By: Jacek Bartosiak
On the fields of Ukraine, the twentieth-century method of conducting land war (centered on attack, tank columns, a fairly shallow front, and always incomplete reconnaissance, where the fog of war still reigns) is dying out. After the inevitable winter break, a new way will appear — one from the 21st century. It will be a way of waging a more positional war, where it is difficult to make a decisive offensive maneuver, where a modern reconnaissance battle reigns along with the related information dominance, possible thanks to the widespread use of sensors, including cheap drones. Where a maneuver of masses of tanks over a long distance will be costly for both sides, and the ubiquitous sensors and precision fire will make it possible to strike deeply into the enemy group and its base. Where there will be plenty of artillery and rocket duels and raids and subversive actions through the obviously porous front lines. That is unless Germany and France, “concerned” with their citizens’ standard of living in the face of the energy and food war that Russia is waging, force Ukraine in the winter to accept a Russian victory and Russian political conditions that will dominate our part of Europe.
A maneuver in a land war is a movement of military forces in relation to the behavior of the enemy, which is supposed to lead to an advantage over them, both in terms of time and space. The right maneuver not only misleads the opponent, but most of all throws them off operational and sometimes strategic balance — And, as a result, makes it possible to win the battle, sometimes the entire war, while at the same time maintaining one’s own freedom and the momentum of the maneuver, as well as one’s own strength, by which this maneuver is performed. German operations from World War II and the famous “pockets” near Kyiv and Vyazma from 1941 are the quintessence of a perfectly executed maneuver.
The offensive maneuver, especially over long distances, is the most difficult element of a land war. The commander performing the maneuver must take advantage of the success of breaking the front, even temporarily, while maintaining the initiative, his own freedom of maneuver, and at the same time maintaining the ability to eliminate the always occurring weaknesses of his own forces. These weaknesses result mainly from the logistical problems growing over time and distance, and the never optimal composition of one’s own troops in relation to emerging challenges. If not crossing the river, there is combat contact with the infantry; if not a fight with enemy tanks, a minefield or a threat from helicopters or difficult city fighting. And for all these challenges, you must have an answer. This is inevitable when you persistently push forward in a maneuver.
A well-conducted maneuver always causes additional problems and challenges for the defending opponent, often making their actions ineffective, late, hitting the void. As the history of wars proves, it is a well-executed maneuver that leads to the defeat of the opponent. The maneuver is therefore the key to success. History knows many cases of maneuver bonuses: from the Punic Wars to the Six-Day War (and the spectacular defeat of Egyptian troops by Israel) to the Battle of Umm Qasr at the start of the Second Iraq War.
In performing a maneuver, the key is to break the operational balance, a specific equilibrium between command, logistics, support, morale and resistance of the attacked army, thus creating a rapidly increasing asymmetry in favor of the attacker. Until the full exploitation of the outlined weakness. This was the idea of Tukhachevsky’s deep penetration strikes to the rear and the destruction of the enemy’s hinterland and communication lines;
German Kessels (‘cauldrons’) during Operation Barbarossa, when the Blitzkrieg operational concept was developed from Guderian’s initial thought in the book “Achtung Panzer!” to a mature operational art. Earlier, in May 1940, the Germans, maneuvering through the Ardennes deep into France, showed how to break the operational and then the strategic balance of the French and the British on the entire front from the Maginot line to the sea coast. The result was a rapid defeat of the Allies with a bold maneuver, the escape of the British through Dunkirk and a completely different course of the war than the course of World War I, when German troops found themselves stuck in trench warfare.
The Germans did the same with the Polish army after breaking through the front at Częstochowa, in the Pomeranian corridor and on the Narew River in September 1939. It is difficult for an out-maneuvered army to withdraw in order… There is a problem of morale, logistics, unit consistency and the durability of the entire front.
But sometimes, as during the First World War, an offensive maneuver is prevented by a competent opponent who has successfully developed a method of counteracting the attacker’s maneuver. This was the case at the Somme and at Verdun. This was also the case near Kyiv at the turn of winter and spring 2022 and in Donbas in spring and summer this year.
The ability to use a maneuver in a land war results from the military’s ability, which includes: good military strategy, proper operational concept, equipment, availability of ready-to-use forces, personnel and soldiers, training and motivation, and the entire command system. An offensive maneuver, but also an active defense maneuver, which requires offensive abilities to compensate for the enemy’s intrusions or destroy their firing and command positions, requires the integration of all these elements under a uniform and competent command that understands the operational concept and is possible thanks to the efforts of the entire system of state resilience, including civil and political life, the information domain and, of course, logistics.
Maneuver problems are of a strategic and cultural nature. For example, Israel’s opponents win every encounter simply by not losing, due to the asymmetry in the potentials and political goals of the conflict. Israel therefore had to perform an offensive maneuver with ground forces to demonstrate the ability to force the enemy to submit to their will and neutralize the threat, otherwise everyone would think it was defenseless and losing.
In defensive wars, this problem does not occur, unless the defensive circumstances force us to put up active defense, if only to be able to counteract the destruction of our territory by enemy fire from a distance. For example, when the Russians fire at us with artillery and cruise or ballistic missiles. Nowadays, due to the possibility of a strike maneuver over long distances, active defense becomes a basic requirement for countries with aspirations such as Poland, which can afford real armed forces and which have real capabilities to conduct war. Thanks to the use of the long-range strike maneuver, the impression of escalation dominance is obtained, and thus escalation control, which translates into a political advantage during the war. If, on the other hand, it is not possible to neutralize the enemy with one’s own long-range strike maneuver, drones or air force, then this needs to be done by maneuvering on land — a limited land operation, offensive or raids.
Such a military strategy entails additional solutions in the case of Poland. It has a strategic and cultural dimension, because someone may consider it an offensive war, which is important for the establishment of NATO’s Article 5. On the other hand, winning on land is often a symbol of whether a side has won or lost. In addition, if the enemy acts from a distance and thus wants to influence the security architecture, then it is necessary to be able to maneuver their military systems that enable them to inflict harm on us. It’s like boxing someone with longer arms or fighting someone we can’t reach effectively, so we have to engage, shorten the distance and deal the finishing blow.