Comments on Maneuver Warfare

by LtCol R. H. Voigt

I agree with your editorial comment on recent maneuver warfare articles in the Jan82 issue that many contain discussions that are “naive (and) divorced from the realities of the battlefield.” In support of this comment I would like to offer some brief observations on the most often mentioned maneuver warfare concepts.

The maneuver warfare battlefield is described as being fluid, turbulent, and rapidly changing. These adjectives are normally used to support the contention that by presenting a rapidly changing environment to the enemy we will severely, if not totally, upset his reaction capability. This premise fails to appreciate the fact that it will be at least as difficult for us to successfully control our forces in such an environment as it will be for the enemy to react to the fluid situation that confronts him.

Most discussions fail to give the professionals on the enemy side their due. it should not be assumed that enemy commanders will lose control of the situation and their forces disintegrate when faced with rapidly changing situations. I might suggest that our commanders will be as affected by rapidly changing situations as the enemy commander in spite of the fact that the fluid situation is self-imposed.

Many maneuver warfare discussions place the enemy force in some type of “linear” mode. In many cases, maneuver warfare concepts can only be validated against this mode. Enemy commanders are not idiots and it is highly unlikely that, given the appropriate maneuver terrain, they will employ their forces in anything resembling a “linear” formation.

I have a difficult time with the comment that our actions on the battlefield should be directed towards destroying the enemy’s mind not his body. I do not believe that the lessons of history will support this concept to any practical degree. Certainly, all U.S. attempts at this strategy have met with failure and at a minimum have prolonged the conflict and increased our casualties, perhaps unnecessarily. The lessons of Stalingrad, Tobruk, Dresden, Chosin, and Khe Sahn are clear. A professional and determined enemy will continue to fight in spite of being faced with a disastrous logistics or command and control situation.

There appears to be a gross overemphasis on misson-type orders. This emphasis is well-intentioned but fails to grasp the true confusion which will exist on any moderate (or greater) intensity battlefield. In most cases commanders on both sides will not be able to perceive the current or future tactical situation with any real degree of clarity. Certainly, tactical imagination will be required at all levels, but I do not believe that any relaxation of command and control will be appropriate. Without a “big picture” planning and control apparatus, subordinate units will attack low priority targets, will be easily misled by enemy deception tactics, will outrun logistics and supporting arms capabilities, and perhaps will not be available to the commander when a high priority objective presents itself. Voluminous written orders will not be appropriate in the next battle, but the requirement for direction and control measures will certainly increase.

The constant reference to our punching through the enemy’s organization at a weak point or gap is misleading. This comment again assumes a linear type enemy deployment which is unlikely. It is also contradicted, to some degree, by the assumption that the Marine Corps will face an enemy superior in numbers and materials.

An enemy force that possesses this superiority and a commander with some degree of competence will offer few, if any, weak points. He certainly will not expose his logistics and command and control apparatus to any appreciable degree. In addition, the idea of rebounding from a presumed weak point, which turns out to be not so weak, then pursuing another presumed enemy vulnerability, fails to appreciate the difficulty of breaking contact with strong, mobile enemy forces and the hazards of shifting units under fire.

Placing a great amount of trust and reliance on our subordinates is certainly an ideal worth pursuing. I would recommend, however, that all maneuver warfare authors consider the comments of LtCol Batcheller in the Jan82 GAZETTE. In addition, those authors whose FMF experience is limited might benefit from an onsite observation of a battalion or regimental combined arms exercise including our much vaunted combined arms exercises. A realistic appraisal of the tactical proficiency of the average small unit leader will show deficiencies in many basic areas of expertise much less the expertise required to command successfully in fast-moving, fluid situations. Let’s start dealing with reality and not with an ideal.

In conclusion, I feel that many maneuver warfare concepts are valid to some degree. We must, however, base our future discussions on this topic on reality-on the battle as it has proven to be and not on the battle as we would like it to be.