The View From Olympus: Some Prussian Advice for the Commandant

In my last column, I noted that the Commandant’s letter in the June Marine Corps Gazette rightly argued that large-scale amphibious operations are probably a thing of the past, but then offered as a replacement preparing for a highly unlikely conventional war with China and some force structure changes that share no connecting logic.  Since the Commandant, General David H. Berger, seems to need competent staff work he’s not getting, I sent his article off to Berlin by z-mail with a request that Max Hoffman, our best operational brain, take a look at it.  Zeppelin L-70 brought his prompt answer back to me, which I set out below:

Mein lieber Wilhelm!

Our airship brought me your letter and that of your Marine Corps’ Commandant, with your request that I give him our assistance.  I hope you will forgive me for not attending to it personally; I’m somewhat deeply into a challenging planning effort, namely how Prussia might best assist the Baltic states, Finland, and Sweden in case of a Russian attack.  As your problem was a relatively simple one, I took the liberty of sending it to the junior class at the Kriegsakademie as an exercise in strategic planning.  I enclose their proposed solution, which has a twist at the end I did not expect. 

Sehr Geehrter Herr Generalfeldmarschall!

Were we to draft a new letter for the American Marine Corps Commandant, we would begin with his (in our view correct) statement that, as their 37th Commandant said, “the (U.S.) Marine Corps is not organized, trained, equipped, or postured to meet the demands of the rapidly evolving future operating environment.”  We would follow this with his (again, in our view, correct) discussion of why large-scale amphibious landings against strong opposition are not likely in the future.

However, we view the possibility of a large-scale Chinese-American conventional war as equally unlikely, because both countries are nuclear powers.  The risk of escalation by whichever country were losing is simply too great.  The Commandant would do better to turn to an article by three gunnery sergeants and a staff sergeant in the July Gazette and pick up their “Where We’ve Been and Where We Are”, which in our view is on target.  These staff NCOs note that “for the last fifteen years of combat, Marines have not faced a single uniformed or ‘state’ enemy force on the battlefield.”  It is our opinion this will probably continue to be the case.  To prepare for this, as we call it, Fourth Generation war, the Marine Corps’ top challenge is to make maneuver warfare what it does, not just something it talks about.  This was General Berger’s Schwerpunkt in his initial Commandant’s guidance; we did not understand why he has altered it, especially since his direct jump to force structure changes suggests he may not have any Schwerpunkt, a certain guarantee of failure.  This impression is strengthened by the fact that, were the U.S. Marine Corps to focus on war with China, it would certainly want its own tanks and a large artillery park.  This disconnect suggests poor staff work, in our view.

If the American Marines were to prepare for more war with non-state opponents, it would need to address the reasons most state forces, including those of the United States, have been defeated in such conflicts.  In our view, this means reform, not reorganization; the two are not the same, and in fact, the latter is often used to disguise failure to do the former.  Reform in this case means making maneuver warfare real, forming a strategic alliance of all states in defense of the state system and doing serious intellectual work on the problem of Fourth Generation war.

As to force structure, for Fourth Generation war, what Marines need most is true light (Jaeger) infantry.  At present, all their infantry is Stellungsdivisionen, i.e., line infantry with little mobility.  Such forces largely serve as targets for their more mobile opponents.  Converting these line infantry battalions to light infantry should be the Commandant’s top priority.  This begins with assigning the brightest men to the infantry, not the dullest.  We would also eliminate all F-35s, which are useless for supporting troops in action, and instead either take the Air Force’s remaining A-10s or purchase our Stukas and/or Halberstadt CL-IIs.  The resources absorbed by the useless F-35 would buy many squadrons of the latter.  We concur with the Commandant’s plan to eliminate most current tube artillery, but would add new, lightweight 10.5 centimeter howitzers in some number, plus many more mortars, including large ones (up to 16 cm).  These could respond more quickly to the fleeting targets Fourth Generation opponents offer.  We would retain the three tank battalions, which can offer a useful presence in 4GW.

To complete this exercise, we add the following annex, which should remain classified.


As is the case with most other European states, the next real war the Americans face is likely to be fought on their own soil as 4GW rises from within.  This recently broke out in a number of American cities, initially on a small scale.  As the central government continues to lose its legitimacy, it will spread and intensify.  Were we advising the Commandant, we would propose he begin (secretly) planning to mobilize all Marine veterans who are willing to answer the call, forming on whatever active or reserve Marines are present (in many places that may be staff NCOs on recruiting duty).  They would arm themselves with whatever is available, and would place themselves under the orders of their individual state’s National Guard.  Their primary function would not be armed action, but giving legitimacy to their state’s government (not necessarily the federal government) by showing Marines support it.  U.S. Marines still have substantial moral credibility in the eyes of most Americans, and that will be the most important quality in the situation as we envision it.


I thought the class’s secret annex showed the sort of forward thinking the Kriegsakademie attempts to encourage.  I hope you find their exercise useful; perhaps it may encourage your Marine Corps’ Commandant to do some further thinking of his own.  As with the Austrians, Prussia always stands ready to come to the rescue.