Saturday, April 24, 2004
Once Stalingrad had been encircled, Hitler issued an insane order that von Paulus' Sixth Army should hold until relieved. General Field Marshal Erich von Manstein, in operational control of Army Group Don and Hermann Hoth's Fourth Panzer Army, tried to get that amended to allow Sixth Army to meet the advancing Fourth. Manstein would try to get close enough for von Paulus to break out to the west and make contact with Hoth's panzer troops.
The reality was that Operation Winter Storm was conducted by fewer than 75,000 men and five hundred tanks against two Soviet tank armies, neither of which showed up on the German intelligence reports until Hoth ran into them. The units were understrength and Sixth Army, for its part, was in no condition to conduct an offensive. The Soviets halted the Fourth in its tracks in December and by Christmas day, had pushed the relief force back to its start line. Sixth Army itself would surrender the following February, marking as it did the greatest catastrophe in the history of German arms up to that time.
Fast forward to Fallujah, Iraq, sixty two years later. Unlike von Paulus, the terrorists don't have a Hitler telling them to remain in place at all costs. You will recall that over the past several nights, we have had reports of major firefights as jihadi have tried to attack entrenched Marine positions. The terrorists realize that they are trapped, and that the Marines intend to come in and defeat them in detail. So, in small groups of twenty or thirty, they are attempting to break out to fight another day. But like the Soviets before them, the Marines have a tight cordon around the jihadi.
Like von Paulus before them, they cannot get out. Unlike von Paulus, there's no Fourth Panzer Army to threaten the Americans. Sadr's Mahdhi Army has ceased to be a viable force outside of Najaf, so the possibility of a front opening up in the American rear is moot at this point.
At this point, the political ground is being laid within Iraq and without for the assault. More on how it should play out in the next post.
Friday, April 23, 2004
One of the things that was said in Fallujah last week was a revealing quote from an American officer. He maintained that all the jihadi had come to Fallujah to kill Americans, and that this was their "Super Bowl". That got me to thinking about the Stalingrad angle mentioned below.
Stalingrad has become an archetypical metaphor for heroic resistance against an invading enemy. Naturally, the story of that battle has inspired many people over the years. Last year, as Third Army approached Baghdad, many writers (mostly of the antiwar persuasion) posited that Baghdad would become another "Stalingrad" for the invading Americans. It wasn't, of course.
Unlike the Stalin regime, Saddam's dictatorship was hollow-built as it was on personal intimidation and thuggery. Stalin knew that the Red Army would fight to the last for Russia. The salvation of the Rodina was used by the crafty Georgian to motivate Russians to give their all to save his regime. Saddam had no such thing to fall back on. When he was captured last December, he might as well not have existed.
The people who fight us today, however, fight us not for Saddam. Many are foreign jihadists who have traveled to Iraq to kill Americans. Others are local Sunni who fight us for grudges, family honor, or a misplaced sense of patriotism. All of these people have chosen to make their stand in Fallujah, because of its symbolism as a "resistance" town.
Hitler raced to capture Stalingrad because of its name. Stalin understood the psychological importance of Stalingrad to Hitler; so he chose to make the Germans fight yard for bloody yard for that town. And the Germans complied. Sixth Army was one of Germany's premier maneuver formations. General von Paulus was a good commanding officer. Thousands upon thousands of German soldiers, soldiers who were sorely needed elsewhere in the Volga basin, were fed into the meat grinder. And Sixth Army died a slow death.
The Russian counteroffensive that encircled the Sixth Army was launched against von Paulus' weak flanks. By the 22nd of November, 1942, Sixth Army was encircled. Its fate was sealed after the failure of Fourth Panzer Army to break through and relieve the Sixth. Over 200,000 of Hitler's best infantry were trapped. By mid-January, Sixth Army had been forced to capitulate. And so, we turn to Fallujah.
The position of the American forces closely resembles that of the Soviets, in my opinion. The jihadists have put their best people into this battle. They have pitched all to "defeat" the Americans in an urban setting. Why have they done this?
It is an article of faith among the bin Ladenists and their Ba'athist allies that if you bloody the nose of the American, he will turn and run. They drew this impression from our retreat from Somalia in 1993. And so, the Arabs believe that if they kill enough Americans, the United States will leave Iraq and their nemesis, George W. Bush, will lose the election. That is why they have chosen to fight at Fallujah.
Their belief is mistaken, of course. We are not the Spanish. Since operations in Fallujah began, Americans have adopted a sterner, harsher outlook on the war. Thousands of troops have had their tours extended. Bush's poll numbers have actually gone up. And it appears, as of this writing, that the U.S. Marine battalions at Fallujah will end the ceasefire.
As with the Sixth Army, the jihadist forces are encircled. There appear to be between one and two thousand of them, mostly in the northwestern part of the city. Early on, the Marines used two battalions to advance into the town. The ceasefire has given the Marines a chance to bring up another one or two battalions of infantry. When the offensive does begin, as it probably will over the next couple of days, the Marines will be able to bring all forces to bear on fronts of their own choosing. Given the operational efficiency of the Marines, enemy casualties should be extremely high.
The jihadists could have been put to more productive use in other theaters. However, someone has decided to place them, and pin them down, in a pitched battle with U.S. Marines. That was not a smart thing to do.
Sunday, April 18, 2004
Wonderful post at The Belmont Club today. Read the whole thing.