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UC Professor Writes History With a Bang
Date: April 5, 2000
By: Dawn Fuller
Phone: (513) 556-1823
Archive: Research News

The hard lessons learned from the Vietnam War led to a military strategy that brought U.S. military forces to victory in Operation Desert Storm.

Vietnam also influenced the mechanization of U.S. ground forces and war's impact is part of Camp Colt to Desert Storm: The History of U.S. Armored Forces edited by George F. Hofmann, adjunct history professor at the University of Cincinnati, and retired U.S. Army General Donn A. Starry, former commander of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, who was one of the architects of the battle doctrine so successfully employed in the Gulf War.

Hofmann on an M60A3 tank

The book traces the history of mechanization from World War I to today. Historians wrote half of the book. The other half was written by former soldiers and marines with first-hand experience of the events described. This approach, according to Hofmann, make the compilation unique.

"We designed this history for two audiences," explained Hofmann. "First, the military market: the Armor School, West Point, the Command and General Staff College, the Army War College, the Marine Corps University and all the major military schools. We also wanted to reach the civilian population that is interested in military history. When General Starry and I decided to do this project five years ago, we canvassed the military arena for the best people that we thought were most qualified to write on this subject. About 15 people contributed to the history."

The armor history also contains rarely seen historic photos: depictions of the mechanization of the horse cavalry, including a photo of Civil War veterans posing with tanks during a visit with the newly created Mechanized Force in early 1931.

Historically, Hofmann noted, the U.S. has never been prepared to fight and win the first battle, with the exception of the Gulf War. During World War I, tanks were first introduced to break the four-year stalemate of trench and attrition warfare on the Western Front. The U.S. had initially planned to manufacture its own tanks for the war, however, inept planning and production forced the American Expeditionary Forces' Tank Corps in France to borrow tanks from the British and French.

In 1918, then Captain Dwight D. Eisenhower commanded the tank-training center at Camp Colt in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. After the war the camp closed and shortly thereafter, Congress decided to dissolve the Tanks Corps and assign all remaining tank units to the infantry. Hofmann, a veteran who served in an armored unit, takes the U.S. Army to task for lacking foresight on the eve of World War II when it continued to squabble over the role of mechanized warfighting.

According to Hofmann, "The army focused on improving past performance, rather than learning from the new methods of warfighting. When the United States entered the war, the country's ground forces were not prepared to fight at the operational level of war and win the first battle until the Normandy breakout. Even then the German military was able to outclass American armor with better-designed tanks that were more heavily armed and armored. This led to needless deaths for many young American tankers."

General Starry entered World War II as a private and was shortly appointed to West Point, eventually serving two tours in Vietnam. In May 1970, he commanded the famed 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment in the invasion of Cambodia, an effort to cut off infiltrating North Vietnamese soldiers and their supply lines. Hofmann claims that micro-managing the war from Washington, especially by Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, a statistical analyst, hindered military efforts.

The mistakes of Vietnam and lessons from the Yom Kippur War influenced Starry's crafting of the AirLand Battle doctrine in response to the growing threat of Soviet forces in Europe and their improved equipment, such as tanks.

The AirLand Battle doctrine began with the assumption that U.S. forces would be outnumbered wherever they fought. Thus, they had to win the first battle in a coordinated air-ground campaign based on deep offensive operations with a combined arms mechanized force. It was this doctrine that allowed the U.S. military to defeat the Iraqis, who possessed the fifth-largest army in the world, in just 100 days while suffering only a few hundred casualties.

"In order for a conflict to be resolved successfully," Hofmann argues, "The nation's goals need to be set by the civilian authority and then clearly defined in agreement with the people and the military. This did not happen in Vietnam...."

Hofmann says the goals were clear in the Gulf War; however, U.S. leaders still need a clear-cut set of goals for future conflicts. He cites concerns around using the military for worldwide selective humanitarianism, while at the same time downsizing and cutting funds for military training programs.

Hofmann says that on a typical day, there are 140,000 U.S. soldiers scattered across 70 countries. "This effect on unit integrity had a devastating effect in Somalia and for today's so-called peacekeeping mission in the Balkans," he said. "Eventually, the U.S. will again be involved in one or more of the world's hot spots, such as Korea and Southeast Asia, the Persian Gulf, the Middle East, Bosnia and Kosovo, Africa and Central and South America, just to mention a few. The military needs to be prepared," Hoffmann argues.

Camp Colt to Desert Storm was funded in part by a grant from the 6th Armored Division Association. The "Super Sixth" was one of George S. Patton's most dependable units in World War II. Death has been claiming more and more of these veterans every day and as a result, the 6th Armored Division Association will retire its famous colors and close the association in September 2000.