[section_title title=Warfare - Historical perspective]
Warfare – Historical perspective
Once the basic needs of humans are full-filled, there starts a striving for control and power. Human beings have a natural requirement to control everything as per their whims and fancies. This egoistic controlling itch generates an inclination for hoarding of resources which are required by other beings. The resources include land, wealth, pleasures of all sorts and knowledge. The person having more of these resources can control the lives of more human beings. This ability to accumulate resources and hence control other lives creates ‘power’. Once the human beings realized that power is the ultimate tool, which can serve their ego, the wars on this planet started. War is ultimately a conflict to gain more power.
Every nation strives to become more powerful in this world. However, the three legs of power i.e., economics, military and knowledge capabilities of respective nations orders the power structure of the world. A nation which is economically strong, militarily strong and controlling more knowledge resources is stronger than the one with less economic, military and knowledge capabilities. Therefore, to capture more power every nation strives for more economic, military and knowledge strengths. At each of these dimensions and paths to power, every nation encounters many other nations. This striving to gain relative power advantage creates the possibilities of conflicts and wars.
History is replete with many wars; however, each of these wars and conflicts can be attributed to a conflict for more power- economic, military or knowledge. It must be mentioned here, that knowledge in this context is taken as a broad term encompassing religion as well as political ideology. The power seekers have been enveloping their naked lust for more power by calling their competitors and their targets as threats to their national interests or objectives. The interest of a nation may be in conflict with the interest of another nation. If the two nations have equal power and geographical proximity, or a nation has capability to project its power in the geographic proximity of the other nation, then the chance of conflicts is high between the two countries. If a weaker power is threatened by a strong power, it calls for help from another strong power to counter the threat. It so happened in most of the cases, that the power coming to the rescue of the weaker nation started controlling it. This process led to the formation of power blocks within the world geo-political structures and hence the world was divided into major power blocks controlled by a big power and each such block was in confrontation with the other.
In his easily readable book, Why Nations go to War, John Stoessinger, writing on the reasons and trends of major wars of the 20th Century, presents the following observations:
- . No nation that began a war in this century, emerged a winner
- . Outbreak of war depended to a major extent on the personality of leaders
- . Most important single precipitating factor in the outbreak of war is misperception. Such distortion may manifest itself in four different ways – In a leader’s image of himself; A leader’s view of his adversary’s character; A leader’s view of his adversary’s intentions towards itself; A leader’s view of his adversary’s capabilities and power.
- . Most national leaders on the brink of war expected victory after a brief and triumphant campaign.
- . When a leader on the brink of war believes that his adversary will attack him, the chances of war are fairly high. When both leaders share this precipitation about each other’s intent, war becomes a virtual certainty.
- . It is not the actual distribution of power that precipitates war; it is the way in which a leader thinks that power is distributed.
The way a nation fights a war is dependent upon its history, present power alliances, terrain and technology. Historically speaking, warfare has always been a regular way of living for many nations. The nature of warfare has also changed as the world has evolved.
Traditionally functions in wars have been analyzed as – Planning, Execution and Logistics. These functions are superimposed on two operational areas of warfare i.e., strategic and tactical. There are grey overlaps between strategic and tactical areas reflected in diverse definitions of strategy and tactics. However, in the war continuum – strategy is concerned more with `planning’ – with only a small excursion in `execution’, whereas tactics starts at the fringes of planning and is mainly exercised in the execution of battle. Planning involves three main phases – formulation of war policy, acquisition of strategic intelligence and the movement phase involving mobilization, allocation and distribution of material resources and preliminary deployment of forces. Execution was concerned with two phases i.e., movement and `destruction’.
Tactics has been concerned with two important elements – weapon power and the capability and speed of keeping it moving in battle. This traditional concept of fire-and-movement has been the basic tactical principle throughout the ages. However, most commanders gave more importance to fire power than movement. This resulted in wars of attrition when the opponent commander has also given the same emphasis. However, with judicious movement of weapon / weapon system the exclusive fire-power based tactics have been defeated. Superiority of fire-power as a means of victory has been the major requirements of British Commanders (e.g. Montgomery’s campaign). It is the capability to combine movement along with firepower that has proved to be the major downfall of weapon power based tactics.
Historically wars were based on the ground forces ability to destroy enemy armies in frontal attacks and maneuver battles to flank attacks. Most of the time the ranges at which the battles took place were within few kilometers of the attacker’s visual ranges. With the induction of tanks and mechanical infantry – traditional eye ball to eye ball conflict shifted to a movement based warfare. Tank symbolized the fire and movement tactics. However, many commanders used the tanks as in old age concept of protected fire power. The mobility aspect of tank was exploited by Germans in World War II. The blitzkrieg tactics of Germany proved that tanks could not only be used to achieve a break-through where traditional methods of heavy pounding by artillery fire and subsequent assault by waves of infantry had failed, but were also capable of independent mobile operation to force a decision. The Germans were able to defeat a numerically superior force by piercing the enemy position at a few selected points, followed by swift thrusts to effect deep penetration and destruction of main body of the enemy forces. The blitzkrieg attacks were based on the theory of infiltration. The blitzkrieg, when compared to traditional warfare of hitting the enemy at each level, halting one’s armor so that flank formations can catch up and then moving forward to the next line of enemy defenses, performed much better only because the doctrine underlying the fire and movement tactics was exploited to the full.
A major problem of providing artillery fire-power to the armored formations, once they have penetrated deep inside enemy was solved by the use of tactical bomber aircraft. Aircraft assumed the role of flying artillery and thus was seen more as an extension of traditional artillery. The concentrated panzer divisions of German army utilized the armor formation for the deep penetrations. These formations were able to defeat the linear defenses of traditional defense forces. These tactics indicated an important point that one should realize throughout, that the aim of war is not merely to inflict maximum casualties on the enemy but it is to defeat the enemy.
German Panzer divisions met their match in Russians, who evolved a new form of defense doctrine against massed armored thrusts. Once the armor thrusts have taken place, Russians instead of retreating the front, re-organized in their own territory in small pockets. These small areas were used as strong castles against enemy armor formations and mobile units were dispatched to frustrate the incoming armor formations. This counter offensive was also based on fire and defense movement. This was a major shift from the linear static defense doctrine to a dynamic defense doctrine. British used armor to seek and destroy enemy armor, whereas Germans used armor against non-armored forces, thus making the major difference between victory and loss. Role of armor for independent tank action was proved wasteful, whereas it is in conjunction with all arms co-operation that the armor achieved its major task of infiltrating at a high speed and going in for strategic targets.
It can be seen that traditional warfare has not freed itself from vagaries and intricacies of terrain and it is based on fire and movement doctrine used by armor formations. Air power was used only as an extension of artillery.