Academic journal article Military Review

Maginot Line or Fort Apache? Using Forts to Shape the Counterinsurgency Battlefield

Academic journal article Military Review

Maginot Line or Fort Apache? Using Forts to Shape the Counterinsurgency Battlefield

Article excerpt

It is an incontestable fact that no kind of fortress, wheresoever placed, however strongly manned, however expensively constructed, and however numerous its garrison, has ever given permanent security to a State--has seldom indeed given it even temporary protection. Moreover, a fortress once invested is certain to fall, unless a relieving field-army can beat the besiegers away. We read in the history of one generation of the "virgin "fortress of Ingoldstadt or of Metz, but when we open the records of another generation, we find that its pride has bitten the dust.

In some cases a very small fort in a well-chosen position may puzzle a general of genius.

--T. Miller-Maguire (1)

AS THE 19TH CENTURY waned and the 20th century dawned, T. Miller-Maguire, a noted, prolific military writer, disparaged the fortification mentality of the French, citing the futility of their northern fortifications during the 1800s. In 1899, he scorned French efforts in the Ardennes well before the failures of those fortifications during World Wars I and II.

Maguire was not alone. Fortifications and fortified field works have a bad reputation among casual military historians and experienced generals. The generations after Maguire saw the Maginot Line bypassed and the vaunted Eban Emael taken easily by German paratroops and concluded fortifications are expensive, become obsolete rapidly, and are bypassed easily if not taken. Moreover, troops garrisoning fortifications are prone to defensive-mindedness and timidity. Offensive-mindedness and maneuver are preferred to indecisive, protracted fortification warfare.

Even so, fortifications have served well in certain strategic contexts and should not be discarded as a contributing element in strategic military planning, either in the defense or the offense. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the forts of continental Europe were deployed in such a way as to promise an invader that, if he did not take them, the forts' garrisons would play havoc on his line of communication (LOC) and retreat. (2) The forts were located not so much for protection of the area where they were built but as part of a greater strategy of defense in depth. They also served expansionist aims by extending and protecting friendly lines during strategic advances. Even Maguire, while generally chiming in with the maneuver generals' more recent contempt for fortifications, included a clear exception when it came to the "works devised by ourselves to meet the exigencies of irregular warfare...." (3)

Fortifications can be an effective part of an offensive strategy in counterinsurgency and can increase the probability of success in friendly offensive operations especially when placed across enemy LOCs. Correctly placed, they contribute to success in the offense by closing enemy lines of retreat, shortening the distance in time and space to enemy culminating points, and lengthening time and distance to friendly culminating points by improving friendly resupply. Carefully sited fortifications can shape the battlefield for victory in irregular warfare.

Permanent fortifications were built to strengthen frontiers, serve as forward bases for offensive operations, control LOCs, secure key passes and major population centers, and provide an economy of force measure to free troops to become part of a mobile reserve or an assault force. As such, fortifications have occupied key geographic sites that controlled the transportation, political, and economic life of nations. In spite of the standard criticisms, forts have often served their purpose admirably. An early American example is Fort McHenry's contribution to the defense of Baltimore during the War of 1812. Now such massive old defensive works are military curiosities and cultural patrimony, but their quaintness should not blind today's military planners to the viable, vital role fortifications can still play. Another quote from Maguire helps make the point: "Once the reader understands that soldiering and fighting are far from synonymous--that in a campaign combats are occasional while marching is constant--that before entering into battle a general must be most careful to secure his line or lines of retreat; he understands the leading principles of strategy, whether he can define the phrase to his satisfaction or not. …

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