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.
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
* Why maneuver warfare better reflects the reality of combat than methodical
* 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
* Understanding that the principle of surfaces (strengths) and gaps
(weaknesses) is always relative and does not mean that you always have a
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
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, Ive 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
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, commanders 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. Bolgers 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,
its maneuver warfare; if it didnt, it isnt maneuver warfare.
In addition, Bolger contradicts himself by mocking Linds claim that
maneuver warfare is not new before adding that mission
tactics have typified the American military since 1775, an inconsistency
Bolger doesnt 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 Bolgers
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.
Bolgers 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, thats 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, its 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
Bolgers correct to point out that not every gap will be a
physical gap, but he doesnt seem to understand that surfaces and gaps are
relative. Thats 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 enemys ability to react. Its easy to set up straw men and knock
them down, but its 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
Hookers 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 isnt institutionalized, i.e., willingly accepted, clearly
understood, and executed by everyone on a day-to-day basis, it wont 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
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 doesnt have personal experience in every combat situation.
Successive wars tend to be different [p] rofessional warriors
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: Rommels 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 didnt utilize the term maneuver warfare doesnt
mean that some generals and armies didnt practice what we today call
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
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
[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. Grants Vicksburg
Campaign in 1863, and the Israelis Sinai Peninsula Campaign in the SixDay
War of I967.
An example of maneuver warfare that doesnt 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 Rommels 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. Wavells
campaign was so successful that Hitler had to bail out his Italian ally
Mussolini by sending Rommel and the Afrika Korps to the rescue.
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
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 enemys 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
Maneuver warfare is the official doctrine of our Corps, yet not well understood
by many. As someone who was a maneuverist when maneuver warfare wasnt
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.