” The American Army is so roadbound, the soldiers have almost lost the use of their legs”…General Ridgeway 1950
Twenty three BMP-02 trundled down the canal road on their way to yet another Israeli breakthrough attempt. The Egyptian soldiers had trained with an intensity and determination which lead them to a peak of professionalism and vigor in attack. They had trained under the watchful eyes of Soviet training personnel, executing the battle drill so well even the Soviets had to admit the Egyptians looked like Soviet soldiers. As they approached the Israeli position the BMP’s broke into a wedge formation and the infantry opened the firing ports ready to pour a deadly fire on the poor leg bound Israeli infantry. It would be a duck shoot. Suddenly the recoilless 75’s of the Israeli’s opened on the BMP’s melting the aluminum armor and condemning the brave men inside to a slow agonizing death as they melted and suffocated in the fighting compartment. The whole battle took five minutes, not a single ‘BUMP’ survived. It was not suppose to happen this way.
With the death of those Egyptian soldiers, died the Soviet experiment in having soldiers stay inside the vehicle. This outcome ended a debate inside and outside army circles as to how the mechanized infantryman would fight the next war. The Soviets had embraced the idea of the “Infantry Fighting Vehicle” i.e., a vehicle used to protect the infantryman, and making him little more than an intelligent turret which protected the the vehicle when it ran into enemy resistance while blowing through the enemy defensive crust. This philosophy was born out of the experience of World War II, the Germans had certainly used mechanized infantry inside SDKFZ-251. This halftrack and it’s family pointed the way to cheap serviceable mobile infantry. The Russians somehow forgot however, that those German soldiers got out of their Hanomog’s and fought on foot taking advantage of all the ground could give them.
The US had also forgotten this lesson. But the US had a rude, bloody, and ultimately helpful dose of reality at the hands of the Chinese Communist Army in the frozen wastes of North Korea. It took one brilliant and practical American General to understand and absorb that lesson. General Mathew Ridgeway, while on an inspection tour of the US 8th Army in Korea during its race up to the Yalu River in 1950, noted mechanized columns wind their way up endless mountain tracks with truck loads of infantrymen unwilling and in some cases unable to get out and walk. This left the high ground; indeed almost all the ground; to an enemy willing to walk to war. When Ridgeway became 8th Army commander the first thing he did was institute a training regime including road marching, setup all round defense, and taking the ridge lines away from the enemy with ‘Ridge Runners’ small, light men that could climb quickly and still be able to fight when they got to the top.
This one man saved the US Army and all of NATO the painful and expensive lesson learned by the Soviets. Trucks get you there…feet keep you there.