Maneuver Warfare Handbook

reviewed by Maj F.G. Sanford, Jr.

MANEUVER WARFARE HANDBOOK. By William S. Lind. Weslview Press, Inc., Boulder, CO, 1985,133pp., soft cover, $16.50. (Member $14.85)

Mr. William S. Lind, a military affairs advisor to Senator Gary Hart and president of the Military Reform Institute, is a recognized, vocal, and prolific critic of the doctrine, force structure, and professional education methodologies of the uniformed Services. Although Lind’s targets for reform have included the Air Force, Army, and Navy, his most recent caustic salvo, a biting Washington Post article coauthored with Jeffery Record, ruthlessly attacked the U.S. Marine Corps. Indicting the Marines generally for professional negligence and operational ineptitude, Lind directed specific censure to an issue near and dear to his heart: the Corps’ failure to institutionally adopt his particular brand of maneuver warfare.

During the past six years, Lind, in concert with a host of other advocates, trumpeted maneuver warfare through a series of articles published in various professional military journals (primarily the GAZETTE) and defense reform anthologies. Although most Marines view Lind with mixed reservation, there is little disagreement with respect to the fundamental maneuverist contention that makes up the central theme of the Maneuver Warfare Handbook: winning in combat is the warrior’s paramount goal; concomitantly, hitting the enemy where he is weak is preferable to reliance on attrition slugfests, which are aesthetic anathema to the operational artist and dictate a no-win equation for the numerically inferior force.

Major Marine-oriented arguments generated by the maneuverist debate are concerned less with the indirect approach nature of the basic maneuver philosophy and more with confusion over terminology, doctrinal considerations, and the efficacy of the Marine Corps’ professional military education system. Accordingly, both Lind’s supporters and detractors waited anxiously for the publication of the Maneuver Warfare Handbook. They hoped that the author would definitively approach his subject, specifically address past criticisms, provide comprehensive scenarios, and tightly tie his maneuver warfare concept to large scale coordinated operations. Most will not be entirely satisfied with the results.

The Maneuver Warfare Handbook is divided into the primary presentation, an annotated bibliography, and an appendix of related lectures. The first section constitutes the author’s central argument and is little more than a compilation of previously published articles, The message remains unchanged. The term “maneuver” in maneuver warfare does not necessarily connote movement. Instead, Lind explains maneuver using the “Boyd cycle” theory of the observation, orientation, decision, action (OODA) loop. Each battlefield event involves a unique OODA cycle. The force that more quickly solves the loop, responds, and then initiates the next loop, consistently keeps its adversary off balance and eventually destroys the enemy’s cohesion and ability to fight. Maneuver warfare is characterized by fluidity, imaginative improvisation, and decentralization of control. It also involves an appreciation for the focus of effort (or Schwerpunkt), use of missiontype orders, and application of reconpull techniques. Lind rejects attrition warfare-the antithesis of maneuverwhich is characterized by set piece tactical formulas, inflexible checklists, the pitting of strength against strength, terrain objectives, and tight central control. Lind then amplifies his concept of maneuver warfare application with supporting chapters on techniques and operations, amphibious operations, and education. Again, the material is pulled substantially from previously published articles, often regurgitated verbatim.

The second section is a short annotated bibliography, provided ostensibly “to give students of maneuver warfare a basic reading list. . . . “The bibliography contains two dozen entries, most of which fall into the category of professional library standards, e.g., On War, Panzer Leader, Strategy, Attacks, and War as I Knew It, There is certainly something to be gained from continued study of the venerable masters; however, Lind provides no adequate explanation as to why his bibliographic recommendations are so skimpy.

The final section consists of a series of stimulating tactics lectures delivered to the Amphibious Warfare School (AWS) by Col Michael D. Wyly during the 81-82 academic year. Early in the book Lind acknowledges Wyly’s help in reviewing manuscript drafts; later in his introduction to the lectures, Lind praises Wyly’s educational capabilities in support of maneuver warfare. Lind notes that AWS no longer uses the lectures, and he chastizes both AWS and the Command and Staff College for resurrecting multiple choice tactical evaluation, obsession with formats, and teaching officers what to think rather than how to think. In comparison it is interesting to note that Wyly wrote a September 1985 GAZETTE article praising the quality of 1984-85 graduates. He cited substantial improvements in the AWS curriculum and rated the educational status quo as superior to its predecessor. I find this nonsequitur between author and advisor remarkable and indicative of Lind’s “don’t confuse me with facts” reaction to well armed skeptics.

The Maneuver Warfare Handbook is a polemic that abounds with examples of tunnel vision. In a june 1984 GAZETTE article Lind lashed out at AWS for administering a 1983 “final exam in tactics” that queried potential combat leaders on such innane issues as the type of stove to be used in the 10-man tent and the basic ski technique for down hill movement. Rebuttals in the September 1984 GAZETTE explained that there were no final tactical exams at AWS. Tactics evaluations were continuous and involved substantial subjective problem solving evolutions. Despite irrefutable evidence to the contrary, Lind repeated his educational denunciation one year later in his book.

In summary, the Maneuver Warfare Handbook is essentially a short, singlesource recapitulation of previously published material regarding Lind’s particular conceptualization of maneuver warfare as it applies to the Marine Corps. In that respect the Handbook performs a service, although at a considerable cost for a thin, paperback volume. The sketchy, unimaginative bibliography is of marginal value to the military professional. Col Wyly’s lectures, a substantial portion (albeit an appendix) of the book, are well done and worth reading. However, since these were once used at AWS, separate copies are probably available. The book is regrettably unindexed.

My principal criticism of the Maneuver Warfare Handbook is that Mr. Lind has refused to join the heated fray with his antagonists but has chosen instead the simpler, safer route of reorganizing and republishing existing material without conducting the exhaustive, critical research necessary to argue effectively his thesis on the battlefield of open debate-the inevitable reform initiative success discriminator.