The Officer and Fighting Efficiency (1940)

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The officer who is determined to get the best out of his men will not cease to remind them, at every stage of their training, that their fortunes on the battlefield will largely depend on the standard of personal efficiency they reach before they take their place in the front line. In particular, he should realize - and see that his men realize - that the ultimate value of a weapon is inherent less in the weapon itself than in the fighting spirit of the man behind it. The qualities of heart, mind, and eye make the weapon; without them it can provide no more than a temporary defence against the enemy.

This fostering of a man's realistic attitude towards his weapons must find its counterpart in his attitude towards the battlefield itself; it is imperative that he should be forewarned of the nature of a modern battlefield. No amount of talking can enable raw troops to visualize or to sense the experience of coming under heavy fire for the first lime; the experience is certain to impose a more than rigorous strain on their morale. Nevertheless, the technique of war employed by the Germans in Poland, in Norway, and in Western Europe makes it more imperative that no effort should be spared, by preliminary warning and advice, to fortify their morale.

Effect of New Weapons

This German technique is, in brief, to secure the demoralization of an enemy before the main attack is launched. All available means are employed to cow opposition, and are ruthlessly exploited. Aircraft attack ground forces by H.E. bomb, incendiary bomb, and machine gun, seizing every opportunity to launch such attacks when the ground forces are inadequately protected by anti-aircraft guns or fighter aircraft. Tanks in mass follow up and co-operate with the attacking aircraft. The effect of either form of attack is certain to be critical with poor or disorganized troops or troops not in first-rate physical condition; the combination of the two may be overwhelming. Unlike shell fire, both aircraft and tanks, being visible forms of attack, are apt to give the impression that they are directed at the individual spectator; and the mere noise of battle rises to a deafening crescendo. In particular, heavy bombs may bring about a form of mental, if not physical, concussion, and render an otherwise fit man more or less useless for fighting until some hours have passed. On the other hand, if, through previous warning, the experience does not take him entirely by surprise, he will the more readily steel himself to endure it. In the last war, seasoned troops were able to stand up to the heaviest of bombardments without being reduced to a state of helplessness when the moment came either to meet an attack or to counter attack. In this war, good troops, well led, with faith in themselves and their leaders, will equally well stand up to these new forms of attack if they keep their heads, use their wits, and take every opportunity of inflicting casualties.

Air Attack and Casualties

Attack by aircraft is less likely to prove demoralizing if, by dint of ceaseless repetition, troops can be made to realize that air bombing will not inflict heavy casualties if they are able to disperse and fall flat-preferably below ground level-and keep their faces down, in order not to present an easily identifiable target: a line of upturned faces will show up in any landscape. If the situation demands that they should continue to advance, it should be remembered that bombing aircraft, from the point of view of ground forces, are merely a singularly inefficient form of long-range artillery, and far less damaging since they cannot hope to put down a concentration of fire with anything approaching the same accuracy.

Again, machine gunning from the air is effective only against massed targets and from a low level; but, owing to the speed with which such attacks develop, effective retaliation can come only from weapons organized and sited for the task.. It will be the duty of every commander, whatever his troops are doing to, ensure that men and weapons are detailed to bring to bear the maximum fire possible, to force the attacker to keep high. The answer to low flying air attack is, therefore, dispersion and retaliation: no form of attack in the face of controlled fire should be more perilous to aircraft.

Vulnerability of Tanks

Again, troops must be made to realize that tanks are exceedingly vulnerable weapons of war. They are formidable only in movement. If they are held up by an obstacle they can be knocked out by artillery fire; and, in any event, a good anti-tank gunner, who keeps under cover and holds his fire, can play David to Goliath with perfect confidence in the success of his performance. The fact that tanks have broken into a position need be no cause for panic. They can achieve little unless followed immediately by their accompanying infantry; and even in a combined air and tank attack, if the defending troops refuse to be demoralized, the attacking infantry I once they can be divorced from their immediate tank support, should not find it possible to advance against determined opposition that springs to life immediately the air bombardment has ceased.

Three Counter Measures

Three main deductions may be drawn from the fore-going comments:-

i.     Leadership of the highest order is required of every officer. If he cracks up, his men will be of no more use than a disarmed rabble. Leadership is inspiration; it can never be more necessary than under the conditions of combined air bombardment and tank attack. After the initial onslaught every man under his command is likely to look around in the belief that he is the sole survivor of a world in ruins. He will certainly find that any number of his comrades are suffering from the same delusion. This is the moment for the officer to jump in and rouse his men to courageous action.

ii.     Power of endurance will be assisted by a high standard of physical fitness. Troops must be hardened by imposing severe tests on their physical stamina long before they are called upon to go into action; they should be warned that the outstanding feature of German troops is their fitness and power of endurance; they should be told quite bluntly that they will all be dead men if they cannot do as well - and rather better; they should be made acutely conscious that they are up against troops possessed ofa fanatical determination to achieve efficiency, to destroy the British, and to win the war for their Fuehrer. Any other conception of the German Army of to-day can result only in disastrous disillusion.

The "Little Bit Extra"

This instruction should not be taken to mean that men are to be made to footslog in aimless fashion so many miles a day. At various stages of the march they should undertake a definite task. For example, a defensive scheme for a village should be put into operation or a road block constructed, or a short tactical exercise carried out in conjunction with another unit. When, finally, they get back to their billets and expect to be dismissed forthwith, an additional situation should be brought in and they should be given a last job of work to do before they are allowed to break off. It is impossible to over-emphasize the importance of this, "little bit extra" that makes all the difference between success or failure in war. In fact, commanding officers should deliberately give their men something to "stick" - and tell them from the shoulder that, when the real test of "sticking it " comes, they will realize the value of this training.

iii.     Mere individual determination to refuse to succumb to "frightfulness" is not enough: a corporate sense of discipline will alone maintain the fighting value of a unit or sub-unit under the strain of the technique ofdemoralization as now practised by the German Army and Air Force. This form of discipline can be acquired only through drill. At the end of a hard day's work commanders should give their men fifteen minutes' drilling, in which no mistake, however trivial, is allowed to pass unchecked. They will be able to verify for them-selves the soundness of this advice.

Throughout these comments it will be observed that the subject under discussion has little or no reference to weapons of war, but to the determining factor in battle - the morale of the fighting troops. This is peculiarly the officer's responsibility; and he must grapple with the problem long before his troops are called upon to face the initial onslaught of this particular manifestation of "total war.

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