Happy Veterans/Armistice/Remembrance Day, on the anniversary of the end of World War I. Often overlooked and forgotten, it killed more Americans than Vietnam. It killed over four percent of France’s population. Even if the nuclear button had not been pushed, the hard-to-predict casualties of a Fuldapocalyptic Third World War would have been enormous. We should be thankful that such a thing never came to pass.
The Soviet calculations for tank losses in a World War III were incredibly high by the standards of “smaller” wars, around the level of each front losing 6-15% of its tanks every day (and even more when facing either nuclear or advanced smart weapons). Interestingly, their theorized APC/BMP loss rates were substantially lower despite thinner armor. This probably has to do with tanks leading the attack and thus being more likely to hit minefields and the like, as well as being the first targets.
“Loss” does not necessarily mean “permanently destroyed”, and one of the crucial determinants is who holds the battlefield, since that can turn a knocked-out but repairable tank into a permanent loss.
Still, even the best-case scenario still involved more than a division worth of tanks being knocked out each day, and this in a period where the Soviet advantage over NATO was arguably never greater.
See “Generic Enemy: Mobile Forces Part 1, Operational Art And Tactical Doctrine”, pg. 11-18, par. 1141, “The Front Offensive Operation, CIA/DO Intelligence Information Special Report, 15 June 1979“, pg. 316, and “Front Offensive Operations“, pg. 369”.
I’ve finished reading Aleksander Maslov’s Fallen Soviet Generals, a chronicle of the fallen general officers of the Red Army in World War II. Over two hundred Soviet generals were killed, on average one every six days. German general casualties were similarly massive. The Western Allies got off lightly (the United States lost twenty generals), although there were exceptions. In Vietnam the U.S. Army lost five generals.
The subject of how generals died after the invention of the telephone and radio has been a area of weird fascination for me, and I even chose it as the subject of my first (probably too goofy given the seriousness of the topic) ebook.
No doubt there would be a lot of generals dying in a hypothetical World War III, even a purely conventional one, along with their subordinates. The causes can be divided into two main categories:
“Deep Fire” refers to anything to strike deeper, and encompasses air strikes, long-range artillery, surface-to-surface missiles and special forces raids. This would likely be the leading cause of general deaths. The long-range fire strike complex (to use the Soviet term) abilities of both sides had increased dramatically from World War II, and command installations are clear targets for “big-ticket”, scarce weapons.
“Close Fire” refers to direct fire and, for the sake of convenience, shorter-ranged battlefield mortars and artillery. While the advances in deep fire and targeting would potentially render it secondary, it cannot be counted out as a form of killing generals. Maslov’s book gives countless examples of how, in twisted, confused, rapidly mobile engagements, command posts ended up close to enemy soldiers and armored vehicles, with very dire consequences for those inside them. Especially in a conflict with overwhelmingly more mechanization than the Second World War, something similar is bound to occur.
Of course, these categories can be blurred. Is a long-distance tank raid “deep” or “close?” Is a CAS airstrike on a forward command group “deep” or “close?”
Either way, the generals will not be spared.