“I git thar fustest with the mostest.” – attributed to Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest
“For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” – The Lord Jesus Christ, Matthew 18:20
General Forrest was neither a West Pointer nor a War College graduate, but he knew the principles of war, and he knew how to apply them. Although it is doubtful that he used the double superlatives in the above quotation, the statement does emphasize several truths. In this one short sentence we find four principles of war, and others are implied:
Git—offensive; thar—objective; fustest—mobility; mostest—concentration. The one word “mostest” leads us to the subject of this chapter: concentration.
Neither Alexander the Great nor Julius Caesar could have conquered the then known world if he had neglected concentration.
Occasionally in the history of warfare a new method comes to light that seems so effective or is such a surprise to the enemy that its users are strongly tempted to depend upon the new method (which is temporary) and forget the basic principles of war.
This tendency was evident when the airplane made its advent on the Western Front in World War I. It glamorized the war; men became air aces and heroes. The use of the airplane did not, however, have much effect on the final outcome, for no one used it in concentration. Major General Claire Chennault, when a young Army Air Corps aviator, noted this lack of application of principle. In his Way of a Fighter, he wrote, “For four months we flew and fought all over the Texas sky in the fashion of the Western Front flying long patrols in formation, looking for a fight, and then scattering in a dive on the enemy into individual dogfights. As sport it was superb, but as war, even then, it seemed all wrong to me. There was too much of an air of medieval jousting in the dogfights and not enough of the calculated massing of overwhelming force so necessary in the cold, cruel business of war. There were no sound military precepts that encouraged the dispersion of forces and firepower that occurred in dogfighting” (Maj. Gen. Claire Lee Chennault, Way of a Fighter, ed. Robert Hotz [New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1949], 11).
This failure to apply the principle of concentration continued through the Spanish Civil War and into World War II. Chennault himself put an end to these individual tactics with his American Volunteer Group, better known as the Flying Tigers. When he went to Burma and China, his pilots stuck together. Outnumbered in the air and on the ground, in planes, pilots, and parts, they destroyed 217 enemy planes and probably forty-three more with a maximum of twenty operational P-40s in thirty-one encounters. Chennault’s losses were six pilots and sixteen planes.
In order to accomplish this, Chennault used concentration. He simply had two aircraft firing at one enemy aircraft. Even if outnumbered in the air ten to one, Chennault’s two always outnumbered the enemy’s one. If each Flying Tiger had taken on ten of the enemy, probably we would not remember the Flying Tigers today.
In 1956, while on the staff of Commander Carrier Division Five aboard the aircraft carrier Shangri-la in the western Pacific, I watched the Carrier Air Group in practice maneuvers. The F9F Cougars came down from the sky low over the waves, firing machine guns or rockets at the target simultaneously, then pulled up together to disappear into the blue. One evening I asked one of the pilots how he could fly wing on his leader and still aim at the target. It was easy, he said. He did not aim; he just flew wing. “When he shoots, I shoot.” This is concentration.
(To be continued on Monday…)
*Excerpted from Principles of War. To purchase, visit ccmbooks.org/bookstore.