Measuring the Effects of Combat in Cities, Phase III – part 2.1

I forgot a cool graphic from these charts I posted in the Phase III – part 2 discussion:

This is on page 61 of the Phase III report. It is also on page 260 of my book War by Numbers.

There is some explanatory text for this chart on pages 60-61 (and pages 259-261 of my book War by Numbers). The text from the report is below:

Over time one may note that the average weighted percent-loss-per-day in urban operations from 1943 to 2003 – a 60-year time span – ranges from 0.50 to 0.71 if Soviet attacks are excluded. In contrast, the average weighted percent-loss-per-day in non-urban terrain ranges from 0.76 to 1.27 if the Soviet attacks and Tet are excluded.

These data can be plotted over time by simply inserting the various percentage-loss-per-day for each of the engagements under the appropriate year. To do so we have eliminated the Eastern Front Soviet attacks (urban and non-urban) and Tet Offensive non-urban outliers and have normalized the intervening years where there are no data points. The result is interesting and clearly establishes that that over the last 60 years urban warfare has remained less intense than non-urban warfare (at least at the division-level and as measured as a percent-loss-per-day).

It is notable that the sole point at which the two lines intersect – during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War may actually shed some light upon why the belief that urban warfare is more costly and/or intense than that in other types of terrain exists. Quite simply, the urban case in the 1973 War – the Battle of Suez City – is one unique engagement fought during that entire war and is just one of 32 engagements from that war that was fought in urban terrain. And it is one of the few cases that we have found where division-level urban combat was as intense as the average non-urban combat during the same campaign. Overall in just seven of the 31 non-urban engagements in the 1973 War was the attacker percent-per-day loss higher than 1.57 percent found at Suez City, and in only two of those were the attackers Israeli. Nor were the Israeli armor losses extraordinary at Suez City, they amounted to only about 11 tanks, for a loss rate of just 4.6 percent-per-day. This may be contrasted to the 11.43 percent-per-day armor loss that the Israelis averaged in the nine non-urban attacks they made against the Egyptians in the 1973 War.[1]

That Suez City stands out as unique should hardly be surprising. What is surprising is that it – and the few other possible outliers we have found – has become identified as the “typical” urban battle rather than as a unique case. In that respect Suez City and the other outliers may provide copious lessons to be learned for future battles in urban terrain, but they should not be accepted as the norm. On that note however, it is somewhat depressing to see that many lessons of urban warfare apparently learned by the different combatants in World War II apparently were forcibly relearned in later wars. That the mistakes made in earlier urban battles are repeated over and over again in later wars – such as avoiding sending unsupported armor into built-up areas – is more than somewhat perplexing. Worse, we have been unable to find any example in World War II of the misemployment of armor in an urban environment that mirrors the foolishness exhibited by the attackers at Suez City or Grozny. Thus it could be supposed that any benefit of technological evolution in warfare over time might be counterbalanced in part by the simple failure to draw adequate lessons from the past.

[1] The highest rate was at Chinese Farm I when the Israelis armor loss was 24.40 percent-per-day.


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Christopher A. Lawrence
Christopher A. Lawrence

Christopher A. Lawrence is a professional historian and military analyst. He is the Executive Director and President of The Dupuy Institute, an organization dedicated to scholarly research and objective analysis of historical data related to armed conflict and the resolution of armed conflict. The Dupuy Institute provides independent, historically-based analyses of lessons learned from modern military experience.
Mr. Lawrence was the program manager for the Ardennes Campaign Simulation Data Base, the Kursk Data Base, the Modern Insurgency Spread Sheets and for a number of other smaller combat data bases. He has participated in casualty estimation studies (including estimates for Bosnia and Iraq) and studies of air campaign modeling, enemy prisoner of war capture rates, medium weight armor, urban warfare, situational awareness, counterinsurgency and other subjects for the U.S. Army, the Defense Department, the Joint Staff and the U.S. Air Force. He has also directed a number of studies related to the military impact of banning antipersonnel mines for the Joint Staff, Los Alamos National Laboratories and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation.
His published works include papers and monographs for the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation, in addition to over 40 articles written for limited-distribution newsletters and over 60 analytical reports prepared for the Defense Department. He is the author of Kursk: The Battle of Prokhorovka (Aberdeen Books, Sheridan, CO., 2015), America’s Modern Wars: Understanding Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam (Casemate Publishers, Philadelphia & Oxford, 2015), War by Numbers: Understanding Conventional Combat (Potomac Books, Lincoln, NE., 2017) , The Battle of Prokhorovka (Stackpole Books, Guilford, CT., 2019), The Battle for Kyiv (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2023), Aces at Kursk (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024), Hunting Falcon: The Story of WWI German Ace Hans-Joachim Buddecke (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024) and The Siege of Mariupol (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2024).
Mr. Lawrence lives in northern Virginia, near Washington, D.C., with his wife and son.

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