The Combat Value of Surprise

American soldiers being marched down a road after capture by German troops in the Ardennes, December 1944.

American soldiers being marched down a road after capture by German troops in the Ardennes, December 1944.

[This article was originally posted on 1 December 2016]

In his recent analysis of the role of conventional armored forces in Russian hybrid warfare, U.S. Army Major Amos Fox noted an emphasis on tactical surprise.

Changes to Russian tactics typify the manner in which Russia now employs its ground force. Borrowing from the pages of military theorist Carl von Clausewitz, who stated, “It is still more important to remember that almost the only advantage of the attack rests on its initial surprise,” Russia’s contemporary operations embody the characteristic of surprise. Russian operations in Georgia and Ukraine demonstrate a rapid, decentralized attack seeking to temporally dislocate the enemy, triggering the opposing forces’ defeat.

Tactical surprise enabled by electronic, cyber, information and unconventional warfare capabilities, combined with mobile and powerful combined arms brigade tactical groups, and massive and lethal long-range fires provide Russian Army ground forces with formidable combat power.

Trevor Dupuy considered the combat value of surprise to be important enough to cite it as one of his “timeless verities of combat.”

Surprise substantially enhances combat power. Achieving surprise in combat has always been important. It is perhaps more important today than ever. Quantitative analysis of historical combat shows that surprise has increased the combat power of military forces in those engagements in which it was achieved. Surprise has proven to be the greatest of all combat multipliers. It may be the most important of the Principles of War; it is at least as important as Mass and Maneuver.

In addition to acting as combat power multiplier, Dupuy observed that surprise decreases the casualties of a surprising force and increases those of a surprised one. Surprise also enhances advance rates for forces that achieve it.

In his combat models, Dupuy categorized tactical surprise as complete, substantial, and minor; defining the level achieved was a matter of analyst judgement. The combat effects of surprise in battle would last for three days, declining by one-third each day.

He developed two methods for applying the effects of surprise in calculating combat power, each yielding the same general overall influence. In his original Quantified Judgement Model (QJM) detailed in Numbers, Predictions and War: The Use of History to Evaluate and Predict the Outcome of Armed Conflict (1977), factors for surprise were applied to calculations for vulnerability and mobility, which in turn were applied to the calculation of overall combat power. The net value of surprise on combat power ranged from a factor of about 2.24 for complete surprise to 1.10 for minor surprise.

For a simplified version of his combat power calculation detailed in Attrition: Forecasting Battle Casualties and Equipment Losses in Modern War (1990), Dupuy applied a surprise combat multiplier value directly to the calculation of combat power. These figures also ranged between 2.20 for complete surprise and 1.10 for minor surprise.

Dupuy established these values for surprise based on his judgement of the difference between the calculated outcome of combat engagements in his data and theoretical outcomes based on his models. He never validated them back to his data himself. However, TDI President Chris Lawrence recently did conduct substantial tests on TDI’s expanded combat databases in the context of analyzing the combat value of situational awareness. The results are described in detail in his forthcoming book, War By Numbers: Understanding Conventional Combat.

Urban Combat in War by Numbers

So our work on urban warfare ended in 2005 with the Stalingrad contract being cancelled because of the weather. It was a pretty significant body of work, but the Army’s interest shifted to insurgencies and so did our work. From 2005 through 2009, our major work was on insurgencies, which is summarized in my book America’s Modern Wars.

When things finally got quiet enough for me to consider writing books, I briefly considered doing a book on urban warfare. But, the subject had fallen out of fashion. I therefore decided to try to summarize all our conventional warfare work into a single book, War by Numbers.

Our urban warfare work is described in a half dozen earlier posts. It is covered in much more depth in two chapters of my book War by Numbers. Chapter 16: Urban Legends, cover the three phases of this work (Phase I = ETO, II = Kharkov, III = Manila and post-WWII). The chapter is called “urban legends,” because so much of the work on urban warfare in the time immediately preceding our work overemphasized the intensity, casualties, fatigue and actions that would occur in urban warfare. They had, mistakenly, created a mythology about urban warfare, based upon looking at a few extreme case studies. This discussion on urban warfare flowed into the next chapter, Chapter 17: Use of Case Studies. As I pointed out at the start of that chapter (pages 265-266):

Unfortunately, military history is often the study of exceptions…..What often gets lost is the norm, or what is typical….we at the Dupuy Institute are not averse to using case studies; we simply prefer not to use them as our only analytical tool….We look for the norms and the typical situation and use case studies only as part of a further examination of the study.

The rest of the chapter is based upon the outstanding work that Richard C. Anderson did looking at a number individual division’s operations in a variety of cities (in particular Brest, Aachen, Cherbourg and Manila). More than six different case studies. The most significant one was the work done on urban operations and combat stress, or battle fatigue (it is in our Phase I report, which is on line). This was the work that caused RAND to revise their work and prepare a report that paralleled our research effort.

Chapter 16 is 59 pages long, while Chapter 17 is 20 pages.


P.S. Source of picture (Berlin 1945):



Are Russia And Iran Planning More Proxy Attacks On U.S. Forces And Their Allies In Syria?

Members of the Liwa al-Baqir Syrian Arab militia, which is backed by Iran and Russia. [Navvar Şaban (N.Oliver)/Twitter]

Over at the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), Jennifer Cafarella, Matti Suomenaro, and Catherine Harris have published an analysis predicting that Iran and Russia are preparing to attack U.S. forces and those of its Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) allies in eastern Syria. By using tribal militia proxies and Russian mercenary troops to inflict U.S. casualties and stoke political conflict among the Syrian factions, Cafarella, et al, assert that Russia and Iran are seeking to compel the U.S. to withdraw its forces from Syria and break up the coalition that defeated Daesh.

If true, this effort would represent an escalation of a strategic gambit that led to a day-long battle between tribal militias loyal to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al Assad, Syrian government troops, and Russian mercenaries and U.S. allied Kurdish and SDF fighters along with their U.S. Marine and Special Operations Forces (SOF) advisors in February in the eastern Syrian city of Deir Ezzor. This resulted in a major defeat of the pro-Assad forces, which suffered hundreds of casualties–including dozens of Russians–from U.S. air and ground-based fires.

To support their contention, Cafarella, et al, offer a pattern of circumstantial evidence that does not quite amount to a definitive conclusion. ISW has a clear policy preference to promote: “The U.S. must commit to defending its partners and presence in Eastern Syria in order to prevent the resurgence of ISIS and deny key resources to Iran, Russia, and Assad.” It has criticized the U.S.’s failure to hold Russia culpable for the February attack in Deir Ezzor as “weak,” thereby undermining its policy in Syria and the Middle East in the face of Russian “hybrid” warfare efforts.

Yet, there is circumstantial evidence that the February battle in Deir Ezzor was the result of deliberate Russian government policy. ISW has identified Russian and Iranian intent to separate SDF from U.S. support to isolate and weaken it. President Assad has publicly made clear his intent to restore his rule over all of Syria. And U.S. President Donald Trump has yet to indicate that he has changed his intent to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria.

Russian and Iranian sponsorship and support for further aggressive action by pro-regime forces and proxies against U.S. troops and their Syrian allies could easily raise tensions dramatically with the U.S. Since it is difficult to see Russian and Iranian proxies succeeding with new Deir Ezzor-style attacks, they might be tempted to try to shoot down a U.S. aircraft or attempt a surprise raid on a U.S. firebase instead. Should Syrian regime or Russian mercenary forces manage to kill or wound U.S. troops, or bring down a U.S. manned aircraft, the military and political repercussions could be significant.

Despite the desire of President Trump to curtail U.S. involvement in Syria, there is real potential for the conflict to mushroom.

Urban Phase IV – Stalingrad

So in 2005 the Center for Army Analysis (CAA) decided to award us a contract to do Stalingrad based upon our recommendations at the end of the Phase III effort (see the previous post) and our proposal of dated 31 August 2004. We noted in our proposal that we had looked at 304 urban engagements and compared them to 319 non-urban engagements.

This is certainly the most comprehensive collection of urban combat data collected. Still, it is not definitive. In almost all cases, the defender is in a losing battle and is being enveloped. While this is the norm for urban warfare, one is left to wonder if the results for the first three phases of the analysis changes if the urban terrain is part of the front line and part of a set piece attack.

So we ended up proposing to create around 60 division-level urban engagements from the Battle of Stalingrad and compare them to 120 or more non-urban engagements from Kursk.

As we noted in our proposal “Assuming a contract award of 31 March 2005, The Dupuy Institute intends to complete the effort by the end of December 2005.”

Well, the contract was not awarded quite as quick as we liked. But it was in the government contracting office in August 2005, and fully funded. We had our Russian research team ready to go. They had access to the Soviet unit records. We had a staff of researchers in place (including me and Shawn). We had our German and Russian translators lined up. We were ready to start work in October 2005.

Then Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. It was 29 August 2005. In early September the tragedy was so significant and the U.S. rescue and recovery efforts were so overwhelmed, that the U.S. military was called in to help. No additional funding was provided for this, so the military had to pay for it from existing funds. The DOD then decided to fund the rescue effort by grabbing all non-essential funds from any contract not awarded, and this included ours. So come October 1st, instead of us starting work on a new contract, we discovered, on rather short notice, that it was no longer funded. Instead I had to hand out pink slips.


P.S. We later assembled most of the Russian unit records we needed for this project, but were never able to convince CAA to fund this fourth phase of our urban study effort.

Measuring the Effects of Combat in Cities, Phase III – part 3

Am 25.10.1941 konnte die faschistische deutsche Wehrmacht mit überlegenen Kräften Charkow, die Hauptstadt der Ukraine erobern.
UBz.: Panzer und Infanterie bei Strassenkämpfen in der Stadt

Description: Street fighting at Kharkov on 25 October 1941: infantry advancing covered by a StuG III assault gun and Sd.Kfz. 250 halftrack(Bundesarchiv Bild 183-L20582)

So, in our three phases of urban warfare study, taking place over three years, how much urban warfare did we examine? Well by count of engagements, we looked at 304 urban cases, division-level and battalion-level. Mostly what this means is one division or battalion-level engagement per day. Still, this is not insignificant.

We did assemble back in 2003 a listing of all the significant urban engagements we had identified since 1904. There are not all that common. We counted 117 of them in conventional combat between 1904 and 2003 (they are listed on pages 3-7 of the Phase III report). Of those 117, we had examined 22 of them (18.8 percent). We considered that 38 or so of them were major urban battles (division-level or larger). Of those, we examined 17 (44.7%). Only three of the remaining 21 major urban battles are known to have good data for both sides. The biggest remaining untapped source of data was the Battle of Stalingrad, which could yield over a hundred division-level engagements. This led us to make four points (page 10-11 of the report):

We suggest that there remain a number of ways in which we can broaden and deepen or knowledge of the effects of urban warfare.

  1. Conduct a detailed study of the Battle of Stalingrad. Stalingrad may also represent one of the most intense examples of urban combat, so may provide some clues to the causes of the urban outliers.
  2. Conduct a detailed study of battalion/brigade-level urban combat. This would begin with an analysis of battalion-level actions from the first two phases of this study (European Theater of Operations and Eastern Front), added to the battalion-level actions completed in this third phase of the study. Additional battalion-level engagements would be added as needed.
  3. Conduct a detailed study of the outliers in an attempt to discover the causes for the atypical nature of these urban battles.
  4. Conduct a detailed study of urban warfare in an unconventional warfare setting.

Anyhow, it was clear that our next step was Stalingrad. You will also note that in 2003/2004 we were also suggesting we study urban warfare in an unconventional warfare setting. This suggestion seemed to get no attention.


Measuring the Effects of Combat in Cities, Phase III – part 2.1

I forgot a cool graphic from these charts I posted in the Phase III – part 2 discussion:

This is on page 61 of the Phase III report. It is also on page 260 of my book War by Numbers.

There is some explanatory text for this chart on pages 60-61 (and pages 259-261 of my book War by Numbers). The text from the report is below:

Over time one may note that the average weighted percent-loss-per-day in urban operations from 1943 to 2003 – a 60-year time span – ranges from 0.50 to 0.71 if Soviet attacks are excluded. In contrast, the average weighted percent-loss-per-day in non-urban terrain ranges from 0.76 to 1.27 if the Soviet attacks and Tet are excluded.

These data can be plotted over time by simply inserting the various percentage-loss-per-day for each of the engagements under the appropriate year. To do so we have eliminated the Eastern Front Soviet attacks (urban and non-urban) and Tet Offensive non-urban outliers and have normalized the intervening years where there are no data points. The result is interesting and clearly establishes that that over the last 60 years urban warfare has remained less intense than non-urban warfare (at least at the division-level and as measured as a percent-loss-per-day).

It is notable that the sole point at which the two lines intersect – during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War may actually shed some light upon why the belief that urban warfare is more costly and/or intense than that in other types of terrain exists. Quite simply, the urban case in the 1973 War – the Battle of Suez City – is one unique engagement fought during that entire war and is just one of 32 engagements from that war that was fought in urban terrain. And it is one of the few cases that we have found where division-level urban combat was as intense as the average non-urban combat during the same campaign. Overall in just seven of the 31 non-urban engagements in the 1973 War was the attacker percent-per-day loss higher than 1.57 percent found at Suez City, and in only two of those were the attackers Israeli. Nor were the Israeli armor losses extraordinary at Suez City, they amounted to only about 11 tanks, for a loss rate of just 4.6 percent-per-day. This may be contrasted to the 11.43 percent-per-day armor loss that the Israelis averaged in the nine non-urban attacks they made against the Egyptians in the 1973 War.[1]

That Suez City stands out as unique should hardly be surprising. What is surprising is that it – and the few other possible outliers we have found – has become identified as the “typical” urban battle rather than as a unique case. In that respect Suez City and the other outliers may provide copious lessons to be learned for future battles in urban terrain, but they should not be accepted as the norm. On that note however, it is somewhat depressing to see that many lessons of urban warfare apparently learned by the different combatants in World War II apparently were forcibly relearned in later wars. That the mistakes made in earlier urban battles are repeated over and over again in later wars – such as avoiding sending unsupported armor into built-up areas – is more than somewhat perplexing. Worse, we have been unable to find any example in World War II of the misemployment of armor in an urban environment that mirrors the foolishness exhibited by the attackers at Suez City or Grozny. Thus it could be supposed that any benefit of technological evolution in warfare over time might be counterbalanced in part by the simple failure to draw adequate lessons from the past.

[1] The highest rate was at Chinese Farm I when the Israelis armor loss was 24.40 percent-per-day.


Measuring the Effects of Combat in Cities, Phase III – part 2

U.S. Army troops in Hue, South Vietnam monitor the streets below during the Tet Offensive, 1968. [Bettmann/CORBIS]

Another part of our Phase III effort was to look at post-World War II cases. This is, by its nature, invariably one-sided data. Maybe at some point we will get the Chinese, North Koreans, Vietnamese, Syrians, etc. to open up their archives to us researchers, but, except for possibly Vietnam, I don’t think that is going to happen any time in the near future. So, we ended up building our post-World War II cases primarily from U.S. data.

We added 10 engagements from the Inchon/Seoul operation in 1950. For Vietnam we added  65 division-level urban engagements from the Tet Offensive in 1968 and 57 division-level non-urban engagements. We also added 56 battalion-level urban engagements from the Tet Offensive (all in Hue). We had 14 division-level urban engagements and 65 division-level non-urban engagements from various contingencies and conventional operations from 1944 to 2003. This included ELAS Insurgency, Arab-Isreali Wars, Panama, Mogadishu, the 1991 Gulf War and Baghdad in 2003. We also added 9 battalion-level urban cases, mostly from Beirut 1982-1984.

To add it all up this was:

                                                 Urban       Non-urban

Phase I (ETO)                              46              91

Phase II (Kharkov/Kursk)             51              65

Phase III (Manila/PTO)                53              41

Post-WWII – Division-level           89            123

Post-WWII – Battalion-level          65               0

                                                   ——-         ——

Total cases                                 304           319

This is a lot of cases for comparisons.

Just to show how they match up (from page 28 of the report):

Attackers in Division-Level Engagements:


PTO Kor Tet Oth ETO EF (Ger Atk) EF (Sov Atk)
Avg Str/day 12,099 28,304 6,294 10,903 34,601 17,080 17,001
Avg Cas 78 30 94 254 178 86 371
Avg Cas/day 78 30 39 59 169 86 371
Avg % Loss/day 0.63 0.71 0.78 0.56 0.50 0.49 1.95
Wgt % Loss/day 0.65 0.71 0.62 0.54 0.49 0.50 2.18



PTO Tet Oth ETO EF (Ger Atk) EF (Sov Atk)
Avg Str/day 17,445 13,232 18,991 21,060 27,083 27,044
Avg Cas 663 44 377 469 276 761
Avg Cas/day 221 22 191 237 206 653
Avg % Loss/day 0.83 0.19 1.56 1.09 1.00 2.39
Wgt % Loss/day 1.27 0.17 1.01 1.13 0.76 2.41

I will pick up more on the Phase III effort in a subsequent posting (a part 3 to this series). These charts are also on page 238 of War by Numbers.


P.S. The blog the image was taken from (it is a collection of pictures taken from the fighting in Hue):


Recent Developments In “Game Changing” Precision Fires Technology

Nammo’s new 155mm Solid Fuel Ramjet projectile [The Drive]

From the “Build A Better Mousetrap” files come a couple of new developments in precision fires technology. The U.S. Army’s current top modernization priority is improving its long-range precision fires capabilities.

Joseph Trevithick reports in The Drive that Nammo, a Norwegian/Finnish aerospace and defense company, recently revealed that it is developing a solid-fueled, ramjet-powered, precision projectile capable of being fired from the ubiquitous 155mm howitzer. The projectile, which is scheduled for live-fire testing in 2019 or 2020, will have a range of more than 60 miles.

The Army’s current self-propelled and towed 155mm howitzers have a range of 12 miles using standard ammunition, and up to 20 miles with rocket-powered munitions. Nammo’s ramjet projectile could effectively double that, but the Army is also looking into developing a new 155mm howitzer with a longer barrel that could fully exploit the capabilities of Nammo’s ramjet shell and other new long-range precision munitions under development.

Anna Ahronheim has a story in The Jerusalem Post about a new weapon developed by the Israeli Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd. called the FireFly. FireFly is a small, three-kilogram, loitering munition designed for use by light ground maneuver forces to deliver precision fires against enemy forces in cover. Similar to a drone, FireFly can hover for up to 15 minutes before delivery.

In a statement, Rafael claimed that “Firefly will essentially eliminate the value of cover and with it, the necessity of long-drawn-out firefights. It will also make obsolete the old infantry tactic of firing and maneuvering to eliminate an enemy hiding behind cover.”

Nammo and Rafael have very high hopes for their wares:

“This [155mm Solid Fuel Ramjet] could be a game-changer for artillery,” according to Thomas Danbolt, Vice President of Nammo’s Large Caliber Ammunitions division.

“The impact of FireFly on the infantry is revolutionary, fundamentally changing small infantry tactics,” Rafael has asserted.

Expansive claims for the impact of new technology are not new, of course. Oribtal ATK touted its XM25 Counter Defilade Target Engagement (CDTE) precision-guided grenade launcher along familiar lines, claiming that “The introduction of the XM25 is akin to other revolutionary systems such as the machine gun, the airplane and the tank, all of which changed battlefield tactics.”

Similar in battlefield effect to the FireFly, the Army cancelled its contract for the XM25 in 2017 after disappointing results in field tests.

UPDATE: For clarity’s sake, let me re-up my contrarian take:

Will This Weapon Change Infantry Warfare Forever? Maybe, But Probably Not

Measuring the Effects of Combat in Cities, Phase III – part 1

Now comes Phase III of this effort. The Phase I report was dated 11 January 2002 and covered the European Theater of Operations (ETO). The Phase II report [Part I and Part II] was dated 30 June 2003 and covered the Eastern Front (the three battles of Kharkov). Phase III was completed in 31 July 2004 and covered the Battle of Manila in the Pacific Theater, post-WWII engagements, and battalion-level engagements. It was a pretty far ranging effort.

In the case of Manila, this was the first time that we based our analysis using only one-side data (U.S. only). In this case, the Japanese tended to fight to almost the last man. We occupied the field of combat after the battle and picked up their surviving unit records. Among the Japanese, almost all died and only a few were captured by the U.S. So, we had fairly good data from the U.S. intelligence files. Regardless, the U.S. battle reports for Japanese data was the best data available. This allowed us to work with one-sided data. The engagements were based upon the daily operations of the U.S. Army’s 37th Infantry Division and the 1st Cavalry Division.

Conclusions (from pages 44-45):

The overall conclusions derived from the data analysis in Phase I were as follows, while those from this Phase III analysis are in bold italics.

  1. Urban combat did not significantly influence the Mission Accomplishment (Outcome) of the engagements. Phase III Conclusion: This conclusion was further supported.
  2. Urban combat may have influenced the casualty rate. If so, it appears that it resulted in a reduction of the attacker casualty rate and a more favorable casualty exchange ratio compared to non-urban warfare. Whether or not these differences are caused by the data selection or by the terrain differences is difficult to say, but regardless, there appears to be no basis to the claim that urban combat is significantly more intense with regards to casualties than is non-urban warfare. Phase III Conclusion: This conclusion was further supported. If urban combat influenced the casualty rate, it appears that it resulted in a reduction of the attacker casualty rate and a more favorable casualty exchange ratio compared to non-urban warfare. There still appears to be no basis to the claim that urban combat is significantly more intense with regards to casualties than is non-urban warfare.
  3. The average advance rate in urban combat should be one-half to one-third that of non-urban combat. Phase III Conclusion: There was strong evidence of a reduction in the advance rates in urban terrain in the PTO data. However, given that this was a single extreme case, then TDI still stands by its original conclusion that the average advance rate in urban combat should be about one-half to one-third that of non-urban combat/
  4. Overall, there is little evidence that the presence of urban terrain results in a higher linear density of troops, although the data does seem to trend in that direction. Phase III Conclusion: The PTO data shows the highest densities found in the data sets for all three phases of this study. However, it does not appear that the urban density in the PTO was significantly higher than the non-urban density. So it remains difficult to tell whether or not the higher density was a result of the urban terrain or was simply a consequence of the doctrine adopted to meet the requirements found in the Pacific Theater.
  5. Overall, it appears that the loss of armor in urban terrain is the same as or less than that found in non-urban terrain, and in some cases is significantly lower. Phase III Conclusion: This conclusion was further supported.
  6. Urban combat did not significantly influence the Force Ratio required to achieve success or effectively conduct combat operations. Phase III Conclusion: This conclusion was further supported.
  7. Nothing could be determined from an analysis of the data regarding the Duration of Combat (Time) in urban versus non-urban terrain. Phase III Conclusion: Nothing could be determined from an analysis of the data regarding the Duration of Combat (Time) in urban versus non-urban terrain.

So, in Phase I we compared 46 urban and conurban engagements in the ETO to 91 non-urban engagements. In Phase II, we compared 51 urban and conurban engagements in an around Kharkov to 49 non-urban Kursk engagements. On Phase III, from Manila we compared 53 urban and conurban engagements to 41 non-urban engagements mostly from Iwo Jima, Okinawa and Manila. The next blog post on urban warfare will discuss our post-WWII data.

P.S. The picture is an aerial view of the destroyed walled city of Intramuros taken on May 1945

U.S. and Russian Troops Fight

Just wanted to post up this article by The National Interest….as they linked to our blog in the article: Did U.S. and Russian Troops Fight Their Bloodiest Battle Since World War I in February

We had no idea they were linking to us….I just noticed a few hits from their site, so decided to check. Our link is on the first line of the second page, under “ill-judged attack”: