From the onset of World War II, intelligence failures have been attributed to significant military events.
Beginning with Pearl Harbor, Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) has reigned supreme among all others intelligence forms, but with significant downsides. Then, information derived from the various Japanese codes were not shared with many other levels of commands, organizations, and overseas commander, especially those who might be able to put context and sense to intercepts. Of course, there still existed the thought and practice that almost anyone could be a G-2, such as Hawaiian Commander LTG Walter C. Short’s appointment of LTC J. Fielder as his G-2, who had no intelligence background, over an experienced reservist.
The Kasserine Counterattack of February 1943 is an example of not listening to frontline troops (TIC, Troops in Contact) as a source of intelligence with an extremely short expiration time. This accurate information was submitted up to British LTG Kenneth Anderson about the Germans attacking through the Faid Pass in Tunisia, but was discounted as an “exaggeration of green, untried troops” by Army and AFHW intelligence divisions. Eisenhower later replaced the head of his AFHQ intelligence organization.[i]
Field Marshal Montgomery’s plan to quickly enter Germany in 1944 was called Operation Market-Garden, often referred to as A Bridge Too Far, prompted Major Brian Urquhart, the intelligence chief of General Browning’s British I Airborne Corps in WWII, to state that he was, “quite frankly horrified by (Operation) Market-Garden, because its weakness seemed to be the assumption that the Germans would put up no effective resistance.” Further, General Browning (who hadn’t yet commanded troops in WWII) replied, “I wouldn’t trouble myself about these (tanks that weren’t supposed to be there) if I were you.” Interestingly, Dutch HUMINT reports warning of increasing German strength in the Market-Garden area and the presence of tanks in Holland for refitting, nor was a Dutch underground sighting of Field Marshal Walter Model’s pennant.[ii] Urquhart felt reasonably certain that at least two German panzer divisions were in Holland, but he was deliberately sidelined because he wasn’t “towing the party line.”[iii] For a week in September 1944, the relieving British Guards Armored Division traveling northward along a very narrow corridor of some 60 miles of road towards Arnhem became increasingly bogged down. The British 1st Airborne Division in Arnhem was effectively cut-off by the German forces – only 27% of the 9,000 of the division were able to return to friendly lines.[iv]
“There is a quality to adversity that summons the noblest in British valor and as a result valor often so obscures defeat that a heroic legend is remembered long after the defeat is forgotten. Arnhem followed that British tradition. Monty had been turned back short of his goal but so valorous was the defeat that the strategic rebuff passed unnoticed.”[v]
During the Battle of the Bulge, “the fallacy that crept into our thinking was that since Ultra had not specifically forecast or suggested a major strategic counterattack, there was no possibility of one. Monty’s G-2 wrote later, ‘We had begun to learn that was the danger of Ultra. Eddie Sibert (12th Army Group G-2) was more specific: ‘As for general intelligence operations on certain technical types of intelligence, such as signal intelligence – upon which we had come to rely too much…’” The U.S. First Army Ultra rep, Adolph Rosengarten, wrote: “Some clues came from open sources but were not heeded as no clues came from Ultra.” (Hitler had also forbidden almost all communications, under pain of death, of the operation.[vi] “It was not intelligence (evaluated information of the enemy) that failed. The failure was the commanders’, and certain G-2s’, who did not act on the Intelligence they had,” wrote then LTC Robert S. Allen, Assistant G-2 of Patton’s Third U.S. Army to COL Oscar Koch, during the Battle of the Bulge.[vii]
During the Easter Offensive of 1972 in Vietnam and based on agent reports (HUMINT), the 571st MI Detachment accurately constructed and published INTSUMs with detailed descriptions of the major NVA units, their commanding officers, initial objectives, and the date the offensive was to begin, unlike the former XXIV Corps headquarters (which had just become FRAC- the First Regional Assistance Command). By MG Kroesen’s own admission that his G-2 was small and ill-equipped. “The advisory command, recalled Major General Kroesen (the FRAC commander), was ‘heavily weighted to provide administrative assistance and logistical advice’ with only a token intelligence and operations section. ‘It was neither manned nor equipped to monitor the combat activity or to provide tactical guidance.’”[viii] (my emphasis) The results were very similar to The Bulge – senior leadership were unconcerned, unconvinced, and/or uninformed (with some out of country, as well) – all of their staffs would have had these reports leading one to believe they did not have (again) any SIGINT to trust.
When senior officers don’t listen to intelligence, they are responsible for the consequences - though they usually aren’t held to the same standards as their subordinates. When this occurs in combat, the most you might see is a senior officer fired after the fact, though many may have died as a result of their action or lack of action. Afterwards, I have seen senior officers say that there was so much different information that they, in essence, went with the safer path of “it has always been this way” or they just blame someone or something else. Left unsaid is the “I knew better” excuse when they’re wrong. ‘The Kasserine Counterattack, Market-Garden, The Battle of the Bulge, and The Easter Offensive of 1972 are some examples.
Interesting that commanding generals of combat commands don’t come from the intelligence branch (they are all from the combat arms), but it wasn’t uncommon to have generals become the head intelligence units or become G-2s/J-2s, sometimes solely because many had an assignment as an S-2 sometime in their past as a junior officer.
This was also true for enlisted members for, at least the Army and the Air Force, too. Before I left the service in the mid-1980s, the Army came up with a program where everyone had to have a second MOS (job) and I ran across many who came directly from the infantry and other fields – none of whom had attended intelligence school. (Likewise, I ran across many Air Force (and a few Navy) officers who had once been navigators and back-seaters and enlisted NCOs who came from other fields. Apparently, it was/is true that only certain people can command a unit in combat, but anyone can automatically know what there is to know about intelligence.
A lot has been made of the fact that Iraq had no Weapons of Mass Destruction, which had prompted our intervention in Desert Storm. As a former desk analyst during the Iraq-Iran War when the Israelis struck the nuclear reactor at Osirak in 1981, it was fortunate that it was struck when it was. Otherwise, the free world would have yet another country to be concerned about, besides Iran, since the Israelis took out the suspected nuclear reactor in Syria in 2007.
[i] Dwight D. Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe, Garden City, NY: Garden City Books, 1952, 168.
[ii] Cornelius Ryan, A Bridge Too Far, New York, NY: Popular Library, 1974,147.
[iv] Omar N. Bradley, Omar N. Bradley: A Soldier’s Story, New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company, 1951, 416-418.
[v] Ibid, 419.
[vi] Bob Baker, “Warning Intelligence: The Battle of the Bulge and the NVN Easter Offensive,” American Intelligence Journal, 1997, 76.
[vii] Colonel Robert S. Allen, Lucky Forward, New York, NY: Manor Books, 1965, 157.
[viii] Major Charles D. Nelson (USMC) and Lieutenant Colonel Curtis G. Arnold (USMC), U.S. Marines in Vietnam: The War That Would Not End 1971-1973, Washington, D.C.: Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, 1991, 48-49.