Smart tactics

In the last post, I mentioned that the effort to change Marine Corps doctrine from attrition to maneuver took nearly 15 years before General Gray made it official in 1989.  An important component of this campaign was research into the history of warfare and publication of the results, particularly in the Marine Corps Gazette.

Here’s a good example, from some seven years before maneuver warfare was officially  adopted. It’s a letter to the editor of the Gazette by G. I. Wilson and one of his colleagues responding to a critique of articles on maneuver warfare:

Tactics

LtCol Batchellor’s poignant uneasiness with maneuver warfare thinking (Apr82) may result from too casual a reading of the recent articles in the Marine Corps GAZETTE. Understanding the tenets of fluid/maneuver style of warfare requires careful, thoughtful reading and reflection.

Modern maneuver/fluid war took root at the small unit level with infiltration tactics developed in 1918 and conceptually has not changed since. It is applicable at every level from MAF to fire teams.

To understand maneuver warfare concepts, it is necessary to make the basic distinction between tactics and techniques. Techniques are those things that all armies must learn to do well in order to succeed, e.g., movement to contact, assault on a fortified position, and weapons proficiency. Tactics are the imaginative combination of those techniques allowing forces to move into unexpected places, at unexpected times, with unexpected speed, deception, and surprise. When a force continually strings techniques together in the same sequence, i.e., when it uses the same tactical doctrine, again and again, it becomes predictable and can be easily defeated. The “maneuverists” argue against tactical cookbook recipes because stereotype tactics lead to predictability and defeat. They do not reject battle drills that have proven successful, only the combining of such drills into dull, repetitious, and rote tactics. They do not advocate a policy of simply turning loose subordinate commanders on the battlefield. Such a command and control system, or rather the lack of it, would soon lead to total chaos and a possibility of defeat in detail.

Maximum flexibility and initiative can be given to subordinates by the senior commander clearly expressing his overall tactical intent, by tailoring mission-type orders to support that intent, and by designating a point of main effort for combat, combat service, and combat service support units. Through these command and control methods the senior commander can retain enough control to ensure a cohesive, coherent effort from his force.

Amphibious operations are not an end in themselves. They are merely a means of arriving on the battlefield. In order to be successful in any subsequent operations ashore, however, it is vital we possess a maneuver capability equal to or greater than our adversary. We do not fight decisive battles in the surf. This does not necessarily mean more mechanized vehicles (and all the attendant problems). Maneuver warfare advocates have never argued for increased mechanization as a means of increasing maneuverability. The maneuver they advocate is mobility in relationship to our enemy, and this is not something that is dependent upon mechanization or tied to machines.

The maneuver warfare advocates are attempting to institutionalize fighting smart. They believe that the Marine Corps’ potential adversaries will not give it time to rethink its tactical doctrine after the shooting starts. Marine officers owe it to themselves and their profession to discover as much as they can about the tenets of maneuver/fluid warfare before dismissing it as “good old flexibility and boldness.” It is so much more than that.

 

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