Storming the City: U.S. Military Performance in Urban Warfare from World War II to Vietnam

By Zeybel, Henry | Air Power History, Fall 2016 | Go to article overview

Storming the City: U.S. Military Performance in Urban Warfare from World War II to Vietnam


Zeybel, Henry, Air Power History


Storming the City: U.S. Military Performance in Urban Warfare from World War II to Vietnam. By Alec Wahlman. Denton TX: University of North Texas Press 2015. Maps. Photographs. Tables. Notes. Glossary. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xvi, 368. $29.95. ISBN: 978-157441-619-0

With a Ph.D. in military history from the University of Leeds, Wahlman is highly qualified to write a book such as this. For 14 years, he was an analyst at the Institute for Defense Analyses focusing on irregular and urban warfare. In Storming the City, he answers a three-part question: When the need arose to fight in urban terrain in the mid-twentieth century, how effective were US forces? How did that performance change from World War II to Vietnam? And why? Wahlman predicated his findings on four battles: Aachen and Manila in World War II, Seoul in the Korean War, and Hue in the Vietnam War.

Wahlman makes it easy to compare the battles by describing each in the same format: Operational Context; The Foe; The Assault; Command, Control, and Communicationc; Intelligence and Reconnaissance; Firepower and Survivability; Mobility and Counter-Mobility; Logistics; and Dealing with the Population.

In these four victories fought in three wars over three decades, both the Army and Marines were ill prepared for urban warfare. Aachen and Manila were primarily Army operations, and Seoul and Hue belonged mostly to the Marines. Throughout the entire time, field manuals for both services presented little information on how to capture a city, and training for fighting house-to-house was minimal.

Wahlman concluded that America's success resulted from "transferable competence" and "battlefield adaptation." Transferable competence included quality leadership within small units; heavy firepower with adequate logistical support; coordinated effort between infantry, armor, artillery, engineers, and air support; previous combat experience; and the design of American armored vehicles. Except for the last point, the other conclusions appeared to be self-evident traits required for any successful operation. Battlefield adaptation was the ability of leaders to alter tactics based on a particular environment. Each battle area offered different problems. The greatest difference between urban and field combat was the shortening of lines of sight in the city. The resultant confined battle space often affected factors such as rules of engagement and population control. This type of adaptation was not unique to urban warfare; it had been required in earlier engagements such as hedgerow and forest fighting.

Wahlman's research claims to undermine two myths about urban warfare. First, the attacking force's traditional three-to-one manpower advantage was proved unnecessary. …

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