The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

My Doctrine Right or Wrong

The results of flawed doctrine: Unescorted Daylight Strategic Bombing

The focus of H200 was an analysis of how useful doctrine developed in peace time, based on previous war experience, proved to be in the conduct of operations in World War II.

The history of interwar transformation and doctrine development process provides insights into the relationship of peacetime visions of future wars and the actual conduct of war. In World War II the German army, the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Marine Corps, and the U.S. Army Air Force all attempted to execute doctrine developed in the years after WWI, on the battlefields of WWII.

In some cases, blitzkrieg doctrine for example, the doctrine proved remarkably effective. In other cases, the primacy of the battleship in navy doctrine for example, the doctrine failed to meet the requirements of modern war. Were there organizational characteristics that permitted a particular service (the German army) to have an accurate understanding of tactical ground warfare, and another (the U.S. navy) fail to understand the importance of key technologies?

Some observers believe that writing doctrine in peace time is a futile exercise because the lessons of history are such that the conditions of the next war will be completely different from the last war and impossible to predict. Getting doctrine right is more luck than genius. Thus only very multi-functional formations are of any use to the army of the future, and only vague, general and generic doctrine is appropriate for the current and future operating environment. Do you agree or disagree?

Are there doctrinal issues which our current military refuses to recognize because we have invested too much in organization, training, and equipment to change the doctrine at this point? If so what are they and why are they flawed?

January 30, 2014 - Posted by | H200, military history, Professional Military Education | , , , , , , , ,


  1. Although Navy doctrine was still Battleship focused until after US entrance into World War II, I do not believe that this can be characterized as a true failure in interwar doctrine development. Returning from his position as head of the US Naval Forces Europe in World War I, Admiral Sims took over Naval War College (NWC). During WWI, Admiral Sims had become convinced that development of the then infant naval aviation was the way ahead for naval strategy and immediately following the war the NWC conducted war games that tested an increased number of aircraft carriers during fleet engagements. NWC wargaming showed such positive results to increased aviation assets that Admiral Sims became convinced carriers, not battleships, would be the determining factor in victory at sea (specifically when pitted against each other in fleet action). Keeping in mind that the NWC was, and remains, very much so the center of US naval intellect, the results of these war games were important in development of naval aviation, specifically the increased focus and dedication to aircraft carriers.

    So, while the battles of Coral Sea and Midway proved the merits of carrier aviation and thrust carriers into the center of naval strategy through today, the solid foundation and work conducted during the twenty years prior to these engagements gave the US Navy a strong background to draw upon that allowed rapid development of doctrine and tactics centered around aviation. The work of Admirals Sims and Reeves as far back as the early 1920s, coupled with interwar cultural and career shifts (only aviators could command carriers) and necessity to change tactics in the wake of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor allowed the US to adapt quicker than Japan. As was covered in class, the Japanese Navy had arguable superior naval aviation technology and experience, though not overwhelmingly superior, but were still operating in a battleship centric mindset/doctrine and continued to do so until after the US shifted focus to flattops. The US Navy may not have gotten “it” right when they were drawn into war with Japan but events and previous work in the aviation field enabled modernization of strategy that eventually became the standard for large modern navies, with carriers, not battleships, being listed as capital ships and serving as the measuring stick of success and power.

    I think the trouble becomes balancing doctrine with new technology and unproven platforms, especially when previous doctrine and platforms are still in the inventory and remain relatively unopposed as the acceptable status quo throughout the world. While Marine Corps creation of amphibious operation doctrine was an incredible feat, they had the benefit of knowing that the past tactics and doctrine did not work. The organizational change required in the Marine Corps was likely easier to implement because success was tied so closely to the survivability of the service and there were likely few proponents of keeping the old failed doctrine in place, especially given the threat of Japan and likelihood of island-hopping campaign in the Pacific. It is often said that necessity is the mother of all invention… I submit that military doctrine is no different.

    Further, as we previously discussed in class, the military’s track record for predicting future threats and warfare is far from perfect which likely makes it more difficult to affect huge shifts to doctrine that had worked or been successful in the past. It’s not easy to abandon previous methods which had been inculcated throughout a service (or the world) without a cataclysmic event or undeniable proof of concept. Even today, existing doctrine can be improved and rewritten during peacetime but will likely be only the starting point for the doctrine we’ll have following a major conflict (once lessons learned are implemented). On the other hand, failed doctrine or tactics for an area never considered or explored before will likely have slightly better results. While this doctrine may also evolve during conflict, the thought going into the process and benefit of knowing what did and did not work in the past will help create a more sound theory and one which the leadership will likely be more apt to accept and implement in training for the next conflict… assuming it will still be valid.

    Comment by LCDR Matthew Krull | January 31, 2014

  2. visit your blog, read an interesting article. thank you friends for sharing and greetings compassion 🙂

    Comment by Gede Prama | February 1, 2014

  3. For those interested, more detailed information on Admirals Sims and Reeves can be found in the following (the foundation of my knowledge regarding these men):
    U.S. Naval War College, “U.S. Naval War College: History,” U.S. Naval War College,
    Geoffrey Till, “Adopting the Aircraft Carrier: The British, American, and Japanese Case Studies,” in Military Innovation in the Interwar Period, ed. Williamson Murray and Allan R. Millett (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2009).
    Norman Polmar, Aircraft Carriers: A History of Carrier Aviation and its Influence on World Events (Washington, DC: Potomac Books Inc, 2006).

    Comment by LCDR Matthew Krull | February 2, 2014

  4. I completely agree with you Matt. I tried to relay this same message in my most recent history paper but failed to articulate it as well as you did above. The annual exercises conducted by the Navy certainly set the stage for the Navy’s shift to aircraft carriers well before the events of Pearl Harbor.

    Comment by Ray Crotts | February 22, 2014

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