(Though sometimes human genius can turn the tables)

When it comes to war, a great general once said that God sides with “whichever side has the biggest battalions”.

While greater numbers and quantity of material do not always a successful campaign make, history demonstrates that military victory tends to go to the side with more: more men, more supplies, more weaponry, etc. Against this purely physical equation must be factored the morale and quality of the soldiers involved, the ability of their commanders, terrain, objectives, comparative technology of the combatants, and other less tangible factors that impact on the final outcome.

That said, numbers matter. As Lenin famously expressed it, “Quantity has a quality all its own”. In a punching contest, the biggest kid usually wins the fight. In a boxing match, the larger heavyweight fighter might be a tad slower than the feisty banter-weight, and in the first rounds the quicker fighter can often land many more shots on the slower heavyweight. But those blows will not have the power of the bigger man’s.

1353447.jpgIf his lighter blows don’t achieve a knock-out, if the big guy can take a punch, then time is against the lightweight. In a slug-fest, the longer it goes on the more likely it is that the big man will land a heavy shot and beat the little guy down.

Throughout history we have seen examples of smaller but better trained and/or led armies winning victories over larger, less tactically adroit opponents. However, if initial tactical successes cannot be parlayed into a quick and victorious conclusion to hostilities, time tends to favor the “big battalions”.


In military terminology, a “force multiplier” is any factor or set of circumstances (or combinations of either) which make a given fighting force more effective than it would otherwise be. As example, due to the increased firepower and lethality of modern weapons and weapon’s systems, a platoon of infantry today can often accomplish a mission it might have taken an entire company to achieve in WWII. In this example, weapon’s technology is a powerful force multiplier.

Force multipliers can have a dramatic, even decisive result on the outcome of any given conflict.

Some common force multipliers are:

Training and Experience: there is perhaps no greater force multiplier. Ten trained veterans are more effective than 100 times as many untrained recruits.

Morale: both the positive morale of one side, or the poor morale of their opponent. Confidence greatly enhances fighting ability, and even desperation and fatalism can become powerful force multipliers. On the other hand, poor morale can sap the confidence and courage of any fighting force.

Leadership: arguably the most important force multiplier, as leadership (or lack thereof) directly effects all other factors. Effective leadership is all important in war. Great generals can impose their will upon the chaos of battle, achieving remarkable victories. Wellington once said of Napoleon, “His presence on the battlefield is worth 60,000 men”. By contrast, the best of armies can be brought to utter ruin and destruction in the hands of a fool.[1]

Technology: the greater the technological imbalance the greater the force multiplication. As Arthur C. Clarke once wrote, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. The greater the disparity in technology the fewer the troops needed to achieve battlefield supremacy.

Deception and Surprise: as the Chinese military philosopher Sun Tzu said more than two millennium ago, “All warfare is based on deception”; and surprise can render an opponent off-balance and fatally unprepared for what is coming.

Terrain: Few factors impact combat as obviously as terrain. High ground gives to its occupant a host of advantages, not the least of which is the fatigue attacking uphill causes to an opponent. Masking terrain (forests, hills) can blind one’s opponent to the movement of one’s forces, allowing a commander to gain strategic or tactical surprise. Lee used the forest of the Wilderness around Chancellorsville to blind Hooker to Jackson’s flanking movement, with near fatal results for the Army of the Potomac. The ridge between Hougoumont and Placenoit at Waterloo along which Wellington arrayed his forces conveyed to the Iron Duke clear visibility of the advancing French and his troops better fields of fire within which to mow them down.

Weather:  Weather can be both a force multiplier and a force reducer (diminishing rather than enhancing an opponent’s capabilities).  Certainly weather is the cosmic die roll influencing every military operation. But for an untimely rain shower on the evening following Quatre Bras and Ligny on June 16, 1815, Wellington would never have reached Waterloo to fight another day. Weather is really more often a force reducer,   But on occasion, generals have used weather to their advantage. Washington’s crossing of the Delaware and subsequent attack on Trenton was made possible because of the extreme cold and sleet that drove British/Hessian patrols indoors for warmth. Charles XII used the opportunity afforded by a driving snow-storm at Narva to attack his now blinded opponents in their entrenchments (see below).


A commander of genius can be a powerful “force multiplier”. Alexander of Macedon, perhaps history’s greatest of “Great Captains”, was able to conquer the much larger Persian Empire with a small but elite Army. He accomplished this in just a few short years. His campaigns were characterized by rapid movements and bold action, and he possessed a gift for finding his enemy’s strategic jugular. Darius III made many mistakes as well, never managing to effectively leverage Persia’s vast resources of money, manpower, and geographic space to his advantage (in Darius’ defense, Alexander was a master of overcoming such adversities). Alexander’s leadership gave the Macedonians enormous confidence, and they followed him further and longer into unknown territories than any army in history.

Hernán Cortés provides another example of the effect of leadership: with an army of less than 1,000 Spanish adventurers he managed, in just two years, to overthrow the greatest power in the “New World”: the Aztec Empire. Though the Aztecs had geography, wealth, and vast numbers of fierce warriors on their side they were at a disadvantage against the bold, brilliant, and opportunistic Conquistador. Cortés used every diplomatic and religious advantage Montezuma presented him. He turned his enemy’s superstitions and uncertainty as to the true identity of his Spanish visitors (Montezuma, a former priest, initially mistook Cortés for the returned Aztec deity, Quetzalcoatl ) to his advantage, gaining entrance into the heart of their empire unopposed. From there he manipulated the Aztec ruler till he had wrung every once of favor out of him, before discarding him and making overt war on the Aztecs. Cortes was also adept at diplomacy, and forged a large coalition of the Aztec’s native enemies against them.


Cortés’ abilities as a commander aside, the Spaniards possessed other “force multipliers”. First, they had superior weapons technology (steel armor and weapons, crossbows, and gunpowder weapons). They also utilized “fear” weapons: the Aztecs were terrified (at least initially) of the Spaniards gunpowder, of their cavalry (horses were not native to the New World), and of their large and fierce mastiff dogs (only very small breeds were known in Mexico, and these were a food source). Finally, the Spanish possessed the ultimate “force multiplier”, germ warfare: the Spaniards inadvertently brought smallpox to Mexico, which devastated the Aztec population.

In the Macedonian conquest of Persia and in the Spanish conquest of the New World, force multipliers allowed relatively tiny forces to overcome the much larger and materially stronger enemy. But for every such example, history provides others where the side possessing many such force multipliers still lost to the side with a quantitative advantage.


Military genius alone has a very hard time when pitted against even a mildly competent enemy possessed of greater resources of manpower and material. If you doubt that, just ask the superb generals of Hitler’s Wehrmacht, who in the later years of the war faced by an enemy blessed with more men and material.

In 1941, the German war machine was a very fine-tuned one, indeed. The German Panzer Division was a proto-typical combined arms force, in which rapidly maneuvering armored forces were supported closely by mounted infantry, mobile artillery, and air-power. The vaunted blitzkrieg conquered Poland in 1939,  and then Denmark, Norway, the Low Countries, and France in 1940. The Balkans were overrun in spring of 1941, and that summer Hitler unleashed his Panzers on Stalin’s Soviet Union.

1353423Though sure of being outnumbered by “the Bolshevik hordes” the German’s were confident in the many “force multipliers” they possessed: mobility, firepower, experience, and the talents of an exceptional officer corps. While perhaps not rising to the level of “Great Captain”, the German generals Guderian and Von Manstein were brilliant and farsighted commanders; and Hoth, Von Leeb, Von Kleist, and Von Rundstedt were all adept practitioners of the Operational Art. No army in the world had better staff work than the German.

1353424.jpgGermany was the ultimate example of the feisty overachiever up against Russia, the biggest bully on the block. Germany (like Napoleonic France in 1812) had to achieve a knock-out blow early on, before Stalin could mobilize his vast resources.

However, Russia had advantages of its own to counter the purely military ones of the Germans. First, Russia held the ultimate trump card: population. Germany, a nation of less than 70 million was engaging a nation of 169 million. Russia also had vast industrial capacity, out-producing the Germans in all categories of material (and what they couldn’t readily make themselves, their American ally gave them in abundance). Russia possessed vast geographic space to trade for time: time to absorb the initial German assault and to prepare its counter-attacks. Finally the extremes of Russia’s weather works against any invader. Not only winter, which was of legendarily harshness (just ask Napoleon’s Grande Armee in 1812) but a spring and autumn rainy season that turned the dirt roads of under-developed Russia into a muddy morass. The Wehrmacht, which needed to maneuver rapidly in order to maintain its “blitzkrieg”, was foiled first by “General Mud”, then by a winter so cold that engine blocks froze solid. Ultimately Hitler’s war machine ground to a halt within site of the Kremlin’s onion domes.

For the next three years, the Germans continued to land swift, hard blows on the Russian giant. But every time Russia got back on its feet, dazed but still combative, while the Germans came away with bruised and bloody fists.

Ultimately, the “big battalions” ground the qualitatively superior Wehrmacht into dust.

1353445.jpgIt didn’t help that on a larger, grand strategic level Hitler had to contend with a two-front war. His overt aggression and effective lack of diplomacy first alienated and ultimately set most of the rest of the industrialized world against Germany. The German military was better than any other, but not better than all others combined against it.


Looking even further back into history reveals other examples of where the “big battalions” ultimately triumphed over an opponent possessed of many force multipliers.

In 218 BC, the city-state of Carthage began its second war against the emerging power in the Mediterranean, the Roman Republic. While itself possessed of a far-flung colonial empire, Carthage started the war with no material advantages. Her native army was small and relatively unmotivated; and was only made formidable by the hiring of mercenary warriors from far and near. Once a naval power, her fleet had been bested by the Romans in the First Punic War a generation earlier, and according to the terms of the treaty that had ended that first struggle the number of ships in her fleet were sharply limited. Rome started the Second Punic War with both a larger and better trained army, as well as significant naval superiority. Rome was a powerhouse in 218 BC, with vast reserves of manpower and wealth (the sinews of war).

What Carthage had in its favor was the special ability of one man: Hannibal Barca.

1353484.jpgSon of another great soldier (Hamilcar Barca), he (like Alexander the Great) brought to the equation the intangible factor of true military genius. Beginning the war in Spain, which had been added to the Carthaginian Empire by the campaigns of his father, he started by aggressively seizing the initiative. Not waiting for the Romans to fully mobilize their significant material advantages, he brought the war to their backyard by invading Italy. This was something the Romans were unprepared for, and doing the unexpected is always a sound strategy.

In as many years Hannibal won three smashing victories over Roman armies, each of which was bigger than his own. Using the earlier boxing analogy, Hannibal was the light-on-his-feet boxer who slips his clumsier opponent’s punches and lands three knock-down blows. But Rome could take a punch: she was nothing if not resilient. Each time, the Romans got back up off the mat, dusted themselves off and came back for more.

1353486.jpgIn time, the Romans learned to avoid Hannibal’s knock-down punches. Their armies got lighter on their feet and learned to box back. In Scipio Rome eventually found a commander as wily as the one-eyed Carthaginian master. At Zama, in 202 BC Scipio, the Roman heavyweight, finally maneuvered the lightweight Carthaginian into a corner where he delivered the knock-out punch.

Hannibal, who at one point stood at the gates of Rome, was unable to force an early decision upon the stubborn Romans. The clock was not his friend, he needed an early knock out. Given time Rome’s greater material advantages wore down the smaller opponent.


In 1700, the Great Northern War pitted a coalition of larger nations against tiny Sweden. Though a relatively small state the Swedes in the 16th century were formidable soldiers. Led by a dynasty of warrior kings, the Vasa, Sweden had conquered and controlled an empire surrounding the Baltic Sea. The allied nations formed against her – Denmark, Poland/Saxony, and Russia – all wanted a piece of that Swedish Empire for themselves. The allies chose to attack Sweden at the accession of its young king, Charles (Karl) XII; who attained the throne of Sweden in 1697 at the age of fifteen. The belligerents, attempting to take advantage of the boy’s inexperience, attacked from all quarters in 1700.

1353498.jpgWhile possessing overwhelming numbers, they hadn’t counted upon the “X” factor: the young king of Sweden’s natural military talent.

As with the young Alexander of Macedon, Charles XII was one of those rare men in history: a military savant, whose natural genius comes to bloom at a very young age. Like the masterly Macedonian, Charles took command of his army at 18 years old in 1700 to defend a nation beset on all fronts. He proved a daring, resolute, aggressive and ever-intrepid commander. Again like Alexander, he directed his troops personally from the saddle, often leading his bodyguard squadrons of horse in the decisive charge.

Though small, Sweden was led by a lion!

Charles immediately took the initiative, acting first against the closest of his thee enemies. Landing a force of 8,000 on the Danish home island of Zealand, Charles rapidly compelled the Danes to submit to peace in August 1700. Having knocked out the first (and geographically closest) of the allied belligerents, he next turned on Russia. Rapidly redeploying his forces across the Baltic to Swedish Ingria, he moved quickly to turn back a Russian invasion of the Swedish province.

Russia in 1700 was newly emerging into the modern age. Under its young Czar, Peter I (not yet “the Great”) it was attempting to take its place among the power of Europe, and this at Sweden’s expense. Peter possessed a large army, levied and newly trained by Western European military advisers. However, it was an untried force, large but clumsy in execution. Peter himself, though an active and enthusiastic amateur, lacked Charles’ personal courage in battle. Time-after-time he would flinch or flee from personal hazard; leaving his army leaderless and demoralized when facing his Swedish nemesis.

He and his vast nation, Russia, was comparatively an enormous mouse facing Charles and Sweden, the tiny lion.

Charles met the much larger Russian army at Narva in October 1700. Here, he led his army of 10,000 men forward against four-times their number of Russians, defending the breastworks of their entrenchments surrounding the beleaguered Swedish town. Charles attacked in the midst of a blizzard, with blinding snow blowing into the faces of the Russian defenders. Czar Peter fled the field as the first blows were falling. With the snow at their backs, the Swedes stormed the Russian entrenchments with bayonet and pike. The Russian army was utterly crushed, losing 9,000 dead and another 20,000 captured.

1353501.jpgCharles demonstrated the decisive effect force multipliers could have on battle: superior morale, training, experience, surprise, weather, and leadership. All these played a part in the surprisingly one-sided Swedish victory, over the numerically superior Russians.

For the next 6 years Charles turned his attentions on Poland/Saxony, the third partner in the coalition that had attacked him. Chasing its king, Augustus the Strong (!), throughout his dominions and defeating his forces whenever they stopped to fight, Charles forced Augustus’ abdication in 1706 from the Polish throne and a termination of his alliance with Russia.

But the six years spent thrashing Augustus was a strategic mistake. It gave Peter and Russia time to draw upon her vast manpower resources to rebuild and train an army capable of facing the much-feared blue-coated Swedish veterans. When Charles finally got around to a reckoning with Peter, he invaded Russia at the head of the largest army Sweden would ever field in this war: 20,000 infantry and (reputedly) 29,000 cavalry (many of these later being Polish light cavalry irregulars). However large this force was, Mother Russia had supplied the Czar with even larger battalions. As Charles army marched through Poland toward the Russian border 70,000 Russian troops were between him and Moscow, retreating and laying waste to the countryside before him. Several other Russian armies, none smaller than 40,000 men, were operating in the Baltic States and in the Ukraine, as well.

Charles managed to defeat the Russians in several small engagements as he advanced; winning his last victory over the Russians at the Battle of Holowczyn in July, 1708 with his customary brilliance. But time and distance were working against him: Russia could always trade the one for the other, playing for time to replenish its “big battalions” by trading space, ever retreating into the depths of Russia. It was a problem both Napoleon and Hitler would wrestle with, no more successfully than did Charles.

The vast spaces and a harsh winter depleted Charles’ army. In spring of 1708, in need of allies, he marched into the Ukraine at the offer of alliance with the Zaporozhe Cossacks, who were in revolt against the Czar. But the Russians managed to crush the Cossack rebellion before Charles could arrive, and the Swedish King’s army faced a much larger Russian force at Poltava in June 1709.

1353505.jpgCharles’ 14,000 men advanced against a well-prepared Russian force of 45,000 in a well entrenched position, supported by nearly 100 guns. Charles, wounded in the foot a few days earlier, could take no part in the battle, and was forced to watch the battle from the rear in a litter. His bold Swedes pushed forward with great gallantry, capturing several of the Russian redoubts with bayonet. But the “bigger battalions” began to wear them down; and as the Swedish advance lost momentum, the Russians went over to the offensive. The Swedes were cut down or forced to surrender. Charles himself was carried off the field to safety.

Genius and daring, ultimately, was no match for the shear weight of numbers and resources. Charles squandered an opportunity after Narva to follow-up his victory and perhaps force Czar Peter to favorable terms. His sojourn in Poland wasted time he didn’t have. “Ask me for anything but time” [4]: it is the most implacable factor in any war.

The tiny Swedish lion was ultimately crushed by the enormous Russian mouse.


The American Civil War is a classic example of scrappy banter weight verses a lumbering heavy weight. The Federal (Northern) forces had every advantage in manpower and material. But it took time to mobilize these advantages; and, as it turned out, even more time for President Abraham Lincoln to find a general with sufficient will and ruthlessness to aggressively utilize these advantages to their fullest. (Early in the war, General George B. McClellan was so cautious and reluctant to attack, despite the material superiority possessed by the Army of the Potomac over his Confederate opponent; that Lincoln caustically commented to his staff, “If General McClellan does not want to use the army, I would like to borrow it for a time.”)

By contrast, the Army of Northern Virginia was over-flowing with fighting spirit, from its dirty, ill-clad enlisted men all the way up to its superbly confident and aggressive commanders. Such generals as Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, A.P. Hill, Jubal Early, James Longstreet, JEB Stuart, and of course its Commanding General, Robert E. Lee were among the best leadership teams ever gathered together under one command tent in American history. Outnumbered and outgunned by their Federal opponents, the Confederate forces relied on the one thing they had in abundance: courage and aggressive spirit.

1585957.jpgTime and again, Jackson and Lee bested larger Northern armies. Jackson’s Valley Campaign and Lee’s Seven Days Battles are masterpieces of aggressive maneuver. Each are textbook examples of seizing the initiative and keeping a larger, lumbering enemy constantly on his back foot, off-balance and forced to react.

But Lee was perhaps keenly aware that the uneven struggle could not continue to go his way indefinitely. He needed to strike a knock-out blow before the Confederacy was worn down by its bigger opponent. He attempted twice to achieve this the only way it was possible: by carrying the war into the North and forcing Lincoln to sue for peace.

His first invasion of the North, in 1862, began promisingly with the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia advancing into Maryland on several convergent lines. Lee’s objectives were first the Union supply and communications hubs of Harrisburg and Baltimore. Taking Harrisburg would have severed the man rail lines connecting the eastern and western United States, while capturing Baltimore would cut off Washington DC from the rest of the North. Ultimately, by isolating Washington, DC, Lee hoped to force Lincoln to agree to favorable terms.

As Lee’s ragged Confederate battalions marched through Maryland, locals commented upon the soldier’s unkempt appearance combined with their jaunty swagger. One Marylander noted:

“They have no uniforms, but are all well armed and equipped, and have become so inured to hardships that they care but little for any of the comforts of civilization… They are the roughest looking set of creatures I ever saw…”

1353512Another described Lee’s confident veteran troops as “a lean and hungry set of wolves“!

An often bewildered McClellan’s was slow-to-react, despite the large numeric and material advantage enjoyed by his Army of the Potomac. Only a stroke of fate perhaps saved the Union from defeat in 1862.

A set of orders from Lee to his subordinates, outlining his plan of campaign and the dispositions of his divergent forces were accidentally dropped by a dispatch rider, concealed within a bunch of cigars. These were discovered by almost miraculous happenstance by Union soldiers, and delivered to McClellan. “Mac” refused to believe this stroke of fortune was genuine until a staff officer, who had served with Lee before the war, confirmed that the Confederate commander’s signature. Thus armed with his adversary’s plans, even as cautious a general as McClellan was moved to action.

In the resulting Battle of Antietam, Lee’s invasion was brought to a halt in the bloodiest single day of fighting in American history. Backed by the bigger battalions, McClellan could afford the losses; Lee could not. His battered army was forced to withdraw back into the South.

The second invasion, a year later in 1863, followed nearly the same line of approach and the same objectives. This time, the Army of Northern Virginia butted heads with the Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg, in Pennsylvania. The “high water mark” of the Confederacy, Lee’s “lean, hungry wolves” broke their teeth upon the Union’s defensive lines, upon the high ground and well supported by artillery.

Failing twice to win a knock-out, Lee spent the rest of the war on the defensive, attempting with varying degrees of success to slip the punches of his overwhelmingly bigger opponent; which, under the command of U.S. Grant had found a commander unafraid to spend lives to achieve his objectives. At last, forced into a corner with nothing more than a dreadful pounding to look forward to, the Army of Northern Virginia surrendered on April 9, 1865 at Appomattox Courthouse.


While history demonstrates examples of the smaller, more nimble army winning stunning victories against a larger and slower opponent we have seen that far more often war comes down to a sanguine mathematical equation. As in professional football (American, not the other kind), bigger is nearly always better.

This is a lesson that American military and political leaders should bear in mind.

At end of the civil war that brought him into power, Augustus Caesar downsized the Roman army from 78 legions to a “peace dividend” force of 25 legions . This force was tasked with defending an irregular and insecure border that extended from Egypt to the English Channel, from the Atlantic to the Euphrates River, around various independent kingdoms and tribal areas in the Balkans and Anatolia, and followed the line of the Rhine River, facing the inveterately hostile Germanic tribes. Additionally, Roman arms were called upon to enact punitive expeditions from time-to-time against transgressors or to expand the Empire into foreign lands.

The superiority of the Roman legions in battle was unquestioned. Roman training, equipment, organization, and leadership were all “force multipliers” that seemed to guarantee battlefield victory. This confidence underpinned Augustus’ cost saving measures of shrinking over-all force strength to a mere 28 legions.

But in 9 A.D. three of these legions (led by a lawyer, Quintilius Varus) were ambushed by German tribal warriors in the Teutoburger Wald and wiped out. So distraught was the Emperor Augustus at this loss, that months later he is said to have banged his head against the wall, crying out:

“Quintili Vare, legiones redde!“ (‘Quintilius Varus, give me back my legions!’)

1585960.jpgTeutoberg Forest was not the worse military disaster suffered by Roman arms. The loss of 16-20 thousand troops, while a signal loss, was trivial when compared to such truly significant defeats such as Cannae, where Hannibal utterly destroyed a Roman army of 80,000. Or Arausio, where an even greater number of soldiers were killed fighting the Cimbri and the Teutons. After the former defeat, the Roman Senate had forbid public demonstrations of grief or despair; simply raising another army as large the following year and “soldiering on”.

So what explains Augustus Caesar’s severe anxiety after Teutoberger Wald?


In Augustan Rome’s downsized, shrunken military structure those three legions represented nearly 17% of the entire legionary force of the empire, almost one-in-five of its soldiers. Worse, the Romans of Augustus’ day were no longer the warlike citizen-soldiers of the Republic. The Romans of the Principate were a nation of pampered and privileged civilians who relied upon the protection of a small professional army of volunteers. Not easily replaced once lost, especially in the cash-strapped empire of Augustus.

Sound familiar?


Over the last two decades American forces have been continually downsized. The large, “heavy” divisions of the Cold War demobilized in favor of smaller, more nimble Brigade Combat Teams (each of just under 5,000 soldiers). We have gone from 18 divisions of 16-20,000 men each (10 of which were designated “heavy”) during the late 1980s to a mere 14 BCTs today. The arguments for this transition and downsizing seem persuasive at first glance: that we no longer face the prospect of armored conflict on a grand scale against the Soviets on the plains of central Europe. That smaller forces, armed with more advanced and lethal equipment, are just as deadly as the older, larger formations of the recent past, and far more deployable by air or sea.

In a short and sharp encounter with limited objectives, this argument holds water.

However, war is the province of uncertainty. Wars seldom turn out the way their planners envisioned them. Germany, for instance, thought it could win the First World War before Christmas of 1914, relying upon the mass of its corps and its brilliantly conceived “Schlieffen Plan” to crush France and Russia in a matter of months. No one in Berlin foresaw the four years of horror that followed.

If a short encounter bogs down into a bloody slugfest, even against an enemy with inferior or out-of-date equipment, the enemy’s numbers can translate into staying power. By contrast, a light “nimble” force can find itself cornered and pounded into bloody pulp by their more lumbering opponent.

1353518.jpgToday we face potential enemies in China, North Korea, Iran, and (once again) a newly revitalized Russia. All these are possessed of large conventional forces and large reserves of manpower. Considering the nature and history of these regimes, we can surmise that they also possess a ruthless willingness to expend these assets in order to achieve their objectives. While we, by contrast, are notoriously “casualty adverse” and continue to reduce the number of combat brigades we have available[5]; making the loss of any one of our these catastrophic.

A small army of light, mobile brigades is ill-suited to a slugging match on the rugged Korean peninsula, the deserts and mountains of Iran, on the beaches or fields of Taiwan, or on the open plains of eastern Europe. We place too much faith in such “force multipliers” as technology, training, and information; and forget, at our peril, that God tends to favor the Big Battalions.


  1. See, Massacre in the Passes: Elphinstone’s Disaster
  2. Germany Over All: the title of Nazi Germany’s national anthem.
  3. Fair, Charles: From the Jaws of Victory, Ch. 5; Simon and Schuster 1971
  4. Napoleon
  5. Due to budget constraints combined with partisan politics, every year the military has to sustain half of all Federal budget cuts; despite representing only 18% of the budget. Thus every year the number of Brigade Combat Teams grows fewer. Last year only three of the 14 BCTs were deemed ready for deployment in the advent of a conflict.
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  1. Terry says:

    I think von Manstein was closer to being a Great Captain than any other commander in WW2; he was successful at Corps, Army, and Army Group combat commands while usually outnumbered. And having to deal with Hitler’s directives.
    Your numbers for BCTs are flat wrong. Currently there are around 30.
    And to my knowledge we never had 16 heavy divisions. At the height of the Reagan buildup we had four light divisions (6, 7, 10th Mountain, and 25), one each airborne and air assault divisions, one motorised division (9th), one mixed division (2nd), and ten heavy–four armoured divisions (1,2,3,1st Cav) and six mechanised infantry divisions (1,3,4,5,8,and 24).
    Love the blog.

  2. Overall, well argued; but there is one factor not accounted for: political corruption. The United States may not be unique in this regard, but in recent decades it has certainly grown exponentially. Although never stated as a reason, I believe the real reason manpower is continually being reduced is because manpower does not have an army of lobbyists in Washington continually arguing for its expansion. Meanwhile, ultra expensive military hardware, often unneeded or of marginal value, are continually getting massive funding and gobbling up defense dollars. Why? Because defense contractors have deep pockets and politicians of both parties are becoming rich off of “campaign contributions.”

    • barrycjacobsen says:

      Well put, Christopher, and I don’t disagree at all. But the reasons for the draw down of our forces is not a subject I delve into in any case, as it is but tangential to my thesis. Whatever the reason, small elite military’s are at risk in a way larger, more robust (but less “elite”) may not be; and in a protracted war can be worn down by the larger, less capable foe.

  3. Pingback: La Tortulia se fue a la guerra – Carlos XII y la gran guerra del norte | La Tortulia Podcast

  4. Pingback: A GUIDE TO DEADLIEST BLOGGER POSTS | The Deadliest Blogger: Military History Page

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