'You will not find it difficult to prove that battles, campaigns, and even wars have been won or lost primarily because of logistics.'
Gen Dwight D Eisenhower
The modern Australian Armoured Cavalry Regiment can trace its legacy back over a century through Afghanistan, South-East Asia, North Africa and the Middle East. The proudest traditions and some of the bloodiest battles of the Australian Army were fought by the brave men of the Light Horse Regiments and Desert Mounted Corps in the Great War. The military success of such endeavours requires the synchronisation of multiple battlespace effects including command and control, offensive fire support and mobility & survivability. But it is in combat service support, and its underlying principles, that we see a direct link throughout history.
This paper will show that, despite a difference in technology and over 100 years, the guiding principles for logisticians to support the Australian Light Horse are no different. The paper will draw comparisons between combat service support throughout the Middle East campaigns of 1917-1918 and the modern Armoured Cavalry Regiment Battlegroup to reinforce this position. The paper will conclude by offering considerations for future support to the modern Australian Light Horse.
Combat service support organisation – then and now
Logistic organisation to support the Australian Light Horse has, of course, evolved with time & advancements in technology; the tactical actions undertaken by the Light Horse Regiment have too evolved. However the enduring characteristics of such operations – focused around shock action, versatility and adaptability – means that certain correlations can be made (LWD 3-3-4, 2016).
Logistic support to the Desert Mounted Corps throughout 1917 and 1918 was largely conducted through centralised control with decentralised execution. Combat service support assets were grouped under their respective Divisional structure along the following lines (UNSW Canberra, 2010):
- Mounted Division Train: Comprised of Army Service Corps Companies from Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain (varied based on associated Division). Provided critical supply and distribution support of all commodities including rations, water, fodder and ammunition (less artillery).
- Mounted Division Medical Services: Comprised of Army Medical Corps Field Ambulances from Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain. Each Regiment had a Medical Officer and a number of orderlies and stretcher bearers (Bou, 2010). A Field Ambulance of 120 men was attached to a Brigade and provided essential medical and casualty evacuation support extending from the front line to larger hospitals established further rear (Downes, 1938).
- Mounted Division Veterinary Services: Comprised of Army Veterinary Service Sections from Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain. A Mobile Veterinary Section was attached to a Brigade and provided critical veterinary support to the over 140,000 horses that served throughout the entire desert campaign (Perry, 2015).
- Mounted Division Artillery Brigade Ammunition Column: Comprised of 1 British Horse Artillery Brigade Ammunition Column per Artillery Brigade for mounted artillery ammunition resupply between depots and forward troops.
The grouping of logistic units based on effect allows for greater control and concentration of effort at key points in the battlespace. This resulted in an observation that “…the Australian supply-columns served the rapidly-moving light horsemen in a manner which was the envy of all British troops” (Gullett, 1941, p.451). The service elements had to be agile, protected and comfortable operating over vast distances against a mobile enemy force.
Contemporary combat service support structures are task-organised, located at multiple levels of command and have mobility commensurate with their supported organisation. During the Integrated Sea and Land Series 2018 exercises, Battlegroup Warhorse (based on 2nd/14th Light Horse Regiment (Queensland Mounted Infantry) with support from a wide array of other units) deployed logistic nodes at multiple sites to provide integral combat service support effects to the entire battlegroup. These effects included supply, distribution, maintenance, medical, personnel support services and battlefield clearance effects.
The organisation of force structures included:
- Small A1 echelon nodes allocated to each Combat Team able to provide immediate integral support including supply, maintenance, distribution and combat health.
- Larger A2 echelon, based on an Armoured Cavalry Regiment Support Squadron with enablers from external units, operating within the Battlegroup Area of Operations.
- Close combat service support effects from a company-sized Combat Service Support Team from the 7th Combat Service Support Battalion.
- Additional task-organised close and general combat service support effects from external units as required.
Similar to the organisation of logistic support to the Desert Mounted Corps, support to Battlegroup Warhorse needed to be sufficiently robust to operate across vast distances and against a determined enemy. However the ability to mass logistics effects to enable freedom of action is a key priority for the logistic commander. Further similarities can be demonstrated through alignment with a common set of criteria for planning and execution.
Evaluation against common logistic principles
Contemporary military logistic doctrine highlights how consideration of a number of key principles - Responsiveness, Simplicity, Economy, Flexibility, Balance, Foresight, Sustainability, Survivability and Integration – is the key to logistic planning and execution (LWD 4-0, 2018). This is equally applicable to operations conducted by Light Horse Regiments throughout history.
Throughout 1917 Army Service Corps Sections developed a strong reputation for providing support regardless of the circumstance [Responsiveness, Balance]; on one particular occasion it was noted that “So reliable were the supply services of division, brigade, and regiment, that the fighting men had no misgivings when, as on this morning, they moved off at dawn without their rations. They knew that where they went, no matter how fast the pace or rough the track, there would follow the trusty men of the Australian Army Service” (Gullett, 1941, p.451). Army Service Corps soldiers had to establish rapid logistic nodes to support a highly mobile mounted force, often at short notice and in a position to enable Regimental commanders to keep pressure on the enemy [Simplicity, Flexibility]. These nodes and supporting lines of communication were often deep in unknown territory and covering vast distances from firm bases [Survivability, Integration]. This operating environment meant that Army Service Corps commanders needed to understand the tactical plan deeply and develop agile supporting plans whilst maintaining an ability to keep up with the supported Brigade [Balance, Foresight, Sustainability]. The mounted force consumed a high quantity of supplies to keep moving including 2100 tonnes of meat and 7500 tonnes of firewood per month (Bou, 2010, p.82); this meant there was no room for waste and efficient use of available support resources was of critical importance [Economy, Balance].
Flash forward to 2018 and the underlying concept has changed little. Support to Battlegroup Warhorse needed to be agile forward and accepting of risk further rear, noting the high rates of consumption required for an armoured cavalry force [Responsiveness, Balance, Economy]. Siting considerations veered away from traditional doctrinal, centralised positions in favour of smaller, decentralised siting across wide areas with command and control executed through digital voice and data systems [Survivability, Responsiveness]. Resupply to Combat Teams was achieved through Distribution Points, supply dumps and direct Force Element replenishment; such methods allowed tactical commanders to focus on their respective missions and be assured of support from rear echelons [Flexibility, Responsiveness, Simplicity]. Logistic commanders were intimately involved in all aspects of Battlegroup planning and were able to develop innovative but realistic solutions to problems as they arose [Foresight, Flexibility, Integration, Sustainability].
By using a common set of logistic principles it is clear that the fundamental concepts of support to an Australian Light Horse organisation has remained constant for over 100 years. Professional logisticians can use the campaigns of 1917-1918 which traversed vast distances, through enemy territory with significant logistics complexities as a basis for better understanding contemporary logistic support paradigms.
Looking ahead: considerations for the future
Logisticians of the Australian Light Horse must continue to grow with the remainder of the capability as modernisation initiatives come to fruition. Several key lessons are worth noting:
- Mounted forces throughout 1917 operated over vast distances, often behind enemy lines and consuming high volumes of stores. This is equally true in 2018 where the modern Battlegroup is expected to operate under similar circumstances. Equipment delivered under key Army modernisation initiatives addresses some of the challenges faced by contemporary armies but also creates some additional considerations. Nonetheless it would be prudent for modern logisticians to understand the logistic themes of the Middle East campaign as a primer for discussions about the future.
- The Mounted Division Train used space to its advantage by dispersing logistic nodes to avoid detection; a tactic that was successfully adopted by Battlegroup Warhorse to conceal friendly intent and capabilities. Logisticians should seek to develop a deeper understanding of operating over wide areas, identifying the tactical strengths of such methods, solving the associated challenges and seeking potential friendly force opportunities for exploitation.
- The professionalism and dedication of a logistician should be harnessed to drive mission success. Gullett (1941, p.452) noted that '…the efficiency of the service was due to the deep admiration and affection in which the supply troops held the light horsemen in the firing line. Theirs was a labour of devotion' This is equally true in 2018 where a culture of shared understanding and mutual respect across the Battlegroup contributed to success on the battlefield. Logistic commanders should seek to embrace opportunities to encourage an organisational culture that supports this intent.
The Desert Mounted Corps of 1917-1918 faced significant logistic challenges with operating in a harsh landscape over vast distances against a mobile and determined enemy. In 2018 Battlegroup Warhorse faced similar themes that presented similar challenges, albeit with different circumstances compared to our forefathers. Whilst the tactics and procedures have changed the conceptual framework for supporting the Australian Light Horse remains unchanged.
This paper has shown that the guiding principles for logisticians to support the Australian Light Horse have not changed, and are unlikely to change in the immediate future. The paper drew comparisons between combat service support throughout the Middle East campaigns of 1917-1918 and the modern Armoured Cavalry Regiment Battlegroup, based on Battlegroup Warhorse, to reinforce this position. The contemporary principles of logistics are as applicable to the ANZAC Mounted Division Train as they are to current Armoured Cavalry Regiment Support Squadrons, and professional logisticians should consider understanding previous campaigns and environments to better support the Light Horse of tomorrow.