Chapter 17

Are Improvisations Inevitable?

A considerable number of the improvisations described in the preceding chapters could undoubtedly have been avoided by normal advance planning. Other improvisations could have been minimized by preparatory measures of a general nature which could have been further developed if and when the need arose. A third category of improvisations could not have been even generally anticipated because they were caused by such abnormal conditions or extraordinary circumstances.

I. Avoidable Improvisations

In an attempt to avoid improvisations one must search for and examine all the problems that may possibly confront an armed force in future wars. First of all it is necessary to determine the probable theaters of war. Nowadays any conflict is likely to assume the proportions of a global war if it transcends the limits of a purely local police action. Prior to World War II the Germans did not think far enough ahead. When, for instance, the Armed Forces Academy needed maps of Finland, it was discovered that the available supply of such maps at the Map Service of the Reich War Ministry was inadequate.

The next step is the acquisition of a thorough knowledge of the potential theaters of war, a knowledge not limited to their broad geographic or military-geographic features, but which includes above all their climatic conditions. In every geographic region the native mode of life is determined by the climatic conditions. For obvious reasons this influence is especially pronounced in the many fields of military activity. Strategy and tactics, organization, weapons, munitions, equipment, clothing, food, training, replacements, billeting, and many other factors are strongly affected.

Moreover, a great deal may be learned in advance about one's potential enemy. Differences between his armed forces and one's oven are usually not fortuitous but rather reflect a discrepancy


in the military policy of the two nations. The observation of any striking deviations from standard procedures should therefore give rise to speculation about their inherent causes. This will make it possible to decide upon the appropriate measures which must be introduced in every military sphere in case of an armed conflict with that country. Friendly nations which are subject to the same climatic conditions as those of the potential enemy may serve as a source of useful information in peacetime.

Senior commanders in the armed forces and military specialists in all important fields must acquire firsthand knowledge of the climate and terrain as well as the social, economic, political, and military conditions in any potential theater of war or at least in those neutral or friendly countries which show similar characteristics.  On the basis of their own observations, these men must determine what is essential for the conduct of military operations. Firsthand personal impressions are indispensable; they may be supplemented by the study of pertinent books and documents and by consultation with private citizens who are likely to have a sound judgment of foreign countries.

Military history is another source of valuable information. It is never too late to determine the reasons for the success or the failure of past operations. Many of the decisive factors have retained their validity throughout the years and their effect on military operations in our time would be very much the same as in the past.

In view of the foregoing, the Germans were in a good position to learn the general as well as the climatic conditions of European Russia and the far north. If they actually acquired this knowledge, the Germans certainly failed to draw the proper conclusions for their military policy. Instead, they were forced to use improvisations because of the lack of advance planning and preparations. If they did not get that information in the first place, they were obviously guilty of neglect. For instance, the Finns might have told them that ordinary flat-country divisions are not suitable for fighting in the impenetrable forests, the rocky labyrinths, and the swamps and marshes of the arctic. Perhaps German planners were still too deeply entrenched in Central European military traditions. Also, the military were not sufficiently familiar with foreign lands and particularly with countries whose climatic conditions differed from the German. As a result they were lacking in proper personal understanding of what was to be expected. They probably took matters too lightly at the outset. In the field of tactics and logistics in European Russia and the arctic, better preparations might have been made before military operations began. Many improvisations per-


taining to tactics and logistics could have been foreseen, in particular those which developed into permanent institutions and were eventually incorporated in German standing operating procedures.

Thus if improvisations are to be avoided, one of the essential prerequisites is the logical application of any knowledge possessed or acquired about a potential theater of war. It may happen that a country becomes involved in a war by surprise; in that event the top-level military leadership must act immediately and take appropriate steps to master the situation. It is wrong to wait until the field forces begin to help themselves by introducing improvisations which in some cases may be the wrong ones and difficult to eradicate. After weighing the requirements against the available emergency resources, all spheres of the war effort must immediately be adjusted to the new situation by concerted action. This will prevent many adverse psychological effects, which may otherwise easily disrupt the confident relationship between the top-level command and the field forces.

II. Unavoidable Improvisations and their Minimization

A different category of improvisations will be unavoidable whenever an unexpected or unpredictable situation produces the need for extraordinary tactical or logistical measures. A number of the improvisations mentioned in the preceding chapters could not have been avoided, even if adequate preparations had been made. The need arose so suddenly or was so localized that preparations carried out elsewhere could not be used in time to remedy the situation. Logistic preparations, for example, will prove effective only if mobile transportation is readily available in case of a sudden break-down in the movement of supplies. For this purpose higher headquarters may resort to airlift, truck, railroad, or inland water transportation. Such preparations must be made well in advance in order to assure immediate availability of stand-by transportation of the above-mentioned types in sufficient numbers and within reasonable distance.

In situations which require immediate emergency measures there is at first no choice but to improvise extemporaneously. If such improvisations are enforced for some time, it will be possible to correct their deficiencies gradually and to introduce systematic improvements.

Improvisations in the fields of weapons, ammunition, equipment, clothing, or rations can rarely be avoided since it is impossible to anticipate all requirements. In some instances stop-gap measures may well consist of emergency purchases of consumer


goods, but a general solution can be found only if the rigid system of standards and specifications adhered to in military procurement can be modified and adjusted to the flexible methods applied by private industry. It would then become possible to provide suitable equipment for specific needs in time, thereby eliminating many improvisations. It goes without saying that one cannot possibly mass produce arctic equipment in peacetime in expectation of an armed conflict in the arctic at some time in the future.

III. Improvisations in Extreme Emergency

In times of extreme emergency, improvisations must be approached from a different point of view and applied with other standards than those used during other periods of the war. In such situations preparatory measures hardly enter the picture because then it is a matter of living from hand to mouth while being catapulted from one crisis to the next. The pressure of time assumes tremendous proportions. Obviously no country at war will ever expect to be faced by a situation such as that with which the Germans had to cope during the closing days of the last war. Much less will any country attempt to prepare for such an emergency.


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