Prepare, prepare, prepare. It is a simplistic formula, and it is true that on the battlefield even the best-laid plans may come to naught—casualties of surprise, Mother Nature, or some other unforeseen foul-up. Indeed, the most mesmerizing war stories are often those in which courage and spontaneity trump overwhelming odds. But many of the features in this issue of MHQ suggest those tales are the exception rather than the rule: that, by and large, commanders who carefully plan their strategy of attack (or defense) come out on top, and those who do not, fail. Consider, for example, Mussolini in Greece, Gen. Hans Kundt in the Chaco, and Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg.
In “Greek Tragedy,” John W. Osborn Jr. describes Mussolini’s 1940–1941 “war by temper tantrum” in which, on the verge of winter, he sent an undermanned, poorly equipped Italian army against a pumped-up Greek force that was far larger than the Italians had surmised. They made an absolute hash of it, of course, and Hitler had to bail Benito out.
As James Corum points out in “Battle in the Barrens,” Hans Kundt brought only a single strategy to the Chaco for the Bolivian land grab from Paraguay in 1932. He gathered no intelligence about the Chaco region or his foes, and planned a straight-ahead attack that proved fatal to thousands of the soldiers he sent against the machine guns and carefully planned traps of his adversary, Gen. José Felix Estigarribia.
Then there is Lee at Gettysburg. The one general who had been winning battles for the Confederacy, intent on confronting and besting the Army of the Potomac in July 1863, proved to be bewilderingly overconfident and uncommunicative in the Civil War battle that counted most. In our cover story, “Did Lee Doom Himself at Gettysburg?” Noah Andre Trudeau paints a picture of a hands-off commander who was committed to fight despite a clear lack of good intelligence and the knowledge that his recently reorganized army would need careful instruction and a stern guiding hand. They received neither.
And finally, on the flip side, is logistics whiz Gen. Louis-Gabriel Suchet, proof positive of the power of preparation. In “Taking Tarragona,” Jonathan North catalogs Suchet’s meticulous campaign to take that key Spanish city, amassing a superior force to the garrison’s, ensuring his army was well fed and provisioned, then laying siege to and working through the defenses, fort by fort, earning his marshal’s baton from Napoleon. No bold masterstroke, just careful preparation on the road to certain victory.
Enjoy MHQ’s carefully prepared summer issue, and as always, please feel free to tell us how we’re doing: MHQeditor@weiderhistory.com