“I have two generals who will not fail me: Generals January and February.”Tsar Nicholas I, The Emperor of Russia (1825 to 1855)
In 1707, during the Great Northern War, the Swedish king Charles XII marched to invade Russia. In response, Tsar Peter the Great adopted scorched earth tactics and let the Swedish army to advance towards Moscow. Swedish army devoid of adequate logistics and reinforcement was further crippled by ‘Russian Winter.’ Eventually, King Charles XII was crushingly defeated by Tsar Peter the Great in the Battle of Poltava and fled to the Ottoman Empire leaving his entire army behind. Again, in 1812, Napoleon’s Grande Armée headed towards Moscow and once again Tsar Alexander I adopted scorched earth tactics and let Napoleon advance towards Moscow to accept the similar fate as King Charles XII did. Finally, during the 2nd World War Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa for a ‘Quick Victory’ over Russia and Joseph Stalin successfully stalled the German offensive in the Battle of Moscow (January 1942) inviting the eventual fall of the Third Reich. Considering the military historic references above, it is evident that the weather effect of the ‘Russian Winter’ has always hindered the invaders’ military capability as a contributing factor and saved Russia as a true guardian.
Meteorological Effect on Military Operations
More than 2500 years back Sun Tzu, the distinguished military strategist, coined five constant factors which govern the art of any forms of warfare. Also, he cautioned that the general who heeds these factors will be victorious, and who does not will be vanquished. By ‘heaven,’ the second factor, Master Sun meant climate, seasons, weather, wind, clouds, and other meteorological phenomena. This factor has again direct influence on the very next factor named ‘earth’ or terrain. In 1971, the Indian army waited until the winter to initiate their joint offensive against Pakistani forces deployed in the then East-Pakistan. Because with the beginning of winter the Himalayan passes of Indo-China border got shut by the heavy snowfall and allowed them to pull their divisions deployed against China. Meaning, once the weather gets rough, often the terrain gets rough too. Hence, frosty winter, hot summer or heavy monsoon can be a significant contributing factor to military operations; is philosophically and historically evident.
The Monsoon Guarded Defender’s Paradise
Bangladesh is regarded as ‘Defender’s Paradise’ because of her unique terrain configuration which becomes mysteriously formidable during monsoon. Alexander’s Macedonian army was also exhausted by the terrain report on Gangaridai (ancient Bengal) and had to recoil the expedition. Gen D. K. Palit, in his book titled ‘The Lightning Campaign’, has penned a detailed topography on Bangladesh during monsoon. In his view, during monsoon due to rain and flood, the battlespace in this terrain is drastically reduced and manoeuvre space is limited to roads and lands above high-water mark level only. Hence, forces get fatally exposed to belligerent air raids. Again, due to seasonal flood, the width of the rivers gets so widen that no military bridging resources are enough to allow conventional advance. Finally, he deduced, “While Bangla Desh might be a paradise for waterfowl it must be a nightmare for a campaign planner.”
An Overview on Future Campaigns
Knowing how the last war was fought is important. But the nature of present and future warfare is ever-evolving. Five days long Russo-Georgian War (7–12 August 2008) may be well considered as the last conventional war of the 21st century. However, the latest battle (as of August 2018) is the Battle of Ghazni (10–15 August 2018) where Taliban insurgents launched an assault on the city of Ghazni and which is not a conventional battle or war at all; rather an example of Fourth Generation Warfare (4GW). Meanwhile, the Hezbollah during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon (2006) and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) against the Iraqi military (2014) have waged hybrid wars as non-state actors. However, as a reputed strategic and military analyst Ajay Singh opines in his book titled ‘A Spectrum of Modern Warfare’, “Global wars are passé – though, the global war against terror is here to stay for a while. Regional wars are more likely to occur… newer threats and challenges will emerge as the years unfold, mainly that of unconventional warfare waged by irregular groups – the threats of 4GW… the paradox lies in being able to counter both the conventional and the unconventional threat, with their diametrically opposite requirements.”
Paradise at Peril
Bangladesh is a peace-loving country. However, Dennis Wholey warns us saying, “Expecting the world to treat you fairly because you are good is like expecting the bull not to charge because you are a vegetarian.” Again, John Stuart Mill says, “War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth a war, is much worse.” There is precedence to believe that neighbouring countries are usually potential military adversary and Bangladesh is a bi-neighbored country. The ‘Small Neighbor’ has already pushed in millions of Rohingyas inside Bangladesh and provoked several times to start hostility, and every time the ‘Big Neighbor’ showed neutrality. The ‘Big Neighbor’ is yet to show any hostility militarily. However, Ajay Singh’s article titled ‘Water Wars of Tomorrow’ reminds us that there are reasons to remain alert. Apparently, a military threat against Bangladesh may be developed from either of the fronts and even from both the fronts simultaneously or subsequently.
Fighting the Next War
The new foe or foes for Bangladesh during the next war may not be the same as was in 1971. However, perhaps the clue to win the next war lies in the last war. In 1971, the freedom fighters have already shown how to fight a hybrid war against the occupant Pakistani army. Besides, General Niazi, as one of the finest field commanders of the Pakistan army, has outlined an excellent defence concept. He was outnumbered by the Indo-Bangladesh joint force, had no useful reinforcement or popular support, and his arid troops were affected by the monsoon. Yet the General was confident about his plan to defend the then East-Pakistan with less than four regular infantry divisions. The concept of operation delineated in his book titled ‘The Betrayal of East Pakistan’ worth careful study by the strategist and wargamers of Bangladesh to device a formidable hybrid defensive strategy for the next war.
War Gaming General Monsoon
Irrespective of the way Bangladesh chose to fight her next war, monsoon will remain as a bliss for her defenders. At the military-strategic level, the end state should be to subdue the enemy through a monsoon-based war. At the military operational level, the aim should be to keep own centre of gravity intact and devoid the enemy from achieving his military objectives by destroying enemy’s key capabilities remaining adhere to the principle of fluidity. The enemy should be delayed up to monsoon by either taking the battle temporarily to the enemy’s territory or preparing consecutive lines of defence. Subsequently, make full use of the military advantages offered by monsoon to ensure optimal monsoon kill (attrition) against the enemy already exhausted by monsoon and canalized by monsoon floods. Finally, compel the enemy to fight a war so unfavourable which leads to stalemate or accept own terms. At the tactical level, monsoon operations should be launched by highly trained monsoon warriors to destroy high-value targets (HVT) and cause culminating attrition to the enemy. Such tactical operations should be watercraft based utilizing waterbodies and supported by manpack support weapons like shoulder-held rockets, light mortars, and pack guns. ‘Hit and Run’ technique to be followed to conduct quick and swift operations.
Military Advantages Offered by Monsoon
As the largest river delta in the world, Bangladesh sat at the mouth of two of the largest rivers in the world and crisscrossed with numerous water bodies. Dhaka Bowl is formidably defended by the mighty rivers the Padma, Jamuna, and Meghna cordoning it off. Dhaka city is further surrounded by the rivers Buriganga, Shitalakhya, and Turag, crisscrossed by Balu, Bangshi and Dalu rivers. Above all, Bangladesh has a subtropical monsoon climate characterized by wide seasonal variations in rainfall, high temperatures, and humidity. Approximately 80% of Bangladesh’s yearly rainfall occurs from June to October, and by the end of monsoon season, almost one-third of the country goes underwater which makes large-scale operations difficult and adversely affects men, materials, and tactics.
Train General Monsoon’s Army
To conduct a successful monsoon campaign ‘General Monsoon’ will warrant a well-organized monsoon army of well-trained monsoon warriors. People of Bangladesh are by born familiar with the changed terrain configuration during monsoon and most of them are already good swimmers. Monsoon training should focus on careful examination and exploitation of the military advantages offered by monsoon and disadvantages posed on the enemy. The aim of such monsoon training should be to prepare the monsoon warriors as invincible forces who can survive during monsoon, able to conduct successful waterborne operations on HVTs and return safely using marshy lanes or waterbodies. There should be monsoon war expert riverine infantry units and the extent of their annual monsoon training should be increased than existing Summer Training. Company level officers’ training on monsoon warfare should focus on HVT acquisition, plan and conduct the tactical operations, and organize wartime recruitment and local training. Senior officers’ training on monsoon warfare should aim at conducting synergic force-multiplying monsoon operations in coordination with armed forces, paramilitary forces and other agencies.
Equip the Monsoon Warriors
For successful conduct of a monsoon campaign, the monsoon warriors should be equipped with appropriate monsoon gears as per the monsoon requirement. During monsoon, conventional leather boots get wet, swollen and heavier, which reduces troops agility during operations, takes longer to get dry and difficult to ensure proper foot care. Hence, waterproof tactical combat boots may be introduced for monsoon campaigners. Instead of heavier combat jackets and trousers, quick-drying T-shirts and waterproof trousers may be worn. Combat hats with mosquito net attached, instead of helmets, may be introduced to avoid insect bites on the face during night duties or operations. Field Services Marching Order (FSMO) should also be made lighter and waterproof. A knife as a simple cutting tool and as a silent weapon is time-tested. Every monsoon warrior should be issued with individual service knife and should be trained on the knife using, throwing and fighting effectively. Instead of water bottles, individual camel packs may be introduced which may also be used as a floating tool for long swims. During monsoon, the wooden and metal parts of the weapon get damaged and rusted quickly. Gradually, wooden parts of monsoon warriors’ weapons may be replaced by robust plastic parts. However, waterproof weapon covers may be introduced to keep the weapons safe during swimming or moving across marshy areas. As the monsoon war is going to be protracted throughout the monsoon, light and waterproof sleeping bags may be introduced instead of conventional raincoats to ensure better rest and refit for the monsoon warriors.
Monsoon broke mighty armies of Mauryas, Guptas, Mughals, Mamluks, and Marathas through history. It is a giant killer indeed, like the Russian Winter that froze the armies of Napoleon and Hitler and will remain the same in future. The military advantages offered by the monsoon in Bangladesh is unique and blissful. As military professionals, to make the defenders’ paradise invincible, we need to study and examine our monsoon carefully, learn how to survive and operate during monsoon, learn to exploit the potentials of the monsoon, equip our monsoon warriors appropriately, and train our troops accordingly. Hence, we need to indoctrinate the culture of monsoon war for us as soon as possible and accept ‘General Monsoon’ as our true guardian in war.
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