A review of the successful strategy and tactics of warfare will inevitably lead to the concept that battlefield victory will depend on the decisive employment of the proper elements with the appropriate equipment in the right place at the correct time.
Col. P. I. Lisitskiy describes specific assault and special operations deployments during World War II illustrative of this model and that military leadership on both sides understood the necessity of airborne methods to accomplish battlefield victory. Unfortunately he fails to provide sufficient illustration and examples of the use of special operations forces. Further, he provides little insight into the training regimen and capacity of these specialized forces.
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However his historical perspective and review is still significant as recent military actions demonstrate military commanders must have a thorough understanding of the critical strategic role of airborne and airmobile tactics in the successful use of assault and special operations forces.
World War II was in essence the “laboratory” for the development of airborne operations and special operations. British, German and American armies formally organized airborne units “and by the fall of 1943, the U.S. armed forces had as many as five airborne divisions (11th, 13th, 17th, 82nd, and 102nd).” (169).
Lisitskiy defines “special operations” of the World War II era as being either “airborne, subversion and terror, and subversion and reconnaissance troops.” (169) He subdivides this broad categorization by detailing mission- and objective-specific operational groups. Lisitskiy concludes the World War II experience demonstrates the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of these operations and they will be a vital component of any future military engagement.
Lisitskiy describes three methods of movement of airborne troops during the war: parachute drops, troop placement via glider, and air transport to seized airports.
Placement of the force could be (a) immediately on top of the area to be assaulted, (b) adjacent to the field of battle, or (c) within striking range of the target. According to Lisitskiy these troops had their share of personnel, logistical and communication problems, usually directly related to the nature of the battlefield and the speed, method of their arrival and distance from support bases.
Lisitskiy uses actual battles to illustrate his theme regarding the method of transport and placement of troops. He cites the German Army “airdrop on a Belgian fort, Eben Emael, 10 May 1940. It was possible to capture the fort only by landing troops atop it.” (172) the allied Operation Overload, what Americans refer to as D-Day, perfectly illustrates “the airlifting of units with seizing airfields ahead of their landing.”
(171) the feasibility and necessity of landing paratroops away from the target is exemplified by “the operations of the 3rd German Paratroop Rifle Regiment on Crete. Assigned to take the town of Khania the troops were dropped on the road…some 3km from Khania, whence the regiment began pushing towards its objective in a planned manner.” (172)
Other examples given illustrate the notion that special operations come with special problems. Of a critical nature to a rapidly inserted or swiftly moving force are logistics and communication. Airborne operations by their very nature require stringent weight scrutiny.
Lisitskiy refers to the German developments specific to airborne operations, including lightweight shoulder arms as well as specialized artillery pieces. The same weight considerations applied to communication gear. The failure of German commanders in Crete was directly attributed to communication difficulties between entrenched and newly arrived troops.
 Col. P. I. Lisitskiy is the Sector Deputy Chief at the Center for Military-Strategic Studies of the General Staff of the Russian Federation Armed Forces.
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