Second Honorable Mention, 1913
Motto: "Concert in action makes strength."—Jomini.
In summing up his justly famed work on the Operations of War, Hamley makes an analysis of what he calls "the primary factors which have always been the foundation of success." According to this venerated authority there are two "indispensable factors": first, good morale (in which an approximate equality may in the future be expected among civilized nations), and second, a good commander. After the two indispensable factors, next in order are "mobility, combination and fire-power." "Mobility is spoken of here in the tactical sense—meaning rapidity of maneuvers on the battlefield"; fire-power needs no comment.
It is the purpose of this paper to treat only of combination, which, in the military sense, is the power to accomplish the will of the commander through the co-ordinated efforts of the several units of the command. Jomini says, "The guiding principle in tactical combinations, as in those of strategy, is to bring the mass of the force in hand against a part of the opposing army, and upon that point the possession of which promises the most important results." This then, in general terms, will be the aim underlying the dispositions of the commander, but it will not alone be sufficient for him to will (or even to order) a certain course of action; there must exist within the organization the mechanism of putting that will into effect—a means of overcoming the friction which is inherent in all operations involving the co-ordinated effort, the concerted action, of a large number of men or units. To once more quote Hamley, " Combination depends on the efficiency of the chain of control connecting the brain of the commander through all grades down to the corporal's guard, on the intelligence of subordinate readers in grasping and applying the commander's plans, on the discipline which insures intelligent obedience to the directing will, and on the mobility which gives rapid effect to that will and permits of fleeting opportunities being taken advantage of."
In operations preliminary to and in those succeeding a fleet engagement, the naval forces are usually widely scattered. The parts comprise single ships (scouting and doing other miscellaneous duty) and groups composed of scouts, screening forces, main body and train ; between which, as well as between the forces afloat and the shore establishment, careful co-ordination is manifestly necessary. In addition to strategic and administrative co-ordination, it requires no great stretch of the professional imagination to appreciate in a general way the concert of effort that will be even more necessary, and far more difficult of attainment, in the field of tactics. There will be fast wing attacks on the flanks; destroyer threats and destroyer attacks, supported by cruiser groups; submarine and mining threats and attacks; torpedo threats and attacks by heavy ships; and changes of course, speed and formation. Not only must our own movements be planned and executed, but those of the enemy must be comprehended and met. Large groups of all classes will break up into smaller groups, and these again into still smaller ones; ships will often find themselves isolated; formations will be ragged; and confusion will frequently arise. All will happen within a few minutes—perhaps less than an hour will decide the action.
The fate of a battle is the happening of an instant. A decisive moment arrives when the smallest act decides and gives superiority.
In such a kaleidoscopic drama initiative and decision of the highest order will be almost continuously demanded of commanders, from the highest to the lowest. If each independent action, each hasty decision, fails to serve the plan of the commander- in-chief; if his will does not guide the ever changing situations, great and small, to seize fleeting opportunities, to ward off threatened disaster, and to comply with the guiding principles of tactics as interpreted by himself: then the various commanders will work at cross-purposes, the action of one will neither support nor be supported by the action of another, and whatever is accomplished will be only negative. If fortunate, serious disorder among the fleet may be avoided while carrying on a purely passive "hammer and tongs" column fight; but no brilliant tactics nor decisive results can be hoped for; a spark of genius may flicker here and there, but will not survive its isolation.
To provide against humiliation and disaster, it seems imperative to supplement the present inadequate means for administering our affairs during peace or war, and for carrying on both strategic operations and fleet engagements. Neither signals, radio-messages, nor instructions, written or verbal, can suffice, either singly or in combination, to produce the unity of effort—the concert of action—demanded by modern conditions in a large fleet. Until this need is filled—a new means furnished—an able commander and a fleet possessing high morale, good mobility and great firepower, are in a measure wasted, since the power of combination is lacking. The skilful admiral will not have the means of using effectively his well-wrought instrument.
The necessity for and the difficulty of efficient co-ordination within a large force operating against an enemy being recognized, it will be interesting to examine into the methods of some of the greatest military leaders, to see how they solved this difficulty, and then finally to compare their methods with those now existing in our own naval service.
THE METHODS OF GREAT MEN.
Napoleon's method of field management consisted primarily of detailed instructions which aimed to foresee and provide for variations due to the movements of the enemy, accidents, the weather and other variable factors. It depended for success upon the care and skill with which the instructions were prepared and upon rigid obedience of the same to the letter. Realizing its weakness, though not having sufficiently long intervals of peace to prepare and substitute a better method, the great Frenchman supplemented it, when possible, by personal supervision of important operations; and, when long and close association with a marshal warranted it an exception would be made and only general instructions would be issued to him. During a battle each situation, as it presented itself, was handled by verbal messages transmitted through mounted staff officers.
Napoleon's campaigns were conspicuously successful when the operations were small enough to permit his personal direction at every critical point. His genius was then of use wherever required. During one of the early Italian campaigns he constantly employed himself without sleep or rest for five days and nights. Those early Italian campaigns are by far the most brilliant in history, and, as is generally conceded, the only ones ever conducted by a commander without a single error of strategy or tactics.
Following Napoleon's military career it becomes plainly evident that, as the magnitude of the operations increased, his success diminished directly. Unless he himself could personally oversee and supervise operations, his system fell to pieces. This is conspicuously true of the Russian campaign and those succeeding it in Germany, where the numbers engaged and the fields of operation were very large. Examples occur of brilliant work on the part of his marshals acting independently; rarely, however, except when taking part in the same general campaign with Napoleon himself and when the marshal so acting was a pupil of long standing. Long and close association in the field had taught these what action they could' expect from the Emperor under most circumstances, as well as what he expected from them.
His disasters; beginning with the Russian campaign and culminating at Leipzig, and again at Waterloo, must be attributed in part to the losses through wounds, death, or disaffection of such able and well-trained marshals as Lannes, Murat, Massena, and Augereau. Napoleon's system of centralization demanded, for success in large operations, lieutenants of long personal association. Napoleon himself, at St. Helena, in criticising certain of his marshals, frequently said that certain ones failed" because he did not understand my system." This in itself indicates that there could have been no other system except that of highly centralized authority, unsupplemented by any other school than that of war itself under the master.
Nelson and Von Moltke each used a method far superior to that of Napoleon for producing co-ordination or "combination." It consisted primarily, in the issuing of general instructions only, but was in each case supplemented by a thoroughly worked out and clearly understood system of command, and by unity of doctrine.
Nelson's own conduct at the battle of Cape St. Vincent is well known and is a conspicuous illustration of initiative taken without instructions.. In commenting upon this action Mahan says, "The justification of departure from orders lies not in success but in the conditions of the case; Jervis was not one to overlook these, nor thereafter to forget that only one man in his fleet had both seen the thing to do and dared the responsibility of doing it." In regard to Nelson's methods Mahan states as follows: "Upon his own subordinates Nelson laid a distinct charge that he should expect them to use their judgment and act upon it with independence, sure of his generous construction and support of their action." Again, commenting on Nelson's famous memorandum before the battle of Trafalgar, Mahan says that it "is memorable not only for the sagacity and comprehensiveness of its general dispositions, but even more for the magnanimous confidence with which the details of execution were freely entrusted to those upon whom they had to fall." Probably the most striking illustration of all is Mahan's comment upon the famous signal before going into action at Trafalgar, as follows: "It is said that Collingwood, frequently testy and at the moment preoccupied with the approaching collision, exclaimed impatiently when the first number went aloft, 'I wish Nelson would stop signalling, as we know well enough what we have to do!'"
While the principles under which Nelson commanded his fleet were the same as those of Von Moltke, to the latter is due the credit of the widespread and detailed application of those principles throughout a large army.
In 1870, after only a few weeks of war, Germany, but a newcomer among the powers, had laid France, the once all powerful, prostrate. Europe and all the world were undisguisedly astounded. To what were these unprecedented results due? The numbers were about equal on each side. At the end of July the numbers were: German, 384,000; French, 250,000. By the middle of November they were: German, 425,000; French, 600,000. Germany had no advantage in the morale or discipline of her troops; the French commanders were the more experienced in war; the fire-power, mobility, and all other factors but one, were about equal in the two armies. The Germans far excelled the French only in the power of combination. To quote Colonel Henderson:
It was understood, therefore, in the Prussian armies of 1866 and 1870, that no order was to be blindly obeyed unless the superior who issued it was actually present, and therefore cognizant of the situation at the time it was received. If this was not the case, the recipient was to use his own judgment, and act as he believed his superior would have directed him to do had he been aware how matters stood. Again, officers not in direct communication with headquarters were expected not only to watch for and utilize, on their own initiative, all opportunities of furthering the plan of campaign or battle, but, without waiting for instructions, to march to the thunder of cannon, and render prompt assistance wherever it might be required. It was long before the system was cordially accepted, even in Germany itself; and it has been fiercely criticized.
To soldiers whose one idea of command might be summarized in the sentence, "I order; you obey," and in whose eyes unqualified and unthinking obedience was the first of virtues, the new teaching appeared subversive of all discipline and authority. If, they said, subordinates are to judge for themselves whether an order is to be executed or not; if they are to be encouraged to march, to attack, or to retreat, on their own volition; if, in a word, each of them is to be considered an independent commander, the superior can never be certain, at any given moment, where his troops are or what they are doing, and to maneuver them as a united whole will be out of the question. Was it likely, they asked, that a junior officer left to himself would act as his superior would have directed him to act had he himself been present? Was it not probable that he would hinder rather than further the general plan; and would not such untrammelled freedom lead to independent ventures, prolific perhaps of personal glory, but absolutely destructive of the harmony of action essential to success? These dangers, however, had been foreseen; and, while they were recognized as real, they were not considered so inevitable as to forbid the encouragement of an unfettered initiative, nor so formidable as to be insurmountable. The first step was to make a clear distinction between "orders" and "instructions." An "order" was to be obeyed, instantly and to the letter. "Instructions" were an expression of the commander's wishes, not to be carried out unless they were manifestly practicable. But "orders" in the technical sense were not to be issued except by an officer actually present with the body of troops concerned, and fully aware of the situation; otherwise "instructions" only would be sent. The second step was to train all officers to arrive at correct decisions, and so to make certain, as far as possible, that subordinates, when left to themselves, would act as their superiors would wish them to do. The third step was to discourage to the utmost the spirit of rash and selfish enterprise.
In commenting upon these principles Henderson states as follows:
The benefit to the state was enormous. It is true that the initiative of subordinates sometimes degenerated into reckless audacity, and critics have dilated on these rare instances with ludicrous persistence, forgetting the hundreds of others where it was exercised to the best purpose, forgetting the spirit of mutual confidence that permeated the whole army, and forgetting, at the same time, the deplorable results of centralization in the armies they overthrew. It is inconceivable that any student of war, comparing the conduct of the German, the French, and the Austrian generals, should retain even the shadow, of a prejudice in favor of blind obedience and limited responsibility.
"To what," asks the ablest commentator on the Franco-German war, "did the Germans owe their uninterrupted triumph? What was the cause of the constant disasters of the French? What new system did the Germans put in practice, and what are the elements of success of which the French were bereft? The system is, so to speak, official and authoritative amongst the Germans. It is the initiative of the subordinate leaders. This quality, which multiplies the strength of an army, the Germans have succeeded in bringing to something near perfection. It is owing to this quality that, in the midst of varying events, the supreme command pursued its uninterrupted career of victory, and succeeded in controlling, almost without a check, the intricate machinery of the most powerful army that the nineteenth century ever produced. In executing the orders of the supreme command, the subordinate leaders not only did over and over again more than was demanded of them, but surpassed the highest expectations of their superiors, notably at Sedan. It often happened that the faults, more or less inevitable, of the higher authorities were repaired by their subordinates who thus won for them victories which they had not always deserved. In a word, the Germans were indebted to the subordinate leaders that not a single favorable occasion throughout the whole campaign was allowed to 'escape unutilized."
OUR OWN METHOD.
It is hardly necessary to enter into a description of our present system of command—that is familiar enough to us all. Generally speaking it consists first, of "detailed instructions which attempt to provide for every contingency," and second, where the conditions of the case make it possible, of "general instructions supplemented by long and close personal association." There is of course much that is good in the system. It has produced many achievements of which we are justly proud. As a system, however, it can scarcely be classed with that of Nelson and Von Moltke; it has never stood the supreme test of a large fleet action against a formidable enemy; arid it is safe to say that even our greatest triumphs were accomplished in spite of glaring system faults which most of us will candidly admit. These are unfortunately of the sort which will count most against us as the size of forces, and consequently the complexity of operations, increase. Some of our faults are summarized below to serve as illustrations, though the list is not exhaustive, and others will occur to the reader:
(a) The present system breeds and fosters a spirit of hostile criticism towards those in authority. An atmosphere of this sort has permeated the service for a great many years. All must admit that such a condition is lamentable; not only does it prevent that mutual sympathy and understanding essential to co-operative effort, but it also woefully undermines discipline—the primary requisite of military efficiency. So keenly does the writer deplore this most unfortunate tendency towards adverse criticism, that he is loath to go further in the dissection of our own system. On the other hand a frank examination of existing conditions, with free-minded though friendly admission of defects, is a very healthful process; and it will be doubly justified if by such means corrective measures can be evolved which will eliminate this intolerable evil.
By some the condition of an unfriendly attitude in our service towards authority has been attributed to the American viewpoint and temperament; but, inasmuch as it is known to exist in like degree in some foreign services similarly administered, this explanation is untenable. Hardly more than a superficial analysis of our system is necessary to discover more reasonable causes. Some of them follow: (1) The reasons which govern the actions of seniors are often needlessly kept secret. (2) Juniors lack proper elementary military instruction and fail to truly appreciate the military necessity for unqualified support of, and loyalty to, authority. (3) There is lacking that mutual confidence which is born of common doctrines and of practiced co-ordination of effort. (4) The task of each person is not always clearly defined nor restricted to its proper area. When a junior is interfered with while executing work properly assignable to him, hostile criticism of his seniors is a natural consequence. Whenever a senior neglects work within his proper province for the sake of giving greater personal attention to duties intended for his subordinates, unfriendly criticism is inevitable. (5) The occasional too rigid enforcement of the letter of regulations. Spencer Wilkinson says, "In a narrower sense discipline is maintained by routine. There is a code of regulations to which all must conform. The danger is that weak persons in authority are apt to confuse the form with the substance, and to take the modern conditions, the better organized code of regulations, for the essence of discipline, mistaking the means for the end and the letter for the spirit. A man devoid of judgment may so misuse lawful authority, that without violating the letter of a military code, he may arouse the spirit of disobedience among his subordinates. Discipline is then at war with itself and the results are disastrous."
The spirit of hostile criticism creates scattering of effort, lost motion, working at cross-purpose, and a generally discordant condition; it is indispensable that it be eradicated from the service. before effective co-ordination can be attained. "E pluribus unum" seems lost to the nautical understanding; forgotten in the realm of Neptune. No plan can succeed well without a spirit of loyalty among the several executive elements. Military efficiency cannot be maintained without true discipline, which is only an empty form unless the spirit of the service breathes common understanding. intelligent obedience, and loyalty to authority.
(b) Only in exceptional cases do young officers get sufficient training in initiative and responsibility to fit them for the higher positions which they are destined to fill in later life. The prize essayist of 1909, Lieutenant E. J. King, says:
Responsibility and the accompanying exercise of authority, ability, and judgment are indispensable factors in the education of an officer; our officers have too little opportunity in this direction while in the lower grades. They command their divisions only at certain times and under certain circumstances, in most of which they are expected to adhere to certain dispositions already made for them. At present the only opportunity afforded officers commanding gun-divisions to show their ability is at target practice, and even this is an innovation of recent date. Lack of responsibility and the accompanying opportunities to exercise authority, ability, and judgment have often been cited as reasons for attaining command (of ship) rank at an earlier age than obtains in our service. Certainly officers should attain the rank necessary to command ships at an earlier age; but, certainly also, an officer's career should be such that the requirements of the command of a ship should differ from the requirements of the command of a division in degree only. At present our-system, if system it can be called, does not call for these requirements to the proper degree while an officer is in the lower grades; i. e., in command of a division.
Entirely apart from their proficiency in other respects, a group of officers, whether divisional officers in a ship or, especially, commanding officers of ships in a fleet, cannot efficiently co-ordinate their efforts in battle unless each individual possesses the power to quickly and automatically assume initiative and responsibility. Unfortunately the human brain does not respond automatically to any sudden situation unless it has been prepared by training to do so. Proper response is particularly difficult while the individual is under any unusual mental agitation, such as that prevalent in action. Daudignac says:
The psycho-physiological disturbances produced . . . . in the presence of danger .... are habitually expressed under the form of collapse or under the form of agitation. There is produced:
(1) Enervation of the will muscles, trembling, arrest in movements, which thereby become disordered and feverish.
(2) Checked respiration, oppression and restriction of the throat, from which result involuntary vibrations; man is no longer master of his organization.
(3) There is spasmodic contraction of the vessels, paleness, afflux of blood to the heart, dilation of pupils, etc. What is the result? The irrigation of the cerebral cells being modified, man is affected in his intellectual faculties, association of ideas is interrupted, and power of judgment and attention diminished.
Our modern personnel has become much more susceptible to the impressions of battle. The steadily improving standards of living tend to increase the instinct of self-preservation and to diminish the spirit of self-sacrifice The fast manner of living at the present day undermines the nervous system .... in addition the nerve-racking impressions on the battlefield are much greater at present than in the past.
The nerves will probably be more severely taxed by terrifying impressions in a sea fight than on shore, and, while this may be somewhat compensated for by greater isolation whereby a smaller proportion of the force will be affected, it must be borne in mind that as a rule only one big fight will occur afloat and the number of veterans will therefore be very small.
Under these conditions the most vigorous possible peace preparation of the automatic functions of the brain is positively indispensable. Otherwise there cannot be even limited assurance that responsible subordinates may-be depended upon in battle to think quickly and clearly, to make proper decisions, and to take that initiative and assume that responsibility which is so necessary to effective combination. Preparation of this sort can be a product only of long training; a process of cramming is futile; its potent quality is judgment under pressure which cannot be acquired except through frequent "obligation to decide important practical issues, coupled with the certainty of being called to account for failure." (Wilkinson.)
The necessity for this kind of mental training being admitted, it remains to emphasize the importance of beginning the same during youth and .continuing it systematically throughout an officer's career.
It is a fact generally accepted by authorities on the psychology of mind that for the average person above the age of about fifty years, newly acquired knowledge is not readily assimilated; that it does not become an unconscious part of the brain, but remains alien, is obviously "grafted" upon it, and is not subject to automatic use as is knowledge acquired at an earlier age. This age also marks about the turning point in a man's ability to adapt himself to new habits of thought or mental processes, and this ability varies inversely with age. These facts, while indisputable, have frequently been frowned upon because of their assumed implication of a reflection upon older officers; such, however, is far from being true. A properly trained older officer—by which is meant one whose mind is grooved" to initiative, responsibility and other command qualities—is much better material (even ignoring his superior experience, judgment, and professional attainments) with which to effect combination, than is a properly trained young officer. One "cannot teach an old dog new tricks"; the grooves in the brain of the older man are deep, and will control better in the face of difficulties than will the more shallow furrows of the younger man. On the other hand older officers who have not had proper early training will ordinarily prove less capable in emergency than the untrained youngster, because the mind of the latter is the more pliable and can more readily adapt itself to the unexpected condition.
As a general rule, persons who come into authority late in life shrink from responsibility and often break down under its weight.
This great man was over sixty when his most brilliant work was done, involving initiative and responsibility of the highest order. But his record shows how well he had been prepared for it—how well his mind had been grooved to it. He came into command at the ages of 12, 18, 22, 33, 37, 41, 46, and 57. Some of these involved responsibility and authority well beyond his years and rank, and continued through a considerable period of time. Another conspicuous example of a man well trained while young, who exercised high command with marked success at an advanced age, is Von Moltke, who was over 70 during the Franco-Prussian war.
As further evidence that age alone is no bar to efficiency in high command we can all recall personal association with officers old in years yet vigorous in the qualities of command. Is it not a fact that nearly all of these had had the fortunate preliminary training as younger men?
As a most important step then towards developing in the navy the "power of combination"—the "driving power"—it is necessary to make individuals efficient in two of the essential elements of combination; viz. initiative and responsibility. One of the greatest faults in our present system is the failure to scientifically and systematically (instead of haphazardly) develop these two qualities in officers at the time of life when such training is effective in molding the individual. Because in the present generation command rank is not reached until middle age, is not sufficient reason for failing to develop in the younger officers the essential qualities of command; on the contrary it is the strongest of reasons for so doing.
(c) There is no well-defined doctrine of command—no codified set of rules governing the relations between seniors and juniors. Personal acquaintance in the official sense furnishes the only safe guide by which a junior may now guess how much initiative is expected of him; and when he may and when he must not depart from the letter of instructions. The same limitation (personal acquaintance) is imposed on a senior in his assumptions concerning the manner in which his orders will be executed. Ordinarily neither senior nor junior can know just where the dividing line is between their two functions; that is, of the co-relative matters not specially mentioned in the orders, what share will be assumed by each, and what reliance can be placed on the other for attending to the remainder. In view of the fact that at present the natural differences due to personality are in no effective manner leveled by application of common administrative principles, as should obviously be done, almost every change in seniors involves more or less radical changes in administrative methods and in the principles of command. In extreme cases these principles have changed from day to day even when no change of personnel has occurred.
Probably every ship in the service is organized and administered differently, depending upon the personalities of their respective commanding and executive officers. Recent cases are known where it was the custom for the commanding officer to personally supervise and direct the most minute details of such work as the painting and cleaning of the ship, and to personally direct the officers of the deck during a great part of the day in nearly every matter that might arise, great or trivial. Contemporaneously in the same fleet the first lieutenants of other ships were allowed exclusive charge of the painting and cleaning and the divisional officers were permitted great latitude in carrying on their division work and watch duty. Between these two extremes could be found almost any degree of authorized initiative and responsibility for juniors in every branch of their work.
The above are differences, not of details, but of principles, and the fact that they exist to-day in our fleets furnishes a great argument for the introduction into the service of a uniform system of command. Under present conditions it is almost impossible for a young officer to formulate in his mind, as the result of his experience, a consistent, logical system for his own guidance in the daily performance of his duties. As soon as one is perhaps fairly started, a change of seniors occurs and a complete upheaval is very apt to follow. This process has been going on for years. What confusion of ideas may we then reasonably expect in the minds of officers of all ranks on the subjects of administration and command?
It requires but very simple analysis to understand that co-ordination cannot exist without common doctrines, not alone of command, but of administration, of strategy, and of tactics, as well—we must have a common denominator, must speak the same language, or else confusion in the combined obedience to an order will surely follow. Such confusion occurs now almost daily in the fleets about the simplest matters; how much greater then must we expect the confusion to be just preceding and during a fleet battle, when even the simplest of general directions can be transmitted only with great difficulty.
It is probable that the proper development of the younger men in the past has not matured partly because of the danger in trusting too blindly to one who may misinterpret the intention of the superior on account of inability to grasp the same viewpoint.
Initiative is a double-edged weapon dangerous to trust in the hands of subordinates who are liable to misconceive the mind of the chief and are unable to read a situation as he would read it. The keen sword of initiative has no place in the armory of those who hold the "Doctrine of no doctrine." Edinburgh Review.
It is perfectly true that the amount of discretion allowed a subordinate must in some degree depend upon the commander's personal knowledge of him. Even Griepenkerl says:
In practice the amount of independence allowed a subordinate depends on his personal character; a factor that is wanting in the theoretical solution of problems. Yet even in practice the commander of the whole force is sometimes justified to encroach on the domain of even his most tried and trusted subordinate; for the continuity of the whole, the unity of leadership, and the leader's own views and intentions outweigh all other considerations. The preservation of the independence of the subordinate officer must not be overdone. But hampering him with unnecessary details is a much greater error. You must have very good reasons for interfering with your subordinate's freedom of action.
The Germans can, better than ourselves, afford to inject the personal acquaintance factor as a part of their system. In their service the tenure of high command is long, and in consequence seniors and juniors have an opportunity to become thoroughly acquainted under actual conditions of service. With us, on the other hand, there is grave danger of accepting this factor with too great equanimity. Since the tenure in high command is so short it becomes all the more imperative that our system be well based upon thoroughly trained officers who can be relied upon for uniformity of decision and conduct under given conditions.
Rather than be deterred on account of insufficient doctrines from developing the attributes of initiative, responsibility and loyalty, in younger officers, it would seem better practice to develop simultaneously both the attributes and the doctrines, since both are vitally essential to reasonable success in modern war, and particularly indispensable to efficient combination.
(d) The mass of detail handled by those in high positions unduly restricts their time and attention available for more weighty matters. The condition is particularly acute and lamentable in matters of administrative routine, where, having become firmly entrenched in every day use as a prominent factor in our systems, it is injected automatically into everything that is undertaken, from the piping down of wash clothes or the transfer of an enlisted man, to the management of a target practice.
The causes of the condition are numerous and in part obscure; some of them are summarized below:
(1) Custom and regulations combine to sap the time and energies of those in authority by demanding their attention specifically to many trivialities. (2) The tendency is persistent to hold the top man responsible for the most minute detail without specifically authorizing him to delegate insignificant authority and responsibility. (3) The ship organization as a rule fails to fix clearly the duties and responsibilities of each officer and petty officer. The machine, therefore, requires constant supervision, since the properly subsidiary work of maintenance and operation is in no sense automatic. (4) There is a failure to authorize or to recognize a clear cut "province," or "area of discretion" of subordinates; and a human tendency always for seniors to meddle in the routine work of juniors, due partly to greater familiarity with the work of the latter than with their own.
When one stops to consider the question, it is of course obvious that if the head of a large organization attempts the personal direction and supervision of too many details, his own true work or mission must suffer; and in addition, when an unusually strenuous test is demanded of the organization, such as that imposed on a fleet by war, the power of combination is seriously impaired by a habit, acquired previously, of the important leaders looking ever downwards instead of upwards. Griepenkerl says:
The commander attends to very few details, as above all things he must endeavor to retain a general supervision over his whole force. Should he attempt to arrange too many details, or interfere everywhere with orders, he would dissipate his energies and lose the power of supervision. . . . . there is nothing to be gained by such personal interference of subordinates, as he would be assuming duties intended for his subordinates while his own, for which he needs his individual attention and bodily strength, only too easily would suffer from neglect.
And again, commenting upon an engagement:
The temptation will be very great for General A— to interfere with the main attack by sending it orders, because he would like to see it handled as he himself would handle it were he in immediate command; but such interference would be a great mistake, except it be absolutely necessary, as it might run counter to the plans of the subordinate commanders and fatal disorder would be the result.
Co-ordinated effort requires fundamentally; first, a division of the work into tasks, each suited to the office, the capability and the capacity of the individual to whom it is assigned; second, a degree of independence for each individual in the performance of his allotted task, duly recognized and respected by those higher in authority; and third (not pertinent to the fault under discussion but inserted to complete the trio of fundamentals), complete loyalty of the subordinate to the general plan of the commander.
(e) Undue effort and prominence is given to administration. The ordinary every day duties of administration have grown to be so exacting and to be considered so imperative, that the execution of any special task is accompanied by undue internal friction. Those in authority are snowed under with administrative details (the combined result, as previously pointed out, of regulations, custom and their own volition) ; and, being thus primarily occupied, little time can be spared for the special task of the day, or for professional study, an essential preparation for war.
Certainly, administration (maintenance and internal operation) is an important function, not only in peace but also in war, but certainly also its importance is subordinate to other functions. Preoccupation in it should not blind us to the fact that by means of scientific organization and high morale, upon which administration is based, its burdens can be very greatly lessened, nor to the fact that administration is but a means to an end and not the end itself. In peace it furnishes a basis for carrying on the special task, and in war it is the machinery of strategy and tactics. If too much time is given to it during peace, at the expense of the special task, the habit will survive during war, regardless of sincere efforts that will probably be made at that late day to reform. This is perhaps the best reason why we should organize and manage our affairs during peace so that those routine and administrative matters, which during war must necessarily be carried on co-incidently with the more serious business, should run smoothly, automatically and without the attention of those occupying high military positions.
Unless this be done now, while there is time to stamp it indelibly as a part of our system, we shall find that during war our leaders will each have a task exceeding practicable dimensions, and, together with other important elements, the power of combination will suffer.
Spencer Wilkinson says:
The two functions of directing the movements so as to secure victories, and of managing the great business concern, have little in common . . . .it is easy to see that the chief department of any fighting organization must be that which designs and directs the fight . , . . (in Prussia) the distinction was steadily kept in view between the all important conduct of the operations against an enemy, and the subordinate though necessary business of administration.
(f) The system of highly centralized authority renders it necessary to issue lengthy orders covering a great number of details. These are not only very difficult to prepare with even approximate perfection, but they are very difficult for the recipient to digest and execute in the manner desired by the issuing authority. Last winter in the Atlantic Fleet, for example, it was necessary to issue thirteen pages of single spaced typewriting to carry out three simple battle exercises. The number and length crf orders and instructions covering a multitude of subjects great and small, issued by high authority, has grown to tremendous proportions, until it unduly taxes the time of all officers to read over the orders issued, and to keep themselves and their subordinates informed with respect to the contents of the same.
Co-ordination will manifestly be made difficult, in the heat of war, by a personnel habituated to operate only through the medium of excessively long and detailed orders. The pressure of conflict will force the substitution of short, concise general instructions, which in combined operations will surely produce serious confusion, unless their execution is undertaken by subordinate commanders trained to the method and possessing common doctrine of every variety. How often will the failure to execute an important detail be excused by a statement similar to the following: "It should have been done, the necessity for it was obvious, but I had no orders to do so," or the failure to complete some overlooked or unforeseen but essential link in the chain by "my orders were to do so and so, and I had no authority to depart from them."
Von der Goltz says:
The spirit of the initiative urges to independent action. It renders armies strong. We rightly adhere to the principle that, in the case of an officer who has been guilty of neglect, an excuse to the effect that he had received no orders is of no avail. Passive obedience is not enough for us, not even the mere fulfillment of what has been enjoined, when the occasion has demanded that more should have been done.
Lengthy, detailed orders kill initiative, and engender a spirit of blind obedience to the same to the letter. This is necessarily fatal to combined action because the great objectives are obscured by the mass of detail, and, when the unexpected happens which has not been provided for in the orders (as invariably occurs), the subordinate is not clear as to his mission and is not prepared to further the spirit of the general plan of his commander. Frequently he is deterred from taking any action, without specific subsequent instructions, for fear of actually harming the execution of the general plan.
The German Field Service Regulation requires an order to contain all that a subordinate must know to enable him to act on his own authority for the attainment of the plan of the commander, and no more. Von Moltke's order to move 200,000 men into the field of Gravelotte could be typewritten double spaced" on one page. It contained 120 words.
(g) Until given command it is not known what qualifications an officer has for the same. There being no systematic training in initiative and responsibility, an officer's first training in these command qualities are frequently co-incident with his assignment to an important and responsible post. In consequence it can rarely be foretold with accuracy what efficiency will be shown by a young commander confronted with his first serious responsibility. Many who give promise of being able commanders fail under this crucial test. A system which, from the beginning of an officer's career, forces the development of the indispensable qualities of command, would not only furnish a formidable driving power in all combined undertakings, but would also eliminate to a great degree the uncertainty now existent regarding the fitness of officers for responsible command before their appointment to the same. Instead of such commands being used as a school for the training of commanders, they would become the instrument through which the energies of efficient men could be devoted towards creating and maintaining a higher efficiency than is now known.
In the modern industrial world reformation and development of system are accomplished through four distinct processes, which, according to the authorities in this so-called "scientific management," are applicable in principle to all forms of human activity; they are: 1. A critical examination of existing conditions by experts; 2. Specific recommendation by said experts of a comprehensive plan for betterment; 3. An accurate and detailed recording of results obtained in the practical working of the new plan; and 4. A periodic analysis of the results obtained, with a view to further improvement.
While disclaiming emphatically any intention to pose as an expert on the subject, the writer has in the foregoing paper attempted partially the first step of reformation ;that is, critical examination of existing conditions. In order to furnish a satisfactory basis of reasoning and comparison, this has been preceded by an examination of the parallel systems of a few of the great military leaders. He is inclined to rest the case here and omit the second step: that of a specific recommendation of a comprehensive plan for betterment. This, not from lack of positive beliefs on the subject, but because the defects in the existing conditions will in such manner be better emphasized, and because any discussion that may be stimulated by this essay will not fail to recognize the existence of the evils stated. Remedies are at best but tentative, yet the weight of criticism frequently falls upon them, thus obscuring the main point at issue. It is reserved for genius to draw up perfect plans for future guidance. The best that the rest of us can do is to propose something which will serve as a temporary basis for action, specifically and frankly subject to such revision as experience may make desirable in the collective opinion of the service at large; which after all is a good substitute for genius.
The writer would prefer to limit remedial measures to recommending the appointment of a board of experts, in accordance with the best industrial practice, to take the subject under exhaustive consideration. But, for the sake of completeness, and also on account of the strong and well-founded service prejudice against purely "destructive criticism," of which misdemeanor he prefers not to be guilty, the following outline of corrective measures is submitted, with considerable diffidence, and with the reservation that it be considered mainly illustrative, and at best as a basis upon which a tentative beginning may be made.
A. That the department announce as its policy, that, three months after the publication of the order on the subject, the doctrine of the "initiative of the subordinate" shall govern the relations between seniors and juniors. That this doctrine be defined in general orders as follows:
All forces shall be organized into groups, each subdivided into minor groups, for tactical and administrative purposes. These shall be:
Fleets (tactical and administrative).
Squadrons (tactical and administrative).
Divisions (tactical only).
Ships, tactical and administrative.
Every group shall have a commander whose duties and responsibilities shall be clearly defined and understood.
Normally the commander of any group shall deal only with the group commanders next above and next below him in the organization.
"Orders" will be differentiated from "Instructions" as follows:
(a) An "order" is to be obeyed, immediately and to the letter, but will not be issued except by an officer actually present and fully aware of the situation.
(b) "Instructions" express in general terms only, the commander's wishes or "will" and will be carried out only when manifestly practicable. They acquaint a subordinate with his mission, and he is responsible for the detailed manner of their execution as well as for the results of his work as weighed against the difficulties encountered.
In the detailed execution of instructions, subordinates are required to restrict themselves rigidly to the general plan expressed by their superior.
Subordinates will not ordinarily be interfered with in the detailed execution of their instructions unless it becomes necessary to do so to prevent injury to life or limb, or material injury to property; or unless the successful issue of important affairs would otherwise be jeopardized. Criticism should be reserved until after the completion of assigned duty.
The maximum amount of discretion consistent with success and reason will be given to subordinates on all occasions.
These rules are not intended to reduce any authority now existing; but to facilitate the accomplishment of important work and to extend and improve means for executing the will of those in authority.
Seniors will exercise patience and forbearance with juniors during the latter's execution of instructions, with a view to their development through experience rather than precept.
Seniors will exercise leniency towards juniors when it is apparent that mistakes have been made only through inexperience and not on account of carelessness or lack of proper effort. Particular leniency is desirable when mistakes occur through overzealousness and where the aim, in spite of bad execution, may be commendable or well judged.
Moderate praise should never be omitted when merited.
It is the clear duty of seniors to give censure whenever the same is deserved. Effort should ,be made to have it understood that all censure is purely impersonal.
B. That between the date of the receipt of the order and that set for it to become effective, all officers be required to read and report in writing that they understand the following:
Henderson—" Science of War," Chapters I and XII.
Von Spohni--"Art of Command."
Von der Goltz—"The Nation in Arms," Sections II and V.
C. That (between the above dates) weekly meetings of all officers be held on board every ship and at every naval station, for the purpose of discussing and studying the principles involved and for the collective reading of Griepenkerl's "Letters on Applied Tactics."
D. That the department's order promulgating the doctrine be posted in every cabin, wardroom, and junior officer's mess room for a period of six months after its publication.
E. That examinations for promotion include questions on the principles of command. To be effective in indoctrinating the service such questions should be framed at least in part on the applicatory system, i. e., the system of "cases" or specific problems.
F. That on board every ship in commission one afternoon a week be devoted by officers to the study of war, including tactical and strategic games played under war college conventions,
In suggesting the foregoing remedy it is recognized that:
1. Before a radical departure from custom and regulations can be tolerated, the sanction and authority of the department are necessary.
2. A doctrine of command to be effective must be uniform and very widely diffused throughout the service. For this purpose general departmental orders are necessary if it is to be accomplished without undue delay.
3. Compliance with an order is not intelligent unless the purpose of the superior is understood.
4. The general acceptance of a doctrine cannot be brought about through orders alone, but these must be supplemented by a general study of the principles involved, and by frequent applicatory exercises.
5. "The time is coming when all great things will be done by that type of co-operation in which each man performs the functions for which he is best suited, each man preserves his own individuality and is supreme in his particular function; and each man at the same time loses none of his originality and proper personal initiative, and yet is controlled by and must work harmoniously with many other men." (F. W. Taylor in "Principles of Scientific Management.")