What Military Professionals Talk About

 

In a 1979 interview Marine Corps General Robert Barrow stated “Amateurs talk about strategy and tactics. Professionals talk about logistics.” History has demonstrated its applicability many times.

“Logistics: The Key To Victory,” by Jeremy Black, is a study of the role logistics played in warfare throughout history. Most prior books on logistics focused on its tactical aspects – how to get supplies where they are needed. Black’s book examines the strategic role of logistics.

Black looks at logistics through a new lens. Often logistics is treated as if it emerged during the Napoleonic Era (the late 18th and early 19th centuries), and is relevant only thereafter. Black starts at the beginning, showing the importance of logistics as civilization emerged.  Black demonstrates the dominance of logistics in ancient times, can be captured in two words: campaign season. Ancient warfare was constrained by the availability of food and water, from Ancient Egypt onwards.

He also expands his inquiry geographically. Most studies focus on the western world, Europe and North America, examining the rest of the world only where Western warfare impinges on Africa, Asia and South America. Black presents the effects of logistics – both its limitations and capabilities – throughout the world and throughout history. He shows how great empires outside the west, including the Mongols, the Persians and the Chinese, rose and fell due to logistics.

He also shows how logistics grew in complexity. Logistics is centered on consumables. Although logistics includes items such as uniforms and weapons, these were typically not a major driver, except at the beginning of a war, when armies and navies had to be equipped. Prior to the introduction of gunpowder battlefield logistics focused on ensuring troops had sufficient food and water. Shelter and equipment could be carried by troops with a relatively small baggage train.

Gunpowder introduced a new consumable, and weapons too heavy to move easily. Gunpowder and cannons could be manufactured in the field or gathered from the countryside.  Supply trains grew dramatically. Mechanical power from steam to internal combustion added fuel to the logistics equation. It, too had to be moved to the battlefield.  Black shows the influence of the growth of the logistical train on warfare.

While (as the recent Afghanistan debacle shows) superior logistics cannot guarantee victory, Black illustrates how inferior logistics can doom a war effort. “Logistics” is not light reading. Yet for anyone interested in strategy it is a valuable book.

Logistics: The Key To Victory,” by Jeremy Black, Naval Institute Press, 2021, 240 pages, $42.95 (Hardcover)

This review was written by Mark Lardas who writes at Ricochet as Seawriter. Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, historian, and model-maker, lives in League City, TX. His website is marklardas.com.

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  1. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    The quote by Gen Barrow is well known, but it’s a shame that the Marine Corps is so bad at logistics nowadays.

    My last unit in the Marines was with Headquarters,  Marine Combat Logistics Regiment 4 in Kansas City, Missouri.  It was originally the 24th Marine Regiment Headquarters, but the powers that be decided we needed to make that change.

    I had never been in a combat service support unit until then.  They were always known as the worst place to be.  My experience confirms that reputation.

    We spent a lot of time trying to figure out what we were supposed to do.  When we got a new CO who was not an infantry officer left over from our infantry days, he started an education program for us to teach us what we were supposed to do.  Long story short:  No one had the slightest clue.

    One anecdote in our lessons was that from the drive up to Tikrit from Kuwait, with all those trucks and tanks and communications equipment the number of parts delivered by our logistics units was. . . .  Zero.  Not a single component was delivered in those months (or whatever the time was).  They spent quite a bit of time in Baghdad before heading north to Tikrit.

    So the Marines are continually annoying the army and the navy, mostly the army, for not having what is called “operational logistics.”

    The plans for a war with North Korea require the US Marines to conduct operational logistics for any offensive actions that might ever be needed there.  The Marines tried and tried to find a way to do it, and finally settled on the inspired* approach of giving that job to the reserves.  Yup, the most important part of an operation according to General Barrows was assigned to a reserve regiment who has infrequent contact with its own reserve battalions and as a headquarters assembles only a weekend a month was supposed to create an operational logistic plan to support a major war effort should there be such a war.

    Now, I’m a big fan of the Marine Reserves.  As a rule, we were not ready to deploy at a moment’s notice; that’s not our role.  Our role was to train to be mobilized to take maybe a month (hopefully more) to come to full strength and get ready to deploy.  Anything quicker than that is wishful thinking.  Yet here we were, assigned to do the job that active duty units tried to do and failed repeatedly.

    Yup. That’s not inspiring at all.  It’s a good thing we aren’t the army.  We are shock troops and damn good at it, but we are not the experts we once were regarding logistics.

     

    * Inspired here is completely sarcastic

    ** Aviation logistics for the Marines is handled by the Navy, so it works.

    • #1
  2. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Not sure the Marines should be doing more than shock and leave. I would think their logistics should be centered around that. If there is a stay for the long haul, that should be the Army’s job. I would think.

    This sounds like a great read, and it is something that even us non professionals can understand if we read enough. Sherman’s march was daring because he abandoned his lines of communication and logistics to march to Savannah. He had to take the port or lose the army. 

    In Seawriter’s book The Vanished Texas Coast: Lost Port Towns, Mysterious Shipwrecks and other True Talesthere is a discussion of the Mexican Army being ordered to keep fighting Texas. They most likely would have won, but, then, they would not have had the supplies to make it home. They went home. Texas went free. 

    Good stuff. 

    • #2
  3. dukenaltum Coolidge
    dukenaltum
    @dukenaltum

    This book has a to be a parody and a bit of that zany British humor. Apparently the spirit of George Brinton McClellan “The Young Napoleon.” still thrives and survives in the minds of the American Military. They haven’t lost every war in spite of winning every battle since 1945 for lack of logistics.  

    • #3
  4. Al Sparks Thatcher
    Al Sparks
    @AlSparks

    I read Ron Chernow’s biography of Ulysses S Grant (and Grant’s own memoirs) and both talk about his expertise in logistics, including his service in the Mexican American War as the regimental quartermaster as a young officer.

    He was known as a “butcher” because of his high casualties in the battles he led, but one reason he was able to wage a war of attrition as he did was his ability to move a large army from one place to another.  That includes rough terrain and crossing large rivers.  And he was able to do this while keeping his army fed and armed.

    He was also a highly skilled horseman in a time when horses were a primary mode of transportation of goods.  Of course, the primary mode of transportation for most of his soldiers was walking, but not entirely.  The Civil War was the first major war where the railroad was leveraged, both to maintain supply lines, and to move troops from one war campaign to another.

    • #4
  5. Al Sparks Thatcher
    Al Sparks
    @AlSparks

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    Not sure the Marines should be doing more than shock and leave. I would think their logistics should be centered around that. If there is a stay for the long haul, that should be the Army’s job. I would think.

    My take on the Marine Corps versus the Army is that they specialize more in small unit operations.  Though you can become a Marine officer through Navy ROTC, they have another undergraduate route called the Platoon Leaders Class.  Notice that their program emphasizes the smallest unit that a infantry officer will command, and they put it in the title of the program.

    The smaller the unit the less important logistics becomes, though it’s still important.  I note that recent changes in the Marine Corps mission is going back to its roots as a shock and leave force.  What really stands out is that the Marines have gotten rid of their tanks.

    • #5
  6. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    Al Sparks (View Comment):

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    Not sure the Marines should be doing more than shock and leave. I would think their logistics should be centered around that. If there is a stay for the long haul, that should be the Army’s job. I would think.

    My take on the Marine Corps versus the Army is that they specialize more in small unit operations. Though you can become a Marine officer through Navy ROTC, they have another undergraduate route called the Platoon Leaders Class. Notice that their program emphasizes the smallest unit that a infantry officer will command, and they put it in the title of the program.

    The smaller the unit the less important logistics becomes, though it’s still important. I note that recent changes in the Marine Corps mission is going back to its roots as a shock and leave force. What really stands out is that the Marines have gotten rid of their tanks.

    Yeah, the decision to give away all our tanks before getting the weapons systems they expect to replace them was monumentally stupid.  I could go on all day about what a fool the current commandant is.  He is to the Marine Corps as Pope Francis is to the Catholic Church.

    • #6
  7. CACrabtree Coolidge
    CACrabtree
    @CACrabtree

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Al Sparks (View Comment):

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    Not sure the Marines should be doing more than shock and leave. I would think their logistics should be centered around that. If there is a stay for the long haul, that should be the Army’s job. I would think.

    My take on the Marine Corps versus the Army is that they specialize more in small unit operations. Though you can become a Marine officer through Navy ROTC, they have another undergraduate route called the Platoon Leaders Class. Notice that their program emphasizes the smallest unit that a infantry officer will command, and they put it in the title of the program.

    The smaller the unit the less important logistics becomes, though it’s still important. I note that recent changes in the Marine Corps mission is going back to its roots as a shock and leave force. What really stands out is that the Marines have gotten rid of their tanks.

    Yeah, the decision to give away all our tanks before getting the weapons systems they expect to replace them was monumentally stupid. I could go on all day about what a fool the current commandant is. He is to the Marine Corps as Pope Francis is to the Catholic Church.

    Yeah, there’s a lot of that going around these days.

    I was totally shocked when the Corps gave up its heavy armor.  Just didn’t make any sense.  From what I’ve read, the Army was very pleased to take those Marine tankers who didn’t want to cross-train.

    • #7
  8. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    CACrabtree (View Comment):
    From what I’ve read, the Army was very pleased to take those Marine tankers who didn’t want to cross-train.

    What patch do the Marines turned Army tankers wear on their right shoulder?

    • #8
  9. CACrabtree Coolidge
    CACrabtree
    @CACrabtree

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    CACrabtree (View Comment):
    From what I’ve read, the Army was very pleased to take those Marine tankers who didn’t want to cross-train.

    What patch do the Marines turned Army tankers wear on their right shoulder?

    Interesting question.  I ran across a paragraph in The Balance which states:

    “Army personnel who served in a designated area as civilians or as members of another service who were not members of the Army during one of the specified periords are not authorized to wear the combat patch.”

    Bet that grinded a few gears…

    • #9
  10. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    CACrabtree (View Comment):
    From what I’ve read, the Army was very pleased to take those Marine tankers who didn’t want to cross-train.

    What patch do the Marines turned Army tankers wear on their right shoulder?

    The appropriate Marine Division they were in combat with.  It’s not that uncommon.  Army units attached to Marine units do it all the time.

    • #10
  11. CACrabtree Coolidge
    CACrabtree
    @CACrabtree

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    CACrabtree (View Comment):
    From what I’ve read, the Army was very pleased to take those Marine tankers who didn’t want to cross-train.

    What patch do the Marines turned Army tankers wear on their right shoulder?

    The appropriate Marine Division they were in combat with. It’s not that uncommon. Army units attached to Marine units do it all the time.

    I’ve been out far too long to start throwing around regulations but AR670-1 (21-18) says the same thing that The Balance  stated.

    If they want to show up for an inspection wearing their patch, some butterbar will probably tear them a new one.

    • #11
  12. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    CACrabtree (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    CACrabtree (View Comment):
    From what I’ve read, the Army was very pleased to take those Marine tankers who didn’t want to cross-train.

    What patch do the Marines turned Army tankers wear on their right shoulder?

    The appropriate Marine Division they were in combat with. It’s not that uncommon. Army units attached to Marine units do it all the time.

    I’ve been out far too long to start throwing around regulations but AR670-1 (21-18) says the same thing that The Balance stated.

    If they want to show up for an inspection wearing their patch, some butterbar will probably tear them a new one.

    What is “The Balance?”

    • #12
  13. CACrabtree Coolidge
    CACrabtree
    @CACrabtree

    Skyler (View Comment):

    CACrabtree (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    CACrabtree (View Comment):
    From what I’ve read, the Army was very pleased to take those Marine tankers who didn’t want to cross-train.

    What patch do the Marines turned Army tankers wear on their right shoulder?

    The appropriate Marine Division they were in combat with. It’s not that uncommon. Army units attached to Marine units do it all the time.

    I’ve been out far too long to start throwing around regulations but AR670-1 (21-18) says the same thing that The Balance stated.

    If they want to show up for an inspection wearing their patch, some butterbar will probably tear them a new one.

    What is “The Balance?”

     

    https://www.thebalancecareers.com/army-combat-patch-rules-when-and-how-to-wear-the-patch-3344579

    • #13
  14. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    CACrabtree (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):

    CACrabtree (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    CACrabtree (View Comment):
    From what I’ve read, the Army was very pleased to take those Marine tankers who didn’t want to cross-train.

    What patch do the Marines turned Army tankers wear on their right shoulder?

    The appropriate Marine Division they were in combat with. It’s not that uncommon. Army units attached to Marine units do it all the time.

    I’ve been out far too long to start throwing around regulations but AR670-1 (21-18) says the same thing that The Balance stated.

    If they want to show up for an inspection wearing their patch, some butterbar will probably tear them a new one.

    What is “The Balance?”

     

    https://www.thebalancecareers.com/army-combat-patch-rules-when-and-how-to-wear-the-patch-3344579

    So, according to “The Balance,” the army’s regs support my experience that soldiers serving in an army unit attached to a Marine Division may wear the Marine Division patch on the shoulder.

    The army uniforms would look a lot nicer without all those geegaws, honestly.  I hope the Marines never succumb to that.

    • #14
  15. CACrabtree Coolidge
    CACrabtree
    @CACrabtree

    Skyler (View Comment):

    CACrabtree (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):

    CACrabtree (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    CACrabtree (View Comment):
    From what I’ve read, the Army was very pleased to take those Marine tankers who didn’t want to cross-train.

    What patch do the Marines turned Army tankers wear on their right shoulder?

    The appropriate Marine Division they were in combat with. It’s not that uncommon. Army units attached to Marine units do it all the time.

    I’ve been out far too long to start throwing around regulations but AR670-1 (21-18) says the same thing that The Balance stated.

    If they want to show up for an inspection wearing their patch, some butterbar will probably tear them a new one.

    What is “The Balance?”

     

    https://www.thebalancecareers.com/army-combat-patch-rules-when-and-how-to-wear-the-patch-3344579

    So, according to “The Balance,” the army’s regs support my experience that soldiers serving in an army unit attached to a Marine Division may wear the Marine Division patch on the shoulder.

    The army uniforms would look a lot nicer without all those geegaws, honestly. I hope the Marines never succumb to that.

    I never thought of a combat patch as a geegaw but whatever floats your boat.

    • #15
  16. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    CACrabtree (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):

    CACrabtree (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):

    CACrabtree (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    CACrabtree (View Comment):
    From what I’ve read, the Army was very pleased to take those Marine tankers who didn’t want to cross-train.

    What patch do the Marines turned Army tankers wear on their right shoulder?

    The appropriate Marine Division they were in combat with. It’s not that uncommon. Army units attached to Marine units do it all the time.

    I’ve been out far too long to start throwing around regulations but AR670-1 (21-18) says the same thing that The Balance stated.

    If they want to show up for an inspection wearing their patch, some butterbar will probably tear them a new one.

    What is “The Balance?”

     

    https://www.thebalancecareers.com/army-combat-patch-rules-when-and-how-to-wear-the-patch-3344579

    So, according to “The Balance,” the army’s regs support my experience that soldiers serving in an army unit attached to a Marine Division may wear the Marine Division patch on the shoulder.

    The army uniforms would look a lot nicer without all those geegaws, honestly. I hope the Marines never succumb to that.

    I never thought of a combat patch as a geegaw but whatever floats your boat.

    Anything other than your rank insignia and branch of service is too much.

    • #16
  17. EHerring Coolidge
    EHerring
    @EHerring

    “Just in time” logistics was the wrong name for one military fad.

    • #17
  18. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    EHerring (View Comment):

    “Just in time” logistics was the wrong name for one military fad.

    If the ammunition arrives and gets distributed one minute before it is needed it is genius. If it arrives one minute after it is needed it is disaster. 

    • #18
  19. CACrabtree Coolidge
    CACrabtree
    @CACrabtree

    Skyler (View Comment):

    CACrabtree (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):

    CACrabtree (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):

    CACrabtree (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    CACrabtree (View Comment):
    From what I’ve read, the Army was very pleased to take those Marine tankers who didn’t want to cross-train.

    What patch do the Marines turned Army tankers wear on their right shoulder?

    The appropriate Marine Division they were in combat with. It’s not that uncommon. Army units attached to Marine units do it all the time.

    I’ve been out far too long to start throwing around regulations but AR670-1 (21-18) says the same thing that The Balance stated.

    If they want to show up for an inspection wearing their patch, some butterbar will probably tear them a new one.

    What is “The Balance?”

     

    https://www.thebalancecareers.com/army-combat-patch-rules-when-and-how-to-wear-the-patch-3344579

    So, according to “The Balance,” the army’s regs support my experience that soldiers serving in an army unit attached to a Marine Division may wear the Marine Division patch on the shoulder.

    The army uniforms would look a lot nicer without all those geegaws, honestly. I hope the Marines never succumb to that.

    I never thought of a combat patch as a geegaw but whatever floats your boat.

    Anything other than your rank insignia and branch of service is too much.

    Obviously, you were never airborne.

    • #19
  20. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    CACrabtree (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):

    CACrabtree (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):

    CACrabtree (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):

    CACrabtree (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    CACrabtree (View Comment):
    From what I’ve read, the Army was very pleased to take those Marine tankers who didn’t want to cross-train.

    What patch do the Marines turned Army tankers wear on their right shoulder?

    The appropriate Marine Division they were in combat with. It’s not that uncommon. Army units attached to Marine units do it all the time.

    I’ve been out far too long to start throwing around regulations but AR670-1 (21-18) says the same thing that The Balance stated.

    If they want to show up for an inspection wearing their patch, some butterbar will probably tear them a new one.

    What is “The Balance?”

     

    https://www.thebalancecareers.com/army-combat-patch-rules-when-and-how-to-wear-the-patch-3344579

    So, according to “The Balance,” the army’s regs support my experience that soldiers serving in an army unit attached to a Marine Division may wear the Marine Division patch on the shoulder.

    The army uniforms would look a lot nicer without all those geegaws, honestly. I hope the Marines never succumb to that.

    I never thought of a combat patch as a geegaw but whatever floats your boat.

    Anything other than your rank insignia and branch of service is too much.

    Obviously, you were never airborne.

    LOL!  They’re the worst offenders!

    • #20
  21. CACrabtree Coolidge
    CACrabtree
    @CACrabtree

    Skyler (View Comment):

    CACrabtree (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):

    CACrabtree (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):

    CACrabtree (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):

    CACrabtree (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    CACrabtree (View Comment):
    From what I’ve read, the Army was very pleased to take those Marine tankers who didn’t want to cross-train.

    What patch do the Marines turned Army tankers wear on their right shoulder?

    The appropriate Marine Division they were in combat with. It’s not that uncommon. Army units attached to Marine units do it all the time.

    I’ve been out far too long to start throwing around regulations but AR670-1 (21-18) says the same thing that The Balance stated.

    If they want to show up for an inspection wearing their patch, some butterbar will probably tear them a new one.

    What is “The Balance?”

     

    https://www.thebalancecareers.com/army-combat-patch-rules-when-and-how-to-wear-the-patch-3344579

    So, according to “The Balance,” the army’s regs support my experience that soldiers serving in an army unit attached to a Marine Division may wear the Marine Division patch on the shoulder.

    The army uniforms would look a lot nicer without all those geegaws, honestly. I hope the Marines never succumb to that.

    I never thought of a combat patch as a geegaw but whatever floats your boat.

    Anything other than your rank insignia and branch of service is too much.

    Obviously, you were never airborne.

    LOL! They’re the worst offenders!

    Well, there’s something we can agree on…

    • #21
  22. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    Logistics

    The U.S. Army has Title 10 responsibility for certain logistics above the high tide mark. The Army most certainly “got” operational and strategic logistics, including the fuel requirements of all services. The challenge is communicating requirements across services (after the first 60 days for the Marine Corps).

    My battalion delivered bulk fuel to the Marines and Air Force in Iraq, as needed.

    The way I read the Army uniform regulation, and as I remember during my decades of service, if you had a combat deployment as a Marine in a Marine division, you can wear that patch on the right sleeve of your Army uniform.

    • #22
  23. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):

    Logistics

    The U.S. Army has Title 10 responsibility for certain logistics above the high tide mark. The Army most certainly “got” operational and strategic logistics, including the fuel requirements of all services. The challenge is communicating requirements across services (after the first 60 days for the Marine Corps).

    My battalion delivered bulk fuel to the Marines and Air Force in Iraq, as needed.

    The way I read the Army uniform regulation, and as I remember during my decades of service, if you had a combat deployment as a Marine in a Marine division, you can wear that patch on the right sleeve of your Army uniform.

    Maybe the army units I saw wore the Marine Division patch on their other shoulder?  I’ve no idea, army uniforms confuse the heck out of me.

    • #23