Oct. 1, 2016
Chinese Military Reforms: A Pessimistic Take
On the evening of May 21, 1941, the German battleship Bismarck, escorted by the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, departed the Norwegian port of Bergen, intending to conduct commerce raiding against Allied merchant shipping in the Atlantic Ocean. The Bismarck was the world’s largest warship in operation at the time and proved to be virtually unsinkable by naval gunfire; it ultimately absorbed more than 400 direct hits from naval guns, roughly a quarter of which were main battery rounds from other battleships, without sinking. And yet less than 6 days into its first combat mission, the Bismarck had nonetheless been sunk. Better armor or a more powerful armament might have made the Bismarck even more dangerous and difficult to sink, but would not have prevented it from being sunk. Similarly, recent changes to the organizational structure of China’s military have made clear improvements, but do nothing to address its most important weaknesses.