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

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Paper given at the Society of Military History's 2018 Annual Meeting

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

  1. 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. 2. excella.com | @Honer_CUT U.S. Navy Fleet Problems (1923-1940)
  3. 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. 4. excella.com | @Honer_CUT Analysis at the Naval War College Henry C. Taylor (President 1893-1896) – Introduced competitive war games
  5. 5. excella.com | @Honer_CUT Conference Method • Evaluate potential solutions • Share information • Collectively make sense of complex situations Flat, collaborative, team-based
  6. 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. 7. excella.com | @Honer_CUT The Atlantic Fleet – April 1907
  8. 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. 9. excella.com | @Honer_CUT Atlantic Fleet Torpedo Flotilla
  10. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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”

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