The students of the Joint Command and General Staff Course (JCGSC) 2021/2022 traveled to island Saaremaa to participate in the Staff Ride “Operation Albion” from 23 to 25 November 2021.
The Staff Ride “Operation Albion” is an integral part of the module “Fundamentals and Components”. The aim of this module is to extrapolate the historical context of war and distinguish the roles, tasks, capabilities, and limitations of the different components - Land, Maritime, Air, and Special Operations, and their respective contribution in delivering desired joint effects.
During the Staff Ride, students analyzed the case of “Operation Albion 1917” and the employment of different components and their contribution to Joint Operations, enhancing contemporary warfighting understanding.
The former battlefields of 1917 located on the island of Saaremaa, located not far away from Tartu, the home city of the BALTDEFCOL, is a good historical site to study the Joint Operations. Historic examples originating from the imperial German armed forces' amphibious landing on Saaremaa allowed fostering open-minded and in-depth discussions, to develop a common and Joint understanding of contemporary challenges. It also provides the intellectual and transitional bridge between the theory and the practice of planning and executing Joint Operations. In five different Research Staff Ride Stands, the students of JSGSC 2021-2022 had the possibility to feel and think about what was done then and what could be done now to achieve success in the defense or offense.
Students also had a chance to explore the beauty of the largest island of Estonia – Saaremaa and to visit cultural sites in the area. They learned more about the history and visited the Kuressaare Castle-Fortress (Arensburg). It is one of the most interesting and best-preserved fortification structures in Estonia built from limestone and granite. The students saw many historical artifacts and heard the long and fruitful story of this castle and Saaremaa itself. The other day officers stopped next to the Kaali meteorite crater field. The rock of 20-80 tones fell at 15-45 km/sec speed causing the crater of 110m in diameter and 22m in depth. Staff rides are serving the educational purpose both in military art and culture of the local population.
As of the importance of the ´Operation Albion´, the BALTDEFCOL Faculty developed the book "General Nikolai Reek Writings on Operations and Leadership. Including Operation Albion and Battle of Cēsis", as the source for studies.
About the OPERATION ALBION 1917:
On 19th September 1917, the German Emperor issued the order to seize the Islands of SAAREMAA and MUHU. The 8th Army under General of Infantry Hutier was tasked with the execution, the Operation was named “Albion”. This was the first German amphibious, joint operation. As William S. Lind in his book ‘The Maneuver Handbook’ writes, the ‘Albion illustrates a marriage of amphibious operations with the new German storm-troop tactics of late World War I, tactics that when combined with Panzer divisions created the Blitzkrieg’ and it ‘illustrates a Third Generation military's ability to adapt to new situations quickly. The Imperial German Army and Navy put Albion together in a few weeks. They did so despite having no amphibious doctrine, no amphibious experience, and no amphibious Marine Corps.’
As surprise was essential, the Germans decided on landing at TAGGA BAY instead of KURESSAARE, which would have had logistical advantages. A secondary landing was planned in the north, near PAMMANA (PAMERORT). The Navy was supposed to clear the minefields, escort and transport the landing forces, as well as provide covering fire to suppress the coastal batteries. In addition, a bombardment of SÕRVE was to be conducted to deceive the Russians. After the start of the ‘Operation Albion’ on 12th October already in on the evening of the 16th October, SAAREMAA was in German hands. On the 18th, the Russian garrison of MUHU surrendered. HIIUMAA was seized on the 20th of October.
In the end, the victory of the Germans was based on the land forces as the center of gravity, with the naval forces in a supporting role, mainly providing the transport and escort, as well as some naval gunfire support. The aerial assets played a minor role as reconnaissance and some nuisance with strafing runs and bombings. The effect of the German navy, preventing the Russian navy to support the garrison more actively was an important contribution to the overall success.