Maneuver Warfare: An Anthology

reviewed by Maj Skip Crawley, USMCR(Ret)

MANUEVER WARFARE: An Anthology. Edited by Richard D. Hooker. New York, NY: Press, 1933. ISBN: 978-0891415183,409 pp.

In the 1980s, there was vigorous debate within the Marine Corps on whether we should adopt maneuver warfare as our official tactical doctrine. The debate was settled by the 29th Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen Alfred M. Gray, with the publication of MCDP 1, Warfighting, in 1989.1 Twenty-eight years later, however, there is discussion within the Marine Corps on whether we “practice what we preach” in exercises and combat in addition to what exactly constitutes maneuver warfare.

Maneuver Warfare: An Anthology is a compilation of 21 essays by different authors published in 1993 that “seeks to clarify and refine the maneuver warfare debate.” While the debate in the Marine Corps is over, the discussion is not. Despite maneuver warfare being the official doctrine of the Marine Corps for 28 years and being taught in the schoolhouse, there is still a lack of understanding as to what is, and is not, maneuver warfare.

Featured on the Commandants Professional Reading List, Maneuver Warfare: An Anthology discusses issues that are as relevant today as they were 24 years ago when the book was published. The book discusses numerous maneuver warfare issues, including many that are not well understood:

* Why the military thrives on order, and therefore is pre-disposed against maneuver warfare.

* Why maneuver warfare better reflects the reality of combat than methodical battle.

* How can proponents of maneuver warfare claim the Wehrmacht (and other armies) practiced maneuver warfare when the Germans never used the term.

* Contrary to what critics’ claim, proponents of maneuver warfare do not claim it is a “bloodless” and casualty-free way of winning battles.

* That maneuver warfare is not limited to mechanized/armored warfare and is applicable to many other environments such as mountain warfare and arctic warfare.

* Understanding that the principle of surfaces (strengths) and gaps (weaknesses) is always relative and does not mean that you always have a physical gap.

The editor of Maneuver Warfare: An Anthology, Richard D. Hooker, Jr., has divided the book into three sections, each dealing with a different facet of maneuver warfare: “The Theory of Maneuver Warfare” (nine essays), “Institutionalizing Maneuver Warfare” (four essays), and “The Historical Basis of Maneuver Warfare” (eight essays).

This book review will be somewhat different than a typical book review. Instead of reviewing Maneuver Warfare: An Anthology in its entirety, I’ve chosen 8 of the 21 essays to discuss; essays that I feel best represent the issues that are most relevant today in the Marine Corps’ ongoing discussion of maneuver warfare.

Part I: The Theory of Maneuver Warfare

“The Theory and Practice of Maneuver Warfare” by William S. Lind2 is an outstandingly appropriate lead essay. Lind explains the basic concepts of maneuver warfare: “main effort,” “commander’s intent,” “surfaces and gaps,” “recon pull,” etc., but much more importantly, Lind explains why military institutions generally have a viscerally negative reaction to adopting maneuver warfare as their tactical doctrine: the military, above all, desires order.

Why the obsession with order? The military legitimately requires order in the sense of the foundational basics, such as discipline, teamwork, etc., but the military goes beyond the legitimate need for order and tries (oftentimes unsuccessfully) to impose order on the inherently chaotic battlefield.

Lind explains that the challenge is to “move the military culture from being a culture of order, attempting to impose order on the inherent disorder of war, to a culture that can adopt to, use, and generate disorder.” Maneuver warfare can be thought of as an intellectual construct that recognizes the reality that war is inherently chaotic and disorderly, accepts that reality, and takes advantage of it. Or, as Lind says, “driving change instead of being driven by it.”

The next essay is “Maneuver Warfare Reconsidered” by Daniel P. Bolger. Bolger is a retired Army lieutenant general who has written several excellent books, including his experiences leading units at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, and the Joint Readiness Training Center, Fort Polk. Bolger’s essay, however, is an over-the-top negative critique of maneuver warfare. Bolger claims that maneuverists define maneuver warfare as “anything that works,” i.e., if something worked in the past, it’s maneuver warfare; if it didn’t, it isn’t maneuver warfare. In addition, Bolger contradicts himself by mocking Lind’s claim that “maneuver warfare is not new” before adding that “mission tactics have typified the American military since 1775,” an inconsistency Bolger doesn’t bother to explain.

So, does this essay have any value?3 Yes. Like sifting through a lot of dirt to get to the few gold nuggets at the bottom of the pan, reading Bolger’s essay requires looking beyond his lack of understanding of maneuver warfare and looking at some of the more subtle points. For example, Bolger claims that “at the lowest levels, there are really no flank attacks.” Bolger’s view reminds me of a discussion I had with the OIC of Infantry Officer Course when I was a student. The OIC mocked maneuver warfare, saying that no matter what you do, someone eventually ends up conducting a frontal attack. Yes, that’s generally true, but as I tried to explain to the major, you maneuver your force in such a way as to make sure that “frontal attack” is conducted in the most advantageous way possible. As I explained, it’s better to have a rifle company attack the enemy squad providing flank protection for the rest of the dug-in enemy company instead of attacking frontally, company to company.4

Bolger’s correct to point out that not every “gap” will be a physical gap, but he doesn’t seem to understand that surfaces and gaps are relative. That’s part of the very essence of maneuver warfare. Most maneuver warfare principles are relative. The tempo of an infantry battalion conducting a dismounted attack will probably be slower than the tempo of an AAVmounted infantry battalion. The crucial issue is not how fast each battalion is physically moving. The crucial issue is the tempo of each attack relative to the enemy’s ability to react.

It’s easy to set up straw men and knock them down, but it’s another thing to discuss maneuver warfare in such a way as to advance the course of the discussion. Unfortunately, Bolger does the former, not the latter.

The editor of this book writes “Ten Myths About Maneuver Warfare,” an excellent, point-by-point response to the many critics and criticisms of maneuver warfare. Hooker acknowledges that the criticisms of opponents of maneuver warfare “are real and deserve a substantive response.” However, he also points out that “[m] uch of the criticism of maneuver warfare is not based upon a careful reading and analysis of maneuver warfare as a body of thought or set of concepts. In the past … a number of conclusions were drawn which are now commonly accepted as fact.” Hooker does an admirable job of exploding the many myths that opponents of maneuver warfare espouse.

One myth Hooker discusses and quashes is: “Maneuver warfare promises bloodless war.” As Hooker explains, even some of the best examples of maneuver warfare, such as the “1866 Prussian-Austrian War, the 1940 invasion of France, and the 1967 Six-Day War … were not bloodless.”

Hooker’s point is that, much like the concept of surfaces and gaps being relative, not absolute, properly executed maneuver warfare has great potential to ensure that casualties will be relatively less, not non-existent.

Institutionalizing Maneuver warfare

Even if maneuver warfare is officially adopted as the doctrine of the Service, if it isn’t institutionalized, i.e., willingly accepted, clearly understood, and executed by everyone on a day-to-day basis, it won’t do the Service much good. As Hooker explains, “For maneuver warfare to realize its potential, it must become part of the institutional and organizational culture of the U.S. military, and not a rival cultural imposed by force from outside.”

One of the essays in this section of the book is “Teaching Maneuver Warfare” by Col Michael D. Wyly, USMC(Ret) co-author of the Maneuver Warfare Handbook and one of the people most responsible for the eventual adoption of maneuver warfare as the tactical doctrine of the Marine Corps. Col Wyly makes several superb points that are just as applicable today as when he made them in 1993 (and earlier in other venues).

Wyly explains there is a difference between being “taught a decisionmaking process” and teaching “students to think, to exercise judgment” and equipping “students to make decisions.” Why is decision making so important in maneuver warfare? As Wyly explains, “it is decision-making ability that, in maneuver warfare, determines whether or not the unit is successful.”

Another key point Col Wyly makes is the purpose of studying history. The purpose of studying history is not to memorize dates and the names of battles and generals, but for a student to gain “a look at human behavior in combat, an understanding of the many variables involved, an appreciation of which variables weigh more under different circumstances, and some additions to his ‘bag of tricks’ for application in real war.” Or, as Wyly puts it more succinctly, “teaching maneuver warfare is teaching people to think.”

In addition, Col Wyly explains the importance of combat veterans studying military history, or as he prefers to call it, “combat history.” Why? Because no matter how much combat experience someone has, he doesn’t have personal experience in every combat situation. “Successive wars tend to be different [p] rofessional warriors … must be able to respond to war situations that are completely new.” Or, as Col Wyly wisely explains, students who study combat history are “studying human behavior, which is the essence of the determinant in battle.”

The Historical Basis of Maneuver Warfare

The third and last section of Maneuver Warfare: An Anthology consists of eight case studies of maneuver warfare. Personally, I think my fellow maneuverists in the 1980s made a big mistake by focusing too much on World War II panzer battles as their historical examples of maneuver warfare. This inadvertently gave people the impression that maneuver warfare was essentially synonymous with armored/mechanized warfare. The eight essays in this section do a commendable job of showing other examples of maneuver warfare besides the armored/mechanized campaigns of World War II (though they are also well represented). In this section, the authors discuss maneuver warfare operations conducted in mountainous terrain: Rommel’s experience in the mountains on the Italian Front during World War I, the German 1941 Balkans Campaign, and the 1940 Norwegian Campaign. But the most important thing this historical section does is demonstrate that maneuver warfare is not a new concept. The fact that a general or an army didn’t utilize the term maneuver warfare doesn’t mean that some generals and armies didn’t practice what we today call maneuver warfare.

In “Maneuver Warfare: The German Tradition,” Bruce I. Gudmundsson, author of the outstanding work Stormtroop Tactics: Innovation in the Germany Army, 1914-1918 and coauthor of On Infantry (revised edition), explains:

To modern American maneuverists, the fact that the German army had no word for ‘maneuver warfare‘ presents a number of problems … [this] leads to the superficial but powerful argument that, since the Germans had no word for maneuver warfare, they did not practice it.

The issue is not whether an army used the term maneuver warfare-the term came into vogue post-Vietnam-but whether they had a way of thinking and fighting by maneuver warfare principles. As Gudmundsson points out, during the Austro-Prussian and Franco-Prussian Wars, Moltke

wrote orders … painting a broad picture of what he desired to accomplish” (mission orders), and there was “stress on rapid decision making … [the officer] was expected to observe, orient, decide, and act more quickly than his opponent [OODA Loop].

In World War II, “Tanks, trucks, and ground attack aircraft allowed the Germans to exploit rapidly, at the operational level, gains made at the tactical level in ways that would not have been possible in World War I” (focus of effort and tempo).

Bottom line: the Prussian/ German Army fought according to the principles of maneuver warfare, though they never used the term. This is also true of other historical generals and battles, such as Gen Robert E. Lee at Chancellorsville in 1863, MG Ulysses S. Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign in 1863, and the Israeli’s Sinai Peninsula Campaign in the SixDay War of I967.

An example of maneuver warfare that doesn’t reference any armored/ mechanized combat is in “Maneuver Warfare in the Light Infantry: The Rommel Model” by David A. Grossman. On the Italian Front in 1917, then-Oberleutnant Erwin Rommel, “in command of a three-company mountain infantry detachment” negotiated “elevation differences of eight thousand feet uphill and three thousand feet downhill,” capturing “150 officers, 9000 men, and 81 guns” and suffering “only 6 dead and 30 wounded.” In addition, “the orders of the day of the German Alpine Corps5 stated that the capture of key terrain by Rommel’s unit ’caused the collapse of the whole of hostile resistance … [and] initiated the irresistible pursuit on a large scale.'” An excellent example of maneuver warfare, and not a Panzer or Stuka in sight.

I will briefly mention one last essay in the historical section. “Maneuver Warfare in the Western Desert: Wavell and the 1st Libyan Offensive, 1940-1941″ by Harold E. Raugh, Jr. Mention the North African desert and immediately people think of Rommel, but the initial example of maneuver warfare in the North African desert was conducted by the Western Desert Force (later redesignated British 8th Army) over two months, 7 December 1940 to 7 February 1941. Commanded by Gen Archibald P. Wavell, Operation COMPASS advanced over 500 miles. It totally destroyed the Italian 10th Army of 9 Vt divisions and captured some 130,000 prisoners, 400 tanks, and 1,290 guns, at a cost of only 500 British and Dominion soldiers killed, 1,373 wounded, and 55 missing. Throughout COMPASS, the British never employed a force of more than two divisions or about 31,000 men.

As Raugh points out, “Wavell regularly issued, based upon his intent, mission-type orders to his subordinates. There was mutual trust and respect throughout the chain of command.” Wavell encouraged his subordinates “to use their own good judgment, intelligence, and initiative in the process. Innovation and flexibility were encouraged at the lowest level.” In other words, Wavell utilized maneuver warfare principles to gain a very lop-sided and decisive victory.

Wavell’s campaign was so successful that Hitler had to bail out his Italian ally Mussolini by sending Rommel and the Afrika Korps to the rescue.

Conclusion

BG Huba Wass de Czege (USA, Ret), former Director of the School of Advanced Military Studies, has the last word from Maneuver Warfare: An Anthology:

People who read maneuver warfare advocates as advocating ‘dancing around the enemy’ or ‘bloodless war’ have misread them. Maneuver warfare advocates do say, and I most whole heartedly agree, that defeat mechanisms are not limited to physically killing people and breaking things. The will to fight is at the hub of all defeat mechanisms.

In many instances … the only effective way to get at the will is to kill and break in a sustained, pitched fight; to win by direct application of superior force… [however] [o] ne should always look for a way to break the enemy’s will and capacity to resist in other ways …

Contrary to what many believe, maneuver warfare is not a new concept; on the contrary, there are many examples throughout military history. Nor is it a panacea promising bloodless combat and nocost victories. Maneuver warfare is an “analytical framework that provides a guide to action.” Maneuver warfare is the best construct to deal with the uncertainty and chaos of combat. Maneuver warfare is the best doctrine to deal with the way combat really is (chaotic), not with the way most people would prefer it (orderly). You cannot always avoid a frontal attack (Tarawa, Iwo Jima). Sometimes, your only option is a “pitched fight.” But, as BG Wass de Czege says above, you should always try to conduct maneuver warfare whenever you can (which is most of the time).

Maneuver warfare is the official doctrine of our Corps, yet not well understood by many. As someone who was a maneuverist when maneuver warfare wasn’t “cool,” I can say without hesitation that there is a great deal to learn from Maneuver Warfare: An Anthology. Reading and thinking about the issues raised in this compilation of essays is profitable for any Marine officer who desires to gain a greater understanding of maneuver warfare. I highly recommend that any officer who has yet to read Maneuver Warfare: An Anthology read it to better understand our tactical doctrine.

Notes

1. Originally called Fleet Marine Force Manual 1.

2. Lind is the author of the seminal Maneuver Warfare Handbook and one of the key people in getting maneuver warfare adopted as the official tactical doctrine of the Marine Corps.

3. Besides having a good laugh at Bolger’s ineffective attempt to mock maneuver warfare.

4. The OIC of IOC emphasized his argument by jumping up, turning 90 degrees in the air, and landing on the deck with a loud thump. Perhaps my argument lost something by not jumping up and down at 90-degree angles as the major did!

5. The three-company detachment Rommel commanded was part of the W├╝rttemberg Mountain Battalion, part of the Alpine Corps.