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The Most Dangerous Enemy 9: Eagle

April 11, 2011

This chapter opens with a rumination on the complexities of planning a battle, and launches the ‘cock-up’ theory.

In short: battle plans fail because somewhere down the line a cock-up is made. Those whose plans prevent the most cock-ups win. Cock-ups may happen due to 5 identified (by Bungay) factors:

  1. Ignorance. Missing knowledge about the enemy, his dispositions, or the battlefield.
  2. Uncertainty. Factors beyond control, such as weather.
  3. Complexity. The more complex a plan is, the more scope for cock-ups.
  4. Equipment. The wrong equipment at the right place and time, or the right equipment at the wrong place and time.
  5. The opposition. Too many battle plans do not figure in the reaction of the enemy, or depend on certain reactions only.

I have a major problem with this theory. As Bungay himself admits, no cock-ups at all cannot be prevented. Yet his whole theory depends on battle plans foreseeing every eventuality and planning for it. History, however, shows that great generals do not try to plan for every contingency, but make their plans flexible enough to change them at a moment’s notice once a cock-up happens. ‘No battle plan survives contact with the enemy’ after all.

Witness for example Montgomery’s plan to take Caen and the surrounding airfields: when early in the invasion this failed, he switched to a strategy of continuous offensives to contain the Germans on his front, keeping their Panzer divisions mostly away from the American part of the front. Monty may insist that this was his plan all along, which makes him a vain and arrogant twit, but a close look at what actually happened shows that in actual execution he was able to be flexible and adjust his battle plans on the fly to overcome the inevitable cock-ups.

What’s worse is that Bungay admits that this sort of flexibility is important at the onset of his chapter, and then starts expounding on the philosophy of complete prevention. This is sloppy thinking, to put it mildly.

That aside, Bungay’s analysis of the weakness of the plans for Adlertag, the opening offensive in the Battle of Britain, is another well-written piece showing just how confused the Luftwaffe planning was. After reading about the various plans made up at all levels, and the complete inability of the high command to turn out a cohesive battle plan, it leaves one to wonder how the Eagle offensive even got off to a start in the first place.

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