occupation forces to secure the rear. Russians invaded every little corner of the coquetted areas and plundered them thoroughly. The spearhead engaged the Wehrmacht and defeated them in battles.
Before attacking a major target, a wise commander lets his forces to consolidate, rest and see to that all elements that are needed are in place.
The Coalition are not yet in an attacking position for Baghdad, it will be interesting to see how they prepare for the assault of Baghdad. Will they give themselves time for consolidation before the assault? The generals are certainly pressed by an increasingly impatient home opinion and would probably not have the time to wait, which could have dire consequences.
The Germans, in front of Moscow 1941, did not consolidate, either. Hitler pressed the commanders to go on too quick. He wanted, of propaganda reasons, to give the German opinion something to chew on. – The foremost positions could see the towers of the Kremlin in their field glasses. The High Command realized quickly that the spearhead in front of Moscow, was in a dangerous position. They demanded that it should be withdrawn, so the forces present could consolidate, be reequipped and rest. They also had the big problem of “Father Winter”, who just had arrived with temperatures of minus 30-40 degrees and the soldiers just had their summer uniforms. But Hitler refused. So the Russians made a counter-attack with winter equipped, well-rested Siberian troops. The German soldiers were mowed down, fled in panic and froze to death in thousands.
In “Operation Uranius” 1945, they Red army reached the banks of Oder in just a few weeks, but the lines were stretched out, the troops were tired and the rear was not yet secured, so Stalin and the commander Zhukov decided to consolidate, before they could take the last leap to Berlin. The Red army stayed in place in over a month. They also had big problems of discipline, which hampered the operations.
When the mostly poor and revengeful Russian soldiers and officers, who had endured four years of war and the meagreness of communist rule, entered the rich Germany with, wealthy villages and towns, villas, prosperous farms and magnificent chateaus, they all went crazy. A horrible wave of plundering and rape started. The moment the soldiers got hold of alcohol, things got worse and they committed acts of atrocity, no one had seen in hundreds of years. Finally Stalin pulled in the reins and restored some kind of discipline, in order to finish the war.
Prisoners of War
From the press I read that the Coalition has a problem with all the POW’s they take. It is difficult to find decent accommodation and to divert troops to take care of them. The POW’s are slowing up the action. So far they have 4 000 people in their care. The Geneva Convention is strictly applied and the International Red Cross is keeping a hawk’s eye in order to ensure that everything is proper.
The Iraqi’s do not bother much. They do not have that number of POW’s from the Coalition. But they let five American POW’s, including a woman parade in front of the TV-cameras, which caused an outcry in the United States. The POWs seemed to be confused and scared, - no wonder. Saddam Hussein has a solid bad reputation of his treatment of POWs. One American pilot, freed after the Gulf War in 1991, testimonied how he had been beaten and tortured for six weeks in a row. His body looked as it was dipped in blue ink. – Not to talk about all the Iranian POWs from the 1980 – 1988 war.
The Germans considered the Russians as “Untermenschen” and treated their POWs according to that. It must be added that the Soviet Union never signed the Geneva Convention from 1929, but that does not excuse the Hitler from the atrocities he committed against the Russian POWs.
During “Operation Barbarossa”, the Wehrmacht would have been happy if they only have had 4 000 POWs; they captured millions during the offensive, complete armies. Totally they got 5 700 000 POWs, of which 1 030 157 were directly executed. Only one million made it in the forced labour camps and managed to get home, but coming home they were regarded as traitors and immediately sent to the GULAG.
The Gestapo-boss Müller reported proudly in December 1941, that of 22 000 POWs controlled, 16 000 were executed.
In contrast the Nazis treated the Allied POWs well, with exception of some executions of some POWs who broke out from a POW-camp and executions on the battlefield. But the Red Cross was allowed to make inspections and send food packages.
The Russians took millions of German POWs, who immediately were sent away to the Gulag, where most of them perished. Many, though, were dispatched to camps around destroyed Russian cities, which they had to rebuild. Of the 90 000 POWs who capitulated in Stalingrad, only 5 000 survived.
The Russians never had any problems with the logistics of the POWs, they had since 20 years a very efficient organisation to deport their own people to the GULAG. Alexander Soljenytsin wrote that the German POWs flooded the GULAG, but the Russians managed, thanks to old expeerience, squeeze them into the camps, even though most part of the POWs died.
Franc-tireurs and civilians
The word franc-tireur comes from the Franco – Prussian war of 18 71-72, and means literally “free shooter”. In our days he is called freedom fighter, terrorist or guerrilla. The franc-tireur is a civilian, who shoots at invading soldier. During World War I, the first franc-tireurs showed up in Belgium and caused the Germans considerable losses. The Germans retaliated harshly, executed the ones they got hold of and sometimes they killed whole villages. Their behaviour attended much attention in the press of the Entente and the Germans got the reputation as brutal oppressors.
According to war laws, anyone who participates in military action must wear a uniform or something that clearly distinguishes him as a soldier, apart from an ordinary citizen. Fighting armies has always, very strictly, looked upon this notion. No mercy has been shown to the franc-tireur, he was certainly executed or hanged at once, in some cases together with his family. It was regarded as a cowardly act, to fight, disguised as a harmless civilian.
During the “Barbarossa” the German Wehrmacht was fairly disciplined and tried to avoid unnecessary civilian losses. But when they were fired upon from a house, they did not hesitate to take it down, weather or not there were innocent civilians in the house. The SS-troops were particularly ruthless. During the course of battle they burned entire villages if they were suspected partisan bases (like the Americans in Viet-Nam) or if they were an obstacle for the artillery.
There were partisans in great number behind the German lines. TheWehrmacht and in many cases, the SS, staged many search-and- destroy operations in the vast forests of Russia, with frightful results for the ones they found. Many times the partisans were hanged publicly as a warning example.
The Russians in Germany showed no mercy whatsoever for the civilians. The soldiers were, in fact, encouraged to shoot civilians. When the Russian armour moved towards Oder, fleeing fugitives congested the roads. The tanks solved the problem by simply running them over or mowing them down. Sometimes the soldiers stopped, gathered fugitives and liquidated them at the side of the road. The soldiers got into nearly every house in the search for weapons and killed all civilians present, if they found one. The second grade occupation soldiers mostly did this.
The Nazis organized in the end of the war a kind of civilian militia, called the “Volkssturm”, that consisted of old men not drafted and children. This ragtag force was supposed to be the last ditch of the Reich. They had no uniforms, but wore an armband as distinction and had practically no military training. These poor people had no chance against the experienced Russian soldiers and were killed in thousands.
The Coalition has at the moment a growing problem with franc-tireurs. They consist of several groups, and sometimes also have independent, civilian fanatics among their ranks. The best known, and by far, the largest group is the so-called “Fedayeen Saddam”, a political militia, lightly armed and with little military training, though very fanatic. Their leader is the baby-faced, cruel son of Saddam Hussein, Uday. An other group is Al Quds, the military wing of the Ba’ath Party and of course the Special Security Service Organisation, who is in charge of Saddam’s own security. They operate in a ruthless manner, using women and children as human shields, pretending to capitulate and then shooting, using hospitals, schools and mosques as bases and transporting arms and personnel in ambulances. - Another problem is that Iraq is flooding of weapons; nearly all civilians have a Kalashnikov or some kind of weapon at home.
The coalition is caught in a quagmire, since they are supposed to be “liberators” of the Iraqi people and cannot use the same ruthless tactics against civilians as the Russians and Germans did. The Iraqis know this, of course, and use the civilian cover shamelessly and without regard to human lives and the laws of war. They know for sure that the Coalition forces never will execute them on the spot or hang them in the nearest lamppost.
It will be very interesting to see how the Iraqi war will unfold in the nearest future. The Coalition will certainly have to call in more people and enforce stricter rules, regarding the franc-tireurs and the possession of weapons. – Interesting is that America also has a flood of weapons …
Written by Erik Edelstam