Monday, November 30, 2015

Day 3: The Browning Automatic Rifle and World War 2 Suppressing Fire Tactics.

By the outbreak of World War 2 on September 1st, 1939, the Armies of the world had fully realized the destructive power of Machine Guns. Their Colossal fire power, suppression capabilities, and capability for annihilation were all dully noted by the Army Brass, and the horrific slaughter they caused in the Great war some 25 years earlier was still fresh in the mind's of the Generals of Europe and Asia, many of whom had fought in the war and experienced the power of the Machine Gun first hand. In the years leading up to the Second World War, new advances in Machine Gun Technology began to radically change Machine Gun tactics: Developments such as advanced Air-Cooling systems and interchangeable barrels allowed for the increased lightening of so-called "Heavy: machine guns, the development of Light Machine Guns such as the Bren Gun and DP-28, and the slow removal of heavy, bulky, water-cooled machine guns from front line service. However, despite the rapid advancements in Machine Gun Technology, the United States lagged behind. Today, on Swords and Socialism, we will discuss the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR), the United States' main Light Machine Gun in both World Wars, World War 2 suppressing fire tactics, and why the US lagged so far behind.


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Part 1: The BAR - A History


Diagram of a M1918A2 BAR
When the United states entered World War 1 in April 1917, they found themselves with a woefully insufficient and antiquated hodgepodge of machine guns: the Army, in total, only had about 1100 machine guns, and these were a mixture of old Colt M1895's, Maxim M1904's, and M1909 Benét–Mercié's. Realizing quickly that this situation was untennable in the context of a looming war involving millions of soldiers, the Army began to make provisions for the development and adoption of a new Standard machine gun for the Military (until that time, US troops would be issued with surplus British and French Equipment.)

Enter John Moses Browning, the legendary and prolific Gunsmith, who, to this day, is America's most famous and most copied firearms designer. Browning was already well known by the United States Military: he was the brainchild behind the Colt M1911, which had been adopted as the Army's official sidearm, and his commercial arms, such as the Winchester 1894 Lever Action Rifle, Winchester 1897 Pump Shotgun, and Colt M1903 Pocket Pistol, were well known as effective and reliable weapons, and sold millions of models throughout the world.
Browning Demonstrating his "Browning Automatic Rifle" at the Winchester Plant, 1917
In February 1917, (before the United State's entrance into World War 1), Browning personally brought two prototype machine guns to Washington DC for demonstration in an attempt to win a government contract. One was a water-cooled heavy machine gun (which would later be adopted as the Browning M1917, and will be covered at a later date), and the other was a prototype of what would soon become the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR).
The BAR as it was adopted in 1918


At the time, the BAR was a radical and revolutionary design. It was an air-cooled, selective-fire automatic rifle that used a gas-operated, long-stroke gas piston rod, moved by propellant gases bled through a vent in the barrel. Firing from an open bolt (when the rifle is ready to fire, the bolt is held back or "open." When the trigger is pulled, the bolt slams forward, chambering a round and firing it). It's sights went out to 1,500 yards, although hitting anything intentionally at that range was more of a fantasy than anything else. It was chambered in .30-06, the US Army's standard cartridge at the time, and was fed through a 20 round box magazine. It fired either in semi-automatic or fully automatic at a rate of around 600 rounds a minute. Weighing in at around 16 pounds, the weapon seems heavy until you realize that standard heavy machine guns of the time, such as the British Vickers or German MG--08 could weigh upwards of 150 POUNDS. Even so-called "Light" Machine guns of the time, such as the British Lewis gun or French Chauchat weighed in at around 30 pounds, making the BAR look like a feather in comparison. Overall, the BAR was an effective, efficient, and revolutionary design in 1917.
Browning demonstrating the BAR to US Army field testers, 1917
On 23 February, 1917, Browning, in front of an assembled host of nearly 300 people (including military brass, congressmen, senators, ambassadors, foreign dignitaries, and the press), conducted a live-fire demonstration with both of his prototypes. It was a complete and total success: Browning was immediately awarded a contract for the weapon and the BAR was hastily adopted into service. Further testing conducted in May 1917 supported that decision, and the BAR was officially adopted as the Rifle, Caliber .30, Automatic, Browning, M1918, or better known as the M1918 BAR, and an order was placed for 12,000 units, to be fulfilled by the Winchester Company. However, despite the need for machine guns, production of BAR's did not begin to enter production until February 1918. The BAR's first began to enter France with the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) in July 1918, but were kept in reserve until 13 September 1918, when they were put into the hands of American Troops during the Battle of Saint-Mihiel, and were later used extensively during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in October-November. Overall, for the short time the BAR was in use in American hands, the BAR performed admirably for its time.
An Illustration of the M1918A1 BAR, the first major modification to the BAR done by the US Army
During the Interwar years, the BAR underwent two major "upgrades." The first was the M1918A1, adopted in June of 1937. The M1918A1 added a light bipod to the gas cylinder shroud and a hinged steel butplate. The intent of these changes was to increase the BAR's accuracy when firing short bursts. However, few M1918's were ever converted to the M1918A1 configuration, making it one of the rarest forms of the BAR. It was also around this time that the Colt Company, who now had production rights over the BAR, began to export the rifle, and it was adopted by several countries, in particular, Belgium, Poland, and Sweden. Each of these countries made their own variations to the original BAR design (but we'll cover that Later).

The Browning M1918A2, as used by US Forces in the Second World War

In April of 1938, the US Military deemed the limited improvements of the M1918A1 to be insufficient to modernize the BAR, and began work on a new set of upgrades. This new model was officially adopted as the M1918A2 BAR in June of 1938. The new M1918A2 model added a new rate-reducer mechanism designed by Springfield Armory, and housed in the buttstock. The rate reducer also provided two selectable rates of fully automatic fire only, activated by engaging the selector toggle. The bipod on the Gas Piston shroud was replaced by one attached at the muzzle,   magazine guides were added to the front of the trigger guard, the hand guard was shortened, a heat shield was added to help the cooling process, a small separate stock rest (monopod) was included for attachment to the butt, the buttstock itself was lengthened by one inch, and the weapon's role was changed to that of a squad light machine gun. Because of all these additions, the M1918A2 weighed in at 20 pounds, 4 pound heavier than the M1918. This was the main Light Machine Gun that the US Infantry entered World War 2 with. Unfortunately, the decision to keep tweaking the now vastly-outdated BAR instead of adopting a whole new light machine gun would prove disastrous in the long run.
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Part 2: Suppressing Fire Tactics in World War Two.

A British Machine Gun team training near Bou Arada, Tunisia, 1943
Before we go any further, it is important to cover what suppressing fire is, and the different theories and strategies of fire suppression that existed around the start of World War Two.

Firstly, what exactly is suppressing fire? Well, dear reader, in a battlefield context, suppressing fire is gunfire who's job is to keep the enemy from carrying out it's objectives. This is usually done by covering the battlefield with large volumes of fire, mainly provided by Machine Guns, with sub machine guns, rifles, and other small arms providing a supporting role. The point of suppressing fire is not necessarily to kill the enemy: it is simply fire layed out to keep the enemy's head down and not firing at you so that your own troops could advance.
British Bren Gunner's in action, early 1940's

Now, with that out of the, the way, at the start of World War 2, there were 3 major schools of suppressing fire "theory," so to speak. The first was the light machine gun school, pioneered by the French and developed by the British. Its adherents included most of Europe, including countries such as Britain, France, Japan, Romania, Sweden, USSR, Belgium, Italy and many others. These countries equipped their infantry squad with bolt-action rifles and a magazine-fed light machine gun on bipod with a quickly interchangable barrel (Guns like the Bren, DP-28, FN 24/29, etc.) . The intention was to have a weapon that was capable of the supressing fire heavy machine guns (mounted on tripods) were but quick to set up and light enough to not hinder advancing troops. Nations of this school retained heavy machine guns in specialized units, often at as a machine-gun company attached to a regiment of infantry to provide the World War 1 levels of suppressing planned fire.
      
German Machine Gun Crew manning an MG-34, 1940's
      The second school was that of the general purpose machine gun.  Germany was the only real adherent of this school before World War 2, and their MG-34 and MG-42 are primary examples of this: Instead of using magazine-fed light machine guns, the General Purpose Machine Gun school made the World War 1 machine gun lighter - adding an advanced air cooling systems (and thus removing the heavy water cooling systems of World War 1 Era Machine Guns), rapidly interchangeable barrels, bipod (but the same gun could be mounted on a tripod if needed) and pistol grip. These were belt-fed weapons and heavy compared to the light machine guns used by other nations (Bren Mk III - 8,68kg empty, MG 34 - 12,1kg empty), but they provided a much higher rate of fire than their lighter counterparts, who could not fire as fast and had far smaller magazine capacities.

US GI's in action, 1940's
      The third and final school of suppressing fire was the rifle firepower school. While, before World War 1, the British and French had been adherents to this school, the only adherent before World War 2 were the Americans. The Americans believed that if each soldier was equipped with a semi-automatic rifle, they would be able to provide their own covering fire. Heavy Machine guns would still be retained, much like in the Light Machine Gun School, but mostly for defensive purposes instead. Because of this, in the minds of the US Army Brass, there was no real need to adopt a new Light Machine gun, and therefore, the BAR was sufficient to provide support while much of the suppressing fire came from the increased firepower from each individual rifleman. It is telling to note that the United States was the only adherent to this school before World War 2, and this system was dropped not long after the end of the war.
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Part 3: Problems with the BAR and American Suppressing Fire Doctrine in General.

US Marine Gunner Using His BAR on Okinawa, 1945
So what was the big issue with the BAR? Well, to put it simply, while it was a innovative and advanced design when it was introduced in 1917, by 1945, it was an outdated design that had been updated to address either non-issues or the wrong issues, and forced to fulfill a role it was not designed to fill: that of the Light Support Machine Gun.  It is important to note that other countries who adopted the BAR as their Squad Support Machine Gun (In particular Poland, Sweden, and Belgium), they added several necessary updates such as advanced air cooling systems, and better bipods, which allowed the BAR to satisfactorily fill the role of Squad Light Machine Gun. The American Military, on the other hand, Ignored this changes entirely, and making updates that werer generally unnecessary to fix problems that did not exist. Because of this, the American BAR lacked several key components that would allow it to function in a light machine gun capacity: the major one being that it lacked any sort of advanced air cooling system or easily replaceable barrel, meaning that delivering prolonged, sustained supressive fire with it was impossible. As it turned out, when US troops first entered action, they realized that their individual semiautomatic M1 Garands, while giving American Soldiers an important increase of firepower on an individual level, on a squad level, their rate of fire was far slower than that of a comparable German, Japanese, or even Italian squad. This meant that the BAR was pressed into service to serve as a weapon comparable to a light machine gun, something it was never designed to do. To make matters worse, the Americans shunned the sub-machine gun - while other nations equipped their NCOs and eventually both squad leader and squad leader assistant with an sub-machine gun, the American army equipped them either with an M1 Garand or the ligher M1 Carbine (which also fired semi-automatically). Sub-machine guns were used for rear area troops in the American army, except for among the paratroopers (which also used M1919A6 bipod-mounted belt-fed general purpose machine guns). The Soviets went so far that they equipped a sub-machine gun company in every infantry regiment with only light machine guns and sub-machine guns, and the Germans did similarly, as well as developing the first ever assault rifle (the Stg-44), thus increasing the average firepower of a German Squad even more. This, in the end, left the average American Unit with far less firepower than their opponents, in spite of their advanced Semi-automatic Rifles.
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Part 4: Epilogue

Polish Partisan Wielding a Polish Improved BAR, 1944
In the end, as much as I have ragged on the BAR, it is important to note that the BAR was not a bad gun; it simply was a weapon that was kept in service for far longer than it should have had. It was certainly a hell of a gun in 1917, but, in the configuration it was in when the US entered war in 1941, it had aged long past it's prime. During the war, the doctrine that gave the US troops the M1 Garand rifle also gave them no sub-machine guns and very few machine guns (and all of them heavy tripod-mounted) and an inadequate light machine gun. While the M1 Garand was an excellent rifle, experience was that it could not compensate for the lack of firepower of the American infantry. In the end, despite the advanced rifle technology of the United States Military in World War 2, It was the absolutely superb American artillery, and how superbly it was integrated with the infantry, that made the American infantry division the fearsome and effective formation it was. But that is a post for another time.
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-SwordsAndSocialism


Friday, May 22, 2015

Day 2: The Most Important Battle of World War Two (that you've probably never heard of): The Battle of Khalkhin Gol


World War II was truly a massive affair. While students in the American Classroom are usually only ever exposed to the American Campaign in Western Europe and the Pacific Island Hopping Campaign, World War II was so much larger: From the picturesque fjords of Norway to the steaming Burman Jungle, from hot deserts of Italian Somalia to the barren tundra of the American Aleutian Islands, from the Frozen waters of North sea to the Muddy Planes of Kursk, and everywhere in between, all of these places saw intense fighting. The prolific amount of fans and amateur historians that World War II has gained on the internet are quick to pinpoint the key battles: El Alamein in Egypt, where the tide was turned against the Axis Forces in North Africa, Stalingrad in the Soviet Union, where the German Push into the east was finally beaten back, Midway in the Pacific, which broke the back of Japanese Naval Power, and a dozen more besides: Normandy, The Bulge, Kursk, Guadalcanal, Monte Cassino, et al. Yet, there is one battle of this great war that gets constantly overlooked, one which is constantly forgotten in the lists of the biggest and most important. With this post, I hope to rectify that. Today, we'll be discussing the battle that kept Japan out of the Soviet Union for good. This is the story of the Battle of Khalkhin Gol: The most important battle of World War II that you've never heard of.
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Part 1: Prelude to War.

Japanese Troops enter Shenyang during the Mudken Incident, 1932

The Khalkhin Gol is a 145 mile-long river that runs near the village of Nomonhan, on the Sino-Mongolian Border. It was here, in 1939, that Russo-Mongolian and Japanese forces met to decide the fate of Northern China, Mongolia, and The Soviet Union itself.

The root of the conflict can be found in the history of Sino-Japanese Relations in the region. In the aftermath of the Mukden Incident in 1931 (a Japanese False flag attack, with the intent of giving Japan an excuse to declare war on China), Japan had invaded Manchuria (shown here) in 1932, setting up the puppet state of Manchukuo, under the nominal rule of the deposed former emperor of China, Puyi (Japan would later go on to invade all of China in 1937, sparking the Second Sino-Japanese War.)  After their conquest of Manchuria, the Japanese began to turn their attentions north, towards the Newly Proclaimed Mongolian People's Republic, and its powerful ally, the Soviet Union. Tensions in this region between the Japanese and the Russians (and later, the Soviet Union) had always been high, as both nations competed with each other for both political and economic influence over Northern China. Sometimes, these tensions flared up into open warfare (such as the famous Russo-Japanese war, which established temporary Japanese dominance in Manchuria), but things had been, at the very least, peaceful between the Soviets and the Japanese. With the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, however, tensions increased tenfold. Japan feared that the USSR would sweep into majority-Mongolian sections of China that they occupied, as well as intervene on the side of the Communists and their (temporary) Nationalist allies to drive the Japanese out of China. Likewise, the Soviets were afraid that the Japanese would invade the Soviet Union through Mongolia. These fears were well founded. Several members of the Japanese High Command were already planning for an eventual invasion of the soviet union. This faction of Officers, known as the "Strike North" faction, planned for an invasion of the soviet union, aiming for the Trans-Siberian railroad: the lifeline of soviet forces in the east. Once the Trans-Siberian had been severed, the Strike North officers argued, the Japanese empire could then be expanded to include all of Mongolia, the Soviet maritime provinces and parts of Siberia. Shielded by those buffer territories, the natural resources and heavy industries of Manchukuo could then be fully developed by the Japanese. Bereft of outside support, Chinese resistance would collapse.

In this already tense environment, relations were worsened due to a border dispute between Mongolia and Manchukuo. Japanes-backed Manchukuo claimed that the border ran along the Khalkhin-Gol river, whereas Soviet-backed Mongolia argued that the border actually ran just east of Nomonhan village, some 10 miles east of the river. At Halhamiao, in 1935, things came to a head when a force of Mongolian Cavalry assaulted a combined Japanese-Manchurian Patrol on the banks on the Khalkhin River. Although the so-called "Halhamiao incident" was a small affair, and there were few casualties, it sparked increased skirmishing across the border. Between 1935-1939, the amount of border clashes between Soviet-aligned and Japanese-aligned forces grew by almost 400%, as well as beginning to involve more and more troops and material (tanks, planes, artillery, etc.) The amount of troops in the region increased as well. By the start of 1939, The Soviets had Nearly 80,000 men in the region, while the Japanese had nearly 100,000 Both sides were supported by an unknown, but large amount of Chinese and Mongolian Auxiliaries. However, while the frequency and size of the skirmishes was increasing (The Battle of Lake Khasan in 1938 involved nearly 30,000 men, as well as tanks and artillery), a large-scale decisive battle had yet to occur. Knowing that the current state of affairs could not last, both sides massed their forces for the eventual, decisive battle that was sure to come.
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Part 2: The Battle.

Mongolian Soldiers defend against a Japanese attack on the Khalkhin river, 1939.
The Battle that would decide the fate of the Far East began on May 11th, 1939. when a 90 man Mongolian Cavalry detachment crossed the Khalkhin in search of pasture for their horses to graze on. A Manchurian Cavalry detachment was alerted to their presence and attacked, driving the Mongols back across the river. Within two days (May 13th), the Mongolians returned, this time with greater numbers, and drove the Manchurians back to their original positions. The next day (May 14th), two regiments of the Japanese 23rd Infantry Division, under the command of Lt. Col. Yaozo Azuma, arrived to restore the old border. The Mongolians, fearing encirclement, retreaded back across the river. On May 28th, however, they returned, and Azuma's forces moved to intercept them. It was a disaster: Azuma's forces were completely encircled and, in a few hours, were driven back, suffering 105 dead and 33 wounded, a 64% casualty rate. After this debacle, both sides settled into an uneasy period of inactivity, as they treated their wounded and build up their forces. The Soviets brought Corps Commander General Georgy Zhukov (yes, THAT Georgy Zhukov) in to take command of their forces, while the Japanese placed their forces under the command of veteran General Michitarō Komatsubara: A Veteran of  both the Russo-Japanese war and World War I, who was well-acquainted with the Russians (he had previously served as a military attaché to the Russian empire, and was fluent in Russian.) By the time fighting resumed, both sides had amassed thousands of men, backed up by Tanks, aircraft, and artillery.

The Mongolian steppe exploded once again when, on June 27, after a month of quiet, the Japanese launched a surprise air raid on the Soviet Airbase at Tamsak-Bulak, several miles behind the front lines. The Soviets were caught completely off guard: Many of their aircraft were destroyed on the ground, and destroyed twice as many Soviet planes as they had lost themselves. The Soviets responed to this attack swiftly, and in force: 6 squadrons of Polikarpov I-152 biplanes and three squadrons of Polikarpov I-16 Type 10 monoplanes, totaling more than 100 fighters, were deployed to the Khalkhin front, commanded and staffed by veteran fliers of the Soviet Air force, many of whom had seen service flying for the Second Spanish Republic during the Spanish Civil War. The Japanese response, however, was the exact opposite: when High Command back in Tokyo got news of the attack, they were enraged, as they had not been informed of the plans for attack beforehand. Furious, the High Command ordered that there would be no further airstrikes against soviet airbases - A rash mistake that the Japanese Infantry would soon pay for in blood.
Japanese Troops Crossing the Khalkhyn, 1939

However, despite pulling air support out of the theater, the Japanese High Command authorized Komatsubara to launch a land attack to expel the "Invaders." Komatsubara planed out a two-pronged assault on the Soviet Lines: On the Left Flank, Japanese Forces, spearheaded by mechanized brigades, would drive the Soviets back to the Halha river several miles back. Meanwhile, on the right flank, Japanese forces would cross the river to the north and then sweep south, cutting off the subsequent Soviet retreat. This would result, Komarsubara hoped, in a total encirclement and destruction of Soviet forces.

On July 1st, the Japanese began to put their plan into action. 8 brigades of the Japanese right flank crossed the Khalkhyn river via pontoon bridge and advanced on the Soviet-held Baintsagan heights. After a brief firefight they managed to dislodge the small group of Soviet defenders and take them. In response to this, Zhukov threw the Soviet 11th Tank and 7th Armored Brigades, a total of 450 tanks,  at the heights in a hastily-organized counter attack. Despite the lack of proper infantry support that usually would have doomed an assault like this, the Japanese were unable to effectively counter the Soviet armor, largely because the Japanese Lacked proper anti-tank guns, mines, and other equipment, forcing the Japanese to resort to Molotov Cocktails and other crude anti-tank devices hurled at the Soviet armor. After 2 days of fierce fighting, involving suicidal assaults by the Japanese on Soviet armor groups, the Japanese defenders were dislodged from their positions, and forced to retreat back across the pontoon bridge. For the next 6 days, the Japanese hurled themselves at the Soviet forces on the other side of the river. Al these assaults ended in failure: the Japanese failed to properly use their armored units in conjuncture with their infantry, and the Soviet Armor and defensive positions were simply too strong. The Japanese lost 45 tanks, nearly 1/3rd of their armor, while Soviet tank losses were negligible, and easily replaced. By June 10th, the assaults were called off, and the pontoon bridge was withdrawn.

During this period, Zhukov was constantly building up his forces: with a fleet of over 3,500 trucks, Zhukov was able to consistently bring in fresh troops, fuel, and supplies over dirt roads from the major Soviet rail depot along the Trans-Siberian Railway, some 460 miles away. The Japanese, on the other hand, were plagued with supply problems. While the Japanese supply base of Hailaerh was only 200 miles away (nearly 260 miles closer than the Soviet's), the lack of decent roads and motorized transportation made resupplying the Japanese forces a nightmare. All of these problems were exacerbated by the inhospitable nature of the Khalkhin battlefield. Broiling hot days, and freezing, damp nights wore away at the strength and morale of the Japanese infantry. Bad sanitation and lack of water bred dysentery and typhus, and shortages of supplies in the Japanese lines only made these problems worse: Japanese troops sometimes went for days without water in the scorching 104 degree heat. While the Soviets also suffered some of these problems, they were, for the most part, combated effectively due to their better management of supplies.
Soviet Soldiers Inspect Captured Japanese Artillery, 1939

Undaunted by these setbacks, Komatsubara withdrew his soldiers into defensive positions along the Khalkhin River, and began planning his next move. The new Japanese plan consisted of a massive preliminary artillery barrage to knock out the Soviet heavy artillery, followed by a night assault on Soviet positions (which, at this point, had been established on both sides of the Khalkhin river). TO accomplish this, Komatsubara brought up six 150mm Type 89 Guns and sixteen 105mm Type 92 Guns. On July 23rd, the bombardment of Soviet positions along the Khalkhin began. But the Japanese found themselves outgunned by the Soviet batteries. The twelve Soviet 152mm M1937 Howitzers and sixteen 122mm M1931 Corps Guns simply outnumbered, outranged, and outshot their Japanese counterparts. This put the 2 Japanese divisions assaulting the Soviet positions at a distinct disadvantage, as the Soviets were able to cover their positions with artillery fire. At the Kawatama bridge, 2 days of fierce fighting resulted in a stalemate, with no major gains on either side. By July 25th, after 2 days of savage fighting, with constant attack and counter-attack, capturing and re-capturing on both sides, the Japanese forces, exhausted, were forced to pull back to their original lines and construct defensive positions. At this point, the fighting ha spread out along a 30km (about 18mi) front. The Japanese had suffered nearly 5,000 casualties. The soviets had suffered a similar amount. But, unlike the Japanese, the Soviet casualties could be replaced.

Soviet Troops Advance Behind a BT-5 Tank, 1939.


By the end of July, the Japanese forces along the Khalkhin front were exhausted. The failed assaults had drained the energy of the Japanese infantry, and their supplies were becoming stretched thin. Komatsubara, realizing that discretion was the better part of valor, reluctantly began directing his energies towards constructing defensive positions, building a system of field fortifications and bunkers along the front. On August 10th, Komatsubara's forces were organized into the 6th Army. His forces now numbered 75,000 men, 318 guns, 135 tanks and 250 warplanes. Soviet forces under Zhukov now consisted of the entire First Army Group, numbering 57,000 men, 542 guns, 498 tanks and 515 aircraft. Both sides expected this lull in the fighting to be temporary, and both were planning new assaults to resume the offensive. But, by this point, the advantage had swung decisively over to the Soviets. Back in Moscow, Stalin, anxious to shore up his eastern flan in preparation for the Russo-German invasion of Poland, sent Zhukov additional 1,625 trucks from European Russia. This gave Zhukov the logistical base he needed for a decisive assault.  
All through early and mid August Zhukov quietly moved up reinforcements. The troops moved only at night, masking the sound of tanks massing with late night bombing raids and small arms fire on Japanese positions. Zhukov deliberately ordered his men to continue constructing defensive positions to convince the Japanese that they were digging in for the winter, while sending out patrols to scout and probe enemy positions by night. Zhukov, absorbing the tactical lessons of the Spanish Civil War, insisted on careful cooperation between the air and ground forces. Air reconnaissance was used to pinpoint Japanese defense positions, and pilots were made to participate in ground briefings with the Red Army. By mid August, Zhukov's forces had swelled to over 100,000 men. Using information gleaned from the Japanese attacks in July,  Zhukov realized there were several major flaws in his enemy's defensive formation. The Japanese flanks were covered by unreliable Manchukuoan cavalry and were vulnerable to encirclement. The Japanese also did not possess a tactical mobile reserve. To cope with flank attacks, they would be compelled to focus on one flank at a time, and disengage forces from action in the center or the other flank. Armed with this knowledge, Zhukov now began to plan his assault. His plan was to split the Japanese lines in  two, and then proceed to surround and envelop the pockets of Japanese resistance. To do this, Zhukov divided the Soviet battle line into three sections: the Southern force (consisting of the 6th Mongolian Cavalry Division, the 7th Armored Brigade, the 601st Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Rifle Division and two battalions of the 11th Tank Brigade), the Central force (consisting of the 36th Motorized Rifle Division, the 5th Machine Gun Brigade and the 82nd Rifle Division), and the Northern Force (consisting of the 57th Rifle Division, two battalions of the 11th Tank Brigade, three battalions of the 6th Brigade and the 8th Mongolian Cavalry Division). The 9th Armored Brigade, one battalion of the 6th Tank Brigade and the 212th Airborne Brigade were kept as a strategic mobile reserve. While the Central force would pin the Japanese in place, the Northern and Southern forces would wheel around the Japanese flank and force them to collapse in on each other, resulting in the splitting of the Japanese lines into two encircled "pockets" of resistance that could be quickly destroyed.

Victorious Soviet Soldiers Greet Each Other After Encircling Japanese Forces, 1939 

On August 20th, 1939, Zhukov put his plan into action. At 5:45 A.M, a fleet of Soviet bombers unleashed a flurry of bombs on Japanese positions. For the next 3 hours, Soviet artillery blasted the Japanese lines. Then, at 9:00, Soviet Forces began to advance on the Japanese lines. The climactic battle of Khalkhin Gol was underway. The Japanese were caught completely off guard, yet, they quickly responded with tenacious resistance. The Southern force, with the shortest distance to reach the Japanese rear, and supported with the largest tank strength, made the most progress in the initial onslaught, but the Central and Northern forces became ensnared in ferocious fighting. Komatsubara found himself caught in a tough situation: keenly aware of the Soviet threat to his southern flank, Komatsubara wished to shift elements of his 23rd Division south to meet the threat, but Soviet pressure on his beleaguered soldiers in the north compelled the Japanese commander to reinforce that endangered flank instead. To keep pressure on the Japanese northern flank, Zhukov committed the 9th Armored Brigade and the paratroopers of the 212th Brigade to his northern force. As a result, Japanese attention was forced to remain focused on their northern flank. This left the Southern flank of the Japanese line undermanned. By August 23rd, the Southern force of the Soviet Line had reached the border with Manchuria, cutting off any Japanese retreat from the area below the Holsten River. On August 24th, the Soviet 9th Armored Brigade linked up with the 8th Armored Brigade, and encirclement of the Japanese was complete. Attempts by Japanese Reinforcements to relieve the encircled 23rd Infantry Division between August 24th-26th were repulsed by heavy Air and Armor assaults. By August 31st, all Japanese resistance in the pocket had been crushed. The Japanese reported 8,717 killed and 10,997 wounded; The Soviets reported 8,931 killed, and 15,952 wounded, for a total loss of 17,648 dead and 26,949 wounded. In reality, the losses were almost certainly much higher (some scholars put Japanese Losses as high as 60,000 killed and wounded, with a total loss of over 100,000). Although sporadic air fighting continued until September 16, for all intents and purposes, the Battle of Khalkhin Gol was over. The Soviet Victory was complete.
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Part 3: Reasons For Victory.

Soviet Generals Grigori Shtern (left) and Georgy Zhukov (right) confer with Mongolian Premier Khorloogiin Choibalsan (Center)

The Soviets managed to pull this impressive victory due to several factors that put them at a distinctive advantage. If you've been paying attention, you'll known that we've already discussed the advantage the Soviet's had in resupplying their troops (and if you haven't, I can't say I blame you), but even in spite of these deficiencies, the Japanese could still have achieved victory: they outnumbered the Soviets throughout most of the Conflict, with most of their forces made up of veterans of the Japanese Army's campaigns in Manchuria and China. With proper planning and tactics, the Japanese could have easily steamrolled the Soviet defenders. So why did they loose? There are several other reasons.

Firstly, when it came to equipment, the Soviets simply had the advantage. While the Japanese Nakajima Ki.27 fighters were newer and more maneuverable, the older Soviet Polikarpov I-153 biplanes and Polikarpov I-16 monoplanes were still able to dominate the air. This was for several reasons. Firstly, the Soviet fighters were better armed than their Japanese counterparts: The I-153's and I-16's were armed with four 7.62mm ShKAS Machine Guns, while their Japanese counterparts were only armed with two 7.7mm Type 89 machine guns. Secondly, while the Japanese fighters were more maneuverable than the Soviet fighters, this came at a cost: the Ki.27 fighters were left lightly armored to improve manuverablility, which resulted in them getting shot to pieces when facing Soviet Pilots, many of whom were veterans of the fighting 'round Madrid during the Spanish Civil War. On the ground, it was a similar situation: The Japanese Type 89 I-Go, Type 95 Ha-Go, and Type 97 Chi-Ha tanks and tankettes were out-armored, out-gunned, out-classed, and out-numbered by Soviet T-26's and BT-5's. Concerning artillery, it was the same situation: Japanese guns were out-numbered and of smaller caliber than their Soviet counterparts (as was already mentioned earlier). Even the small arms in the hands of Soviet Infantry were (arguably) better: Soviet Mosin-Nagant M91-30's were of a higher caliber than the Japanese Type 38's and Type 99's, The Type 38's and Type 99's were fine rifles, but their comparatively low caliber meant that they had less stopping power than the Soviet Mosin Nagants. Soviet PPD Sub-Machineguns outclassed and outnumbered older Japanese MP-18's, and Soviet DP-28 light squad Machineguns outclassed their Japanese Type 11 counterparts. All and all, Soviet equipment simply outclassed their Japanese Competitors.

Secondly, Soviet Tactics were simply better suited and tailored to the fighting at hand. The Japanese failed to properly coordinate their armored vehicle attacks in tandem with infantry support, and, because of inter-military political squabbles, greatly limited the amount of offensive air support Japanese Commanders at the front were allowed to use. The Soviets, on the other hand, closely coordinated their armored vehicles with their infantry units, combing tanks, planes, trucks, and infantry support in a strategy that has been described by some as a "Proto-Blitzkrieg," This close coordination of different units, combined with the general technological superiority of Soviet Equipment, allowed for the Soviets to mount a successful defense and launch successful attacks, even though the spent the majority of the battle outnumbered my allied Manchurian-Japanese forces.
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Part 4: Aftermath

Signing of the Soviet-Japanese Non-Aggression Pact, 1941
Despite the size and scope  of the Khalkhin-Gol campaign, it was little known outside of Japan and the Soviet Union. Mortified by defeat in battle, the Japanese sought to conceal their disgrace. For its part, the Soviet Union was preoccupied with setting up defensive positions to thwart predicted German invasion in the newly acquired territories of eastern Poland and the Baltic States, and did little to trumpet its victories in the Far East. Nevertheless, despite how unknown the battle was, both during the time it took place and today, the effects of the Battle were immense, so much so that they may have fundamentally changed the outcome of the war. Firstly, the Battle served as one of the first major defeats of Japanese forces in the Far East, second only after the Chinese victory at Taierzhuang the previous year. However, while Taierzhuang had been a successful defensive operation, Khalkhin Gol was the first major offensive blow that had been dealt to the Japanese. This cause an increase in morale among both Soviet and Chinese forces fighting the Japanese in China, and humiliated Japanese troops both in the home islands and in China/Manchuria. 

Secondly, this battle launched the careers of several important officers, who would later go on to serve with distinction (or disgrace, as the case may be) in the later stages of World War 2. On the Soviet Side, the most famous of these officers was the overall Soviet Commander, General Georgy Zhukov, a brilliant tactical who much of the victory was credited to. Zhukov won his spurs at Khalkhin Gol, and thereby won Stalin’s confidence to entrust him with the high command in late 1941, just in time to turn back the German's from the Gates of Moscow in December, and start him and the Red Army on a path of victory that would culminate in the capture of Berlin and defeat of the Germans in May 1945. His fellow commanders, however, were not so lucky: The overall commander of the operation, General Grigori Shtern, and the Commander of Soviet Air Forces in the region, General Yakov Vladimirovich Smushkevich, were arrested for charges of being a part of a Trotskyist conspiracy by KGB agents on the orders of notorious KGB commander Lavrentiy Beria, and were both shot on October 28th, 1941. Both Generals were extremely capable and talented commanders who had served with distinction in both the Spanish Civil War and the Winter War, and their purging dealt a blow to the Soviet Union during the early months of Operation Barbarossa, where talented commanders were few and far-between.

On the other side of the Conflict, the Japanese command fared far worse. Disgraced by his defeat, Michitarō Komatsubara resigned his commission as an officer and retired from the armed services. He died of Stomach Cancer in October of 1940, less than 8 months after his retirement. His second-in-command, General Masaomi Yasuoka, was relieved of command and transfered to the 3rd Depot division, after which he promptly retired in disgrace. In 1942, he was appointed military governor of the city of Surabaya in Indonesia, a position he served until he was captured in 1945. Convicted of War crimes, he was executed in 1948.  The only successful Japanese officer to come out of this great defeat was Masanobu Tsuji: A Japanese Staff officer who, at the time, was notorious for his aggressive nature and Anti-Soviet sentiment. Tsuji was a leading member of the "Strike North" faction of the Japanese Military, and it is suspected that he may have directly ordered the Manchukuoan attack on Mongolian forces that started the battle. After the defeat, Tsuji was able to escape major disgrace due to his (relatively) lowly position in the high command, and was transferred to the staff of General Tomoyuki Yamashita. It was here that Tsuji's incredible talent for planning and organization were shown: nicknamed "The God of Operations," he was the mastermind behind such operations as the Japanese invasions of Malaya, Burma, the Philippines, and Singapore. He also was responsible for several massacres of Chinese civilians in Singapore, and was the mastermind behind the Bataan death march. Hew was never charged with anything ,and returned to Japan after the war to become a successful politician He disappeared in Laos in 1961.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the defeat of the Japanese at Khalkhin resulted the abandonment of the so-called "strike north" strategy by the Japanese armed services. As you may recall, before Khalkhin Gol, the Japanese armed services, in particular the high command, were split into factions over where Japan should expand into first. The so-called "Strike North" strategy, supported by the army, called for focusing on invading Northern China, Mongolia, and the Eastern Portion of the Soviet Union, in order to both secure resources in the Soviet far east (in particular, oil and steel), while at the same time "Striking a blow at Communism." The "Strike South" strategy, supported by the Navy, instead called for Japanese forces to strike, you guessed it, southwards, towards the western colonies/territories of Indonesia, New Guinea, Burma, Indochina, India, Australia, New Zealand, and Hawaii, in order to secure vital resources, such as metals and petrol, for the Japanese war machine. This strategy. they hoped, would bring them in conflict with these territories colonial masters: France, Great Britain, the Netherlands, and the United States. Before the defeat, the northern strategy seemed to be gaining both the Emperor and high command's favor: Assault on the Soviet Union would bring them into conflict with fewer world powers, could potentially be coordinated with their German allies, and was seen as "finishing the job" that was started with the Russo-Japanese War some 40 years earlier. After the defeat, however, everything changed: High Command realized that they had severely underestimated both Soviet Technological and Tactical strength in the region, and the "Strike North" faction's influence began to dwindle. The final nail in the coffin of the "Strike North" faction was the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany in August of 1939, which guaranteed neutrality both between the 2 parties and their allies. With any hope, so it seemed, of German help for an invasion of the Soviet Union gone, the "Strike North" faction died away, and the Soviets and Japanese signed their own Neutrality Pact in April of 1941. High command now fully embraced the "Strike South" strategy, and turned it's attention to the Pacific colonies of the old western empires.

The effects of this change would shape the war in the pacific, and possibly, the outcome of World War 2 itself. First of all, the shift of strategy forced Japan into conflict with the Imperial Powers of the Netherlands, France, and Great Britain, all of whom still had colonies or allied territories (Australia and New Zealand) in the Pacific. Because of this aggression, the United States declared an embargo off oil exports to Japan in July of 1941: a particularly damaging move since 80% of Japan's oil at the time came from the United States. This embargo prompted Japan to, in an attempt to intimidate the United States into rescinding the embargo, launch a surprise attack on the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl harbor on December 7th, 1941, as well as launching attacks on British Colonies such as Burma and Singapore. As any schoolchild knows, the attack had the opposite effect, and the bombing brought the full military productive forces of the United States into the War. As a result of this, the Japanese now had to fight on 3 separate fronts (Burma, China, and the Pacific Islands): against 3 respective enemies: China: the most populous nation in the world, Great Britain and the commonwealth nations: the largest Land empire on earth, and the United States: the largest productive force on earth. While Japan was a "little Giant" on the East Asian scene, taking on one of these enemies would have been daunting: taking on all 3 at once was suicidal. The victories Japan won in early 42-43 were stopped at Guadalcanal, New Guinea, and Midway, and the Japanese suffered losses there that they could never replace.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, this Japanese focus on the south might have saved the Soviet Union from destruction and, thereby, perhaps even the west from Nazi rule. When Germany invaded the USSR with Operation Barbarossa in June 1941, they asked Japan to in turn strike the Soviet Union in the East in an attempt to split soviet forces and force them to fight on two fronts. After much internal debate, the Japanese, remembering the lesson of Khalkhin Gol, declined, and instead maintained neutral relations with the Soviets until the Soviet Invasion of Manchuria in 1945. This allowed for the Soviets to move thousands of troops and equipment from the Far East to the West to stop the Nazi's, and are most likely what saved the Soviets from total defeat in the west during the Summers of 1941-43. Picture, if you will, a scenario in which the Japanese had focused their attention on the Soviet far east and China instead of the Pacific. If the Japanese HAD invaded at the same time as the Germans, as Hitler Planned, then Soviet forces, forced to fight on two fronts, would have given up much more territory, or, in a worst case scenario, be defeated entirely. Victory in the east would also have given the Axis powers access to Russian oil fields, allowing them to operate their chronically under-fuelled forces at full potential. And, without the soviets to pin down the Majority of German troops in the west, the Nazi's would have had the necessary forces to launch offensive operations to knock out both Allied north Africa and the United Kingdom itself. The outcome of the war would have been quite different.
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Epilouge:

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Mongolian President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj standing in front of a statue of Zhukov at a ceremony in Ulaanbaatar in August 2009, commemorating the 70th anniversary of the battle

World War II was a truly massive affair. From the streets of the Warsaw Ghetto to the Bocage around Normandy, from the deserts of Iraq to the picturesque tiny nation of San Marino, and everywhere in-between, the whole world was touched by war. Several Hundred Million men, women, and children fought in it, and Up to 100 million people, 5% of the population, died in it. And yet, while Khalkhin was tiny compared to some of the other, much larger battles that happened during the war, and while, outside of Mongolia and Eastern Russia, it is practically unknown, the ramifications it had can be felt far and wide. What began as a dispute over where a border lay ended deciding the fate of human history: The Allied victory in World War 2, the cold war, the Communist Revolution in China, all of these can be traced back to the Summer of 1939, when the peaceful Mongolian Steppe erupted in fire to decide the fate of Mongolia, China, Japan, the USSR, and the World itself.
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Thanks for reading this blog post. If you like what you've seen here, share it with others wherever you see fit. If you have any tips, suggestions, ideas for a later post, or corrections to factual errors in the post, please leave a comment below.

Thanks Again

-SwordsAndSocialism
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Sources:

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

RANT: Why I dislike SGA and Class Council

So today, while going to homeroom, I had the misfortune of learning that Elections for our Class Councils were today. While spending the entirety of my homeroom period (which is ALSO my only lunch period) siting in a hard wooden chair in a hot, sticky auditorium, listing to the same people recite the same speeches we hear EVERY year, I started to realize something; something I hadn't really thought about in a long time.

I HATE Class Council and SGA. I hate it SO MUCH. It seem to serve no purpose than, twice a year (once for SGA elections, once for Class Council Elections), to waste my time and steal my only lunch period. I want to preface this rant by saying that I don't hate EVERY Student or Class Government in every school EVERYWHERE. I haven't been to every school, and who knows, maybe somewhere, some school's SGA or equivalent isn't absolutely pointless at best and downright oppressive at worst. But, at my high school, it is. And Here's why:

Firstly, I take issue with the names themselves: SGA (an acronym for "Student Government Association) and Class Council. I take issue with these names because they are misleading. Both names seem imply some sort of level of governance over the students who elected them, and that is COMPLETE BULLSHIT. Student Government here does NOTHING.

That's the second point: THE SGA AND CLASS COUNCIL DO NOTHING. Since I started at my high school (from here on out to be known as simply "A.S."), I've kept a tally of all the major changes that have occurred since I came here as a freshman (I'm currently a junior). They are:
  • Banning of "Tagging" (whatever the hell that was)
  • Welcome back dance was cancelled
  • Increased tuition EVERY. SINGLE. SODDING. YEAR. (I go to catholic school. Yeah, I know).
  • Changing of Lunchroom Catering Service
  • Moving the date of Spirit Week so that our PSATs take place DIRECTLY IN THE MIDDLE OF IT.
  • Allowing for students to take notes on electronic devices
There are several other minor ones, but these 6 are the biggest. Now, of these 6 MAJOR (for high school at least) decisions on school policy, how many, do you think, was our student government responsible for? Take a wild guess.

0.

Yep. 0.

And that's what pisses me off: how little our student government does. The Class council only ever seems to plan school dances, "show class spirit" (how they do that, I don't know), and collect money through things like "dress down days" (where we can pay not to wear our shitty-ass uniforms) or selling tickets to aforementioned dances. As for the SGA, I honestly couldn't tell you what they do, because I have never even HEARD of them doing anything that affects the school, not to mention SEEN the effects of anything they've passed . Overall, Student Government does nothing accept ensure that the same 5 or so people who are elected EVERY YEAR have something pretty to put on their resume.

That leads us to the next point: IT'S THE SAME PEOPLE EVERY YEAR. This is more of a Class Council thing, and it may be isolated to my grade, I don't know, but I swear to GOD, our class council representatives have a higher re-election chance than your average senator: Every SINGLE year, the same 8-11 candidates run, and the same 5 win. This is because, since the SGA and Class Council really do NOTHING, elections are rally no more than a popularity contest. And, as a result of this, the people who wine EVERY TIME are the ones who are the most popular. I go to a decently-sized school (about 1200 students), but in our grade, everyone knows everyone else, which means people vote only based on who their friends are, and not on any perceived "Skills." Which really sucks, because our current Class Council and SGA are awful, even by these low standards. Also, a bit of a side note, every year the speeches are the same. It doesn't matter who wrote it, they are all formulaic and say almost the exact same thing. In fact, me  and my friends have come up with a drinking game for SGA Elections. It'll leave you shitfaced by the end of it, but he, at least it makes listening through this drivel bearable. It goes like this:
  • Take a shot every time a campaign manager drops a pop culture reference.
  • Take a shot each time a campaign manager says something along the lines of "I have a name, but it's not important" (ugh.)
  • Take a shot every time a campaign manager tries way to hard to be funny.
  • Take a shot each time a candidate acknowledges/congratulates their opposition/
  • Take a shot each time the candidates give off a list reasons they are not qualified for the position they are running fore, and then argue that they are qualified for the position they are running for.
  • Take a shot every time a candidate says "I'll listen to your opinions" and never actually propose any policy.
  • Take a shot every time that someone shares an "important, heartwarming" story that will be inconsequential out of high school.
  • Take a shot every time a candidate says "I'm not just doing it for college/resume."
  • Take a shot every time a candidate says "Let's make this the best year ever."
  • Take a shot every time the administration glares at a candidate for saying something off script.
  • Take a shot every time people only applaud for their friend and are silent for everyone else.
  • Down the whole bottle when the results are announced and the same people have won AGAIN.
But I could deal with all this. Yeah, I really could. I could deal with all of this shit if the SGA and Class Council actually had an IOTA of power. But they DON'T. AND THAT'S THE BIGGEST PROBLEM! THE SGA HAS NO POWER!

Here's and example: when we had SGA elections a few weeks ago, we had a candidate running for President who Actually had policy plans he wanted to enact (I know, Right!). He proposed the creation of Charging Stations in the halls for our electronic note-taking devices (i.e, computer, tablets, etc.), establishing some sort of "student award system," and giving both the SGA and Class Council more autonomy. Even though he was not elected, the administration came out IMMEDIATELY after his speech and said that, even if he was elected, that they had no plans to enact ANY of the ideas he proposed.

And that's the big issue: the Student "Government" does not GOVERN! It serves as little more than a mouthpiece to support the decisions of the Administration. The Goddamn Reichstag under the Nazi's had more fucking power than these hacks! Aside from planning dances, they don't have the power to change or do ANYTHING.

And that's what's so terrible about all of this: WHAT THE SGA COULD BE. It could be a viable system of representational democracy that actually had some sort of PURPOSE. It could give the students some system of representation in the decision making processes of our school, give us a sense of control over our own schooling. But we DON'T. The SGA serves as NOTHING but a special club for the mos POPULAR people in our school: the popular bullies, the prepy "queen bees," the lovable idiots, et all. And, honestly, it's a dirty shame that it has come to this.

THAT, my friends, is why I HATE our Student Government.
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Thanks for reading this rant. For the .75 people who are actually waiting for a new history post, i'm sorry I haven't published it yet; I've had a hectic past few months, and personal issues have made it harder to write. However, expect a rather lengthy, and, if I do say so myself, interesting post about a forgotten aspect of the Second World War in the next few days.

Again, thanks for reading. If you like this, please comment Ideas for later posts.

 -SwordsAndSocialism

Monday, March 30, 2015

Day 1: The Push of Pike, Bad War, and Renaissance Pike Tactics




I want you to imagine for a second that you're a Cavalier Pikeman at the battle of Torrington during the English Civil War. You're in the front ranks of your pike block, defending the outskirts of your town, when suddenly, out in the distance, you see a Roundhead pike formation heading directly at you. As it slowly advances towards you, pike tips bristling like the quills on a porcupine, you anxiously wait for your captain's orders to re-deploy. They never come. He's decided to call the opponent's bluff and stand his ground. As the enemy gets closer and closer, and you're own side refuses to budge, you realize, terrified what's going to happen. In a few moments, their formation slams into yours. In seconds, you, your fellow comrades in the first row, and the enemy's entire first line, are all wiped out. In the coming minutes, there will be more slaughter to come.

What you have just witnessed was known as a Push of Pike. Today, for my first ever post on my first ever blog, we're going to discuss it, "Bad War," and some points about Renaissance Pike Formations and Tactics
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 Part 1: The Pike Square and Pike and Shot:

By the late 1400's, European tactics and equipment for the time-honored tradition of killing the shit out of each other was changing. Armies dominated by expensive, heavily-armored Men-At-Arms (colloquially known as "Knights") were slowly being phased out in favor of cheaper, larger forces, consisting mostly of more lightly armored conscripts, supplemented by professional mercenaries hired from places such as Switzerland or the Holy Roman Empire (where the famed Swiss Pikeman and Landsknechte come from, respectively). The final nail in the coffin on the old way of fighting was the Battle of Nancy in January of 1477. Here the Swiss confederacy managed to smash Charles the Bold of Burgundy's Heavy armored Knights on horseback using the Swiss' secret weapon: NEUTRALITY! (Bet you didn't expect that.)

No, the weapon that smashed Charles the Bold's army and destroyed the Duchy of Burgundy in it's entirety was the Pike: almost 18 feet long, with a 4 foot steel tip. Now, pikes HAD been used before this; they were the mainstay of Alexander the Great's army in his conquests of the known world, and even had been used in the medieval era: the Flemish and the Scots used pikes to great effect at the Battles of the Golden Spurs and Sterling Bridge (which, unlike what Braveheart tells us, ACTUALLY TOOK PLACE ON A BRIDGE). But it was the Swiss who made the pike the mainstay of armies all across europe. Why? Because it was they who deployed their pikes in a radical new formation, designed specifically to combat heavy cavalry: the Pike Square. This was a formation of 100 men, deployed in a 10x10 square (hence the name "Pike Square"). The structure of this formation, combined with it's immense mobility and the discipline of the soldiers in it allowed the pikes to be deployed in almost any order: pikes could either be deployed facing the enemy in attack, or open up into a bristling defensive wall of pikes in all directions on the defense. On the late medieval battlefield, the Pike Square became the unchallenged king of the battlefield: against the previous formations, with their focus of heavy cavalry, it was unstoppable. he introduction of firearms in the late 15th century only added to the formation's strength. In what became known as "Pike and Shot" tactics, pikes were deployed in a defensive square, similar to the old pike square, with arquebusiers deployed in the front and on the left and right flanks, to form what were known as "Wings of Shot." Halberdiers were deployed in the center of the pike formation to help counter enemy pikes, using the great axe blades on their halberds to sweep enemy pikes out of the way. The pike and shot formation was an extremely effective and extremely deadly force. Imagine, if you will, 10, 20, maybe even 30 pike and shot formations, each with over 1,000 men supported by both cavalry and artillery. This combination allowed the pike to remain, for almost 200 years, the "King of the Battlefield"
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Part 2: Pike Tactics:

"But how were pikes used in battle, SwordsAndSocialism?" I hear you cry. (Or at least, I would hear you cry if you were...you know what, forget it. Joke aborted.)

Pikes were used, like I said earlier, in a block formation, similar to the ancient Macedonian Phalanx or the Celtic Sheltron or Schiltron. Pike blocks usually formed into a 10x10 square, usually consisting of about 100 men. While on the move, the soldiers carried their pikes vertically (like so), but, when stationary, the pikemen were drilled to be able to deploy their pikes in any direction. When deployed, the first row would usually either bend over or kneel, planting the butt of their pikes into the ground for extra stability. The following few rows would remain standing, holding their pikes at about neck level. The pike square was an extremely versatile formation. On the offense, pikes could be deployed all pointing one way in attack, or be planted firm in defense. Squares could be joined together to form a battle line, and, if surrounded, pikes could still be pointed in all directions. A well drilled square could change direction very quickly, making it difficult to outmaneuver on horseback. Impossible to penetrate on horseback and dangerous to approach on foot, The square was a powerhouse of defense. On the attack, it was incredibly effective as well. When threatened the square could point all of the pikes at the enemy forces and merely move inexorably toward its target. But the square's real strength was in its charge. The charge consisted a headlong rush against the enemy with leveled pikes and a coordinated battle cry. The mass charge could only be carried out by the most disciplined infantry and mercenary companies, but when carried out, it was massively effective. Any enemies dumb or brave enough not to flee ended up impaled on the 4ft steel tips. The inclusion of muskets only added to the pike square's strength. Pike and shot formations added a ranged element to the classical pike square, with the musketeers being able to target enemy formations, and the pikes protecting the musketeers from enemy infantry and cavalry incursions. Overall, the Renaissance pike formation was an unstoppable powerhouse. It was maneuverable, fast, and could counter enemy cavalry and non-pike infantry with ease. It was when pike met pike when the issues began.
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Part 3: When Pike met Pike:

While pikes and pikemen were usually the most common element on the Renaissance battlefield (In the English Civil War, Pikemen made up 1/3 of the total infantry forces), Pikes clashing with other pikes were actually not very common. Armies usually utilized specialist anti-pike forces, such as soldiers armed with Great Swords (and, for the inevitable "Oh, you mean Zweihänder" comment-THEY'RE THE SAME THING ) or halberds, to hack their way into the pike formations and destroy them from within (but that's another post for another time). With the introduction of gunpowder weapons, muskets, and even better, cannons were increasingly used to try to break up and scatter pike formations. Once this had been achieved, cavalry would be sent in to mop up the broken forces and pursue the survivors.

So, as we can see, it was not effective to try counter pike formations with other pike formations. But, that's not to say it didn't happen, because it did. Usually, when pike formations were sent to advance into other pike formations, it was done as a bluff: the hope was that the sight of a hundred advancing pikes would be enough to intimidate the enemy troops into breaking. Usually, if this didn't work, and the enemy formation refused to budge, the advancing formation would raise pikes, turn heel, and disengage. But sometimes, that didn't happen. Sometimes, due to God Knows why, pike squares were ordered to slam into each-other. And that's when things got messy.

The fighting that followed was known as the "Push of Pike," and it was an immensely violent, bloody affair, which usually resulted in heavy casualties. The Push of Pike can be divided into 3 basic parts, or, as I like to call them, the 3 P's:

Prodding,
Pushing, and
PANICKING.

It usually played out something like this:

1. Prodding:
The first part of the Push of Pike usually consisted of the two opposing ranks of pikemen slowly advancing towards each other, with their pikes at about shoulder level. The opposing forces would thrust and stab at each other, trying to wear down the opponents and break their morale, all the while getting closer and closer. Much of the fighting in this section consisted of attempts to "rake" opponents' pikes out of the way while at the same time trying to get a thrust in. Casualties during this portion, particularly in the first few ranks, were very high, because they were the first units to be hit by the pikes, and, unlike the earlier spear and shield formations from the ancient and Medieval world, the pikes were too long to be effectively used with a shield, which means that all they had to resist the thrust was their armor, usually consisting of a simple padded jack, which simply could not hold up to the thrust. That's another thing: length. On campaign, pikemen often cut down the length of their pikes in order to make them easier to manage. This habit had on many occasions disastrous consequences as the side with the longest pikes had the advantage during push of pike (at Benburb, during the Irish Confederate wars, the Irish were able to beat the English for just this reason). But that was only the beginning

2. Pushing:

Eventually, one of the sides would get in close enough to the opposing ranks, and then the real struggle would begin. At this point, since at this range, the length of the pikes made them incredibly unwieldy, both sides would raise pikes and charge, opposing sides literally slamming into each other. the two sides would then push physically, each man pressing on the one in front, until one or other of them gave way. These pushing matches usually only lasted a few minutes, but, on some occasions, they could last an agonizing amount of time (At Torrington, during the English Civil War, this pushing match lasted nearly 2 hours.)

3. PANICKING:
At this point, the battle could go two ways. Usually, the weaker of the two sides (usually the defenders) would collapse and beat a  demoralized retreat. This would lead to massive casualties for the retreating side, as their victorious opponents would often charge in and slaughter their retreating enemy. But that didn't always happen. Sometimes, after the pushing match had gone on for a long while, and neither side  seemed willing to budge, the fighting would devolve into what was known as "Bad War." During this part of the battle, the infantry would drop their pikes, and set upon each other with their sidearms: Broadswords, hatchets, knives, musket butts, and anything else you could think of . It was a chaotic, violent, messy affair, fought at close quarters, with very high casualty rates. The fighting would usually continue in this manner until either one side retreated or anti-pike units (such as greatswordsmen) were sent in to break the fighting up.


The barbarity and high casualty rates of push of pike battles are probably the main reasons they occurred so infrequently: a quick perusal of Wikipedia (the vessel of all human knowledge) lists only 11 battles from the period between 1400-1700 where push of pike occurred. or the soldiers involved in such terrifying, violent affairs,, i'm sure even one time was too much.
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Epilogue:

For over 200 years, the veritable pike reigned as undisputed king of the European battlefield. It served in hundreds of battle, in the hands of thousands of soldiers, under the flags of everyone from princes to peasants. Even with the introduction of the Musket, the pike still remained the clear lord of the armies of Europe. With the invention of the socket bayonet, the pike was rendered obsolete, and yet, it was not until the 1730's, nearly 300 years after the victory at Nancy, that the pike was finally phased out of the arsenals of European armies. And even then, pikes were still a common sight in the hands of revolutionaries and militias of all stripes (England's Home Guard were  very famously issued pikes in 1942).

The effect the pike had on European warfare was astounding. The modern organization of Companies and regiments, the concept of professional armies instead of hired mercenaries, even the borders of Europe itself, all of them owe their existence to the humble pike.
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-SwordsAndSocialism