Jan - Feb 2012: Article

Army Logistics and Its Historical Influences

In the chaos following the Russian Revolution and Russia's withdrawal from World War I, U.S. forces were deployed to Siberia and northern Russia. This little-remembered mission offers some interesting lessons in strategic logistics.

In "The Western Way of War," the introduction to the textbook The Cambridge History of Warfare, Geoffrey Parker describes the characteristics of the western way of war as having five distinct features. First, western armed forces have relied on superior technology to compensate for numerically inferior forces. Second, discipline, rather than kinship, religion, or patriotism, is the primary factor in building organized military units. Third, the western way of war and traditions have shown a continuity of military theory. Fourth, the western way of war preserves the ability to change as well as conserve military practices as the need arises. Lastly, western armies have the resources to finance those changes.

All five of Parker's characteristics of the western way of war can be applied when examining the rise of the large, nationally sponsored armies of Napoleon's France and the Prussian Empire. Superior technologies in both armies led to their success in war. The extreme discipline in their ranks was distinctive when measured against other armies of their time.

Antoine-Henri Jomini

Learning From the Past
Antoine-Henri Jomini and Carl von Clausewitz were French and Prussian military theorists, respectively, and their practices were used for decades after their time. In terms of logistics, their military procedural innovations greatly influenced planning and execution during the French and Prussian wars of the 19th century. Napoleon's generals and Prussia's leaders preserved their abilities to change logistics practices to meet the challenges of sustaining large armies.

From a historical perspective, Napoleon's and Prussian military leaders' procedural revolutions in the application of logistics in warfare directly influence the modern-day functions of military sustainment in Iraq and Afghanistan. The opportunity for American military planners to study and learn historical logistics practices leads to the success of American military planners in sustaining extended periods of combat.

Napoleon's Logistics Innovations
The logistics deficiencies faced by Napoleon in fielding a large national army presented problems on a scale not seen before. To address these problems, Claude-Louis Petiet, head of the French Army's organization responsible for supply, developed four war commissionaires: baking of bread, transportation, foraging, and meat processing. Each commissionary was related to an element of supply.

Before these military reforms were instituted, Napoleon's commanders did not allow French Army units to forage for fear of large-scale desertions. However, the new separate logistics system allowed French soldiers to forage.

Military campaigns and operations were tied to regular supply and sustainment by wagons or supply magazines. French commanders exercised restraint in movement in order to not outrun supply trains and lines of communication. Movement required extensive planning to ensure the safety of lines of communication and supply.

Before Napoleon's campaign at Austerlitz in 1805, his Ministry of War, divided into commissionaires of supply and transportation, dealt with the administration and logistics issues for a large Army. Although Napoleon's army suffered huge losses in battle, the logistics innovations by Petiet sustained French soldiers until the onset of the Russian winter during Napoleon's invasion of Russia in 1812.

Napoleon encouraged the study of military practices and instituted several logistics-related reforms. He realized that the importance of requisitioning supplies by instituting a formal system makes up a large part of the art of war. His revolutionary practice of breaking a once unitary army into corps and divisions with allocated support units was critical to the success of future campaigns.

Prussian Logistics Transformation

Carl von Clausewitz

The examination and conservation of military practices continued in the works of military leaders such as Clausewitz and Jomini, who analyzed Napoleon's campaigns and recognized that logistics was a crucial factor in military victories. In response to the writings and influences of these theorists, Prussian military leaders began a logistics transformation within their army. Defeats at the hands of Napoleon led Prussian leaders to reexamine the practices of their own army and institute reforms across a wide spectrum.

Gerhard von Scharnhorst and August Neidhardt von Gneisenau developed a comprehensive program of reform within the Prussian Army, beginning with the formation of the quartermaster general staff to handle logistics issues. Scharnhorst proposed the creation of the German general staff and cadet schools and promoted the idea that Prussian soldiers serve the nation instead of the longstanding tradition of serving as professional (mercenary) soldiers. He devised a general staff consisting of four divisions, with the quartermaster and adjutant general staffs as subordinate departments, whereas Gneisenau developed the concept of joint operations within the German general staff.

Helmuth von Moltke not only revolutionized the administration and logistics practices of the Prussian Army, he also instituted the use of Prussian railroads for military purposes. Because of Moltke's development of the Prussian Rail Service, Prussian soldiers did not suffer from logistics shortages during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 to 1871. Moltke's railway innovations were engineering marvels of his time and allowed the Prussian Army to move huge armies to fronts very quickly to meet the French Army.

U.S. Application of French and Prussian Principles
Jomini, in The Art of War, defined logistics as a general science forming the most essential parts of the art of war. In keeping with the facets of Parker's "western ways of war" and preserving the ability to change as well as conserve military practices as needed, U.S. forces have responded to the ambiguity of counterinsurgency warfare by transforming logistics units and methodologies in Iraq and Afghanistan. The modern sustainment warfighting function is related tasks and systems emplaced to provide warfighters support and services to extend the freedom of movement, operational reach, and endurance of the force.

The integration of Army logisticians at all levels of command has been critical to U.S. success during military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Just as Napoleon and the Prussian General Staff used the concepts of integrating forces and anticipating logistics requirements, today's U.S. logistics units use the same principles in sustaining warfighters in Iraq and Afghanistan. U.S. warfighting doctrine presents a unifying influence and supports the coordination of efforts across levels of command. Joint logistics capabilities include supply deployment and distribution, maintenance, engineering, and health services. These provide critical sustainment and support to joint forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Today's Army continues to be a learning organization. Military leaders and planners continually study actions taken in war. Because U.S. forces have retained the ability to conduct change if necessary, they have retained their ability to adapt to enemy actions on the battlefield.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, enemy actions have re-sulted in significant changes in logistics practices. The United States has formed a brigade-focused Army that employs more logistics capabilities than ever before. Brigade commanders have a sustainment structure that responds to their operational needs. Army logisticians have eliminated redundancy, streamlined logistics support, and removed unnecessary layers of logistics command to extend the operational reach of the brigade commander.

Napoleonic and Prussian innovations in the application of logistics are directly tied to modern U.S. principles of sustainment and the sustainment warfighting function. The science of logistics continues to bridge the ever-changing art of war in the uncertainty of counterinsurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Army can accomplish change in logistics because of its freedom to change when required and continue sound logistics practices.

Major Michael F. Hammond is a student in the School of Advanced Military Studies at the Army Command and General Staff College. He has deployed three times in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.


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Army mariners from the 1099th Transportation Detachment, assigned to the SP4 James A. Loux, Logistics Support Vessel-6, load an Army vehicle onto the ship during a mission to Port Salalah, Oman, on March 6, 2016. (Photo by Sgt. Walter Lowell)

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