The Bombs of August 2014

Posted: April 15, 2013 by blogtarkin in Uncategorized

This guest essay by notorious airpower theorist and New York Times columnist Guilo Douhet. In his words: 

This is a response to the April 1, 2013 post at “Danger Room” by one Andrew Exum, a thinker of moderate intellect and exceedingly conventional vision. The issue in question regarded a series of scenarios describing possible wars between “Tennessee” and “Georgia,” apparently  pair of your American states. After exhaustively researching the histories and capabilities of these two nations, I have set forth a series of events far more likely to take place, and considerably more interesting to the strategic theorist.

that Douhet hopes with level Georgia

A Tennessee Air National Guard C-5A Galaxy

The causes of the war of August 2014 are not interesting or relevant, apparently involving some sort of trivial dispute over water. The logic of modern warfare applies independent of the political exigencies of any particular conflict.   Regarding the order of battle of the two antagonists, the only weapons relevant to our analysis air the air fleets that each could access. Fortunately, the government of Tennessee had the foresight to initiate a set of agreements with Federal Express that allowed the conscription of FedEx planes and pilots in case of invasion from Georgia or Kentucky. These agreements would prove critical in the end stages of the conflict. Altogether, Tennessee would eventually call on the following fleet of aircraft:

  • Airlift Squadron: 5 C-5 Galaxy
  • Airlift Wing: 6 C-130 , 12 MQ-9 Reaper
  • Air Refueling Squadron: KC-135R
  • Fed Ex Express:
  • 35 A300
  • 18 A310
  • 28 757
  • 8 777
  • 3 MD-10
  • 21 MD-11

Georgia pursued a different path, eschewing the difficult work of developing relationships with the many airlines operating out of Atlanta International Airport.  Instead, Georgia concentrated its efforts on small aircraft and helicopters, the better to support the advance of its ground forces into Tennessee. In addition to a plethora of such small craft, Georgia was able to draw on some large aircraft from the Georgia Air National Guard.

  • Air Control Wing: 6 E-8C Joint Stars
  • Air Lift Wing: 6 C-130H
  • 250+ helicopters and small aircraft

Fundamentally, this war represented the cleanest collision of the air-minded and the ground-minded.  Consequently, it also represented the clearest vindication of the principles that I had set forth in my volume Command of the Air.

Georgia’s land offensive made initial progress, but bogged down as bands of primitive East Tennessee hill people ambushed and harried Georgian columns and logistical trains. Tennessee had wisely invested in only minimal land forces, relying on the inherent savagery and fighting prowess of the Appalachian tribesmen to sufficiently slow the Georgian advance until airpower could prove decisive.  Regular Tennessee National Guard forces prepared a defense-in-depth in the outskirts of Chattanooga, allowing the Georgians their initial prize while working with the tribesmen to make them pay for it. However, this defense would not have held for long in the face of a renewed Georgian offensive if airpower had not won the day.

Georgia foolishly squandered the airpower available to it in by dissipating its aircraft and pilots across a variety of secondary missions.  Georgian C-130s supplied operational air mobility and some close air support, but could not sufficiently break open Tennessee’s defenses to allow penetration into vital areas. The fault lay not with the airmen (who were surely brave and skilled) but rather in their employment in service of a land offensive that could not possibly produce decisive results in the brief period before Georgia’s cities began to burn.

The aircraft appropriated by the government of Tennessee were not designed as bombers, which reduced their effectiveness.  In the future, state governments should take care to arm their Air National Guards with dedicated bomber wings.  Nevertheless, the courage, tenacity, and technical know-how of Tennessee’s air guardsmen allowed the conversion of these cargo craft into strategic bombers, albeit often in awkward, dangerous fashion. Given the ad hoc nature of the Tennessee Air National Guard offensive, a robust air defense system, supported by pursuit aircraft, might have prevented or at least substantially delayed the decisive blows of the war.  Unfortunately, Georgia devoted so little attention to air-centric matters that it failed even to mount the most tepid air defense.

The first fire-raid came on August 20, as over 40 Tennessean bombers appeared over the city of Athens.  Renowned for its cultural significance, Athens proved little match for the 2000 tons of incendiaries dropped by the “Volunteers.” Additional raids devastated Roswell and Macon, with a follow up raid against Athens throwing the region into chaos on August 30.

On September 1, 2014 the decisive moment came in a pre-dawn raid against the Georgian capitol of Atlanta.  4 C-5, 4 C-130s, 25 A300s, 13 A310s, 20 757s, 6 777s, 1 MD-10, and 18 MD-11 delivered nearly 5500 tons of ordnance onto the city and surrounding suburbs.  Tennessee’s attacks concentrated on the downtown financial districts as well as on wealthy outlying areas. The municipal capacity of Atlanta was overwhelmed, with fires continuing to burn for days.

The timing of the strike was no accident. Coming 150 years to the day after the burning of the city of Atlanta by a band of Northmen, this raid proved a political masterstroke, shattering the will of Georgia’s political class to continue the conflict. Georgia responded with a desultory attempt to bomb Knoxville, but apart from gutting a few square blocks of the University of Tennessee, the attack had no serious strategic impact. Their homes in ruins, soldiers in Georgia’s advanced ground elements began to desert and mutiny against their officers.

At this point the details of the conflict become uninteresting to the historian, allowing us to shift to strategic lessons learned.  Tennessee won this war because of a culture of airmindedness.  It had prepared (through laying the groundwork of a relationship with Federal Express) to acquire an air force capable of strategic action. Tennessee then used this air force to strategic effect, rather than dissipating it for ephemeral battlefield advantage.  The smoking ruins of urban Georgia attest to the folly of yoking airpower to conventional ground thinking.

And, as Douhet envisions it, September 1, 2014

Ruins of Atlanta deopt after burning by Gen. Sherman’s troops, 1864

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Comments
  1. Michael says:

    So how much better would the Georgians have done if they had thought airmindedly? Their enemies were close enough to the center of the continent to be attractive as a hub for air shippers (like FedEx) and the businesses which depend on them–this geographic advantage, along with the above mentioned defensive advantages, would seem hard for one State to overcome.

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