Friday, 21 January 2011

Byzantia's 1920's/1930's military doctrine debates

It is the late 1920's, and Byzantia's General Staff  is of course reading all the latest military theories and doctrines, while observing wnat people actually do asw ell. For example, looking at the Great States.

Firstly, Air Power:

The French air force was the world's largest and most powerful when World War I ended in 1918. Although not a separate service, it nonetheless enjoyed a certain prestige for its excellent performance during the war. Things soon deteriorated, however. Demobilization hit the air arm particularly hard, partly because the army officers in charge gave preference in funding to ground forces and equipment. In addition, French politicians reflected the mood of the people, who were increasingly fearful of and pessimistic about a German resurgence. Defense policy, readily supported by the army, increasingly focused on a defensive stance in the east. The Maginot Line would stand as an impregnable and concrete trench when the Germans returned. Air theory, which in France stressed the offensive and revolutionary nature of strategic air attack (as it did in Britain, the United States, and Italy), was distinctly unwelcome in such a passive environment.

In both Britain and the United States, budget cuts took a severe toll on the air arms. In Britain, for example, the Royal Air Force (RAF) received on average a mere 15 percent of the defense budget, and in the United States, the Air Corps had an even smaller share. Similarly, the RAF found itself constantly under attack from the army and navy which sought to disestablish the RAF as a separate service and take back the airplanes they had lost in 1918. In the United States, of course, the Army firmly controlled its Air Corps and quashed ail talk of a separate service.

As you can imagine, the Generals really like this - the Air Marshall is somehat annoyed, and instead quotes Billy Mitchell, dreaming of fleets of bombers that can fly higher and faster han any fighter and project power from on high. So much so that he is arguing for Byzantia to set up shop and manufacture the flown then dropped U S "Barling Bomber" (above picture)

Secondly, the Land War:

The victorious armies were saddled with huge stockpiles of 1918-model equipment and ammunition and had to use up these stockpiles at peacetime rates before major new expenditures could be justified, so real change is very slow (and Byzantia can get its hands on the most "modern" equipment easily - as can their foes, sadly).

JFC Fuller is oft quoted, with his ideas to defeat the enemy by a "pistol shot to the brain" of enemy headquarters and communications, instead of by destroying the combat elements through systematic attrition. But to do that Byzantia needs a fast twenty miles per hour tank, to exploit the rupture of trenches caused by slower heavy tanks. But Fuller is ignoring the role of infantry in the mechanized team, argue opponents. Men in trucks is all very well, but that can't safely get them fighting in close coordination with armor.

France is choosing to construct a sophisticated version of the defenses that had apparently worked so well at Verdun, they will call it the Maginot Line.  The French doctrine seems to be viewing combined arms as a process by which all other weapons systems assist the infantry in its forward progress. Tanks are considered to be "a sort of armored infantry," subordinated to the infantry. The French cavalry are experimenting extensively with armored cars and motorcycles, and even half-tracks. These half-tracks sometimes formed combat teams with armored cars and towed artillery! There is much excitement over an embryo Light Armoured Division, with lots of Armoured Cars.

Very interesting for a small country that can afford some cars, but new tanks, large underground fortifications and fleets of bombers are a tougher ask, esecially in the anti-war environment of the 1920's

Some are even arguing that the German approach, concentrating all their resources on a relatively narrow front for breakthrough. This concentration of forces requires the careful integration of all weapons and arms at battalion level or below to overcome the enemy's defenses. The infiltration tactics of 1917-18 reflected this viewpoint and were retained after the armistice,the 1921 German Regulation on Command and Combat of the Combined Arms included not only the infantry assault battalion and the carefully planned artillery and preparations of 1918, but also close air support, gas warfare, and tanks in an Infantry-support role. But the Germans lost the war, so what could they know?

Some of Byzantia's officers (quite a few ex White Russians and Greeks) fought in the Russian Civil War. Because of the vast distances and understrength armies involved In the Civil War, penetration and encirclement were no longer difficult, and fluid maneuver was the rule. Cavalry rules! shout the horey types. However, Russia was far more open than the hilly Balkans, so others are arguing for using the terrain as much as possible, and training specialist troops to use it well and "be like Ghosts".

There is also a trend in all armies to move from the "square" 4 platooon - 4 company structure to the "Triangular" 3-platoon - 3 company structure. Take the Americans for example, Pershing is banging on about moving the machine gun and other specialized heavy weapons into the infantry rifle organization at every level. To avoid an excessive span of control, each commander has a headquarters, three subordinate rifle units, plus a weapons unit--three rifle platoons and a heavy weapon platoon in each company, with three such companies plus a heavy weapons company in each battalion.

And then there is the question of how to pop enemy armour - Heavy Machine guns can nail armoured cars and light tanks, but you need something at a lower level, as combat experience showed. Last but not least is what to do with the Chauchat - Byzantia was equipped with them by the French and they arre still the primary squad Automatic Rifle, and it works far better in the hiolls of the Balkans thean the gritty trenches of France - but maybe a weapon with more firepower - or just more Chauchat teams?

So, a ferment of change.....

Hat tips here and here


  1. I'm enjoying reading this stuff. One feels you need a higher level rule set as well as the squad level 'Mud and Blood' set you have been experimenting with recently. It would make for an interesting campaign, having something like Panzer Marsch, Command Decision, Flames of War or Spearhead for the higher level actions...

  2. Funny you should say that - we tjought teh same so are fighting a Russian Civil War game with Rapid Fire next - should be interesting with 28mm figures :-)