The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

H210 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?

In the case of airpower doctrine, the US Air Force strategic bombing campaign in Europe achieved great results by forcing the destruction of the Luftwaffe. However, it did not achieve its primary doctrinal objective –force the German government to surrender. On the other hand, strategic airpower, armed with atomic weapons, did cause the Japanese to surrender. Did WWII prove that airpower doctrine, as advocated by Generals Billy Mitchell and Douhet, was effective?

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?


February 9, 2016 - Posted by | H200, military history, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , ,


  1. There were organizational characteristics that prevented some countries from understanding the importance of key technologies. First, the French failed to effectively employ their tanks because their doctrine was based on the tank as a support weapon to the infantry. The French believed in a tightly controlled methodical battle with emphasis on the effects of firepower. This was the lesson the French learnt from its experiences in World War I. It prevented the French from understanding the principles underlying German doctrine and from responding effectively to Blitzkrieg tactics.

    Second, the US Navy was unable to appreciate the possibilities of aircraft carrier technology. This was because decisions were made based on present likelihoods instead of future possibilities. Projection of capabilities was also conservative with experts depicting a future where aviation technology would remain weak vis-à-vis battleship technology. Furthermore, the key proponent for naval aviation, Rear Admiral Moffett worked within existing strategic and technological paradigms.

    Comment by Luke Goh, SG 19B | February 10, 2016

  2. There were organizational advantages inherent to the German military that allowed military success and corollary disadvantages in the American Navy that degraded military capability during World War II. The organizational advantages experienced by the Germans were the peculiar result of the hardships imposed by the Versailles Treaty, the inherent nature of the German people, and the conducive military culture focused on blitzkrieg and innovation. These advantages combined to build organizational capability; conversely, the American Navy employed resistance to organizational change which degraded capabilities during the war. The examples of the Germans and American Navy show the importance of culture and innovation in establishing capabilities.

    Shifting to the airpower doctrine discussion, World War II validated minor aspects of Douhet’s and Mitchell’s theories while also demonstrating the importance of technology to airpower execution. The key takeaway from the introduction of the P-51 Mustang was how rapidly one aircraft definitively led to air superiority and the subsequent fall of Germany. Airpower, excepting the nuclear paradigm, did not definitively shape the national will of the Axis. Following World War II, airpower doctrine integrated this key takeaway as air can shape but not entirely control enemy will. The legacy of the P-51 demonstrates the Air Force’s focus on technology and the need for innovation during execution dedicated to winning the conflict.

    Comment by Matt Wunderlich, 19A | February 11, 2016

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