WITHOUT supplies, neither a general nor a soldier is good for anything," Clearchus of Sparta said in a 401 B.C. speech to the Greek army in Asia Minor.
Many things have changed in the 24 centuries since, but the need for supplies -- if anything -- is even more critical in a modern, highly technical military than it was in the days of swords, spears and chariots.
I can still recall a 1966 briefing at II Field Force Vietnam, at which operations planners laid out to the assembled generals their grandiose scheme to conduct a multi-division operation in a rice-growing area northeast of Saigon. Just as it ended, a pudgy quartermaster captain stood up in the back of the room and cried, "We can't support it!" Consternation reigned. But the captain, the First Logistical Command liaison officer, had them cold. The road networks and air fields could not begin to handle the tons of fuel, ammunition and supplies the operation would require.
Fifteen years later, when air-land battle planning was in its infancy, war plans were made for deep strikes from West Germany into Poland and Czechoslovakia. It looked good on paper, until a logistican did some calculations and determined there weren't enough fuel trucks in all Europe to keep such an armored column on the move.
Failing to figure in logistical requirements long has been an operational shortcoming. The late Gen. Bruce C. Clarke said the reason the Soviet Union occupied Eastern Europe in the closing days of World War II was that the allied planners for the Normandy invasion had not planned beyond the beachhead. As a result, Gen. George S. Patton's Third Army ran out of gas and ammunition halfway across Europe. While they sat and waited for resupply, the Red Army continued to roll.
The Third U.S. Army once again was in action, this time in the Persian Gulf, the army component of Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf's Central Command. But this time they got it right. "Mobility is the true test of a supply system," wrote military strategist B. H. Liddell Hart in 1944. In the Persian Gulf war, the supply system passed that test with flying colors.
The Army's war-fighting air-land battle doctrine not only included combat units to close with and destroy the enemy, it had sufficient combat-support and combat-service-support units to keep those combat units fed, resupplied, armed and equipped.
Army Quartermaster Corps' Lt. Col. John E. Brown of the Army War College's Department of Military Strategy, Plans and Operations explained how this system worked in the gulf:
Within the Army's basic fighting units -- the infantry, armor and cavalry maneuver battalions and the aviation and field artillery battalions that provide battlefield fire support -- there are maintenance sections and support platoons that provided immediate logistic support. A battalion normally carries enough supplies and ammunition to last three days.
At the brigade level in the gulf, behind the attacking forces, was xTC a forward support battalion that typically consisted of a supply and service company, a maintenance company and a medical company. Further back still, Division Trains, the support command that is part of every armored or infantry division, carried 30 days of supplies.
These supplies included food, barrier material, POL (petroleum, oil and lubricants), ammunition, PX supplies, major replacement equipment, medical, spare parts and civil affairs. For mechanized and armored divisions, the tonnage can be staggering. For planning purposes, such divisions consume 5,000 tons of ammunition and 500,000 gallons of fuel per day.
In World War II and the Korean War, Division Trains consisted of an ordnance company, a truck company, a quartermaster company, a signal company and a medical company. Today, those companies have been increased to battalion size and include an aviation battalion as well.
In direct support of these divisional units in the gulf were two Corps Support Commands (COSCOMs) -- the 1st COSCOM with the XVIII Airborne Corps and the 2nd COSCOM with the VII Corps. Each had a medical group and five corps support groups consisting of a maintenance battalion, quartermaster fuel and water supply battalions, supply and service battalions, transportation battalions, ordnance battalions and aviation battalions.
Reinforcing these direct support groups was the 22nd Theater Army Area Command, which carried a 60-day level of supplies. This command had numerous support battalions for transportation, ammunition, POL and the like.
Unlike the practice in earlier wars, there was no depot system within the theater of war in the gulf. Supply requisitions were consolidated at divisional level and sent by computer to National Inventory Control Points in the United States. These control points passed the requirements either to military depots in the U.S.
In the deep strike into Iraq, not only were supplies brought up from the rear, they were flown to the front by Army helicopters and by Air Force C-130 transports.
Schwarzkopf, commander of U.S. Forces in the gulf, made it clear how important this logistical system was to the success of Operation Desert Storm.
"I think it's very, very important, that I make this point," he said during a briefing at Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Wednesday, Feb. 27, "and that's these logistical bases. Not only did we move the troops out there [into the desert], but we literally moved thousands and thousands of tons of fuel, of ammunition, of spare parts, of water and food, out [to staging areas in western Saudi Arabia], because we wanted enough supplies on hand so that . . . if we got into a slugfest battle . . . we'd have enough supplies to last 60 days.
"I can't give credit enough to the logisticans and the transporters who were able to pull this off," Schwarzkopf added, "to the superb support we had from the Saudi government [which, among other things, provided all the POL], the literally thousands of drivers, really, of every national origin, who helped us in this move out here."
When a Roman general, returning in victory from a great battle, rode in triumph through the streets of Rome, a slave riding with him would whisper in his ear, "Remember, you are but a mere mortal."
And when Schwarzkopf returns for his triumph, with him should be his chief of logistics, Lt. Gen. William G. "Gus" Pagonis, whispering in his ear, "Remember, I'm the guy who got you
Schwarzkopf already knows that. But it would be an object lesson to the rest of the military not to forget, as the 19th century strategist Baron Antoine Henri Jomini put it: "Strategy decides where to act, logistics brings the troops to that point."