Book Review – Blueprints for Battle: Planning for War in Central Europe, 1948-1968

Jan Hoffenaar and Dieter Krüger (eds.), Blueprints for Battle: Planning for War in Central Europe, 1948-1968. Translated by Major-General (ret’d) David Zabecki. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2012. Notes. Index. Hbk. 261pp. £35/$40

Reviewed by Simon Moody, PhD Candidate, King’s College London

Blueprints for BattleResearch on the higher-level politics of NATO and the Warsaw Pact as international organisations has matured over the years, yet comparatively few works have examined how the operational planning of the alliances, that is, how the conversion of military strategy into emergency and contingency plans for hot war developed. In part this is due to the fact that many of the historical documents for the major military commands of the alliances are either difficult to access or have gone missing, a problem that is far more pronounced for NATO researchers. For example, the headquarters of the British Army of the Rhine systematically destroyed their operational planning documents as soon as they were revised or rescinded, and the official papers relating to the work of Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe remain classified to the public. The official histories of the latter (four volumes covering the years 1951-58) were released in December 2012, sadly too late to be utilised by the authors of this work. Nonetheless, the editors of Blueprints for Battle have managed to draw together an impressive array of chapters investigating all aspects of operational military planning for the two power blocs during the early period of the Cold War.

The book is organised as a collection of fourteen short essays dealing with all aspects of operational military planning in NATO and the Warsaw Pact between the years 1948-1968. Originally published the German Armed Forces Military History Research Institute at Potsdam this important work has been translated into English by noted military historian Major-General (ret’d) David Zabecki in conjunction with the Association of the United States Army and published by the University Press of Kentucky. Readers will discover from even a cursory glance at the contents page a wide spread of subject matter, much of which is underrepresented in the mainstream literature: from East German military intelligence for the Warsaw Pact and NATO’s logistic problems, to nuclear war-gaming and the Dutch contribution to the defence of the Central Front. It is this breadth and variety of different perspectives on the operational military plans of the rival coalitions that is the true value of this work. While many academic studies of the military dimensions of the Cold War have a tendency to focus on either one of the two alliances, inhibiting the opportunity for valuable comparative analysis, Blueprints for Battle offers a rare insight into the perceptions and actions of military organisations on both sides of the iron curtain.

The chapters dealing with Soviet and Warsaw Pact operational planning are some of the strongest in the volume. In his chapter on East German military intelligence, Jan Hoffenaar shows how up until 1958 the Stasi relied almost exclusively on open sources of NATO military exercises and manoeuvres to provide reports to Warsaw Pact senior planners on the military capabilities of the West. Revealingly, Hoffenaar underlines the extent to which intelligence services in Eastern Europe approached their assessments of NATO’s intentions from the Marxist-Leninist viewpoint that a future war would begin with an attack from the capitalist ‘imperialist’ powers, and all NATO military exercises during this period were viewed as hostile and of foreshadowing some form of surprise attack (pp. 75-77). As historians of NATO strategy of this period will be aware, the reverse was true in the West, with all operational plans based on the premise of defending against a surprise attack from the Warsaw Pact. Indeed, in his chapter on military planning in the Soviet Union, Viktor Gavrilov draws attention to recently declassified documents that show clearly that the Soviet leadership had no intention of invading the West and that the surprise strategic offensive so feared in NATO circles would only have been instigated in response to critical situations (pp. 121-122).

Matthias Uhl describes the operational plans for such a surprise strategic offensive excellently in his chapter on the evolution of Warsaw Pact military strategy. Utilising newly released sources from Russian archives, Uhl argues that Soviet and Warsaw Pact strategy adopted an increasingly nuclear theme during the 1960s and that its doctrine and strategic principles centred on smashing NATO’s shield forces in Central Europe with rapid and deep penetrations reaching to the Atlantic coast (p. 48). Whilst this is not an entirely new discovery, Uhl does make some interesting observations on how the military-industrial complex in the Soviet Union was geared towards arming the forces of the Warsaw Pact with the weapons and equipment necessary for waging offensive blitzkrieg style operations (pp. 41-48). Torsten Diedrich makes good use of scanty primary sources to examine how the German Democratic Republic’s National People’s Army were integrated into these strategic plans and the role they would have performed in wartime. The challenges facing logisticians in developing a streamlined system to facilitate the type of mobile, fluid, and flexible operations envisioned by Warsaw Pact military planners is assessed by Dimitri N. Filippovych, in which he convincingly identifies the need for further research on this Cinderella subject of operational history.

The operational plans of the Atlantic Powers are covered in similar breadth. Bruno Thoss analyses the strategic dilemmas facing NATO planners in their never ending quest for an effective forward strategy to defend Western Europe. Thoss argues correctly that it was the reluctance of national political leaders to fund the necessary build-up of conventional forces required for a true forward defence that forced the Alliance to rely instead on tactical nuclear weapons as force multipliers (pp. 24-25). American owned and operated on a ‘duel-key’ system with national forces, Donald A. Carter shows how the U.S. Army attempted to integrate tactical nuclear weapons within its conventional ground forces through experiments with war-games and military exercises. The major doctrinal developments that led to the adoption and subsequent rejection of the Pentomic concept in favour of the ROAD restructuring are covered adequately, but are examined elsewhere in greater depth by a number of publications and doctoral theses.[1] NATO’s reliance on the tactical application of nuclear weapons to counterbalance the manpower superiority of the Warsaw Pact is brought vividly to the fore in Helmut Hammerich’s chapter on the operational concepts for the defence of the North German plain in the 1960s. Harman Roozenbeek and Jan Hoffenaar provide Dutch perspectives on the problems of the defence of the Central Front in two unique chapters that provide a much-needed account of the experiences of a hitherto underrepresented national military organisation.

Unfortunately, for those readers with an interest in British operational planning, Robert Evans’ short chapter on the defence plans of the British Army of the Rhine has the least to offer. Evans imposes limitations on his study citing, correctly, that many of the records of BAOR’s military plans have not survived because of the British security systems penchant for the habitual liquidation of outmoded operational plans. Evans’ paltry thirteen footnotes reference just a handful of documents held by the National Archives, the majority of which belong to the WO 216 collection, the papers of the Chief of the Imperial General Staff. Had Evans delved a little deeper, however, he would have found a number of documents relating to BAOR’s thinking at the operational level of war in adjacent collections. For example, the papers of the British Army’s Directorate of Military Training (WO 231) still hold a number of documents detailing various military exercises and manoeuvres that were conducted by BAOR throughout the 1950s and which provide an important insight into operational issues within that organisation. Furthermore, the reports and documents of the Army Operational Research Group (WO 291) contain a handful of reports from BAOR’s operational research section, again shining some light on operational planning within the Rhine Army. The chapter does provide a useful overview of the strategic origins of BAOR and its general defence plans in the decade after 1945, which, while appealing to the lay reader, will be of little use for the specialist researcher.[2] Richard J. Aldrich balances the equation somewhat with an excellent account of the work performed by BAOR’s intelligence sections in his chapter on NATO intelligence gathering within Northern Army Group.

The risk with any publication that is based on a collection of thematic essays from a number of different authors is that, unless anchored by strong introductory and concluding remarks by the editor/s, it may become fragmented or result in unresolved tensions between the diverse chapters. Unfortunately, Blueprints for Battle suffers slightly from this very pitfall. Although Dieter Krüger provides an extremely thorough and informative introduction to the subject material in his preface to the volume, one cannot help but think that more could have been done to capitalise upon the opportunity to draw broader conclusions on what operational planning in NATO and the Warsaw Pact revealed about threat perceptions and mirror imagining between East and West on the brink of war. The concluding remarks by Gregory W. Pedlow could have done more to alleviate this; as the chief historical officer at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, his unique insights into the workings of NATO’s primary military command would have made a helpful and highly valuable contribution.

None of this should detract, however, from what is otherwise a highly informative, well written, and generally meticulously researched book. The volume is accessible and original enough to both inform and entertain the casual reader, yet is built on the sturdy foundations of first-class scholarship, making it a welcome addition to the bookshelf of any academic researcher. In this context, one can only hope that Blueprints for Battle will spark interest in this underrepresented area of operational history and act as a springboard for further research into this important and fascinating period of European military history.

Citation: Simon Moody, ‘Review of Jan Hoffenaar and Dieter Krüger (eds.), Blueprints for Battle: Planning for War in Central Europe, 1948-1968’, The Second World War Military Operations Research Group, 14 June 2013

You can download a copy of the review here.

[1] See, for example, Andrew J. Bacevich, The Pentomic Era: The U.S. Army Between Korea and Vietnam (Washington, DC: National Defense University Press, 1986); Robert T. Davis, The Challenge of Adaptation: The U.S. Army in the Aftermath of Conflict, 1953-2000 (Kansas, MO: Combat Studies Institute, 2008); Robert A. Doughty, The Evolution of U.S. Army Tactical Doctrine, 1946-76 (Kansas, MO: Combat Studies Institute, 1979); John P. Rose, The Evolution of U.S. Army Nuclear Doctrine, 1945-1980 (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1980); Paul C. Jussel, ‘Intimidating the World: The United States Atomic Army, 1956-1960’, PhD Thesis (The Ohio State University, 2004); Ingo Wolfgang Trauschweizer, ‘Creating Deterrence for Limited War: The U.S. Army and the Defense of West Germany’, PhD Thesis (University of Maryland, 2006).

[2] David French provides a more thorough assessment of operational planning in BAOR and the evolution of its nuclear doctrine in his most recent work Army, Empire, and Cold War: The British Army and Military Policy, 1945-1971 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).


2 responses to “Book Review – Blueprints for Battle: Planning for War in Central Europe, 1948-1968

  1. Pingback: Blueprints for Battle | Cold Warriors·

  2. Pingback: Monday Book Review: Blueprints for Battle - Lawyers, Guns & Money : Lawyers, Guns & Money·

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