Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Did the regimental system optimize the British army for small wars? And what does that all mean for today’s U.S. Army?

Those, little grasshoppers, are the two questions that occurred to me as I read Max Hastings’s comment (in Winston’s War) that during World War II, "German, American and Russian professional soldiers thought in divisions; the British always thought of the regiment, the cherished ‘military family.’ Until the end of the war, the dead hand of ...

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Wikimedia

Those, little grasshoppers, are the two questions that occurred to me as I read Max Hastings's comment (in Winston's War) that during World War II, "German, American and Russian professional soldiers thought in divisions; the British always thought of the regiment, the cherished ‘military family.' Until the end of the war, the dead hand of centralized, top-down command methods, together with lack of a fighting doctrine common to the entire army, hampered operations in the field."

This was, Hastings goes on to write, one reason that the Germans were better at everything from combined arms attacks to mundane but essential tasks such as recovering disabled tanks and trucks from the battlefield.

Yet that same small, cohesive structure might have been good for fighting small wars, with units able to carry on quietly for years without getting much attention, getting to know one area well.

Those, little grasshoppers, are the two questions that occurred to me as I read Max Hastings’s comment (in Winston’s War) that during World War II, "German, American and Russian professional soldiers thought in divisions; the British always thought of the regiment, the cherished ‘military family.’ Until the end of the war, the dead hand of centralized, top-down command methods, together with lack of a fighting doctrine common to the entire army, hampered operations in the field."

This was, Hastings goes on to write, one reason that the Germans were better at everything from combined arms attacks to mundane but essential tasks such as recovering disabled tanks and trucks from the battlefield.

Yet that same small, cohesive structure might have been good for fighting small wars, with units able to carry on quietly for years without getting much attention, getting to know one area well.

So: What, if anything, does this suggest for how the U.S. Army should be organized for the future? (Or should the small war mission be sent back to the Marines?)

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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