Some thoughts from the Burma Campaign
A most enjoyable read, thank you. Would be be great if yourself, Daniel Marston, Raymond Callahan, Tim Moreman, Andrew Roberts and Max Hastings could get together for panel discussion on the Far East campaign one day.
Super! Thank you Robert. Another great article. Thought provoking and insightful. Might I suggest you print the article, pop it into an envelope and post it first class to No10 Downing Street. Integrity oozes from your words about leadership, which is, in my view, the single most important characteristic of a great leader.
Rob, Shahbash on another informative piece.
May I suggest that as far as the battlefield is concerned and excluding politics, a successful infantry commander who wins battles and destroys the enemy (eg: kills them - the unpleasant face of battle which is often not discussed) needs LUCK (Napoleon recognised this).
BUT HE MUST MAKE HIS OWN LUCK.
I can only speak as an ex-rifle company commander, the highest level that I ever wished to reach because there you are still in the close company of soldiers.
But to make your own luck you need experience and an enquiring mind - what are your weapons capabilities by day and night compared to the enemy's?
What aspects of the enemy's operations leave him vulnerable at times (this may be as simple as his need to regularly move to an external water source)?
What unexpected support can you introduce into the action (eg: a mortar with night illumination bombs that your lads have sweated and strained over whilst carrying it and the bombs)?
How can you use the ground against the enemy?
What ground should you definitely avoid (to avoid increasing the enemy's capability, or just simply because it MIGHT be mined)?
And when it all goes wrong, as it often does beyond your control - suddenly a lad loses a foot on a mine, or the heavily laden GPMG men keep falling over on the very rough ground and the enemy sentries hear that) have you got a plan to withdraw your survivors, keep the wounded alive, and retreat covertly to your base?
Will your men react as you have practised them to do, and do they actually believe in you and what you say?
All the above incidents are from my own experience. Training schools and Staff lectures can partially prepare you, but only experience and confidence in your men allows you to use your luck successfully.
The above may be a low-level version of what you have written, but I believe that if you don't go out of your way to acquire the ability to read your own particular battlefield then luck will be hard to find, but having acquired it it becomes instinctive.
Always look forward to reading your essays but this one in particular resonated as I’ve recently been listening to Saul David and Patrick Bishop’s podcast on The Falklands Liberation and their examination of leadership of the campaign.
I was also struck by your quotes from Wavell; it seemed to me he was still smarting from being sacked from his Middle East command, as the qualities of experience for a leader he described seemed to relate almost solely to himself.
Robert, this essay should be essential reading at Sandhurst, you distil it so engagingly and eloquently.
Excellent article on leadership Rob. I know you covered the earlier successes in your first victories, though not the East African campaign if memory serves. Is it fair to say Bill Slim learnt a lot during the East African campaign despite being wounded, also what were the influences of General Alexander and the Auk on Slim’s development.