Table of Contents
In military warfare, the ultimate goal of troops is to defeat the enemy. In order to achieve this goal, there are a number of strategies and tactics that are deplored. One such strategy and tactic is the use of manoeuvre and mobility support (MMS). Generally, using MMS entails the application of measures that enhance combat movement and ensures that there is the ability to move resources easily within the battlefield. It is for this reason that MMS was formerly referred to as battlefield circulation control. Wiggins Jr also noted that apart from ensure easy movement of resources, MMS is also in ensuring that the enemy is defeated by rendering them incapacitated in their decision by disrupting their routines and plans. Historically, there are a number of military operations that have used the MMS strategy in ensuring victory. One such is Operation Dragoon, which involved the invasion of Southern France in 1944. One of the specific aspects of Operation Dragoon, which is extensively studied in the body of literature for its application and use of MMS is the advance of Task Force Butler and the Battle for Montelimar. In this paper, the lessons that can be learnt from the advance and the battle in relation to mobility and manoeuvre are outline by looking at some specific strategies on mobility support and manoeuvre support.
Overview of Task Force Butler and Battle for Montelimar
Going into Operation Dragoon, Taskforce Butler was set as an allied mechanised component, which was a fully mobilised but separate detachment. This means it was made up of motorised infantry, which was largely transported by vehicles, considered as unprotected. The main objective set for the taskforce was to block a route of escape, which had been created by the Germans. As mobilised separate detachment, the taskforce was generally an ad hoc unit that did not have any equipment of its own. The absence of the taskforce’s own equipment has become a reason its work remain important in studying MMS since such equipment have been noted to be needed in ensuring successful manoeuvre and mobility. The absence of the equipment, including communication equipment meant that the General in charge of the taskforce, who was General Butler, had to rely on prior orders, while reacting to emerging threats as and when they happened. While studying military warfare, Garcia emphasised that the practice of taking direct orders is an important provision in the military. This assertion has therefore put the actions of General Butler, which were previously based on prior orders rather than direct ones to a lot of academic and professional debate.
A day after the taskforce started moving on August 20, 1944, that was when specific instructions came to General Butler, including written ones from Major General Lucian Truscott. Allied tanks and tank destroyers were also deployed, as well as mechanised infantry to assist the taskforce on Day 2. Together with his prior orders, the additional equipment and instructions ensured that General Butler and his taskforce succeeded in having the 157th Reserve Infantry Division of the Germans retreat on 21 August. They continued to fight till they came to Montelimar, where the German escape route lay directly. While at Montelimar, the taskforce faced a number of challenges including lack of fuel and other supplies, which ensured that the Germans could briefly isolate the taskforce. It took the arrival of the first unit of 36th Division to provide some supplies to the taskforce but these were even not up to the needed levels needed. There were also lack of enough men to block the German escape route. Consistent inability of Taskforce Butler to block the escape route due to frequent shortage of supplies and men led to its dissolution on August 23 with John E. Dahlquist arriving as commander to assume direct control of all units. Below, how the clear absence of MMS affected the work of Taskforce Butler will be analysed in detail.
Manoeuvre and mobility support
As explained earlier, MMS has been used for very long time in military operations to ensure battlefield circulation control. MMS as a strategy combines manoeuvre support with mobility support to defeat the enemy by rendering their decision making incapacitated. As an ad hoc unit, Taskforce Butler did not seem to benefit much from MMS. The strategy of MMS therefore reviewed in detail in this section, before applying them to the advance of Taskforce Butler and the Battle at Montelimar.
Mobility support is from the term movement. Skalicky thus explains that in military warfare, mobility refers to the force’s ability to move from one place to another without losing their ability to undertake primary mission assigned to them. By this definition, it means mobility is not just about the ability of the military forces to move within the battlefield. Ultimately rather, while the forces are moving, they must ensure that they keep their ability to undertake primary mission intact. Roh noted that there are a number of factors that ought to be put in place if the proposed mobility can take place in the manner it is desired. Key among these is the need to ensure there are enough men, who will guide and serve as backup during the moving process. Availability of communication equipment is also very crucial. The forces also need a high command to issue specific instructions so that they can be guided in their movement. What is more, Jones opined that the presence of equipment and weapon is always going to be crucial if the primary mission is to be fulfilled. For this reason, mobility can only be effective if all needed equipment and weapons are available, as well as the right men to move them. Once all these factors are provided, it is said that mobility support has been rendered. On the battlefield, there are certain activities by the units that support mobility.
Wolfley explained that manoeuvre entails employing force in any battlefield situation, together with direct and indirect fire or fire potential. The ultimate purpose of manoeuvre support is to ensure that the enemy’s plans are thwarted so that the fact that their decision making change gives an advantage to the opponent to attack them on the break. Katz emphasised that even though the core action behind mobility support is movement, manoeuvre support also entails a lot of movement of combat forces with the goal that they get positional advantage over the enemy. With such positional advantage on the battlefield, it is always possible that the combat forces will either deliver or attempt to deliver all forms of fire, thereby threatening the enemy to take decisions outside their original plans. In any typical battlefield, there are several supports that are offered to the combat force to ensure manoeuvre. In the context of the Battle at Montelimar, three main types of support manoeuvre were experienced, which were support to breaching operations, support to passage of lines, and straggler control. In the subsequent sections, detailed explanations of these supports and how they were applied in the Battle at Montelimar, as well as the outcome of their application on the battle will be thoroughly discussed.
Lessons about mobility support in the advance of Taskforce Butler
Three of these route reconnaissance and surveillance, military supply route (MSR) regulation enforcement, and special circulation control measures. In the advance of Taskforce Butler, there were instances where these mobility supports were necessary. The way in which they were applied in the advance. The strengths and weaknesses in their application, as well as the impact of how they were applied on the successes and failure of the taskforce have been outlined below.
Route reconnaissance and surveillance
According to Kipp, route reconnaissance and surveillance are very important practices in military warfare and at the battlefield. Route reconnaissance involves undertaking comprehensive investigations of the route that the unit in battle uses. In any typical operations such as the one that the Taskforce Butler was assigned, there is a route course of movement that the unit is expected to use. This route course of movement is the exact path that the unit, including its men and equipment moves along. In the estimation of Thomas, there are a lot of factors that come into consideration in the mobility of the unit. Key among these is the need to ensure that there are no significant obstacles that could slow down the pace of movement. Obstacles could come in several forms including rivers, mountains, valleys, wildlife attacks, and bad weather. Consequently, to ensure that the operation is efficient by having easy movement of troops, it is important that route reconnaissance will take place to make the commander aware of what prevails along the route. Right in association with reconnaissance is route surveillance, which involves monitoring of the movement process while it is on course. What this infers is that the commander after being satisfied with the safety of the route should not leave it there but continue to monitor the movement of the unit till they get to their destination.
In the movement of Taskforce Butler as they advanced, there were a number of steps that were taken towards route reconnaissance and surveillance, which are worth discussing for their operational value. First, it would be noted that Major General Truscott formed Taskforce Butler as an ad hoc unit that did not have any mobile organic strike. As a result of this, no specific route was assigned to the taskforce at the point of their formation. This situation impacted on the possibility of having route reconnaissance and surveillance, since there was no specific route to be investigated and monitored. This aspect of the mobility of the unit can be pointed to as a major weakness ahead of their attack. Meanwhile, once the decision was made on 19th August for Taskforce Butler to advance towards Montelimar, much clarity in route course movement was achieved.
The shortfall with the advance towards Montelimar on the first day was that the Major General had still not sent out specific instructions on the day the movement started till 20th when he radioed and sent written instructions. A careful assessment of the case about the taskforce shows that on the 20th, Truscott gave specific instructions to Butler to move towards Montelimar with all possible speed. At this point, it was possible for movement to happen with speed because the instructions included clear guide on the route after thorough reconnaissance. Indeed while the troop was in motion also, Truscott kept monitoring them, contributing to their successful invasion of Montelimar. The lesson that can drawn from this is that decision to embark on route reconnaissance and surveillance causes a lot of positive changes to the speed of mobility. It is therefore very important that commanders will take this strategy of mobility very serious.
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Main supply route regulation enforcement
Another important strategy associated with mobility is the support rendered by way of main supply route regulation enforcement. Kipp noted that one of the main responsibilities that the commander must set within the unit while on the battlefield is traffic control activities. Traffic control is necessary, irrespective of where the operations is taking place. By inference, traffic control would be needed whether movement is taking place on the highway or in the forest area. This is because the focus of main supply route traffic control is not only to target vehicular movement but also the movement of soldiers and equipment. The main task of the unit set up for traffic control is to ensure that there is easy movement of all supply, given that the presence and availability of supply is necessary in mobility. Meanwhile, Haris observed that in the work of the special traffic control unit, one thing that is most important is enforcement of regulations and not the mere presence of regulations. The enforcement ought to focus on such things as speed control, safety inspection, protection assistance, and authorised use of supply route. Because of how important supply route regulations are to mobility, it is always important that the regulations will be part of the highway regulation plan of the commander.
There were issues of main supply route regulation enforcement that were associated with the movement of Taskforce Butler. On the first day of advance, there was no supply route regulation because Butler was only acting on prior orders, since he had no specific orders from Truscott. What is particularly significant however is that Butler managed to apply the doctrinal development, commonly used in the US Army to constitute an interim supply route jurisdiction responsible for controlling traffic, and hence the movement of the men and equipment. The specific military doctrine Butler applied was improvisation, which entailed making use of what was available It would generally be appreciated that at this point, there was not as much men and equipment to move but the mere fact that Butler applied his prior experience to offer this form of mobility support is a major lesson to learn. Indeed when the Major General finally sent more men and equipment, it enhanced the supply route regulation situation because it came with specific instructions on how all forms of roads including the highway should be controlled.
Special circulation control measures
The third mobility strategy that can be linked to the advance by the Taskforce Butler is special circulation control measures. Loney et al. observed that in the movement along the main supply route, there is always going to be blocks mounted at various points by the enemy. In the case of the movement of Taskforce Butler into Montelimar, this was the exact case, which came in the form of German counterattacks. The Germans countered the attacks from the taskforce because the Germans had tried establishing defence lines that would shield them and make it impossible for the Allied forces to withdraw their units. Whenever such blockages and oppositions are faced, it is important to apply special circulation control measures, which limit or dismount the forces and blockages by the opposition. Haris emphasised that there are several ways of performing special circulation control measures to enhance mobility, including the use of temporary route signing and defiles. Temporary route signing works by providing road markings along all major roadsides, which are constantly patrolled to ensure that they are cleared of any opposition impediment before the unit undertake critical movements. A defile is also created as a critical one direction site with priority security, along which all the unit moves to avoid possible encounter with blocks from the opposition.
One major lesson that can be learned from the use of special circulation control measures from the advance of the taskforce is the speed with which at which it moved. Quigley noted that moving as an allied mechanised landing, the taskforce headed for the north of Draguignan on the first day of their advance. Knowing that there were no specific instructions from the Major General at the time, Butler utilised the use of temporary route signing by marking the main supply route that the unit was to advance along. Once the route was marked, a defile was also created on it, ensuring that the route was properly cleared of any enemy presence. Because of the assurance that the unit had about the route, they were able to advance with full speed, ensuring that on the 18th of August they captured the LXII Corps headquarters and some parts of the city. Thomas observed that the speed at which the taskforce was able to move demoralised and weakened the Germans because they were forced to move along at similar speed even though they were not prepared to do so.
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Lessons about manoeuvre support in the Battle at Montelimar
As mentioned already, for manoeuvre to be successful, there are certain supports that must come with it. Three such supports can be linked with the Battle at Montelimar, which go long ways to determine how effective the battle was. The sections that follow therefore discuss those manoeuvre supports, which are support to breaching operations, passage of line support, and straggler control.
Support to breaching operations
The actual Battle at Montelimar was necessary because the Germans continued to retreat even after the two cities of Marseille and Toulon had been liberated. As part of their retreat, they undertook manoeuvre attacks at the Aix-en-Provence with the aim of frustrating the Allied forces from advancing. Initially, the retreat was successful, leaving the Allied forces uncertain about the actions and intentions of the Germans. In essence, the Germans succeeded in manoeuvring the Allied forces. An important lesson that emerge from the action that the Allied forces took in response to the Germans was that they reacted to manoeuvre with manoeuvre. That is, they also set out plans to distort the camp of the Germans while going into the Battle at Montelimar. One of the manoeuvre strategies that the Allied forces employed was support to breaching operations of their enemy. Adey et al. explained that support to breaching operations entails combining different tactics and techniques aimed at advancing forceful attacks towards the far side of an area where the enemy has set obstacles. Such breaching operations therefore ensure that even when there are obstacles, manoeuvre takes place to prevent them from realising their full force. In the case of the Allied forces, the obstacle included all strategies by the Germans to distort them.
Analysing the manoeuvre used in the Battle at Montelimar, Quigley noted that the main support rendered in breaching operations of the Germans came through the interception of radio communications from the Germans by the Allied forces. That is, while at the headquarters, the Allied forces had an advantage of monitoring the communications and plans by the Germans, based on which they prepared counter operations to breach the German moves. For example they discovered that while heading to Montelimar, the Germans had a plan of opening up their flanks to the eastern part of Rhone at Grenoble. It was at this point that the first order came from the Major General to the Taskforce Butler to advance in the direction that was going to be parallel to the Germans. The action taken from the headquarters presents an important lesson on the need to act on intelligence with all the speed and swiftness needed. Indeed General Butler had been using his own experience and prior orders to advance without specificity of purpose but as soon as he gathered intelligence and acted swiftly on it, they were able to fight some Germans who had been scattered before finding themselves very close to Montelimar. Consequently, the success in entering Montelimar could even have been thwarted with the instructions to breach the German operations had not come from the headquarters.
Passage of line support
Another form of manoeuvre support is passage of line support. Egan explained passage of line support to involve the practice of planning and conducting support for the passage of lines. In the Battle at Montelimar, both passing and stationary units were used, with the Taskforce Butler initially constituted as a stationtary unit. Hyde emphasised that whether there is a passing or stationary unit, there is a responsibility to perform a passage of lines, which is a strategic event that comes with battle handover. The passage of line is often in two forms, which is forward passage of lines or rearward passage of lines. Once there is a passage of line, it ensures that manoeuvre units can be moved through the positions defined even when an emplaced unit comes into contact with an enemy unit. This situation was evident in the Battle at Montelimar, as the Allied forces were moving towards Montelimar at the same time that the Germans were making their move. A very important lesson that comes from the actions of the Allied forces is that they knew when to move within the passage of line and when to be stationary. For example before the Germans embarked on their evacuation efforts towards the north, the taskforce was largely stationary but they became mobile only after the Germans started making their move.
Indeed the entire Battle at Montelimar was not a planned one but became necessary when Taskforce Butler and the Allied forces as a whole manoeuvred in time to cut the Germans off. The point that the Germans were cut off was near Montelimar, which was lying very directly to where the Germans had created their escape route. Another important lesson about how the Allied forces passed in line was how they did so with a lot of coordination. Before coming to battle the Germans at Montelimar, it was only Taskforce Butler that had been on the move but once the passage of line was created, the 36th Infantry Division was also made to follow the taskforce. It was through the collective effort of these two units that the German forces were blocked at Montelimar on the 20th of August. Even at the point that the Germans were blocked, another unit which was the VI Corps was also made to chase them from behind, making it possible for the Allied forces to continue pushing till they made a northward advance towards Grenoble. In essence, passage of line support is best delivered when sufficient coordination and planning among different units who work together it put in place.
The final aspect of manoeuvre support is straggler control, which refers to a set of strategies put in place to sustain the support given to the commanders in battle so that they can maintain their strength. It is done by identifying the presence of, and returning stranglers to designated units. Stranglers are mostly soldiers who were originally in units but become accidently separated from the commander. In any typical battlefield, it is expected that the commander will as part of manoeuvre strategies identify and position stranglers at various points including roadblocks and checkpoints. But while doing this, the need to control their activities and actions is very important. In the most common practice, a number of strangler posts may be operated by the commander, where stranglers are checked for their identities and given the needed support, be it treatment of injuries or any other form of support. In the Battle at Montelimar, strangler control became very necessary to ensure that soldiers who had information that could offer tactical value but had been displaced from their units were sampled and reported back to the headquarters.
All the information that came from such soldiers were relayed to the units, while stranglers who could go back to duty were reassigned. While admonishing this important step taken to control stranglers, the fact that more stranglers were created from lack of supplies, including fuel would be criticised. It is important for commanders to realise that any actions that create shortages could go against them by creating more stranglers, whose disconnection from their units can initially weaken the units. Having more stranglers also blocks the coordinated efforts from which the units may be originally functioning. It was actually because of the large number of stranglers created in the camps of the Allied forces that necessitated the use of revised orders from Truscott on 21 August. On the day, Truscott considered that it was going to be impossible to block the whole German force since he had a weak army at the time. Taskforce Butler and most other units were therefore made to focus on evacuating German troops alone till they could receive reinforcements. It was not until French Forces of the Interior (FFI) troops came to support the Americans that full operations could restart.
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One of the most significant characteristics of the TF Butler and Battle for Montelimar is the fact that they were ad hoc operations. This means they were not systematically planned. Meanwhile, General Butler showed that in military operation, real preparation happens ahead of the day of battle. This is because once he was called to take action, he used his prior knowledge and mental preparedness to utilise almost all known strategies under manoeuvre and mobility support. Once used, he was able to succeed in the mission that was set for him. In concluding, it will be reiterated that mobility and manoeuvre are very critical considerations for military commanders. Commanders have to constantly abreast themselves with the practicability of MMS so that they can always be on the ready to implement them when the need arises. Through an effect manoeuvre support, the enemy will always be caught unaware and this will be the source of victory on the battlefield. Also, through efficient mobility support, the troop will always have the resources it needs in the right quantities and at the right place at the right time. Such availability of resources for the soldiers is what will determine how well they can attack the enemy. In sum, MMS is necessary for ensuring both effective and efficient warfare, where effectiveness is measured by the quality of the operations to attack, while efficiency is measured by the availability and use of resources.
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