*Lecture delivered at the Naval War College during the summer of 1914.
The president of the Naval War College has done me the honor of asking me to present a "résumé of principles which have been brought out by operations (of the Atlantic flotilla) to date," and the "practical application of these principles to War College work." Also, "any points of technical value dealing with seamanship, engineering, etc."
It is of course not to be expected that I should be competent to present anything worth while upon all of these subjects, but, if time permits, it is hoped that most of them can be presented by members of the flotilla staff.
If they do so, you will at once recognize that to them, and to the commanding officers of the destroyers and of the Dixie, belongs chiefly the credit for such results as we have been able to achieve within the past year. My part in this development has been very much less than would naturally be assumed by those accustomed only to the usual methods of administration.
But the system of administration and of tactical and other development adopted in the flotilla differs very materially from those usually employed in our organizations afloat; and, as I believe the principle underlying this system to be wholly essential to the maximum degree of development in certain branches, I will confine my remarks largely to an outline of the methods adopted, and at the same time will endeavor to show their relations to, or derivation from, certain methods employed at this college. That is to say, I will first attempt to show, not, as the president has requested, the "principles which have been brought out by the operations of the flotilla," but rather how the principles and methods developed here at the college have been applied in the administration of the flotilla and in the development of its tactics.
Some of these methods involve the fundamental principles of warfare, and some are, I believe, simply the application of common business principles to the great game of war and preparation therefor.
The subject of this lecture is therefore:
NAVAL WAR COLLEGE PRINCIPLES AND METHODS APPLIED AFLOAT
This matter can be made clearer by first outlining the conditions which I found upon assuming command, including my own lack of experience and of expert knowledge in almost everything that pertain to the materiel of the torpedo service.
My predecessor, Captain E. W. Eberle, U. S. Navy, turned over to me a flotilla of about 30 destroyers in excellent condition— well organized, well drilled, and highly efficient in self-maintenance. With few exceptions, the commanding officers of the destroyers were experienced torpedo men. The Dixie, under Commander J. K. Robison, was admirably organized and equipped as a repair and supply ship.
There was, however, one defect in the organization which seemed to me fundamental, namely, there was no staff. The flotilla commander was allowed but one assistant. This was the decision of the Navy Department, which had declined to comply with Captain Eberle's requests for an adequate number of assistants.
Without them it was of course a physical impossibility for him to accomplish as much as he wished to, though he was able to achieve a notable success because of his own personal experience and knowledge of the subject.
Having neither of these special qualifications, I would, had the offer of this command been made a few years ago, have considered my accepting it detrimental to the service. But having, at the time the offer was made, completed the course at the War College, I believed that the application of certain principles and methods acquired there would insure at least a certain reasonable measure of success, provided the staff allowed was sufficient to make the application of these methods possible. I therefore accepted upon the condition that I be allowed the assistance of Commander Pratt. Lieut. Commander Knox and Lieutenant Babcock, the two former being War College men and the latter an expert in torpedoes.
My conviction as to the chances of success was based upon the following considerations:
1. The naval officer does not exist whose judgment is sounder upon each feature of his profession than that of all the other men with whom he may be associated.
2. For practical purposes, in controlling an organization and in developing its function, full discussion in conference (by all members of the organization concerned in any particular feature) will produce conclusions based upon the maximum knowledge and experience of the whole organization.
3. If this be true, it follows as a natural consequence that the imposition by authority of purely individual opinions can rarely produce the maximum efficiency, and may be an element of danger.
4. For example, if the captain .of a football team should develop in his own mind all the new "plays," all the new features of the tactics, and should impose these exclusively upon the members of the team, there can be no doubt that he would meet with disaster in contests with teams whose plays represented the combined and digested experience of all the players developed by thorough discussion.
5. Similarly, the experienced captains of twenty destroyers, the captain of the repair ship and his staff, and the flotilla commander and his staff, combining as they do probably more experience in the practical handling of -torpedoes and torpedo craft than any other organized group of officers, except that of a similar flotilla, can by full discussion reach decisions which, if not entirely sound, are nevertheless the best of which the service is capable at the time.
6. Any man who compares certain opinions he brought to the Naval War College at the beginning of the long course with those he took away at the end, must realize the unrivaled advantages of full and free discussion; and must recognize the extreme improbability that his own undiscussed opinions are always infallible.
7. Such being the case, it would seem apparent that no possible excuse could exist for not utilizing, in the administration of an organization afloat and in the development of its functions, all the knowledge, experience, energy, and brains that the organization contains.
8. The War College is an organized body of naval officers who are trying to arrive at the truth concerning the best methods of conducting war, the types of ships we need and the most efficient manner of using them. The basis of its methods of research is discussion. This discussion is free and frank. It is essentially between men, not officers. Grade marks do not influence conclusions. These are based upon arguments and facts. The War College is a team.
9. In this respect, it differs radically from any other existing organization in our navy, except the General Board. The difference will be seen to be most marked when we compare War College methods with those usually employed in the fleet. If these were like fleet methods, War College officers would habitually occupy separate rooms, the president would be in separate quarters, they would come together but seldom and casually, and almost never for organized discussion; but instead the president would inform officers of his decisions and conclusions, and would exercise his authority in enforcing them. You can imagine the result!
10. The War College seeks, through discussion and maneuvers in miniature, to assist the fleet in preparation for war by supplying it with a trained personnel. Neither can attain the maximum results without the assistance of the other. One supplies principles and methods for their accomplishment based upon thorough academic study and discussion, but tested solely by exercises in miniature. The other subjects these principles and methods to the test of practice under the difficulties introduced by actual service afloat.
In many respects the fleet is better equipped for its work than the college. It has ten times as many officers of experience. It has the means of testing its conclusions by actual maneuvers. But, though it has all these material advantages, it often has no organization for the systematic study of war, tactics and strategy for the study of the very business for which it is maintained.
11. The commanders-in-chief of our fleets and their subordinate admirals and captains have in many cases lived practically isolated lives, in so far as organized and systematic discussion of military matters is concerned. They have engaged in set maneuvers and battle exercises without previous or subsequent study and discussion, and have consequently arrived at conclusions which are necessarily based largely upon a personal opinion—than which few things could be more dangerous.
From a consideration of the above facts, the decision was reached to make the conference, the great value of which we had learned at the War College, the fundamental basis of the entire development of the flotilla.
In my opinion, there is no single feature of the development in question which is of equal importance, for without it the individuals of the organization cannot be welded into a team, each working with and for the team, and with an impersonal loyalty to the team, a team of their own creation.
In view, therefore, of the importance of the principle, or method, I think it well to give an account of it in sufficient detail to show the conditions under which it works, and the kind of results achieved.
In order to employ the conference method, the man at the head of the organization must of course divest himself of the time-honored idea that he will lower his dignity arid thereby weaken discipline if he admits, by inviting discussion, that he and his staff do not know it all—that they are not more competent to decide any and all questions, no matter how complex or how technical, than any of the subordinates, or than all of them combined.
The assumption that the head of the organization must be the infallible source of all knowledge is what we may call the "old man" idea, as opposed to the " organized-team " idea. Needless to say, these ideas are diametrically opposed. I shall hope to show in the course of this paper not only that the organized-team method is perfectly practicable and produces complete harmony in the organization, but that, other things being equal, it must always succeed against the former method. This is true no matter what the ability of the "old man," because his entire system has been developed in his own mind and therefore largely to the exclusion of the training of the minds that must work in harmony with his if they are to win battles against a team-trained enemy.
This, therefore, is the first in importance of the college methods adopted in the flotilla. Within the first few days after the assembling of the flotilla, July 1, 1913, a conference was called and the scheme explained. The "old man" specifically admitted that his knowledge of torpedoes, turbine machinery, etc., was negligible compared with that which existed in the flotilla; that he had no particular confidence in his own or any other ideas of torpedo tactics that had not been developed by actual maneuver experience at sea.
It was announced at this conference that all important decisions concerning both materiel and tactics would be arrived at through discussion. Previous to this time, and throughout a number of years, some confusion had arisen through attempts to base the development of appliances, etc., upon individual opinions of commanding officers and flotilla commanders. Such personal opinions naturally change with each change of personnel; and the result was that the department and the bureaus had little confidence in the judgment of the flotilla, and consequently were unwilling to make so-called improvements, because experience had so often shown that the chances were that they would subsequently be condemned.
The condition referred to may be illustrated by the following yarn which, though it may not be true, is entirely typical: The captain of battleship A gave numerous reasons why the military value of his ship Would be increased if a certain appliance were installed thereon. The appliance was already installed on the sister ship B, but her captain insisted that it was detrimental, and should be removed at once. As the cost of removing it from B and installing it on A would be several thousand dollars, the chief of the bureau concerned conceived the brilliant idea of persuading the department to shift the captains, which would cost nothing, please both, and thus restore complete harmony.
If this matter had been laid before a regular conference of all commanding officers of the fleet, there can be no doubt that discussion would have resulted in a practically unanimous approval or condemnation of the appliance. Manifestly such conference decisions can be accepted by the department as probably sound and as not likely to change, except through the slow process of the change of service opinion due to the progressive accumulation of experience, the invention of improved appliances, etc. That is to say, such a decision is the best of which the service is capable at the time.
In accordance with this principle, a list was compiled from the flotilla files of the similar recommendations made during the past few years. This list was sent to all commanding officers with the information that the various items would be brought up for discussion in conference. This was done, and the result was the elimination of about two-thirds of them as unnecessary or undesirable.
The remainder were approved and forwarded to the department with a statement that they were recommended for adoption by a full conference of all commanding officers. Many of them have already been acted upon, and there is every indication that the department welcomes such well-considered recommendations and feels reasonable confidence in their soundness. The General Board has commended the method and advised that the recommendations in question be given careful consideration in determining the design of new boats.
Since that time no similar recommendations of any importance have been made to the department unless they could be preceded by the statement that they were based upon a consensus of opinion of all commanding officers after thorough discussion in conference.
Another feature of the conference method provides for the practical elimination of all serious criticism within the organization, due to disapproval of recommendations or suggestions made by the various officers. The great importance of this may best be illustrated by contrasting the effect of the conference method with that most frequently employed heretofore.
For example, an enthusiastic and able young commander conceives an idea, popularly called a "brain storm." At the expense of considerable labor he elaborates his scheme, formulates his arguments, draws his sketches and submits his work. Heretofore, such suggestions frequently went to the department. Sometimes they were adopted only to be recommended for rejection later. Sometimes these were returned for the opinion of the flotilla commander. Usually they were forwarded through the flotilla commander and approved or disapproved by him.
It is hardly necessary to state that the originator of an idea is strongly prejudiced in favor of the creation of his own brain. Experience has shown that it is very seldom that he will yield his conviction to the arguments of any one person. The almost inevitable consequence is that if his scheme is disapproved, he will regard the " old man" as unprogressive, prejudiced, badly advised by his staff, lacking in intelligence, or worse. By the time this has happened in the case of a number of commanding officers, the team spirit is destroyed, the organization is divided against itself, and the "old man ". is discredited in the minds of his subordinates, though every one of his decisions may have been perfectly sound.
It is under such conditions that unfavorable criticism becomes rife about wardroom tables, and in all places where two or three are gathered together in the name of opposition to anything and everything. Such a condition of affairs is doubtless within the experience of nearly every officer of any considerable length of service.
Needless to say, its permanent elimination is a matter of the highest possible military importance. It cannot exist under the conference method which, in the case of all such recommendations, proceeds as follows:
An officer submits his suggestion with the full assurance that it will be put into the "conference envelope," and will receive full consideration by all hands. The "old man" may not approve of it, but it goes into the envelope all the same, and if the discussion results in approval by the conference, he will doubtless have been convinced by the arguments presented. If not, he had better pretend to be.
But the vital point is the essential difference between the effect of disapproval by the conference and the effect of disapproval by the "old man." Here is a case in point: A brilliant young commanding officer makes an able presentation of a recommendation before a conference. Three officers in succession present arguments against it. Before the third has finished, the young man holds up both hands and says: "I quit; I did not know the facts upon which these arguments are based." Such incidents have occurred many times with the utmost good humor.
There may of course exist the individual who can solemnly claim that the other twenty-nine commanding officers are hopelessly pigheaded, but the type is so rare as to be negligible.
Any disposition to object to a decision is immediately met by the advice to "quit kicking, and play the game "—the game being to work together as a solid and loyal team, in precisely the same manner and with the same freedom of opinion and discussion that the members of a football squad must exercise before they can hope to develop a better game than their opponents.
Isolate the captain of the navy football team in a separate compartment, give him a couple of assistants and a brass band, and let him issue his orders and refuse all discussion for fear of losing his authority, and he will speedily lose it, and have a "mad house" on his hands besides.
Doubtless the method described will appear simple enough, both in principle and in operation, in so far as concerns decisions upon matters of materiel. But how about the development of torpedo tactics and the doctrine that must be formulated before large numbers of boats can attack with success under war conditions?
Not only is there no difference of method in such development, but the application of the method has convinced me that reliable tactics and doctrine can be developed in no other way than by repeated conferences, including game board work, before the actual maneuvers with the fleet take place, and by thorough discussion of the results in conferences over the game board immediately after the maneuvers—in exactly the same way in which the college discusses the results of a chart maneuver.
Take, for example, the simple flotilla doctrine of night search and attack. Copies have been sent to the college and you are doubtless sufficiently familiar with its main lines. This doctrine is nothing more than an accumulation of decisions arrived at by successive conferences held both before and after each maneuver against the fleet.
It is properly called a tentative doctrine, because, up to the present time, the experience of each maneuver has caused us to change certain features of it, and doubtless we shall continue to do so after future maneuvers.
Our first tentative doctrine was shown by the first trial maneuver to contain many mistakes. It was based upon game board work and the nautical experience of the captains. We decided upon a method of search, a method of maintaining contact, a method of transmitting information and tracking, a method of concentrating by divisions, a method of concentrated attack by the whole flotilla, etc.
Incidentally, a tentative doctrine drawn up by the War College, or by any other similar body of officers, would be an expression of the amount of game board work and the combined experience of the officers concerned. They could not make further progress without adding to their experience by actual tests at sea; and these tests would doubtless result with them as they did with us, that is, in a demonstration of the inadequacy of the doctrine.
For example, we first tried out the tentative doctrine against the Dixie and some destroyers, representing a fleet, and found, upon putting the results on the board and discussing them, that many of our ideas were mistaken, and we modified the doctrine accordingly. In fact, they were so fundamentally mistaken in certain respects as to demonstrate that an actual attack would surely have resulted in considerable confusion and possibly in failure. It was the same after the second test, though to a less extent.
Since then the doctrine has been tried out three times against the battleship fleet, and modified and improved each time, until now we know that we can make a fairly successful attack immediately after receiving information as to the area within which the enemy" may be found. Not long ago it required a written order of over 1200 words and a blue print to tell the individual destroyers what they had to do. Through the use of the doctrine, the flotilla can now make a more successful attack upon receipt of a radio message of about 30 or 40 code words.
This principle of the doctrine, derived directly from the college, is, after the team system, the next most important principle we have adopted. I have barely outlined the manner in which it was worked out. The results accomplished are more interesting. You are acquainted with them in a general way from the reports that have been sent to the college. The details of the system were elaborated principally by Lieut. Commander D. W. Knox, U. S. Navy, to whom the-credit chiefly belongs for this important work.
It may be interesting to state that the members of the staff and many of the commanders of destroyers had a great deal more to do with its development than I had. That is, it was the product of the system—of the conference, of which I was simply the presiding officer.
There is, I believe, no other way in which reliable results can be obtained. Heretofore the method suggested was to order a board to write a manual of tactics for the service, the idea apparently being that by the aid of such a manual satisfactory results could be accomplished under war conditions.
For example, after about three years correspondence on the subject, the following order was issued (February 27, 1913):
The department directs that a board of officers, qualified by experience, be ordered to prepare a manual of torpedo tactics which will be submitted by the department to the War College, and after such discussion and revision as may be necessary, will be printed and issued to the torpedo officers of the service for trial.
This order has not been complied with. If it had been, it would doubtless have resulted in a sort of tentative doctrine which, though it might well have been better than the flotilla's first attempt, could not have been as complete or as reliable as one developed through progressive trials at sea; and it might well have contained very dangerous mistakes.
In order not to interrupt the description of the conference method and its application to the development of the doctrine, I have omitted any reference to the general mission of the flotilla. Immediately after the establishing of the conference, early in July of last year, this question of the mission was naturally the first one brought before it for discussion. Before doing so, however, each commanding officer was required to submit his ideas upon the subject, and from a discussion of these ideas we arrived at our final conclusions as to the mission.
It is important to note that this was not a so-called " highbrow " mission imposed upon the flotilla for its guidance, but was the result of its own deliberations. It was simply a common sense conclusion as to what the flotilla was for, unanimously adopted as a general guide for all future effort.
Assuming that this subject may be of some interest, I quote below the letter calling the conference, and the circular letter to the flotilla summarizing the discussion and giving the terms of the mission decided upon.
TORPEDO FLOTILLA, ATLANTIC FLEET
U. S. S. "DIXIE," 1342-40-13.S
NEWPORT, R. I., 10 July, 13.
To: Commanding officers.
Subject: General mission of the flotilla.
1. The flotilla commander is of the opinion that the value of the work done by the flotilla will be enhanced, and the effort necessary to accomplish the work lessened, if the general mission of the flotilla is explicitly defined and clearly understood. By "general mission" is meant the broad task objective, or the end we must have in view during peace, in order that if war should come we will be prepared, both as regards materiel and the military efficiency of personnel.
2. It is therefore desired that each destroyer commander and the submarine flotilla commander discuss this question with his officers and be prepared to discuss, in conference, on Tuesday, 15 July, 9.30 a. m. (destroyer and submarine flotilla commanders meet on Dixie at that time), his beliefs as to what properly constitute the general mission of this flotilla at the present time. It is believed that collective effort of this nature will result in the best selection of an unchanging and unassailable mission.
3. No mission can be acceptable which does not coincide with the convictions of those who have given mature thought to the question, and which can he even state positively that the flotilla would be used at all in war for such purposes? There is considerable doubt that it would.
In one of the papers received appears the statement that the care and up-keep of the engineer department is the most important duty of the commanding officer, and that it should receive his personal attention. It is believed that study and exercise in the elements of torpedo warfare will show that commanding officers have a higher function which, if neglected, will bring upon us greater failure than if the up-keep of engines and boilers is delegated largely to a subordinate, under the general direction of the commanding officer.
Several statements of the mission contain the idea that part of our job is to find out how the flotilla is to be used in war—and this seems sound. To quote one officer, our mission is "to work out and find the greatest usefulness a flotilla can be put to in time of war, and then to prepare the personnel and materiel to reach the highest efficiency along those lines."
One common fault in all statements received was a failure to duly recognize the fact that the flotilla is but an arm of the fleet.
II. GENERAL DISCUSSION
Whatever the fleet has before it to do, the flotilla must operate so as to promote the success of the fleet operation. We must, it is true, be prepared to use the peculiar ships and peculiar weapons that have been given us, in the manner which will work the greatest harm to the enemy. But this is far from being all: we must co-ordinate these efforts with those of the whole fleet so that our blow will be struck at such time and from such position as will give a maximum of assistance to the battle fleet considered as a whole. If our blow is delivered too soon the enemy may recover before meeting our main fleet; if too late our efforts will be of no value in deciding the issue; in either case force will have been dissipated. So will it be to a great degree wasted if the attack is not directed towards the critical point.
From a consideration of the answers received and from general considerations it is believed that our statements of present mission must comprehend:
(1) The idea of finding out how the flotilla can be used during war to the best advantage.
(2) The idea that it must learn to co-ordinate its own internal efforts with those of the fleet considered as a whole.
(3) The idea that the flotilla is but a fraction of our whole force, and must be used to promote the success of our fleet, considered as a whole, before, during and after battle.
A general statement of mission may be "to prepare the flotilla as an efficient war arm of the fleet, so that it can act co-ordinately with the latter by day and night before, during and after battle." A more detailed and specific statement of mission would be:
(a) To determine the manner in which the flotilla may best assist the fleet in accomplishing its objective before, during and after battle.
(b) To train the personnel so that before, during and after battle it can co-ordinate internal efforts, and effectively co-ordinate the effort of the flotilla as a whole with the operations of the fleet as a whole.
(c) To maintain materiel, and the skill of personnel in its use and up-keep, at a point where it will be efficient in operations before and during battle."
"Having selected our mission it should be kept constantly in mind in every daily occupation. Let it be the "directive force" for all hands in everything that is done. Before deciding any course of action, refer to the mission and be guided by it.
"Complete understanding of, and faith in, the mission will point the way to the discovery of necessary means for its attainment.
Wm. S. Sims."
In presenting to the flotilla the proposition to devote such time as might be found necessary to conferences upon various subjects, and to study and training in war problems, we found that there were some commanding officers who doubted the advisability of their being obliged to devote so much time to such subjects. They stated that their time was fully occupied in keeping their vessels in efficient condition, and that, in their opinion, this was their highest duty. Other commanding officers stated that they had plenty of time. Further inquiry showed that both statements were true. Some captains were really overworked and some had plenty of leisure. This was of course due to differences in organization.
It soon became apparent that there were nearly as many kinds of organizations and methods of doing work as there were vessels, but details of these were lacking, as it had never been possible to give the vessels a regular inspection, because there had been no staff.
Commanding officers were, of course, informed that their most important work was to prepare themselves for the duties they would have to perform in case of war; and that the organization of their vessels must therefore be such as to relieve them as much as possible of the consideration of minor details, and thus leave them free to help realize the general mission, that is, to help" determine the manner in which the flotilla may best assist the fleet in accomplishing its objective, before, during and after battle."
As a result of a general inspection of all of the vessels, the defects of organization were pointed out, and the principles of military organization, as taught at the college, were defined. The details are given in the" General Comment on the Inspection of the Flotilla," November 14, 1913. These are much too long to quote, but may be consulted in the files of the college.
Immediately upon my assuming command, in the first part of June, 1913, instructions were issued requiring the standard "campaign order" form to be used for all orders concerning operations
of vessels of the flotilla.
The object of using this campaign order form for all operations orders was that the personnel might become so accustomed to its use and interpretation that there would not be the misunderstandings that would otherwise be likely to arise when receiving the very few campaign orders that are issued by the fleet during the year. It is hardly necessary to say that the experiment has proved entirely successful.
From the details herein given it will be seen that the flotilla has, as far as practicable, attempted to apply the principles of organization and administration and the principles of warfare learned at the college. Incidentally, the two-weeks course of the destroyer captains last summer proved of great benefit.
As an item of possible interest, it may be noted that the central administration has been organized upon the well-known principle of the division of labor and responsibility, with the object of avoiding not only overburdening any individual member, but also of avoiding distracting his attention from important subjects by minor details.
It is well known that some commanders-in-chief have been greatly overburdened, both physically and mentally, by the administrative details alone of a considerable number of vessels. This custom of handling details is doubtless a survival of the practice that existed when the " fleets " consisted of a very few vessels. When applied to a large number, the burden approaches the limit of the time available and the endurance possible for any one man. In time of war there would be added to the greatly increased burden of details the infinitely more important task of conducting a campaign; and this, added to the great responsibility and the necessity for time for consecutive thought in the study of plans, etc., would make it necessary that a system for handling the countless administrative details be improvised and put in operation by a personnel accustomed during peace to shift practically all responsibility upon the head of the organization.
In other words, the practice of the centralization of administrative details necessarily involves a failure to train the personnel in time of peace for the duties it would necessarily have to perform in case of war.
For this reason we have tried to conduct the administration of the flotilla as we should be absolutely obliged to conduct it in time of war. This has been accomplished by the greatest practicable subdivision of work and responsibility. In this connection, it may be noted that the captain of the supply ship, her chief engineer, pay officers, etc., are practically members of the staff. All details are handled by the officers whom they concern, and none are brought to the attention of the commander except those which require his action.
As for the routine movements of ships, the details of provisioning, supplies, fueling, signals of no interest or importance, etc., they are not even brought to his attention.
Not only is this system the one which would be absolutely essential in war, but it is very much more efficient in time of peace, and this for the simple reason that all men do more efficiently the work that they are responsible for and have the authority to execute.
It has been assumed by some that the success of such methods as those in question depends principally upon the personal and temperamental qualities of the commander. While this must always be true in the sense that little can be accomplished by the man who is popularly classified as "impossible," I believe that it is not at all true in the case of any man of average intellectual and temperamental qualities.
An organization that is exclusively personal, that is, one that is administered, trained and governed upon what I have characterized as the "old man" idea, must necessarily reflect the personality and capacity of the commander. Its tactics cannot be better than the commander's own tactical conceptions, and its material development must be largely restricted to the knowledge and experience possessed by the commander and his staff.
If, on the other hand, the material and tactical development is based upon the team method, then the combined ability and originality of many minds working together in conference will not only produce the maximum result of which that particular organization is capable, but it will produce this result even though the commander is of less than average ability.
It is the system of continuous study, discussion, test-maneuvers and rediscussion that produces the result, and not exclusively the commander, who simply initiates the system and conducts conferences in which his influence is determined by the special knowledge he may have concerning the particular subject under discussion.
In the former case the commander assumes the attitude of a preceptor imposing his theories upon more or less skeptical and critical pupils, whereas in the latter case he conducts and takes part in free discussions designed to bring out and combine all the experience, ability and special knowledge in his command.
It is hardly necessary to state that the above remarks concerning the relative value of knowledge and ability on the part of the commander refer almost exclusively to the question of training. That is, it is claimed that the conference or team method will enable a commander of average knowledge and ability to make almost as rapid and sound progress in the development of tactics and military doctrine and in the training of the personnel as a commander of much greater natural capacity. This I believe to be the chief merit of the system as a means of training.
When it comes, however, to the application of the tactics in actual warfare, the commander who had been the most successful in peace training might be the least successful in conducting a campaign. He might not possess the physical and mental vigor necessary to bear the strain of continuous responsibility, or the determination to adhere to a plan of campaign in the face of discouraging conditions.
However, I am not here concerned with the question of selecting a commander-in-chief, but with the question of a system which will insure the development during peace of tactics and doctrine that are not only sound, but are the expression of the maximum capacity and experience of our navy. If the system will produce this result, it will necessarily not only indoctrinate and train the entire commissioned personnel, but it will automatically train and probably indicate the men who are best qualified for high commands in war.
If the conclusions that are the result of the flotilla's experience are sound, we may naturally expect that any careful estimate of the situation would arrive at similar conclusions.
Such an estimate has been made by Commander E. S. Kellogg, U. S. Navy, in his" Plan to Develop the Fleet for the Accomplishment of its Mission," the general conclusions of which may be indicated briefly by the following quotations:
Battle is the vital interest and crowning work of the fleet, and consequently battle tactics is the interest and business of every officer and man in the fleet.
The mission of the fleet in time of peace is preparation for war, and in this preparation tactical training heads the list of requirements. Therefore, the conduct and administration of the fleet should be based on this requirement.
* * *
Assuming that the mission of the navy in time of peace is preparation for war, the mission of the fleet becomes preparation for naval warfare, and the primary interest in this mission is tactical training.
* * *
In this we must be successful. No matter how perfect we are in every other respect, if we cannot make good here we might as well not exist. The commander-in-chief and his staff afloat should direct the education of the officers of the fleet. Administration must be subordinated to this education. It should be general in strategy and tactics, special in doctrine and tactical plans.
* * *
The squadron commanders, flotilla commanders and commanding officers must be thoroughly indoctrinated with the ideas and methods of the commander-in-chief, and letter perfect in their parts of his plan.
I am sure none will disagree with the conclusions above quoted from Commander Kellogg's paper. Particularly that the commander-in-chief should direct the education of his officers; that this education should be specific in doctrine and tactical plans; and that his squadron and other commanders must be thoroughly indoctrinated with his ideas and methods.
This means that the commander-in-chief and his commanders must really study the game and come to a common understanding as to the best methods of playing it.
There is no possible way of doing this efficiently except by getting together. When the officers of a naval organization get together for a common purpose they constitute a conference.
The subject of such conferences may be of vital importance to the nation, therefore, they must be so conducted as to bring out the maximum experience, ability, and originality of their personnel.
The commander-in-chief should have all the light he can get. His responsibility is very great, and therefore it is his duty to avail himself through these studies of all of the brains of his officers, not simply those of his staff.
This is the conference method. It is the basis of development at this college. I have tried to make clear a small example of its application afloat; that from it will naturally result the most efficient tactics and doctrine of which the organization is capable at the time; that it will create a team spirit and a team loyalty that are founded upon a mutual understanding and respect which are of the very essence of discipline.
And I am convinced that I cannot present to you anything from the experience of the past year that approaches in importance this simple principle of the organization of a command into a real team for the study and development of the tactics and doctrine that are to guide it in war.
The point is that the conference method develops a real team spirit, and this makes everything else comparatively easy. The officers feel that to them alone—to their team—is due the credit for whatever progress is made.
Only a few weeks ago a former destroyer captain wrote for a copy of the flotilla doctrine, saying that a couple of the flotilla's present commanding officers paid him a visit and boasted of what they were able to accomplish by means of it.
Needless to say this is exactly the spirit that it is desirable to create—a spirit of personal pride in the organization and its methods, and consequently of personal interest in its development.
Once this real interest is established, many things are possible. For example, under its influence considerable progress has been made in general strategic and tactical studies. As opportunity offered, tactical and strategic problems have been proposed for solution, and tried out on the flotilla game board—the cabin floor of the Birmingham. Also, during the two repair periods, May and June, and November and December, similar problems have been sent for solution to the divisions in the various navy yards.
This work has been carried out with marked interest and creditable efficiency. The various division commanders and their officers have submitted their estimate of the situations and embodied their decisions in campaign orders in the prescribed form, and their operations orders have also followed the same form.
All this has brought into the daily life of the flotilla a habit of thought and expression based upon a habit of systematically estimating such situations as arise. It creates a common nautical and military vocabulary and conduces to consecutive thought on parallel lines, not only within the organization, but between the organization and the source of inspiration, namely, the War College.
These studies and the common interest created by team work have also put new life into the development of a number of secondary features of tactics. For example, the important function of the floating mine; dragging and clearing a channel of fixed mines; oiling at sea; the relative effectiveness of gunfire from destroyers, etc. These and other items of more or less interest are noted in the annual report of the operations of the flotilla.
The above account of the operations of the flotilla would not be complete without sufficient reference to the reserve flotilla to show that its development has been upon the same lines as that of the active flotilla.
A year ago this was a real reserve. That is, the vessels composing it remained continuously in a navy yard, with a complement of one officer and 25 men per boat. As they were never tested by cruising, they were in consequence not kept in good material condition. Neither guns nor torpedoes were ever fired. The personnel became stagnant. While nominally under the flotilla commander, the reserve was in reality a separate organization, wholly without co-ordination with the active flotilla in the military training that would be essential to enable it to operate with the latter or with the fleet in case of war.
These vessels are still called the "reserve flotilla," but in reality they are not now in reserve. They are simply active vessels working at half power. The complements have been increased to 41 men.
They are a part of the Atlantic flotilla, but, due to their separation from the active flotilla for A large part of the year, they are trained under a reserve flotilla commander during this period.
They made a very successful cruise in the Gulf of Mexico during the past winter, and performed considerable convoy and other service on the coast of Mexico, for which they were specially commended by the Secretary of the Navy. The Board of Inspection and Survey subsequently reported them in very good condition.
They came north in the early part of July for their summer training cruise. They now carry out practically the same training as the vessels of the active flotilla. Moreover, they solve all the tactical and strategic problems that are sent to the active divisions. Also, they do considerable game board work in Charleston during the overhaul periods.
They will take part in the practice maneuvers with the active flotilla and the fleet; and in case of war they will be ready for active service immediately after they receive their full complements of officers and men.
The present policy of what may be called the active reserve has succeeded beyond our utmost expectations, both as regards actual efficiency and esprit de corps; and this gratifying result is due chiefly to the efforts of the late reserve flotilla commander, Lieut. Commander F. T. Evans, U. S. Navy.
The above outline will, I believe, show that the experience of the flotilla during the past year has not resulted in the development of any principle or method that would be of use to the college, but, on the contrary, it will show that such progress as has been made has been due solely to the application of principles and methods derived directly from the college.