Thursday, April 17, 2014

B H Liddell Hart's

Sherman biography.

Just finished it.  I had read his auto-biography years ago, but wanted to see what the early 20th Century thought of William Tecumsah.

The language is a little closer to Dicken than to a terse Hemingway.  It's a bit distracting, but not too bad.  Certainly obvious.  He must use the word 'thither' a hundred times...  As in thither and yon.  Sherman auto-biography is less flowery.

Hart was a Brit WWI vet that turned into a historian and military theorist and military correspondent after the war.  He was shaped by the static lines of the Great War and was looking to the past to get more of a maneuver warfare up and going again.  His publisher wanted him to go a US Civil War general and preferred Robert E Lee, but, Hart wanted Sherman.  Lee was certainly a masterful campaigner, but what Billy Sherman did was more original, he thought.

So what was so new about Sherman, according to Hart?  Well the generals of that war were obviously greatly influenced by what Napoleon accomplished.  But Sherman thought the text books in English got the point wrong about concentration of forces.  Doctrine concentrated forces too early.  Large armies marched in multiple columns, but then came together when getting close to an objective.  Sherman thought it better to keep them separate and to march in a way so the enemy didn't know what his objective was.  This kept the enemy unconcentrated and guessing.  Now Lee would try to gobble up one of these smaller wings piecemeal, if they had faced each other, but Sherman had that covered by marching light, and therefore fast.  Hard to get cornered that way.

By this stage of the war armies were putting up improvised trenches and battlements when they stopped, increasing their defensive power when technology had already gone a long way to give advantage to the defense.  When defense has the advantage you let the enemy come and break upon your line and you don't attack his line.  Instead you maneuver around, obliging him to withdraw or have his lines of communication cut.

Sherman was a thinker, while Grant fought instinctively and persistently.  Both styles were a novelty for Northern generals at the time, and why they stand out.  Sherman 'played' chess, while Grant was more of a 'checkers' man.

Another feature of Sherman's style was realizing the value of indirect support.  If your wing is pressured by the enemy you can deploy troops to support them directly.  Or you can use the same troops to engage another area, taking pressure of the first indirectly.  If you tie down Lee's army around Richmond, and Beauregard's army in Tennessee,  your army only has to contend with Johnston's forced around Goldsboro, if you expand that principle to the strategic level.

So indirect maneuver and indirect support.  His men loved him for it.  Less slaughter involved achieving victory, so while morale of the enemy plummeted his friends' soared.

B H Liddell Hart was also supposed to have shaped tank warfare pre-WWII with this study of maneuver warfare in history.  Maybe.  There is some argument about how influential he was.  Did Rommel and Guderian really pay much attention to Hart?  Maybe.


Chris said...

You should read "Master of War" by Benson Bobrick, The Life of General George H. Thomas. (He was the "Rock of Chickamauga".) I'd gladly lend you mine, if you wish.

Dave said...

Just FYI, that particular book is on the Chief of the Australian Army's reading list.

Liddell-Hart is best known for his advocacy of the strategic "indirect approach," likely a direct result of his WWI experiences, but also probably a product of his being British, a product of a strategic culture of an island nation/maritime power which had fought many wars against continental powers. The strategic preference can be seen in Pitt choosing to go after France's colonies in the Seven Years War, the Peninsular Campaign in the Napoleonic Wars, Churchill's Gallipolli campaign, and Churchill's persistent advocacy for campaigns in the Mediterrainian in WWII.