Section 1: The pitfalls of planning

Main purpose:

This section introduces the phenomenon of over-planned logistics, and the problems it causes. Van Creveld gives a brief overview of his case study in over-planned logistics, the Allied Expeditionary Force in 1944.

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Van Creveld begins by noting that there doesn’t seem to be a big payoff for logistical planning in the campaigns he’s discussed...if anything, excess planning seems to result in failure. Some of the most successful campaigns he’s talked about had almost no logistics planning (like Austerlitz), and some of the biggest failures were logistically planned in detail (like Operation Barbarossa). Van Creveld sums up the underlying problem very well when he says that “while it might take years to design and perfect a new piece of equipment, and more years to mass-produce an existing one, operational – not to mention political – requirements can change in a matter of weeks or even days”. The same problem applies to any logistical plan, and this need for flexibility is what Van Creveld is getting at when he says he’s going to talk about over-planning and its consequences.

Van Creveld says the Allied Expeditionary Force in 1944 was the most administratively complicated force in history. It planned the invasion of Normandy down to the last screw, it consisted of a huge number of forces from multiple countries, it involved multiple services from the countries involved, and these all talked through a complicated system of committees and liaison officers. The whole Expeditionary Force was divided between a rear and forward headquarters, each of which was identified with a bizarre acronym (COMZ and ADSEC), both of which worked for a higher headquarters known by another bizarre acronym (SHAEF). However hard it is for us to identify with today, the Allied Expeditionary Force’s top-heavy, inter-service, international organization created a lot of administrative problems for them.

The sheer number of headquarters and commanders involved, and the impossibly complicated division of responsibilities between them, causes Van Creveld to describe the Expeditionary Force as being like a brontosaurus in reverse…instead of having a tiny brain trying to direct a huge, blundering body, they had a tiny body that could barely drag its gigantic brain around. And as far as how this gigantic brain worked, it wasn’t some mysterious black box that was fed intelligence and then crapped operations. You can easily go back into the warehouses of paper correspondence it generated to see how it functioned internally. I’ve listed Van Creveld’s description of the process as my favorite may find it eerily familiar.

Van Creveld closes the section by getting to the point and simply saying what he’s been not-so-subtly hinting at...that the Allied Expeditionary Force was a complete clown show in terms of its planning processes (especially its logistics planning), so much so that he’s just going to focus on discussing why this was true rather than proving that it was true, since he thinks it’s almost self-evident.

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Capt Palmer's favorite quote:

"As the records reveal, decisions – often on very minor issues – were made as follows. First, an order to work out some matter – e.g., whether a particular port should handle rations or POL – was issued. Responsibility for this was then handed down the chain of command until, inevitably, it reached somebody who was no longer able to pass it on. A reconnaissance of the port in question would then be made, and a report written on every aspect of the question. Next, the memorandum would start its climb back through the hierarchy with every successive authority adding more arguments, reflecting a progressively wider point of view, until it finally reached the man in charge. On the basis of all the information thus accumulated, he would then announce his decision. The process appears systematic, businesslike, even magnificently rational. To find out just how effective it was is the task of the rest of this chapter."