WAR 101

Jean-Antoine Watteau, The Supply Train, Frick Collection. Compared to logistics, battlefield tactics are child’s play.


An introduction to “Warfighting,” the how-to manual for the US Marines, and its practical application in Ukraine. Part III of III: Pros talk logistics.

“An army marches on its stomach.” – Frederick the Great

This three-part series introduces Warfighting, the US Marine Corps’ how-to manual. In Part I, we explored Centers of Gravity and Critical Vulnerabilities, In Part II, we studied The Main Effort, Intent, and Tactical Leadership.

As Robert H. Barrow said, amateurs talk strategy; professionals talk logistics. Logistics are the most complex and least understood aspect of war.

The more people talk about a NATO no-fly zone, the less they talk about logistics. But a no-fly zone is a non-starter, as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky undoubtably knows. What’s more, Ukraine’s aircraft, manned and unmanned, remain operational, so a no-fly zone would not necessarily advantage Ukraine. There are, I hope, more sophisticated and practical conversations taking place behind the scene between Western and Ukrainian leaders. The no-fly zone debate may well be a red herring to keep Russia distracted while friendly forces push in supplies.[1]If the Russians fail to take Odessa, they’ll probably start bitching loudly about NATO’s direct logistics support. Getting critical supplies to the front is far more important to the outcome of the war than a no-fly zone: As a center of gravity, maintaining supply lines ranks just after keeping Zelensky alive.

Logistics sound easy. Get stuff from the rear to the front. The hard part is the shooting, right? Not so much. Compared to logistics, battlefield tactics are child’s play.

Russia is attacking Ukraine’s coastal cities (supporting effort) to unite breakaway provinces and prevent Ukraine from resupplying Kyiv (intent). Ukraine is defending Kyiv (main effort) to keep the Ukrainian head of state alive (intent). The bridge between tactics and strategy is operations: These are what you read about in daily news reports. Logistics are the backbone of every operation. They often determine the war’s outcome. The United States—and NATO, though mostly the Americans—bankrupted the Soviet Union through defense spending to win the Cold War. The Union did the same in the American Civil War by sustaining industrial production and destroying the Confederacy’s breadbasket. Both world wars in the 20th century, and thousands of other conflicts throughout millennia, have been won or lost for presence or lack of supplies.

Go back to the fire team leaders in the Kyiv building overlooking the Irpin River. What supplies do they need to keep fighting? What must be done to ensure they arrive?


Frontline ground logistics aren’t flashy. The easiest way to think of them are the 5 B’s. Every fire team leader should review this checklist.

Beans: Everything that keeps your body in fighting condition. Food and water. Clothing for the weather. Body armor. You need a Shit Plan. Wars have been lost for want of one, because disease is a notorious battlefield companion. What do you need if the indoor plumbing fails? Will the waste be emptied? Burned? Buried? Stock up on buckets and toilet paper. It’s nice but not essential to have other items for personal hygiene, too, as well as a kit for cooking and a sleeping bag or a bedroll.

Bullets: The stuff that kills people. Think this one through. Extra magazines. Extra ammunition. (Pre-load them; reloading takes time). Don’t grab a crate of the wrong bullets: Most NATO-issued firearms, like M-4s and the older M-16s, use 5.56mm bullets, whereas the AK-47s you’ve likely received shoot 7.62mm rounds. If you’re armed with Molotov cocktails, are you keeping your milk crates in the building or stashing a few in fallback positions? If your resupply sergeant hands you a freshly delivered NATO weapon (like Stingers, SMAWs, or NLAWs), do you know how to use it? Don’t grab what you can’t use. (SMAWs, which take out most vehicles, are helpfully marked POINT TOWARDS ENEMY with an arrow.)  Do you have enough sandbags and material to build your fortifications?

Band-Aids: Everything you need for the wounded. This includes standard first-aid kits with gauze bandages, tourniquets, and, if you get them, packages of Quik-Clot gauze.[2]This used to come in a powder, which was phased out because of the side effects, like burns. It’s better than nothing, and there’s still powder lying around in warehouses. Get it if you can. Know where your medics and aid stations are. Know your evacuation plans. Locate a casualty collection point. Bodies need to be sent back home—this is a logistics issue. The people who bring in supplies will be bringing bodies out. Learn how to identify and triage the casualties into urgent (loss of life or limb if not immediately evacuated), priority (could deteriorate to urgent within four hours), and routine (no evacuation needed; this includes your dead). You need Sharpies or grease pens to mark these words on helmets or foreheads.

Batteries: Everything you need to communicate. Communicating is as important as shooting. Are your cell phones charged? If you have no electricity, what’s the backup plan? What’s the plan if Internet lines or mobile towers are destroyed? If you don’t have electronic communications like walkie-talkies or short-wave radios, can you use flags, flares? Basic Morse code with a signal mirror? In a last resort, if you have to dispatch runners, do they know where to go?

Bad Guys: Everything involving enemy prisoners. The only equipment you need is zip-tie plastic handcuffs. But POWs are a broader problem, especially in urban combat. Ukrainian army units appear to have captured many Russians (with their equipment). So far, Ukrainians have been taking prisoners to Ukrainian homes, where they’re told to call their mothers to arrange for their safe return to Russia. That’s a clever plan and terrific propaganda, but far too complicated for Kyiv. An even worse plan is killing Russian POWs because dealing with them is inconvenient. Don’t do that.

POWs have intelligence value, too. But getting them off the battlefield is important. Who picks them up? Where do they go? I’d consider Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, or Romania: It would give these countries outsized leverage in negotiating with Russia (assuming Russia cares at all about its POWs, although historically, they haven’t). If POWs aren’t taken across the border, establish a POW camp as close to the border as possible. Let International Legion volunteers guard it to avoid wasting the Ukrainian Army’s time.


In Chess: The Easy Way, grandmaster Reuben Fine advises keeping in mind these three principles:

safety (protect your king);

force (keep more pieces than your opponent, measuring their value with points); and

mobility (maximize the number of squares where your pieces can move).

The same principles apply to logistics. Supply lines are routes for moving materiel to the front. Set aside air supply, for now, but don’t forget the sea. Right now, NATO is probably sending a massive amount of weaponry to Odessa to be driven north to Kyiv. So long as Odessa holds, Ukraine maintains direct access to the Black Sea.

A safe supply line must be secured from enemy fire and the weather, be it snow, ice, heavy rain, or wind. Force is obvious: more is always better. If you need one of something, ask for two. If someone asks for two, send four. Expect supplies to be delayed, lost, or destroyed in route. If you’ve pledged 300 Stingers, send 600. With luck, a tenth of them will hit a target. Maintaining mobility with logistics, however, is hard. Trucks and trains need fuel and maintenance. This requires another layer of supplies: spare parts, mechanics, fuel tankers.

Keeping ground supply lines safe is an art of its own, requiring its own acronyms. These are so critical to a war effort that planners often rename major roads as Main Supply Routes, or MSRs, so there’s no confusion (note the word main).

Allies can establish vehicle repair depots just across the Polish, Slovakian, Romanian, or Hungarian borders. Doing so doesn’t mean, legally speaking, that NATO has entered the war. (Russia may feel otherwise.) Ground supply lines from NATO countries into Ukraine—not just from Lviv to the front, but all the routes through Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania—are so critical that maintaining them may be NATO’s number-two center of gravity.

Europe Russia map

The Black Sea supply lines should also be maintained if it’s at all possible—for force. Ships increase the volume of supplies the allies can get into Ukraine. Even if Odessa falls, Ukraine’s indirect route to the Black Sea through Romania’s port of Constanta may hold—although this is dicey because it depends on Ukraine’s ability to keep control of the 450-kilometer land route north of Constanta, of which 300 kilometers goes through the small strip of Ukrainian territory south of Moldova.

Optimizing the safety-force-mobility algorithm depends on keeping open as many supply routes from NATO countries as possible. These might be called “humanitarian corridors,” but of course the Russians will still attack them because they know Ukrainians and their allies will be sending war materiel through them. The Russians want to prevent as many of the 5 B’s as they can from entering their occupied zones, especially because almost every Ukrainian, civilian or military, has the will to fight.

We see, north of Kyiv, that the Russians are having supply problems of their own. Why is that gargantuan Russian convoy stalled? Have Russian vehicles broken down? Are they out of fuel? Maybe Ukrainian forces disabled a lead vehicle and blocked all the other roads (there aren’t that many)? The Russians may be waiting until they’ve achieved air superiority or knocked out the Black Sea supply route.

We have no way of knowing, through open sources, if that Russian convoy is immobile by choice or against their will, though we hope it’s the latter. But the more NATO allies do to enhance the safety, force, and mobility of their logistics, the better it is for Ukraine. They should establish as many logistics bases in countries bordering Ukraine as possible.


In popular imagination, war is polarized into science or art. Planners and analysts focus on the technical specifications of weapons, delivery systems, and physics to explain the outcomes of wars. Popular Mechanics is an uncommonly good source of military commentary for precisely this reason. Military science is a university major. Military science tells us that logistics wins wars, and very often, this is correct.

Military science also predicted Ukraine’s rapid collapse.

Despite months of preparation, planning, and wargaming, the Russian army appears to be unable to achieve its objectives. Given their capabilities, this shouldn’t have been hard for them. Champions of the art of war would point to character flaws in Russia’s leadership and command and the other intangibles—the will to fight, heroism, valor—that we’ve discussed in this series.

Warfighting comes down on both sides. “Art and science stop short of explaining the fundamental dynamic of war,” says the manual. “War is a social phenomenon. Its essential dynamic is the dynamic of competitive human interaction.”

Unless you’re under direct fire in Ukraine, that’s the most difficult part to grasp. Intuitively, citizens of the West know the world has plunged into a “dynamic process of human competition” that only recently we thought consigned to history. Even countries hoping to stay out of it know deep down that at some point they’ll have to choose a side. How much destruction, in property and life, will it take before the outcome is resolved? Will this competitive human interaction involve nuclear weapons? Will it destroy our world?

We don’t know.

Really, we have no idea.

“Human beings interact with each other in ways that are fundamentally different from the way a scientist works with chemicals or an artist works with paint,” Warfighting concludes. “It is because of this dynamic of human interaction that fortitude, perseverance, boldness, esprit, and other traits not explainable by art or science are so essential in war.”

War is not quite an art or a science. It does demand scientific knowledge and artistic creativity. But the outcome of this dynamic human competition is ultimately a matter of human will.

No matter the odds, if you’re reading this and fighting for your freedom, may your will never fade.

Slava Ukraini.

Tecumseh Court is an American combat veteran.


1 If the Russians fail to take Odessa, they’ll probably start bitching loudly about NATO’s direct logistics support.
2 This used to come in a powder, which was phased out because of the side effects, like burns. It’s better than nothing, and there’s still powder lying around in warehouses. Get it if you can.

1 Comment on "WAR 101"

  1. REV. M VINCE TURNER | March 11, 2022 at 7:10 pm | Reply

    A friend, retired US Marine Captain, forwarded this series to me. I am most grateful. It is highly informative and educational. Soon to turn 78 and a USAFSS Veteran of the 1960s, I never would have expected this moment in our history. But, then again, I never expected to witness the breach of our own Capitol by fellow-Americans.

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