Shellback is the pseudonym of someone who started working for a NATO military structure in the Brezhnev years. He does not think that the Cold War was so much fun that we should try to repeat it.
Editor’s Note: The author first published this article on Russia Insider in April of 2016. We are republishing it now due to its high relevance to the heightened military tension and possibility of war between the US and Russia. Since writing this article, Russia’s armed forces have become significantly stronger. Its weapons systems have been significantly modernized and its Air Force and Navy have invaluable, (and highly successful) battle experience in Syria.
With the hyper-aggressive resolution just passed by the US House of Representatives we move closer to open war. Thus what follows may be apposite. In short, the US and NATO, accustomed to cheap and easy victories (at least in the short term – over the long term Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Kosovo are hardly victories), will have a shattering shock should they ever fight the Russian Armed Forces.
At the beginning of my career, in the 1970s, I spent some years engaged in combat simulations. Most of these exercises were for training staff officers but some were done in-house to test out some weapon or tactic. The scenario was usually the same: we, NATO, the good guys, Blue, would be deployed, usually in Germany; that is, on the eastern edge of West Germany. There we would be attacked by the Warsaw Pact, the bad guys, Red. (The colors, by the way, date from the very first war game, Kriegspiel; nothing to do with the Communist Party’s favorite color).
Over several years of being on the control staff I noticed two things. Naturally both Red and Blue were played by our people, however interesting it might have been to borrow some Soviet officers to play Red. What always fascinated me was how quickly the people playing Red would start getting aggressive. Their fellow officers, on the Blue side, were very risk-averse, slow and cautious. The Red players just drove down the road and didn’t mind losing a tank, let alone a tank company. What was really interesting (we tested this in the office, so to speak) was that, at the end of the day, the full speed ahead approach produced fewer casualties than the cautious approach. The other thing – rather chilling this – was that Red always won. Always. And rather quickly.
I developed a great respect for the Soviet war-fighting doctrine. I don’t know whether it was based on traditional Russian doctrine but it certainly had been perfected in the Second World War where the Soviets carried out what are probably the largest land operations ever conducted. Nothing could be farther from the truth than the casual Western idea that the Soviets sent waves of men against the Germans until they ran out of ammunition and were trampled under the next wave. Once the Soviets got going, they were very good indeed.
The Soviet war-fighting doctrine that I saw in the exercises had several characteristics. The first thing that was clear is that the Soviets knew that people are killed in wars and that there is no place for wavering; hesitation loses the war and gets more people killed in the end. Secondly, success is reinforced and failure left to itself. “Viktor Suvorov”, a Soviet defector, wrote that he used to pose a problem to NATO officers. You have four battalions, three attacking and one in reserve; the battalion on the left has broken through easily, the one in the middle can break through with a little more effort, the one on the right is stopped. Which one do you reinforce with your reserve battalion? He claimed that no NATO officer ever gave the correct answer. Which was, forget the middle and right battalions, reinforce success; the fourth battalion goes to help the lefthand one and, furthermore, you take away the artillery support from the other two and give it to the battalion on the left. Soviet war-fighting doctrine divided their forces into echelons, or waves. In the case above, not only would the fourth battalion go to support the lefthand battalion but the followup regiments would be sent there too. Breakthroughs are reinforced and exploited with stunning speed and force. General von Mellenthin speaks of this in his book Panzer Battles when he says that any Soviet river crossing must be attacked immediately with whatever the defender has; any delay brings more and more Soviet soldiers swimming, wading or floating across. They reinforce success no matter what. The third point was the tremendous amount of high explosives that Soviet artillery could drop on a position. In this respect, the BM-21 Grad, about which I have written before, was a particular standout, but they had plenty of guns as well.
An especially important point, given a common US and NATO assumption, is that the Soviets did not assume that they would always have total air superiority. The biggest hole, in my opinion, of US and NATO war-fighting doctrine is this assumption. US tactics often seem to be little more than the instruction to wait for the air to get the ground forces out of trouble (maybe that’s why US-trained forces do so poorly against determined foes). Indeed, when did the Americans ever have to fight without total air superiority other than, perhaps, their very first experience in World War II? The Western Allies in Italy, at D-day and Normandy and the subsequent fighting could operate confident that almost every aircraft in the sky was theirs. This confident arrogance has, if anything, grown stronger since then with short wars in which the aircraft all come home. The Soviets never had this luxury – they always knew they would have to fight for air superiority and would have to operate in conditions where they didn’t have it. And, General Chuikov at Stalingrad “hugging the enemy”, they devised tactics that minimized the effectiveness of enemy aircraft. The Russians forces have not forgotten that lesson today and that is probably why their air defense is so good.
NATO commanders will be in for a shattering shock when their aircraft start falling in quantity and the casualties swiftly mount into the thousands and thousands. After all, we are told that the Kiev forces lost two thirds of their military equipment against fighters with a fraction of Russia’s assets, but with the same fighting style.
But, getting back to the scenarios of the Cold War. Defending NATO forces would be hit by an unimaginably savage artillery attack, with, through the dust, a huge force of attackers pushing on. The NATO units that repelled their attackers would find a momentary peace on their part of the battlefield while the ones pushed back would immediately be attacked by fresh forces three times the size of the first ones and even heavier bombardments. The situation would become desperate very quickly.
No wonder they always won and no wonder the NATO officer playing Red, following the simple instructions of push ahead resolutely, reinforce success, use all you artillery all the time, would win the day.
I don’t wish to be thought to be saying that the Soviets would have
“got to the the English Channel in 48 hours” as the naysayers were fond of warning. In fact, the Soviets had a significant Achilles Heel. In the rear of all this would have been an unimaginably large traffic jam. Follow-up echelons running their engines while commanders tried to figure out where they should be sent, thousands of trucks carrying fuel and ammunition waiting to cross bridges, giant artillery parks, concentrations of engineering equipment never quite in the right place at the right time. And more arriving every moment. A ground-attack pilot’s dream. The NATO Air-Land Battle doctrine being developed would have gone some distance to even things up again. But it would have been a tremendously destructive war, even forgetting the nuclear weapons (which would also be somewhere in the traffic jam).
As for the Soviets on the defense, (something we didn’t game because NATO, in those days, was a defensive alliance) the Battle of Kursk is probably the model still taught today: hold the attack with layer after layer of defenses, then, at the right moment, the overwhelming attack at the weak spot. The classic attack model is probably Autumn Storm.
All of this rugged and battle proven doctrine and methodology is somewhere in the Russian Army today. We didn’t see it in the first Chechen War – only overconfidence and incompetence. Some of it in the Second Chechen War. More of it in the Ossetia War. They’re getting it back. And they are exercising it all the time.
Light-hearted people in NATO or elsewhere should never forget that it’s a war-fighting doctrine that does not require absolute air superiority to succeed and knows that there are no cheap victories. It’s also a very, very successful one with many victories to its credit. (Yes, they lost in Afghanistan but the West didn’t do any better.)
I seriously doubt that NATO has anything to compare: quick air campaigns against third-rate enemies yes. This sort of thing, not so much.
Even if, somehow, the nukes are kept in the box.
(His second rule, by the way, was: “Do not go fighting with your land armies in China.” As Washington’s policy drives Moscow and Beijing closer together…. But that is another subject).
Social media: Why vaccines, paella and ‘tortilla’ trend on Spanish Twitter | Opinion
The content that gets shared the most on social media is not always an indignant message or an ingenious insult. Sometimes, it can even be pleasant to be on Twitter. This past weekend, the German television network Deutsche Welle published an English-language video special about Spain’s successful Covid-19 vaccination campaign. This video has been shared by Twitter users more than a thousand times in messages that expressed pride and included the hashtag #marcaEspaña (or, Brand Spain).
The Deutsche Welle video compared the 78% rate of fully vaccinated people in Spain at the time the report was made (the figure is now closer to 80%) to the 69% in Italy, 68% in France and 65% in Germany. Some of the reasons put forward to explain this success, despite a slow start, include widespread faith in the country’s public health system, the media’s scant coverage of vaccine conspiracy theories, and also “the devastating first wave of the pandemic.”
Spain has one the highest vaccination rates in the world without government mandates or incentives.
Here is what’s behind the Spanish success story and what others could learn from it👇 pic.twitter.com/br2wCXESXs
— DW News (@dwnews) October 16, 2021
Positive messages about Spain from a foreign source are usually popular on social media. But at the same time it seems that if a Spaniard mentions that the country is doing something reasonably well, such as the vaccination campaign for instance, their fellow countrymen have trouble believing it. The impression (not always off base) is that the speaker has an axe to grind or may be trying to sell us a story (or even worse, a flag). But if a foreign media outlet says the same thing – well, we may not be fully convinced, but at least we enjoy hearing it.
And it’s not just with crucial subject matter such as vaccines. It also happens with other less critically important issues, such as Spain’s famous potato omelet, or tortilla de patatas. When a reporter from The New York Times extolled celebrity chef Ferrán Adriá’s version, made with potato chips from a bag rather than freshly sliced potatoes, it prompted nothing but satisfied tweets. But messages about the same recipe shared before the article came out showed a marked difference of opinions, to put it mildly.
It also works the other way around: when our dear old Spain comes under attack, we view it as an affront requiring revenge. There are still Twitter users out there who have not forgiven British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver for making a paella with chorizo in 2016 (at the time, some people compared his creation with the notorious botched restoration of a Christ figure in 2012).
And let’s not forget what happened to an Italian citizen who tweeted this summer that Spain was like Italy, but a bit worse. I will refrain from mentioning his name because he has already put up with enough grief. “Hey guys,” he amusingly tweeted afterwards. “Just checking, does ‘me cago en tu puta madre’ mean ‘I respectfully disagree’?”
I don’t think that Twitter turns us into patriots, fortunately enough for everyone. There’s no doubt that a lot of different elements are at play here: it’s easier to praise the Deutsche Welle video if you are a supporter of public healthcare (or even of the government). As for the food disputes, there is a lot of joking and pretending going on there. There is also an element of surprise: while we find it normal for there to be talk in Spain about the US, the UK or Germany, we are surprised every time Spain is mentioned abroad, and that’s because we tend to view ourselves as rather insignificant (which is understandable). And I’m also not ruling out the view held by some that focusing so much on what the foreign media says is, in itself, quite provincial.
But it’s also true that we should all find some joy in the fact that, once in a while, we can work together to do something well. And perhaps even celebrate with a good tortilla de patatas. I won’t go into whether it should have onion in it or not, because I don’t want to ruin the moment with another argument.
Misconceptions about meaning of antigen results widespread, report finds
Widespread misconceptions exist about Covid-19 antigen testing, according to a new report, with almost half of us thinking a person with symptoms doesn’t have to self-isolate if there is a negative result.
Twelve per cent say they do not know how to interpret a negative antigen test and another 4 per cent say it is fine to socialise, even with symptoms.
This baseline level of public understanding presents a “clear set of communications challenges,” according to the interim report of the rapid testing expert advisory group.
The Government earlier this week gave the go-ahead for the use of antigen testing for asymptomatic close contacts, and their wide use for large events. Up to now, the National Public Health Emergency Team has resisted the wider use of antigen testing, arguing it was inferior to the system of PCR testing already in place.
The report says rapid antigen tests (RADT) are an additional tool and not a substitute for existing public health measures. PCR testing remains the “gold standard” for diagnosing Covid-19 infections.
But antigen tests can reliably detect those most likely to be infectious and the speed with which the result is obtained enables “rapid intervention” to prevent onward transmission of the virus. Although they do not identify all cases, they are cheap and can be deployed at scale.
The results of antigen tests are available within minutes, whereas it takes about a day for the result of more expensive PCR testing to be provided.
Less than half of the population knew an antigen test was “less good” at detecting the virus than a PCR test, according to a survey carried out for the report.
Some 39 per cent of people though that where a person with symptoms took a rapid test and got a negative result, s/he had no need to self-isolate.
“Overall, the results suggest widespread misconceptions in Ireland about the sensitivity of RADT, how they are of benefit, and the implications of test results.”
“In a landscape of continual change as demonstrated by the unpredictability of this pandemic, it is possible rapid antigen testing may play an important part of future testing programmes.”
Antigen testing may have a role within specific settings as a complementary public health intervention to existing infection prevention and control measures, the report states.
There may be benefits to deploying it in specific settings “depending on the incidence of Covid-19 in the country”.
“It is important that the benefits and limitations of all tests are communicated to the public. It should be noted that rapid antigen detection tests should not be used to support behavioural changes that are contrary to public health recommendations.”
The expert advisory group, chaired by Prof Mary Horgan, was appointed by the Minister for Health last July.
Travel disruption as storm wreaks havoc across Germany
The German Weather Service (DWD) issued an orange (level 2) storm warning for most of Germany – and a more serious red (level 3) warning in some areas in a central strip across the country.
Einige orkanartige Böen sind bereits aufgetreten und Maximum wird in den nächsten Stunden erreicht. #Sturmwarnung wurde daher in der Nacht in der Mitte des Landes auf “rot” hochgestuft. Infos folgen! #Sturmtief Hendrik #Sturmböen /V pic.twitter.com/xGFmDVNfXW
— DWD (@DWD_presse) October 21, 2021
Early on Thursday morning, the low pressure system – dubbed “Ignatz” by meteorologists – began to move over Germany bringing with it strong gusts, thunderstorms and rain. During the course of the day, the DWD expects heavy winds and hurricane-like gusts of over 100 km per hour.
Damage and travel chaos
The storm has already caused major damage and impacted travel.
A goods train collided with a fallen branch in the Bonn district of Bad Godesberg on Thursday night, and long-distance traffic between Cologne and Koblenz was affected in the morning. According to a Deutsche Bahn (DB) spokesman, the branch had fallen onto the track on the left bank of the Rhine due to the storm.
“We have to divert to the right bank of the Rhine and are working flat out to repair the damage,” a DB spokesperson said.
The Tweet below by the German Weather Service shows wind speeds recorded in parts of Germany on Thursday morning. On Mountains the maximum wind speed reached 166 km/h.
Orkanartige Böen (Bft 11) in den letzten 3 h:
Trier (RLP): 116 km/h
Tholey (SL): 113 km/h
Dörrmoschel (RLP): 109 km/h
Berus (SL): 107 km/h
Gerbrunn (LK Würzburg, BY): 105 km/h
— DWD (@DWD_presse) October 21, 2021
Long-distance trains between Cologne and Koblenz were diverted in the early hours, with delays of between 20 and 90 minutes. The stops at Andernach, Remagen and Bonn central station were cancelled. Long-distance trains between Würzburg and Nuremberg were also being diverted due to storm damage.
A tree fell on an overhead line between Neumünster and Rendsburg. This caused disruption to train services between Hamburg and Kiel, and Flensburg. A Deutsche Bahn spokeswoman said that the report was received at around 7.30am.
The rail operator warned there could be more disruption and cancellations throughout the day. People can check the DB site for current issues in their area.
In the state of Hesse, police and emergency services received several reports of fallen trees – and even a trampoline that was lifted and hurled across streets. There was some minor damage to property. According to the police, there were no reports of injuries. However, it remains to be seen how the storm will develop in Hesse over the course of the day.
In Rhineland-Palatinate, there were several traffic accidents due to branches, trees or bins blown onto the roads. The Rhine bridge near Speyer, which is part of Autobahn 61, was closed due to a truck overturning. The police believe gusts of wind caught the trailer of the lorry and caused it to overturn.
In Thuringia and Baden-Württemberg, trees were uprooted. In Delmenhorst, Lower Saxony, a man was hit by a falling branch on Wednesday evening but luckily he was not injured seriously, police said.
DWD has warned that there will be several rain storms across the country.
In the northern half of Germany, the weather service warned of eastward-moving storms with gale-force winds of up to 105 kilometres per hour. Forecasters said it would also be particularly stormy on the Baltic Sea coast.
The DWD warned of falling branches and roof tiles, and recommended that people try and stay indoors, particularly in badly-affected areas.
Forecasters say the wind will decrease from the west over the course of the afternoon. It is set to get cooler overall. Temperatures on Thursday will be between 15 and 18C, in the west and north between 12 and 15C.
Storm – (der) Sturm
Thunderstorm or storm – (das) Gewitter
Gale-force winds – (die) Orkanböen
Diverted – umgeleitet
We’re aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.
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