Urban Legends

Aachen, October 1944 (source: ww2today.com)

Urban Legends is the title of Chapter 16 of my book War by Numbers. It is one of two chapters in the book that discusses our three urban warfare studies.

Over at the blog site War on the Rocks, there is a new article called: Urban Legend: Is Combat in Cities Really Inevitable?

The article asks:

  1. “First, in what kinds of urban operations will the U.S. military be involved?
  2. “Second, in irregular urban combat what will be the role of U.S. forces?
  3. “Finally, in thinking about deterring and fighting peer adversaries is enough attention being paid to defensive urban operations…”

It then states:

This leads to a larger point. Much of the area in Eastern Europe where U.S. forces could play a key roles in deterring Russian aggression has no large urban centers….Thus, before going all-in on optimizing for urban operations, the U.S. military should take a deep breath for a moment and think carefully about future operations within the context of the National Defense Strategy.

People might also want to look at our original urban warfare report: http://www.dupuyinstitute.org/pdf/urbanwar.pdf

Our first urban warfare study is dated 11 January 2002 and has been on our website since that time (see: http://www.dupuyinstitute.org/tdipubs.htm). To quote from page 78 of this study (bolding not in original):

The primary result of urban terrain…is to reduce advance rates significantly, reduce casualties to some extent and, as a result, to extend the duration of combat….the vast majority of urban terrain encountered will be flanked by non-urban terrain. Operations in these non-urban flanks will potentially advance at a pace two to four times that of the urban operations…This will, of course, result in either the defender withdrawing from the urban terrain, which is what traditionally had occurred, or an assault and eventual mop-up operation by the attacker of the enveloped defenders….

On the other hand, it is possible that one could encounter a situation where the urban terrain could not be bypasses or securely enveloped. The most notable example of such a scenario would be in South Korea, where Seoul, anchored to the west (left flank) by the sea, extends for some 25 kilometers inland and is then flanked east (right) by a substantial mountain range. While this is an important case of US defense planning purposes, it is one of the few hot spots in the world where this situation is found. An examination of an atlas shows few other cities in the world that cannot be bypassed or enveloped.

This discussion, naturally, is repeated in my book War by Numbers, on pages 251-254 in a section called “The Impact of Urban Terrain on Operations.”

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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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