A View On Counterattacks In The Defensive Scheme Of Maneuver AUTHOR Major David C. Chamley, Australian Army CSC 1990 SUBJECT AREA Strategic Issues A VIEW ON COUNTERATTACK IN THE DEFENSIVE SCHEME OF MANEUVER EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Thesis Statement. If a defense is to be successful, we must place a higher priority on applying the considerations for conducting a counterattack; because it is the key to an effective defensive scheme of maneuver. Central Theme. When planning defense, there is a tendency to either overlook or understate the importance of the counterattack, and this could become a critical weakness. Summary of Main Points. The attacker has a number of advantages, particularly against a positional defense. The The most important of these are initiative and freedom of of action. The counterattack is an effective method of putting him off-balance . Furthermore, although a prepared defense can inflict damage on an attacker, only a counterattack has the potential to destroy him and facilitate a resumption of offensive operations. History has also demonstrated however, that counterattacks are not always successful. Therefore, the counterattack must take cognizance of its inherent limitations; as well as the considerations of maneuver, command and control, timing of the counterattack, task organization and a range of other issues. Conclusion. The counterattack is the most effective means of applying maneuver warfare in the defensive battle, and and it also provides us with the best opportunity to destroy the enemy, and transition to the offense. Recommendation. The counterattack should be emphasized as the primary focus of the defensive scheme of maneuver. A VIEW ON COUNTERATTACKS IN THE DEFENSIVE SCHEME OF MANEUVER OUTLINE Thesis Statement. If a defense is to be successful, we must place a higher priority on applying the considerations for conducting a counterattack, because it is the key to an effective defensive scheme of maneuver. I. Historical Perspective A. Early Warfare B. Impact of Technology II. The Counterattack Today A. The Threat B. Relevance to Defense III. Defining the Counterattack A. Definitions B. Gaining the Initiative IV. Coordinating Counterpenetration and Counterattack A. Functions B. Levels of Command V. The Reserve as a Counterattack Force A. Employment Problems B. Alternatives VI. Where to Strike the Attacker A. Frontal Counterattack B. Flank, Rear Counterattack C. Advantages, Disadvantages and Risks VII. General Consideratios A. Flexibility B. Command and Control C. Employment of Assets D. Timing the Counterattack VIII. Integration of the Counterattack into Defense IX. The Way Ahead A VIEW ON COUNTERATTACKS IN THE DEFENSIVE SCHEME OF MANEUVER "Invincibility lies in the defense; the possibility of victory in the attack. One defends when his strength is inadequate; he attacks when it is abundant." -Sun Tzu Historical Perspective In early warfare, tactics tended to concentrate on positional defense and the attack. There was little emphasis on defensive maneuver or counterattack because limited mobility and weapon effectiveness restricted a defenders ability to quickly react to an enemy penetration or flanking movement. As technology and tactics developed there were resultant changes in the relative balance between the defense and attack. World War I saw weapons technology make the defense stronger than the attack, and counterattacks only enjoyed relatively limited success. However, by World War II, developments in armor, aircraft, mobility and firepower had shifted the balance in favor of the attacker. Consequently, defensive maneuver and counterattacks assumed a new importance and, when correctly employed, they were far more effective. The Counterattack Today Technology has facilitated developments in operations and tactics whereby an attacker is now able to observe, maneuver, concentrate and mass fires; with unprecedented speed, reach, lethality and flexibility. This poses new challenges to the defense, which must rely on the counterattack more than ever before in order to redress the attackers advantages. Without doubt, the counter- attack has now become "the decisive element of defensive action." (23.8-17) Unfortunately, although we acknowledge the importance of the counterattack(CA), we often fail to apply the principles of 'maneuver warfare' to it. Furthermore, there is a tendency to ignore the lessons of history, although many CAs have failed for this reason. If a defense is to be successful, we must place a higher priority on applying the considerations for conducting a counterattack, because it is the key to a successful defensive scheme of maneuver. Defining the Counterattack Definitions. JCS Publication 1 defines a counter- attack as an "attack by part or all of a force against an enemy attacking force, for such specific purposes as regaining ground lost, or cutting off or destroying enemy advance units, and with the general objective of denying to the enemy the attainment of his purpose in attacking. In sustained defensive operations, it is undertaken to restore the battle position and is directed at limited objectives."(5.93) It could be argued that the inclusion of 'limited objectives' is too restrictive and implies a lack of intent to exploit potential success. Counterpenetration (CP) and counteroffensive are not defined in the available publications, but for the purposes of this paper they are assumed to be as shown below. Counterpenetration (CP)- Action taken to limit enemy penetration into, or between defensive positions, short of evicting him to re-establish the defense. Counteroffensive - A counterattack at the operational level, usually resulting from a successful defensive battle, with the intention of forcing the enemy onto the defensive. Gaining the Initiative. The attacker will normally hold the initiative over the defender; particularly when terrain limits a defenders freedom of action and increases an attackers. The adoption of a mobile defense, spoiling attack etc. helps to limit an attackers initiative. But the best method of destroying an attacker, putting him off balance,and taking the initiative from him; is through the combination of firepower and maneuver exemplified by the counterattack. Rommel was one of the greatest proponents of the counterattack (almost regardless of the odds) such was his faith in its potential advantages. The counter- attack can exploit an attackers vulnerabilities when he is most disorganized, confused or exposed; and has had his combat power reduced by our defensive fires. Coordinating the Counterpenetration and Counterattack It is generally accepted that a successful CA depends upon, among other things, effectively stopping the attackers penetration and momentum. The relationship between the CA and CP in a positional defense is depicted diagramatically in Figure 1. Click here to view image In general terms, an echelon of command is usually only capable of CP one level down, and CA two levels down. Figure 1 demonstrates this as described below. Platoon CPs in squad area, but is limited to CA in fire team area with the reserve squad. Company CPs in platoon area, but is limited to CA in squad area with the reserve platoon. Battalion CPs in company area, but is limited to CA in platoon area with the reserve company. This situation continues with each level of command. Although there are variations and exceptions, the ratios generally hold true because they are based on the amount of combat power the enemy would have had present in the objective area to capture or penetrate it in the first place; and a generally accepted ratio for an attacker is about 3:1 to have a reasonable chance of success (for the CA in this case). This consideration becomes important in the positional defense because it influences a commanders decision on when he will commit his reserves. If he commits it too early there may be other more important penetrations. If he commits it too late he may only have the capacity to CP, in which case ,the CA may have to come from a higher command, and this can have an adverse accumulative effect. This is one of the critical weaknesses in any defensive scheme that doesn't establish adequate CA and CP arrangements at each level of command. The problem is that the number of penetrations will overwhelm a defenders ability to react. The Reserve as the Counterattack Force The reserve is usually designated as the CP and CA force, but this has many inherent risks. In maneuver warfare, a major objective of an attacker is to avoid a defenders strengths such as main battle positions. Instead, he will attempt to bypass, envelop, or conduct a flank attack in order to locate, fix and destroy our reserves. Unless the defender has secure flanks, this means that the reserve may not be available to perform its primary functions of CP and CA. The main point is not to be too dependent on reserves. All units within the defensive area must be prepared to conduct CP and CA in support of other units, even from within the forward areas. An alternative, originally adopted by the Germans in World War I, was to maintain thinly-held forward positions, and keep very strong reserves well back from the main defensive area where they were unlikely to be effected by attacking artillery or the assault. They would allow penetration, then CA with a concentrated, powerful and intact reserve. This tactic was used frequently and with great success. (16.350) The Germans and Soviets employed similar tactics in World War II, particularly at the operational level, and often with effective results. Where to Strike the Attacker The actual method of employing the CA and CP in any given scenario is largely determined by considerations such as terrain, the enemy and whether the defense is area, positional or mobile. In general terms, the CA can be conducted to the front, flanks or rear of the attacker. The frontal CA is usually associated with a positional defense where the defender has limited room to maneuver his CA force. It is this approach that has failed most often because it usually involves attacking an enemy at his strongest point. At Dien Bien Phu, most of the French local CA were frontal and, although occasionally successful, they invariably resulted in heavy casualties. Conversely, World War II Allied experience in the jungle was that it was often the only option because of terrain. However,frontal CA were effective when a defender had very strong reserves and was able to force the attacker to turn flank on to other CA forces. This tactic was employed by the Soviets with devastating results at Kursk. The frontal CA has the advantages of speed, ease of control and fire support from flanking units. However, it minimizes the concentration of relative combat power, resulting in generally less impact on the enemy. The CA should attempt to strike the attacker in the flanks or rear whenever possible, and historically this has been the most successful. It has the advantages of maximizing our relative combat power by striking the enemy where he is weakest, and reduces his freedom of action and ability to react. It is less dependent on penetration being stopped, and allows the reserve to attack from a more secure position. However, it is usually more difficult to control and risks exposing flanks to follow on echelons. (7.9) One of the best examples of an effective flank CA in is the CA by Patton's Third Army into the southern flank of Fifth Panzer Army during the German Ardennes offensive. This resulted in the Germans being routed, losing all initiative, and ultimately being forced onto the defensive: thereby achieving the ultimate aim of a CA. Interestingly, the Germans used the same tactics against the Soviets and, according to Balck, often with similar results. (4.16) However, there is a risk in continually using the same CA tactics because a smart enemy will learn from his mistakes very quickly, and develop an effective counter. Balck reinforces the point that "there must be no fixed schemes." (4.42) Armstrong reiterates this point, contending that the Soviets soon learnt to employ strong, mobile flank guards to destroy the German CAs. (1.69) The Japanese also became stereotyped with the predictable 'Banzai' attacks which had little effect, except massive casualties to themselves. General Considerations CA and CP are very difficult operations that carry a high degree of inherent risk. Establishing a CA plan will not guarantee a successful defense. However, in addition to enemy and terrain, consideration of some of the following points will enhance the chance of success. Flexibility is a critical factor because the attacker has the initiative initially, and we cannot predict his actions with certainty. Therefore, the CA plan must allow for rapid changes to command and control, task organization and designated CA forces. Effective command and control is essential, but very difficult in the confusion of a CA. The problems can be eased by coordinating CA plans laterally between units and vertically between various levels of command. Furthermore, the presence of commanders well forward, and the issue of mission orders allows for rapid command responses to changing situations; as was demonstrated by Guderian, Rommel and Manstein. Every opportunity should be taken to seize the initiative from the enemy. This can be achieved by developing CA plans based on exploiting surprise and shock action to cause the enemy to react to us, and to assist in reducing the risks involved in conducting the CA; almost regardless of the enemies relative strength. (21.244) Heloborne forces provide an ideal means of establishing CP blocking positions. However, caution should be exercised before employing them in a CA role because in many situations, they may lack the ability to close with the enemy effectively. Given a limited availability of assets that is insufficient to meet the competing priorities of manning the defensive position and establishing a CA force, it will usually be preferable to give priority to the CA force. When terrain has not favored the defense, most successful defenses have been centered on strong CA forces supporting lightly defended positions. The CP and CA plan should ensure the coordinated employment of all the available means of combat power. Air has had limited effectiveness in the CP role when used in isolation; but the potential to seal penetrations using it in conjunction with FASCAM, support CAs etc. is considerable. Infiltration by an enemy is very difficult to counter, as demonstrated by the Japanese in the Pacific. Local CA should be employed to limit penetration, the main CA forces being held back, ready to strike the enemy when he attempts to reform. A consideration that stands out in all the researched works is the critical importance of timing the CA. There is no formula for getting it right, but failure to do so usually results in failure and defeat. Timing the CA must correlate enemy rates of advance, penetration, and momentum; mobility of CA forces; communication and chain of command timelags; and a myriad of other variables; all designed to ensure that the CA arrives at the decisive point and time. Arguably, timing of the CA is the key command decision of the defensive battle. In Italy, the German decision to CA Anzio was too late, and hence Lucas ultimately had time to extend his tenuous beachhead. The Integration of the Counterattack into Defense It would be difficult to argue that the counterattack is not a critical element in the defense. This is even more true today because of the additional advantages gained by the attacker through technological developments. History is replete with examples of defensive battles, and ultimately defeat or victory, being decided by the success or otherwise of a counterattack. The counterattack is a means by which we can apply maneuver warfare in the defensive battle. 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