In late April 1941, as the 6th Division, Australian Imperial Force (AIF), began to buckle under the overwhelming weight of a German assault on Crete, Brigadier Stan Savige was tasked to keep the main road out of Greece open to enable an Allied withdrawal from the island. At Brallos and Thermopylae, like the Spartans before them, the AIF sought to delay the inevitable thrust of the Wehrmacht, to enable the ships of the Royal Navy to arrive and lift the embattled division back to the safety of Britain.
In Lamia, at the Hot Gates where the 300 Spartans held back the Persians, the provosts of the Australian and New Zealand contingents held open the road, under the withering fire of the German 12th Army.
The Battle of Crete – a series of defensive, combined arms manoeuvres at the divisional level, which culminated in the withdrawal of the Allies from Greece – provides a critical case study in the employment of military police in modern combined arms warfare, made all the more relevant by the movement of the Australian Army towards a divisional construct.
Commanders, when assigned military police in support, are provided with a critical manoeuvre and mobility support tool that manifests as route control and battlefield circulation control from the section to divisional level. This article seeks to provide the keys to supporting formation and above level mobility, in a combined arms environment, in a battlespace characterised by uncertainty, chance, and danger.
Support to Offensive Operations
During the conduct of offensive operations, commanders assigned military police are provided with the ability to enhance their battlefield circulation control and manage obstacle crossing lanes. Traffic Control Points, Release Points, and Holding Areas are doctrinally managed by military police, providing a tool to re-allocate manoeuvre or logistics assets to affect their core role, by phase of operations.
Drawing upon recent experiences in brigade and divisional manoeuvre during Exercise Diamond Strike and Exercise Talisman Sabre 23, the employment of a military police company as the Commander’s Battlefield Circulation Control element at both the brigade and divisional level enabled the smooth flow of battlegroup-size traffic along multiple routes, simultaneously. This enhanced the ability of the exercising brigades to maintain tempo, decision superiority, and in a practical sense provided eyes on the ground to enable battle tracking of sub-units advancing through a contested battlespace.
A further iteration of support in the offence, is the provision of lane control and defile security along gap crossings and at obstacle crossing lanes. Working closely with a combat engineer squadron, a task-organised combat team comprised of combat engineers, military police and mission-specific logistics assets is capable of enabling the crossing of a gap or obstacle belt by manoeuvre elements in contact.
The recent exercise season provided multiple iterations of this teaming – a task-organised team, commanded by the combat engineer regiment, successfully enabled both wet and dry gap crossings in contested battlespace with great success. The use of military police to control the route(s) to and from a bridgehead or obstacle crossing point is critical to the maintenance of tempo and security along the route. Properly enabled, a military police company can feasibly enable route security across the designated route – reducing the burden on manoeuvre assets that may sacrifice critical firepower at the greatest point of friction.
Support to Defensive Operations
The purpose of Defensive operations is to enable a force to create the conditions that allow an Army to regain the initiative – U.S. Army Field Manual 3-0, Chapter 8 – Defensive Operations
Much as in offensive operations, military police support to defensive operations – at least in a conventional, combined arms, manoeuvre warfare sense – is centred on manoeuvre, mobility support, and security. The execution of mobility and manoeuvre support is much the same as in offensive operations – battlefield circulation control and road space priority management.
From managing rendezvous points, to facilitating formation coordination points in a mobile defence, military police have the capacity to provide echeloned route and corridor control to enable rapid deployment, retrograde and re-deployment of combat elements to the commander’s points of greatest friction. When executed with an overarching control cell overseeing road space requests, a commander is provided with risk reduction and control of critical routes and individual points in the battlespace.
Specialist capabilities, such as military police dogs and close protection, can render niche tactical support in the execution of VIP security within hostile operating environments, and in counter-reconnaissance patrolling when employing military police dogs. Clearly evident from the above is the enabling actions that military police provide to commanders. In conventional operations, it is the provosts who keep the road open, provide daily observation on the serviceability of the route, and can coordinate its repair when it is required.
Support to Stability Operations
After high-tempo conventional operations are over and a region is required to be returned to civil functionality, commanders face a dilemma whilst combat still rages in other theatres to determine what takes priority. Failure to address the conventional threat inevitably leads to military defeat, but failure to address civil instability leads to the failure of the whole-of-government effort.
As the campaign in Afghanistan demonstrated, a balance must be maintained, and the manoeuvre commander can only divide their force so much. So how does a commander fight the conventional enemy, but address the asymmetric threat? The answer: military police.
With established links to Civil-Military Cooperation teams (CIMIC), military police provide a force on the ground who can secure against local threats, whilst supporting the information battle as a capable – but more approachable – representation of the force in the region. Whilst combined arms teams in armoured personnel carriers and tanks are impressive capabilities, they do not present an approachable face with which local civil defence, security, and service-providing agencies can engage.
In the information battle, military police provide commanders with a means of maintaining order through rear area security operations, peace-enforcement, and support to the re-establishment of local civil defence architecture. Local crime – an inevitability in post-conflict environments – which would otherwise go untreated and feed into a threat information campaign, can be firmly detected, deterred, and disrupted through partnered policing operations with the host nation.
Local security threats can be managed by general duties policing, close protection teams, and military police dog teams; while the tanks, mechanised infantry, and artillery are pushed forward in the battlespace to enable tempo against the peer enemy.
Where stability is concerned, military police provide a middle-ground solution to stabilising post-conflict areas of operations. With both the hard shoulder and professional ‘people’ skills, a military police member can rebuild towns, while the infantry clears them.
Across the spectrum of operations, military police enable tempo, clarity, and control to commanders mired in the maelstrom of conflict. In conventional operations, military police coordinate the flow of traffic throughout the battlespace to enable the maintenance of the initiative and secure the lanes through which friendly forces transit obstacle belts and gap crossings. In the re-stabilisation phase, military police provide an ideal compromise between combat capability and civil integration.
As a theory and method of engaging in warfare, a commander must synchronise and coordinate the effects at their disposal to achieve success on the battlefield. When task-organising their combat teams and battlegroups, a commander is struck with the dilemma of maximising firepower and supporting combat through combat service support and combat support assets. Including military police in their teams provide commanders with a critical tool for controlling both the battlespace and discipline of their force, across the spectrum and duration of operations.