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QPME: Warfighting: History of the MCDP, Roots of Maneuver Warfare, and the Doctrine in Action

Warfighting: History of the MCDP, Roots of Maneuver Warfare, and the Doctrine in Action explores the development of the Marine Corps capstone publication MCDP 1 - Warfighting.


Why Maneuver Warfare?

It begins with an idea, a concept or a theory, but how does that theory take root?  Experts say it takes five to eight years to change a bureaucracy, so applying that criteria, the Marine Corps was probably a little beyond the norm as it took the better part of a decade to change our organization. That is a very interesting point since we, as Marines, pride ourselves on having a penchant for change. The Small Wars Manual, amphibious doctrine, helicopters, Short Takeoff and Vertical Landing (STOVL) fixed wing aircraft and now the MV-22 Osprey – those are the ideas we point to as our heritage-in-change.

But why “Maneuver Warfare”? What drove the necessity to change?

Referencing the themes on the home page, the road to our current doctrine in the Marine Corps started well before the noted decade of change began. Our own doctrine points out many episodes of the application of Maneuver Warfare before we began to institutionalize our current philosophy of warfighting. The following are some of the vignettes identified in Marine Corps capstone publications that identify maneuver warfare throughout history:


Operational Maneuver Reference Pages
Anzio MCDP 1-3, Tactics 16-19
Cannae MCDP 1-3, Tactics 20-22
Gettysburg MCDP 1-3, Tactics 27-29
Operation Dewey Canyon MCDP 1-3, Tactics 50-52
Tarawa MCDP 1-3, Tactics 107-109
Case Study: American Civil War MCDP 1-2 Campaigning 21-30
Case Study: The Recapture of Europe, 1944–45 MCDP 1-2 Campaigning 53-55
Case Study: Malaysia, 1948–60 MCDP 1-2 Campaigning 56-58
Guderian at the Battle of Sedan 1940 MCDP 1-2 Campaigning 67-68
Inchon, 1950 MCDP 1-2 Campaigning 78-79
Sherman, 1864 MCDP 1-2 Campaigning 80-81


There are many, many more examples in history such as the Peloponnesian War, or the campaigns of Napoleon and the failed landing at Gallipoli in World War II. So even though we "did" it (maneuver warfare), we never named what "it" was and captured "it" (maneuver warfare) as a way of thinking in our Corps. Until we got to the eighties – but what caused the change then? That is explained throughout the concepts presented in this quarterly theme. During and after the Vietnam War, a number of young Marines realized we weren’t teaching anything new on tactics or incorporating lessons learned but instead, we appeared to be stuck in the past with tactics from World War II and the Korean War. What these young "Turks" (meaning: those agitating for radical reform) learned occurred in the field, in the jungles of Vietnam, and they learned those lessons the hard way.

That started many Marines wondering why: Why don’t we teach different methodologies?  Why don’t we talk about theories and ideas before we go to war?

The Debate Begins

The debate started in the seventies and it started outside of the Marine Corps. It was a Congressional Staffer and Historian (William Lind) who actually started that debate by taking the Army to task with new doctrine unveiled in its FM 100-5. As with any “social movement” and change, things caught on with the young Turks who were looking for something better. That debate raged back and forth in the Gazette; some for and some against. We have included, thanks to the Gazette, a few of those articles here in order to let you see how contentious the discussion became. During the time these articles showed up in the Gazette, some Marines would even accost their peers with “Are you a Maneuver-ist or an Attrition-ist?” The debate was on.

The evolution of the debate was the Marine Corps Capstone Doctrinal publications that identify a way of THINKING – not new tactics, techniques and procedures. We first applied those concepts during the Gulf War. A great book about how things worked is The Generals' War: The Inside Story of the Conflict in the Gulf by Michael R. Gordon. Gordon talks about how we applied Maneuver Warfare doctrine to our sector and how our application of new doctrine affected the combined forces outside of our sector (most notably, the Army).

But is this it? Are we finished? Have we reached our doctrinal culminating point? It would seem that we should never be "finished" in our doctrinal discussions. If the next debate upholds Maneuver Warfare, that is good, but at least we should have it. We should never stand still and be satisfied we have it right; that would be the ultimate failure on our part. That is the point of education and the point of these quarterly themes.

Think on Marines! And more importantly – continue the debate!

Warfighting Panel - MCDP Hierarchy

MCDP Hierarchy

Alfred M. Gray, Paul K. Van Riper, and John F. Schmitt discuss the "MCDP hierarchy."

Read transcript (see p. 26) Watch full video  

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