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Monday, August 28, 2017

The General Who Never Lost

When we think of "The General", we might think of legendary coach Bobby Knight, George Washington, master of logistics George C. Marshall, or perhaps Douglas McArthur. There are many more worth contemplating. 

But most of us are unfamiliar with Alexander Suvorov (1729-1800), who never lost a battle. A sickly child, he was initially prohibited from a military career by his father. Foreshadowing his career, he was mentored by General Abram Hannibal, entering the cadet corps, learning multiple languages and studying great military tacticians. 

In an early battle against the Prussians, advised to wait for enumeration of the enemy, he responded, “We are here to fight, not to count” and led the attack, annihilating the foreign garrison.

What was Suvorov's "secret"? The best analysis of Suvorov came from (unclassified) the Soviet Studies Office, entitled "Train hard, fight easy". He emphasized training of the individual soldier. "If a peasant doesn't know how to plough, he cannot grow bread." The recruits understood. He "...set out to transform the lives of his peasant recruits, to render the difficult possible and the unthinkable more palatable." 

In battle he prioritized, "speed, assessment, and hitting power". This anticipated John Boyd's aerial combat strategy OODA (observe, orient, decide, and act) by hundreds of years. He published this mantra subsequently in the military classic, "The Art of Victory". 

But his methods deviated from traditional approaches for "raw and illiterate" conscripts. He opposed corporal punishment and imposed a holistic approach of "health, diet, and adequate living conditions." He understood that caring for your troops came with caring about his troops. 

He emphasized "enthusiasm and the positive aspects of a systematic approach to training which instilled self-confidence." His men were in superior condition. "All the secret of maneuvers lies in the legs." 

He was obsessed with speed. "Money is dear; human life is still dearer; but time is the dearest of all." He demanded that his troops load quickly but fire slowly and accurately. In a sense he forecast the Newellism, "get more and better shots than our opponent." 

He advocated pressing the advantage. "A step backward is death." Training was focused and utilitarian. "Troops be taught only that which is necessary in combat." 

His preparation included flexibility and scouting. "Formation and tactics always depended on the nature of the terrain and the anticipated enemy."

He encouraged officers and troops to read. "Without the beacon of history-tactics grope in the dark". We cannot fully comprehend the present without insight from the past. 

Tony Hinkle 5 series entry. 

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