Military Musings: Courting a Cannae

The thought occurred to me while reading Harry Turtledove’s Settling Accounts: Return Engagement: what if you actually allowed yourself to be caught in a Cannae?

Modern warfare is about movement, at least the “stand up” ones between national armies. I won’t put into the equation asymmetrical warfare elements because that kind of fighting is about throwing a couple of books outside the window. No: what I want to know is, given a contest between two armies, or forces, is it possible to turn a Cannae into the means of destroying the one doing it?

Of course I’m thinking about it with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in mind, or at least any armed force where you (the defender) are as outmatched in terms of technology and training by an invading force as the Russians were against the Germans during Operation Barbarossa.  If I recall my readings of the last few major “stand up” battles were, they were still about movement and schwerpunkts, of massed armor and mechanized infantry punching holes through defensive lines and going straight for strategic objectives. Blitzkrieg is still very much alive and breathing well when armies clash.

I’m thinking that if our little army has to fight, we’d be in a load of trouble. We have tanks that a Bradley can open with a single salvo (and, oh: we have these?). Our air force will be obliterated by a salvo from a single modern fighter regiment’s missile payload and cannon ammo, if first-strike bombers and sub-fired cruise missiles don’t do the PAF on the ground. Our navy can be sunk by Marines on hovercraft using manpack rocket launchers. Hell, but have you seen the kind of artillery modern armies use today?

And I don’t know what kind of plans the AFP brass have, but I have a sinking feeling either they or – *shudder* – Congress will force them to do a stand-up fight with a vastly superior enemy. There is that large plain between the northern part of Luzon and the NCR.

Although, if I was, say, the United States, Russia or the Chinese, I’d just send in two Airborne regiments into Manila, support them with shipborne artillery and maybe a couple of Marines. Light tanks and manpack anti-tank weapons can deal with what we have for armor, anyway. Meanwhile, you land forces somewhere north and at Cavite, drive them in a pincer to Manila. With a troops already storming the capital, even if Airborne, and two massive columns driving from the north and south of Manila, what could the 100,000-man AFP do?

Me? I’d have the PSG drag the President upriver to Laguna Lake and lose her or him in the Sierra Madre where I would have made a Plan Orange kind of base or operational area. Meanwhile, I’d extricate as much of the AFP as I can to fallback areas and make sure these are well-stocked. Don’t stand and deliver versus a foe with a hundred times the capabilities of the Wehrmacht at its height. You go asymmetrical.

But what if, due to the rapid pace of modern warfare, a large chunk of the AFP gets stuck in a pocket? What if a substantial number of Filipino troops are brought into a Cannae?

But what if you have a plan to turn a pocket into a… porcupine?

Hm. This will require some thinking.

And why does Stalingrad come to mind?

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