Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Realistic Understanding of True Military Audacity

Does Joe Biden’s buffoonery know no ends?

He was at it again at a $400,000 Democrat fund raiser in New Jersey last night, extolling the military audacity and daring of Obama in taking down Osama bin Laden (again), when he gushed
You can go back 500 years.  You cannot find a more audacious plan.  Never knowing for certain.  We never had more than a 48 percent probability that he was there.  Do any one of you have a doubt that if that raid failed that this guy would be a one-term president?
First, let us examine that Biden’s idea of risk is entirely political.  (Incidentally, I have a background in this area of operations, and 48% against a target such as this is good odds.)  Never mind that real lives of our troops are at stake – what counts for him is the impact on whether Obama can be re-elected.  He is entirely tone-deaf to the moral ramifications of sending men in harm’s way.  The operators themselves on this mission were likely delighted when they discovered enroute who was the target, and I can easily imagine thousands who would have leapt at the chance to take their place.  They are the ones who understood and undertook the real risk.  Biden’s conflating of the two is reprehensible.

Had bin Laden not have been at the objective, there would be practically the same diplomatic difficulties in our brittle relationship with Pakistan.  A far more devastating political risk to Obama would be when it leaked – and it would – that he had a chance to take a shot at bin Laden but ‘went wobbly’ at the last moment (as the great Margaret Thatcher would have put it).  What is developing, despite the efforts of the Democrat establishment and the media (but I repeat myself), is that Obama actually did dither over the decision, and it was likely then-CIA Director Leon Panetta (who had operational control over the mission) who gave the order to roll in hot on the target.

But the heart of the comment is the ridiculous declaration that this was the most audacious plan in 500 years.  So this decision – not the raid itself, mind you, but the decision – ranks above this small collection of other military endeavors:

D-Day, the most massive amphibious assault (the most complicated of military operations) in history, on which depended the entire Allied war effort against the Nazi empire (and launched with about the same odds).  Contained within this invasion was a smaller attack, like so many others (in size, though not audacity): the assault of the US 2nd Ranger Battalion, led by LtCol Earl Rudder (Texas A&M ’32), attacking up the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc against the withering gun fire of the Germans, the linchpin of the American assault on Omaha and Utah Beaches.  They suffered 70% casualties, but along with the flanking actions of the rest of the battalion and the 5th Ranger Battalion against five counterattacks by the 726th and 916th Grenadier Regiments, they were the first to break through the German lines in an action that led to the success of the American landings, and led to the motto of “Rangers Lead The Way”.  That was audacious.

In November 1940, the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean was concerned about the Italian Navy (the Regia Marina) and its effect on British resupply in North Africa while fighting Rommel’s Afrika Korps.  The resulting Operation Judgement, commanded by RAdm Arthur Lyster, took place on the night of the 11th, when 24 antiquated Fairey Swordfish biplane torpedo bombers launched from the HMS Illustrious performed what was considered a hitherto impossible feat by attacking the Italian fleet in port in Taranto, taking out half the fleet with the loss of only two aircraft.  An audacious act, particularly to the Japanese Naval Attaché from Rome who studied the results and reported back to Tokyo.

The Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 (followed quickly by attacks on Guam and the Philippines) achieved complete surprise on the US Pacific Fleet in harbor.  The Japanese managed to move practically its entire navy across half the Pacific to deliver what could have been a knock-out blow to the Americans.  While devastating, the aerial attack failed to eliminate the fortuitously absent US aircraft carriers, and neglected to destroy the ship repair facilities and fuel yards, which became vital to the rebuilding of the Pacific Fleet.  A truly audacious act nonetheless.

The Doolittle Raid on Tokyo on 18 April 1942, in which 16 US Army B-25 bombers launched from the deck of the USS Hornet (CV 8) on a one-way mission to bomb the Japanese islands, never before attacked in history.  One aircraft landed in the Soviet Union, low on fuel, and the crew was interned (though later escaped to Iran).  All others bailed out or crash-landed in China or off the coast.  Amazingly, LtCol Doolittle, his XO Maj Jack Hilger (Texas A&M ’32), and 62 others of the 80 survived and were smuggled out by the Nationalist Chinese to continue to fight, with 14 more killed or captured elsewhere during the war.  This shocking and audacious attack on Japan forced a quick realignment of the Japanese naval strategy, which led to:

The Battle of Midway, begun 4 June 1942, between a larger and superior Japanese fleet and an American task force cobbled together from the surviving ships after Pearl Harbor, which included three aircraft carriers (just enough) to take on the Japanese four.  This was the battle that turned the tide in the Pacific, but the success was directly attributable to a detachment of US Navy Torpedo Squadron Eight (VT-8) flying from the USS Hornet that managed to escape detection after the Doolittle raid.  Led by LCDR John Waldron, the squadron was among the first to make contact with the Japanese, due to Waldron’s estimation of where the fleet should be, proving more accurate than the intelligence estimates or his initial orders.  The squadron was dispatched on its mission without fighter cover, in obsolescent aircraft, and having never been trained on dropping an actual torpedo.  Waldron had briefed his pilots and crews prior to launch that this was likely a vitally necessary but forlorn hope.  Nevertheless, the squadron assumed attack formation and pressed home the attack against overwhelming fire from anti-aircraft guns on the ships and attacks from the Zeros that were brought low to the surface to engage them.  One by one, the fifteen were shot down but the rest continued grimly on, with only one aircraft able to launch a torpedo.  That aircraft, piloted by Ensign George Gay (Texas A&M ’40), then overflew the deck of his target, the aircraft carrier IJN Kaga, before crashing on the other side.  Of the thirty pilots and crew of VT-8, he was the only survivor.  The incredible and audacious sacrifice of the men of VT-8 (followed shortly thereafter by VT-3 and VT-6), enabled the US dive bombers to launch a surprise attack on the carriers, since the Japanese air cover was on the deck at low level trying to fend off the torpedo attack planes.  The Japanese lost three aircraft carriers and more importantly a large number of its veteran pilots, and never recovered from the loss.  How more audacious can one be?

The Battle off Samar, part of the Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Philippines, took place on 25 October 1944 and was one of the most lopsided naval engagements in history.  The US Third Fleet was protecting the landings on Samar Island, and the goal of the combined Japanese Fleet was to attack the landing forces.  The Japanese Northern Force was successful in drawing off the bulk of the 3rd Fleet, with Adm Halsey lured away to chase that decoy, leaving behind a small screening force of six carrier (‘Jeep’) escorts, three destroyers and four destroyer escorts to support the troops ashore and to protect against submarines.  This allowed the Japanese Center Force of four battleships, six heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, and eleven destroyers to close on the landing.  Taken by surprise as the Japanese closed their position at dawn, the small US carriers withdrew while launching their minor complement of aircraft, which were equipped with only ground attack (non-armor piercing) bombs and anti-submarine depth charges, but the aircraft attacked anyway, even when unarmed.  More astounding, the seven destroyers and destroyer escorts attacked the startled Japanese, against overwhelming odds, who initially thought the audacity of the Americans meant that the ships were actually cruisers.  The speed and devastatingly accurate firepower, at great sacrifice, were a major factor in causing the Japanese to withdraw, saving the Philippine liberation force.

These are some examples just from World War II, with countless others deserving credit.  That would include practically any Marine Corps assault against Japanese-held islands during the Pacific campaign, including the tenacious fight for Guadalcanal, lasting six months and often with the Marines cut off from outside support; the devastating and costly campaigns to take Iwo Jima and Okinawa; wading ashore at Tarawa through 500 yards of surf into the fire from Japanese machine gun bunkers; or Peleliu, in temperatures over 100oF with no water supply for days, and the entire 1st Marine Division on line, assaulting across the airfield into Japanese fire from the cliffs on the other side.  There is the USS Houston and HMAS Perth going down fighting at the go-for-broke Battle of Sunda Strait during the desperate days just after Pearl Harbor.   There is Patton’s 3rd Army at the Argentan-Falaise Pocket, and his strike into the Ardennes during the Battle of the Bulge.  Sixth Ranger Battalion rescues POWs from a Japanese camp at Cabanatuan in the Philippines in 1945.  Otto Skorzeny’s assault on the Gran Sasso to rescue Mussolini; the German paratroop capture of Fort Eben-Emael – say what you will, they were audacious.

Outside of World War II (we are given a 500-year block of time, after all): how about the Inchon Landing in Korea in 1951; the Israeli Entebbe Raid to rescue hostages in 1976; the Son Tay Raid into North Viet Nam in 1970; the Meuse-Argonne offensive of World War I in 1918, with the US 2nd Division, Marines and soldiers together led by the Marine MajGen John A LeJeune, finally breaking through the Hindenburg Line to end offensive operations of the war; practically any of Confederate Colonel John Mosby’s raids during the Civil War, such as the Calico Raid; Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg in 1863, with Robert E Lee deciding to pass on his previous tactically brilliant but ultimately strategically ineffective battle successes in favor of what he hoped would be a masterful stroke against the Union Army; General Sam Houston attacking the Mexican army at San Jacinto in 1836, quickly before two other Mexican columns could converge on the site, capturing the dictator Santa Anna and gaining independence for the Republic of Texas; Adm Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, finally establishing that Britannia ruled the waves; the Duke of Wellington at Waterloo in 1815 – “a damn near run thing” – that finally eliminated the scourge of Napoleon from Europe; George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware in 1776 for the raid on the Hessian force at Trenton, keeping the American War for Independence alive (repeated the next year to defeat Cornwallis at Trenton as well); General Winfield Scott cutting his supply lines at Veracruz in order to lead the campaign on Mexico City in 1847; the attack of Gustavus Adolphus at the Battle of Breitenfeld in 1631 against the Count of Tilly.

You get the idea.  (And pardon my conceit for my alma mater sprinkled herein.)

As to the original topic here, the incandescently ignorant comment comparing Obama to the greatest military feats of the last half millennium, I have to say that just one of Biden’s famous head-scratchers is enough to brand him, but this is such a common occurrence with him and goes back for years.  I try to be a gentleman about my opinions concerning the understanding of others, but I really have to ask: Is he really that stupid?  Or does he rely on the fact that the general public, victimized by the downward spiral in public education, really does not know the fundamental underpinnings of American civic philosophy?  (My recent quote of the young George C Marshall applies.)

A major accusation against Obama for the upcoming election is that he is incapable of choosing a competent running mate.  He places the nation in jeopardy.  Can anyone possibly contemplate what this country would face if, God forbid, Joe Biden would accede to the Presidency?

Even this far-too-partial listing of truly audacious leaders facing great moments of history feels so out of place with just the mention of his name.

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