Fundamentals of Maneuver Warfare

Operational Handbook (OH) 6-1, Ground Combat Operations, which was published at Quantico last month, discusses the fundamentals of maneuver warfare in terms that closely parallel Capt Moore’s thoughts. The following has been extracted from Section 1303 of the new OH:

Focus on the enemy; not on terrain objectives.

Act more quickly than the enemy can react. Maneuver warfare is as much a mental approach to warfare as it is a physical one. The essence of maneuver warfare is to make and implement operational and tactical decisions more quickly than the enemy. However, this does not mean making rash decisions and executing incomplete plans. The commander who generates a faster operational tempo gains a significant advantage. He seizes the initiative and dictates the course of battle until the enemy is overcome by events and his cohesion and ability to influence the situation are destroyed. Gen AA Vandegrift wrote: “Positions are seldom lost because they have been destroyed, but almost invariably because the leader has decided in his own mind that the position cannot be held.” In order to facilitate the necessary operational tempo, the commander should decentralize tactical decisionmaking, make effective use of mission-type orders, and make his intent clearly understood.

Support maneuver by fire. Firepower supports maneuver by suppressing and disrupting enemy forces, or physically destroying the remnants of enemy units whose cohesion has been destroyed.

Issue mission-type orders. Mission-type orders specify what must be done without prescribing how it must be done. In order to effectively issue mission-type orders, the commander must ensure that his intent is clearly understood so that subordinates can exercise initiative and still serve the ultimate mission. The high degree of initiative afforded subordinate commanders and the decentralization of decision-making authority provide for the rapid operational tempo essential to success. At the same time, certain combat functions, such as the coordination of fire support with maneuver, require explicit instructions. As a rule, orders should contain only the degree of detail needed to ensure necessary coordination.

Avoid enemy strength and attack enemy weakness. The commander bypasses located enemy strength-sometimes described as surfaces-and exploits enemy weaknesses-also known as gaps-attacking aggressively at key locations where he can achieve local superiority. He seeks to attack at an unexpected time and place and from an unexpected direction. Enemy weaknesses may take the form of physical gaps between enemy units or may take the form of inferior mobility or firepower, inefficient command and control, lack of initiative or flexibility on the part of commanders, poor night-fighting capability, discernible tactical patterns, or any identified characteristic that can be tactically exploited. Attacks follow the course of least resistance into the enemy flanks and rear.

Exploit tactical opportunities developed or located by subordinate units. This technique, sometimes known as “reconnaissance pull,” is the means by which the commander attacks enemy weakness. In this manner, the course of battle is shaped by subordinate units. Higher commanders must maintain the flexibility and agility to react quickly and decisively to fleeting opportunities created by his subordinates. Operations should be fluid and continuous, each operation based on a previous success. Exploitation should be immediate and relentless, offering the enemy no respite until his total collapse is achieved.

Always designate a main effort. The main effort is the most important task to be accomplished, that task on which the overall success of the operation depends at that instant. The commander assigns the main effort to a subordinate unit, which he provides with the necessary combat power and support. Through the main effort, the commander provides focus to the decentralized efforts of his command. All elements of the command must understand and support the main effort. The decisions of where to locate his main effort and when and where to shift it are among the most important and most difficult decisions a commander must make in combat.

Avoid set rules and patterns. The enemy must not be allowed to anticipate tactical events or he will seize the initiative. Each combat situation is based on different circumstances and requires a unique approach. Leaders must take an imaginative, practical approach to solving tactical problems. They must not fight according to checklists.

Act boldly and decisively. Commanders at all levels must be able to deal with uncertainty and must act with audacity, initiative, and inventiveness within their commander’s intent to seize fleeting opportunities. When fighting a numerically superior enemy the commander must be willing to take prudent risks, especially when there is the opportunity for a significant gain.

Command from the front. The commander must be located well forward in order to make effective and timely decisions based on first-hand knowledge of the situation. The commander must not be confined to his command post; rather, he should locate himself where his presence has the greatest influence on the battle.

Because OH 6-1 represents a major shift in emphasis and approach to warfare, the Gazette plans to publish one or more detailed reviews of its content in a future issue.