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?


January 30, 2017 - Posted by | Uncategorized


  1. The established doctrine for the USAAC of strategic bombing during WWII based upon Douhet’s writings did not succeed in having the enemy surrender. It is strange then that the leadership kept trying to prove its worth through 1943 even though the losses were beyond the point of being sustainable. Only after the doctrine was changed with the advent of the P-51 Mustang did strategic bombing begin to see success, but it still dis not succeed in causing the surrender of Germany. It is interesting then that the focus of the USAF in 1947 shifted towards strategic bombing with nuclear weapons as if to say that the advent of new technology would ultimately prove the doctrine where is had failed before.

    Even still, today’s military still focuses on doctrinal procedures established during and after WWII and this still dominates the acquisition process for many services. However, it is my opinion that U.S. Joint Forces work best when forced to adapt to changing conditions that they face based upon the threat, or what they experience in combat. I personally enjoy the fact that the Navy does not have any formal “doctrine” in the sense that other services do, but rather operates using a set of “tactical recommendations” that can vary based upon where you operate in the world. This works great for us, but I’d be interested to hear if the Army truly believes that its doctrine is effective. What does anyone else think?

    Comment by Justin Reddick | January 31, 2017

  2. There are absolutely doctrinal issues with current doctrine but the problem lies in the financial areas of the government. Each service ends up with technology that does not necessarily fulfill their needs due to forces beyond their control. Presidents, Congress, other factors that force technologies onto services that don’t necessarily want them. As an example the F-35 is touted as the “Joint Strike Fighter”. It is supposed to be a base a/c for the USAF, Navy and the Marines to use. However, the Navy wanted a 2 engine aircraft and the USAF wanted one. Since the USAF won out on that one the navy is forced to use a 1 engine aircraft. How do we think their doctrine must change to account for that?

    Concerning the writings of Douhet and Mitchell, the Japanese did surrender but that does not necessarily prove their writings alone. One could argue that a/c just so happen to be the vehicle that delivered the nuclear payload. Within the next few decades ICBMs could accomplish that same mission so the a/c itself was not as important. The airpower doctrine would need to be rewritten following WWII or it would not have become the decisive force that airpower is now.

    Comment by Jeffery Hoover | January 31, 2017

  3. The doctrine of Douhet and Mitchell was inevitably flawed. The basic flaw was that it advocated that a single service could be solely responsible for the surrender of an adversary in a three dimensional battlefield. The advent of nuclear may have presented an opportunity for this but that opportunity was extremely fleeting as it was inevitable that other nations would obtain similar weapons and hence the asymmetric advantage that the US had would cease to exist. In today’s COE it takes a joint force to conduct successful operations and really the same was true in WWII.

    As far as doctrine is concerned the Germans were able to devise a doctrine that emphasized defeating the French in western Europe and it was successful. However that same doctrine proved futile against the Soviet Union on eastern front. Getting doctrine right in peacetime in my opinion is predicated on having a clearly defined adversary on which one can focus. Today, the joint force is struggling with that right now. Who is the clearly defined threat? ISIS? Russia? China? North Korea? Each of those will require different doctrinal approaches, obviously to varying degrees. All of this is only compounded when you add fiscal constraints, lack of a coherent strategy, and American petulance for isolationism to the mix.

    Comment by A.J. Redden | February 1, 2017

  4. Blitzkrieg doctrine proved remarkably effective of the Germanys early winning, while it had been used for several times it lost it’s advantageous. From my perspective, there were several organizational characteristics that facilitated the accurate understanding of tactical ground warfare or prevent this understanding. The German’s CGSC helped them to develop their capability and got advantageous from the key technology during the Interwar period. On the other hand, the military culture in the US military was a big obstacle, that delayed them from developing their capability or using the advantageous of the technology, especially what happened with Generals Billy Mitchell. I believe that WWII proved that air power doctrine, as advocated by Generals Billy Mitchell and Douhet, was very effective. If we used their theories during their time it will be very successful because by that time there were no effective air defense capabilities. In addition, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were exactly what they were talking about of the strategic goal and terrifying the population. We can see how those bombs pushed Japan to surrender from WWII. I believe that writing doctrine in peacetime is very important and I disagree with the other who think the opposite. Writing doctrine in peacetime gives us the opportunity to prepare the forces for the coming war. I also think that the lessons of history are such that the conditions of the next war will be very similar to the last war. Getting doctrine right is more luck than genius. I also believe that there are many things in the past and current doctrine that shapes the army for the future operation. we can see if we look at what the Germans did in the period from the WWII to WWII, their tactical was the almost the same but they just were more successful. As a result, I believe that doctrine main source that prepares militaries around the world for the current and future operating environment. I think that there are some doctrinal issues which the US current military refuses to recognize, but not because they have invested too much in organization, training, and equipment to change the doctrine at this point. I only thing they refused to recognize because of some ethical consideration, or because these issues for them are very small and inactive issues. I also believe that try to fix it. The US doctrine always develops itself.

    Comment by mohamed ibrahim | February 13, 2017

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