Clearly, one of the most influential personalities from military history is Napoleon Bonaparte. His ability to deploy and maneuver large independent forces simultaneously to concentrate them at the critical moment of battle set an operational tone that successive commanders around the world have labored to replicate. Napoleon’s campaigns were the antecedent to later developments that became known as the operational art of war.
David Chandler, the world-renowned British historian, develops this idea, particularly regarding Napoleon’s contribution to the evolution of operational art through his organizational innovations. The emperor’s corps-size organizations could operate independently against larger enemy forces, while additional personnel and materiel resources were introduced to the battle. Aiding these efforts were his aggressive tactics, focused objectives, active intelligence, and firm command of all aspects of a campaign. The Jena-Auerstadt campaign of 1806 is the example that Dr. Chandler cites as the beginnings of the successful application of the operational art.
Robert Doughty continues the analysis of French operational art as the country began to alter its military doctrine in light of its losses suffered from the Franco-Prussian War. As the country’s military leaders grappled with improving its military educational system, organization, and doctrine, they set out to redefine both the methods and the means by which the next European war would be fought on the frontiers of France. The start of the Great War witnessed massive military maneuvers reminiscent of Napoleon’s Grand Armée, but with the exception of “The Miracle of the Marne,” these campaigns were fruitless. By the latter half of the war, preponderant firepower and limited objectives had replaced large-scale maneuvers and more aggressive goals. Sadly, they assumed that what seemed to work at the close of World War I would set the pace for the next European conflict. Perhaps, if the Wehrmacht had been more conventional and less aggressive, French military doctrine in 1940 might have been vindicated. Unfortunately, the French never seemed to fully grasp the difference between tactics and the operational level of war, which ultimately contributed to the horrific casualties of World War I and the tragic defeat of World War II.
Return to Table of Contents