Landing doctrine training diagram

U.S. Navy. Via

Doctrine is the set of guiding principles that military officers are expected to use in combat situations. It is a vital element of combat effectiveness, since it provides a quick guide to decision making during the stress and fog of combat. It also allows commanders of neighboring units to coordinate their activities with a minimum of communications, since both officers know what general course of action the other will take in a given situation. Doctrine must strike a balance between being rigid enough to allow such coordination and rapid decision making and being flexible enough to allow officers to exercise initiative in fluid situations.

The Germans were the acknowledged experts in doctrine during the Second World War. German officers were expected to carry out missions prescribed by doctrine, but to use their own initiative in determining how to carry out the mission (Auftragstaktik). The Japanese Army, by contrast, were so rigid in their doctrine (as a way to enforce iron discipline) that they often displayed a dangerous inflexibility. This was illustrated at Hong Kong, where a battalion commander was ordered to pull his unit back from a captured strongpoint because he had crossed unit boundaries in his assault, and in Burma, where a commander intent on turning the nonexistent British flank according to the book failed to block the British escape from Rangoon. German doctrine was sufficiently uniform that the Germans could throw together a Kampfgruppe from units that had never fought or trained together before and still be effective, whereas the British had no common doctrine above the regimental level and often had considerable difficulty coordinating operations between units that had not spent considerable time together.

The United States Army tried to develop a simple doctrine built around a single maneuver, the hook, that could be quickly taught to inexperienced officers and applied at any echelon of the Army. This doctrine took advantage of the triangular structure of American formations, in which each combat unit was composed of three smaller units plus supporting elements. Thus, a division had three infantry regiments, an infantry regiment had three infantry battalions, and so on down to squad level. To carry out a hook, two of the three subunits making up an attacking unit would pin down the enemy while the third subunit attempted to maneuver around his flank. Mobility and use of firepower were heavily emphasized. Admirers of the U.S. Army have claimed that innovation was one of its strengths, but innovation in violation of doctrine also meant that it was that much harder for U.S. Army officers to coordinate with neighboring units or even with their own subordinate units.

The U.S. Marine Corps disagreed with the Army over tactics. The Army advocated a deliberate approach to attack, which was time-consuming but was thought to minimize casualties and better protect lines of communications. The Marines preferred shock tactics, with a strong emphasis on maintaining the momentum of the attack, leaving enemy strongpoints to be bypassed and reduced later. It was acknowledged that the Marine approach meant a higher casualty rate, but it was thought it would hasten victory and thus reduce the total casualty count. The Marine approach seemed to make sense for the kinds of short, sharp island campaigns envisioned by Marine planners, but it failed at Peleliu. Rupertus' prediction of a tough but quick battle proved completely wrong, and his insistence that his Marines keep pressing forward to maintain momentum wrecked the better part of his division. Rupertus' chief of staff, Oliver Smith, and the commander of 5 Marine Regiment, Bucky Harris, seemed to understand this, and Harris adopted a more methodical approach to reducing the Umerbrogal Ridge. He brought in tankdozers, flamethrower LVTs, and tanks and artillery to fire directly into cave mouths to pave the way for the infantry, and, in three days' fighting, his regiment took strategic high ground that the other regiments had failed to take in three weeks. Even with these successes, Harris had to resist continued pressure from Rupertus to hurry up his advance.

British doctrine was hindered by the Cardwell system of regimental districts, in which each district was originally expected to maintain one battalion overseas, one battalion at home, and a third battalion consisting of the local militia. Thus the regiment became the principle training organization and repository of tradition, whose function it was to supply fresh battalions to brigades as needed. Battalions were recruited on a regional basis by their regiment, which favored unit cohesion. However, this produced what Murray (in Murray and Millett 1996) has described as a "muddy boots" mentality which discouraged intellectual effort and a good grasp of operations beyond the battalion level.

The Japanese Army's 1937 infantry manual Hohei sõten), its 1929 field manual, Principles of Operations (Sentõ kõryõ), and its 1928 doctrinal bible, Principles of Command (Tõsui kõryõ), all emphasized spiritual power and the other intangibles of combat and the use of the bayonet. Artillery was to be kept light and mobile to keep pace with fast-moving infantry. Encirclement and night attacks were favored and retreat was unthinkable. The goal was to wage a decisive battle (kaisen) early in the campaign, and defensive tactics were almost entirely neglected. Concentration of men and firepower at the decisive point was emphasized over individual initiative. A reluctance to surrender probably accounted for Japan's failure to ratify the 1929 Geneva Convention on prisoners of war. Commanders were to indoctrinate their troops with a "belief in certain victory," a phrase first appearing in the 1929 manual that was echoed repeatedly during the war, even when victory was clearly unattainable. By the late 1930s, fighting to the death (which had not particularly been a feature of earlier Japanese conflicts) had become part of the Army's ethos, and was formally institutionalized in 1941. Allied intelligence had concluded by 1944 that the Japanese emphasis on attack was so great that the Japanese tended to be negligent securing their flanks and rear. Ironically, this was the  criticism leveled by the U.S. Army against the U.S. Marine Corps.

However, Japanese doctrine underwent a significant shift in August 1944 with the release of a new tactical manual, "Essentials of Island Defenses", which emphasized mobile defense anchored at strong points and local counterattacks. This new doctrine, which was first used on Iwo Jima, was described as shūgettsu ("bleeding strategy"). It acknowledged no hope of repelling the invaders and sought instead to inflict such casualties on the Americans that they would hesitate to invade the home islands. Dispersal and concealment were emphasized, and defense on the beach deemphasized in the face of massive American firepower. However, shūgettsu went against a generation of Japanese training that emphasized offensive operations, and even the Emperor questioned why the airfields on Okinawa had been given up so easily.

Japanese prewar naval doctrine revolved around Decisive Battle, but once war broke out this was overtaken by events. Tactical doctrine neglected combined arms, a failing known in modern terminology as "stovepipe thinking." For example, the fighter, torpedo, and dive bomber squadrons on a Japanese carrier each had their assigned missions, and having one type assist another in carrying out its mission was simply not part of the doctrine. Fighters went looking for enemy aircraft to attack rather than providing escort or antiaircraft suppression for the bombers. This was reflected even in training: The squadrons preparing for Pearl Harbor attack trained at separate bases by aircraft type, which provided no opportunity for cross-fertilization. The Japanese recognized the problem later in the war, but had considerable difficulty breaking out of "stovepipe thinking."


"Handbook on Japanese Military Forces" (1944-9-15)

Murray and Millett (1996)

Peattie et al. (2011)

Perret (1991)

Van Creveld (1982)

Zimm (2011)

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