Περί Ελαφρού Πεζικού – Μέρος B’

Σε συνέχεια των κειμένων που που έχουν σκοπό να φωτίσουν καλύτερα την έννοια του επίλεκτου ελαφρού πεζικού, παρατίθεται το 1ο Μέρος από συνέντευξη που έδωσαν σε ταγματάρχη του Αμερικανικού Στρατού δύο Βρετανοί αξιωματικοί το 1984, στην Ουάσιγκτον, με θέμα το Βρετανικό επίλεκτο ελαφρύ πεζικό.

Η συνέντευξη δόθηκε στο πλαίσιο των προσπαθειών ανασυγκρότησης και αναδιοργάνωσης του Αμερικανικού Στρατού την περίοδο εκείνη.

Οι αξιωματικοί που μιλούν εκ μέρους των Βρετανικών ενόπλων δυνάμεων είναι ένας συνταγματάρχης των βρετανών Αλεξιπτωτιστών και ένας ταξίαρχος των Πεζοναυτών, με πρόσφατη, τότε, την πολεμική εμπειρία του πολέμου των Φώκλαντ / Μαλβινών. Υπενθυμίζεται ότι στις Βρετανικές ‘Ενοπλες Δυνάμεις οι Αλεξιπτωτιστές ανήκουν στον Βρετανικό Στρατό ενώ οι Πεζοναύτες στο Βασιλικό Ναυτικό.

Το παρόν, 1ο Μέρος ασχολείται κυρίως με τη φιλοσοφία της επιλογής και της ατομικής εκπαίδευσης στους δύο αυτούς οργανισμούς.

Η συνέντευξη δημοσιεύτηκε από το Ίδρυμα Πολεμικών Μελετών του Κέντρου Συνδυασμένων Όπλων του Αμερικανικού Στρατού ως Έκθεση Νο.8. Παρά την πάροδο σχεδόν 28 ετών από τότε, τα περισσότερα, τουλάχιστον, διδάγματα ισχύουν στο ακέραιο.

Η έκθεση αναδημοσιεύεται στο αγγλικό πρωτότυπο. Η έμφαση, όπου υπάρχει, είναι του συντάκτη του ιστολογίου.

Combat Studies Institute

REPORT No. 8

DISCUSSIONS ON TRAINING AND EMPLOYING LIGHT INFANTRY

By Major Scott R. McMichael – Part 1

The following interview was conducted on 5 July 1984 at the British Embassy in Washington, D.C. The interviewed officers are COL Andrew Whitehead of the Royal Marines and COL Neville Pughe of the British Army.

MAJ McMichael: Sir, I would like to start the interview by asking either one of you to talk about the distinction between light infantry and line infantry and what makes the two different. 

COL Pughe: I’ll take that. The light division, so called in the British Army, is something of a misnomer in terms of light infantry as you in the American Army now look at it. Our light infantry was formed in the early part of the 18th Century; in fact, came into prominence in the Peninsula Campaign in the early 19th Century, when they formed for what was then called skirmishing. They were dressed in green, as against the red of the main infantry (line infantry), and they were used in skirmishing for the main formations. That tradition of skirmishing infantry has remained with the light division which is composed now of the light infantry, three regular battalions, three territorial battalions, and the Royal Green Jackets, which have three regular battalions and one territorial battalion. That sort of philosophy has remained with them for many years. They still march past, for example in ceremonial occasions, at an especially fast, light pace. However, since the beginning of World War II they have been used in a number of different roles, and they have generally alternated between being used as mechanized infantry and foot infantry. They’ve served all over the world in various roles. One of the reasons the British infantry changes roles so frequently is that, if they were to be confined to the mechanized role, they no doubt would become very proficient at it, but they would be stuck in Germany. So every three or four years each battalion changes its role. Therefore, to a certain degree light infantry battalions and Green Jacket battalions are what I would call ordinary infantry; they have taken part in a lot of light force operations around the world but are equally proficient in mechanized infantry tactics.  The only regiment of the British infantry that I would class as light infantry–in the roles, missions, and concept of operations that you are thinking about–is really the parachute regiment and possibly the Gurkha battalions, but they are a different type of fish; perhaps we ought not to address those now. But it is in the parachute battalions’ training, philosophy, and outlook particularly that I think you would probably see the most important lessons for your own troops in this role.

MAJ McMichael: Sir, can you talk about each one of those in a little bit more detail?

COL Pughe: Yes, the parachute regiment is made up of three regular battalions and three territorial battalions, and all six battalions adopt the same sort of philosophy- that is, parachuting is only a means to an end, it is only a means of entry that may or may not be used. Parachuting does demand high physical standards, of course, just to avoid injury if nothing else. But really the high physical standards of parachute battalions now stem not so much from the parachuting roles as from the realization that wherever they are committed in the world they will be in, more often than not, difficult terrain and climates, high variety of terrain and climates–anything from snow to jungle and desert–and that they will almost inevitably be–and certainly have been in the past–deployed in conditions of logistical austerity. This demands considerable physical fitness, considerable self-reliance on the part of the soldiers, an adaptability–and I like that word particularly, I recommend that word to you–adaptability, which is not always found in what one might call ordinary infantry or other units in the army. And I would think those factors, plus the training of NCOs, which is a crucial concern, are the main characteristics that would distinguish them from ordinary infantry.

MAJ McMichael: When you say adaptability, you are talking about adaptability to different terrain, different conditions, different climates, and not being paralyzed by being in a regime that they haven’t seen before or that they haven’t seen for some time.

 COL Pughe: Correct. But it’s not only that, it’s also adaptability to the physical conditions of the warfare. COL Whitehead mentioned earlier the question of lack of vehicle mobility (although they’re trained to requisition vehicles and so on in theater and all those sort of ad hoc arrangements that they might be able to work out), there’s no doubt about it in the long run, and certainly in the first instance, they are dependent on their feet. And they depend on their feet to carry not only themselves to the action but also very considerable logistic and ammunition loads. Therefore, they need to be adaptable to carrying heavy loads across difficult terrain of all sorts. I think perhaps in recent years, the three campaigns I would single out as being the most illustrative of those qualities in our own light infantry are Malaya, Borneo and the Falkland Islands, where in all three, troops had to, by virtue of the terrain and logistical difficulties, travel immense distances in very adverse conditions and, in the presence of the enemy, move on their feet, carrying heavy loads.

COL Whitehead: As I’m sure you know, the Royal Navy has maintained a light infantry force, the Royal Marines, for the last 320 years, formed originally for service at sea. We still maintain that tradition, but we have in fact moved increasingly towards the land in the role of amphibious light infantry soldiers. Whilst we maintained our historical and traditional connections with the Royal Navy–and indeed we belong to the Royal Navy–we are very much light infantry soldiers, and we have never been conventional or heavy infantry. At one stage in our recent history we moved into a very specialized version of light infantry operations, which is commando operations. The idea was conceived by Winston Churchill and Lord Louis Mountbatten at the time when Britain was at its lowest ebb in the early stages of World War II. The idea was of small, leader-intensive parties of very highly trained men who would be launched from the sea to inflict damaging and confusing casualties upon an enemy that was superior in numbers at that time. Since World War II, we have maintained many of the training techniques, organizational characteristics, and philosophies of the commando soldier, but we are more conventionally organized now to reflect our increasing interests in amphibious operations, amphibious means of delivery, and if I can use the two words together, conventional light infantry operations as distinct from strictly raiding operations, which is what we were engaged in during war. I agree with absolutely everything that Colonel Pughe has said with regard to the characteristics of the light infantry soldier. And perhaps the Royal Marines and the Parachute Regiment are indeed the only two within the British Armed Forces who can now truly call themselves light infantry. I believe there is one single word from which stems almost all the thinking that is necessary about the light infantry soldier and that is foot, or feet. His tactical maneuvering, his appreciation of terrain, his understanding of combat support and combat service support (logistics), his comprehension of leadership and the way in which it flows from the top to the bottom and back up again, is all conditioned by what he can do on his feet. One can develop that argument almost endlessly, and I don’t need to, because I’m quite sure you understand what I’m saying. If you want three characteristics that stem from that one word, feet, that apply more vividly to light infantry operations than any others, they are probably mobility, terrain, and leadership. The light infantry unit, the Royal Marines commando unit for example, contains no indigenous troop lift transport. The only transport we have in a commando is designed to carry ammunition, spare equipment, and radio sets. And it is a very limited quantity indeed. The tactical transport that we have available to us consists of landing craft and helicopters and they actually don’t belong to us, they belong to our parent Navy. The landing craft belong to the ships from which they come and the helicopters belong to naval helicopter squadrons in the commando role. So mobility needs to be thought about in terms of feet; how mobile are you on your feet, whether it be on a pair of skis or wearing a pair of jungle boots? The next characteristic is terrain. The light infantry soldier, the commando soldier, the parachute soldier needs to have an instinctive ability to read ground, to read terrain, if he is to offset the disadvantages of firepower that being light inevitably carries with it. Those disadvantages are not as enormous as they might seem, if and only if he can use the terrain to his own advantage. That argument I believe applies whether he’s attacking or defending. If he concentrates his efforts on attrition and aims his objectives at his enemy, rather than at the terrain, he will probably fail. The third single characteristic or factor in the commando soldier or the parachute soldier that stems from the one word, feet, is leadership, the handling of people. Under that heading I would place the style of leadership from the top that understands the essential foot-borne nature of the light infantry soldier. It is a style of tactical thinking that allows him to use his flexibility and innovative manner of operating, down to the individual self-reliance of the light infantry soldier, who, though he is very much a part of a team and draws strength from that team, is not an inflexible member of a machine in quite the same way as is an APC crew, because an APC is part of a group of APCs and part of larger group and a larger group. So those I think are the essential ingredients.

MAJ McMichael: Yes, sir. It doesn’t seem to me that it’s an easy task to develop those characteristics. How do you go about teaching a unit or an individual or a leader to be adaptable, and how do you teach them to really appreciate terrain? Would you talk about how you create those qualities?

COL Whitehead: I’ll pick it up first, and I know COL Pughe will have some views on this. Those are two different questions, of course: How do you teach him to be adaptable? And how do you teach him to appreciate terrain? To answer the easiest one first, you teach him to appreciate terrain by constantly exercising him in that practice and, from the day he joins the Royal Marines or the regiment, by bringing out in him an instinctive eye for what is or is not a piece of terrain that is suited to his particular tactical characteristics. There is no book of lessons he can learn, or at least not one that could be produced easily by any military teaching organization. What there is, of course, is several centuries of history, which, if he studies it, he will be some way down the track towards an understanding of terrain. If, for example, he reads the lessons of the Boer War, he will learn the qualities and advantages of a reverse slope, when applied to high speed mounted infantry with a very high standard of marksmanship, who were able to catch conventional British infantry (using rather rigid tactics) and cause them significant casualties for relatively small loss of life themselves. How do you teach them to be adaptable? I believe the answer lies in training, in his initial training. It comes from a combination of a number of ideas that you might put into his head. One is elitism, and I personally dislike the word because it smacks of a kind of professional snobbery which often doesn’t go with professional excellence.  But, you somehow have got to convince him that he is special. In convincing him he is special, not only have you got to reward him for being special, you have also got to make demands upon him that make it clear he is special. It is no use saying you are special and then treating him to the same range of standards as pertain to lesser mortals, ordinary folk.

MAJ McMichael: So you have got to give him higher standards to meet.

COL Whitehead: Absolutely. That is elitism.

MAJ McMichael: Before you break away from that idea, can you take an ordinary soldier and make him a light infantry soldier?

COL Whitehead: Yes, you can, because contained within the ranks of ordinary soldiers there is always that small percentage who are operating below their capacity and have the ability to go on and be something special. A classic example of that, of course, is the Special Air Service in the Army, who recruit from the Regular Army. They don’t recruit from civilian life, they recruit from the Army. As far as I’m aware they are the only regiment in the British Army that does.

COL Pughe: The parachute brigade, of course, draws troops from the Regular Army, but these recruits have to take quite a severe test in order to do so. They have a thing called P Company, which is a fairly notorious selection procedure that lasts three weeks, at the end of which you know you have passed into something worth joining.I would say, also, that inevitably the selection standards for the parachute forces and the commando forces must be higher than others, and I would think this applies to light infantry in the way you consider it as well. I would think there has to be a reasonably severe selection process both with officers (particularly with officers) and with men.  There are those, and there are many, particularly in the British Army, who said, «Ah but look at the history of World War II, in which perfectly ordinary infantry battalions were converted into glider-borne, or parachute-borne troops,» and that is perfectly true. But if you examine it closely, you’ll see, first, that a lot of ordinary soldiers fell by the wayside, had physical problems, and second, those particular battalions were extremely well led. They had a very, very high standard of officer. I think particularly of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire light infantry, for example–who are now one of the Green Jacket battalions–who were converted into glider troops and landed on D-day. Marvelous battalion and they always claim to this day that they weren’t very special (that is their officers speaking). Their officers were very, very high-grade officers indeed. So there is a great deal of leadership in this. We talked about adaptability to terrain, and of course as COL Whitehead said, there is no substitute for training in the sort of terrain that you are likely to be deployed in. However, in the early days of your training soldiers and NCOs, a good proportion of that early training must be in very severe conditions, in my view. For example, the parachute regiment basic recruit course is sixteen weeks, of which five are spent in the mountains of Wales, in the most rotten conditions of climate, as anyone who knows Wales will testify, and some pretty hard country. And it is not just the coping with the severity of climate and terrain that counts. It is learning to read the terrain and learning how you get from A to B, several hundreds of miles, with a pack on your back, with your section, choosing dead ground, reading ground, reading your maps. There is a lot that goes into map reading here. Not just the section commanders, but every man in the section must be an accomplished map reader–learning to read the ground, read where dead ground is, how to use ground in that way, for approach marches, defense, attack and so on. Very, very important indeed. Don’t you agree?

COL Whitehead: Yes, I do. Interesting to hear you talking about the fashion of basic training because I was about to go on to answer your question, the first of your questions. To develop from the business of elitism, to talk about the business of training. There are various philosophies that exist in the armies of the free world. The two most common are what I call «make or break» philosophy and the philosophy that is adopted in a modified form within commando training, and that is one which has as its basic tenet, «You can do more than you think you can and we are going to demonstrate to you that that is true.» In other words, instead of being a push-from-behind, it’s a pull-from-in-front philosophy. It carries with it a supporting idea that is contained in what we call the commando spirit; that is, that small unit team-work is an essential ingredient of commando operations. Our enlisted recruits go through twenty-six weeks of training of which six weeks are called the commando course. At the end of that six weeks you are awarded your green beret, assuming you pass. It is essentially a physical course. Most of the time is spent out on the field engaged in various demanding physical activities, behind which lie these two basic tenets: that «you can do more than you think you can» and that the team aspect of your operations is very important. In other words, if there is a man in your team who is a slightly lesser mortal than you are, it is very much part of your responsibility to get him there, to lend him some of your strength and bring him with you, and that is something which is drummed in. If you go to our commando school you will see squads of recruits engaged in, for instance, a speed march, which involves covering one mile every ten minutes, in full fighting order, up to a maximum distance up to nine miles in ninety minutes which is the «pass out» speed march. And you will see one or two members of each squad almost being carried to get them through to the end of some of those marches. Clearly, one has to be very careful about this, because if it were taken to extremes it would allow passengers in the organization and that is not what we are aiming for. But the value of this philosophy is not to the weaker guy who gets carried–he’ll be watched very, very carefully in other fields–it is to the stronger ones who realize where their responsibilities lie in getting the team complete and ready to fight. Of course, when it comes to real operations, that philosophy spills over into recovery of wounded and the like.

MAJ McMichael: I think that is an extraordinary idea. That’s the first time I have heard about that approach unit-wide. 

COL Whitehead: The «make or break» philosophy has enormous advantages and merits, there is no doubt about that. I believe that the parachute regiment, to a certain extent, adopts this philosophy, and there are other organizations in this country who do it as well. I think what I am saying is that a balance between these two philosophies is what will produce a man who is strong physically and mentally. And of course mental endurance is at least as important as physical endurance, probably more so. And who is, in addition, resourceful, self-reliant, and confident, both in himself and the strength of his team, confident that his buddies are not going to let him down. Clearly, if you are going to produce a very special organization, a very high quality organization that will function well in the most difficult situations, as COL Pughe said,it is an essential ingredient in their training, that they be subjected to severe and demanding conditions. That really means, since you aren’t allowed to shoot at them in peacetime, subjecting them to difficult terrain and difficult weather.

MAJ McMichael: And I can see that the philosophy, «You can do more than you think you can,» can be translated into an attitude of adaptability. Is that fair to say sir? 

COL Pughe: Yes, I think that is the aim. And this whole question of how you develop self-reliance and initiative is all part of the same problem. I must say, looking back on my times in the parachute brigades in the UK, I think that particular attitude of mind by the soldiers is the most impressive of all the aspects that I saw in the brigades. It’s not macho, it’s a quiet, steely-eyed determination–pride if you like–to keep yourself fit, to not rely on other people unnecessarily. For example, I’ll explain to you how, if I were taking the brigade headquarters to the firing ranges, one would announce, «The range firing starts at ten, I expect you all to be there.» No transport is provided, they just get there with whatever loads they think appropriate. And its all part of the philosophy: day-to-day living in these formations that must be got right, and that is the key.

COL Whitehead: We had exactly the same philosophy in the commando course. I’ll remember to my dying day the officer that took me through my commando training. I was so impressed with him that I used similar techniques when I was an instructor at the commando school. Transport wasn’t provided. We were told that on 8:00 Monday morning you were required to be at such an such a place, and how you got there was your business.

MAJ McMichael: When you use this technique, are you calling on the individual soldier or are you calling on the low-level NCO to solve these problems?

COL Whitehead: You get a bit of both. The reaction you will produce in some people by that kind of attitude is to be totally self-reliant and make their own way. It will also bring out the leaders, who will say, «Right chaps, here’s how we are going to hack this problem,» and it will be a team effort. You will see both kinds of attitude.

MAJ McMichael: When you talk about doing it with a brigade headquarters–and of course I’ve worked on a staff before, and I know how difficult it is to get everybody to the range to fire and how there are so many problems–when you just throw it open like that, is it the mess steward’s problem or the communications sergeant’s problem just to solve any other previous commitments he has and to reach a solution and get his people to the range?

COL Pughe: You are absolutely right. There is always a number of people in these certain instances who will find a very good reason for not being able to do what you want them to do, because they’ve got some other pressing engagement. Fortunately, if one warns the officers concerned in advance and the soldiers are given reasons for doing these things, then these problems have a habit of going away very rapidly. And I think that’s just a normal process, normal administrative planning. But there was never any doubt that every man in the brigade headquarters, including stewards, clerks, and cooks went. And indeed the attitude was so good that most of these people, generally, would feel very hurt if they were left out or forgotten. People used to say in the brigade headquarters, among the clerks and quartermasters particularly, «Oh, my God, what’s going to happen if someone rings up at 1000 and we are actually out marching and we should be manning the telephone?» I used to say, «Well let them ring.» More people ought to know that we are out preparing ourselves for war.

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