Michael D. Krause and
Center of Military History
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Historical perspectives of the operational art/Michael D. Krause and R. Cody Phillips,
CMH Pub 70-89-1
As we begin a new millennium and witness the rapid and complex changes happening around the world, the study of the operational art of war becomes even more critical. Today our Army is facing a multitude of challenges ranging from disaster relief and peacekeeping operations to open hostilities and war. To keep pace with both those demands and the growth of new technologies, we are currently transforming our service from a primarily heavy, forward-deployed force to a lighter, more agile, but also more deadly CONUS-based one. At the same time, the scope of our operations and our strategy is becoming increasingly influenced by our participation in international coalitions and alliances. The time-honored focus of operational art on the planning and execution of military campaigns has thus become even more diverse and complex, placing great demands on the military professional. Although operational art must be adjusted to accommodate these changing circumstances, it should not be done without some understanding - a frame of reference - of the history of the operational level of war so as to clarify the nature of the problems we can expect in the future.
Historical Perspectives of the Operational Art is an anthology of essays by historians and scholars who trace the origin and development of the operational level of warfare, the critical link between strategy and tactics. Col. Michael D. Krause, former deputy commander of the U.S. Army Center of Military History, made the initial selections for this anthology. As a student of the subject and instructor at the National War College, Colonel Krause was well qualified for the task. This volume may be regarded as a continuation of an earlier publication that he coedited on a similar subject, On Operational Art, which is a collection of pieces by senior military commanders and theorists dealing with the contemporary application of the operational art of war. For the soldier and student alike, Historical Perspectives of the Operational Art should stimulate thought and provide a deeper understanding of military history and its ability to shed light on the problems and challenges of the present.
Historical Perspectives of the Operational Art is a unique study in the field of military history. Relying on the expertise of scholars and military historians from the United States, Great Britain, and Germany, it highlights some of the significant developments in the modern evolution of the operational level of war. Our intention was not to include every major military power in recent history - and certainly not every conflict. Yet students of the operational art may want to look at past wars to see how this added dimension of armed conflict might have surfaced or been applied. This study deals only with land warfare and is designed to show the doctrinal development and application of operational art in modern history. Thus, while the British, Chinese, and Japanese clearly demonstrated techniques associated with the operational art of war, their experiences tended to parallel practices already developed and implemented elsewhere.
Operational art has its origins in Western Europe. Beginning with the skillful adaptations of Napoleon Bonaparte, military commanders began to recognize the middle ground that linked national strategic goals with tactical objectives on the battlefield. The Germans, following the example of Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke, devised the initial concepts about the operational art of war, while French contemporaries wrestled with devising a satisfactory doctrine of their own. The Russians and Soviets learned from their military brethren in Western Europe and also developed a vibrant doctrine that was masterfully implemented during the latter half of World War II. The United States, in contrast, entered the field of study belatedly. Although there clearly were moments when the operational art could be observed in selected campaigns, it is apparent that the U.S. Army’s doctrinal development of this connection between strategy and tactics progressed in an irregular manner and reached fruition only recently - most notably in Operations DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM.
Strategy, operations, and tactics routinely affect the dimensions of military conflict, each in a different manner. For instance, the strategist aims at the enemy center of gravity, which often is the nation’s will to fight, or perhaps the key resources or the delicate bond that holds an alliance together. The operational artist’s center of gravity is the mass of the enemy’s military force and its ability to command and control its forces. At the tactical level, the battlefield commander has a more limited and proximate perspective and focuses on his immediate foe. Strategy may dictate whether or not to fight, but operations will determine
where and when to fight and tactics how to conduct the fight. In turn, tacticians employ fire and maneuver to achieve a limited objective, while operational commanders use fire and maneuver on a larger scale to create an imbalance against the enemy and set the tempo of a campaign. For a tactician, intelligence is concerned with capabilities; but at the operational level, intelligence is focused on enemy intentions. A tactical commander will use deception to hide his forces; an operational commander will use deception to mask his intentions.
The use of reserves is critical to the operational artist. Yet these are not reserves that might represent an inactive force waiting to be put into action, which is customarily how reserves are seen at the tactical level. Rather, reserves at the operational level are thought of as the future employment of forces that may or may not already be engaged in the battle or campaign. Logistics too is a factor in this discussion. At the strategic level, force generation capability and logistics are applied in broad terms and viewed as long-term reserves. At the operational level, the logistics capability is another form of reserve and an asset that affects the outcome of an armed conflict. At the tactical level, however, logistics affects only the battle in progress.
From the strategic level, a commander looks toward the outcome of campaigns and battles as a means of achieving national policy objectives. This process requires a focus on a distant goal. The operational commander often looks to a closer goal, which would be achieved following a campaign or series of battles. Obviously, the tactical commander is focused on the outcome of specific engagements or battles.
Simply stated, the strategist identifies broad goals and generates the capabilities to achieve those goals, while the operational commander seeks a unity of effort over a specific period of time, and the tactician initiates immediate action on the field of battle. The operational art of war is thus different in sum and part. It is more than large-scale tactics, but it is not small-scale strategy either. It has both a tactical and a strategic dimension, because it must create a vision of unity of action on the battlefield that ultimately achieves a strategic objective.
For both the soldier and the student of military history, this anthology will provide an orientation to significant battles and campaigns from the past. Rather than view the sound generalship of Napoleon and the tactical displacement of his divisions at Jena, the reader might also consider how this battle and the entire campaign affected both the French and Prussian strategies. Even the dramatic clash at Gettysburg becomes more than simply Little Round Top, Cemetery Ridge, Culp’s Hill, and Pickett’s Charge, especially when given an operational perspective. Historical Perspectives of the Operational Art encourages students and soldiers alike to think beyond the battle that is before them. Isolated and taken out of context, tactical maneuvers can provide a surreal comprehension
of their importance and encourage a detachment from the larger strategy. The Allies were so focused on successful landings at Normandy, for example, that they had invested little planning to breaking out from the beachheads. And when that time came, despite the clear opportunity to inflict a crushing blow to the German Army, the Allies elected to squander their resources on more limited tactical objectives. Finally, particularly for soldiers, the enclosed essays might assist in understanding what operational art is and how it is applied in contemporary doctrine.
A number of people contributed to the final compilation and publication of this anthology - not the least were the individual contributors whose works are in this text. We owe a debt of appreciation to the Center of Military History and its chief, Brig. Gen. John S. Brown, as well as its chief historian, Dr. Jeffrey J. Clarke, who helped revive this project at a moment when it seemed certain to die stillborn. Four individuals in particular merit special recognition for lending their technical expertise to this anthology and its subsequent publication: Ms. Beth MacKenzie, chief of the Center’s Graphics Branch, diligently guided the final manuscript through the publication process; Ms. Diane Donovan, a senior editor in the Editorial Branch, demonstrated patience and literary skills that far exceeded our abilities to articulate; Ms. Susan Carroll compiled the index; and Ms. Linda Moten assisted in the final review and editing of individual essays. We edited individual contributions to ensure a standardized format, while being careful not to mask or alter individual writing styles, not to mention the views and conclusions presented in each essay. Reprinted essays were rarely altered from their original versions, except for either space considerations or clarification of technical matters. The views expressed in these selections are those of the individual authors and do not reflect the official policy or positions of the Departments of the Army and Defense or the U.S. government.