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excella.com | @Honer_CUT
Exploring the Options:
U.S. Navy Tactical Doctrine
1913-1923
Trent Hone
Society of Military History Annual Meeting
2018
excella.com | @Honer_CUT
U.S. Navy Fleet Problems (1923-1940)
excella.com | @Honer_CUT
Fleet Problems Built on Nascent Doctrine
What is Doctrine?
• It is the set of implicit and explicit assumptions that govern the
behavior of a military force
• It guides decisions in the absence of precise instructions
• It must strike a balance:
• Avoid rigid instructions that inhibit individual initiative
• While fostering coordination and aligned decision-making
excella.com | @Honer_CUT
Analysis at the Naval War College
Henry C. Taylor (President 1893-1896) – Introduced competitive war games
excella.com | @Honer_CUT
Conference Method
• Evaluate potential solutions
• Share information
• Collectively make sense of
complex situations
Flat, collaborative, team-based
excella.com | @Honer_CUT
Estimate of the Situation
• Deliberate, logical steps
• Walked officers through problem-solving
• Intended to create flexible plans and
orders
• Express “Commander’s Intent” & tell
subordinates what not how
• Today called “Mission Command”
excella.com | @Honer_CUT
The Atlantic Fleet – April 1907
excella.com | @Honer_CUT
Rear Adm. Charles J. Bader
• 1913 “Rules for Battle
Maneuvers”
• New Paradigm:
• Game board = theory
• Exercises = practice
• Contested Maneuvers
using Umpires
excella.com | @Honer_CUT
Atlantic Fleet Torpedo Flotilla
excella.com | @Honer_CUT
July 1913 – Sims and Staff
William S. Sims
Commander
William V. Pratt
Chief of Staff
Dudley W. Knox
Sims’s Aide
John V. Babcock
Operations Officer
excella.com | @Honer_CUT
King Backfills Knox
William S. Sims
Commander
William V. Pratt
Chief of Staff
Ernest J. King
Sims’s Aide
John V. Babcock
Operations Officer
excella.com | @Honer_CUT
Torpedo Flotilla Doctrine
Deliberately collaborative
• Conference method
• Estimate of the Situation
• War games on Dixie and
Birmingham
“General Service
Instructions” issued 1915
excella.com | @Honer_CUT
May 1916 – Fletcher’s Instructions
• Emphasized concentrated firepower
• Not just battleships
• All arms of the fleet
• Hallmark of USN major action plans through World War II
• Introduced more flexible approach to command
• High level plan to guide subordinates
• Communicate intent and foster initiative
• Dovetailed perfectly with the work of the Torpedo
Flotilla
excella.com | @Honer_CUT
Doctrine at the Naval War College
Lt. Cdr. Harry E. Yarnell, 1915:
“A doctrine is simply a code of rules upon which we
act spontaneously and without order, for the
accomplishment of the mission. To be of value the
doctrine must be based on correct principles and
methods of conducting war. Then it must be instilled
by study and actual fleet training into the minds of
officers until it becomes almost a reflex action.”
excella.com | @Honer_CUT
Wartime Experience – Sims
• President of Naval War College,
January 1917
• Ordered to London, March 1917
• Commander, US Naval Forces
in Europe
• Doctrine for European Waters:
• Mission and General Plan
• Individual Initiative
excella.com | @Honer_CUT
Analysis of Jutland – September 1916
• Battle fought in May 1916
• War game at the Naval War College
• Capt. Albert P. Niblack
• Lt. Cdr. Harry E. Yarnell
• Lt. Holloway H. Frost
• Sims & Knox join them
What influence did the Grand Fleet Battle
Orders (GFBOs) have on the outcome?
excella.com | @Honer_CUT
Postwar – Deliberate Creation of Doctrine
• Rear Adm. Charles Plunkett
• Graduate of Naval War College, familiar with
its methods
• Commander, Destroyers Atlantic Fleet, 1919
• Emphasized tactical experimentation and
learning
excella.com | @Honer_CUT
Atlantic Fleet “School of Doctrine”
• Created by Plunkett
• Assisted by chief of staff, Capt.
Harris Laning and Captain Yarnell
• Integrated lessons from war, fleet
exercises, and tactical analysis
• Regularly corresponded with Sims,
once again President, Naval War
College
excella.com | @Honer_CUT
Pacific Fleet “Destroyer Staff College”
• Established by Captain Pratt
• Commander, Destroyers,
Pacific Fleet, 1920
• Experimentation and
indoctrination
• Exchanged lessons with Naval
War College and Atlantic Fleet
excella.com | @Honer_CUT
Milestone – First USN Doctrinal Manuals
1921 – Atlantic Fleet “Destroyer Instructions”
1923 – U.S. Navy “War Instructions”
• Balanced need to provide guidance and direction while maintaining
freedom of action for subordinates
• Not a fleet-wide doctrine: relied on individual commands to develop
specific approaches for their own forces
• This approach was criticized by Dudley W. Knox
• Deliberate choice to avoid ”limited scope” afforded by GFBOs
excella.com | @Honer_CUT
Conclusion
• Between 1913 and 1923, U.S. Navy introduced a new, more
flexible paradigm for commanding forces in battle, based on:
• Flexible battle plans that outlined the mission
• Tactical doctrines that enabled coordinated action without the need for
detailed instructions.
• U.S. Navy doctrine created alignment while simultaneously
fostering creativity and individual initiative among subordinates
• It arose from a learning system deliberately created in the Atlantic
and Pacific Fleets after the war that presaged the Fleet Problems
• Emphasized doctrinal development from the ”bottom-up”

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Exploring the Options: U.S. Navy Tactical Doctrine 1913-1923

  • 1. excella.com | @Honer_CUT Exploring the Options: U.S. Navy Tactical Doctrine 1913-1923 Trent Hone Society of Military History Annual Meeting 2018
  • 2. excella.com | @Honer_CUT U.S. Navy Fleet Problems (1923-1940)
  • 3. excella.com | @Honer_CUT Fleet Problems Built on Nascent Doctrine What is Doctrine? • It is the set of implicit and explicit assumptions that govern the behavior of a military force • It guides decisions in the absence of precise instructions • It must strike a balance: • Avoid rigid instructions that inhibit individual initiative • While fostering coordination and aligned decision-making
  • 4. excella.com | @Honer_CUT Analysis at the Naval War College Henry C. Taylor (President 1893-1896) – Introduced competitive war games
  • 5. excella.com | @Honer_CUT Conference Method • Evaluate potential solutions • Share information • Collectively make sense of complex situations Flat, collaborative, team-based
  • 6. excella.com | @Honer_CUT Estimate of the Situation • Deliberate, logical steps • Walked officers through problem-solving • Intended to create flexible plans and orders • Express “Commander’s Intent” & tell subordinates what not how • Today called “Mission Command”
  • 7. excella.com | @Honer_CUT The Atlantic Fleet – April 1907
  • 8. excella.com | @Honer_CUT Rear Adm. Charles J. Bader • 1913 “Rules for Battle Maneuvers” • New Paradigm: • Game board = theory • Exercises = practice • Contested Maneuvers using Umpires
  • 9. excella.com | @Honer_CUT Atlantic Fleet Torpedo Flotilla
  • 10. excella.com | @Honer_CUT July 1913 – Sims and Staff William S. Sims Commander William V. Pratt Chief of Staff Dudley W. Knox Sims’s Aide John V. Babcock Operations Officer
  • 11. excella.com | @Honer_CUT King Backfills Knox William S. Sims Commander William V. Pratt Chief of Staff Ernest J. King Sims’s Aide John V. Babcock Operations Officer
  • 12. excella.com | @Honer_CUT Torpedo Flotilla Doctrine Deliberately collaborative • Conference method • Estimate of the Situation • War games on Dixie and Birmingham “General Service Instructions” issued 1915
  • 13. excella.com | @Honer_CUT May 1916 – Fletcher’s Instructions • Emphasized concentrated firepower • Not just battleships • All arms of the fleet • Hallmark of USN major action plans through World War II • Introduced more flexible approach to command • High level plan to guide subordinates • Communicate intent and foster initiative • Dovetailed perfectly with the work of the Torpedo Flotilla
  • 14. excella.com | @Honer_CUT Doctrine at the Naval War College Lt. Cdr. Harry E. Yarnell, 1915: “A doctrine is simply a code of rules upon which we act spontaneously and without order, for the accomplishment of the mission. To be of value the doctrine must be based on correct principles and methods of conducting war. Then it must be instilled by study and actual fleet training into the minds of officers until it becomes almost a reflex action.”
  • 15. excella.com | @Honer_CUT Wartime Experience – Sims • President of Naval War College, January 1917 • Ordered to London, March 1917 • Commander, US Naval Forces in Europe • Doctrine for European Waters: • Mission and General Plan • Individual Initiative
  • 16. excella.com | @Honer_CUT Analysis of Jutland – September 1916 • Battle fought in May 1916 • War game at the Naval War College • Capt. Albert P. Niblack • Lt. Cdr. Harry E. Yarnell • Lt. Holloway H. Frost • Sims & Knox join them What influence did the Grand Fleet Battle Orders (GFBOs) have on the outcome?
  • 17. excella.com | @Honer_CUT Postwar – Deliberate Creation of Doctrine • Rear Adm. Charles Plunkett • Graduate of Naval War College, familiar with its methods • Commander, Destroyers Atlantic Fleet, 1919 • Emphasized tactical experimentation and learning
  • 18. excella.com | @Honer_CUT Atlantic Fleet “School of Doctrine” • Created by Plunkett • Assisted by chief of staff, Capt. Harris Laning and Captain Yarnell • Integrated lessons from war, fleet exercises, and tactical analysis • Regularly corresponded with Sims, once again President, Naval War College
  • 19. excella.com | @Honer_CUT Pacific Fleet “Destroyer Staff College” • Established by Captain Pratt • Commander, Destroyers, Pacific Fleet, 1920 • Experimentation and indoctrination • Exchanged lessons with Naval War College and Atlantic Fleet
  • 20. excella.com | @Honer_CUT Milestone – First USN Doctrinal Manuals 1921 – Atlantic Fleet “Destroyer Instructions” 1923 – U.S. Navy “War Instructions” • Balanced need to provide guidance and direction while maintaining freedom of action for subordinates • Not a fleet-wide doctrine: relied on individual commands to develop specific approaches for their own forces • This approach was criticized by Dudley W. Knox • Deliberate choice to avoid ”limited scope” afforded by GFBOs
  • 21. excella.com | @Honer_CUT Conclusion • Between 1913 and 1923, U.S. Navy introduced a new, more flexible paradigm for commanding forces in battle, based on: • Flexible battle plans that outlined the mission • Tactical doctrines that enabled coordinated action without the need for detailed instructions. • U.S. Navy doctrine created alignment while simultaneously fostering creativity and individual initiative among subordinates • It arose from a learning system deliberately created in the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets after the war that presaged the Fleet Problems • Emphasized doctrinal development from the ”bottom-up”